Health Product Frauds: Remedy Rip-Offs

  • Bad Apples

    An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but a run-in with one of these fakers could seriously endanger your health. A recent MSNBC investigation showed just how easy it is to get a fake health product to be approved by the Health and Human Services Departments. And if it sounds like a rare occurrence, it’s not. The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest expects sales of useless health rememdies to reach $75 billion this year. We’ve collected some of the most notoriously ineffectual health products and also some of the most dangerous counterfeits on the market. Photo Credit: *USB*
    Acai Berry
  • Acai Berry

    The more I make these lists, the more I realize that Oprah gets duped a lot. Case in point: the acai Berry. Back in 2005, Oprah was touting this berry as a high-energy “superfood.” To be fair, Oprah wasn’t alone. Other celebrities and respected Web sites praised the miracle product.  But  in 2009, the truth started to come out.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest argued there was no evidence to support the claims that the berry could “shed pounds, flatten tummies, cleanse colon, enhance sexual desire, or perform any of the other commonly advertised functions.” Moreover, there have been too many instances of sellers offering free trials of the acai berry, only to scam customers for their credit card information. Photo Credit:
    St. John's Wort
  • St. John's Wort

    St. John’s Wort, a species of plant, has been marketed as a cure-all for pretty much everything, including depression, HIV and attention deficit disorder. Yet, according to the National Institute of Health, there is little to no evidence to support these claims. In fact, the NIH reports that there were actually some adverse effects from this drug when it came to treating HIV. And other studies have shown that St. John’s Wort has no effect on attention deficit disorder. However, if you do have this lying around the house, it does seem to have some positive effects on depression. Photo Credit: Hunda
    Attention Deficit Disorder Herbs & Supplements
  • Attention Deficit Disorder Herbs & Supplements

    St. John’s Wort is not the only fake cure for attention deficit disorder. Many parents have also been convinced to use herbs and supplements like ginkgo biloba, panax ginseng, melatonin, and pine bark extract. Unfortunately, as wonderful as all of these sound (especially the pine bark extract),  none have been proven to work. And more importantly, because these are herbal remedies, they do not actually require FDA approval to be sold, which means they are pretty much unregulated. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there have been several cases of people getting sicker or dying from these supplements. Photo Credit: chris.corwin
    Arthritis Remedies
  • Arthritis Remedies

    There have been a number of fake products to treat arthritis over the years. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “Consumers spend an estimated $2 billion a year on unproven arthritis remedies - thousands of dietary and so-called natural cures, like mussel extract, desiccated liver pills, shark cartilage, CMO (cetylmyristoleate), honey and vinegar mixtures, and magnets and copper bracelets” Who would have thought that a dose of shark cartilage would fail to do the trick? Photo Credit: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino23
    Anti-Aging Products
  • Anti-Aging Products

    Attempts to market the fountain of youth are fraught with fraud. In 2005, the Federal Trade Commission stopped two corporations, Great American Products and Physicians Choice, Inc, from selling anti-aging pills and sprays. More recently, a new crop of anti-aging pills have been released which rely on resveratrol, an ingredient found in wine. Scientists speculate that this might be the magic element that explains why the French can live decadent lives but remain healthier than us. Sirtris Pharmaceuticals (now owned by GlaxoSmithKline) claims to have produced an anti-aging product based on resveratol but there are already several new studies that cast doubts on whether this works as intended. If you are really looking for the secret to a longer life, don’t try any of these pills, just read this great piece in National Geographic. Photo Credit: Idol
    Swine Flu Swindles
  • Swine Flu Swindles

    While most Americans went into a frenzy over the fear of a swine flu pandemic, a few savvy people decided to ramp up marketing for magic swine flu cures and “survival kits.” Last year, the FDA identified more than a hundred fake products. According to the Wall Street Journal, “In addition to products like gloves, masks and dietary supplements, the list of fraudulent products included more unusual products as well, including a shampoo, a nasal sanitizer and a spray that that coats one’s hands with a layer of protective ‘ionic silver.’” Some Web sites also started selling fake Tamiflu products. The only real products that are approved by the FDA to treat swine flu are Relenza and Tamiflu. Photo Credit: Anil Jadhav
    Fake Alli Diet Pills
  • Fake Alli Diet Pills

