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

Operation Pangea IX Shuts Down over 4,000 Fake Online Pharmacies

June 20, 2016

In its 9th year, the International Week of Action brought together enforcement organizations from 115 countries throughout the globe in an effort of eliminate the sales of counterfeit medication online. The 9th Interpol-led effort Operation Pangea just completed its efforts, according to a June 9th press release from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). George…

ICE Shuts Down 67 Fake Online Pharmacy Websites For Selling Counterfeit Drugs

May 17, 2016

Website visitors now see a seizure banner displaying in place of the fake drug advertisements The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that 67 different domain names for commercial websites “engaged in the illegal sale and distribution of counterfeit and prescription drugs” have had seizure orders executed against them by U.S. Immigration and Customs…

Pakistani Head of Counterfeit Drug Importer Extradited and Indicted in U.S. Court

January 25, 2016

Junaid Qadir of Karachi, Pakistan, was originally indicted in 2012. A superseding indictment was obtained June 25, 2015. He was arrested last spring after he traveled from Pakistan to Germany. Qadir fought extradition, but lost and appeared in federal court on Jan. 25, 2016. Qadir and his brother, Shehzad, who is not in custody, are…

Rogues Gallery Comics: An Illustrated Guide To Counterfeit Drug Crime

November 13, 2015

The Rogues Gallery Comic Book series tells the real-life stories of fake drug criminals and their cases. Volume one tells about the Greedy Doctor that lied to patients with no hope for a cure, the Master Counterfeiter whose greed drove him straight into the arms of US investigators, the Black Marketer who sold fake drugs to US doctors, and the mystery Criminal Mastermind responsible for introducing counterfeit cancer medication to U.S. oncology practices. In volume two, you’ll read about The Smooth Talker and his $150,000 car, the Canadian who pioneered the fake online pharmacy business model, and the Hero Nurses that stood between oncology patients and dangerous fake medications.

Medical Device King sold imported IUDs and counterfeit cancer drugs that poisoned an American patient

November 6, 2015

Update: On December 13, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated William Scully’s conviction because a lower court “declined to allow Scully to introduce evidence at his 2015 trial showing he sought legal advice about importing drugs with foreign labels from one of his lawyers.” Ultimately Scully pleaded guilty to one charge of…

Is it Safe For Americans to Order Life-Saving Medicine From Online Pharmacies Overseas?

September 18, 2013

Click image to download G-8 Infographic (pdf) The countries of the Group of 8 (G8) have begun to work together to try and fight the global scourge of counterfeit medications. Their efforts are important, as most of the G8 member countries are having their own problems with counterfeit drug crime. In May 2013 leaders from…

New Research Highlights Risks of Unlicensed Online Pharmacies

June 4, 2013

A new study
in the May 2013 Journal of Medical Internet Research illustrates just
how easy it is for fake online pharmacies to advertise via social media outlets
such as Facebook and Twitter.

Researcher Tim Mackey and co-author Dr. Bryan
Liang
set up dummy, no-prescription-required pharmacy websites, then created
advertising for the dummy sites on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and
Google+. They found that in the 10
months that their fake ads were running, close to 3,000 unique visitors went to
the dummy sites in search of drugs that required no prescription.  Surprisingly, though they had visits from all
over the globe, the highest percentage of web traffic to their fake sites (54%)
came from the United States.  

New Internet Domain Name .PHARMACY Will Foster Patient Safety

May 1, 2013

In light of the threat of illegal online pharmacies, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) announced their application to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to own and operate a secure and vetted .PHARMACY domain for licensed Internet pharmacies.

The April 2013 report from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) illustrates the patient safety threat from illegal online pharmacies by showing that of more than 10,000 Web sites they analyzed, nearly 97% operate out of compliance with pharmacy laws and practice standards established in the US. To combat that threat, they have announced their application to ICANN for .PHARMACY, which will be available only to legally operating online pharmacies, who follow the rules and regulations in the jurisdictions in which they are based.

Arrest Warrant Issued for Convicted Canadian Online Pharmacy Operator

August 2, 2012

An arrest warrant has been issued by Judge Irma Gonzalez, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, in San Diego, for Canadian businessman Nathan Jacobson as a result of his failure to appear for sentencing in the vast Affpower fake online pharmacy case.

In 2007, Jacobson was one of 18 indicted on racketeering and related charges for allegedly operating an internet business that generated more than $126 million in gross revenues from the illegal sale of prescription medicines from customers across the U.S., reported the U.S. Department of Justice.  

UK Paramedic Dies of Accidental Overdose of Drugs Sold Through Foreign Online Pharmacy

May 27, 2011

The death of a London paramedic has been ruled accidental after she ingested a fatal dose of pills purchased from a foreign online pharmacy.

Lorna Lambden, 27, a paramedic and Masters Degree student at the University of Hertfordshire, was found dead in her home on December 17, 2010, after ingesting pills purchased over the internet without a prescription, reports the Daily Mail.

The coroner, Edward Thomas, found a fatal level of the drug amitriptyline in her blood. Thomas added that the medication had not been prescribed to Lambden, but suspected she purchased an equivalent called “amitrip” from a foreign internet-based pharmacy.

Said Thomas, “…four milligrams [worth of amitriptyline were] found in her blood, and a therapeutic level is about one milligram.” He went on to say that after taking the drug she collapsed and suffered a cardiac arrhythmia, reports the St. Albans Review.

Lambden’s family knew that she had trouble sleeping and suspect she purchased the medication to rest between twelve hour shifts with the London Ambulance Service, reports the London Metro.

Lambden’s mother, a retired accident and emergency sister, said: “It’s terrible that these drugs are so freely available online and people can buy them without seeing any warnings about the harm they can do.”

Coroner Thomas said: “Amitriptyline can stop the heart and I think that is likely here. Lorna would not have known it had happened. It would not have been like a heart attack.”

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

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