FDA warns again of extortion by bogus special agents

FDA/OCI badgePeople who buy pharmaceuticals over the Internet or telephone continue to be duped into paying hefty fines by fraudsters posing as US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials.

Consumers who buy medicines over the Internet are already raising their risk of exposure to counterfeit medicines, but are also being targeted by criminals who claim to be with the FDA, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or other enforcement agencies.

The scam runs as follows. After a customer places an order on line or via a telepharmacy, he or she receives a telephone call from a bogus FDA or FBI agent, who informs them that buying drugs via those channels is illegal. They say a fine is owed - ranging from $100 to a staggering $250,000 - and try to convince the customer to wire transfer the money to an account, usually in the Dominican Republic but latterly in other countries such as Costa Rica.

"If victims refuse to send money, they are often threatened with a search of their property, arrest, deportation, physical harm and/or incarceration," reports the FDA. Meanwhile if a payment is made, it is often followed by other fraudulent transactions on their credit cards.

Often, those targeted by the scammers have also been contacted with offers for other pharmaceutical purchases, suggesting that at least in some cases the operators of the online pharmacies are linked to the extorters. However, the FDA maintains they are often unlinked.

"Typically, victims are being contacted by multiple unrelated groups, often for different purposes," it notes.

"Impersonating an FDA official is a violation of federal law," said Dara Corrigan, the FDA's associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. "FDA special agents and other law enforcement officials are not authorised to impose or collect criminal fines. Only a court can take such action."

The victims' information has probably been obtained "based on a previous online or telepharmacy transaction, or from a submitted medical questionnaire," notes the agency in a Question & Answer document available here.

"These instances could have occurred years ago, with personal information now on customer lists trafficked by these criminal groups," it goes on.

The FDA has warned of this type of scam on two other occasions - at the end of 2008 and in 2009 - and says while some arrests have been made the scam is expected to continue.

"Multiple criminal groups employ this scheme, principally from overseas [and it] will likely not be eradicated and instead will continue to evolve," says the FDA.

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FDA warns of bogus agents duping public


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