Amazon Supplement Scams

Why You Should Never buy Supplements on Amazon or eBay! A Must-Read by Former FDA Special Agent Gary Collins

In today’s difficult economy, everyday folks seeking a health-and-energy boost may be hesitant to purchase “expensive” vitamins and supplements from “upscale” stores and distribution outlets. Instead, honest folks turn to Internet sites such as Amazon and eBay to purchase vitamins on the cheap for themselves and their kids.

I urge you, don’t do this!

As a former special agent and forensic investigator for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), my heart breaks for hardworking moms and dads trying to do right by their family by buying inexpensive supplements.

How? You undercut the price of legitimate supplement companies. Cheaper wins. And the consumer loses.

Why should you believe me? For many years, not too long ago, I worked in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as a Special Agent.

I’ve been behind the curtain of the supplement industry – way behind – so what I say is not based on some far-fetched conspiracy theory. I was there and witnessed it firsthand.

Now, as a public health advocate and creator of the Primal Power Method, here’s what I want you to know about the vitamins, capsules and pills that can make or break your health.

There are three main ways that supplements end up on the market at unbelievably cheap prices:

  1. They are counterfeit and probably dangerous.
  2. They are useless expired products that have been repackaged as new.
  3. They are stolen products released on the black market without any quality control.

Here’s how each scenario plays out.

Counterfeit Supplements and Other Products

One of the easiest ways to make a dishonest buck in the supplement world is to create a pill that mirrors a name-brand health supplement. Create lookalike packaging and you can sell your worthless pill on the Internet for a “discounted” price. And a counterfeit operation is born!

People would be appalled if they knew how prevalent counterfeit dietary supplements truly are. Sadly, fake vitamins and “health” capsules have made their way into the general consumer market.

These dangerous pills masquerade as the real thing on the shelves of the name-brand department stores that virtually every family in America patronizes – and they certainly are available on the Internet.

Here’s the bottom line: If an above-board supplement or pharmaceutical drug is popular, you can bet someone, primarily in China or India, is counterfeiting it. I’m not saying this as some off-the-wall scare tactic. I was there and this was my job.

Still don’t believe me?

Here is a recent article by a major news network backing up what I say regarding Amazon selling counterfeit items and destroying businesses who created the product!

Even worse? Fake pills virtually never have the correct amount of the active ingredient they are supposed to contain.

During my FDA tenure, we ran lab tests on all kinds of lookalike pills and capsules. Some cheap/counterfeit supplements had ten times or more the amount of “medicinal” ingredients as was indicated on the label. Worse, some had none, and others simply contained large amounts of sawdust!

Criminals are not moral, but they are often smart. They not only counterfeit health supplements, but also all of the paperwork that goes along with them. They have numerous distribution shell companies set up all over the world, so it is almost impossible to figure out the paperwork trail and the actual origins of these dangerous pills. (Trust me, I’ve been paid to untangle this kind of web many times.)

The real-world result is that there are virtually no legal consequences to selling fake pills, capsules or vitamins, and the criminals know it.

How prevalent are fake supplements? The IACC (International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition) estimates that brand-holders (the legitimate companies behind name-brand, non-counterfeit products) lose approximately $600 billion of revenue annually because of counterfeiting.

Michael Danel, the Secretary General of the World Customs Organization, has said that if terrorism did not exist, counterfeiting would be the most significant criminal act of the early twenty-first century.

That’s why it is so important to buy directly from a legitimate manufacturer or from a trusted health practitioner whenever you can. Read the labels on the pills you buy. Call the customer service number and ask a few questions. Many companies will only give vague, uneducated answers about the contents of their products and the nature of a product’s manufacturing processes.

The Truth About Expired Products

Another way to make a dishonest living is to purchase a genuine product that has expired for pennies on the dollar. Change the dates on the package labels, and voila: a cheap “new” product ready to be brought back to the market.

