How to Avoid Scams, Frauds, Quacks and Crooks


cartoon By Bob Aronson

When you have a serious illness you want relief and most often it does not come quickly or simply. The proper practice of medicine is measured, deliberate and often slow.  Medical experts depend on established scientific protocols to determine the effectiveness of treatments.  Because the mass media offer the same advertising and promotional opportunities to everyone it is often difficult to determine which ads are legitimate and which are not.  This blog aims to help you decide.

While there is no shortage of local, state and federal agencies who seek to protect consumers from scams, fraud and quackery there is no way that every offer made in the media, on the phone and through the internet can be monitored.  Your protection depends for the most part of your being alert to scams and can recognize offers that are without merit.  There is no shortage of frauds and crooks who scheme daily to find new ways to get you to part with your money. That means you must do everything possible to protect yourself.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has broad responsibilities in its role as a consumer protection agency.  Here is just a part of what FDA is mandated to do:

“FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.

FDA is also responsible for advancing the public health by helping to speed innovations that make medicines more effective, safer, and more affordable and by helping the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medicines and foods to maintain and improve their health.”

You can read more of the FDA’s mission here http://www.fda.gov/aboutfda/whatwedo/

Exposing fraud is but one aspect of the FDA’s role and there is no shortage of fraudulent claims being made.  You can find more by clicking on this link.: http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/protectyourself/healthfraud/default.htm   Often companies make health claims about their products that not only are not true but can cause great harm, even death.  Here’s just one example of a medical claim deemed dangerous enough by the FDA to issue a public warning (I have edited the warning. For the official language go to http://tinyurl.com/m2u8s7b)

Public Notification: Pro ArthMax Contains Several Hidden Drug Ingredients

[1-15-2014] The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising consumers not to purchase or use Pro ArthMax, a product promoted and sold as a dietary supplement for joint, muscle and arthritic pain.

FDA laboratory analysis confirmed that Pro ArthMax contains the active ingredients diclofenac, ibuprofen, naproxen, indomethacin, nefopam, and chlorzoxazone.

  • Diclofenac, ibuprofen, naproxen, and indomethacin are NSAIDs which may cause increased risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as serious gastrointestinal damage including bleeding, ulceration, and fatal perforation of the stomach and intestines.
  • Chlorzoxazone is a muscle relaxant that is only available by prescription. Chlorzoxazone may cause drowsiness, dizziness, and lightheadedness, which may impair the ability to perform certain tasks, such as driving a motor vehicle or operating machinery.
  • Nefopam is a non-narcotic pain relieving drug that is not approved for marketing in the U.S. is not FDA-approved and its safety or efficacy has not been established.

arthritis drugConsumers should stop using this product immediately and throw it away. Consumers should consult a health care professional as soon as possible if they have experienced any negative side effects, such as unusually dark stools or urine, stomach pain, increased bruising, other signs of bleeding, confusion, sedation, hallucinations, and seizures.

Health care professionals and patients are encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of this product to the FDA’s MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program:

Contact FDA Toll Free (855) 543-3784, or (301) 796-3400 druginfo@fda.hhs.gov

How to Recognize a Scam

There are thousands perhaps millions of scams that find their way into our lives every dayscam alert.  Some of them sound and look so legitimate we don’t recognize them until it is too late.

QuackWatch is a website run by a couple of physicians who keep an eye out for phony medical claims.  One such claim is that we all suffer from some sort of vitamin deficiency.  Stephen Barrett, M.D. and Victor Herbert, M.D., J.D. are pretty astute and have developed a list of 26 Ways to Spot Quacks and Vitamin Pushers.  I will list only a few here.  You can find the rest on their website. http://www.quackwatch.com/

They Claim That Most Americans Are Poorly Nourished

This is an appeal to fear that is not only untrue, but ignores the fact that the main forms of bad nourishment in the United States are obesity in the population at large (particularly the poor) and undernourishment among the poverty-stricken. Poor people can ill afford to waste money on unnecessary vitamin pills. Their food money should be spent on nourishing food.

It is falsely alleged that Americans are so addicted to “junk” foods that an adequate diet is exceptional rather than usual. While it is true that some snack foods are mainly “naked calories” (sugars and/or fats without other nutrients), it is not necessary for every morsel of food we eat to be loaded with nutrients. In fact, no normal person following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is in any danger of vitamin deficiency.

They Say That Most Diseases Are Due to Faulty Diet
and Can Be Treated with “Nutritional” Methods.

