Do you know how to spot health scams online?

If you spend any time online, you’ve probably noticed that health-related scams are becoming increasingly common. Scammers know that you care about staying healthy and will use that to steal your information.

According to Salem Health system librarian Paul Howard, the best way to protect yourself is to approach online medical claims with another kind of health — a healthy skepticism.

“There are lots of pitfalls out there,” said Howard. “A lot of the same warnings apply to smart consumers of any kind. People try to use whatever topic you might be interested in to take advantage.”


Scammers want your information — and your money

Howard shares some of the scams to watch out for:

  • Medicare scams: Websites that try to get your Medicare number in exchange for benefits or information.
  • Genetic testing: These websites might ask for private health information — or even your social security number — to receive a genetic testing kit.
  • Health insurance: Watch out for health insurance companies that don’t pay at least 60 percent of the total cost of services for the typical patient. Benefits should also include broad coverage of physician and inpatient hospital services.
Howard said there are ways to check the legitimacy of the information you find:

  • Web address: A website ending in dot gov (.gov) or dot org (.org) is generally more trustworthy than one ending in dot com (.com).
  • Author of the content: Do they have credentials that match the advice given? For example, when looking for nutrition advice, you might look for someone with “RD” (for registered dietitian) after their name.
  • “About” tab: Is there a section of the website where you can get more information about the organization? Watch out for organizations that don’t list an address or provide contact information.
  • Ask someone you personally know and trust: A trusted source can help you determine the legitimacy of advice found online.

Unscrupulous companies pay for social media promotion

Howard noted that influencers in the social media space are now promoting health and wellness too.

“People are more likely to follow the advice of someone they admire,” he said. “The social media world has worked on this general principle and created personalities called “influencers.” If you like, follow, and find this person charismatic, you’re more likely to follow their advice [even if it isn’t supported by evidence].”

Howard said that when social media platforms promote things like supplements, the recommendations are usually backed up by advertising dollars, not medical proof.

By looking out for potential scams, you can prevent yourself from being vulnerable. If in doubt, trust your provider and talk to them about concerns related to your health.