There is a massive amount of health misinformation online, and unfortunately, scammers are cashing in on bogus health claims. They sell goods or services with sensationalized marketing claims that promise overnight results. In reality, many of these products do not improve health, and some can even be dangerous. Keep reading to learn how to identify a wellness scam and how you can protect yourself.
A wellness scam sells products or services that promise miraculous health results even though little evidence supports the claims.
Scammers target different populations, but the weight-loss industry attracts the most scam products.
You can avoid scammers by diligently researching the company, taking your time to digest the information before purchasing, and seeking out the opinion of an expert before buying.
What is a wellness scam?
A wellness scam is a business practice that relies on consumers to pay for a product or service that promises health results, but consumers do not experience any benefits after purchasing and using the goods.
Unfortunately, these exploitative practices occur regularly in the health and wellness industry because they take advantage of vulnerable people. People are desperate for relief, cures, and anything else that can alleviate their pain and improve their health. Scammers also use several loopholes in marketing to their advantage when pushing their products to market.
The weight-loss industry is notoriously riddled with scammers and people who are seeking out weight-loss products online should be extra-vigilant. Although it may sound cynical, remember that if something on the web sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Examples of wellness scams
Sensationalistic titles that capture your attention are common in wellness scams. “This product will help your hair grow overnight!” or “If you use this product, you will lose weight in just five days!” If you don’t experience results, the company may encourage you to buy more products and encourage you to keep using them.
Wellness scams often sell products with vague and widespread benefits, such as a pill that helps with blood sugars, brain health, cancer prevention, and immune health. That is a hefty order for one pill. Scam products can be sold in the form of:
- Powdered products you mix with water
- Cleansing juices
There are many more examples of products that overpromise their effectiveness and under-deliver.
If you are unsure if a product is legit, ask your medical team for their scientific expertise. There have been instances where people have unknowingly compromised their health by using a product with harmful ingredients. Sometimes these ingredients are added to products without labeling, which is illegal and highly dangerous.
How to avoid wellness scams
As a consumer, you can equip yourself against wellness scams by educating yourself on red flags (businesses and products to avoid), but also learn which companies are the real deal and can actually help you.
- Consider the source behind the information. Is the product coming from a robust team of licensed health professionals? Legitimate companies publish scientific research on their platform to prove their products are the real deal, and you should look for this type of content.
- If you can’t interpret the data, ask your healthcare team for their input. They are trained to decipher scientific literature and can help you make an informed decision.
- Avoid impulse purchasing a product. Give yourself a 24-hour window to digest the information before spending money.
- Review testimonials from the website with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for reviews to be paid incentives (which can influence the honesty of the review) or for them to be entirely fictional.
- Research the company outside its platform and see what others say. Reliable online communities are filled with people who share their honest opinions to try and help others avoid scams.
I’ve been scammed. What now?
Hopefully, no harm will come to you if you have fallen victim to a wellness scam. Follow up with your doctor if you have concerns about your health after using a product.
Next, reach out to the seller/scammer and request a return. A potential next step is to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Taking action and reporting a scam can help the government become aware of these companies and investigate them thoroughly.
Be kind to yourself
Being scammed may feel embarrassing, but it is a very common occurrence, and you should not feel ashamed. Scammers are preying on vulnerabilities and are trained to take advantage of people at their lowest. Be kind and gracious to yourself if you’ve been scammed, and try to move forward from the experience.
You can turn to your medical team if you want to make health changes. They can refer you to appropriate specialists that can help you safely improve your health without relying on scam products and goods. If you’ve tried this in the past but haven’t seen results — try someone new! It takes time to find the right fit, but the right provider is out there.
- FDA. Health Fraud Scams.
- Federal Trade Commission. Common Health Scams.
- FDA. Public Notifications and Safety Alerts - Health Fraud.