FDA: Fake warning letters plaguing illegal online pharmacy customers

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Tempted to buy medications online or over the phone from unknown pharmacies advertising ridiculously low prices?

Here’s a good reason not to do it: You may receive a threatening, yet fake, letter purporting to be from the FDA instead of getting your order.

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FDA cautions about fake warning letters

Some consumers who order from illegal online pharmacies are now receiving bogus letters warning of drug violations, according to an FDA press release. The letters are supposedly prompted by a review of your social media accounts and the package that was supposedly being shipped to you.

The language within the fake letters — most of which are addressed to “Sir/Ma’am” but also may include a specific name — warns that “we are still investigating the root of this delivery & necessary legal steps will be taken if we found [sic] out any suspicious activity on your end.”

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., says such warning letters are typically reserved for individuals and companies who make or distribute FDA-regulated products when there’s an issue.

It follows that there’s little reason for you as an individual consumer to receive such a letter, which the FDA believes may be part of an international extortion scam.

If you do receive such a letter, “it’s probably fake, and probably a scam,” Gottlieb says.

“We know the confusion and concern that these fake warning letters may cause and want to assure consumers that we generally don’t take action against individuals for purchasing a medicine online,” he adds.

So if you’re the unlucky recipient of this impostor letter, the FDA encourages you to email it to FDAInternetPharmacyTaskForce-CDER@fda.hhs.gov with photos or scans of the letter and a description of the packaging.

As a reminder, if you choose to buy medications online, the FDA recommends you only buy from U.S.-licensed pharmacies that require a prescription.

If you’re concerned about the safety of medications from your online seller, heed the following advice:

  • Avoid websites that don’t require you to have a prescription.
  • Be very wary if they’ll sell you a prescription in exchange for completing an online questionnaire.
  • Ridiculously low prices are a clue that something isn’t right.
  • Ask if you can get in touch with a licensed pharmacist who works with the online seller. If you can’t, that’s a bad sign.
  • Be sure wherever you’re buying from has a physical street address.
  • Don’t accept any shipments from other countries.
  • Check that a seller is verified by the National Association of State Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).
  • Look for sites ending in .pharmacy as evidence of NABP verification.
  • Check for VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) certification, which indicates the seller has passed rigorous vetting by the NABP.

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