By: Jonca Bull, M.D., and Jason Humbert, R.N.
Consumers are constantly bombarded by advertisements for fraudulent medical treatments and cures — dangerous scams that often target the most vulnerable populations. FDA is fighting back with its own enhanced educational initiative. And we’re urging health professionals and community leaders to help.
During National Consumer Protection Week, from March 6-12, FDA is launching a new multimedia and multilingual initiative, including a new video (see below) and a consumer article, all translated into English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog. The purpose of these materials? Alerting consumers of the dangers of imported tainted products falsely marketed as dietary supplements, and providing tips on how to prevent health fraud scams.
We invite you to share this information with your patients and networks. Additionally, please visit www.FDA.gov/SupplementSafety for information in Spanish and some Asian languages on how to prevent health fraud. You also will find tips and advice by visiting the FDA Health Fraud Scams page.
Sellers of tainted medical products are mostly from the United States, but often sell products that originate overseas and target certain ethnic groups. Sometimes the labels are in languages other than English and such products may be sold at flea markets, swap meets, ethnic stores, or from the homes of individuals.
Companies also recruit friends, family members and co-workers to market products through word-of-mouth. They advertise on TV and radio, in magazines and newspapers, through direct mail and social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and through e-commerce platforms.
Sellers prey on underserved populations and people with limited English proficiency who are prone to fall victim to health fraud scams due to limited or inadequate access to health care services, language barriers, low health literacy, and cultural beliefs.
Health fraud scams are a multimillion dollar industry involving the marketing of drugs, medical devices, biologics and cosmetics. Bogus products can cause serious or fatal injuries, and can harm consumers further by delaying the proper diagnosis and treatment of health conditions.
Fraudulent products are often offered to prevent, treat, or cure conditions such as obesity, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and HIV. Some scammers encourage their clients to stop using their prescribed medications and replace them with their products without consulting their physicians first.
FDA has found that many of these products are mislabeled, and in some instances contain active ingredients that shouldn’t be available without health care provider oversight.
Consumers can report adverse reactions to FDA MedWatch by calling 1-800-FDA-1088 (1-800-332-1088) to request a report form, or file a complaint online. Patients’ names and reports are kept confidential. Additionally, consumers can anonymously report fraudulent products marketed on the Internet through FDA’s website. Consumers who don’t speak English can report problems with the help of their local Consumer Complaint Coordinator.
Jonca Bull, M.D., is FDA’s Assistant Commissioner, Office of Minority Health
Jason Humbert, R.N.,CDR, U.S. Public Health Service, is FDA’s National Health Fraud Coordinator, Office of Regulatory Affairs, Office of Enforcement and Import Operations