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


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


Stories about counterfeit drugs and online crime

PSAs Warn Cambodians of Counterfeit Drug Dangers

October 23, 2009

Earlier this month, a public health campaign was launched in Cambodia to help raise awareness and combat the rising threat of counterfeit drugs throughout Southeast Asia. The campaign, launched by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Convention with the support of Cambodian authorities, includes a nationally broadcasted public service announcement (PSA) series titled “Pharmacide.”

FDA Warns of Online H1N1 Influenza Virus Drug Product Purchases

October 15, 2009

FDA is alerting you to a use extreme caution when purchasing any medication over the Internet claiming to prevent or treat H1N1 influenza virus. Several orders of the H1N1 vaccine Tamiflu (oseltamivir) purchased from online pharmacies were found to be a health threat to consumers.

Internet Search Engines Promote Illegal Online Pharmacies

September 18, 2009

The Partnership for Safe Medicines, a group of organizations and individuals dedicated to protecting consumers from counterfeit medicines, issued the following statement regarding recent reports released by LegitScript, an online pharmacy verification service, and KnujOn,an Internet compliance company, which found that 80 to 90 percent of search engine-sponsored advertisements of online drug pharmacies violate federal and state laws, including selling substandard or counterfeit drugs to unsuspecting consumers.

No Such Thing as a “Safe Country” for Drug Importation

September 3, 2009

With talks about drug importation continuing in Congress, drug importation supporters argue that if the United States allows importation only from “safe countries,” such as Canada and the United Kingdom, than most of drug safety concerns would be eliminated. However, when it comes to drug importation, there is no such thing as a “safe” country.

Microsoft’s Bing.com Sponsors Illegal Online Pharmacies

August 13, 2009

The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) strongly believes that that no one should be able to purchase prescription drugs, including controlled substances, over the Internet without a valid prescription and physician oversight. Last year we sent every member of Congress a postcard that illustrated this face and earlier this year, my colleague Dr. Bryan Liang published a paper in the American Journal of Law & Medicine that highlights how Internet search engines support illegal online drug sales and identified three key ways we can stop “online pharmacies” from peddling their dangerous wares in cyberspace.

Inside the World of Counterfeit Drugs

August 6, 2009

Part 3: Implications for the U.S. and the Drug Importation Debate – As the debate surrounding the possible ban on the repackaging of medicines in Europe simmers to a boil, here in the United States the potentially dangerous practice of ordering prescription medicines via the Internet is mushrooming. Enticed by the promise of cheaper drugs and convenience by buying online, patients are largely unaware of the risks that come with online pharmacies. These risks can range from receiving products with too much, too little or no active ingredients, to being exposed to counterfeit products, which in some rare cases have been found to contain rat poison, boric acid and even inkjet cartridges!

Congress on the Right Road to Stop Drug Counterfeiters

June 18, 2009

Earlier this year, Reps. John D. Dingell (D-MI 15), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ 06) and Bart Stupak (D-MI 01) introduced the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009 (H.R.759). This legislation indicates that Congress is fbeginning an important journey to address several real threats that substandard and counterfeit drugs pose to the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Mile High Warnings of Counterfeit Drugs

May 28, 2009

It’s happening all the time. Nearly every day, there are new reports of counterfeit drugs flooding the world’s prescription drug market. Just last week, the Partnership for Safe Medicines posted a link about how counterfeit drugs are hastening drug-resistant strains of malaria. And the week before, we shared the news reports out of the United Kingdom about a raid on an Irish counterfeit drug distribution operation and the MHRA’s recall due to possible counterfeit inhalers found in the U.K. supply system.

Cheerios… A Threat Larger Than Counterfeit Drugs?

May 21, 2009

On May 5, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administered a warning against General Mills regarding the claim that Cheerios® Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal has the ability to lower cholesterol. Basically, the FDA cited General Mills for marketing Cheerios® as a cholesterol-reducing drug. I believe the FDA’s points are valid and factual, but I have to ask – Shouldn’t our agency watchdog be focusing greater attention on the operators of thousands of Web sites and

How Internet Search Engines Support Illegal Online Drug Sales

May 7, 2009

Did you know that Internet search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, claim to verify online pharmacies through PharmacyChecker.com? But what good does it do? This site provides little to no security about the legitimacy of Internet drug sellers. Rogue online pharmacies continue to profit from the sale of counterfeit drugs, and at the same time Internet search engines profit from the advertisements on these non-verified pharmacies’ Web sites. Even more alarming is that Internet search engines are in no way held accountable for hosting and profiting off “online pharmacies” who distribute counterfeit drugs.

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

PSM Coverage: