Protecting Seniors From Quack Medicine

Senior citizens are a constant target of unscrupulous marketers and con artists. Faced with serious health problems many elderly people search online for relief. Promises for miracle drugs abound. From pills guaranteed to make the aches and pains of old age disappear like magic to more serious frauds like overseas medical facilities pitching the latest secret cure to cancer, all are for sale on internet.

Serious illness can trigger a desperate, emotionally charged search for relief that traditional medicine can’t offer. Anti-scientific sentiment and distrust of Western medicine has been bolstered by both well-meaning quacks and knowing thieves who dispense advice via blogs, podcasts and videos. With no scientific training and with no regard to the scientific method, these self-appointed health experts and wellness gurus spread misinformation to thousands of gullible senior citizens.

There are plenty of real products on the market that can help seniors, from senior alert monitors to pharmaceuticals and physical therapy.

A large community of magical thinking, new age mystical medicine suckers and pushers create an echo chamber that supports each other’s outlandish and unsupported health claims. Unwitting and unsophisticated bloggers lend credibility to specious claims with anecdotal evidence and misinterpreted scientific studies. (It’s curious to note how new age thinkers cling to and tout scientific studies when they think it backs up their wishful thinking, but are quick to disclaim the scientific method and academia when disagrees with them.)

Snake oil salesmen have been separating desperate people from their cash in return for useless and sometimes harmless nostrums for ages. The pitch man ingratiated himself with the crowd using the primary tools of persuasion; reciprocity, liking, authority, scarcity and social proof.

The medicine show of the old West grabbed the attention of rubes with the spectacle and the promise of free entertainment. Once the crowd was given some free entertainment they felt obligated to hear out the pitch. That’s called reciprocity in the vernacular of persuasion. Just like the timeshare salesman of today guilts you into listening to his sales pitch by giving you a free lunch or a free night in a resort.

Liking is another tool of the social engineer. We tend to believe and we tend to go along with people that we like and who are like us. When they make us laugh, when they tell us what we’d like to hear, and they pretend that they care about us, we like the more. The medicine men of the good old days were likable and charming. They made the audience feel smarter and better looking than they really were. Soon the audience was ready for any pitch.

Beware Phony Medical Treatments

Authority is a persuasion tactic  based on the fact that people tend to not want to do a lot of hard thinking for themselves. We’ve learned over the years, that we could let the experts do the thinking for us. Rather than reinventing the wheel and learning these things ourselves we turn to experts who save us time and lead us in the right direction, or least we hope. The old medicine show pitchmen gave themselves flowery titles like Professor and Doctor. They dressed the part of an expert, they talked like an expert and so people believed what they said.

Social proof is the persuasion principle based on the fact that people tend to follow the crowd. When we don’t know exactly what to do in a given situation we look to the left and the right and see what other people are doing. If these people seem to be like us or more authoritative than us, we’re happy to mindlessly copy them. Normally this sort of herd behavior is a low risk bet. If we’re not sure what restaurant to go to we choose the one that seems busier as that one is probably better. And so it goes with the pitch man. He’d always have a few confederates in the audience to step up and make a purchase of whatever snake oil was being sold. Once the rubes so other people purchasing this medicine they were much more likely to cough up some cash themselves.

So what does this have to do with senior citizens and online medicine? Today’s shady Internet marketer who pitches useless, expensive and sometimes dangerous medicinal advice and dietary supplements uses all of the tricks of the medicine show.

First, attention. When people are online searching for the answer to a medical condition all the fraudster has to do is to make sure a link to his website shows up in the right place at the right time. With just the click of a mouse he has all the attention he needs. With credibility boosting graphics and a compelling video he heightens the attention and builds desire.

Next, the medical fraud offers to send the victim free information worth lots of money. It could be a free hardcover book or DVD. It could be a free sample of medication or supplements. Once the intended victim receives this guy will get he’s much more likely to fall for the rest of the pitch.

These hucksters are great at being likable. The pitchman complements his prey for being smarter than those doctors. He sides with the mark by agreeing with him. These scientists tell you one thing one day, and then they tell you something the next! Your doctor doesn’t care about you, he only cares about your money. Bit by bit the victim begins liking and trusting the scamster.

To  tap into the powerful authority principle of persuasion the online con artists copies and pastes logos from well-known and authoritative institutions that give the appearance of endorsement. Or, they’ll pay a celebrity to borrow some of their star power and credibility which gives a halo effect to the product.

