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FDA warns public of internet pharmacy extortion scam
January 7th, 2011
04:58 PM ET

FDA warns public of internet pharmacy extortion scam

Criminals posing as law enforcement agents are scamming people who purchase drugs over the internet, the Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers Friday.

The international extortion scam targets people who bought drugs online or from telepharmacies. The victims are called by criminals posing as FDA special agents or other law enforcement personnel. They are told that buying drugs over the telephone or internet is illegal and threatened with police action unless fines ranging between $100 and $250,000 are paid.

The victims are asked to send the money by wire transfer to a specific location usually in the Dominican Republic. The FDA says if they refuse, they are threatened with property searches, arrest, physical harm, incarceration and in some cases deportation.

"Impersonating an FDA official is a violation of federal law," said Dara Corrigan, the FDA's associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. "FDA special agents and other law enforcement officials are not authorized to impose or collect criminal fines. Only a court can take such action."

The extortionists have detailed personal information the agency says came from previous online purchases, including names, date of birth, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers and credit card information. They are using telephone numbers that make it appear as thought the calls are coming from the United States, but the FDA believes most of the calls are coming from overseas. So far none of the victims has been approached in person.

Currently the FDA, along with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations and various U.S. Attorneys are pursuing several criminal investigations on both the national and international level.

There are already been some arrests and prosecutions are pending, but the FDA's warning to consumers is "the scheme is likely to continue." They say victims of these scams should contact the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations.

The agency has issued a number of these warnings in the past and in Friday's statement to consumers, remind consumers that it's buyer beware. "Pharmaceutical products offered online and by telephone by sources of unknown origin can pose a substantial health risk. Products recovered during this investigation that were purchased from online or telephone sources have been found to contain trace amounts of heroin, other undisclosed and potentially harmful active pharmaceutical ingredients, or no active ingredient at all. Purchases should only be made from licensed pharmacies located in the United States. In addition to the increased risk of purchasing unsafe and ineffective drugs from websites operating outside the law, personal data may be compromised."


soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. jackal&jester

    Always be careful in this world. No agent of the government would call in such a manner. I say as an American we call their bluff. All they can do is call again.

    January 8, 2011 at 22:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ross Coe

    Sounds exactly the same as the faulty, fraudulent products most Pharma companies offer. The FDA protects Big Pharma from charges similar to these, and helps con the public into thinking they are trustworthy and without fault. Do believe it, they are little more than criminals.

    January 9, 2011 at 14:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Doreen Tran

    Where can I find the article that talks about boys being healthier than girls because they are exposed to more dirt and germs than girls? I believe I heard it on TV on Feb.4th. Thanks.

    February 6, 2011 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.