In August, a young Clinton woman contacted my office with an extortion complaint. She reported she ordered some diet pills from an Internet site, paying for them with a credit card.
In due time, she received a shipment of pills. And within two days, she received a phone call. The caller named himself as a special agent for the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA. This “agent” said he knew the young woman ordered and received drugs through the Internet, in violation of United States law.
The “agent” threatened to obtain a warrant for the woman’s arrest for committing this crime, unless she paid the fine of $450. This threat shocked the woman, who reached out to the sheriff’s office for help. On our advice, she did not pay up.
This sounded like a very clever scam to me, sure to ensnare many victims. The act of purchasing drugs through an Internet site may very well be illegal, depending on the type of drugs. Over-the-counter drugs or dietary supplements are not illegal, but drugs such as pain-killers, or Viagra, or Cialis, are illegal to purchase without a doctor’s prescription.
Someone who bought something which they aren’t sure of, and then received a phone call in short order from a government “agent” threatening an arrest, might panic and agree to pay a fine to make it all go away.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (the real one) reports this scam started in 2010, and continues. I spoke with Scott Collier, the diversion program manager for the DEA St. Louis region, about this scam.
He told me their investigations learned illegal online pharmacies sold their customer lists to other criminals, who made the extortion phone calls. The DEA learned the criminals operated from the Dominican Republic, a country from which it proved difficult to extradite criminals back to the U.S. for prosecution.