Bogus Alcoholism Cure: Pay Up or We’ll Tell Your Boss!

A Florida court orders more than $700,000 in restitution for victims of an online scam selling a phony cure for alcoholism

  • Share
  • Read Later
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Would you quit drinking if the alternative was having your alcoholism revealed to your boss, creditors and loved ones? Although this was not the treatment strategy the Alcoholism Cure Corporation claimed to be selling, it was the only service it provided to people who tried to cancel payment for its bogus remedies, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

In a July ruling, a Florida federal court ordered the Jacksonville-based organization and the fake doctor who ran it, Robert Douglas “Dr. Doug” Krotzer, to pay $732,480 in restitution to its victims. Krotzer was also permanently barred from selling any other type of health treatment, and the court ruled that there was no scientific basis for the claims he made about treating alcohol problems.

(MORE: Alcohol Does a Body Good? Study Finds It Boosts Bone Health)

Here’s how the scam worked: the company’s online ads claimed that its 10-week program could permanently cure alcoholism “while allowing alcoholics to drink socially.” All you had to do was buy a monthly membership with the organization and take the supplements it sold, including various herbal remedies like St. John’s wort and vitamin C. The company made extravagant claims of scientific proof for its program’s effectiveness, replete with alleged links to Nobel Prize-winning scientists.

The initial cost to consumers was several hundred dollars, supposedly depending on the severity of the drinking problem. But if they tried to quit the program and stop paying, consumers were also required to submit hair samples undergo expensive medical tests — supposedly to prove whether or not their drinking had been “cured” and, therefore, whether they owed money. Their credit cards were charged unauthorized fees ranging from $9,000 to $20,000.

The company’s website also claimed that customers’ information would be kept private and that they could cancel at anytime. But when members tried to cancel, they were also threatened with disclosure of their alcohol problems to employers, creditors and others, then harassed by bill collectors and threatened with lawsuits to recoup payment.

(MORE: Light to Moderate Drinking in Pregnancy May Be Safe, Study Says)

The Alcoholism Cure Corporation disclosed some customers’ alcohol problems to credit card companies and to Florida courts. It also gave this private medical information to the debt collectors it hired to hound them. The company operated under other names, including the Alcoholism Cure Foundation and, ironically, Guilt Free Drinking.

Krotzer is far from the first to offer false hope to people with addictions — and he’s not even the most dangerous. He took people’s money and reputations, but not their lives as some quack cures have.  However, Krotzer is certainly among the most underhanded of swindlers, trying to use the shame associated with addiction to silence and blackmail his victims.

(MORE: Raising a Glass a Day to Lower Stroke Risk in Women)

Of course, if an actual cure for addiction existed, you would be reading about it on the front page, not on some obscure, poorly written, membership-only website. If anyone offers you a simple solution to this highly complicated problem, run — and certainly don’t give them your credit card number.

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer for TIME.com. Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.

9 comments
Joe Riley
Joe Riley

www.skipmurphys.com where we treat the mind (mental obsession) (crux of the problem) through the application of the 12-steps as laid out in the Big Book……………………..and i will not tell your boss

RobertSF
RobertSF

It's always the greed that gets them. If they had just let the ones that wised up leave in peace, they could have kept the scam running. The best scammers always give refunds. After all, once the mark figures the game out, it's not sporting to keep his money. That's the difference between scamming and mere stealing.

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

I am no alcoholic and I am very much against death penalty. I am also for due process and fair justice.

All that said, I will fully morally support anyone who wants to brutally coldly kill the idlot behind this scheme  by any mean with no much if any questions asked, Just make sure you get the right guy. Use any mean,  gun, brutal blunt trauma, slow painful ball crushing death .. sodomization by mean of really pointy and rusty metallic objects .. end so on .. anything goes, Feel free to use your fantasy.

Of course, I am in no way suggesting to actually do so .. just that if you do want to do so, you have my moral support .. not the legal one, not the actual action one, you will go to jail if you actually do ... so do not do it. I will just not care for your victim, should you do it or think about doing it and  if and only if the victim is the guy behind this fraudulent scheme.

This is purely theoretic exercise of thinking .. no action, so do not do it. However, you can think really hard about doing it ... really really hard .. even harder .. 

max4374
max4374

Fined? Why aren't these reprehensible...f$@#^s in jail?  And what business is it of credit card companies whether I drink or not?

 

lokiii
lokiii

Proof some people have no souls.

f_galton
f_galton

The picture of the sad Chardonnay drinking alcoholic really brings it home for me.

Beth Burgess
Beth Burgess

There IS no 'cure' for alcoholism - there is only recovery, which is actually pretty amazing. The trouble is there is so little straightforward advice for people with addiction problems, so they don't understand how to recover - and in desperation, they are likely to turn to quick fixes and quacks.

I'm an alcoholic and I was so confused about recovery and had to mostly do trial and error to find out what worked. I have written about my experiences and am publishing a book in September called The Recovery Formula, which outlines the fundamental building blocks of recovery, so that other people don't have to struggle as much as I did.

I am very clear in the book that recovery is hard work, and there are no quick fixes, but it is worth it and there is a pathway to success that underlies all good treatments. Sadly, often no-one tells you what it is or how to understand it! So I have. I really hope it helps a lot of people.

There is no cure, but recovery is achiveable if you know what to do and why to do it. I hope the charlatans that peddle their nonsensical cures to vulnerable people get adequately punished.

Beth Burgess

keith hardwick
keith hardwick

The "More" links about alcohol are not appropriate for an article dealing with alcoholism and fraud.