Learn / How to Avoid Common Addiction Treatment Center Scams

How to Avoid Common Addiction Treatment Center Scams

Kayla Gill
 October 6th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Your time in rehab should be focused on getting well. And in many treatment centers, it will be. Reputable rehab facilities are designed to help patients as they enter recovery. And after you complete the program, you’ll be ready for whatever comes next.

Unfortunately, many rehab centers take advantage of people. They’re more focused on making money than on helping you heal. Some even commit insurance fraud, lie about their services, and employ unqualified staff.

There’s good news, though. If you know what to look for, you can spot and avoid several common scams. Here’s how to protect yourself, and get the help you need as you begin recovery.

Scam #1: Patient Brokering

Patient brokering is, unfortunately, a common practice in the addiction treatment industry. This is when a 3rd party gets paid for helping a rehab find new patients. Also known as “body brokering,”1 this scam is like a commission model—but the patient is the product being sold. This practice has been illegal since 2018.

The process often starts with a phone call from a recruiter. Once they have you on the line, they might recommend a disreputable rehab facility in another state,2 or try to sign you up for a program right away. They might even offer perks if you sign up, or say they’ll cover the cost of travel.

Recruiters don’t always call you. Sometimes, they wait for you to call them. A lot of online ads have numbers for “treatment centers” that actually go to call centers. And if you call in, the agent will just connect you to the highest bidder. From there, they’ll try to sign you up for their program immediately, whether or not it’s a good fit.

If you run into patient brokering online or by getting a spam phone call, it’s pretty easy to avoid. But it can also happen in other ways. Even doctors and therapists can get kickbacks for referring patients to rehab. That’s why it’s important to do your own research.

How to Avoid a Patient Brokering Scam

  • Be wary of free hotlines. Helplines on ads might lead you to a predatory call center. Instead, call the number on the treatment center’s website.
  • Ask specific questions when you’re shopping rehabs. They should be able to tell you everything you need to know about their program. Vague responses are red flags. You can also ask what they think about referral fees.
  • Discuss patient brokering with your doctor or therapist. Politely ask if they’ll receive any benefits for referring you to a specific treatment center.
  • Be wary of strangers who want to sign you up for a specific rehab. An investigation by the Orange County Register found several ways brokers take advantage of people who need treatment.3 Specifically, they “troll Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, homeless camps and drug courts to find people they can send to rehab—for kickbacks from the centers. Often, when they have a prospect, brokers will call several rehab centers and seek competitive bids. Highest bidder gets the business.” They may also text or call you.

Scam #2: Insurance Fraud

Once you’re in treatment, some of these unethical rehabs try to commit insurance fraud.4 They might inflate the bill to your insurance company, or add unnecessary steps to your treatment plan. Some order daily drug testing even when it’s clear that you’re sober. And if your insurance refuses to pay, you might have a bigger problem. For example, you could get kicked out of rehab—a process called “curbing.”

Be wary of any rehab center that enrolls patients in a new insurance policy.5 This might seem like a good deal—and they might even offer you free treatment. But these centers often lie about your address so it looks like you live in a different state. They’ll also pick plans with larger reimbursements, so they can make even more money. And when the insurance company finds out the truth, you might be liable.

How to Avoid Insurance Scams

  • Ask the admissions team questions about how they handle insurance. Legitimate rehab facilities will be transparent about costs and insurance coverage.
  • Refuse to let anyone cover your insurance costs or change your policy for you. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Outrageous offers of free treatment are a sign that something’s wrong.

Scam #3: Incorrect Information About Addiction Treatment

Some treatment centers make claims that simply aren’t true. These might appear as testimonials or interviews. In one case, an Indiana center offered a man free addiction treatment in exchange for singing their praises of one center in a YouTube video. In a follow up interview, he said the rehab program didn’t work for him6—and that he started drinking again soon after it ended.

The unfortunate reality is that unscrupulous rehabs may lie7 about any of the following important subjects:

  • Accreditation status. Organizations may not actually have the accreditations and licenses they claim to. And they might lie about this even if they’re not breaking any laws. For instance, California doesn’t require business owners to have a valid medical license or degree to open a rehab.3
  • Staff credentials. It’s important to double-check that employees actually have the medical licenses and qualifications they say they do. If you’ll be receiving medical attention during rehab, there should be MDs and nurses on staff. Rehabs employ mental health professionals ranging from counselors to psychiatrists, with varying degrees of education and experience.
  • Amenities and services. On their websites, centers list resources they’ll provide. But once you arrive, these services might not be available.
  • Conditions treated. In order to attract more clients, some facilities say they treat more conditions than they actually do.