Legitimate supplement companies often have fire sales when they have products that are about to expire. The counterfeiters love this as it fits right into their business model. They can purchase these legitimate products and package them with counterfeit products and no one is the wiser.

I have seen this done in a couple of ways: The criminals might simply replace the label with a new label and a fictitious expiration date. Or, if they received the expired product in raw form (not in the bottle) they will sometimes mix it with counterfeit tablets or capsules.

Bottom line: If criminals can make a couple of bucks on something they will. It all boils down to money. And by purchasing expired, legitimate products they can have a “genuine” product on hand if something goes wrong and someone complains.

Once again, it’s the consumer who will pay the price.

Supplements Resold by Criminals

This scheme is pretty straight-forward. Criminals simply break into the warehouses of an above-board supplement company or take the big rig truck transporting nutritional products by force. They then distribute the product to other criminal fencing enterprises and the supplements end up on the Internet at a super-cheap price.

Alternatively, employees of a genuine supplement company might steal product while at work and then sell it on the black market to criminals.

You may think, well, in this case, it’s a genuine supplement, so why should I care? Here’s why: Criminals don’t just work with stolen products, but with expired and counterfeit products as well. They all get mixed together.

So you as the consumer will never know which variation of the product you are getting. You may get lucky one time, another time you may not be so lucky. Is it really worth your health to save a couple of bucks? Absolutely not!

How to Buy Safe Supplements

When I created the Primal Power Method my vision was to create a company beyond reproach. So I personally vet each and every product that I sell for legitimacy and quality.

I currently only sell The Simple Life supplement line on my website, as I work extremely hard to make sure you have the best products possible. In order to do that, I feel at this time it is best only I control the sale of the Primal Power Method product line. If I ever decide to sell my supplements using other sales channels I will definitely make sure to list who they are on this website.

Readers of my book The Simple Life Guide To Optimal Health: How to Get Healthy, Lose Weight, Reverse Disease and Feel Better Than  Ever will be familiar with what I call my “rules” for purchasing pills. The book talks about this subject in-depth, as well as which supplements your body actually needs. For now, here are four of my most important tips:

Only Buy Direct

Only buy directly from the producer/manufacturer of the supplement, when shopping on Amazon. Amazon is the largest place for counterfeit and illegitimate companies to sell their products. Some people have confused what I have said to mean that you should never buy from a legitimate company that makes a high-quality supplement, and lists it on Amazon. This is not the case, just make sure it is the actual manufacturer, and not some scammer using a similar company name.

But the article I linked to earlier in this post proves it is hard to tell at times if it is the actual company that created the product or some shady scammer using all their information.

Only Buy From Reputable Companies

Do your research and check them out. If the website is based in a foreign country and has no contact information or customer service number, there is a good chance this is a company involved in nefarious activities. Believe me, these companies exist, and we are talking about your health, and possibly your life.

Know the Supplement Standards

– Find out what standards are used to test the quality of the ingredients and the final products of the supplement companies you want to patronize. Reputable companies will have an informative label on their supplements and will have more information about their testing measures on their website.

If it is cheap, avoid it.

No reputable company using high-quality ingredients can manufacture high-end supplements cheaply. It just isn’t possible. Don’t waste your money. Another insider fact: health practitioners who sell supplements (such as a chiropractor, doctor, or dietician… or my company!) are only allowed to sell practitioner-grade supplements at the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) or at a maximum of fifteen percent off of the MSRP, depending on the company. Basically, we all sign legal agreements that we will not discount the products on our website. This is a pretty common practice to protect legitimate supplement companies. With this insider information, you can protect your family as well.

What My FDA Experience Taught Me

The sad truth is that fake-pill-pushing criminals often operate in countries at a distance far further than the arm of Uncle Sam’s laws can reach. It’s easy to sell counterfeit supplements at reputable online venues such as Amazon and eBay. But for the consumer, it’s a disaster.

