Buying medications online or over the telephone may be convenient, but according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it can place you at risk of extortion by thieves posing as FDA agents.
How the Scam Works
According to the FDA, the thieves collect their victims' personal information from the bogus "medical questionnaires" required by illegal online and telephone pharmacies. The information they get typically includes addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, purchase histories and credit card account numbers. What else do they need, right?
Instead of the medications they ordered and probably paid for, the victims soon get a phone call from someone claiming to be an "FDA special agent" or another type of law enforcement official. The fake FDA agent tells the victim that purchasing drugs over the Internet or telephone is illegal and threatens to prosecute them unless they pay a fine or fee ranging from $100 to $250,000. If the victim hesitates or refuses to pay, the caller threatens to have their home searched, have them arrested, deported, thrown in jail, or just plain old beaten up.
What Should You Do?
First, hang up the phone, advises the FDA. According to Philip Walsky, a real FDA special agent, no actual official of the federal government - including the IRS -- would ever contact a consumer by phone and demand money or any other form of payment, much less threaten physical violence. And don't worry about that physical violence threat, because Walsky says that no known victim of this scam has ever actually been approached in person. In fact, he added, most of the fraudulent callers are based overseas.
"FDA special agents and other law enforcement officials are not authorized to impose or collect fines imposed for criminal acts," said Walsky in press release. "Only a court can take such action, with fines payable to the U.S. Treasury."
Walsky also advises victims of this scam to change whatever phone number(s) the caller used to contact them, and to stop buying drugs online unless they know the website is trustworthy.
Legitimate Online Pharmacies? Yes, there are totally legitimate online pharmacies, and the FDA's BeSafeRx: Know Your Online Pharmacy website can help you find them.