Health and medical frauds

These frauds involve a wide range of 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 that they will 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.

Examples are not limited to the following list, but might cover:

Products

  • Acne
  • AIDS
  • Arthritis
  • Baldness
  • Cancer
  • Impotence
  • Weight loss.

Services

  • Fake online pharmacies offering drugs and medicines very cheaply or without prescription
  • Psychic and clairvoyant scams that claim you are in danger and offer you solutions, such as lucky charms, for a hefty fee.

How do health and medical frauds affect me?

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

When dealing online, there is 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.

But the emotional and medical cost 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 could make your existing medical condition worse.

How can I recognise health and medical frauds?

Fraudulent health and medical websites often:

  • Promise a new miracle cure or wonder breakthrough. In truth, 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 try to get your money back and 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 bricks and mortar pharmacy
  • 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.

What should I do?

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

For advice, always talk to your GP or local pharmacist before you buy. They will be able to tell you whether any health 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 decide to go ahead and buy online:

  • Try to avoid paying by money transfers. They are not secure
  • Be careful when using direct banking transactions to pay for goods. Make sure transactions are secure
  • Do not send confidential personal or financial information by email
  • Use the online payment option, or use a reputable ESCROW account that holds your money in trust until you have received and checked your purchases.

If there is a dispute over the nature of the product and its claimed benefits, you should first ask the website selling the product for assistance. If you don’t receive a refund, the web site may refer the matter to Trading Standards.

If the seller has indulged in fraudulent misrepresentation that goes beyond mere sales hype, you can report the matter to the police for criminal investigation. To assist the investigation, you should keep all evidence of the offence, including goods and correspondence. The difference between fraudulent misrepresentation and mere sales hype is very subjective and can only be determined on a case-by-case basis.

If you have 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 will advise you on cancelling payments and ensuring your finances remain secure.

Reporting fraud

If you're a victim of fraud that is a crime in progress and you need an immediate police response dial 999.

If it is a non-emergency situation,

call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

You can also report fraud or find further advice and information on the Action Fraud website.