Health scams target vulnerable seniors

Older adults are vulnerable to scams that promise cures for chronic conditions, these tips will help to avoid becoming a victim.

A study that was conducted for AARP in 2010 found that the average age of fraud victims was 69, and that the victims were less likely than the general population to sign up for the “do not call list” or checking the references of businesses, which would help prevent fraud. They were more likely to open junk mail, and listen to unknown callers on the phone who were telemarketers.

Claims of miracle cures for chronic diseases are not new, but there are increased opportunities for promoting and marketing them to potential victims. Advertising these claims is done through TV, radio, magazines, newspapers mail and telemarketing, as well as through e-mail, social media and the Internet. Unfortunately, older people are often the target of these scams. As people age, they are likely to have one or more chronic diseases, and are also more likely to become victims of fraud, as health scams often take advantage of people who are frightened or in pain. They offer false hope for cures that do not exist.

Michigan State University Extension says that choosing untested remedies may keep people from getting the medical treatment they need, or cause harmful interactions with their prescribed medicines. They may also waste valuable time and money.

To avoid falling prey to health scams, the National Institute on Aging offers these suggestions:

  • Making healthy lifestyle choices offers you the best chance of aging well. No treatments has been proven to slow or reverse the aging process.
  • Arthritis treatments using magnets, copper bracelets, chemicals, radiation or special diets are unproven, and some could be harmful. There is no one treatment that cures all types of cancer, and there is no dietary supplement that shrinks tumors, solves impotence, or cures Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Don’t be pressured to make an "on-the-spot" decision. If the offer is only available for a limited time, or if you have to take the offer immediately, it is likely a scam.
  • Don’t take calls from telemarketers, and be sure to place your telephone number on the national do not call registry – once registered, it will not expire. Call 888-382-1222 from the phone you wish to register, or register online at
  • Don’t accept "free" medical equipment from anyone other than your physician.
  • Always purchase drugs from a reputable pharmacy, and inspect the labeling every time.
  • It is probably a scam if a remedy claims to work for multiple diseases, or if the label has no directions for use or warning about side effects, or the person recommending the treatment profits directly from your purchase of the medicine.
  • If you aren't familiar with a particular company, check with the Better Business Bureau.

Finally, contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint if you are the victim of a scam. By reporting it, you may be able to protect others.

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