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The risks of buying prescriptions online

Watch out for fake online pharmacies

These days, you can buy almost anything online: groceries, beauty products, food delivery, household cleaning supplies, medical equipment and prescription drugs — just to name a few. But, when it comes to health care products, like medications, buying from an unsafe supplier can put you and your family at risk.

Here’s what you need to know.

The rise of online pharmacies

One of the benefits of online shopping is being able to quickly browse multiple sites for the best deals. And, as prescription drug costs continue to rise, scouring the internet for the lowest price for medications has become popular. However, more than 11,000 online pharmacies External Site don’t operate in compliance with U.S. federal and state pharmacy laws and practice standards, according to the National Association Boards of Pharmacy.

Getting your prescriptions from an accredited and licensed online pharmacy may be convenient, but accidentally purchasing from an unsafe source can be dangerous for your health. And, fake online pharmacies may not be that easy to spot.

What’s the risk?

Having a relationship with a pharmacist you trust plays a role in keeping you healthy, because they have a complete look at each medication you take and can review any side effects and interactions. The pharmacist will also know about any allergies you might have to certain ingredients. Buying from an illegal online pharmacy generally means you won’t have a single point of contact for your health care. In addition, there are several other risk factors.

  1. You could receive unsafe drugs. Illegal online pharmacies could sell fake, contaminated, or expired medication — and you’d likely never be able to tell the difference. Fake or inaccurate medication could keep you from getting better, make you sick, or be deadly — as some contain fillers like drywall and rat poison External Site.
  2. You may get the right medication, but with different ingredients. Any drug approved in the United States has been reviewed for safety and effectiveness. But, other countries may use different ingredients for the same treatment. Even a slight variation in your medication can cause you to become sicker, develop resistance to it, or cause different side effects and harmful interactions with your other medications.
  3. Your physical health isn’t the only thing at risk. Most fake online pharmacies don’t have the tools in place to protect the information you give them, like health insurance information, credit card numbers, and other personally identifying information — while some intentionally misuse it or sell it to other scammers.
  4. You may not receive your medication. A classic scammer will collect your personal and financial information, but never send you the prescription you ordered. You also might get repeated phone calls and emails, or see charges for products you didn’t order.

How to spot a fake online pharmacy

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are many unsafe online pharmacies External Site that claim to sell drugs at deeply discounted prices. It's important  to spot the difference between real and fake, so watch for these warning signs.

Illegal online pharmacies may:

  • Send unsolicited emails or post ads on social media that promise steep discounts — lower than any other retailer — on popular drugs.
  • Allow you to buy medication or durable medical equipment (DME) without a prescription from your provider.
  • Call you repeatedly for your permission to order DME supplies, like this Medicare scam for back braces External Site.
  • Require you to answer atypical questions online or via phone to get your medication.
  • Not have on-staff pharmacists you can talk to before purchasing medication.
  • Offer deals or prices that feel “too good to be true.”
  • Ship medications worldwide — medication from international pharmacies may treat the same condition, but ingredients and doses can vary.
  • Not have a physical street address listed on their website.

If you’re unsure whether the online pharmacy you want to use is legitimate, the FDA says that any online pharmacy should require a valid prescription, provide a physical address in the United States, be licensed by the state board of pharmacy (both in your state and where the pharmacy operates), and have a state-licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions.

You can also reference the pharmacy you’re using on the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy® website, which maintains a list of accredited pharmacies External Site.

Protect yourself and your information

Now that you know how to identify a fake online pharmacy, follow these three tips to protect yourself.

  1. Be on the lookout for potential phishing emails that can steal your personal information by making a website look legitimate.
  2. Don’t enter personal information, like health insurance details or credit card numbers, unless you see an “s” in the website address (https://) indicating it’s secure.
  3. Sign up for myWellmark® Opens New Window, where you can regularly check your health insurance claims and get digital Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) to make sure everything looks the way it should.

Use the prescription drug tools on myWellmark

If you want the convenience of getting your prescriptions delivered straight to your door, you can use the prescription drug tools on myWellmark to see if your medications are eligible for mail-order service through CVS/Caremark. When you work with a legitimate, mail-order pharmacy, you can rest assured that your medications will be the right ingredients and dosage — without having to wait in line at the pharmacy counter.

The prescription drug tools on myWellmark also help you check the cost of your medications, review potential savings opportunities, view your prescription history, and learn more about potential drug interactions. Signing up for myWellmark Opens New Window is easy — and free! All you need is a personal email address.