FDA Issues Scam Alert: Beware of Phone Scams from Bogus FDA Agents if You Have Bought Meds Online

FDA Warns of Phone Scams by Bogus FDA Agents threatening those who have purchased medications onlineThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the following Bulletin on September 25, 2012:

Scam Alert: Beware of Bogus FDA Agents

“Hundreds of people who have purchased drugs over the Internet or via telephone have unwittingly exposed themselves to extortion by individuals posing as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agents.”

“Here’s how the scam works: Someone will call you and identify him or herself as an FDA special agent or another kind of law enforcement official. You’ll be told that purchasing drugs over the Internet or telephone is illegal and be threatened with prosecution unless a fine or fee—ranging from $100 to $250,000—is paid.”

What to Do if You Receive Such a Scam Call: Hang Up The Phone

In its online Consumer Update about the scam calls, the FDA advises:

“Since the scams first came to FDA’s attention, Walsky [Philip Walsky, special agent in charge at FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI)] and other OCI staff have handled dozens of calls from alarmed consumers. “I tell them it’s a scam,” Walsky says, “and that the best thing they can do is ignore the caller and hang up.”

Walsky and others who have spoken to concerned consumers also assure that no federal official would ever contact a consumer by phone and demand money or any other form of payment. As for actual physical danger, no known victim has ever been approached in person. Most of the fraudulent callers are actually based overseas, Walsky says.

The call is likely a scam if the so-called agent directs you to send the money by wire transfer to a designated location, usually overseas, and if you are warned not to call an attorney or the police. In fact, FDA special agents and other law enforcement officials are not authorized to impose or collect fines imposed for criminal acts. Only a court can take such action, with fines payable to the U.S. Treasury.

According to Walsky, some fraudulent callers have a “veneer of legitimacy” about them.

Like many telephone solicitors for illegal prescription medications, he says, they’re based overseas and use voice over internet protocol (VOIP) telephone numbers, which enable extorters to select phone numbers with specific area codes, and change numbers frequently.

Some even go to the trouble of using the Internet to find names of actual FDA law enforcement personnel, Walsky says. And they are adept at exploiting people’s fears.

What is the best way to make the calls stop?

Walsky advises victims of these scams to change whatever phone number(s) the caller used to contact them in the first place, and to stop buying drugs online unless they know the website is trustworthy. If you have purchased medication online or via telephone, you may also want to alert your credit card company and make sure that your account is up to date, and that no suspicious charges have been made against your credit card.

Victims can report their experience to FDA via OCI’s website. Click on “Report Suspected Criminal Activity.”

“Learn more about what to do if this happens to you at www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm320637.htm

More Information

In its online Consumer Update about this Scam, the FDA explains:

“These criminals are getting personal information from transactions with individuals buying drugs online or by telephone, or from medical questionnaires frequently sought by illegal online websites. Personal information can also turn up on customer lists obtained by criminals. These lists can contain tens of thousands of names and a great deal of self-reported information, including names, addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, purchase histories and credit card account numbers.”

“Despite ongoing investigations and arrests by FDA, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s, Homeland Security Investigations, such scams are hard to trace and eliminate. And according to Philip Walsky, special agent in charge at FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), they are likely to continue.”

For more information, including how to find trustworthy websites that sell medications online, see the FDA’s Consumer Update: Scam Alert: Beware of Bogus FDA Agents

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This Announcement is provided as a public service by HelpingYouCare®.

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