In the Spring 2020 edition of our Rogue Rx Activity Report, NABP research showed that illegal online “pharmacies” prey upon unstable situations for financial gain. In this era, they are wielding COVID-19 fears to peddle fake or unproven treatments, particularly drugs that have been talked about in the media. Some of these websites even sell facemasks and other personal protective equipment.

In our review of illegal online pharmacies offering COVID-19 “treatments,” we found that most of these bad actors are:

Connected to known criminal networks: Most illegal internet pharmacies, including rogue sites offering unproven COVID-19 treatments, belong to organized criminal networks. The network operators create website templates and run back-end services (including payment processing) for the rogue sites. Affiliate marketers operate websites on behalf of the network, drive traffic to those websites, and take a small cut of the profits.

Registered with “safe haven” registrars: A domain name registrar is a company that manages the reservation of internet domain names. Safe haven registrars are aware of a rogue website’s unlawful activities but still allow them to have a domain name.

Hidden behind anonymous domain name registration: Over 90% of the COVID-related websites we reviewed registered their domain names using privacy/proxy services, which make it difficult for law enforcement agencies to investigate these sources.

So How Can We Stop Them?

Luckily, combatting rogue online drug outlets is possible, requiring the partnership of private and public forces. In the Rogue Rx report, we outline the following actions:

  • All internet companies should enact policies that will have a positive, significant impact on patient safety.
  • For domain names that are engaged in commerce, registries and registrars should provide open access to accurate, non-anonymous registration information.
  • Upon notification from reliable sources, domain name registrars should immediately lock and suspend domain names that are used for illegitimate purposes.
  • Search engines should flag as dangerous known scam websites, as well as those websites that offer prescription drugs without requiring a prescription.

If these voluntary actions are not taken, then NABP supports legislation that would require registrars to validate domain name registration information and make registration data accessible. We’d also call for legislation that would require domain name registrars to lock and suspend domain names used to facilitate illegal activities that harm public health.

To read our full findings and learn more about how illegal online pharmacies evade the law, read the Rogue Rx Activity Report.