Here’s what a decade of forensic investigation really taught me: Your instincts are usually right. If you can’t easily trace the origins of some “miracle” pills or are given the run-around by a supplement sales rep when you ask complex questions about ingredients or packaging, your gut will tell you what’s up. Go with your gut.

Times are tough in America. But I urge you not to save dollars by buying deeply discounted supplements on Amazon, or other discount third party websites, without doing some serious research. Risking the health of your family and children is not worth it. Instead, buy high-quality supplements, eat nutritious food, and get some exercise. That’s the only real way to beat the criminals and achieve life-long health.

About the Author

Gary Collins, MS, is a former Special Agent for the U.S. State Department, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

He is also an author, college professor, health consultant and practitioner. Mr. Collins is considered one of the premier health experts in the country due to his unique and unmatched background in the industry.

Parting Notes from the Author

All supplement product references in comments will now be X’d out, as too many idiots are trying to promote their products this way. You have to love product trolls, get a life and real job for that matter!

Also please do not send me questions asking if the supplements you regularly use are any good or not. There are thousands of supplement manufacturers, so honestly most of the time I have no idea if supplement X that I have never heard of before is good or not.

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30 thoughts on “Why You Should Never buy Supplements on Amazon or eBay! A Must-Read by Former FDA Special Agent Gary Collins”

  1. I am perplexed as to how Amazon ( shipped from and *sold* by Amazon ) can sell Now brand supplements at the wholesale price. Their prices are half what Now website sells the same item for. Why would Now sell their product to them so they can greatly undercut them and all other retailers? This doesn’t make sense. And it definitely makes me question the quality of the product.

  2. Hello, thank you for your transparency and sharing what you know. When you said “Only buy directly from the producer/manufacturer of the supplement, when shopping on Amazon” … does that exclude Amazon themselves if they are the supplier or the distributer? Or do mainly mean anyone else that is not distributing their own product? Hope this makes sense

    Thank you

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      When Amazon as the seller it is a little more reliable, but in most cases you cannot determine who Amazon’s source is. I know it is tricky, but as you now know the black market for not only supplements, but a wide variety of products is huge. I only relay the information what you decide to do with it is your choice.

  3. I use a number of XXXXXX products and perhaps I’ve gotten some fakes in the past, so I went to their website and sure enough, they state they are “practitioner only”. However, sending them an email requesting info on which practitioners in my area they have an agreement with, I learned they could not give me that info. However, they could tell me I could get their products through their distributors, PureFormulas and Professional Supplement Center.

    This seems to answer your question on how PureFormulas can sell “practitioner only” products, at least when it comes to XXXXXX products.

    1. Avatar photo

      First I want to start by saying I will be blocking out supplement company names in peoples responses, as I’m having a harder and harder time deciphering who is honestly posting a response or trying to backdoor promote their product.

      Thanks for the info Jill, as it brings up many red flags in the company you have been buying your supplements from. The fact they wouldn’t provide any practitioners in your area, or even have a list on their website kind of tells me what they are all about. They sound like a typical health scam company.

      There is a huge amount of supposed “practitioner only” supplement companies that actually sell consumer level supplements, but actually label them as practitioner only as a way to double or triple the price. Why create a practitioner only line then have a supposed “distributor” who then sell to the general public at usually a big discount? Makes absolutely no sense and smells like dog crap to me. Matter of fact I have stopped recommending most practitioner only supplement companies because I feel a lot of them are pretty shady. I don’t trust PureFormulas as far as I can throw them. I remember years ago when they first popped up they claimed to be a small mom and pop shop, but they had thousands of sku’s. Kind of hard for a small mom and pop shop to have thousands of sku’s and from what I could tell a very large warehouse. I also found numerous products pictures that appeared to be counterfeit to me. The final red flag is their location, which is the hub of the counterfeit prescription drug and supplement rings in the country. I should know I used to investigate them.

