Quick Consumer’s Guide to Avoid Medical Scams

Each year more and more Americans are being scammed. While public awareness of fraudulent activity has improved, scammers tactics have become increasingly more elaborate and difficult to detect. What are some of the leading health scams tripping up even the most savvy of consumers?

On-line pharmacies With rising pharmacy costs, many consumers consider using an online supplier to save money on their prescriptions. There are many possible pitfalls when using these on line services. The drugs may be counterfeit, contaminated with harmful substances or missing the active ingredient necessary for the drug to be effective. Each of these scenarios can lead to side effects, worsening health or even death. If drugs are offered at a deep discount, don’t require a physician’s prescription, ship from outside the U.S. or come to you through spam email or unsolicited ads, BEWARE!

Miracle Cures We are all familiar with the claims that are just too good to be true. Lose 10 pounds per week without diet or exercise, look ten years younger with just a dab of cream. Scammers, however, go beyond and promise cures for such conditions as diabetes, cancer, alzheimer’s and autism. They even claim to have cures for the common cold. Often times, consumers are so desperate for a cure that they will delay conventional medical diagnosis and treatment. In some cases, the window of opportunity to cure or treat a disease has expired before the consumer realizes that the miracle cure was a costly lie. There are a few catch phrases used by fraudulent manufacturers to watch for: Quick fix, wonder drug, scientific break-through, ancient wonder re-discovered. Claims may be further substantiated by a doctor (played by an actor) or a scholarly individual who is a part of the break-through research team. Sometimes, consumers are solicited via a questionnaire or given a “free” testing kit that then identifies a new health condition for which the company conveniently sells the remedy. If the cure-all treats multiple diseases or those with no known cure, BEWARE. Despite convincing dramatic testimonials, if a cure or break through were real, reputable news agencies would be alerting us immediately and providing reliable, researchable and reproducible sources.

Medicare or Insurance Fraud Because most seniors have medicare, they are easy prey for scammers. They trick senior consumers into providing personal and financial information including their medicare ID number. Seniors come from a very trusting generation. To them it is inconceivable that those claiming to be with governmental agencies or health care agents would be deceptive. Solicitous calls are made to seniors using readily available online personal information. Seniors are then told they are being contacted for a variety of reasons and that they must provide their ID number to the caller in order to process necessary forms. In some cases, seniors are told that they are eligible for “free” services through medicare and only need provide additional information for services to start or equipment to be delivered.

Medical Alert System Fraud Per the Better Business Bureau, one of the top scams in 2014 involved tricking consumers into purchasing a service agreement for a medical alert system (1). Seniors were told that their physician, health care system, a reputable company or family member had purchased the medical alert device for them to keep them safe. All that was needed was a credit card to bill the monthly service charges and the device would then be shipped. Most of these calls were automatically dialed or robocalls and even displayed phone numbers with local area codes and exchanges via caller ID. Consumers who answered were then given various numbered options to press. Per the FBI, the best practice for consumers is to hang up immediately and never to press the numbers as instructed. Reporting to authorities is advisable.

If you suspect that you have been a victim of fraudulent activity, contact authorities immediately. Unfortunately, many individuals are reluctant to do so because they are embarrassed that they fell for the scam. Best practice is to NEVER give out personal information to anyone who has contacted you. If a company or individual with whom you have an ongoing relationship calls wanting information or verification, hang up and call back using a number you are confident is legitimate.

Additional links for more information on popular scams:

National Council on Aging Top 10 Scams Targeting Seniors

Federal Drug Administration Health Fraud Scams

1. BBB Top Ten Scams of 2014, January 27, 2015, Retrieved from https://www.bbb.org/council/news-events/consumer-tips/2015/01/bbb-top-ten-scams-of-2014/
2. Referred to U.S. Food and Drug Administration Health Fraud Scams, last updated April 20, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ProtectYourself/HealthFraud/default

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