Health and medical product scams may sell you healthcare products at low prices that you never receive, or make false promises about their ‘cure-all’ products, medicines and treatments.
How this scam works
There are two primary forms of health and medical product scams, fake online pharmacies and miracle cures. Both involve the sale of medical products which may be dangerous or ineffective. If you have concerns over your health always consult a doctor.
Fake online pharmacies
Fake online pharmacies are scams that are designed to trick you into paying for items you will never receive, or items that do not live up to their claims.
Scammers will set up fake pharmacy websites that are designed to look like legitimate retailers. They will offer health products, medicines and drugs at very cheap prices or without the need for a prescription from a doctor.
Prescription-only medicine requires a doctor or other qualified healthcare professional to have examined you. Most medicines have at least some side-effects and these can be very serious for some people. They can also have dangerous interactions with medicines you are already taking.
If you take up an offer, and pay the ‘retailer’, you may never receive the items you ordered. If you do receive the products that you order, there is no guarantee that they are the real thing. In some cases, the medicines or other products may even damage your health.
Miracle cure scams usually promise quick and easy remedies for serious medical conditions. They exploit the emotional vulnerability of people who are suffering from serious health problems.
These scams cover a range of products and services which can appear to be legitimate alternative medicine. They can take the form of health treatments for medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS, arthritis or the common cold. Some products even claim to be a ‘cure-all’ for diseases or specific symptoms.
Miracle cure scams are usually promoted by people with no medical qualifications who will tell you all sorts of stories to explain why their products are not supported by conventional doctors. For example, they might talk about secret ancient techniques that challenge modern practices or medical industry conspiracies that aim to silence them.
These phony products can have dangerous interactions with medicines you’re already taking. They might even cause you to delay or stop medical treatment for your condition, even when proven treatments are available from your physician.
You receive an unsolicited email offering cheap or hard-to-get pills or treatments. Often, these emails will promote well-known drugs such as Prozac or Viagra. Or the email offers unrealistic benefits from their medical or health product.
The products offered normally require a prescription.
The pharmacy’s website is based overseas or does not include a contact telephone number or street address.
The treatment claims to be effective against a very wide range of ailments, but there is no scientific evidence to back up the claim that the miracle cure actually works.
- The product or scheme lacks scientific evidence or demonstrated links between the result and the effects of the program, food, supplement, gadget or process being promoted.
Be careful about offers for medicines, supplements or other treatments: always seek independent medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health care professional about the product to find out if it is safe and suitable for you.
A medical diagnosis cannot be made by someone who is not qualified or has not seen you. Do not rely solely on information you find on the internet.
Find out if there are any published medical or research papers to back up the claims of the product. Make sure you know the full cost of the product or service, and if there is a genuine money back guarantee.
- When using a retail website find out exactly who you are dealing with. If it is an Australian company you are in a much better position to sort out the problem if something goes wrong.
If you require online deliveries, ask your healthcare professional if they can recommend any online pharmacies to fill your prescription. Never access an online pharmacy site through a link in an unsolicited email, just delete the email.
Legitimate pharmacies that trade online will list their full contact details and will require a valid doctor’s prescription before they send out any prescription medicine.
If you want to use an overseas-based online pharmacy, you should check with the Therapeutic Goods Administration that the product does not contain any ingredients that are prohibited in Australia. Remember, it can be much harder to sort out any problems with an overseas company.
- Be suspicious of uninvited emails or pop-up boxes offering you unbelievable deals. Do not open suspicious or unsolicited emails (spam) and do not click on or open any files attached to them: delete them.
- Do an internet search using the website name or exact wording of the email or message to check for possible customer feedback and any references to a scam – many scams can be identified this way.
Have you been scammed?
If you've been scammed there are steps you can take to minimise the damage and prevent further loss.
We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.
We also provide guidance on protecting yourself from scams and where to get help.
Spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.