5 Most Shameless Health Scams
It seems that there's always a miracle pill, health gadget, or fad diet promising to help you drop a considerable amount of weight in no time at all. Or perhaps you've heard tales of individuals who have shamelessly defrauded the health-care system for millions of dollars. In fact, the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association estimates that fraud collectively costs Americans between $60 billion and $100 billion a year. Here, a list of some of the worst health scams in history and what you can do to avoid them.
1. Smoker's science.
A 1950's Camel Cigarettes ad proclaims: "More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette." Science had been invoked from the 1920s into the 1950s by brands trying to get you to smoke their cigarettes. Other vintage ads made claims stating that "scientific tests" prove that Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields are milder than other cigarettes or that Pall Mall cigarettes guard against throat scratch. These claims may seem absurd by today's standards, when each pack brandishes the Surgeon General's Warning containing information about the various health risks. However, not long ago it was acceptable to say that Kools would help "your tongue and throat stay cool and smooth."
2. Staying trim.
In 2003, multi-page newspaper ads flooded American homes with weight loss claims, testimonials, and drastic before and after photos. Millions of dollars worth of television ads featuring Anna Nicole Smith claimed that TrimSpa would help "stave off hunger." In 2007, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that the marketers of TrimSpa agreed to pay a $1.5 million settlement for false advertising and that the company was prohibited from "from making any claims about the health benefits, performance, efficacy, safety, or side effects of TrimSpa...unless the claims are true, not misleading, and substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence." In 2008, TrimSpa's parent company, Goen Technologies Corp., filed for bankruptcy.
3. Adolescent advertising.
In a time when approximately 15.5 percent of American children are obese, it makes sense for parents to look for some outside help to assist their children with weight issues. PediaLean, which advertised in tabloids and magazines, is a fiber capsule that made the claim that it was "clinically proven safe and effective for use by overweight children and adolescents." However, tests revealed abdominal discomfort in many children. It was found that the active ingredient, glucomannan, is known to clump in the body and form an obstructive mass. In 2006, the FTC ordered PediaLean, along with several other weight-loss products, to pay $3 million in false claims.
4. Surgical swindlers.
In 2006, Tam Vu Pham and dentist Alireza Asgari were among the most shameless when it came to insurance scammers. Pham pleaded guilty to his role in a scheme where he paid an estimated 5,000 healthy people to allow surgeons to operate on them. The Southern California medical clinic he owned then fraudulently billed insurers for more than $96 million. Surgeons performed a variety of invasive procedures such as colonoscopies and sweaty-palm surgery. Asgari, a dentist in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, went to jail for performing hundreds of unneeded root canals, cavities, and extractions to steal nearly $370,000 in insurance money.
5. Becoming a diet-ear.
The Magic Ear Staple is a device that claimed to apply pressure on a point on the upper ear that curbs one's appetite. In Mississippi, the Magic Ear Staple has been linked to a variety of infections. For the cost of $75 for both ears, an individual would have their ears stapled for the sake of losing weight. Stapling is conducted by workers trained in one afternoon class and done in the home of anyone willing to undergo the procedure. The Magic Ear Staple warned: "Remove staples in four weeks or risk severe infection and the staples becoming embedded."
Being Scam Savvy
Like breaking up, catching a scam is hard to do. Turn a cautious eye to products claiming to be a scientific breakthrough, a secret formula, or a miraculous cure. Also, the more ailments a product asserts to treat, the more suspicious it is. Testimonials from "cured" consumers should also put you on alert. A good source to reference is the FTC's website, which has a variety of scam alerts and tips on how to spot a scam.
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