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4 tips for choosing a safe online pharmacy

The big business of illegal online pharmacies

Did you know? Health care spending in the U.S. increased to $10,739 per person in 2017. And for employers, that means upwards of 16% of their annual health care dollars External Site are spent on pharmacy-related costs. So it's no surprise that employees are looking for the best deals to save on costs whenever possible.

According to the Pew Research Center, almost 8 in 10 Americans are online shoppers External Site. And, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that 1 in 4 have purchased prescriptions online External Site. Convenience is a factor, sure, but it's also easier to find the best deals with a few clicks than physically traveling to different stores to price-shop. And, as the price of prescription medicine increases, lower-cost options will appeal even more. Online pharmacies seem to hit on both: Cheaper prescriptions that are delivered right to the front door, many times with no questions asked.

Did you know? Out of more than 35,000 online pharmacies, more than 95% are illegal and unsafe, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

Since thousands of these pharmacies are operating right now, it's important to help your employees get educated and stay safe.

Online pharmacy warning signs

Treat insurance info like a credit card — don't give out identifying information over the phone or online unless absolutely sure the requester is legitimate.

While accredited and licensed online pharmacies are great options, buying medicines from unsafe sources can be both dangerous and deadly. Unfortunately, many people don't know how to spot the signs of an illegal online pharmacy. Be on the lookout for these red flags:

  • Sends unsolicited emails or social media posts promising deep discounts on well-known drugs.
  • Requires an online (or via phone) questionnaire to be filled out before delivering drugs or durable medical equipment without a valid prescription.
  • Does not require a valid prescription from a licensed health care provider.
  • Offers too-good-to-be-true prices or deals.
  • Does not have a licensed, on-staff pharmacist available for consultation.
  • Ships prescription drugs from other countries into the United States.
  • Does not list a physical street address.

What's at risk

Drugs sold by illegal online sellers may be unsafe and contain too many, too few, or no active ingredients at all. On top of that, these counterfeit, contaminated, or expired drugs could be made using other dangerous and deadly substances. Even slight variations in the medications can cause someone to get sicker, develop a resistance to the medicine, lead to new side effects, or interact with other medications in harmful ways.

On top of physical risks, data-security risks come into play, too. Most fake online pharmacies don't have safeguards in place to protect personal and financial information, let alone personal devices used to access these sites. They may misuse or sell personal information to other scammers, or infect computers with viruses.

Another risk when dealing with illegal online pharmacies? Getting harassed with repeated emails and phone calls or being charged for products that were never even ordered or received.

Four things your employees can do to find a safe online pharmacy

  1. Check the online pharmacy with a simple search. Visit BeSafeRx External Site, an initiative from the FDA, to verify if the online pharmacy has proper licenses to do business in your state. Reference the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS)-accredited online pharmacies External Site from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Or use Verify Before You Buy External Site, a service from the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies.
  2. Four must-haves for online pharmacies. According to the FDA, online pharmacies should:
    • Require a valid prescription.
    • Provide a physical address in the United States.
    • Be licensed by the state board of pharmacy in your state and the state where the pharmacy is operating.
    • Have state-licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions.
  3. Keep personal information safe. Once all of the above have been confirmed, don't provide personal information, like health insurance details or credit card numbers, without verifying the site is secure. Look for an “s” in the website address — https:// — and check out the website’s privacy policy.
  4. Track the order. Use an online pharmacy that tracks the order through an external source, like FedEx, UPS or the U.S.P.S. If an order arrives that wasn't expected, was damaged, or never arrived, the tracking information will help determine what happened. And always report any problems External Site with online pharmacies to the FDA.

Bonus tip: Check claims and Explanations of Benefits (EOBs) regularly to monitor any suspicious activity. myWellmark Opens in a new window® makes it easy to sign up for electronic EOBs and keep track of claims status in one secure spot.

Download this free tip sheet to post at your worksite, share on your intranet, or send via email to keep your employees — and their information — safe.

Questions? Please contact your authorized Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield representative or send us an email at Send Email.

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