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FDA Cautions Against Agent Impersonators

FDA Cautions Against Agent Impersonators

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Sun-Sentinel via YellowBrix

December 31, 2009

Extortionists posing as federal agents have taken up to $31,000 from frightened people who thought they would be prosecuted for purchasing their medications from outside the country, federal regulators said this week.

The Food and Drug Administration has 75 to 100 recent reports nationwide of people receiving calls from individuals claiming to be FDA special agents or law enforcement officials.The targets were told buying drugs online or over the telephone was illegal and if they did not immediately pay their “fine,” officers would come to arrest, jail or deport them, the FDA said.

Several dozen people sent the money, usually through a wire service to an address in the Dominican Republic, said FDA spokesman Tom Gasparoli. They usually paid around $1,000 to $5,000, although some sent much more.

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“People thought they just had been trying to save money by buying from online companies, and some of them really panicked,” said Gasparoli. “They thought there would be an officer outside their door at any moment.”

It is against the law for American consumers to re-import drugs from foreign countries, although the Obama Adminstration has indicated it would like that policy changed. But regardless, only the courts can impose fines, with penalties payable to the U.S. Treasury.

FDA officials encourage anyone who receives a call from someone falsely claiming to be a federal agent or law enforcement officer assesing and collecting fines to file a report by calling 800-521-5783.

It’s unclear how those running the extortion scheme decided who to call, but Gasparoli said the majority were people who had bought, or thought they were buying, prescription drugs from Canada. It’s estimated almost 2 million Americans annually buy their medications through Canadian pharmacies as that country’s healthcare system negotiates with manufacturers, keeping prices substantially lower.

Gasparoli said telemarketers posing as an online pharmacy, but in reality connected with the extortion operation, in some cases first called consumers and tempted them with low medication prices. Those who bought later were called by the fake FDA agents.

The agency is continuing to investigate and will pursue criminal charges, Gasparoli said.

Experts say prescription shoppers should be cautious if buying online. An Internet pharmacy may not be legitimate if it:

Offers to sell you medication without a prescription.

Will sell you a controlled substance.

Does not have a secure site. Secure sites show a padlock icon toward the bottom of the page.

Does not have a telephone number or a way to contact a pharmacist.

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