Learn / How to Avoid Scams and Find a Legitimate Treatment Center

How to Avoid Scams and Find a Legitimate Treatment Center

Kayla Gill
 October 1st, 2021|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Addiction treatment center scams are unfortunately common.
  • These include patient brokering and fake hotlines.
  • You can look for signs that a treatment center is likely legitimate.

Rehab should feel like a safe space, where you’re supported, listened to and your recovery comes first. Many addiction treatment centers do place your recovery at the forefront. These quality rehab centers employ experienced professionals, offer a robust treatment program and apply a variety of therapies to help you find a life free from addiction. While success rates of different approaches and programs vary, the positive news is, long-term studies have found that treatment works.1

At the same time, there are a few rehab industry players who don’t have patients’ best interests at heart. From the Florida shuffle2 to fake hotlines, different exploitative practices have been brought to light in recent years. It’s important to be wary of these malpractices to protect yourself from drug rehab scams, which unfortunately exist.

Certain markers can help you determine whether an addiction treatment center is using unethical marketing practices or is taking part in questionable schemes. On the other hand, there are also signs that indicate a rehab center is legitimate and reputable. Learn how to identify both the red flags and the green lights.

Watch Out for Common Addiction Treatment Center Scams

If you’re struggling with addiction or mental health issues, choosing to get help is a big, courageous step to take. During your search, you deserve to receive unbiased information that will help you make an educated decision regarding your recovery. Unfortunately, not all rehab recommendations are unbiased and some treatment centers engage in unethical marketing practices.

Patient Brokering: What Is It and How to Spot It

Patient brokering is when someone receives a commission to actively recruit and refer patients to a specific treatment facility.

How Does Online Patient Brokering Work?
A fake website or online ad includes a hotline that directs your call to a call center. A call center agent (not a treatment provider or dedicated admissions specialist) receives compensation for each referral they place. Treatment centers involved in these kickback schemes will place a bid for patients and agents will refer patients to the highest bidding center.

In short, call center agents pose as caregivers and sell leads to the highest bidding rehab.

Does Patient Brokering Only Exist Online?
It’s not just call center agents who receive commissions for referring patients. There have been instances of therapists and doctors receiving a cut for referring someone to a specific treatment facility.3

Is Patient Brokering Legal?
In the United States, the Anti-Kickback Statute prohibited referrals from any source to federal-supported healthcare programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE.

Since the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act4 was passed in 2018, it’s now “a crime to knowingly and willfully solicit, receive, pay, or offer payment for referrals to a recovery home or clinical treatment facility”, according to congress.gov. This means that referring patients to an addiction treatment facility in exchange for a referral fee is illegal nationwide in the United States. Penalties can include a fine of up to $200,000 and imprisonment for up to 10 years.

In the United Kingdom, patient brokering violates the 7 Principles of Public Life,5 a set of principles applied to anyone who delivers public services, including those in the healthcare sector. On top of that, The General Medical Council (GMC) prohibits doctors from receiving referral payments.

How to Protect Yourself Against Addiction Treatment Scams

In 2017, Google pulled an AdWords purge and announced that they would stop accepting ads from rehabs centers. This was huge news—many fraudulent treatment centers relied on Google Ads.6

While Google’s announcement marks a step in the right direction, you can also proactively protect yourself against addiction treatment scams:

  • Watch out for free helplines. A website may appear to provide unbiased information about treatment centers but then require you to call a hotline. Oftentimes, these hotlines are a source of referral fees, meaning agents receive compensation for placing someone in a specific facility.
  • Ask the rehab center for specific information. During your initial call with a rehab, see if their admissions team can answer specific questions about the center and their program. If you’re unsure what to ask, we’ve detailed questions to ask when calling a residential treatment center. Be wary if their answers are vague or if they don’t specify details about their program. You can also be upfront and ask the treatment center about their stance on referral fees.
  • Be upfront with your therapist or doctor. If your therapist or doctor recommended a treatment facility to you, you can politely ask them if they’ve received any benefits or compensation for the recommendation. Feel free to respectfully voice your concerns about the referral process.

Look for These Signs of a Legitimate Addiction Treatment Center

While it’s unfortunate that a few bad apples exist in the rehab industry, there are a number of good addiction treatment centers that have your best interest at heart. Below are some telling signs that a treatment center is more likely to be legitimate.

They Have a Positive Reputation

There are many ways to check a rehab center’s reputation. You can start by asking around. See if your primary care physician or psychiatrist has an opinion on a program you’re interested in. If you’re calling different centers, you can check if the center you’re looking at is in good standing with other treatment facilities. Read their online reviews, both on their own website and on Google.

They Have Valid Accreditations and Affiliations

Two national organizations accredit treatment providers in the U.S. These are the Joint Commission7 and Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).8 Check to see if a rehab’s website displays these accreditation logos. You should also check directly with the accrediting body.

It’s usually a positive sign if a rehab is a member of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP). NAATP’s code of ethics9 prohibits referral payments.

They Employ Qualified Staff

Rehabs in the U.S. are required to employ addiction treatment professionals who meet certain licensing or credential requirements, depending on the state. You should look through a treatment center’s team webpage to see if they employ licensed clinicians. Our deep-dive on the qualifications of rehab employees can help you pinpoint what job titles or credentials to look for.

They Offer Specific Details About Their Program

Usually, reputable rehab centers are happy to answer specific questions about their center or program. They’ll give you a sample schedule so you can see what a day, or week, in their treatment program looks like. They have detailed information regarding the admissions process. They’re transparent about costs and have no qualms about discussing insurance coverage.

Start Your Search for a Reputable Rehab

The decision to ask for help for substance use issues is brave—it’s one that marks the beginning of a transformative life journey. In your search for a rehab, you deserve to receive unbiased information in order to make a knowledgeable decision about treatment. By being aware of industry malpractices, you can take steps to protect yourself from rehab scams. If you look for rehabs using an unbiased platform, you’re more likely to find reputable treatment centers with programs that could be a good fit for you.

Start your search by browsing our collection of luxury rehab centers. Each center listed on our site meets specific luxury and quality criteria.

Note: RehabPath financially supports the site through sponsors, who pay for placements which are clearly marked throughout the site. We do not and have never accepted a fee for referring someone to a particular center.

Frequently Asked Questions About Rehab Scams

What is patient brokering?

Patient brokering is when someone gets compensated for referring patients to a rehab. Rehabs involved in illegal kickback schemes pay third parties to refer patients to their center.

Is patient brokering illegal?

Yes. In the United States, it’s illegal to refer patients to an addiction treatment center in exchange for a referral fee.

How do I check if a rehab is legit?

Signs of a legitimate rehab include:

A positive reputation online and in the medical field 
Accreditations, for example from the Joint Commission 
A qualified treatment team
Admissions staff with detailed program knowledge

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