Health and beauty scams

These types of scams often involve the sale of a product or service at a reduced price or that claim the product is a miracle cure for weight loss, baldness or a serious illnesses like cancer.

These scams might be advertised by email, over the phone, social media or online and they can come in different forms:

  • Fake online pharmacies offering medicines, drugs and other related products at a discounted rate and/or without prescription. You may not receive the products or receive products that are not as advertised or receive something that is potentially damaging to your health.
  • Advertising miracle cures for things like weight loss, baldness, impotence, cancer, AIDS, arthritis etc. These products are totally fraudulent and don’t do as claimed and you may not receive them at all. They may feature bogus testimonials to make them seem more legitimate.
  • Selling beauty and cosmetic products, health supplements, weight loss pills or alternative medicines and either not delivering what was promised or scamming people into subscription traps.
Subscription traps

There are different types of subscription traps:

  • Subscription traps take place when you sign up online or over the phone for a free or low-cost trial of a product, only to find that you have been unwittingly locked into expensive repeat payments.
  • Free trials, free for the first number of months or an introductory price but you have to pay a number of times in order to get the product.
  • Another ‘trap’ is where you were not aware that the subscription was going to automatically roll over into a new subscription once it expired.
  • Being told you only have to pay for postage but then find that you have been charged the full amount for the product or charged multiple times.
top tip
Know what company you’re signing up with and look at their official website to make sure you haven’t been taken to a website run by a different company. Don’t give your bank or card details to a company without researching them fully. Online reviews may help but don’t sign up if you have any doubts. A company should have its physical address, telephone number and email address listed.
Things to consider
  • Even if it is cheaper you shouldn’t buy medication or prescription drugs from an online pharmacy or non-reputable retailer. In Ireland it is illegal to supply prescription medicines via the internet. When it comes to medication it is best to talk with your doctor and get them from a legitimate source.
  • Ask yourself if a miracle cure really existed are you more likely to hear about it from a trusted medical professional or an unsolicited email from an unknown company?
  • Sometimes websites selling medicines are actually operated by criminals and by giving them your information you are in danger of becoming a victim of card fraud or identity theft.
  • Try and find out where the company is based and if they have an address and contact number. Some companies promote the fact that they are based outside Ireland and the UK and this can be a sign that something isn’t quite right.
  • Read all the terms and conditions of any online offer including the small print before you sign up. If it looks too good to be true it probably is.
  • Find out what happens when a trial period ends. Do you need to contact the supplier to cancel a subscription? Does it automatically roll-over if you don’t cancel?
  • Check your bank account on a regular basis to make sure there aren’t any unused or unexpected subscriptions going out from your current account or credit card.
  • If payments are still going out of your account after you have cancelled you can ask your bank about a chargeback. This is where your bank reverses any payments that went out. You will need to give them proof that you tried to cancel the subscription.
  • Don’t be rushed into signing up for something without thinking about it fully. Tell the person you will call them back or ask them to call you back in a few days after you have had time to fully consider everything.
Did you know?
If you subscribe to a product or service by giving your card details, this is what’s known as a recurring charge. Unlike a direct debit, you cannot cancel a recurring charge through your bank, only the business receiving the payments can cancel it. So if you have difficulty cancelling a subscription or can’t get in touch with the business, your only option may be to cancel your card altogether and get a new one.
Who to contact

If you think you may have fallen victim to a scam or fraud and have given someone your bank or credit card details contact your bank or card provider immediately so they can advise you and if necessary put a hold on your account, cancel your cards or cheques or carry out additional security when issuing payments and transfers from your account. You should also contact your local Garda station.

You can contact us and tell us about any scams you, your family, friends or colleagues have experienced as building awareness about scams is one of the best ways to prevent them. If you were scammed somewhere else in Europe contact the European Consumer Centre Ireland.


Last updated on 5 July 2019