Health Scams: Phony Cure-Alls and Old-Fashioned Snake Oil

Health Scams: Phony Cure-Alls and Old-Fashioned Snake Oil


One of the oldest varieties of scams in the world is the “miracle cure.” Since the beginning of civilization, people have been looking for quick, easy ways to improve their health. And, invariably, people with ill intent try to defraud sick people by selling them bogus cure-alls and miracle drugs.

These types of products are still everywhere, and, in light of recent events, they have become even more common. Here are some tips to help you identify health scams so you can avoid them in the future.

Snake Oil Salesmen

Have you ever heard the old phrase “snake oil salesman” used to refer to a scammer? This refers to an older practice that was common in the American Old West in the 1800s. Fraudsters equipped with large quantities of “snake oil” would travel from town to town, selling the product as a health tonic–a cure-all that would help everything from tuberculosis to the common cold.

Of course, their vials were typically full of nothing more than water treated with fragrant oil. This scam was so widespread that laws had to be passed forbidding salesmen from advertising their wares as medicine without a doctors’ approval. This practice hasn’t gone away, however, but simply evolved into a modern-day version of the age-old scam.

Modern-Day Scams

The modern-day version of these scams is much more difficult to detect. However, if you know what you’re looking for, you can spot it. Actual medications are identifiable by a number of criteria: they’re prescribed by doctors, supported by scientific evidence, and are backed by experimental findings from clinical trials.

Scams, on the other hand, almost always rely exclusively on testimonials. Often, these products will even have celebrity endorsements. However, it’s important to remember that people can say whatever they want, but clinical results can’t be faked. So, when you see a miraculous cure-all being sold online backed by hundreds of glowing reviews, look for the actual scientific research that backs the item before you buy it.

Staying Informed

There are laws governing how companies can market health supplements and medications. If something is being marketed as a “supplement” or a “cleaning product,” but the discussion around it frames it as a healing tonic, you should be skeptical. If something has actual miraculous restorative powers, it’ll be incorporated into legitimate medical treatments. Otherwise, it’s little more than advertising hype from scammers who are trying to get their hands on your hard-earned cash.