FDA Warns Public of Continued Extortion Scam by FDA impersonators

DA NEWS RELEASE
For Immediate Release: Jan. 7, 2011

Media Inquiries: Christopher Kelly, 301-796-4676 christopher.kelly@fda.hhs.gov

Fda

Fda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consumer Inquiries: 888-INFO-FDA

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning the public about criminals posing as FDA special agents and other law enforcement personnel as part of a continued international extortion scam.

The criminals call the victims — who in most cases previously purchased drugs over the Internet or via “telepharmacies” — and identify themselves as FDA special agents or other law enforcement officials. The criminals inform the victims that purchasing drugs over the Internet or the telephone is illegal, and that law enforcement action will be pursued unless a fine or fee ranging from $100 to $250,000 is paid. Victims often also have fraudulent transactions placed against their credit cards.

The criminals always request the money be sent by wire transfer to a designated location, usually in the Dominican Republic. If victims refuse to send money, they are often threatened with a search of their property, arrest, deportation, physical harm and/or incarceration.

“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 authorized to impose or collect criminal fines. Only a court can take such action.”

In most instances, victims of extortion-related calls have also received telephone solicitations for additional pharmaceutical purchases from other possibly related, illegal entities located overseas. The extortionists use customer lists complete with extensive personal information provided through previous purchase transactions. These include names, addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, purchase histories and credit card account numbers.

Typically, these criminals use telephone numbers that change constantly and make it appear as though their calls originate in the United States.

No known victim has been approached in person by a law enforcement impersonator associated with this scheme.

The FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, with the support of various U.S. Attorneys, are pursuing multiple national and international criminal investigations.

Arrests have been made and additional prosecutions are pending; however, the scheme is likely to continue. The FDA has issued similar warnings in the past:

Victims of this scheme who have suffered monetary loss through the payment of funds in response to an extortion call from a person purporting to be an FDA or other law enforcement official regarding illegal pharmaceutical transactions may obtain a victim questionnaire by contacting the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and clicking “Report Suspected Criminal Activity.”

Anyone receiving a purported official document on agency letterhead may verify its authenticity by contacting that organization directly via a publicly available phone number. Additionally, all federal agencies use email addresses with a “gov” email extension.

The FDA also reminds consumers that pharmaceutical products offered online and by telephone by sources of unknown origin can pose a substantial health risk. Products recovered during this investigation that were purchased from online or telephone sources have been found to contain trace amounts of heroin, other undisclosed and potentially harmful active pharmaceutical ingredients, or no active ingredient at all. Purchases should only be made from licensed pharmacies located in the United States. In addition to the increased risk of purchasing unsafe and ineffective drugs from Web sites operating outside the law, personal data may be compromised.

For more on unlawful drug sales on the Internet, see Protecting Yourself.

# Questions and Answers

How did these people obtain my information?

They likely obtained the victim’s information based on a previous online or telepharmacy transaction, or from a submitted medical questionnaire. These instances could have occurred years ago, with personal information now on customer lists trafficked by these criminal groups. These customer lists can contain tens of thousands of names and a substantial amount of self-reported data provided by consumers during previous transactions. Typically, victims are being contacted by multiple unrelated groups, often for different purposes. (extortion, selling illegal pharmaceuticals, etc.)

How do I make the calls stop?

The extorters, just like the majority of telephone solicitors for illegal prescription medication, are based overseas and use voice over internet protocol (VOIP) telephone numbers, most commonly “Magic Jack”. These services provide the extorters with the flexibility to constantly change their phone numbers and select ones with U.S. area codes. If the victims change whatever number(s) were used to contact them, and do not engage in any additional risky pharmaceutical transactions, the threatening phone calls and associated telephone solicitations for pharmaceuticals should cease.

What proactive steps can victims take?

Individuals who purchase medication online or via tele-pharmacies are frequently victims of credit card fraud, since this is how the medication is often purchased. Victims may want to consider alerting their applicable financial institutions to ensure that identity theft has not occurred.

Why is FDA only asking victims who have lost money to contact the agency?

The most effective way to track these criminals is to investigate the permanent record established when money transfers take place.

Have individuals been arrested?

