Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | April 13, 2011

Why is Fraud Legal?

Imagine hearing a commercial on the radio:

Send us money, and we won’t send you anything in return.

No one would do that, right? How about this:

Send us your money and we’ll send you an empty box.

Better? Not much. Now how is that different from:

Send us money and we’ll send you stuff we’ll call medicine that we claim will help you, but there’s no actual active ingredients in it at all.

I don’t think there’s one bit of difference. Wouldn’t you agree that that commercial is fraud, pure and simple? The problem is that the general public doesn’t understand that the word “homeopathic” means “diluted beyond the point where it contains any active ingredients.”

I’ve recently heard commercials for homeopathic vertigo treatments, eye drops for allergies, irritable bowel, and spider veins on legs. I’m tempted to contact the radio station and complain, but stopped short realizing that their first question is going to be, “But is it legal?”

That’s the problem: it is. So what I want to know is, why?

I understand the structural reasons: there’s lots of money to be made defrauding naive consumers, and those who rake it in by exploiting ignorance have convinced gullible legislators, both state and federal, to make it legal. But that doesn’t make it right.

Seeing packages of homeopathic remedies sit next to actual, active chemical medicines on pharmacy shelves makes my blood boil. Who in their right mind would pay nearly $10.00 for sugar pills? Someone who doesn’t realize that “homeopathic” means diluted out of existence, ie, the vast majority of the general public.

Someone ought to do something. Because homeopathy is fraud; and fraud shouldn’t be legal.


  1. I agree that homeopathy is a fraud, but I think that eliminating fraud from human society is only slightly easier than eliminating stupidity.

  2. Definitely agree with you, but the legislators and those who pay the bills are just as ignorant as the general public. Like my insurance company paying for acupuncture, but not paying for diabetes education. Now, if acupuncture cured diabetes, that would be another story….

  3. It also defrauds people who aren’t looking closely enough at labels. I’m embarrassed to say I bought homeopathic ear drops from Walmart because I didn’t see the ‘Homeopathic’ part until reading the directions.

  4. Just thought you should know that the Google ad on this comments page (at least here in Australia) is to study for an Advanced Diploma in Homeopathy.

  5. Supplement manufacturers have the legal right to lie, thanks to Orrin Hatch.

  6. I debated with myself over whether to comment on this post. I even slept on it. Obviously, sharing my opinion won out. For the record, I don’t claim to understand homeopathy. I will admit to having used it at my wife’s urging as she is a big fan.

    My point is simply this: stay out of my business. It’s not your job to decide what I or anyone else should be allowed to do medically or otherwise with our own bodies. Your job is to give the best, competent medical advice you know how to those who seek out your services. You might not agree with homeopathy. You might think it is complete and total quackery. You are entitled to your opinion. You are even entitled to state for the record that it’s a scientific fact that homeopathy is bunk if you have the evidence to back it up. It’s my right as an individual to ignore your advice if I so choose. Once you start dictating to me what I can and can’t buy or do or own or use, I’ve got a real problem with that.

    In closing, I will respect the education and training you’ve gone through to reach your conclusion; however, I will remind you of the Shakespeare quote: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” the next time the latest purple pill is taken off the market because it’s killing people.

  7. Just like it is legal for those phone people to tack $49.99 on your phone bill for doing absolutely nothing other than wasting their time piecing together voice clips from your receptionist telling them they can legally steal from you.

    I have a few empty boxes in my basement. Anyone need them? only $19.95 + $5 shipping/handling! For an extra $30 I can add sugar.

  8. I don’t know, the placebo effect is a peculiar thing. For some people, placebos do have a measurable positive impact, but from what I’ve read, it only really works if it’s not known to be a placebo. If there are people out there who are being helped by homeopathic products, not because of any medical active ingredient, but through the placebo effect, I’m not sure that’s really fraud: some people ARE seeing improvement. I don’t think it necessarily devalues real medicine per se, any more than the existence of Advil devalues aspirin as a painkiller, except for those people who don’t get any benefit from the placebo and yet forgo more effective treatment.

    I guess I wonder if it’s a case of telling people it’s medicine (medicine-like substance?) that can help, or that it’s fake garbage, and either way you’re right. If there was a way to capture the beneficial qualities of placebos while still disclosing the fact that they are placebos, I’d completely agree with you. I don’t think there’s a way to do that without losing the benefit, though.

