Anxiety Scams on the Internet

by Dave Carbonell, PhD

Anxiety scams abound on the Internet, with promises of quick cures for panic attacks, phobias, and other anxiety problems. When you feel desperate, when your daily life has been so disrupted by chronic anxiety that you're ready to try anything, it's very tempting to log on and buy the next product you see.

Maybe it will help. But there's a good chance that you won't get the promised results. The worse result then isn't even the money you spent, it's that you become less hopeful about ever solving the problem. So it's important to choose your self help tools carefully, and not just grab the first promise you see. Claire Weekes offered hope and help. All too often, anxiety scams offer hustle and hype. How can you tell the difference? How can you be an informed consumer of anxiety products? Most importantly, how can you find something that works?

Here are some tips. And, be sure to watch the WGN-TV investigative report.

Beware of quick, easy "cures"

Anxiety scams promise quick, easy results. They claim that the great majority of people who use it are "cured" of their anxiety. They suggest that the creators of the product have some special secret or insight which contains great power to help you, something that no one else has thought of. They often offer statistics which can't be verified, and testimonials from people who can't be located.

Anxiety disorders are solvable problems, and most people who struggle with them can overcome them. But recovery does take some work. If the promise sounds too good to be true, it's probably an anxiety scam.

Look for people
with professional credentials

The Internet is full of programs created by people with no professional training in health care, psychology, or any relevant field. They're generally people whose skills are in marketing and advertising.

They often try to turn this to their advantage by pointing out that many physicians and therapists don't know very much about anxiety disorders. This is unfortunately true, but it doesn't mean that the answer is to turn to Internet marketers. The answer is to find better sources of professionally trained help, and materials written by people with the training and background to be helpful to you.

Be wary of affiliate programs

On the Internet, anxiety scams are usually marketed and sold through "affiliate programs". In an affiliate program, people with products to sell offer others the chance to sell the product through their own web site and keep a commission, typically 50-75% of the sale price.

It's quick, easy, and cheap to set up, and affiliates can make some money with little effort. Nobody has anything to lose...except the buyers. This is why you'll see hundreds of web sites for these products.

This marketing has become so organized that there's even a market for buying and selling the articles that affiliates use to promote these products. Affiliates themselves often don't know much about the product, and pay free lance writers to do the writing for them.

Check out these examples. Here's an ad seeking 9 articles on "fat loss, dog training, and anxiety attacks". How about this one - 25 articles needed, for which the buyer will pay $1.50 each, on the topics of "hemorrhoid care, learn spanish quick, and cures for panic attacks".

Everybody needs to make a living, but this isn't how I want to get my health care problems solved!

How can you tell if you're looking at a product sold by affiliates? Just google the name of the product. If google returns lots of web sites advertising the product, all fairly similar, and linking you back to the same site for purchase, that's an affiliate program you found.

Compare prices

Most of the best self help books for anxiety disorders sell for less than $20. Anxiety products on the Internet are typically priced far higher than that, even though they're often only digital files which cost nothing to reproduce. These products usually range in cost from $60 to $100. The prices vary because they often offer a "special low price that expires today!"

You can buy a small shelf of books by Claire Weekes for less than what you would pay for one anxiety scam. Dr. Reid Wilson, Dr. David Burns, and Dr. Edmund Bourne all have written excellent self help books which sell for less than $20.

When the price seems really inflated, odds are it's an anxiety scam.

Seek information, not just advertising

A good self help site will freely offer actual information that you can use. It probably has products for sale as well, but that isn't its only purpose. It will offer actual self help information about anxiety disorders, and give you a clear idea of how the products can help you. Look through my web site, or some of the professional sites listed in my Links section, and you will see sites that not only explain how treatment can help, but that provide information - useful information for free - that you can use to help yourself.

The typical anxiety scam web site consists of screen after screen of high pressure reasons to buy, and lots of extras if you buy NOW. However, they rarely describe how their product actually works, or give you anything you can use. They just urge you to buy.

If you read through an entire web site and still can't tell what method the author proposes for you to use, odds are you're looking at an anxiety scam.

See if it's available elsewhere

The Internet is a wonderful medium. But why aren't these products also sold in stores, and large outlets like amazon? It's often because the product isn't good enough to get approval from third parties like editors, publishers, and retail distributors.

If these products were sold in stores, they'd attract a lot more scrutiny. Reviews would appear in newspapers and magazines. Customers would thumb through the books on shelves. Some Internet marketers don't want this kind of attention. Their strategy relies on catching you when you feel needy - maybe when you can't sleep and you're desperately surfing the Internet for help - and get you to make that impulse buy when you're least prepared to make a careful, considered choice.

When you can only get it from one supplier, the odds go up that it's an anxiety scam.

I have so much trouble -
isn't it worth a try?

It might be. These products are generally overpriced and over promised, but that doesn't mean there's never anything of value. You might get something out of it, even if it's only a placebo.

But it's not a good place to start. A better way to start might be to go to and search for books about the problem you face. Read about the authors, read the reviews, and you can often read a sample of the work itself. The odds of getting useful help from books you find that way are much, much higher than just googling the topic.

If you do want to try out an Internet product, then investigate it as best you can, and take two more simple steps.

Don't buy groceries when you're hungry

If you've ever struggled to control your diet and your weight, you probably have heard this suggestion. Don't go to the grocery store when you're hungry and grab whatever appeals to you. Instead, make a shopping list when you're not hungry, and follow that plan when you go to the store. That way, you can shop in an organized manner, rather than impulsively.

Do the same when considering anxiety self help products. Investigate and compare them in an organized manner when you can give this your careful attention. You're much less likely to buy into an anxiety scam this way. Don't shop when you're feeling overwhelmed by anxiety in the middle of a sleepless night!

Protect your rights as a consumer

Internet marketers typically promise to refund your money if you return the product within a certain time. The good ones consistently live up to this pledge. However, some don't. So before you make a purchase, carefully read the description of the refund provision, and print a copy for your records. Pay only by credit card. As soon as you receive your order, review the materials and make a prompt decision to return or keep them.

In the event you return the product but don't get the promised refund, you can ask your credit card company to remove the charges from your bill. They will do so if you can show them that the seller didn't give you the promised refund. That will be easy to do if you keep a copy of the refund provision.

Instructions for filing this kind of complaint are typically on the back of your monthly credit card bill.

And, if you keep the product, use it diligently, yet fail to get the promised results - that's unfortunate, but don't stress about it. Don't make the mistake of thinking you can't be helped. You bought a product that wasn't helpful, at least to you. Keep looking for something better, by keeping the above points in mind.

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© 2010-2024 David Carbonell, PhD.  Anxiety Coach® is a registered mark.
P.O. Box 256539, Chicago, IL 60625

Last updated on June 25, 2024