Warning Signs of Quackery and Fraud – Part 5

Here’s Part 5, the last of a series from an excerpt from my and Donal O’Mathuna’s book, Alternative Medicine: The options, claims, evidence, how to choose wisely. You find the book here.

21. Does the product you’re considering require advance payment? Look out! You may never receive what you bought or get your money back.

22. Does the advertisement promise a “money-back guarantee”? Fraudulent businesses will have closed shop and moved on before you have a chance to complain.

23. Is the therapy available only in other countries? Foreign countries have legitimate clinics, but they can also have fraudulent ones. Some countries have very lax regulations for clinics and products. Physicians may not be required to have the same credentials as you would expect in the United States. Before traveling, contact the local health authority where the clinic is located.

24. Are there conflicts of interest? Websites and people who recommend and sell products may not be as objective about the product as you would hope. You need to be as cautious about doctors and nurses selling magnets and herbs as you do an acupuncturist selling vitamins. If practitioners tell you they have discovered a great new product and then try to sell it to you, you need a second opinion from someone who does not stand to gain financially from the sale.

25. Is the term “natural” the main advantage of the remedy? Do promoters claim that the product is safer because it’s natural? Natural does not necessarily mean safe. Nature contains many poisons that are fatal (like certain mushrooms), highly irritating (think about poison ivy), or cause allergic reactions (like pollen or even milk, for some people). If something natural has the potential to heal, it also has the potential to hurt.

A popular “quack-buster” is Stephen Barrett, M.D., a nationally renowned author, editor, and consumer advocate. He has published dozens of books, including The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America. He is actively involved in professional bodies and consumer groups. Dr. Barrett usually is not spoken of in glowing terms by CAM practitioners. They claim he is not licensed to practice medicine (without mentioning that while practicing medicine he was licensed to do so). Many believe he is closed to new ideas, a crusader out to preserve the antiquated ways of conventional medicine.

We feel he gets closer to the truth than most of them do—at least on scientific grounds. We disagree with some of his conclusions, especially on spiritual issues. But even there, when he looks at the scientific evidence related to faith and health, he is very fair. His Website, www.quackwatch.org, is usually a good one for discovering the latest research on health fads, quacks, and frauds.

You can find more information in my book, Alternative Medicine: The options, claims, evidence, how to choose wisely.

Here’s the entire series:

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