Yes. However, this scheme will likely not be eradicated and instead will continue to evolve. For example, the extorters now occasionally reference other countries, such as Costa Rica, instead of the DR, as means to avoid all of the publicity regarding this scheme.

Am I going to be able to get my money back?

In almost all instances victims will not be able to recoup losses. Multiple criminal groups employ this scheme, principally from overseas, and large monetary seizures are not anticipated.

Am I in danger?

In terms of physical danger, no victim has ever been approached in person, and the vast majority of these callers, regardless of their intent, are based overseas. Their use of “police-type scanners”, law enforcement language and fictitious documents are attempts at a false sense of legitimacy. Extorters also occasionally reference cars parked on a victim’s street — information that can be obtained online at various Web sites, as a way to frighten individuals into believing the extorters are near their residence. If an individual feels threatened for his or her personal safety, immediately contact the appropriate local enforcement agency.

Is it possible that these callers are part of some “secret” investigative group, and FDA is just not aware of it?

No. Law enforcement officials from both the U.S. and the Dominican Republic are pursuing these criminals. More information regarding this scheme is available on FDA and DEA Web sites, or through online searches. Extradition proceedings between countries require close cooperation and often a formal treaty, and this often takes an extended period of time to complete.

Who is PharmacyChecker.com?

PharmacyChecker is a company that provided online pharmacy certification services for the major search engines until 2010.

pharmacychecker.png
Why did the search engines stop using PharmacyChecker’s services?

None of the search engines gave a public reason for ending their relationship with PharmacyChecker. Several experts in the field, including our own Bryan Liang, criticized PharmacyChecker and the search engines for failing to keep rogue pharmacies from advertising to consumers. The five major search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, AOL, and Ask) have all standardized on using the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s VIPPS program since then.

Did anyone get in trouble for this?

In May of 2011, the New York Times wrote that the Rhode Island US Attorney was leading an investigation with the Food and Drug Administration into pharmaceutical advertising on Google. Google had previously disclosed in a securities filing that it had set aside US$500 million to pay for a possible settlement.

Is PharmacyChecker’s pharmacy verification service different than VIPPS?

Yes. The VIPPS program ensures that an online pharmacy has a license to dispense medication to you and is regulated in the state you live in. The short answer is that we don’t recommend using PharmacyChecker’s services if you want to ensure your pharmaceuticals come from a safe source.

Here’s the longer answer:

PSM Board member Dr. Bryan A. Liang and Mr.Tim Mackey are experts on the dangers of rogue pharmacies and have co-authored a paper about it that appeared in the American Journal of Law and Medicine, entitled: “Searching for Safety: Addressing Search Engine, Website and Provider Accountability for Illicit Online Drug Sales”.

They assert that:

  • PharmacyChecker.com has provided verification for online drug sellers engaged in actions directly in violation of its own purported requirements.
  • PharmacyChecker.com-verified sites are linked to additional, related unlawful activities, including selling narcotics without a prescription.
  • One PharmacyChecker.com-verified online drug seller, Pharmnet.com, was investigated by CNN, which found the site was simply selling controlled substances without a prescription, and was shipping drugs to all 50 states despite having only a Texas pharmacy license in violation of virtually all state drug dispensing laws.
  • Recent investigations of Yahoo and Microsoft’s online drug advertising found that 80-90 percent of reviewed ads from drug sellers did not require a prescription or were acting unlawfully, verifying Liang and Mackey’s observations, and contradicting Cooperman and Levitt’s claim about PharmacyChecker’s “rigorous monitoring” of search engine online drug sellers.

I read a claim by PharmacyChecker that disputes the Liang and Mackey paper, is that true?

Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) Board Member Dr. Bryan Liang was recently criticized in the American Journal of Law & Medicine for the “many inaccuracies and notable omissions,” in his article “Searching for Safety: Addressing Search Engine, Website and Provider Accountability for Illicit Online Drug Sales,” which he co-authored with Tim Mackey.

The critique came from Dr. Tod Cooperman and Gabriel Levitt, the president and vice president of PharmacyChecker.com, a verification service of online drug sellers that Liang and Mackey identified for its limited enforcement of and “stringent requirements” for online pharmacies.