How to Avoid Rehab Programs That List Inaccurate Services

  • Learn about their reputation. Ask people you trust, like your doctor, to tell you about the program. Read reviews on Google, not only testimonials from the center’s website. Search for their name online to find out about any history of scandal.
  • Make sure they have valid accreditations. Check the facility’s website to see if they have accreditation logos from the Joint Commission or Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). These 2 organizations authorize treatment facilities in the U.S. Check if they’re members of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP). This is another good sign, since the NAATP’s code of ethics doesn’t allow referral payments.
  • Confirm that they have qualified staff. View the facility’s employees on their website, and check their staff’s qualifications against each state’s requirements.
  • Ask specific questions. Ask the admissions team which conditions they treat, and what amenities they offer. They should be ready with detailed answers about their services, fees, and insurance coverage.

Scam #4: Offering Free Things in Exchange for Treatment

Some addiction treatment centers entice patients to enroll with money,8 gifts, free flights, or other amenities. They’ll use these prizes to convince patients to start treatment, stay in rehab, or move to their facility.

How to Avoid This Scam and Find Recovery

  • Don’t accept compensation or gifts to attend treatment. Legitimate rehab facilities may offer helpful amenities, like rides from the airport to treatment. But they won’t ever offer you money or gifts.

Look for Rehabs With Green Flags

When you’re researching different centers, you can also look for good things. These green flags can indicate that a rehab is trustworthy.

  • They offer individualized treatment. Experts say that above all, the best treatment facilities offer personalized treatment plans.7 Each patient is unique, and not everyone responds to rehab in the same way. When providers really care about recovery, they’ll make sure your program works for you—not the other way around.
  • They help you plan for aftercare. Recovery doesn’t end when you complete rehab. For most people, it’s a lifelong process. But good treatment centers help you plan for what comes next. Some offer aftercare programs, and others connect you with outside providers.
  • They discuss other options, like outpatient care. If your insurance won’t cover inpatient rehab, outpatient treatment might be more affordable. Good providers will help you choose the option that’s best for you—and not just their bottom line.
  • They’re honest about recovery rates. Most addiction treatment works 50-60% of the time.7 If a center claims that patients have a 100% recovery rate, they might be lying. Or, this might be a sign that they lose touch with alumni.

Start Your Search for a Reputable Rehab

There are plenty of facilities that put you first, and genuinely want to help you heal. You deserve that level of care. Don’t settle for a rehab that offers anything less.

Compare addiction and mental health treatment centers and reach out directly to their staff for answers to your questions about pricing, insurance, specializations, and more.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. California man accused of ‘body brokering’ – receiving illegal kickbacks from sober living homes. (2021, March 31). The Mercury News. https://www.ocregister.com/2021/03/31/o-c-man-accused-of-receiving-illegal-kickbacks-from-sober-living-homes []
  2. Avoiding addiction treatment scams | Mass.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mass.gov/service-details/avoiding-addiction-treatment-scams []
  3. How some Southern California drug rehab centers exploit addiction. (2017, May 21). Orange County Register. https://www.ocregister.com/2017/05/21/how-some-southern-california-drug-rehab-centers-exploit-addiction/ [] []
  4. Addiction treatment facility owner convicted in $58 million health care fraud scheme. (2022, April 13). https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/addiction-treatment-facility-owner-convicted-58-million-health-care-fraud-scheme []
  5. Desperate for addiction treatment, patients are pawns in lucrative insurance fraud scheme. (2017, July 7). STAT. https://www.statnews.com/2017/07/07/opioid-insurance-fraud/ []
  6. Harper, J. (2019, August 22). Addiction clinics market unproven infusion treatments to desperate patients. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/08/22/741115178/addiction-clinics-market-unproven-infusion-treatments-to-desperate-patients []
  7. Lopez, G. (2019, October 9). Looking for drug rehab? Ask facilities these 11 questions first. Vox. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/10/9/20887787/drug-rehab-addiction-treatment-facilities-inpatient-outpatient [] [] []
  8. Lopez, G. (2020, March 2). She wanted addiction treatment. She ended up in the relapse capital of America. Vox. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/3/2/21156327/florida-shuffle-drug-rehab-addiction-treatment-bri-jaynes []

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