'People must beware of miracle cures and medical offers on the Internet,' warns John Bridgeman, director general of the Office of Fair Trading. 'If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.' Sound advice.
Mr Bridgeman is taking an increasing interest in health matters. Earlier this summer he gave private insurance companies a four-month deadline to be clearer about the policies they flog people or face legislation. Now he has turned his attention to the dubious medical claims which litter cyberspace.
Officials from the OFT and Suffolk trading standards department spent three solid hours one day last month searching for such potentially misleading information. Among other things, they turned up a slimming soap from Japan said to 'wash away fat in seconds', a US herbal remedy which apparently helped patients to become cancer free within 10-14 days, and books said to contain cures for cancer and AIDS.
But the OFT people weren't alone. They were part of an international effort involving 60 organisations spearheaded by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to 'maintain an enforcement presence on the net' and to 'educate' web site operators about consumer protection legislation.
This time round, there will be no attempt to evaluate manufacturers' claims. But those identified as potentially dodgy have been e-mailed a warning that there might be legislation regulating their activities and pointing them in the direction of information about how they can comply with it.
In the meantime, says the Australian CCC, here are some of the hallmarks of phoney products: ads which use phrases like 'scientific breakthrough' or 'secret formula'; case histories of 'cured' consumers; a 'laundry list' of symptoms the product treats; and testimonials from 'famous' medical experts.