Protect Yourself from Online Fraud
Being in the online medication industry since 2004 has taught us much, and one of the most important lessons we have learnt is how to tell a scam pharmacy from a real pharmacy. You must be very vigilant in determining who you trust when you order online. We suggest you take note of the following.
Do they have contact information readily available?
Would you trust your medications when they come from a company you can only ever contact through an email address? More than 90% of the online pharmacies out there do not list phone numbers or addresses and this lack of contact information says many things about the pharmacy:
1. We don’t want to talk to you and
2. We want to remain anonymous
But it doesn’t stop at the phone number, because what many online pharmacies are doing nowadays is outsourcing their call center to a 3rd party whose primary job is just to take orders. This is important to take note of because when a company outsources its call center they still separate themselves from the customers and maintain their degree of anonymity. When you combine this with the fact that they can pick up and move their operation literally overnight; this is a scary thing indeed. This is not to say that all pharmacies that outsource are fraudulent, it is just something to take note of when you are doing your due-diligence.
The next piece of information you want to look for is the company’s physical mailing address. The only reason a company would not provide this piece of information is to once again hide their true identity/location and this is a very common indication of fraud.
Next time you visit a pharmacy be sure to click their “Contact” page and see what information they have available to contact them by. You may be very surprised.
Reputable Domain Name?
Take a look at the top of the Internet browser to see the website address you are visiting, does it look like a reputable domain name?
A reputable domain name is something like:
If you are visiting a site that looks something like:
Then click the back button right away. These domain names are literally there one day and gone the next. Does the above URL look like it belongs to a pharmacy that is legitimate?
Another thing to watch out for are website addresses that are not using domain names at all, but rather IP addresses such as the example below:
This is not just laziness on the part of the pharmacy, this is done on purpose. By using an IP address the fraudulent website can easily move anonymously from server to server without any problem. Do you think they are notifying all their previous customers of such moves?
How did you hear about the pharmacy?
Where did you hear about the pharmacy? Obviously the best way to hear about any pharmacy is from word of mouth but when you are online that is not always the case. There are so many ways to advertise on the internet that weeding out the good from the bad may seem daunting, but is rather quite easy. The absolute worst place to hear about any pharmacy is unsolicited email (otherwise known as SPAM) and then next worst would probably be pay-per-click (where pharmacies bid on keywords that you search for), although if the pharmacy is bidding on pay-per-click through Google Ad words (google.com) or Overture (yahoo.com, msn.com, etc) then they are now required to participate in Square Trade (a licensing body that governs online pharmacies and validates their legitimacy) before they can advertise. These pharmacies are supposed to be legit, but the screening process for them are certainly not perfect and on more than one occasion we have encountered known fraudulent sites to pop up from time to time, so be careful!
Other forms of advertising are banner ads and affiliate sites and these all must be taken with a BAG of salt. To put it in perspective, those are all “paid” advertisements and there is no one verifying anything they promote. The only reason one website would advertise another website such as a pharmacy is to obtain a sort of commission in return. So if they are being paid to refer you to a pharmacy, the only thing they care about is which pharmacy will pay them the most for the referral, not which pharmacy is the most legit. Think about that next time you take another websites word for a “recommendation”.
How do you identify an affiliate site?
A good way is by the URL they are sending you to. For example, if a website was going to refer you to another website they would normally do so directly as in:
However, if they are an affiliate, you are likely to see other parameters in the URL that will allow the commission to be tracked. An affiliate URL could be any of the following:
Also be careful because sometimes an affiliate URL will look like the above but then quickly redirect you to the main site (without the affiliate IDs) in order to try and fool the customer. To determine if this is the case, right click on the link you want to visit, copy the link, then paste it into your address bar. This is the only way to determine EXACTLY where you are going and what incentives are awaiting the referring website if you place your order there.
How many products?
This is not the be all and end all of determining if a website is a scam, but most of the scam websites we come across all seem to share the characteristic of having less than 50 or 100 products in their inventory. Make note of this when you arrive at the website, and of the fact that it is a lot easier (and quicker) to throw up a 50 product site than a 5000 product site.
Is there a visible Internet presence?
