Consumer Health Digest #04-19
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 12, 2004
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.
PayPal "spoof" warning. Spammers are using messages that appear to be from PayPal but are actually probes intended to steal identifying data from the recipients. Typical messages read:
- "It has come to our attention that your PayPal® account information needs to be updated as part of our continuing commitment to protect your account and to reduce the instance of fraud on our website. If you could please take 5-10 minutes out of your online experience and update your personal records you will not run into any future problems with the online service. However, failure to update your records will result in account suspension. Please update your records on or before ...."
- "We recently reviewed your account, and suspect that your PayPal account may have been accessed by an unauthorized third party. Protecting the security of your account and of the PayPal network is our primary concern. Therefore, as a prevention measure, we have temporarily limited access to sensitive PayPal account features. Please click on the link below to confirm your information."
- "Dear eBay User: During our regular update and verification of the accounts, we couldn't verify your current information. Either your information has changed or it is incomplete.Please update and verify your information by clicking here and signing into your account. If the account information is not updated to current information within 5 days then, your access to bid, buy or sell on eBay will be restricted."
Clicking on the link brings the recipient to a forged eBay site that looks virtually identical to a real one, asks the recipient to log in, and then leads through several authentic-looking pages before requesting credit card and bank information. Dr. Stephen Barrett discovered that the initial login can be done with any username and password, so it is safe to assume that any information will be captured by the scammers who designed the process. "PayPal" messages like the above should be forwarded with full headers to firstname.lastname@example.org, which will quickly verify that they are forgeries. This topic is outside of Consumer Health Digest's normal scope, but we feel it is so important that we are including it. We hope our readers will further publicize the problem.
Hydroxycut marketers pay $100,000 fine. Canadian-based MuscleTech Research and Development Inc., has paid $100,000 to the State of Missouri to resolve charges that it had misrepresented the effectiveness and risk of taking Hydroxycut, a weight-control pill that contained ephedra. [Distributor of diet supplement that contained ephedra pays Missouri $100,000 under agreement with Attorney General Nixon. News release, May 4, 2004] Last year the state attorney general charged that the company had:
- Failed to disclose that the product contained ephedra or that ephedra posed serious health risks.
- Failed to disclose that its own research showed that Hydroxycut has no efficacy as compared to placebo with the possible exception of an appetite-suppressing effect.
- Manipulated "research" results by failing to disclose when subjects dropped out because of adverse effects, including one case in which hospital care was required.
- Used "before" and "after" photographs obtained with different lighting and poses to create the false impression that people who used the product were trimmer.
To settle the matter, the MuscleTech agreed to:
- Not sell products containing ephedra in Missouri, even if the federal government changes its rules to permit their sale.
- Provide refunds to Missouri buyers of its ephedra products.
- Pay $100,000 to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Revolving Fund.
"Dr." Paula Bickle unmasked. Dr. Stephen Barrett has written a detailed report about the activities of Paula A. Bickle. "PhD," an Internet broadcaster who promotes and sells American Longevity products. Bickle describes herself as a qualified nutritionist, nutritional biochemist, distinguished educator, groundbreaking researcher, consumer advocate, and health authority. In reality, she is none of these. Her doctoral degree came from Columbia Pacific University, a nonaccredited correspondence school that was shut down by a California court in 1999. Her research was sufficiently substandard that she was fired as principal investigator in one project. Two clinics she has run were were closed after she was prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license in Oregon and Washington. See Quackwatch for additional information.
British "volcanic rock" scammer sentenced to prison. Paul King, 52, former manager of the band Tears for Fears has been sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail for fraudulent trading related to a purported cure for drunkenness made from volcanic rock. He was also banned from being a company director for 10 years. Prosecutors said he took £458,000 from investors in a firm set up to market the remedy in Britain after promising to use his music-industry contacts to help raise money. Instead, he set up a shadow company with the same name and siphoned off money to maintain a luxury lifestyle. [Ex-Tears-for-Fears boss jailed. U-TV, May 7, 2004]
This page was posted on May 12, 2004.