  9. I think my pet peeve is the ads that absolutely fail to mention that what they are peddling is homeopathic. And that’s only slightly ahead of my irritation with package labels that pretty well hide the information.

    I’m not ready to ban (partly out of not wanting FDA approvals to become even more byzantine and expensive, but we should require better disclosure.

    And then let the Darwin effect sort it out….

  10. Dino, I hate to spit your own laws back at you…but remember #4: You can’t cure stupid, and some people really will buy anything with little to no proof of its efficacy. (Okay, I added that last part…)

  11. Because, in almost all spheres of life, we have become intellectually lazy. It’s more about how we “feel,” rather than logic and empirical results.

    That having been said, Shepard K comes the closest to expressing my opinion on the subject. You have a right to express your opinion and explain the logic behind it; the other person has the absolute right to have their own opinion and express it.

  12. Could we draw the line at “You can take whatever over-the-counter remedies you’d like…but my tax dollars shouldn’t have to support those choices if there’s no proof of efficacy?”

  13. I support Shepard K’s and CalvinsMom’s comments, but only b/c I like living in a free society. Passing laws that would prevent people from doing stupid things (which are not in-and-of-themselves harmful) would diminish our freedom to an uncomfortable degree — especially since: who is it who’s going to decide what stupid things to outlaw? The wise, wonderful, sensible folks in our government (cough cough)?

  14. Y’all are missing my point. It’s not about the freedom to be stupid (which I agree is the most treasured, trumpeted American right there is), or even about over-the-counter medicines.

    @C’sM: I agree that you have the right to your own opinions. But you are not entitled to your own facts.

    Homeopathic medicines claim to contain ingredients when in fact they do not. That is fraud. Are you all really advocating the ultimate caveat emptor society where anyone can lie about anything they like in order to take your money? How about when it’s your elderly mother living alone whose savings are wiped out by the con man no longer constrained by anything even approaching a consumer protection law, and it’s your choice of supporting her or leaving her to starve on the street so you can feed your kids? Is it really asking too much to prohibit demonstrably false statements in the exercise of free commerce?

    Perhaps all advertising should come with the new ultimate Congressional disclaimer: “Not intended to be a factual statement.”

  15. As above, see rule # 4.

  16. Fortunately, where I am, over the counter products are being regulated, so they may still be there, but at least they will be able to prove that they contain x amount of bs ingredient Y in every single pill… That should weed out the more horrible manufacturers…

    This was posted on “Your Pharmacist May Hate You” back in February…

  17. Oh noes, the ignorant are being separated from their money..

    If one is too stupid to use basic literacy to avoid shams like this, they deserve to be defrauded.

    Nerfing society by protecting the stupid from the weasels only empowers the stupid.

  18. I google everything. My dads old and the doctor gives him meds and I like to know what he’s taking and why so I google.

    I didn’t google this time. Instead I complained

    “hi melisa I have this lady problem and nothing cures it”
    Melissa says “I took this and it worked”

    I didn’t think twice and bought it at walgreens. I didn’t google. Just took it. It worked. I went to google the active ingredient only to find i didn’t know how to read them. It had a bu ch of 4X and this X and wtf… So I read every corner of the box and found the word homeopathic. Um what? I google that.. Which is how I ended up here.

    I guess from not on it won’t work on me cause now I know it’s a placebo and yes I agree with your post, I believe in science and medicine and proven why this chemical counters that thing sort of thing… I believe empty boxes shouldn’t be sold, and I don’t believe my body needs anything extra in it than I’m already exposing myself to, including the damn sugar pills on the last row of birth control so I don’t lose count. But in this case this product worked. And it worked almost 6 months ago and I’ve had no issues even after figuring out it was a lie.

    Frankly had I found that “H” word on it before, I wouldn’t have purchased it. But I’m kinda glad I did. Worked for Melissa too and she was always complaining of infections of the female kind that are just too icky and annoying to even mention lol

  19. @ML:

    “It worked.”

    You mean you took it and you got better. What you don’t know is whether you would have gotten better if you hadn’t taken it; probably. It’s no different from having surgery, chemo, radiation, and prayer for cancer and attributing the cure to the prayer.

  20. Yup. Next time I’ll sit out my problem an other random 2 weeks and see what happens lol

    It will save me time and money that’s for sure!

  21. Did you catch this? It made me think of your post.

  22. Usually I do not read post on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to take a look at and do so! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, very nice article.

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