Cancer fraud: 5 signs you're being scammed

Here’s a prediction that you can take to the bank. Once you’re diagnosed with cancer, you join a sales demographic that makes you visible to vultures and to companies that want to sell you snake oil. When you’re afraid and overwhelmed, you’re an easier target. When for the first time you’ve seen yourself in a table of five-year survival rates, you’re vulnerable to just about anything that will improve your odds. Cancer fraud is out there.

And don't worry about looking for the frauds, they'll find you. They know exactly where to look. For instance, they'll find you right here on this blog by posting comments, like this one:

fraud and cancer This was left a few weeks ago on one of my blog posts. My policy is, generally speaking, to allow people to comment in whatever way they need to. After a little bit of research, however, I deleted this post for two reasons, both of which are hints about cancer fraud.

1. The comment is spam. How do I know? Easy. Type the "woman's" name into Google along with the "doctor's" name and you'll find dozens of places where this exact comment has been posted. Legitimate sources don't post the same comment on dozens of sites. Note a few other tell-tale signs of spam, such as the woman's location, "Vegas, United States" as well as many other clumsy phrases and ungrammatical sentences. It's possible, of course, for a person whose native language is not English to post perfectly legitimate comments in clumsy language, but it's unlikely that blonde, smiling Wendy Brimm is that person. She even has a Facebook page. A little bit of investigation reveals it as a sham and a mostly empty shell. I don't know what Wendy or "Doctor Hakim" are selling, but I doubt it's anything you need or want.

2. The combination of the words "herbal," and "cure" signal problems. There is no "cure" for cancer and if there were, you wouldn't be reading about it on a comment to one of my posts.  Nor would this "herb" cure both AIDS and cancer. When you hear something that sounds too good to be true, it is undoubtedly not true. Given that "herbs" and "natural" are usually words with positive connotations and that the writer offers no specifics, alarm bells should sound. Why not just tell us which herbs worked? Even worse than the possibility that this is a hoax, some Chinese herbs, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, are carcinogens linked to bladder cancer.

Social media, especially sites like Facebook and Twitter, are powerful platforms to connect us to our friends and family. One benefit of Facebook that I particularly appreciate is the connection I have found with the cancer community. Most of these people I know only online. I've met many of these folks through online communities associated with reputable and admirable organizations such as the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network.

It's a mistake however, and one easily made, to think that whatever comes across your news feed is reputable. This post was in my news feed one day, and I decided to investigate it and find out more. This post reveals three more signs that the scam is on.

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3. It offers information, but never gives you any unless you shell out money. This post reached out to me on Facebook. It's associated with the Institute for Natural Healing, and it's a scam. I'm particularly vulnerable to this kind of approach because I'm a research addict. The more information, the better.

I signed up for their emails because I wanted to see what they identified as their "natural" cure. Of course, the information would cost me $14.95, and they never offered me even a peek at their content, so I unsubscribed.

4. Standard cancer treatments are dismissed. Most folks who have been treated for cancer will tell you that side effects from treatment have caused them more suffering than cancer itself. If we could avoid chemo, radiation and surgery, most of us would. This claim--"better than chemo"--hits hard.

In some of their other communications they claim that "big pharma" has prevented this "natural cancer treatment" from being well known. It's terrifying to me that anyone would suggest, for $14.95 no less, that a "dietary ratio" can "kill cancer dead."

5. They masquerade as legitimate by calling themselves something that sounds credible. Why wouldn't you be interested in an institute( sounds scientific and official) for natural (I'd always go natural if I could) healing (it's what we all want)? Here's the deal, though, you can call yourself anything you want. The more you confuse folks, the more likely you'll get your foot in the door. This is why the Cancer Treatment Centers of America has chosen their name. Any savvy adviser will tell you that once you're diagnosed you need to go to a major cancer treatment center. People naturally assume that CTCA is one of these. It is not. It is a for-profit company that misrepresents its statistics. See my post on CTCA here.

All of us are vulnerable to hoaxes and scams because they appeal to us in our soft places. My husband forwarded me an email last year from an acquaintance of ours (whose email had been hacked) saying that he was stranded in Europe without a passport and money. Could we wire him funds? My husband thought that we should. In short, this soft, kind, trusting place in my husband's heart is one reason I love him so much.

But the email had all the tell-tale signs of a scam. The language was awkward, as if translated by Google (it probably was). The email made it very, very easy for us to send money to an unknown place. And, it came from someone we had met twice. Why would he need us to bail him out of trouble?

Bottom line: anyone can be played. (Even Steve Jobs, Apple's creator.) If you're sick and searching, scared and desperate, you're much easier to scam. If you're confused by the name of the company, if you're being promised a cure, if you're being asked to send money for a vague piece of knowledge that only this company knows, if the face and the words don't quite fit, do some research.

The FDA has a great web site to help out.

Heck, ask me, and I'll do some research for you. In the meantime, please "like" this post and subscribe to my blog.

UPDATE: The Institute for Natural Healing complained about my describing their sales campaign a scam. I have responded to them here and here. The first post is a reprint of the email exchange between me and the company and second is my report on further research about the company.

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