Beware of big promises for cut-rate medicines from online pharmacies that can leave a potential buyer with more problems than cures.
From illegal online pharmacies to unapproved over-the-counter drugs, there's no shortage of scammers hoping to capitalize on New Year's resolutions to lose weight, cure acne or enhance sexual performance. And there are dangers involved in getting pharmaceuticals online.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, bad drugs could cost you your life.
People who buy medication from a fake online pharmacy may be putting their health at risk because the products sold, while being passed off as authentic, may be fake, expired, contaminated or otherwise unsafe, said Sarah Clark-Lynn, an FDA spokeswoman.
In fact, the proliferation of illegal online pharmacies is so vast, she said, the agency is working with its foreign counterparts to shut down websites selling unapproved and potentially dangerous medicines, and it recently launched BeSafeRx to help protect consumers from online scams.
We want to arm consumers with information they can use to make informed decisions about the medicine they take, Clark-Lynn said.
She said the FDA sent warning letters to the operators of thousands of websites and companies selling unapproved or misbranded prescription and over-the-counter drugs to consumers.
An FDA survey shows one out of four Internet users reported buying prescription medicines online. But almost 30 percent said they are not confident they know how to buy medicines online safely.
It's a reminder to use caution in any transaction.
Dottie Callina, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau, said consumers should take simple steps to guard against Internet and other fraud, including limiting the amount of personal information you share online.
BE ON THE ALERT
Some of the illegal medicines identified through an FDA operation:
• Domperidone, which can be used for nausea and vomiting.
• Isotretinoin, previously marketed as Accutane in the United States.
• Tamiflu or oseltamivir phosphate is used to treat the flu and is often sold online as generic Tamiflu. However, there is no FDA-approved generic version of Tamiflu.
• Viagra, sildenafil citrate, used to treat erectile dysfunction.
Source: Food and Drug Administration
Signs an online pharmacy is safe, according to the FDA:
• Requires a valid prescription from a doctor.
• Licensed and located in the United States.
• Has a licensed pharmacist available for consultation.
• May be linked to an established local brick-and-mortar pharmacy based in the U.S. or available through your health insurance plan or network.
Signs that should raise a red flag:
• Allows you to buy medicine without a prescription from your doctor.
• Offers deep discounts or cheap prices that seem too good to be true.
• Sends spam or unsolicited email offering cheap drugs.
• Located outside of the United States or ships worldwide.
If you want to keep your finances healthy as well, the Better Business Bureau offers these steps you can take to protect yourself from fraud:
• Do your research. Check out a business at bbb.org to see its BBB Business Review. For product information, go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
• Keep your computer safe. Install anti-virus software on your computer and regularly check for software and operating system updates. Don't open attachments or click on links in emails unless the email has been scanned for viruses or is from someone you know or trust.
• Never wire money to someone you don't know. Many scams require money to be wired back to the scammer. Tracking money sent via a money wiring service is almost impossible.
• Protect your identity. Always shred paper documents that include sensitive financial data and dispose of computers, cellphones and digital data safely.