The prices Internet pharmacies charge for prescription drugs may sound like a great deal, but according to the Food and Drug Administration there’s a good chance the money consumers think they are saving is costing them their health. The agency has launched a national campaign targeting what it says is “the prevalence of fraudulent Internet pharmacies.”
The campaign is called BeSafeRx – Know Your Online Pharmacy and is designed to help patients and caregivers who purchase medication online better understand who they are buying from and whether the medication they ordered matches what the doctor prescribed.
According to an FDA survey, nearly 1 in 4 Internet consumers have purchased prescription medicine online, but nearly 30 percent said they lacked confidence about how to make safe online purchases.
The FDA says fraudulent online pharmacies use sophisticated marketing efforts or phony web storefronts to appear legitimate. And it warns that patients who buy from these websites are putting their health at risk because the medications may contain the wrong ingredients, the wrong amount and, in some cases, no active ingredient at all.
The risk of purchasing from a rogue seller is high. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy reports that less than 3 percent of online pharmacies meet state and federal laws.
“Buying medicines from rogue online pharmacies can be risky because they may sell fake, expired, contaminated, not approved by FDA, or otherwise unsafe products that are dangerous to patients,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. “Fraudulent and illegal online pharmacies often offer deeply discounted products. If the low prices seem too good to be true, they probably are.”
To protect themselves, the FDA advises patients to only buy prescription medicine through online pharmacies that require a valid prescription from a doctor, are located in the United States, have a licensed pharmacist available for consultation and are licensed by the patient’s state board of pharmacy.
Phone Scam Targets Online Buyers
The announcement of the BeSafeRX campaign comes on the heels of another warning by the FDA that involves a phone scam targeting consumers who have bought medication online.
Here’s how it works:
The scam artists first get personal information from people buying drugs online or from medical questionnaires frequently sought by illegal online websites. Personal information can also turn up on customer lists obtained by criminals.
Once the scam artists have that information, the victim gets a call from someone identifying themselves as an FDA agent or another kind of law enforcement official. They are told that purchasing drugs over the Internet is illegal and threatened with prosecution unless a fine is paid. If they refuse, the caller threatens to search the victim’s property, arrest, deport, and even physically harm them.
The FDA says no federal official would ever contact a consumer by phone and demand money or any other form of payment. As for actual physical danger, it says no known victim has ever been approached in person.
Since the scams first came to light, the agency says its staff has handled dozens of calls from alarmed consumers.
“I tell them it’s a scam,” said Philip Walsky, special agent in charge at the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, “and that the best thing they can do is ignore the caller and hang up.”
If the calls continue, Walsky recommends changing whatever contact phone numbers the caller used in the first place. And if you have purchased medication online, he says you may want to make sure your credit card account is up to date and that no suspicious charges have been made.