Claiming to be a Canadian pharmacy is one of the hallmarks of Internet sites that sell illegal prescription drugs

Beware of Illegal Web Pharmacies
Image: Pixabay
March 07, 2017

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers not to order medicines from websites that claim to be Canadian pharmacies. Most are not legitimate pharmacies, and the drugs they supply are illegal and potentially dangerous.

Claiming to be a Canadian pharmacy is one of the hallmarks of Internet sites that sell illegal prescription drugs which, in many cases, are not made in Canada at all, but in a number of other countries. (Even if an online Canadian pharmacy is legitimate, in general, U.S. citizens cannot legally import prescription drugs from other countries. But that's a separate issue. We're talking here about fraud.)

There are many other false claims being made, but this one figured prominently in the June 2013 seizure of hundreds of rogue pharmacy websites. This is according to Special Agent Daniel Burke, senior operations manager in the FDA's Cybercrimes Investigations Unit, a special team created in March 2013 in the agency's Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI). This unit works with other domestic and international agencies to track down the operators and suppliers of websites that illegally sell prescription medicines. The agents' methods include high-tech detection in which they follow the cyber-trail of these pharmacies, and go undercover to infiltrate the criminal world.

Burke explains that medicines offered by these sites are often stolen or counterfeit. An unsuspecting consumer may be buying a medicine that does not have the active ingredient that will make it effective, or it may have undisclosed ingredients that could endanger their health or even be life-threatening.

"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," says OCI Director John Roth. "What worries me is that people naively believe that these medicines are safe."

Burke estimates that there are 40,000 to 60,000 domain names that could be tied to illegal online pharmacies at any given time, and that this number is in a constant state of flux.

The medicines sold on these websites are often described as "brand name" or "FDA-approved," when in fact they are neither. Some illegal sites will also use the names of well-known U.S. retailers to trick consumers into believing that an affiliation exists with those stores.

Websites that illegally sell prescription drugs also potentially present non-health related risks, such as identity theft, computer viruses, or credit card fraud.