Con men prey on women's insecurities

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The website of Dermatol Master advertises its staffs and services. Ho Chi Minh City cosmetics experts said they never heard about its "˜doctors'. Photos by Thanh Tung

Health inspectors in Ho Chi Minh City late last month raided a plastic surgery clinic after Thanh Nien newspaper featured many victims of its so-called treatment.

Dermatol Master in District 10 was ordered to shut down immediately during the inspectors"˜ visit on April 26.

As has happened earlier with inspections of dubious medical clinics, no staff members present at the time could provide clear answers about the clinic's operation and the "doctors" about whom complaints were made were not around. All the inspectors did was to tell the "person in charge" to visit the Health Department to provide "clarifications."

Using unproven methods that have deformed the bellies and faces of many women, the clinic was charging customers much higher fees than official cosmetic hospitals.

An inspector at the team called the clinic at 51/4/5 Thanh Thai Street a "fraud" as it was unlicensed and had been treating customers since last year, but again, as has happened earlier, there was no comment on how local authorities had allowed this to happen.

One victim, only identified as L., 52, from the city's outskirts Thu Duc District, paid the clinic US$2,000 for treating melasma, a tan or dark skin discoloration.

She said she was prescribed a cream that has worsened the condition on her face and also caused many tumors. She managed to get back her money from the so-called doctors Hiep and Dung after her family went to the clinic and made a fuss.

H.N., a victim from the neighboring province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, paid VND92 million ($4,400) only to earn sores, rashes and blisters on her belly and three holes around her navel, as part of treatment to help her lose 12 kilograms in six months and heal her cracked belly skin.

At the first session, Hiep, who is around 40 years old, poured a liquid onto her belly which doctors at other hospitals she sought help from later said was a diluted acid solution.

The 30-year-old said she was first charged VND100 million, but the "doctor" returned some money, after she came back with a damaged belly after the first session.

But she continued to receive the acid solution at a second session a month later, this time administered by Hiep and another man named Dung.

She said she had asked for a safety guarantee at the beginning, but Hiep told her there was no need as she would be so happy she would pay him even more once the treatment was completed. "When I heard that, I felt assured that the doctor must be very good."

At the third session, Hiep made three holes the size of the little finger head around her navel, rubbed a substance on them and bandaged them. "He said the holes were to help me lose weight. They kept leaking a yellow liquid but Hiep called that a positive sign and did nothing about it."

N. said she has seen no weight loss, while her belly skin has been severely damaged. She was also given unlabelled medicine tablets.

She demanded a refund, but Hiep and Dung only agreed to pay VND40 million on the condition that she filed no complaint.

The clinic also charged her VND10 million for a nose job, which has infected her nose and caused it to feel itchy and blocked regularly.

Doctor Do Quang Hung, deputy general director of Ho Chi Minh City Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery Association, said he'd never heard about any method involving pouring a liquid on the stomach to kill fat and reduce weight.

Hung said any chemical used directly on human body for treatment needs to be checked for reactions first to avoid side effects or complications.

Doctors from the association said they do not know "doctors" Hiep or Dung. A licensed plastic surgeon needs college training and at least three years of work experience at an official related facility, Hung said.

Dermatol Master impressed people with fraudulent claims on its website - dermatolmaster.vn - saying it provides skin and body care for government leaders in Vietnam and other ASEAN countries.

The "doctors" seemed to have been seasoned con men, making tall claims without batting an eyelid.

N. said she was convinced to have a nose job at the clinic partly because Hiep and Dung at the time made themselves look very busy, saying they had to prepare for a trip to the Mekong Delta because they had a lot of work there. "Only later did I realize that they were just bragging to deceive me."

Once, when she brought to the clinic her sister who has a skin condition that doctors had said cannot be healed completely, Hiep said those doctors should come and learn from him. His treatment, however, worsened the condition.

Another woman from Ba Ria-Vung Tau said she trusted the "doctors" because they said they'd worked with famous emcee Thanh Bach, who she idolizes.

Many of the victims of the two con men hail from Ba Ria-Vung Tau, where a female broker, identified only as Q., is estimated to have helped the clinic earn around VND1 billion.

After a series of expensive damage, Q. has shrugged off her involvement when confronted by the victims.

Hiep and Dung are absconding.

Many victims said they did not complain to local authorities about the clinic because they were embarrassed about people coming to know that they had tried to get cosmetic interventions. They said when they called the clinic to complain, they were always told that the "doctors" were busy working.

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