Illegal Online Pharmacies Exploit Vulnerable Consumers During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy® (NABP®) released the May 2020 Rogue Rx Activity Report, Rogue Online Pharmacies in the Time of Pandemic: Capitalizing on Misinformation and Fear. The report highlights how illegal online pharmacies use coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to expand operations and prey on consumer fears.
NABP has identified dozens of rogue online pharmacies claiming to sell prescription drugs marketed for COVID-19 treatment. Drugs such as chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir, and ritonavir are being sold online after they gained media attention; however, these are unproven treatments for COVID-19 and are dangerous when taken without proper medical supervision.
Attempting to capitalize on the pandemic, illegal online pharmacies are:
- adding coronavirus-related images to preexisting websites,
- purchasing domain names that include COVID-19 words and phrases,
- registering domain names with fraudulent “safe haven” registrars, and
- creating new website facades linking to non-coronavirus-related stores.
NABP confirmed over 90% of the COVID-related domain names identified were registered anonymously, which makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to investigate these sources.
In response to the rise of these fraudulent sites, regulators have called for assistance from the private sector, including internet intermediaries that have been successful in shutting down fraudulent face mask, vaccine, and test kit sellers. NABP calls for the implementation of long-term policies to combat rogue internet pharmacies, including immediately locking and suspending domain names engaged in illegal commercial activities. Furthermore, in the absence of significant voluntary action, the Association supports legislation that would require registrars to validate domain name registration information and lock and suspend any domain name that is used for public health scams and similar illicit activity.
NABP continues to identify rogue websites that are seeking to exploit consumers during COVID-19. These sites and other illegal pharmacies are being added to NABP’s Not Recommended List. A list of safe online pharmacies and related resources can be found on the Buy Safely page of www.safe.pharmacy to help consumers identify legitimate websites from which to purchase medications. Read the full report and learn more about rogue internet pharmacies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic by visiting the Publications and Reports section of www.nabp.pharmacy.