FDA Warns About Scam Artists Posing As Federal Agents

Con Artists Pressuring Internet Pharmacy Users Into Paying Thousands In Bogus Fines

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning the public about scam artists posing as federal agents and pressuring consumers into paying thousands of dollars in bogus "fines."

The con artists often target people who have purchased prescription medications from "telepharmacies" and Internet sites run by the gangs.

Then the crooks, posing as federal agents, call up customers, accuse them of "illegally" purchasing medications and threaten them with arrest and jail if they don't pay "fines," said FDA spokesman Tom Gasparoli.

The con artists have posed as agents from the FDA, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Customs Service. They also pretend to be prosecutors and judges in the Dominican Republic.

Authorities believe the gangs are based in the Dominican Republic because the scammers demand that people wire money via Western Union to that Caribbean island country.

Victims are threatened with searches of their property, arrest, deportation, physical harm or incarceration if they don't pay, Gasparoli said.

"They call and they say we're going to come your house. We're going to arrest you," he said. "Victims think the government is going to come to their door and arrest them."

"There are some people who have been panicked and horrified and afraid and don't know what to do," Gasparoli said.

The victims come from all ages and walks of life, he said. "I'm sure some of them are senior citizens," who are vulnerable to exploitation by high-pressure tactics, he added.

"Many of these people have paid $5,000," Gasparoli said. "One person paid $31,000 and wired it to the Dominican Republic. Somebody else wired $24,000."

The FDA is investigating about 100 of these scam cases, but that's just cases that have been reported, Gasparoli said. Other federal agencies are also getting reports of scammers posing as federal agents.

"There could be hundreds and hundreds more that never said anything (to authorities)," Gasparoli said.

He stressed that FDA special agents and other law enforcement officials are not authorized to impose or collect criminal fines. Only a court can take such action, with fines payable to the U.S. Treasury.

"The FDA does not ask for money" over the phone, Gasparoli said.

The truth is that there are many legal telephone and Internet pharmacies that are accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, the FDA spokesman said.

Consumers can find accredited Internet pharmacies and Web sites that are not recommended at the NABP Web site.

The FDA does remind consumers to use caution when purchasing prescription drugs over the telephone or online.

"In addition to the increased risk of purchasing unsafe and ineffective drugs from Web sites operating outside the law, there is the danger that personal data can be compromised," the FDA said in a statement. For more on FDA’s concerns about unlawful drug sales and legitimate pharmacies on the Internet, visit the FDA Web site

Anyone receiving a telephone call from a person claiming to be an FDA or other law enforcement official seeking money to settle illegal Internet drug purchases should refuse the demand and call the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations Metro Washington Field Office at 800-521-5783, the FDA statement said.

The FBI and FDA are working with federal prosecutions on investigations of the scam artists.