Bogus FDA agents scam online drug purchasers

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

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If purchasing medications from dodgy online pharmacies wasn’t already dangerous enough, criminals are now using new methods to extort money from the unwary, according to a warning issued by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).

Over the holiday period, the FDA issued advice cautioning members of the public to be on their guard against a scam where criminals pretending to be FDA special agents call customers of internet drug stores, informing them that they have broken the law by buying medications online, and demanding they pay a fine.

According to the warning published by the FDA, the scammers request that the fine (which can range between $100 and $250,000) be wired to a designated location, usually in the Dominican Republic. Apparently, if the intended victims refuse to pay the fine, “they are often threatened with a search of their property, arrest, deportation, physical harm, and or incarceration.”

Scary stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.. and you can well imagine how some folks may be intimidated by such threats to hand over their hard-earned cash to the criminals.

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Of course, this scam is most likely to work for the bad guys if you really have been purchasing medications and other drugs from online pharmacies. After all, how else will these scammers know who to call up and intimidate?

Tamiflu pharmacy website

This latest warning underlines that many of online pharmacies are not just opportunists out to make a quick buck, but serious and organised criminal gangs – dead set on defrauding consumers, stealing identities and robbing the unwary.

Next time you see that spam email offering you cheap Viagra or protection aganst Swine flu it might be wise to think twice. Not only might they be selling you counterfeit drugs, not only might they be planning to pinch your credit card details, they might also be planning to scare you into putting even more of your hard-earned savings into their pockets.

Michael Chappell, acting commissioner for regulatory affairs at the FDA, points out that no legitimate FDA official “will ever contact a consumer by phone demanding money or any other form of payment.”

According to the advisory, the criminals have also posed as special agents of the DEA, FBI, US Secret Service, US Customs Service, as well as US and Dominican prosecutors and judges.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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