Social proof is triggered with testimonials. Some are 100% fictitious and manufactured, others are taken out of context and others are given by individuals actually believe they were cured thanks to the product. Is anecdotal evidence can be very persuasive even though it is scientifically irrelevant. If 10 people say product is great at a thousand who tried it, it doesn’t say much. But to the scientific illiterate and the desperate, it’s very persuasive.

Finally, they use scarcity as a ploy. Order now, supplies are limited! that’s usually all it takes to get someone off the fence.

Many Internet marketers who are scamming senior citizens use what appear to be no cost or low-cost introductory offers which are in reality subscriptions. They offer to send you a month supply for free but they just need your credit card to pay shipping and handling. But be careful, because in the fine print says after the first 30 days he will begin receiving an auto shipment of the product unless you cancel in time. Good luck with that. Many scammers make it next to impossible to cancel the auto shipment.

Hear some of the typical junk medicine that targets senior citizens:

Heartbreakers. There are many diseases without cures. Whenever I write this I get hate mail from new age knuckleheads who want to believe that it’s all big Pharma conspiracy, but for right now there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. There is no cure for diabetes. There is no cure for arthritis. I’m not saying that there will never be a cure, these diseases are not incurable forever, just for now. But what a horrible thing to realize!

You’ve just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, or your spouse has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. You’re scared, you’re angry and you’re desperate. The doctor isn’t telling you what you want to hear so you go online desperately seeking a secret cure. If anyone is pitching cures for incurable diseases like diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease it’s a fraud.

But I read that this one guy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and he took this extract with this supplement, or he went to some clinic and now he cured. Explain that! I can hear some people saying in frustration and anger.

First, how do you know it’s true? Second, how do you know it’s accurate? Phony testimonials are easy to manufacture. But what if this person really did get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and now shows no sign of the disease? Well, there’s always a possibility of a misdiagnosis. Many people are misdiagnosed and then properly diagnosed. It doesn’t mean that they had the disease and now they don’t.

Fraudsters have been getting rich selling anti-aging medications for as long as history records. There are no pills, treatments or dietary supplements that will give you a fountain of youth. Nothing has been scientifically proven to slow down or reverse the aging process. The only way to live longer and healthier is to eat well, get plenty of exercise and rest and avoid harmful things like smoking and alcohol abuse. Of course there’s very little money telling people that.

Arthritis cures. When you’re suffering from severe arthritis pain, you’re willing to fall for anything just to get some relief. Most forms of arthritis flare up and ease. When we take a certain supplement during a flareup, when the pain is the worst, we attribute pain relief to the substance we digest it and not the fact that the pain is often just cyclical. That’s where so many well-meaning but misguided testimonials come from. They absolutely believe that whatever nonsense they spent money on work.

There’s all sorts of wacky products guaranteed to cure arthritis from magnetic wristbands, copper bracelets, dietary supplements, sound waves, and every other sort of outrageous idea. Remember there is no cure yet, but there are ways to manage the condition can minimize the pain.

Cancer. Remember that cancer is not one disease, its many. There are different causes for different cancers. Therefore, one cure isn’t going to work. Some cancers are treatable, others are not. Some go into spontaneous remission causing some to attribute the turnaround the last thing they tried.

Believe me I know that modern medicine is far from perfect and that many practitioners fall short of our expectations. We love to hear stories about the expert who told someone they only had three months to live and to give up hope and how that person went on to live 20 years and run marathons too. It gives us hope.

Hope is essential to the sick. We need to believe that we can be cured, that we will get better. But a certain point hope can cause us to miss important warning signs that were being duped.

Protecting Seniors From Quack Medicine

We all need objective advice, especially when we’re in the middle of an emotionally devastating period. When our lives are turned upside down from illness, we need cool, dispassionate advice. Get connected with support groups that are affiliated with credible organizations. Talk with professional counselors.

Help your aging relative avoid becoming a victim of a health scam by listening to their concerns and paying close attention to their activities. Don’t be dismissive or hypercritical when they discuss specious therapies and products that help them think through their decisions. Encourage them to speak with objective medical professionals. If there’s a lack of rapport between the senior in their medical care provider, seek out a second or third opinion. Finding that medical professional that can build rapport and trust with your relative.

photo credit: Blyzz via photopin cc
photo credit: electrons_fishgils via photopin cc

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