The Food and Drug Administration is warning U.S. consumers that the vast majority of Internet pharmacies are fraudulent and likely are selling counterfeit drugs that could harm them. The FDA’s website states “According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, only 3 percent of more than 10,000 online pharmacies reviewed comply with U.S. pharmacy laws. This means that if you search for an online pharmacy, most of the results are likely to be fraudulent pharmacies. Furthermore, these websites can be so convincing that anyone can become a victim to online
pharmacy scams.

The agency on Friday launched a national campaign, called BeSafeRx, to alert the public to the danger, amid evidence that more people are shopping for their medicine online, looking for savings and convenience. You can watch a video of the FDA’s program below

“Our goal is to increase awareness,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg told the Associated Press, “not to scare people away from online pharmacies. We want them to use appropriate pharmacies.”

An FDA Webpage provides information that physicians and consumers can use to make informed decision on where to acquire their medications. “Buying prescription medicine from a fake online pharmacy can be dangerous, or even deadly,” the site warns.

For example, The FDA’s website provides these tips to detect a fraudelent internet pharmacy:

  • Allow you to buy drugs without a prescription from your doctor
  • Offer deep discounts or cheap prices that seem too good to be true
  • Send spam or unsolicited email offering cheap drugs
  • Are located outside of the United States

The campaign comes after some high-profile cases of counterfeit drugs reaching American patients earlier this year.

In February and again in April, the FDA warned doctors and cancer clinics around the country that it had determined they had bought fake Avastin from a “gray market” wholesaler. The fake Avastin vials originated in Turkeyand were transferred through a global network of shady wholesalers before being sold to clinics by a wholesaler claiming to be in Montana. Click here to read more about the counterfeit Avastin events.

“If the low prices seem too good to be true, they probably are,’ Hamburg said.

The FDA is collaborating with several other federal agencies and departments and even Interpol in the campaign, Hamburg said, and it has asked medical and pharmaceutical industry groups to join in.

“What’s truly important to us is that consumers know how to look for an online pharmacy that’s legitimate and safe,” Hamburg said.