This simply isn’t so. Consult your doctor or any recognized textbook of medicine. They will tell you that although diet is a factor in some diseases (most notably coronary heart disease), most diseases have little or nothing to do with diet. Common symptoms like malaise (feeling poorly), fatigue, lack of pep, aches (including headaches) or pains, insomnia, and similar complaints are usually the body’s reaction to emotional stress. The persistence of such symptoms is a signal to see a doctor to be evaluated for possible physical illness. It is not a reason to take vitamin pills

They Suggest That a Questionnaire Can Be Used
to Indicate Whether You Need Dietary Supplements.

questionaireNo questionnaire can do this. A few entrepreneurs have devised lengthy computer-scored questionnaires with questions about symptoms that could be present if a vitamin deficiency exists. But such symptoms occur much more frequently in conditions unrelated to nutrition. Even when a deficiency actually exists, the tests don’t provide enough information to discover the cause so that suitable treatment can be recommended. That requires a physical examination and appropriate laboratory tests. Many responsible nutritionists use a computer to help evaluate their clients’ diet. But this is done to make dietary recommendations, such as reducing fat content or increasing fiber content. Supplements are seldom necessary unless the person is unable (or unwilling) to consume an adequate diet.

They Use Anecdotes and Testimonials to Support Their Claims.

Establishing medical truths requires careful and repeated investigation—with well-designed individual endorsementexperiments, not reports of coincidences misperceived as cause-and-effect. That’s why testimonial evidence is forbidden in scientific articles, is usually inadmissible in court, and is not used to evaluate whether or not drugs should be legally marketable. (Imagine what would happen if the FDA decided that clinical trials were too expensive and therefore drug approval would be based on testimonial letters or interviews with a few patients.)

They Claim They Are Being Persecuted by Orthodox Medicine
and That Their Work Is Being Suppressed Because It’s Controversial.

conspirancyThe “conspiracy charge” is an attempt to gain sympathy by portraying the quack as an “underdog.” Quacks typically claim that the American Medical Association is against them because their cures would cut into the incomes that doctors make by keeping people sick. Don’t fall for such nonsense! Reputable physicians are plenty busy. Moreover, many doctors engaged in prepaid health plans, group practice, full-time teaching, and government service receive the same salary whether or not their patients are sick—so keeping their patients healthy reduces their workload, not their income.

Phony Pharmacies

phony pharmacyThere is not a single area of healthcare that has not been scammed by crooks.  Consumers must continually keep their guard up. Because prescription drugs can be costly many people turn to on-line pharmacies who offer huge discounts for what they say is the same medicine but sometimes under a different name.   Again…buyer beware.

ScamWatch is an Australian organization that provides excellent advice.  They offer these tips to avoid wasting your money on offers that are, “Too good to be true.” I have edited their material.  For more and complete information go to http://www.scamwatch.gov.au/content/index.phtml/tag/Scamwatch/

Miracle cure scams?

Miracle cure scams cover a whole range of products and services which can appear to be legitimate snake oil cures allalternative medicine. They cover health treatments for all kinds of medical conditions from cancer and AIDS to arthritis and colds. Miracle cure scams usually promise quick and easy remedies for serious medical conditions.

Miracle cure scams are particularly nasty because they usually increase health and emotional stress, they are costly, and they can be dangerous if they prevent you from seeking expert medical advice. They exploit people’s hopes for improved health and end up causing more problems for people who already have enough to deal with.

Warning signs

  • The treatment claims to be effective against a very wide range of ailments.
  • The miracle cure is suggested after a condition is diagnosed using a questionnaire (often on the internet).
  • The product is sold through unconventional means. For example, it might be sold over the internet, by unqualified individuals, through mail order ads, or on television infomercials.
  • The product relies on some guru figure, or a certain ingredient that is claimed to have mystical properties.
  • There is no scientific evidence to back up the claim that the miracle cure actually works.
  • Miracle cures usually include anonymous testimonials, for example ‘Luke, from

Do your homework

You should seek independent medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health care professional about the miracle cure to see if it is safe and suitable for you. Remember that a legitimate diagnosis cannot be made by someone who is not qualified or has not seen you. Do not rely solely on information you find on the internet.

If you are interested in the product, find out if there are any published medical or research papers to back up the claims. Make sure you know the full cost of the product or service, and if there is a genuine money back guarantee.

Senior Citizens are Targets of Scammers and Quacks

senior scamsAs a senior citizen myself I see the scams and phony offers on a daily basis.  They come by email, snailmail, telephone and internet “News” flashes.  The best advice we can give is this.  If you don’t know the people who are making a claim, dismiss them and seek advice from someone you trust.

Here are some of the top scams that target senior citizens

http://www.ncoa.org/enhance-economic-security/economic-security-Initiative/savvy-saving-seniors/top-10-scams-targeting.html  (again, I have edited the material for the complete report click on the above link)

Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they’re now considered “the crime of the 21st century.”  Over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others.

