Buying drugs online has always been a risk to consumers. There are fraudulent drugs sold as the real deal, Websites that collect your personal and credit card information for criminal activity and just plain bad companies that send the wrong drugs because they are not using professional standards. Despite this risk, a lot of people looking to get in shape purchase their supplements online because it is the easiest, most convenient, and sometimes, only place to get them. However, an international policing effort that is now in its fifth year is trying to shut down the online pharmacies around the world – a move that effects both fraudulent, criminal drug Websites as well as legitimate supplement ones.
Last week, the European police agency Interpol teamed up with other international organizations, including the FDA and the World Customs Organization, in its fifth year of Operation Pangea. The sting that targets online prescription drug pharmacies and online supplement distributors netted 79 arrests; shut down over 18,000 Websites; and confiscated over 3.75 million units of drugs and supplements estimated at over $10.5 million. The sweep was coordinated with the assistance of online drug sales company LegitScript as well as credit card and online payment companies like Visa, Mastercard and PayPal.
“Organized, sophisticated criminals and rogue pharmacies are unfortunately using the Internet to defraud innocent consumers, to place them in harm’s way, to steal their identities and to engage in credit card fraud,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble.
Over 100 countries were involved in the INTERPOL operation, with several policing organizations conducting raids on addresses linked to online pharmacies. Also, shipments were stopped, seized and inspected on their way to the homes of customers. OVer 133,000 packages were inspected by government regulators and around 6,700 of those were confiscated. Among the counterfeit medicines confiscated were anti-cancer medication, antibiotics and erectile dysfunction pills.
But not all the drugs taken were fakes. Some were food supplements and diet drugs that were being sold to consumers who wanted exactly what the online pharmacies were selling. Although they were only a small fraction of the drugs seized in the operation, several Websites that specialized in selling anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and other performance enhancing drugs were shut down. These sites were also shut down, not by taking direct legal action against the owners, but by using credit card and payment companies and domain registrars to seize their URLs and effectively wipe them off the Web.
In total, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency as well as the US Department of Justice seized 686 Websites it accused of selling steroids and other supplements. In Australia, 120 domain names were seized by its regulatory bodies.
In addition to shutting down Websites with INTERPOL’s Operation Pangea V, the US FDA also announced a national campaign called BeSafeRx – Know Your Online Pharmacy that seeks to educate consumers on fraudulent medications, as well as banned and unapproved supplements.