The Internet has made our lives much more convenient: Online shopping has made it possible to get things we need without going to a store, and streaming means no more rental stores.
But what about filling prescriptions?
If you were not already aware, there are a huge number of online pharmacies available. In many cases, you can get prescription drugs for cheaper online than you could at a brick-and-mortar pharmacy. Unfortunately, this attractive prospect makes fertile ground for scammers.
The problem is that some online pharmacies are legitimate, while others are scams. In fact, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), 96 percent of online pharmacies in the world are not trustworthy, while 74 percent of online drugstores in North America are considered unreliable.
And unfortunately, the risks of accidentally using a fraudulent online pharmacy are severe.
For one, scam online pharmacies can easily gain access to your personal details, such as credit card information or home address.
Additionally, medications provided by a fake online pharmacy may not be medications at all – they may be look-a-likes filled with sugar and other inactive ingredients. At worst, they may be stuffed with chemicals that can be damaging to your health.
How can you determine, then, the difference between a genuine online pharmacy and a phony “pharmacy,” and rest easy when buying online drugs?
Below, you will get some pointers on what to be aware of when deciding what online pharmacy to use.
Red Flags to Look Out For
1. The Pharmacy Doesn’t Require a Prescription
One of the clearest signs that something is not quite right with an online pharmacy is when they do not require a doctor’s prescription for prescription drugs.
This is illegal and, while it doesn’t necessarily mean the drugs provided are fake, it shows that the company is unscrupulous and an organization you do not want to work with.
Some fake Internet pharmacies may ask you to fill out a questionnaire before agreeing to provide you with a certain medication, or get an “in-house” doctor to provide you with an online prescription. While both these methods lend an air of legitimacy, don’t be fooled!
2. No License
Licensure is another thing you want to look for. The pharmacy should be licensed in your state by your state’s board of pharmacy, as well as that of the state it is located in.
The NABP, which oversees pharmacy boards in all 50 states, provides digital accreditation to online pharmacies in the form of Digital Pharmacy Accreditation (formerly VIPPS) certificates.
Additionally, a legitimate online pharmacy should have a licensed pharmacist on staff who can answer your questions.
3. Prices Seem Unrealistically Low
Fraudulent online pharmacies may provide incredibly – and unrealistically – low prices. This technique sets a trap for those who want to save money.
The fact that they’re selling “drugs” for such low prices gives a hint that they’re not legitimate drugs, which obviously cost money to manufacture – money the manufacturer hopes to turn into a profit.
It also gives a hint that the scam pharmacy may be looking to earn money in another way – namely, by stealing your credit card information.
4. No Physical Address
A legitimate online pharmacy should have a physical address located somewhere in the United States. The World Health Organization showed that half of all drugs provided by online pharmacies that did not provide a physical address were fake.
The pharmacy should also provide a telephone number (This will be important for verifying its legitimacy, as you’ll see below).
5. Unsecure Website
Check that the website is secured. You do this by looking at the website’s URL (its link or web address). Basically, if the web address begins with “https”, it means the site is secured, while if it begins with “http”, it means it is not secured.
While having “https” at the beginning of the link doesn’t necessarily mean the pharmacy is legitimate, if it does not, you will for sure want to leave that website as quickly as possible.
Why? Well, a site that is not HTTPS-secured does not provide encryption when you communicate your personal information – such as credit card or address – across the server. At best, this means the “pharmacy” has no regard for the safety of your personal details and, at worst, means it can be intercepted by prying eyes.
Signs that an Online Pharmacy is Legitimate
First of all, remember that just because an online pharmacy “looks” legitimate doesn’t mean it is: As awareness of these scams has grown, the websites of these phony pharmacies have become slicker and slicker.
A phone number should be provided on the pharmacy’s website. Give that number a call and ask to speak to a licensed pharmacist. The ability to speak to a licensed pharmacist and have your questions answered is one of the best indicators that a pharmacy is legitimate.
If an online pharmacy is accredited by the Better Business Bureau, you can rest assured it is a genuine pharmacy.
If a site has a .pharmacy domain, it means it has been reviewed and approved by the NABP. This domain was specifically launched by the NABP to serve as a certification for online pharmacies.
There are also many online resources you can utilize to check if the specific pharmacy you’re looking at is legitimate. Using these resources, you can narrow down your list until you have pinpointed some of the best online pharmacies available.
Online Canadian Pharmacies
Since Canada has stricter drug price control laws than the United States, Americans can save money by buying drugs online through Canadian pharmacies.
However, keep in mind that a fake pharmacy may pretend to be Canadian when it actually isn’t.
A legitimate online Canadian pharmacy will only be able to accept payment through personal check or international money order.
Find online Canadian pharmacies that have been certified by the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA). These include Canadian pharmacies recommended by the AARP.
Online pharmacies are a great way to save money, but you really need to do your homework to ensure that they are safe online pharmacies. Scammers are out there, hoping to prey on well-meaning people who simply want access to affordable medication, so pay attention to the indicators laid out above.
If you do run across a fraudulent drugstore online, be sure to report it. You can do so using the FDA’s “Report Unlawful Sales” feature on its website.