    No, Alli diet pills have not been proven to be fake. However, there has been a wave of counterfeit Alli pills floating around that consumers should be wary of. Besides being a waste of money, the counterfeit pills are actually very dangerous. According to CNN, they contain “excessive amounts” of sibutramine, a controlled substance. In trials done by the FDA, this was shown to cause “heart palpitations, sleeplessness, anxiety, dry mouth , nausea and shakiness.” All the cases of counterfeit Alli were the result of customers shopping online. There are several ways to distinguish the two. For example, real Alli products have a seal on them that say “Sealed for Your Protection” in white ink. The counterfeit ones do not. Photo Credit:
    Weight Loss Frauds
  • Weight Loss Frauds

    In 2007, the most common scam that Americans fell prey to was weight loss fraud. The FTC attacked the marketers of one popular weight loss supplement called Hoodia, accusing them of flat out lying when they claimed the product lead to weight loss and appetite suppression. The FTC has also gone after other weight loss products like Xenadrine EFX and TrimSpa. And of course, there are dubious weight loss centers and tons of ineffective diets out there. Photo Credit: bethography - melting mama
    Fake Cancer Cures
  • Fake Cancer Cures

    Until someone finds a real cure for cancer, we’ll just have to suffer an endless procession of fake cures. The FDA has a running list of nearly 200 bogus cancer cures. Some of the highlights from the list include bladder cancer tea formula, wild yam cream and, of course, shark cartilage. Apparently, shark cartilage can be marketed as a cure for anything even though the only living things that seem to really need it are sharks. Photo Credit: Aine D
  • Viagra

    Viagra started off the last decade with the dubious distinction of being one of the most counterfeited drugs in the world, and the fakes just keep on coming all over the world. One report by Pfizer, the company that manufactures Viagra, found that a Hungarian sample contained amphetamine, a UK sample contained caffeine and bulk lactose and that printer ink had been used to colour some samples blue.” Other samples apparently contained substances that could have seriously harmful side effects. As is true with several other products on this list, the secret is to try to refrain from buying these products online. Even if you feel embarrassed walking into your local drug store and asking for Viagra, the risks of relying on online distributors is very often just not worth it. Photo Credit: adam_d_
    Bogus Faith Healers
  • Bogus Faith Healers

    It might be a bit of a stretch to call faith healers a product, but still, it’s worth mentioning here.  There is a long and contentious history of faith healing, both in America and abroad. Quackwatch, a non-profit consumer advocacy Web site, argues that there is no proven example of faith healing actually curing someone, but there are plenty examples of faith healers trying to deceive people into believing they have. Meanwhile, there are many instances of faith healers scamming the desperate (from multiple religions.) Two brothers in San Jose, California reportedly scammed hundreds with “sleight-of-hand illusions,” and coerced people to pay them  with threats of death and divine curses. Having said all of that, we don’t want to discredit the power of faith, but mainly to urge you to use the same caution with random faith healers as you would with any other  salesman on the street. Photo Credit: khrawlings
    Teeth Whitening Products
  • Teeth Whitening Products

    Teeth whitening products have exploded in recent years, and so have the teeth whitening scams. While some products actually do work, many just trick customers into giving out their personal information in exchange for free trials. Some customers reported ordering and paying for tooth whitener from a company called Dazzle White, only to receive empty tubes. Photo Credit: PWA Test Engineering
    Diabetes Miracle Cures
  • Diabetes Miracle Cures

    Over the last few years, the FTC has targeted dozens of Web sites selling fake diabetes cures, forcing them to either shut down all together or amend their claims. In one notable case, the FTC attacked Dia-Cope, a pill that “claimed to prevent, treat and cure diabetes,” and forced them to give up all their profits. Photo Credit: mattza
  • Pfizer

    As we mentioned in a previous piece,  Pfizer has been sued multiple times for trying to illegally market their drugs as treatments for diseases other than those that the FDA had approved. One of the most notable examples was the marketing of Bextra, a painkiller that had only been approved for use for arthritis and menstrual pain at low doses, but was marketed as an option to be used in other instances, like before and after having knee surgery, despite known cardiovascular risks. Photo Credit: colros
    Tips for How to Avoid Falling Victim to These Frauds
  • Tips for How to Avoid Falling Victim to These Frauds

    The Federal Trade Commission has a list of several useful tips to avoid being suckered into buying fake health products. In general, when a product is advertised with buzz words like “miraculous cure” and “scientific breakthrough,” it’s a good indication that you shouldn’t buy it. Similarly, if the drug promises to be a cure-all for lots of different ailments, it’s probably a faker. Besides that, we would suggest being cautious when purchasing items online. If you can find the same product in a drug store near you, then buy that instead. Photo Credit: daoro
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