Why Buying Online Can Be Risky

Not all websites that sell medication are created equal. Some operate illegally and may sell counterfeit or falsified drugs and devices, putting your safety, health, and personal information at risk.

  • Some websites sell fake medicines that contain rat poison, glue, chalk, and other toxic fillers.
  • Other websites do not secure your payment and other personal information, leaving you vulnerable to identity theft.
  • Still others take your money without providing any product or automatically enroll you in pricey refill scams.
  • Additionally, without a doctor’s prescription or a pharmacist to answer your questions, you also increase your risk misdiagnosing an illness, or experiencing serious adverse reactions to your medication.

Spotting a Rogue Online Pharmacy

You can be confident that you are receiving safe medications when you are purchasing from a website with a .pharmacy domain name, but you should also be aware of the signs of a rogue website. Sites with any of the characteristics listed below may be selling prescription drugs that are counterfeit, contaminated, or otherwise unsafe.

No prescription required: Internet drug outlets are suspect if they dispense prescription medicine without requiring the patient or doctor to submit a prescription, or without contacting the patient’s doctor to obtain a valid prescription (if one is required).

Prescription based solely upon online questionnaire: Be wary of internet drug outlets that dispense prescription medicines based solely on the patient completing an online questionnaire without having a pre-existing relationship with the doctor, including an in-person physical examination. In the United States, most state boards of pharmacy, boards of medicine, FDA, US Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federation of State Medical Boards, the American Medical Association, and NABP agree that this practice is illegal or fails to meet the standard of care.

No phone number or street address: Internet drug outlets should have a toll-free phone number as well as a street address for the pharmacy posted on their websites. Drug outlets that allow customers to communicate with them only by e-mail should be avoided.

No pharmacist consultation: Legitimate pharmacies allow patients to contact pharmacists, whether by phone or secure web-based communication, if they have questions about their medications.

Waivers: Legitimate pharmacies do not require patients to sign waivers to place the patient in legal jeopardy or waive all rights before providing medication.

Limited medicines: Many untrustworthy internet drug outlets offer only a limited number of medicines, particularly “lifestyle” or controlled substance medicines that treat such conditions as impotence, obesity, herpes, pain, and acne.

Spam solicitations: Many internet operations that advertise through unsolicited e-mail messages (ie, spam) operate illegally and are not a trustworthy source for obtaining anything, especially something as critical as prescription medicine. According to the US Federal Trade Commission, spam e-mails can infect computers with spyware that can slow computer performance, install software that can record and report a customer’s every keystroke, spread computer viruses, and “hijack” a consumer’s computer to distribute more spam. Deceptive spam is also sometimes used to trick consumers into divulging sensitive or personal information, including credit card numbers and other financial data.

To help consumers see through rogue sites, NABP continually reviews websites selling prescription drugs to determine if they are safe. Of the nearly 11,600 internet sites reviewed, NABP has found that 96% of the sites fall in the Not Recommended category because they appear to be operating in conflict with US pharmacy laws and patient safety standards. The 11,056 internet drug outlets currently listed as Not Recommended are characterized as follows:

  • 89% do not require a valid prescription
  • 57% issue prescriptions per online consultation or questionnaire only
  • 17% do not have secure sites
  • 13% dispense controlled substances