Health Fraud Dot Com: Federal Authorities
Warn of False Health Claims on the Internet

By Melanie R. Margolis

When the Health Law & Policy Institute recently undertook the development of HealthPathfinder, the Institute's extensive links page, we faced the task of finding quality health-related Web sites. The vast quantity of health-related material available on the Internet is astounding. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a Consumer Alert warning Internet users of sites making fraudulent health claims.

The Consumer Alert is targeted mainly at Web sites that are trying to sell something. The danger is great in the healthcare context because not only is the Internet user's money at stake, but the user's life could be at stake as well. If an individual has an illness and finds a Web site offering a miracle cure for sale, the individual could jeopardize his or her life by using a product purchased based on a false claim. The individual may do so instead of seeing a physician when he or she should. The individual may stop taking much needed prescribed medication to use the product sold online, or the product may interact with prescribed medication the individual continues taking.

According to the FTC, Americans research health issues on the Internet in large numbers:

The FTC has actually filed charges against 4 Web sites it says made unsubstantiated claims about miracle cures for cancer, arthritis, heart disease, liver disease, and other diseases. The Web sites were found as a result of a "Health Claim Surf Day," in which numerous government agencies searched for fraudulent health claims on the Internet. The offending Web sites found were sent e-mail warnings. 28% of those contacted took down their sites or deleted the fraudulent material. (Some of the Web sites may have simply changed their URLs and basically opened shop under another name).

Many useful and reliable health-related Web sites are available. HealthPathfinder can help you find some.  See also
Sophisticated, Screened Medical Information Now Available on the Internet and Finding Medical and Health Policy Information on the Internet. The FTC Consumer Alert contains guidelines that can help you determine if health claims may be false. If you come across false claims on the Internet, you can file a complaint with the FTC. Also, you should check with your physician before following medical advice found on the Internet.

08/02/99