Cooperman and Levitt claimed that “the online pharmacies that are verified by PharmacyChecker.com are rigorously monitored for compliance with strict standards,” and that “leading search engines use these verifications to qualify pharmacy advertisers and help protect consumers.”

In a published response, Dr. Liang and Mr. Mackey refuted Cooperman and Leavitt’s assertions regarding the article’s “inaccuracies and omissions,” as well as their claims regarding PharmacyChercker.com verification and search engine monitoring, noting that:

Compare prescription drug prices and online pharmacy ratings at PharmacyChecker.com has provided verification for online drug sellers engaged in actions directly in violation of its own purported requirements.

WWW.PharmacyChecker.com-verified sites are linked to additional, related unlawful activities, including selling narcotics without a prescription.

One PharmacyChecker.com-verified online drug seller, Pharmnet.com, was investigated by CNN, which found the site was simply selling controlled substances without a prescription, and was shipping drugs to all 50 states despite having only a Texas pharmacy license in violation of virtually all state drug dispensing laws.

Recent investigations of Yahoo and Microsoft’s online drug advertising found that 80-90 percent of reviewed ads from drug sellers did not require a prescription or were acting unlawfully, verifying Liang and Mackey’s observations, and contradicting Cooperman and Levitt’s claim about PharmacyChecker’s “rigorous monitoring” of search engine online drug sellers.

The PSM stands by Dr. Liang and Mr. Mackey as well as the accuracy and legitimacy of their paper. Furthermore, our colleagues should be commended for encouraging collaboration on these critical issues rather than combativeness.

Read the full letters – RESPONSE [PDF] in Vol. 35 No. 4 of the American Journal of Law & Medicine.

Source:Partnership for Safe Medicines – Who is PharmacyChecker? Checking the Facts on PharmacyChecker.com

Internet.bs

Online Pharmacy Domain Policy Changes Announced by ICANN Registrar Internet.bs Corp.

From PR Newswire – Published 1 day ago

NASSAU, Bahamas, Aug. 8, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — In a recent move, Bahamas-based ICANN Registrar Internet.bs Corp. has announced a change in its Terms and Conditions related to online pharmacy domain names.

“It was recently brought to our attention that a small number of domain names registered with us may have been involved with potentially harmful practices,” said Marco Rinaudo, CEO. “Due to the large number of domains in that field we are unable to distinguish the few ones whose actions are potentially in breach of laws and regulations. Therefore, in order to dissociate ourselves from any allegations we have revised our terms and conditions accordingly.

“We estimate the number of names affected will be very small,” he said.

Changed conditions have been advised to registrants of almost 600,000 domain names and will be in effect within 20 days counting from August 6, 2012:

https://internetbs.net/en/domain-name-registrations/termsandconditions.html

Internet.bs Corp. is committed to conducting its business according to the highest standards and by respecting all applicable laws and regulations and expects its customers and partners to do no different.

Established in 2004, Internet.bs Corp. is one of the top 25 fastest-growing ICANN Registrars worldwide, with more than 600,000 domains under sponsoring. They serve customers of all sizes, from the single domain buyer to the largest domainers. Internet.bs Corp. is directly accredited for many domain name extensions, including .com, .net, .org, .biz, .info, .asia, .tel, .mobi, .co, .cc, .eu, .be, .tv, .us, .in, .co.uk, .fr, .re, .it, .tf, .wf, .yt, .NL and .DE. Their website, http://www.internetbs.net, is available in seven different languages and payments in many currencies are accepted. A powerful and complete domain name registration API is available for free, and customers from all over the world are welcome and have access to instant chat support 24/7. The CEO Marco Rinaudo has been in the domain industry since 1995, and during the late ’90s, he was running one of the first accredited ICANN Registrars in Europe after the end of the gTLD monopoly.

Contact:

Norbert Stocker
Internet.bs Corp.
Phone: 507-6676-9922
norbert.stocker@internet.bs
http://www.internetbs.net

This press release was issued through eReleases® Press Release Distribution. For more information, visit http://www.ereleases.com.

SOURCE Internet.bs Corp.