How Not to Be Scammed by Internet Claims

Ask Science shares his rules for avoiding being scammed by medical and scientific claims. 

Lee Falin, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #85

dietpillsHave you ever seen something on the internet that sounded so pretty commonplace, so wonderful, so awesome, that you could’t quite believe it?

Every so often I read something online that fits into that category. Something that sounds so pretty commonplace and wonderful that I can almost hear the line from Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hatches an Egg: “It should be, it should be, it should be like that…” But of course, it usually isn’t.

So this week I want to talk about how I sift the truth from the scams.


First, a disclaimer: These are my personal rules and so I don’t have any peer-reviewed, double-blind studies to back them up, but they’ve served me well over the years. 

Rule #1: Does it claim to cure everything?

Since the days of snake oil salesmen and even into modern times, there have always been people willing to sell you a magic bullet. That one vitamin, supplement, diet, lotion, monkey’s paw, or whatever that will cure all of your ills.

While there are plenty of things that can be cured by those items (well, maybe not the monkey’s paw), there isn’t a single one of them that is going to cure everything. So if you see an advertisement claiming otherwise—beware.

Which brings us to rule number 2....

Rule #2: Are they trying to sell you something?

Disclaimer: I’m a capitalist. I understand people need to make money to feed their family and stuff. But I’m very wary anytime I see a website claiming to have found an important cure or treatment for something, which requires me to buy an ebook, purchase overpriced supplements, or pay for specialized treatments I can only get from their facilities. Double red flags if the site tries to get you to sign up your friends as resellers under you. 

Does that mean every site trying to sell you something to help you is a scam? Of course not. But the sight of the “Buy Now” button makes me extra-vigilant in applying my other rules.


Please note that archive episodes of this podcast may include references to Ask Science. Rights of Albert Einstein are used with permission of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Represented exclusively by Greenlight.

About the Author

Lee Falin, PhD

Dr. Lee Falin earned a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois, then went on to obtain a Ph.D. in Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology from Virginia Tech.