Facts for Consumers from the Federal Trade Commission

Health Claims: Separating Fact from Fiction -- April 1992

Although health care may well be the number one interest in the country today, health fraud has become a major cause for concern. Billions of consumer dollars are wasted on useless remedies and devices. Even worse, consumers with medical problems may waste valuable time before getting proper treatment. That delay may do serious harm and endanger lives.

But there are ways to tell which health-related products are legitimate and which are not. This brochure tells you how to spot worthless claims and explains how the fraud business works. It describes some typical areas where fraud flourishes and suggests what you can do to help stop the problem.

How You Can Spot Worthless Claims

Being well-informed enables you to spot health fraud. Learn to recognize worthless products by the typical phrases often used to promote them.

Does the ad promise "a quick and easy cure"?

Is the product advertised as effective for a wide range of ailments or for an undiagnosed pain?

Does the promoter use key words such as "miraculous," "exclusive," "secret," or "ancient"?

Is the product advertised as available from only one source, requiring payment in advance?

Does the promoter use undocumented case histories that sound too good to be true?

In addition, don't rely on promises of a "money-back guarantee." Be aware that many fly-by-night operators will never be there to respond to a refund request.

Why Health Fraud Schemes Work

Health fraud, or quackery, is a business that sells false hope. It preys on persons who are victims of diseases that have no complete medical cures, such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and certain forms of cancer. It also thrives on the wishful thinking of those who want short-cuts to weight loss or improvements to personal appearance. It makes enormous profits because it claims to offer quick cures and easy solutions to better health and personal attractiveness.

Health fraud operators have always been quick to exploit trends. While legitimate medical science is continually advancing, unscrupulous promoters are quick to market useless concoctions as medical "breakthroughs." Recently, for example, fraudulent promoters have taken advantage of the fitness movement by selling a variety of useless "weight-loss" products, such as special "weight-reducing" garments.

While the health fraud business causes widespread economic harm, the most harmful frauds of all are the ones that turn people away from proper medical diagnosis and treatment of serious illnesses. In addition, some bogus products themselves may be harmful.

Where Health Fraud Schemes Occur

Consumers can avoid problems and save money by learning some basic facts about health fraud. The following sections discuss five areas where health fraud commonly occurs. This is not an exhaustive list, but it may help you become better informed and spend your health-care dollars more effectively.


If you or a family member are one of the estimated 37 million Americans who suffer from one of the many forms of arthritis, be aware that this disease invites a flood of fraudulent products. This is because, so far, medical science has found no cure for arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation estimates that $1 billion is spent annually on unproven arthritis remedies.

Thousands of dietary and natural "cures" have been sold for arthritis -- mussel extract, vitamin pills, desiccated liver pills, and honey and vinegar mixtures. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), no herb, either by itself or in combination with other ingredients, is a cure for any form of arthritis. In addition, there is no medical evidence to suggest that a lack of vitamins or minerals causes arthritis or that taking vitamin or mineral supplements will give relief.

If you have arthritis and are searching for a cure, you should know that arthritis is a serious condition that should be treated by a doctor. Miracle "cures," copper bracelets, and even self-prescribed over-the-counter pain-relieving products cannot take the place of appropriate medical advice and treatment. The Arthritis Foundation advises that arthritis symptoms should be monitored by a doctor because the problem can worsen if not properly treated.

For a free brochure about unproven remedies, call the Arthritis Foundation, toll-free, 1-800-283-7800 (9:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday - Friday), or write: Arthritis Foundation, P.O. Box 19000, Atlanta, Georgia 30326.


Because the diagnosis of cancer can bring feelings of fear and hopelessness, many people who have been diagnosed as having a form of cancer may be tempted to turn to unproven remedies or clinics that promise a cure. As an aid in evaluating cancer-cure claims, keep in mind that there is no one device or remedy capable of diagnosing or treating all types of cancer. Cancer is a name given to the wide range of diseases requiring different forms of treatment determined by a doctor. Medical science has been able to help many cancer patients, but use of a bogus remedy can delay proper diagnosis and treatment by your doctor. For more information about the seven early warning signs of cancer, contact the American Cancer Society office listed in your Yellow Pages. To order free publications on cancer research and treatment, call the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service: 1-800-422-6237.

Weight Loss

If you, or others you know, are attempting to lose weight, consider these basic facts:

If you want to lose weight you must lower your calorie intake or increase your calorie use by exercise. Claims that you can eat all you want and lose weight effortlessly are not true. There are no products that will let you lose weight effortlessly. Be skeptical about any such claims. For example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) obtained a consent order against a promoter that claimed its $300 device, custom fitted to the purchaser's ear, stimulated acupuncture points and controlled hunger. The consent order settled FTC charges that the advertising was deceptive. Every diet that works requires reducing your calorie intake or increasing your calorie use through exercise. The FTC has specifically held that it is deceptive to advertise otherwise.

