Red flags of a counterfeit drug site

Online pharmacies that utilize the ".pharmacy” domain, such as Harris Teeter, CVS, and Walgreens pharmacy chains,  have undergone a vetting process that ensures their compliance with pharmacy laws and practice standards.  

Consumers can avoid the pitfalls caused by counterfeit medications by looking for the red flags associated with illegal online pharmacies.

They include: 

  • The online pharmacy does not require a prescription authorized by a doctor.  
  • A U.S. mailing address and other contact info is not listed on the site 
  • Drugs are offered at extremely discounted rates. 
  • The pharmacy website makes exaggerated claims of providing a cure for chronic or life-threatening illnesses. 
  • Payment is required via means that are not connected to the pharmacy website or via direct transfers between banks or through money transfer services, such as PayPal.

It is illegal in most cases for people to import drugs into the US for personal use. There are two concerns about having pharmacies in other countries fill prescriptions. Some products have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use and sale in the U.S. and the FDA cannot ensure the safety and effectiveness of medicine purchased over the internet from a foreign country. You can learn more here.

What we hear from consumers about online pharmacies 

The National Consumers League often hears from consumers about their experiences with online pharmacies that seem sketchy. For example, many of the questionable online pharmacies require consumers to pay for their medications with money transfer services like PayPal or Google Pay.

In many instances, consumers report buying medication from online pharmacies but never receiving it. Complaints often result in consumers experiencing an endless loop of customer service interactions or even no response at all and—ultimately—never getting their money back.

Canadian online pharmacies 

Because Canada has long enjoyed a reputation for having a safe, secure, and affordable drug supply, many consumers have purchased medications from what they assume are Canadian-based online pharmacies. However, while many fraudulent pharmacy websites claim that the medicines are from Canada, they are most likely only being sold through Canada. The medicines consumers receive from theses fraudulent websites are not inspected by Canadian health officials and may not be up to the same standards legal American and Canadian pharmacies must meet 

Facts about Canadian online pharmacies   

  • A report released by the FDA found that nearly 85 percent of drugs sold from pharmacies claiming to be Canadian actually originate from other countries.  
  • The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) has found that consumers purchasing from alleged Canadian online pharmacies rarely receive medicines that are deemed safe for consumption by Health Canada (the Canadian government’s counterpart to FDA). 

Before buying medicines online, consumers should make sure the website has .pharmacy in its URL and check that it’s listed with the NABP’s .Pharmacy Verified Websites List. Consumers can also verify their online pharmacy at LegitScript’s site here.