The business of exploiting people’s insecurities


From diet pills to penis enlargement pumps, fraudulent products are rife in the online market. Con artists are increasingly taking advantage of people’s body image insecurities for financial gain, but who’s to blame?

We’ve all been spammed at one time or another by emails advertising ‘miracle’ products that will fix all our physical flaws within days, if not minutes; and let’s not forget pop-up ads that invade our web browser and scream questions at our inner psyches, “Want to drop 5 dress sizes in 5 days?!” or “Want to add 2 inches to your penis without invasive surgery?!”

Many of us delete the emails or close the tabs, but some of us are a little too curious to not click and find out what the hype is all about, and that’s where it all begins.

Against all our better judgements, we read on. We read all the false testimonials, the fabrication of scientific data, and whatever other tactics they use to dig into our insecurities and provide us with a glimmer of false hope.

You may be thinking, ‘are people gullible enough to buy these products?’ The answer is yes. Reports suggest that Australians are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on useless and dangerous products every year.

Despite all the health warnings present in the media, Australians are still finding ways to purchase the products online – an indicator that there are broader issues that need attention.

If people are seeking a miracle pill that will melt away the kilos before their eyes, what does it say about their self-esteem, or perhaps their motivation to commit to a healthier plan or even their ability to access relevant health information?

If choosing a potentially lethal product is a person’s last hope at fixing whatever physical issue they have, then what does that say about modern medicine?

If gaining access to banned products through the internet is so easy then what regulations need to be put in place? Is it better to regulate or educate?

The list goes on, but a few things are certain. Con artists get a thrill from conducting successful scams and they will keep doing it – whether it is for the feeling of power or for financial gain. For instance, look at Peter Foster, the infamous Australian con man who arguably holds the world record for the number of diet-pill-related criminal convictions.

And miracle pills do not exist. Anything that can be fixed requires time and effort.

But first and foremost, we need to stop focusing on our flaws and embrace the good attributes that we have, and then take slow and steady steps to achieving better health.

In the mean time, while Australia’s regulatory agency for medical drugs and devices, Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), work with Australian customs to stop future shipments of fraudulent products from entering Australia, take note of the following points, especially before pulling your credit card out from your wallet:

  1. Consult health professionals first if you are concerned about your body in any way. They are more likely to lead you in the right direction.
  2. Products purchased over the internet often contain illegal, undisclosed and potentially harmful ingredients and may not meet the same standards of quality, safety and efficacy as those approved by the TGA for supply in Australia. It is important that you do your background research to see if claims of safety and effectiveness of a product have been proven by scientists and approved by regulatory bodies.
  3. Image-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop can do things you cannot imagine, so be wary that ‘before and after’ pictures can easily be a result of skillful photo-manipulation.

The TGA website is continually updating their list of illegal weight loss and male enhancement products that are marketed as herbal but contain prescription-only substances. So if you have any concerns about a product consult the TGA or report a problem.