The FDA is advising online pharmacy and telepharmacy customers and health care professionals to watch out for an international extortion scam involving fake FDA agents.
This is the third alert the FDA has released to the public warning of the scam since 2008. The criminals contact customers who have previously purchased drugs online or by telephone informing them that they are either police officers or FDA agents and that purchasing drugs online or by phone is illegal. They will then threaten arrest, deportation or even bodily harm if the customers do not send money to pay a fake fine to a specific location, usually the Dominican Republic. In addition to demanding money, the fake agents often ask for personal information, such as a social security number, credit card numbers, an address or a date of birth.
"Impersonating an FDA official is a violation of federal law," said Dara Corrigan, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, in the agency’s statement to the public. “FDA special agents and other law enforcement officials are not authorized to impose or collect criminal fines. Only a court can take such action.”
The FDA is advising consumers who use online pharmacies and telepharmacies to always verify those pharmacies are licensed to operate. Illegitimate pharmacy websites often sell fake products with hazardous or ineffective ingredients, or they may pirate a consumer's personal information. Consumers may visit their State Board of Pharmacy web page to verify whether an online pharmacy or telepharmacy is legitimate. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy also has an accreditation program for legitimate online pharmacies.
So far, the FDA is pursuing mutiple suspects with other federal law enforcement agencies. Arrests have been made, though the FDA declined to say how many. Victims of the scam can file a report with the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations.