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How to Spot a Fake

Don't fall for fitness fads, supplement scams or quick-buck quacks. Protect yourself!

One of my jobs as a personal trainer is watching for new products that might help my clients. I've developed a fairly simple system for spotting things that are Completely Ridiculous And Preposterous (C.R.A.P.). Here's how it works.

I walked into a fitness store and asked about a product some of my clients were using. A salesperson I'll call Noclue started telling me about this new thing that "changed her life in 8 days!" My C.R.A.P. alert system was triggered because Noclue promised overnight and immediate results. Miracle products do exist, but they're rare.

I asked what tests had been conducted to demonstrate this product did what she said? Noclue admitted there weren't any studies published yet but, "they're studying it right now!" When I asked about a similar product that had been proven ineffective, Noclue shrugged it off saying, "Well, they didn't test it properly or use the right methods." C.R.A.P. alert number two.

"Don't worry," Noclue testified, "my friend is using it, and she's never felt better in her life." Don't get me wrong, Noclue seemed like an upstanding and trustworthy person, but she wasn't a medical researcher. For many people, it's difficult to separate cause and effect from coincidence when evaluating a product. Maybe it really did help her friend, or perhaps the diet and exercise program did. C.R.A.P. alert number three. 

"How does this product actually work?" I asked. "Since there are no studies, what do the manufacturers think is the reason people are getting results?" "Oh, that's simple," Noclue said. "It's the detoxifying effects of the revitalization balance that stimulates the purification energies." Huh? A common technique of quacks is to bury them in baffling bullshit jargon. Noclue didn't have any idea how the product worked, and the label didn't offer any clarification. C.R.A.P. alert number four.

Sensing I wasn't impressed, Noclue leaned in and said, "It doesn't work for everybody, but it'll work for you. You're special." I love an ego boost as much as the next person, but when a salesperson starts telling me a product will work for me because I'm different, that sets off C.R.A.P. alert number five.

I'd heard enough. I thanked Noclue and turned to walk out. She grabbed my arm and said, "You really shouldn't pass this up. Do you want to deal with the deficiency you're going to experience without this product?" Fear is a powerful motivator, and it's even more effective when coupled with an imaginary or invented disease. Of course, I knew the "deficiency" she was referring to was made up, but that's not the case with many people who go into these stores asking for honest advice. C.R.A.P. alert six went off.

I turned to Noclue and said, "What guarantee do I have that if I buy this product, it's not going to hurt me?" "Oh, that's no problem," she said. "It's been time tested over centuries of use and is totally natural and safe." I reminded Noclue that germs and viruses were "natural," but that certainly didn't make them "safe." I was up to seven C.R.A.P. alerts.

Noclue then gave me her closing argument. "What have you got to lose?" I turned to her and said, "My money, my health and my life. I'm now comfortable walking out knowing this product is a complete waste of time and money," and I left.

Here's the C.R.A.P. alerts.

  1. Miraculous claims of overnight results.
  2. No published studies and/or no third party verification.
  3. Anecdotes or testimonies to draw attention away from number 2.
  4. Meaningless scientific jargon is used to cloud the product.
  5. Vanity appeal telling me that I'm different.
  6. Fear if I don't use it.
  7. Time tested for centuries to bolster credibility.

Look for these C.R.A.P. alerts and protect yourself against fakes and fraud.

UPDATE: John Oliver presented an absolutely AMAZING overview of how scientific studies are shown in the popular media. Worth it to watch!

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Updated 5/10/16