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Medical scams

Health and medical scams happen after you receive an email or see an advert promising miracle tablets and other medical cures that offer unbelievable results.

These frauds involve health and medical-related products and services that can appear to be a legitimate form of alternative medicine. The fraudsters lead their victims to believe they’ll receive a product or service of comparative quality for a lower price, or that the product or service they are buying will provide a miracle cure. Some of the products on sale are so-called ‘cures’ for acne, AIDS, arthritis, baldness, cancer, impotence and weight loss.

Another type of medical fraud involve fake online pharmacies offering drugs and medicines very cheaply or without prescription. Even if you do receive the products you order, there’s no guarantee that they are the real thing. In some cases, they may even damage your health.

At the very least, you will be left out of pocket, which can be very costly. Invariably, due to the nature of online purchasing, the seller’s identity will be disguised which means your chances of getting any money back are limited.

When dealing online, there’s always a risk that your sensitive personal and financial data may be compromised. This could enable a fraudster to steal your identity to control your bank accounts, or use it to raise finance or buy goods elsewhere.

The emotional and medical cost to you could be far more serious. When you buy medicines online, you have no way of knowing what they contain or how they might impact on your health. By triggering a damaging reaction or preventing you from seeking proper treatment, the medicine you’ve bought online could make your existing medical condition worse.

Are you a victim of health or medical fraud?

  • You’ve bought goods thinking they were legitimate alternative forms of medicine. 
  • You’ve bought healthcare products that you believed were exactly the same as another brand, but at a lower price.
  • You’ve bought goods thinking they were a miracle cure for acne, AIDS, cancer, or impotence.
  • You’ve bought pharmaceuticals online without a prescription.

What should you do if you’re a victim of health or medical fraud?

  • Report it to Action Fraud.
  • If there’s a dispute over the nature of the product and its claimed benefits, you should ask the website selling the product for held and a refund.
  • Keep all evidence of your purchase, including the goods you bought and any correspondence. 
  • If you’ve already made a payment, contact your credit card company and/or bank and tell them that you may have fallen victim to a fraud. They’ll advise you on cancelling payments and ensuring your finances remain secure.
  • If you’ve already taken any medical products you are worried about, you should always visit your GP.  

Protect yourself against health and medical fraud

With thousands of bogus health products for sale online, the best advice is to proceed with real caution when considering any new medicine or healthcare product.

Always talk to your GP or local pharmacist first. They’ll be able to tell you whether the product is safe and effective. If you’re managing a health condition, never stop taking a prescribed medicine, or start taking a new medicine, without speaking to your GP or pharmacist first.

If you do decide to go ahead and buy online:

  • try to avoid paying by money transfers. They aren’t secure
  • be careful when using direct banking transactions to pay for goods. Make sure transactions are secure
  • don’t send confidential personal or financial information by email.

Fraudulent health and medical websites often:

  • promise a new miracle cure or wonder breakthrough. But their products are neither tested, nor proven to work
  • offer to supply prescription-only medicines without a valid prescription
  • try to convince you with testimonials from satisfied customers. How do you know these testimonials are genuine? Even if they are, anecdotal evidence is no substitute for the scientific evidence that lies behind genuine medicines
  • offer no risk money-back guarantees. But, if try to get your money back, the fraudsters simply disappear
  • feature endorsements from a doctor or health professional quoting scientific evidence. But if you look more closely, you’ll see that these individuals are not affiliated to any known institution or clinical practice. Nor has their evidence been published in a recognised journal.

To help you identify a legitimate pharmacy website, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society has produced an internet pharmacy logo that acts as a visual aid for people who wish to buy medicines online. Only bona fide registered pharmacies providing professional services in Great Britain are entitled to display the logo.

You can also protect yourself from fraudsters by:

  • checking the pharmacist’s registration status
  • finding the name and address of the pharmacy operating the website. It should be connected to a genuine pharmacy at a genuine address
  • noting whether or not you are asked questions before purchasing your medicine. Registered pharmacies are required to check that a medicine is suitable for a patient before selling it. This is a form of online consultation with a health professional.