Beware! Imposter FDA agents targeting people who use online pharmacies


Consumers must use caution when purchasing prescription drugs over the telephone or the Internet.  In addition to the increased risk of purchasing unsafe and ineffective drugs from the thousands of Web sites operating outside the law, there is the danger that personal data can be compromised

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its  third warning in January 2011 to the public about criminals posing as FDA special agents and other law enforcement personnel as part of an international extortion scam. The victims are targeted after placing orders for drugs over the Internet.

This ongoing fraudulent scheme to extort money from consumers was initially uncovered in November of 2008. The FDA issued the warning after several consumers reported calls from an “FDA special agent” informing them that purchasing drugs over the Internet or the telephone is illegal, and that law enforcement action will be pursued unless a fine or fee ranging from $100 to $250,000 is paid. Victims often also have fraudulent transactions placed against their credit cards.

The victim, in most cases, previously purchased drugs over the Internet or via "telepharmacies" and are identified by customer lists complete with extensive personal information provided through previous purchase transactions. These include names, addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, purchase histories and credit card account numbers.

The scheme begins with the criminal placing calls to consumers enticing them to purchase discounted prescription drugs by wiring funds to one of several locations in the Dominican Republic. However, no medications are ever delivered. A subsequent call is received from a fraudulent "FDA special agent" informing the consumer that a fine of several thousand dollars is required to be sent to an address in the Dominican Republic to prevent incarceration or other legal action.

The FDA is advising victims of this scheme who have suffered monetary loss through the payment of funds in response to an extortion call, or anyone receiving a telephone call from a person purporting to be an FDA or other law enforcement official who is seeking money to settle a law enforcement action for the illegal purchase of drugs over the Internet that they may obtain a victim questionnaire by contacting the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and clicking “Report Suspected Criminal Activity.”

In addition, the FDA says anyone who has received a purported official document on agency letterhead may verify its authenticity by contacting that organization directly via a publicly available phone number. Additionally, all federal agencies use email addresses with a “gov” email extension.

 Be informed about buying medicine online:

Purchasing prescription medications on the Internet has become almost commonplace. However, knowing which websites are safe can be confusing.

To help you make an informed choice, it is recommended by The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to only use sites accredited through the VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) or Vet-VIPPS (Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) program. These sites have undergone and successfully completed the thorough NABP accreditation process, which includes a thorough review of all policies and procedures as well as an on-site inspection of all facilities used by the site to receive, review, and dispense medicine. The VIPPS Seal, as seen below, will be displayed on the homepage of the website.

To date, 24 online pharmacy sites representing more than 12,000 pharmacies bear the VIPPS Seal and eight online pharmacies bear the Vet-VIPPS Seal as part of their accreditation. Prior to making any purchases, confirm the authenticity of the seal. The NABP has a list of the legitimate VIPP online pharmacies.

Created on January 26, 2011

Medication Safety Alerts

FDA Safety Alerts

Show Your Support!

ISMP needs your help to continue our life saving work