The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

September 14, 2013

Think twice about buying prescriptions online

By Randy Meier
The Clinton Herald

---- — 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.

Collier told me many people who did pay the fine were re-contacted several times over with extortion demands. One victim paid $80,000 over time in extortion money. Collier reminded me that no DEA agent will contact the public to demand payments. Collier showed me the DEA scam alert on this extortion scheme, which reads in part:

“The DEA reminds the public to use caution when purchasing controlled substance pharmaceuticals by telephone or through the Internet. It is illegal to purchase controlled substance pharmaceuticals online or by telephone unless very stringent requirements are met. And, all pharmacies that dispense controlled substance pharmaceuticals by means of the Internet must be registered with DEA. By ordering any pharmaceutical medications online or by telephone from unknown entities, members of the public risk receiving unsafe, counterfeit, and/or ineffective drugs from criminals who operate outside the law. In addition, personal and financial information could be compromised.”

The DEA encourages anyone victimized to report these extortion attempts by calling (877) 792-2873. Getting a phone number of the caller is very useful to these investigations.

You can also call me if you received such phone calls and I will look into it.

I’d like to hear from you with any concerns on issues of fraud or scams. Contact me, Randy Meier, at Seniors vs. Crime, 242-9211, ext. 4433.