“Risk of Deception Tool” Developed by UBC Researchers To Break Down Online Health Scams


The internet is filled with ads for health products, focusing on many diseases and claiming they can cure them. And the problem is that many of them sound genuine, but do they really work?

Researchers from the University of B.C have stumbled upon some wild claims of methods that can even help people change their DNA! They started browsing the internet for ads and see if they could asses which ones are scams.

The lead author of the study and an associate professor in the school of nursing at the UBC, Bernie Garrett, wrote in the University’s press release: “the internet provided a massive market for people to promote, in some cases, completely deceptive products that are not based on any scientific evidence.”

“Wild and Wacky” Ads

Garrett stated that some of the ads are “pretty wild and wacky,” and after analyzing 329 possible online scams, we’re sure the team saw enough “wacky” to last them a lifetime.

The research was published in the journal Health & Social Care in the Community.

It analyzed ads like faith healing, jade vaginal eggs, homeopathic alternatives for immunization and more.

The team included ten health professionals: nurses, physicians, pharmacists, physiotherapists, and a social worker. Together, they reviewed the way each product or service was marketed and determined if it was deceiving or not.

The beginning was tough, admitted Garrett, explaining that you couldn’t say an ad was 100% scam or not, so they created a set of criteria:

“We formed a whole set of criteria that can be used by any health professional or really any person to … look at any particular advert or activity that’s being promoted to them.”

The Risk of Deception Tool

Their set of criteria is called “Risk of Deception Tool” which ranks how high or low the risk of an ad is to be a scam based on pseudoscience, mystical theories, extraordinary claims, famous people promoting it, and so on.

The team’s conclusion after analyzing over 300 ads was that most of the scams took advantage of the body image – weight loss for women and bodybuilding for men. Then, the next ones were the unsupported claims of natural and herbal medicine to help get rid of the flue or psoriasis. Last but not least, some alternative health services and medical diagnostic services like DNA analysis and “healthy lifestyle” products add to the list of scams. Garrett explains:

“One of the key things that they use very often is large personal benefits for minimal investment, for example, rapid weight loss with hardly any physical effort.”

The team worries that people would take these options for their illness and not seek proper medical advice. They hope that health professionals will discuss with their patients about these frauds.


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