Not all online pharmacies are legitimate. Even ones that appear to be based in neighboring Canada or that look like websites of familiar brick-and-mortar outlets may be frauds, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) cybercrime investigations unit.
People who buy medications from such online pharmacies are putting themselves at risk for being harmed by drugs that are actually ineffective fakes or contain dangerous, undisclosed ingredients.
“Consumers are able to buy prescription drugs, unapproved drugs and potentially counterfeit drugs without a full understanding of the risks that they take when they do that,” said John Roth, director of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, which oversees the cybercrime unit. “What worries me is that people naively believe that these medicines are safe.”
Fraudulent sites also put people at risk for identity theft, credit card fraud or computer viruses.
In June 2013, FDA investigators working with U.S. and international law enforcement agencies seized 1,677 illegal pharmacy websites. Many of those were designed to look like Canadian pharmacies but were more likely operated by a criminal network, according to the FDA.
Some of the seized sites inserted the names of well-known, legitimate pharmacies into their site’s name to convince buyers that they were dealing with trusted store. Others falsely advertised medicines as brand-name or FDA-approved when, in fact, they were neither.
The seized sites now display the FDA’s cybercrime investigations unit banner, marking them as illegal. But there are many more sites on the Internet that are doing the same thing—possibly as many as 60,000, according to the FDA.
The FDA offers tips about how to safely buy prescription medicines online here.