      I would warn and discourage people from purchasing supplements from these so called “distributors” again best to buy directly from the product company when possible, or your local health food store. The primary reason, which is horrible business model, I only sell my supplement line on my own website is that way I can 100% control my product. Once I let other people or companies start selling my products, I no longer no what is going on, and what is actually my product or some cheap, and/or dangerous counterfeit.

  4. Thank you Gary! This article was a real eye opener. So it sounds like on the one hand you are saying buy directly from MFG. But that one can also buy from Amazon that brand. Are you saying you can buy a brand name from Amazon and it is legit? I sometimes get brands like BioAstin Astaxanthin that have a white shipping label covering important info on the back of the product. It says it’s mfg’ed in Hawaii which it should be, but I’m not sure. What about Whole Foods…they are generally good at sourcing products aren’t they? Very discouraging to learn this. The article drew me to your site as I googled this topic, but I will check out your products too. Again thanks!

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      Thanks, I’m one of the few people in this country who was on the inside and truly understands how the underbelly of the health world really works.

      What I was saying that is there are now many legitimate companies that sell health products on Amazon. You still have to do your homework, but if you have bought from the company prior, and now they have a store on Amazon you should be ok. To be honest I’m no longer a big fan of Whole Foods and do not shop at any of their stores. They have proven to be very shady, and greatly overcharge for the products they carry. The safest way is to always purchase directly from the manufacturer, but that usually means you will pay full retail. You have to decide if the safety of your health is worth a couple extra bucks or not. That is a question you have to answer for yourself, I cannot answer that for you.

  5. Hi Gary,

    Do you suspect this carries over to simple health supplements as well, such as Emergen-C? I know vitamin C supplements are pretty much BS, but the placebo effect keeps my wife so happy she swears by it, so whatever — I’d just rather not have her save 7 bucks on eBay for 30 little packs of expired sawdust.

    1. Avatar photo

      It applies to all products, if it is popular it is being counterfeited. During my investigations I saw counterfeit Crest toothpaste, Heinz catsup, Campbell’s Soup, about every popular supplement made to give you some examples. I would rather pay a little extra and get it in the store, or at least buy it directly from the manufacturer if possible.

      1. I know your based in the U.S., I am in the UK.
        It seems, due to lack of proper terminology, I am unable to find a chem testing kit to test for the presence of BCAA’s and glutamine, could you perhaps refer me to a site. Or give me the proper terminology regarding the name of such a test kit, so I can do this my self as each and every single time I order something the seal that should remain in place when you unscrew the cap for the very 1st time is stuck to the lid and does not make the crack sound it should upon breaking said seal. I don’t need to test how much is in it, all I need to know if there is any of the BCAA’s and/or glutamine in it.


  6. I am looking to buy magnesium (citrate). The official name is Pure encapsulations Magnesium (citrate). Because of the similar name I thought that PureFormulas was the name of the company. Do you still see red flags re PureFormulas?
    Thank you,

    1. Avatar photo

      I wouldn’t purchase anything from Pure Formulas they are a very shady company. The brand you are looking at is supposed to be sold by healthcare practitioners only, as required by the contract you enter with them as a healthcare practitioner/re-seller. That is why I started selling my own supplement line, all the practitioner grade products I sold were all over the internet for much cheaper than I sold them, and not being sold by healthcare practitioners. Who knows where they are getting these products from, but my guess is a lot of them are cheap counterfeits, so buyer beware. If you want healthcare practitioner grade/strength supplements you should get them from a healthcare practitioner. This is the same as buying prescription drugs off the internet without a prescription from a source (usually overseas) you do not know, not very smart.

