Take Action: Protect Patients from Online Scams With Domain Name Reform

Re-open access to WHOIS contact information; require that domain name sellers lock and suspend suspicious websites

Synopsis:

Patients who search for medicine online often end up on fake online pharmacy websites because 95% of online pharmacies are unsafe.  These companies buy the names of their websites from domain name sellers. Hisorically, many of domain name sellers have let illicit businesses continue to use their domain names, even when the name implies illegal activity, violates terms of use, or sells opioids or COVID-19 “cures.” This puts lives at risk, especially in a public health emergency when millions are relying on the internet for healthcare information, products, and services.

These companies also maintain contact information for registered domain names in a database called WHOIS. Until 2018, investigators used WHOIS to track down cybercriminals, but in the last two years access to WHOIS has been radically limited in response to EU privacy laws and other policy changes. The result is that authorities cannot find and prosecute those selling fraudulent products on websites.

Current Status:

At the end of February 2020, Representative Bob Latta (R-OH) has introduced HR875, a resolution aimed at safeguarding access to WHOIS information for law enforcement and the public. HR875 states that “domain name registration information, referred to as ‘WHOIS’ information, is critical to the protection of the United States national and economic security, intellectual property rights enforcement, cybersecurity, as well as the health, safety, and privacy of its citizens, and should remain readily accessible.”

What you can do:

On May 8, 2020, The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) wrote Congressional leaders in the House and Senate urging  them to take extra measures in the next health and stimulus package to protect the American public from online COVID-19 scams. PSM asked that they require domain name sellers to suspend and lock websites that facilitate COVID-19 and other health fraud, and re-open registration information so that law enforcement can pursue criminals using websites to take advantage of the public.

Lend your voice to this campaign. Share our one-pager about domain name reform to help others understand why this is important. TEXT STOPSCAM to 52886 to send a letter to your members of Congress, or submit your letter here.

Background / resources

News

Stories about counterfeit drugs and online crime

The Safeguarding Therapeutics Act passes the House Energy and Commerce Committee with full support

July 15, 2020

The House Energy and Commerce Committee marked up and passed H.R. 5663, the Safeguarding Therapeutics Act, today.

ASOP and 40 Patient Organizations Reach Out to Vice President Pence to Put a Stop to #Covidscams

April 15, 2020

In a letter dated April 9th, the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) has requested that the Vice President prioritize evidence-based messaging and focus energies on provable therapies for treating COVID-19. The letter also asks the Vice President to address the “systemic, structural Internet policy problems that enable COVID-19 scams online.”

House Resolution demands open access to WHOIS Results

March 3, 2020

WHOIS data is searchable registrar information available for all websites on the Internet. It has long been used to trace criminal websites that host counterfeit and illicit drug sales, human trafficking, child pornography, and illicit and copyrighted content, as well as the websites of spammers, denial-of-services and phishing attackers, and other fraudsters.

Security Breach Illustrates Another Danger of Fake Online Pharmacies

January 30, 2020

Planet Drugs Direct, an online pharmacy based in Winnipeg, Canada, has announced a data breach. Hackers broke into their servers, exposing customers’ names, medical details, and contact and banking information. Legitscript is unequivocal in calling Planet Drugs Direct a “Rogue Internet Pharmacy,” their worst rating for online pharmacies, accusing them of violating state and federal laws.

LA City Attorney Files Charges in 2 Different Counterfeit/Misbranded Prescription Drug Cases

September 6, 2019

On August 21, LA City Attorney Mike Feuer announced two separate cases had resulted in charges. In the first, criminal charges have been filed against eight people for allegedly importing more than 100,000 units of non-FDA approved pharmaceuticals, and selling them in the local area on the street in front of local businesses. In a second case, Feuer’s office seized a website offering illegal, misbranded, and counterfeit medications for sale online.

screen capture from Internet Archive

U.S. Department of Treasury Announces Sanctions Against Argentina-Based Fake Online Pharmacy

May 30, 2019

According to the Department of the Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Sigal Mandelker, “The Goldpharma network illustrates the sophisticated tactics drug traffickers and money launderers use to capitalize on the Internet and online pharmacy sites to sell highly addictive illicit narcotics around the world.”

Drug Importation is Fraught with Peril

August 23, 2018

As a licensed pharmacist, I’m all too familiar with patients’ difficulties getting medications they need and their physician has prescribed. As baby boomers age, pharmacists see more patients at our counters unable to obtain needed treatments for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. This issue is now being acknowledged and a healthy debate has begun over possible solutions. But one idea policymakers shouldn’t pursue is opening up our country’s secure drug supply to medicines coming from outside our borders.

Research into Fake Online Pharmacy Prosecutions Finds Current Policies Do Little to Stop Them

May 11, 2018

A 2017 legal review conducted by Camille Guerra and Dr. Timothy K. Mackey predates the CanadaDrugs prosecution, however it clearly illustrates the challenges faced by courts in effectively prosecuting illicit online pharmacies

NABP Finds Fake Online Pharmacies are Offering Fentanyl for Sale at an Alarming Rate

February 9, 2018

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) has just released their Internet Drug Outlet Identification Program Progress Report for February 2018. NABP has conducted an annual survey of Internet drug outlets for the last nine years, and this year it is finding that fake online pharmacies are rushing to get on the fentanyl bandwagon.

Pennsylvania Pharmacist Sentenced for Passing Imported, Misbranded Drugs Off As FDA-Approved

November 2, 2017

Four years after pleading guilty in 2013, a Pennsylvania pharmacist has been sentenced to 6 months of home detention and three years probation after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to smuggle foreign drugs in the United States and money laundering.

Tell Congress to kick COVID-19 scammers off the Internet!

PSM Coverage: