You see ads for miracle drugs everywhere these days—supplements that claim to stop or reverse aging, or make aches and pains disappear like magic! You might even see statements like, “This treatment cured my cancer in 1 week.” They appear to offer hope, but they aren’t true.
Today, there are more ways than ever to sell untested products—online, TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers are just a few examples. Actors portray doctors and patients on infomercials. You might even get an email urging you to try a product. It can be hard to tell what’s an ad.
The problem is serious. Untested remedies may be harmful. They may get in the way of medicines prescribed by your doctor. They may be expensive and a waste of money. And, sometimes, using these products keeps people from getting the medical treatment they need.
Why do people fall for these sales pitches? Unproven remedies promise false hope. Ads where people say they have been cured do not prove that a product works. They offer solutions that appear to be quick and painless. At best, these treatments are worthless. At worst, they are dangerous.
Health scams set their sights on people who are scared or in pain. It’s easy to see why a person might be tempted to believe in the promise of a miracle remedy. Living with a chronic health problem is hard.
Health scams usually target diseases that may have treatments for symptoms but currently have no cures. You may see ads for:
Clinical Trials: Evaluating Treatments
The best way for scientists to find out if a treatment works is through a clinical trial. A clinical trial is a research study in people. It might test ways to prevent, screen, diagnose, or treat a disease. Some studies compare how well different treatments work. Visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You  to learn about clinical trials.
Be skeptical. Question what you see or hear in ads or online. Newspapers, magazines, movies, and radio and TV stations do not always check to make sure the claims in their ads are true or say if a celebrity is being paid to endorse a product. Ask your doctor, nurse, other healthcare provider, or pharmacist about a product before you buy it. Don’t let a salesperson talk you into making a snap decision. Look for red flags in ads or promotional material that:
Two Federal Government agencies work to protect you from health scams. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can help you spot fraud and misleading ads. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protects the public by assuring the safety of prescription drugs, biological products, medical devices, food, cosmetics, and radiation-emitting products. If you have questions about a product, talk to your doctor. Getting the facts about healthcare products can help protect you from health scams.
Here are some helpful resources:
Federal Trade Commission
FTC Complaint Assistant
Food and Drug Administration
Room 5377, Building 32
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993
National Cancer Institute
BG 9609 MSC 9760
9609 Medical Center Drive
Bethesda, MD 20892-9760
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892-3675
U.S. Postal Inspection Service
Criminal Investigations Service Center
Attention: Mail Fraud
433 West Harrison Street, Room 3255
Chicago, IL 60699-3255
For more information on health and aging, contact:
Visit www.nihseniorhealth.gov , a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health and wellness information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button to make the type larger.
National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Updated September 2014