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 Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.