Fraudulent impersonation of doctors has become a widespread menace worldwide, as revealed by AFP’s fact-checkers. Unscrupulous individuals have been fabricating endorsements and comments from medical professionals to promote fake treatments, peddle propaganda, and swindle unsuspecting consumers.
The rise of these scams has put medical professionals at risk of tarnished reputations, harassment, and even legal challenges. Ordinary consumers are also vulnerable, facing financial risks and losing access to reliable healthcare due to the proliferation of bogus treatments..
Thai neurologist Thiravat Hemachudha spoke out about being impersonated almost monthly, emphasizing how fraudsters exploit renowned health professionals to lend credibility to their false claims. Thiravat’s name has been used falsely in Facebook ads promoting various treatments, including for diabetes and penile enlargement, posing significant threats to consumers’ health.
Similar scams have surfaced in other countries, such as the Philippines, where consumers like Marissa David fell victim to deceptive ads. In her case, a cream endorsed by a popular physician turned out to be ineffective and not actually recommended by the doctor.
The impact of these scams goes beyond financial loss, as they prey on communities with limited access to reliable healthcare. Patricia Schouker, a fellow at the Colorado-based Payne Institute, highlighted the appeal of quick-fix treatments and how impersonating doctors gives fraudsters an air of credibility and trustworthiness.
Moreover, doctors like Natalia Solenkova faced aggressive online harassment after disinformation spread about them. Solenkova’s name and Twitter handle were used in a fabricated tweet about the Covid-19 vaccine, leading to threats and hateful messages after it was amplified by a well-known podcast host.
The fight against disinformation is an ongoing battle for medical professionals like Willie Ong from the Philippines. Ong, who was impersonated in ads for a mixed nuts brand, faced legal threats and had to clarify that the ads came from imposter pages on Facebook.
As these scams continue to pose serious risks to public health and financial well-being, experts emphasize the need for collective efforts to combat them. Meta, the owner of Facebook, faces calls for more robust content moderation systems to detect and remove fraudulent listings. Educating users about the risks associated with such scams is also crucial in countering the menace. This issue demands collaboration between platforms, regulators, and law enforcement agencies to protect the public from the rising tide of impersonation scams.