Scam Alert: Special Agents Don't Call to Collect Fines from Using Online Pharmacies

Besides facing a risk of buying unsafe and ineffective drugs, you risk handing over your info to scammers

Buy Prescriptions Online or over the Phone? Beware of Bogus FDA Agents
Image: Pixabay
October 9, 2018

Purchasing your medications online is quick and convenient. But it could also place your personal information in the hands of criminals who want to use it to extort you. Many consumers who have purchased drugs over the Internet or via telephone have unwittingly exposed themselves to extortion by individuals posing as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agents.

how does the scam work?

Someone will call you and identify him or herself as an FDA special agent or another kind of law enforcement official. You'll be told that purchasing drugs over the Internet or telephone is illegal and be threatened with prosecution unless a fine, which can range from $100 up to $250,000, is paid. If you refuse to pay, the caller threatens to search your properties, arrest or deport you, and even physically harm you. This can be the result of exposing your information when purchasing drugs online.

How Do they find you?

Despite ongoing investigations and arrests, such scams are hard to trace and eliminate. These criminals are getting personal information from transactions where individuals buy drugs online or by telephone from less-than-reputable sites or from medical questionnaires on illegal online pharmacies. This personal information turns up on lists that are then sold and traded. These lists can contain tens of thousands of names and a great deal of self-reported information, including names, addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, purchase histories and credit card account numbers. And once a scammer gets your information, you'll start getting calls.

Federal Officials Won't Call You

No federal official will ever contact a consumer by phone and demand money or any other form of payment. As for physical danger, no known victim has ever been approached in person. Most of the fraudulent callers are actually based overseas in places where real federal officials can't reach them. FDA special agents and other law enforcement officials are not authorized to impose or collect fines imposed for criminal acts. Only a court can take such action, with fines payable to the U.S. Treasury.

Like many telephone solicitors for illegal prescription medications, most of these scammers use voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) telephone numbers, which enable scammers to select phone numbers with specific area codes that make it seem like they are calling from a specific location.

Warning Signs of a Scam

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be a government official who then asks you for money, warns you not to call the police, tells you not to speak to an attorney, or directs you to send money via wire transfer or gift card, you're dealing with a scam. Government officials will not ask you for money via phone. Further, no government payments will ever be sent outside the country.

How to make the calls stop

The only true way to stop these calls is to change your phone number, but this might not be practical. If you stop answering these calls and stop responding, the callers will eventually give up. But that might take a long time.

What else should you do?

Don't buy drugs online or by phone unless you know for certain that the website and business is trustworthy. If you have purchased medication online or via telephone, you may also want to alert your credit card company and make sure that your account is up to date and that no suspicious charges have been made against your credit card. In some cases, making a purchase from a seemingly legitimate website will lead to undisclosed recurring charges and deliveries.