FDA targets rogue Internet pharmacies
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is pressuring a number of Internet service providers to shut off nearly 12 dozen Web sites alleged to be selling counterfeit or unapproved prescription drugs.
The FDA's office of criminal investigations said it sent 22 warning letters to the operators of the sites, and alerted the appropriate ISPs and domain name registrars that the sites were selling phony pharmaceuticals, all without requiring a prescription. The agency said none of the sites represent pharmacies located in the United States or Canada, as most claim.
According to the letters sent to owners of the 136 targeted sites, the online stores hawked everything from powerful controlled substances, including Valium and Xanax, to lifestyle drugs like Viagra and Levitra. Some sites even offered prescription drugs that have not yet been approved for distribution or sale in the United States, such as the anti-obesity drug Acomplia.
"Many U.S. consumers are being misled in the hopes of saving money by purchasing prescription drugs over the Internet from illegal pharmacies," FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, these drugs are often counterfeit, contaminated, or unapproved products, or contain an inconsistent amount of the active ingredient. Taking these drugs can pose a danger to consumers."
Many of the sites named in the complaint, such as wellknowndrugs.com and 24-7meds.com, already have been yanked offline. FDA spokeswoman Karen Riley said at least 90 of the sites named in the letters have been taken down so far.
For more on this enforcement action, Security Fix reached out to John Horton, president of LegitScript, an Internet pharmacy verification service. Horton said Legitscript has tracked all of the sites named in the FDA letters back to a pharmacy affiliate program named Rx-commission.com, an organization that bills itself as a leading prescription drug affiliate network that offers a "full range of Popular & Brand Generic Products across All major categories including: Weight Loss, Anxiety, Sleep Aid, Men's Health etc."
Rx-commission.com did not immediately return messages seeking comment. I will update this blog post in the event I hear back from them.
Horton said Rx-commission is one of dozens of affiliate programs in existence today that handle everything from processing of purchases to order fulfillment. Affiliates often use pre-fabricated templates to set up Web sites advertising various prescription drugs for sale. Horton said while some pharmacy affiliate programs are promoted through junk e-mail, Rx-commission.com affiliates have typically promoted their sites using a variety of methods aimed at manipulating Internet search engine results.
"This particular program has been around since at least 2006, and the drugs you get if you order from them all come from India," Horton said. "Our own buys and analysis indicated that the proprietors of this program are definitely outside of the United States and have a strong Russian connection."
While LegitScript is currently tracking some 55,000 Web sites promoting rogue Internet pharmacies connected to competing pharmacy affiliate programs, Horton called the FDA action a great first step, and praised the agency for putting the sites' domain name registrars and hosting providers on notice as well.
"If those registrars don't shut the websites down, the registrars themselves could be held responsible," Horton said. "The FDA should be applauded for taking this approach."
November 19, 2009; 4:45 PM ET
Categories: Cyber Justice , Fraud , Web Fraud 2.0
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