Ruth to the Rescue: How counterfeit drug makers are targeting you

DETROIT - Shopping online has made everything easier, but if you're not careful, it may not always be safer.

There are millions of searches online for prescription drugs, and some shoppers will run into fake pharmacies selling counterfeit drugs.

Ruth to the Rescue sat down with Neil Campbell, senior manager of global security at Pfizer to talk about the ways people can protect themselves. He told us there are some very good imitations out there. Campbell admitted some of the better imitation would test even his skills.

Ruth to the Rescue showed some of those drugs to people and asked them to spot the fakes. It was a tough assignment.

"Pretty much alike. They look almost exactly the same," said Aeva Hajnerych, of Canton, when she looked at the two versions of Viagra. She was able to spot the real thing, but said she had experience with counterfeit products because she works in the perfume business, another industry where counterfeits are a concern.

"Well, I have a four-year degree, but looking at the drugs I don't know," said Ali Hammoud of Dearborn.

And while Andrea Gamber-Smith of New Boston was able to guess which pills were legitimate, she admitted it was dumb luck. "That was based on nothing other than eenie, meenie, miny moe," Gamber-Smith said.

Why counterfeit drugs are so dangerous

No one wants to leave their health decision to chance. Campbell pointed out some of the major reasons counterfeit drugs are so dangerous. They: may have too much or too little of the active ingredient that's supposed to give you medical benefits. Also, counterfeiters are willing to use any materials possible to make that pill, regardless of safety concerns.

"We found rat poison, we found paint -- anything that they can use to kind of make a tablet. They're concern really isn't your health, it's really to get a product out as quickly and as cheaply as possible," Campbell said. He said that fake pills are make in unlicensed and unregulated sites.

Beware: They could be targeting you

Most of you could run into drug counterfeiters when you do an online search. However, counterfeiters are also reaching out on social media and searching for people who might be interested in buying their fake drugs.

Campbell says counterfeiters are on sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to gain customers. They may pose as people who are trying to sell extra drugs they can't use, but they're still the same people who are making those drugs in unsafe conditions. If you click on the wrong link, you could be dealing with a criminal enterprise, that doesn't care about your health.

"There is so much competition, believe it or not, in the online pharmacies space that they are looking for other avenues to divert traffic," Campbell said.

Red flags to watch out for

There are legitimate pharmacies online selling prescription drugs. So, how do you know which sites might be suspicious? Campbell has the most common warning signs:

1.If the online pharmacy does not ask for a prescription, that's a huge red flag. Most of us wouldn't dream of buying prescription drugs without a note from our doctor, but avoid any site that doesn't make a prescription a routine part of the ordering process.

2.If the prices seem too good to be true, they probably are not the real thing. You should know what the drug really costs, and watch out for someone trying to sell you something that's way too cheap.

3. If the online pharmacy offers you any unusual deals. Campbell said some counterfeiters will say "Buy three Viagra, get a Cialis for free." That never happens at reputable pharmacies.

4. Be suspicious of any pharmacies that do not have actual addresses and phone numbers where you can reach customer service. If you do an online search for the actual address you may see a factory or an empty lot. That's another huge red flag.

Knowing these warning signs is good, but there is an easier way to make sure you're dealing with a reputable online pharmacy. Campbell says you should check with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

"They will have about 30 or so sites that are recommended ... and those sites are the safe places to purchase drugs from," Campbell said.

Additional resource: 

National Association of Board of Pharmacy

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