Cashing in on Fear

Some people are trying to make an online buck out of other people’s anthrax worries, and now the Federal Trade Commission has stepped in with a consumer alert warning that “fraudsters often follow the headlines, tailoring their offers to prey on consumers’ fears and vulnerabilities.”

The FTC warned that some the drugs sold online “could be counterfeit or even adulterated with dangerous contaminants.”

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration has issued warning letters to 11 foreign pharmacies to stop selling the anti-anthrax antibiotic Cipro to Americans via the Internet, saying that it can’t determine whether the drugs offered for sale were made in accordance with U.S. specifications.

The FTC said that consumers who are visiting Web sites and receiving e-mail claiming to sell Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) and other antibiotics to treat anthrax should consult a new Consumer Alert before they buy products online.

The alert was produced in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA.

The anthrax-by-mail mystery has produced 16 cases so far, according to the CDC. That includes 10 of the inhalation type – including four fatalities – and six of the less dangerous skin variety.

The FTC warned consumers that they should know from whom they are buying, asking: “Would you buy a prescription drug from a sidewalk vendor? Online, anyone can pretend to be anyone. To ensure that the site is reputable and licensed to sell drugs in the United States, the FDA recommends that you check with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NAPB) to determine whether a Web site is a licensed pharmacy in good standing.”

The NABP urges those purchasing their pharmaceuticals online to look for the VIPPS seal. The association developed the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program in the spring of 1999.

In addition, the FTC and FDA caution:

  • Don’t buy prescription drugs from sites that offer to prescribe them without a physical exam, sell drugs without a prescription or sell drugs unapproved by the FDA
  • Don’t do business with Web sites that don’t give you access to pharmacists to answer questions
  • Avoid sites that don’t provide their name, physical business address, and phone number
  • Don’t purchase from foreign Web sites. It is generally illegal to import drugs that are sold by these sites; the risks are greater, and there is very little the U.S. government can do if you get ripped off

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