If you want to lose weight and tone up as well, you must exercise. If you want to look fit, particularly as you grow older, you must exercise. Any product that promises to trim you down and tone you up effortlessly is a fraud.

Fat Deposits

"Cellulite" is a name advertisers sometimes use for the fat that some people accumulate around their thighs, buttocks, and stomachs. Before you buy products advertised to dissolve "cellulite," here are some important things to keep in mind:

No amount of rubbing, wrapping, massaging, or scrubbing will get rid of fat deposits. The best way to reduce fat deposits is by dieting to lose weight and exercising to improve muscle tone.

No special vitamin or mineral supplement can dissolve fat deposits. Again, the best way to lose weight -- including fat on thighs, buttocks, and stomach -- is to follow a sensible diet and exercise program.

For more information about nutrition, diet, health, and exercise, write to the American Heart Association, Suite 200, 2233 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007.


If you are bald or your hair is thinning, you may be a target for health fraud. You should know that:

No over-the-counter cream, lotion, or device can prevent baldness, induce new hair to grow, or cause hair to become thicker. Over-the-counter (non-prescription), do-it-yourself "remedies" are ineffective because most baldness is hereditary. Ninety percent of all baldness is due to the inherited trait known as "male pattern baldness." Also, no over-the-counter cream, lotion, or device can treat other types of baldness, including those caused by ringworm, systemic disease, glandular defects, or local infection. For a proper diagnosis of the cause of baldness and to discuss possible treatment, see your physician.

Artificial hair implants are dangerous and will not stimulate natural hair growth. The implanting of polyester or modacrylic fibers into the scalp can cause serious infections, bleeding, and loss of natural hair. According to a complaint brought by the FTC against one company, such implants are generally recognized by doctors as unsafe and ineffective treatment for baldness, thinning hair, the loss of hair, or for the replacement of lost hair. Synthetic implanted hairs fall out or break off shortly after being inserted. Such treatment has a high probability of discomfort and pain and a high risk of infection, skin disease, and scarring.

For additional information about baldness, write to the American Academy of Dermatology, P.O. Box 3116, Evanston, Illinois 60204-3116.

What Federal Agencies Do To Stop Health Fraud And What You Can Do To Help

Although the government requires that over-the-counter drugs satisfy established standards of safety and effectiveness before being marketed, many unscrupulous companies advertise and sell products without meeting these requirements. There are, however, laws that prohibit health fraud in the marketplace and those laws can be enforced against sellers and advertisers of bogus products. At the federal level, three agencies have principal responsibility for monitoring the sale and advertising of fraudulent health products. By being aware of the health fraud problem and by reporting suspicious products to the appropriate agency, you can help get dangerous or worthless products off the market.

The Food and Drug Administration

The FDA has jurisdiction over the content and labeling of foods, drugs, medical devices, and cosmetic products. The FDA can take law enforcement action to seize and prohibit the sale of products that are falsely labeled. If you have questions or wish to report a fraudulent company, contact an FDA field office (listed in your phone book under Department of Health and Human Services), or write to: FDA Headquarters, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, Maryland 20857.

The Federal Trade Commission

The FTC has jurisdiction over the advertising and marketing of foods, non-prescription drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, and health care services. Under the FTC Act, unfair or deceptive acts or practices, in or affecting commerce, are illegal. The FTC has the authority to prohibit such acts or practices. It can seek federal court injunctions to halt fraudulent claims quickly and to obtain redress for injured consumers. If you have questions about claims made in advertising or in other promotions for health or cosmetic products or services, write to: Correspondence Branch, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580.

United States Postal Service

The USPS has jurisdiction over fraudulent health care products that are advertised or sold through the mail. To complain about fraudulent mail order products, write to: Chief Postal Inspector, United States Postal Service, Washington, D.C. 20260-2112.

Where To Get More Information

In general, ask questions and seek information from a wide variety of sources. In addition to the FDA, FTC, and USPS contacts, you may want to use these other resources.

When you have a question about the value of a product, ask your pharmacist or doctor.

Contact officials in your state Attorney General's office or your local consumer agency to get more information or to report problems. These offices will be listed in your telephone directory.

Write or call the Better Business Bureau for information or to report a problem. Check your telephone directory for the office nearest you, or write to: Council of Better Business Bureaus, 4200 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 22203.

Check your local library for books on health care and particular health issues, including fraud and quackery.


Return to Consumer Information

Return to Kraut & Kraut Law Firm Home Page