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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 13:26 GMT
Swoop on bogus health web sites
On the net
People are vulnerable, says the OFT
Thousands of websites purporting to offer cures from beer bellies to serious illnesses, such as cancer, have been uncovered in an annual worldwide internet "sweep" for dodgy sites.

The OFT will pursue businesses who mislead customers with bogus health claims. Consumers should remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is

John Vickers, director general of the OFT
More than 170 websites in the UK were identified as potentially misleading, with more than third of these promoting slimming and weight loss cures, while others offered treatments for cancer, arthritis, sexual performance and hair loss.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the Medicines Control Agency (MCA) are now investigating a range of claims made on the sites.

The sites were uncovered as part of a co-ordinated worldwide internet search, which is conducted each year in conjunction with law enforcement agencies worldwide.

Worldwide search

The OFT, MCA and 21 local trading standards authorities were among 58 enforcement agencies in 19 countries surfing the internet for websites making potentially misleading claims about health products and miracle cures.

It is the fourth time the OFT has participated in a global internet sweep.

Many of the sites used 'customer' testimonials' or alleged 'clinical studies' to try add credibility to their claims.

One included a device to obliterate all viruses in the body including AIDS, hepatitis, cancer, meningitis and flu.

Others included an 'enriched urine treatment for incurable illnesses', and a tablet to be taken with alcohol to prevent a beer belly.

The OFT is now urging people to be cautious about health claims and 'miracle' cures.

John Vickers, director general of the OFT said: "The OFT will pursue businesses who mislead customers with bogus health claims. Consumers should remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Online tips

OFT's tips for consumers who are considering buying health products online are:

  • beware of products or treatments that are advertised as a quick and effective cure-all for a wide range of ailments
  • be cautious of testimonials claiming amazing results
  • watch out for advertisers who use phrases such as 'scientific breakthrough', 'miraculous cure', 'exclusive product' and 'secret ingredient'
  • before you purchase, consult your pharmacist or other health professionals

The global results of the sweep can be found on the website of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (see link).

See also:

21 Nov 01 | Americas
US warns bio-terror 'cure' websites
05 Nov 01 | Business
US internet sex scam settled
24 Mar 00 | Business
US leads internet fraud sweep
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