How long has the site you are visiting been around? Is anyone (other than obvious affiliates) talking good/bad about it? Here is a good way to see:
Go to http://www.google.com and type:
(where www.website.com is the website you are researching)
This will give you a few key pieces of information about the site.
When (if ever) was the last time the search engine saw this site
How many pages of the website is in the search engine
How many other sites are linking to it
While this information can not be strictly used to tell legitimacy of any website, but also to determine how long the site has been around. If the site has many indexed pages and many other legitimate websites linking to it, you know it has been around for some time. This is always a good sign, since fraudulent websites typically don’t stay around long enough to even be cached by a search engine let alone have all their pages indexed.
In the day and age of Internet commerce you would think that by now everyone passing personal information across the Internet would be doing so securely, but sadly that is not always the case. Whenever you are visiting a site and are at a page where they are requesting information such as your credit card, make absolute sure they have an SSL certificate (little lock at the bottom right hand corner of your browser) present, because if they do not you are just asking for trouble. The lack of this symbol means that your information is being sent over the Internet in plain text, and anyone (including your ISP) could read it without trouble. Is it really worth the risk?
Also be careful about calling in to place your order, because most call centers (especially those that are outsourced) will place the order over the exact same website you would use online (secure or not), so if you think you are more secure over the phone think again. In fact, we prefer to use the Internet ourselves since you never really know who the person on the other end of the line is and what they are doing with your information after you hang up.
Tracking Information for Orders
Do the websites provide tracking numbers for their orders? Most do, but there have been a few we came across lately that were very suspicious about how they do their business. They will provide you with a tracking number, but the only way you can track the order is through their own website. They usually provide a number of falsified reasons as to why this may be, but that is beside the point. The goal of these websites is to provide you with “hope” that the order is actually in transit on the way to you. In the mean time they are waiting Visa/MasterCard to pay them the funds (there is sometimes up to a month delay from the day you pay with your credit card till the day the website owner receives their funds). Once these funds have been received they simply disappear. Of course, maybe they will put extended shipping times like 5-6 weeks to give them a little more time, but whatever the case make sure that whichever company you deal with will give you a tracking number for a service you can actually track yourself (FedEx, DHL, USPS, etc).
No charges at all
This actually happened to a few of our customers and so we decided to update this page with the information. Believe it or not, getting a merchant account (the ability to process MasterCard and Visa) is not an easy task, even for a legitimate website. Just having one is not a basis for legitimacy, but it’s a start. For those fraudulent websites that are either too lazy or incapable of acquiring such an account, they will just throw up a website and “pretend” to charge you for the order. They will then save all your credit card details (and those of a few thousands other people) to be sold/used at a later date for some other types of fraud. After you place an order with any new company online, give your bank a call 2-3 days later and see if it was charged. If it has not been charged, you may want to call the company and find out why. Some companies may just charge you when the order is about to be shipped so it is not an immediate cause for alarm, but then again, you never know unless you ask.
Probably one of the most common questions asked when people call in is “Do I pay any subscription fees to join your service?” There are quite a few sites selling subscriptions to their “service” that would allow potential customers to view lists of “legitimate” pharmacies carrying hard to find products that have been “fully verified”. So we signed up to one of these websites to see just what they would offer (after all it was only $25), and all they provided was a list of websites, nothing more, nothing less. So the next step was to verify these websites against our list of SCAM resistant methods and let’s just say we were not surprised when almost all of them failed one criteria or the other, especially the criteria of them all being affiliate related. One thing we were surprised with was the recurring monthly charge even after we cancelled the service. In fact, we had to cancel the card before those charges ended up stopping, so needless to say use these services at your own risk.
Internet Scams a thing of the past?
Not anytime soon. It seems no matter how many times these pharmacies are shut down; they just keep popping up again and again under different names with more and more ways to take your hard-earned money. As long as it remains profitable for them to do so, they will always be there. Knowing this is the first step in protecting yourself. The next step is to have the latest tools and knowledge to weed through the good from the bad, and that is what we are here to help you do. We will update this page frequently with more ways to protect yourself online so be sure to bookmark us and check back later.