Consumer Protection

How to Protect Yourself: Health Fraud

Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office


Every year people trying to improve their health are taken advantage of by those trying to capitalize on the trend toward better lifestyles. Whether people are spending money on diet pills, smoking cures, health clubs, exercise equipment, vitamins, cancer or AIDS cures or low-calorie foods, it seems there is always someone out there to promise a miracle in exchange for money. Below is some information to help you distinguish between a scam and the real thing.

Always check with your doctor.

Always check with your doctor before you purchase and try diet pills, start an exercise regimen or begin taking an assortment of vitamins. Many diet pills contain ingredients that can be harmful to individuals with high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, or pregnant women. Someone who does not exercise at all should be wary of a fast-talking, high-pressure sales pitch from a health club and should consult with their physician as to whether such an exercise regimen is appropriate for their current physical condition. Also, some vitamin plans may be unnecessary, since many of the foods you eat everyday already offer a good supply of vitamins and other nutrients.

Beware body wraps, cellulite creams and sculpting massages.

Body wraps, cellulite creams, sculpting massages and other such quick “fat reducers” are only temporary measures, at best, and have no long term effects on body fat. The only sure way to lose weight and reduce fat is to eat healthier and exercise more. There are no magic pills, patches, potions or creams that can do this for you.

Be wary of food labels that claim to be “lite” and have “less fat than...”

The Food and Drug Administration has established standards governing food manufacturers, but you still need to read labels and carefully consider the comparisons made. For instance, a product that claims to have “1/3 less fat than potato chips” is not necessarily low in fat. And a “lite” frozen dinner with only 290 calories may not provide you with enough nutrients, or may not satisfy your appetite, so you end up eating more than you otherwise would.

Be skeptical of “cures” for devastating diseases or addictions.

“Cures” for devastating diseases such as cancer and AIDS are constantly being promoted, relying on desperate people to pay whatever it might take to obtain such a cure. Checking with a doctor and national organizations such as the American Cancer Society or the American Foundation for AIDS Research can help confirm that the promotion is nothing but a hoax promising a miracle. Similarly products touted as cures for alcohol or drug addictions are often methods by which a company can charge a monthly fee for pills that turn out to be vitamins or information that is available for free from various intervention programs. Look into accredited rehabilitation centers or a local program such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. For these conditions, there is no one-size-fits-all magic cure.

File a complaint.

If you believe you have been the victim of a product or company’s fraudulent health claims, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at www.myfloridalegal.com or by phone toll-free at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.