The World Wide Web of Deceit

I write regularly about scams and frauds on the Internet, in the hopes that some folks might stumble across my thoughts and save themselves both money and hassles. I’ve given extra attention to nutritional products, otherwise known as “Snake Oil.”

SnakeOil1

People use the Internet for accessing all sorts of knowledge, but the landscape has become so deceptive that it can be difficult even for experienced searchers to separate fact from fiction, wheat from chaff.

Here’s an example. My handheld device doesn’t filter out ads the way uBlock Origin or AdBlock Plus does with Chrome on a desktop, so I regularly see all sorts of deceptive garbage while I’m browsing.

One ad showed a picture of Stephen Hawking, with the claim that he owes his massive intellect to a specific supplement. So down the rabbit hole we went, and was taken to a page flogging “Intellux,” a supposed “smart drug” or “nootropic” compound, said to enhance memory or other cognitive functions.

The next thing  I did was to search for (intellux fraud | scam), and it’s interesting to note that almost every result is either

  1. a page that asks “Is Intellux a scam or the real thing” and then goes on to flog the product itself, or
  2. a page that lists in detail all the reasons why Intellux is a worthless fraud – and then goes on to flog another product.

A good example of this is “The Supplement Critique.” This page and this page are examples of what look like fair and balanced reviews of Intellux, Geniux, and Addium/Adderin. They describe in detail the mechanisms of advertorials, affiliate marketing, false tweets, totally fabricated stories and “user feedback,” and the general deceptive marketing techniques. It all looks perfectly legitimate – until you get to the point where the author begins flogging “Optimind,” a nootropic supplement for which he is suspiciously looking like an affiliate marketer.

Popups are pretty nasty, but a lot of pages use them – this is what I got when I explored The Supplement Critique:

Stupid

“No thanks, I like being stupid.” Well, that’s a great way to get people to feel guilty about not buying your e-book, which is doubtlessly tailored to guide people to the worthless snake oil that you yourself are peddling.

The fact remains that these pages are slick-looking enough to fool a lot of people into thinking they represent real science and real research, when in reality it’s all woo – smoke, mirrors, and pay no attention to that little man behind the curtain.

Behind_curtain

Just last February the Washington Post and others reported on a New York State investigation into adulterated or worthless “herbals” being sold by GNC, Target, Wal-Mart, and Walgreens. Among the findings:

The investigators tested 24 products claiming to be seven different types of herb — echinacea, garlic, gingko biloba, ginseng, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort and valerian root. All but five of the products contained DNA that was either unrecognizable or from a plant other than what the product claimed to be.

Additionally, five of the 24 contained wheat and two contained beans without identifying them on the labels — both substances are known to cause allergic reactions in some people.

It has long been known among scientists that the supplement industry is so unregulated that it’s very rare for the bottle to contain what’s on the label. You just don’t know what you’re getting, and despite FDA efforts, many products are hawked through disreputable channels by way of outrageous and unethical claims.

There are a few good supplements out there. About five companies I know of make a decent effort to put into their products what they claim is on the label. The rest are pretty much selling vain hope.

Be careful out there, and do your research. Look for companies that adhere to pharmaceutical Good Manufacturing Practices (which are far more stringent than food GMP’s) and submit their products to reputable external testing laboratories

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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