  7. Hello Gary, I would like to know if you have or sell some sort of protein supplement that comes in a pill form? The shakes that come all ready to drink is costly, The powders are costly as well, and often wonder if the ingredients are accurate, and valid. I know they make a pill form because I have seem them before on eBay and amazon, although, I don’t know if they sell them to USA customers. I also do not trust those websites as well. So if you, or one of your personal colleagues have the time, I would appreciate some feedback, and or advice.
    Sincerely, Lee McLaughlin [email protected] (US Zip code 48768)

    1. Avatar photo

      Hey Lee,

      There are some protein capsules out there, but I would not recommend them. Here is why: They contain very little complete protein, so for bang for your buck a high quality protein powder is still the best way to go. As I say in this article be very careful purchasing supplements on Amazon, and you should never buy supplements off of eBay period. I carry high quality protein powders that I think are affordable to most, and are of the highest quality to include USDA Organic.

  8. Hi Gary I ve brought vitamin for hair grow from amazon since I taking it my hair get worse fall out like crazy, and there’s no batch number or costumer phone, do you think is fake, now I can see my scalp, I am really sad,do I have to stop taking it, I really want this to work on my hair in stead is opposite( the name of vitamin is Head High

  9. I recently received my supply of Mucinex, Allergy medication which is no longer sold over the counter where i used to buy, i ordered from Amazon and not for a lower cost, it was expensive, but i was happy to find it.
    When i received it, clear as day …..a 90 day supply (which would last me probably a year) the medication expires in only 1 month of the day i got it~! i hesitate to send it back so that no one else gets this same expired med….but clearly i want my reimbursement of $150
    how sad is it that we get used to the convenience of the internet but can’t trust it no matter how reputable a company sounds.

  10. I have read the information and insider details on your website with great interest.. I am wondering if you also have any knowledge on pet supplements. I have been purchasing a liver supplement for my dog, Denamarin for several years. It can not be bought from the manufacturer directly. A lot of different websites offer the supplement, though at hugely different prices. How can I tell which products are legit?
    Thank you for all the enlightening work you do.

    1. Avatar photo

      I have ran into the same problem myself when it comes to pet supplements. Recently, I found the natural ear cleaner I use on my black lab for half the price (on the internet) that I usually purchased it for at the pet store. It was a huge red flag for me, and I asked the pet store where I usually purchase it if it was realistic for it to be sold for that low of a price. As I figured they said no. In addition, the label looked different on the cheaper brand, which is usually a dead giveaway it is an inferior counterfeit product. The best way is to by it from a local pet store, or from their online site if they have one. That way if your pet has a reaction you can return it to the brick and mortar store.

      One last way is to check with the manufacturer if they have a list of resellers that they wholesale to. If the website or company where you found it is not listed, definitely don’t buy if from them.



  11. Hi … What do you think about whole foods Market?? Or new season ?? I ordered some prenatal vitamins from “Life Garden company” from amazon but when I saw ur website I canceled everything .. Cause I’m scared … Can u give me some good advice where to buy good organic no GMO vitamins ? Please

    1. Avatar photo

      Whole Foods is a good place, but you will usually pay a premium. I have never heard of New Season, so I can’t comment on that store chain. I have heard this Primal Power Method company sells good supplements made by a guy with a pretty impressive background, just saying 🙂

    1. Avatar photo

      Hey Ashley, I would rather you not purchase vitamins from places like Walgreens or Walmart for two reasons: 1) I would rather have you support a local small business, which is better for your local economy. 2) You will usually get much better service from a small local health store, and they will be much more knowledgeable about the products they carry.

    1. Avatar photo

      Hey Cynthia,

      I get a ton of e-mails people asking, what online retailers are legit, and what ones aren’t. There are so many, and the fact the big ones are changing inventory and their sources of products it is definitely a moving target. I would stay away from PureFormulas, I researched them a couple years back and there was a lot of red flags popping up. They sell a lot of Practitioner Only products, meaning you have to be a practitioner to sell them to your client, and last time I checked they were nothing but a supplement warehouse. So how are they getting “Practitioner Only” products? I always recommend people support their local small businesses when they can, you get to look the person straight in the eye who is selling and recommending the product. A lot of them will also have websites, like myself. But unlike the big online warehouse sellers, we get our products from trusted sources and stick with that source.

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