Beware of Snake Oil Salesmen (Especially Ones With Science)
The term “snake oil” refers to any product or service that purports to cure, treat, prevent, alleviate or enhance physical or mental conditions. It may be legal or illegal. Products such as vitamins and herbal supplements are sometimes called snake oil because they claim to have some medicinal effect without having been tested for safety and effectiveness.
There are many types of snake oil salesmen. Some sell their products directly to consumers while others use mail order companies or other intermediaries to market their wares. There are also those who simply create bogus websites and then try to convince customers that they have special cures, treatments, or remedies for various illnesses. They often do so through testimonials from satisfied customers who have purchased similar products from them.
Some snake oil sellers will even offer free samples of their products in exchange for your business. These are known as “free marketing.” A common tactic employed by these scammers is to promise you a miracle cure for whatever ailment you might have. If you don’t believe them, they’ll tell you it’s all too good to be true and give away nothing but a piece of paper with instructions on how to get started.
Who are these people and why do they engage in these practices?
The answers to these questions are not always clear, although there are certain factors that contribute to their questionable practices. Sometimes they simply hope to make money by selling the product. Other times, though, it may be that they believe in what they’re selling. They may have tried the product themselves or heard about the amazing results from someone they know. They truly believe that their product works and think that by offering it to others, they’ll be helping them.
There are probably countless individuals who engage in unscrupulous activities like this. They may start out hopeful that their products will help, then begin engaging in deceptive practices in the hopes of making a quick profit. Eventually though, their actions can have serious legal and financial repercussions. This may lead them to engage in even more questionable activities just to stay afloat.
Whether these people are delusional optimists or self-deluded scammers, they can do a lot of damage as far as wasting the time and money of others. To avoid falling victim to their deception, it’s best to be aware of how these types of people operate and learn what warning signs to look for.
Questions About Snake Oil Salesmen (Especially Ones With Science)
Q: What are some of the ways that snake oil salesmen rip you off?
A: There are several ways that these types of people can rip you off. A few of the more common tactics are:
Selling products that aren’t what they’re supposed to be or don’t work at all. This may involve using lower quality ingredients, ingredients that are past their expiration date, substituting different ingredients altogether, or some combination of the above.
Hiding information about side effects, negative interactions, and other potential dangers. They may even make false claims or lie about the product altogether.
Charging an unreasonable price for their product. The price may be so high that it’s simply not worth it to try the product. It could also be priced at a point where consumers are more likely to buy without first consulting their financial situation.
Q: Are there any warning signs that a snake oil salesman might be trying to sell me something fraudulent?
A: Yes. There are some telltale signs that a product may not be what they’re claiming it is. Be on the lookout for:
Grams or milliliters listed as the only ingredient without any other clarifying information. This could mean that the substance is pure with no fillers, but it could also mean that they’re hiding something.
No information about potential negative side effects. If a product lists its ingredients but doesn’t mention anything about how it affects you, this should be a red flag.
No information about the company selling the item. This one may seem strange at first, but if the snake oil salesman isn’t providing any information about who he is or where the product comes from, this is a major warning sign. There are two possible reasons why this person may not want to give out this information. It’s either because they’re trying to hide who they are or where the product comes from, or they simply don’t have this information themselves. If it’s the former, the product may befake or of sub-par quality.
If it’s the latter, then it’s possible that they haven’t really checked out the company that they’re getting their products from. Either way, there may be some serious concerns that need to be addressed if this information is not readily available.
If a product seems like it can do everything except wipe your butt for you, then it’s probably too good to be true. No product can do everything.
If it seems like the snake oil salesman is trying to push you into buying their product immediately, then you should walk away or at least not buy immediately. There’s no reason for them to be so aggressive if their product is really as good as they claim it is.
If something seems like an “amazing deal”, then it probably is. True, quality products can have really good deals from time to time, but if you see a company promoting something as an amazing deal that’s ridiculously cheap, then chances are they’re trying to make up for the low price by selling you a lower quality product.
If none of these warning signs are readily apparent, then you may have found a product that’s worth trying out. If so, make sure to read the ingredients carefully, check for any potential side effects or after effects, and be wary about where it’s coming from and who’s selling it.
Whatever you do, don’t overpay for fake pills that only contain silt, sawdust, and mashed potatoes. It happens more often than you think.
If you have any questions about a product, ask the seller as many questions as you need before you make a purchase. In an ideal situation, you should be able to contact the manufacturer directly. If this is impossible, though, don’t be afraid to ask the person selling it to you some questions. They might be more knowledgeable about what’s really in it than you think.
Do Your Research!
It can be difficult to tell whether the product you’re looking at is the real deal or a cheap knockoff, but one surefire way to figure it out is to do some research on the product in general. If it’s a type of medication you’d take on a regular basis, such as an anti-depressant, then you should definitely take the time to see what kinds of results other people are getting from it. This is easy to check on the internet.
If you’re not looking up medical products, then you should still do some research on whatever it is that you’re buying. If it’s a foodstuff, look it up online and see if there are any reviews from other customers. If it’s a piece of equipment, see if other people are having good results with it and what kinds of things they use it for.
If a particular product has hundreds of 5-star reviews, you can be fairly certain that it’s of good quality. Of course, this isn’t a perfect system, so you should always use your own judgment if something sounds too good to be true.
Do Your Own Testing
Even if you’ve done your research and you know that a product has worked well for other people, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work well for you.
Actually, this is the most important step of all because what good is buying something that doesn’t work for you, right?
If you’re looking at a food supplement or a piece of exercise equipment, the only way to really test it is to try it out yourself. There’s really no way around this one, I’m afraid. Some products are going to work for some people and not for others due to a variety of factors. Some of these may be unavoidable (such as how your body reacts to a particular type of pill), but others can be adjusted depending on the situation.
For example, you may find that a certain brand of pill works best when taken with a large glass of water and a meal. You may find that a particular exercise machine works better when adjusted to a higher level. You may find that a particular style of shoe gives you more ankle support than others.
No matter what it is that you’re buying, it’s important that you find the setting, situation, and circumstances that work the best for you. This will ensure that you get the most out of whatever it is that you spend your hard-earned money on.
As you can see, it’s not always easy to tell whether a product is any good or not. This isn’t even bringing up the potential dangers of buying things online. It can be a real pain, but hopefully, these tips will help you to spot the good products from the bad ones without getting scammed along the way. Good luck!
Stay safe, and be careful.
Sources & references used in this article:
Speaking Out: Teaching Thinking: Snake Oil, Medicine Shows, and Nostrums by MF LaCounte – The Clearing House, 1987 – Taylor & Francis
Is Neuromarketing Modern-day Snake Oil? by D Schultz – Marketing Insights, 2016 – search.ebscohost.com
The end of the world as we know it: Social science for the twenty-first century by IM Wallerstein – 1999 – books.google.com
Snake oil, ethics, and the first amendment: what’s a profession to do? by SS Kennedy, W Mohr, J Mercer… – American Journal of …, 2002 – Wiley Online Library
Brain-based pedagogy in today’s diverse classrooms: A perfect fit—but be careful by LAH McCall – Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 2012 – deltakappagamma.org
Skepticism and cryptography by D Gardner – 2008 – Penguin