Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

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Beware of Online Drug Scams

With increasing fears about bioterrorism, it's a good idea to be alert for suspicious or illegal drug offers seeking to profit from these concerns. The improper or unsupervised use of any drug can cause serious health problems and may be more problematic than the harm you are trying to avoid. Don't let fear and unease lead you to a bad decision. If you are considering purchasing antibiotics or any prescription drug online, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Pennsylvania law requires that prescription drugs be dispensed to Pennsylvania consumers only by a state licensed pharmacist or medical practitioner. A pharmacy must obtain a permit before operating or advertising in the Commonwealth. In addition, a physician must be licensed in Pennsylvania to practice medicine in the Commonwealth.
  • An actual examination may be necessary to determine which - if any - medicine and dosage is right for you. Factors such as pre-existing conditions, family history and individual symptoms are all relevant to which prescription is appropriate for you. Watch out for web sites offering an online "consultation" with a physician. These consultations may not be reviewed by a doctor and, even if they are, consumers have no way of knowing the doctor's background or history.
  • Obtaining any prescription medicine from an unfamiliar source and then self-medicating can be dangerous. Online prescription drugs from unestablished businesses can originate from foreign, unregulated markets and may be more likely to be bogus, impure or adulterated. Also, taking prescription drugs like an antibiotic when a person does not have an illness can result in a build up of immunity to that drug and more virulent strains of the disease, making future treatments more difficult.
  • Often the prices charged by online pharmacies are extremely high and may include "hidden" charges or excessive shipping and handling costs. Other sources may offer cheaper or generic drugs for the same illness or treatment. Additionally, many web sites require consumers to agree to a waiver of liability which asks them to forbear all of their legal rights. Consumers should never agree to liability waivers to receive goods or services.
  • Finally, some sites may simply be scams - you may find yourself paying for something which you never receive or end up giving out credit card and other information only to be ripped off again. As with any online purchase, only complete the transaction on a "secure" site, using a credit card for added protection. If you have any suspicions or concerns about an offer, contact our office.

If you want to file a complaint regarding an online or other consumer related problem, visit our website at www.attorneygeneral.gov or call the Bureau of Consumer Protection's toll-free HOTLINE number 1-800-441-2555.