You most likely have received spam emails from them. Or, you may have seen their online ads — for Internet-only pharmacies that advertise vastly lower prices across the board for all kinds of prescription and name-brand medications that are just one mouse click away. But beware — most of the time, these shady operations are not only risky for your physical health, they can take a much bigger bite out of your wallet than you might realize.
At first glance, you may think the value proposition of an online pharmacy makes sense — if they have no physical location, their overhead must be lower, and their prices should therefore be able to undercut those of your local Walgreen’s or Costco. The problem is, few, if any, of these operations are following strict state and federal laws that regulate online drug sales, and many are passing off counterfeit or even worse products as genuine medications and in some cases, they may be putting their customers in real danger.
The legality of these businesses is highly questionable as laws differ based on what drugs or medicines are on offer, but generally speaking, there’s no “magic bullet” to lower drug prices; manufacturers regulate prices in most countries around the world and are well aware of differences in pricing between one market and another one. If there’s a huge discrepancy between prices in different countries, a drug maker will know that they’ve incentivized entrepreneurs to attempt to bridge those two markets illegally.
In some cases, drug makers may be subject to regulation or government subsidies in one market and not in another one, and this can account for pricing differences, but in general, drug manufacturers don’t want to create more opportunities for illicit businesses to thrive any more than they want their name to be tarnished by charges of price gouging.
It’s true that some drugs go by other names in different markets, or they may be shaped, sized, colored or packaged differently. But in these cases, the burden is on the consumer to truly know whether one pill or dosage is the equivalent of another. Don’t rely categorically on information you read in some online chat forum or that which is supplied by a dodgy web vendor. Unless you absolutely know who you’re dealing with, it’s very, very risky to buy drugs across international borders.
The first reason is that depending on the country you’re sourcing these medications from, there’s little to no recourse available to you if you receive the wrong item, no item at all or even worse, if your financial information or identification is stolen and/or abused.
The fact of the matter is that 90 percent of these businesses lack the legitimacy of a big U.S. retailer; they come and go, change names, change web addresses, and many of them believe they’re under no obligation to their customers to provide accurate information, real products or even medications that have any effect at all. Some are literally selling their customers placebo or sugar pills with or without a certain maker’s stamp and/or false packaging. Did you really think that someone could afford to sell your exclusive, expensive medication at 80 percent off the retail price?
From vendors that send real products to ones that issue dubious counterfeit ones to those that send nothing at all, customers’ experiences can vary widely. Some individual sellers may have clients that have experienced all of the above from the same outlet. Don’t believe that just because a seller has 500 written reviews or has a fancy name or logo (or says they’ve been around for decades) that any of that means anything. Reviews can be made up, logos can be created, and companies can lie about where they’re located or how long they’ve been in business.
The bottom line is, it just isn’t worth the risk of dealing with a seller you can’t visit in person, particularly any based outside the United States — whether they send their products overtly labeled or otherwise. Within the U.S., it’s a different story — research has shown that drug prices can vary (sometimes dramatically) from retailer to retailer (occasionally they can even be priced less than an insurance co-pay price) and even from zip code to zip code.
When buying in-person, compare chain store prices to those of independent outlets, supermarkets and big-box superstores. You can even try to bargain with in-store pharmacists when it comes to generic medications. But when it comes to online sellers, even if they have live operators who can answer your questions or people who email you back when you query them, you’re better off dealing with a real, physical store (pharmacy, supermarket or big-box outlet) that has a visible location and a licensed pharmacist who’s required by law to give you exactly what you’ve asked for.
And remember, if you’re seeking medications or drugs that would ordinarily be off-limits, this is one of the biggest red flags that alleged sellers of such substances may not be who they say they are. After all, what other incentive would people have to turn to them? Illegal drug business is just that, and you aren’t the only one who’s seen their ads or received their emails.
Your federal and state government both have many agencies to whom you can report sellers you believe are illegitimate. At a national level, you can contact the Drug Enforcement Agency with any information you have about a suspicious vendor. At a state level, contact your local Consumer Protection Agency.
Don’t be a victim of online con artists. Remember the old adage — if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
~ Health Scams Exposed