Financial scams also often go unreported or can be difficult to prosecute, so they’re considered a “low-risk” crime. However, they’re devastating to many older adults and can leave them in a very vulnerable position with little time to recoup their losses.

Some ways to identify scams

Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraudsenior on phone

Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident over age 65 qualifies for Medicare, so there is rarely any need for a scam artist to research what private health insurance company older people have in order to scam them out of some money.

In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.

Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

Most commonly, counterfeit drug scams operate on the Internet, where seniors increasingly go to find better prices on specialized medications.

The danger is that besides paying money for something that will not help a person’s medical condition, victims may purchase unsafe substances that can inflict even more harm. This scam can be as hard on the body as it is on the wallet.

Funeral & Cemetery Scams

funeral scammerThe FBI warns about two types of funeral and cemetery fraud perpetrated on seniors.

In one approach, scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them, scammers will try to extort money from relatives to settle the fake debts.

Another tactic of disreputable funeral homes is to capitalize on family members’ unfamiliarity with the considerable cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill.

In one common scam of this type, funeral directors will insist that a casket, usually one of the most expensive parts of funeral services, is necessary even when performing a direct cremation, which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than an expensive display or burial casket.

Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products

In a society bombarded with images of the young and beautiful, it’s not surprising that some older people feel the need to conceal their age in order to participate more fully in social circles and the workplace.

Whether it’s fake Botox like the one in Arizona that netted its distributors (who were convicted and jailed in 2006) $1.5 million in barely a year, or completely bogus homeopathic remedies that do absolutely nothing, there is money in the anti-aging business.

Botox scams are particularly unsettling, as renegade labs creating versions of the real thing may still be working with the root ingredient, botulism neurotoxin, which is one of the most toxic substances known to science. A bad batch can have health consequences far beyond wrinkles or drooping neck muscles.

Telemarketing

Perhaps the most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older peopsenior scams on phonele, who as a group make twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average.

Examples of telemarketing fraud include:

“The Pigeon Drop”

The con artist tells the individual that he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a “good faith” payment by withdrawing funds from his/her bank account. Often, a second con artist is involved, posing as a lawyer, banker, or some other trustworthy stranger.

“The Fake Accident Ploy”

The con artist gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person’s child or another relative is in the hospital and needs the money.

“Charity Scams”

Money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters.

Investment Schemes

investment scammersBecause many seniors find themselves planning for retirement and managing their savings once they finish working, a number of investment schemes have been targeted at seniors looking to safeguard their cash for their later years.

From pyramid schemes like Bernie Madoff’s (which counted a number of senior citizens among its victims) to fables of a Nigerian prince looking for a partner to claim inheritance money to complex financial products that many economists don’t even understand, investment schemes have long been a successful way to take advantage of older people.

Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams

The reverse mortgage scam has mushroomed in recent years. With legitimate reverse mortgages increasing in frequency more than 1,300% between 1999 and 2008, scammers are taking advantage of this new popularity.

As opposed to official refinancing schemes, however, unsecured reverse mortgages can lead property owners to lose their homes when the perpetrators offer money or a free house somewhere else in exchange for the title to the property.

Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams

This simple scam is one that many are familiar with, and it capitalizes on the notion that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Here, scammers inform their mark that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind and need to make some sort of payment to unlock the supposed prize. Often, seniors will be sent a check that they can deposit in their bank account, knowing that while it shows up in their account immediately, it will take a few days before the (fake) check is rejected.

During that time, the criminals will quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize, which they pocket while the victim has the “prize money” removed from his or her account as soon as the check bounces.

The Grandparent Scam

The Grandparent Scam is so simple and so devious because it uses one of older adults’ most reliablegrandparent scam assets, their hearts.

Scammers will place a call to an older person and when the mark picks up, they will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research.

Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect.

At the same time, the scam artist will beg the grandparent “please don’t tell my parents, they would kill me.”

While the sums from such a scam are likely to be in the hundreds, the very fact that no research is needed makes this a scam that can be perpetrated over and over at very little cost to the scammer.

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smaller stillBob Aronson is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder and primary author of the blogs on this site and the founder of Facebook’s over 3,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative group.

Now retired and living in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife Robin he spends his time advocating for patients with end stage diseases and for organ recipients.  He is also active in helping his wife with her art business at art festivals and on her Rockin Robin Prints site on Etsy. 

Bob is a former journalist, Governor’s Communication Director and international communications consultant.

Posted on February 18, 2014, in quacks and crooks and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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