Scammers Put the Squeeze on Internet Drug Buyers

By Dirk Hanson 04/27/11

Fake DEA agents warn victims that they’ll be busted for buying drugs online—unless they pay a heavy fine over the phone.

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Fighting Internet drug crime one sucker at a time.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

If you need another reason to be wary of so-called “telepharmacies” on the Internet, here’s a good one: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently issued a warning to the public, advising them to be wary of criminals who pose as FDA special agents, but who are in fact part of an international extortion operation. “These criminals call their victims and tell them they are under investigation by the FDA or another agency for illegally purchasing prescription drugs from foreign pharmacies,” the FDA said in a recent release. “They... tell their victims that they’ll face prosecution unless they pay a fine over the phone with a credit card. Anyone who receives such a call should refuse to make the payment and hang up.”

Incredibly, this kind of scheme has happened before. Last year, scam artists went after online prescription drug purchasers in the same fashion. At the time, the FDA received thousands of reports nationwide from people who received threatening phone calls from alleged FDA special agents and other supposed law enforcement officials, inquiring about their online drug purchases. The victims were told they could be prosecuted for buying medicine online, or from foreign countries. They were also warned that they had to immediately pay hundreds of dollars in fines, over the phone and by credit card, or else “they would be arrested, jailed or deported.” It's not yet clear how the criminals managed to acquire the names of the online drug purchasers they targeted. But it’s safe to say that doing business with an online drug supplier—with a resident doctor on hand to approve your Rx without unpleasant formalities—is probably not the best idea in the first place.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]