A review of 10,000 online pharmacies shows fewer than 3% comply with federal and state laws, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
Many unlicensed online pharmacies originate in foreign countries, making it tougher for US authorities to shut them down.
Food and Drug Administration Office of Compliance director Ilisa Bernstein says buying medication from fraudulent pharmacies can be incredibly dangerous, even if those drugs are cheaper.
“They think that they’re getting the real thing, but in fact what they get are fake, expired, contaminated and otherwise unsafe drugs,” Bernstein said.
Because shutting down the fake online pharmacies is difficult, Bernstein says consumers need to be aware of the warning signs.
“A fraudulent online pharmacy will let you buy a medicine without a prescription, offer cheap or discount prices, send spam and be located outside the US,” Bernstein said. “Those are red flags.”
Bernstein says safe online pharmacies require prescriptions, are licensed and located in the United States and have a licensed pharmacist available to answer questions.