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Today, consumers can buy almost anything online, including prescription drugs. Sadly, the online environment that makes these sales more convenient also makes prescription drugs a ripe target for scams. Fraudsters running prescription drug scams seek to access your personal information and bank account and ultimately steal your money.
Scammers have many different ways to commit prescription drug fraud. These range from creating websites for fake businesses that sell cheap medications to offering miracle cures for common ailments like arthritis and depression.
Knowing how these scams work and how to spot them can help protect you and those close to you from being victims.
How Prescription Drug Scams Work
About 60% of American adults take at least one prescription and an increasing number of adults – nearly 50% – have bought prescriptions online for themselves or their loved ones.   The convenience and low cost of buying them online are the primary forces behind the growth.
Unfortunately, fraudsters see opportunity in this growth for reasons including:
- The potential profit from online drug sales.
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have capacity to monitor all websites selling prescription drugs at all times.
- FDA doesn’t have authority to regulate medications from outside the U.S. 
- Counterfeit and discounted pricing scams. A fraudster creates a website featuring lower prices for brand-name medications. The victim buys the drugs, but they never arrive. Or worse, they may get sent fake, unregulated and potentially dangerous medicines which could interact negatively with other prescriptions or cause other health issues.
- Fake cure scams. Fraudsters create sites saying a miracle drug can cure your ailments. But these claims aren’t scientifically proven, and these aren’t FDA-approved medicines. As with the counterfeit and discount pricing scams, “miracle drug” victims order potentially dangerous drugs that could negatively impact their health.
And the risks extend beyond your health. Through the fake site, scammers can also obtain critical personal information, such as name, address and bank account or credit card details.
This is the fictional story of Susan Danvers. Susan purchased medications from an online pharmacy that appeared to be legal, but all she received was a large credit card bill. While just an illustration, this scenario shows how a typical prescription drug scam may play out.
Like many adults in America, Susan relies on prescription drugs to manage her health issues. Recently, her arthritis began flaring up, impacting her daily activities and hobbies. Susan plays an active role in her local garden club, but it was becoming too painful to enjoy.
After a recent appointment, her doctor prescribed a new medicine to help with her symptoms. Susan looked up the drug online to learn more and see if it worked for others. During her search, she found several websites listing this medication for much less than her local pharmacy charges.
Susan, like many others, assumed the FDA monitors all online pharmacies – leading her to believe purchasing online was safe and legal. While browsing one of the sites, which seemed legitimate and professional, she felt the ordering process seemed so convenient. She only needed to fill out a short form and the medicine would arrive a few days later. Additionally, the reduced cost would help lower her monthly bills and she wouldn’t have to drive to the pharmacy.
Susan decided to go ahead and buy the medicine, but it never arrived. When she went back to the site to see what the issue was, she realized there was no listing of a licensed pharmacist to speak with. In fact, the company provided no contact information at all. Later that month, Susan got an alert from her credit card company notifying her she was over her credit limit. The fraudsters went on a shopping spree and maxed out her card.
How to Help Prevent Prescription Drug Scams
Today it doesn’t take much for a scammer to set up a professional-looking website. Sometimes it can be tough to tell the difference between what’s real or fake. But there are things you can do to help lower your chances of being deceived:
- Check the BeSafeRx program. The FDA’s BeSafeRx website lists every licensed online pharmacy by state. If the site isn’t listed here, then it could be a scam. 
- Don’t fall for false claims. Look for certain phrases that point to a scam, like claims of quick fixes, new discoveries, secret ingredients and miraculous cures. Be especially cautious if these claims are accompanied by a money-back guarantee. 
- Don’t buy from a site that doesn’t require a doctor’s prescription. Properly licensed online pharmacies always need a doctor’s prescription for your drugs. They also have licensed pharmacists on staff to answer questions and provide contact details. 
- Don’t give out personal information. Protect your Medicare number as much as your Social Security number and bank account information. Double-check that an online pharmacy is legitimate before providing personal details.
- Ask your doctor or local pharmacist. Before taking medicine you bought online from a site not listed on BeSafeRx, consult your doctor or pharmacist. Drugs purchased online could be fake, expired or have an incorrect dosage. Also keep in mind that buying controlled substances online is illegal without a valid prescription from a medical professional. 
Guard Your Health and Finances
Fraudsters can get an online pharmacy up and running easily and it only takes a few clicks to fall into their trap. To safeguard your physical and financial health, be vigilant and remember how to spot the signs of prescription drug scams.
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