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Health Quackery: Spotting Health Scams

(continued)

What Do Quacks Promise? continued...

Cancer Cures. Quacks prey on people's fear of cancer. They promote treatments with no proven value - for example, a diet dangerously low in protein or drugs such as Laetrile. By using unproven methods, people with cancer may lose valuable time and the chance to receive a proven, effective treatment. This delay may lessen the chance for controlling or curing the disease.

Memory Aids. Many people worry about losing their memory as they age. They may wrongly believe false promises that unproven treatments can help them keep or improve their memory. So-called smart pills, removal of amalgam dental fillings, and brain retraining exercises are all examples of untested approaches that claim to help memory.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Health Scams?

Be wary. Question what you see or hear in ads or on the internet. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV stations do not always check to make sure the claims in their ads are true. Find out about a product before you buy. Don't let a sales person force you to make a snap decision. Check with your doctor first.

Remember stories about the old snake oil salesman who traveled from town to town making claims for his fabulous product? Well, chances are today's quack is using the same sales tricks. Look for red flags in ads or promotional material that:

Promise a quick or painless cure,

  • Claim to be made from a special, secret, or ancient formula - often only available by mail or from one sponsor,

  • Use testimonials or undocumented case histories from satisfied patients,

  • Claim to be effective for a wide range of ailments,

  • Claim to cure a disease (such as arthritis or cancer) that is not yet understood by medical science,

  • Offer an additional "free" gift or a larger amount of the product as a "special promotion," or

  • Require advance payment and claim limited availability of the product.

For More Information

If you have questions about a product, talk to your doctor or contact one of the organizations below. Get the facts about health products and protect yourself from health care hoaxes.

National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Information Service (CIS)
Phone: 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237)
TTY: 1-800-332-8615
cis.nci.nih.gov

National Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NIAMS)
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892
Phone: 1-877-22-NIAMS (1-877-226-4267 - toll-free)
TTY: 301-565-2966
www.niams.nih.gov

Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB)
4200 Wilson Boulevard
8th Floor
Arlington, VA 22203
Check the telephone book for the number of your local chapter.
www.bbb.org

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
Phone: 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357-toll-free)
TTY: 1-800-326-2996
www.ftc.gov

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857-0001
Phone: 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332-toll-free)
www.fda.gov

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

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