FDA warns of enforcement impersonators preying on Internet pharmacy customers

December 30, 2009
Pharmaceutical Commerce, Pharmaceutical Commerce - November/December 2009,

Impersonators appear to be operating from the Dominican Republic

As if the sizable chance of unwittingly buying counterfeit medications wasn’t enough of a disincentive, Internet pharmacy customers now have another worry: they will be scammed by bogus “FDA special agents” who attempt to extort money from them. According to an FDA release on Dec. 29, the impersonators tell their victims that buying pharmaceuticals over the Internet is illegal, and that legal action can be avoided by paying a “fine,” which is conveyed either by a credit card transaction or wire transfer. Threats of arrest or even physical harm have been made.

FDA says the victims are identified by having previously made online or telephone purchases of pharmaceuticals. The scammers have also impersonated DEA, FBI, Customs and other federal officials. The agency points out that FDA agents are not authorized to impose or collect fines, and that impersonating a federal agent is itself a violation of law.

The scamming is yet more evidence of the lawlessness surrounding Internet pharmacies, which retailers and others have been fighting for years. (It bears pointing out that there are legitimate online pharmacies, but at least in the online world, their presence is overwhelmed by the flood of banner ads, links and websites of the illicit businesses.) The National Assn. of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP; Mt. Palatine, IL) has been waging a sometimes lonely battle to certify legitimate online pharmacies and stamp out the illicit ones, which frequently operate from outside the US.