FDA warns of extortion scam targeting people who bought drugs online

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If you purchased drugs online or at a so-called telepharmacy, you could be a target for extortionists, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.

The FDA issued a warning that people posing as FDA agents -- as well as law enforcement officers from other agencies -- are contacting people who bought drugs through those channels in an attempt to scare their prospective victims into paying "fines."

The phony law enforcement officials tell their targets that their drug purchase was illegal and that they will face legal action unless they pay a fine of $100 to $250,000. The FDA said some of the victims have reported fraudulent charges on their credit cards.

FDA spokesman Thomas Gasparoli told WalletPop the agency is aware of about 100 victims and there are likely more who have not come forward. And, the FDA has not tracked complaints in which scammers claimed to represent other agencies.

"The FDA believes there are many more victims who never say anything," Gasparoli said.

He said the criminals don't appear to be targeting customers of any particular company and it doesn't seem as though they received the information about them via a data breach.

Money to pay the purported "fines" are to be sent by wire transfer, which the FDA said is usually to a location in the Dominican Republic. Failure to pay up results in additional threats, the FDA said, including property searches, deportation or jail.

"Impersonating an FDA official is a violation of federal law," Michael Chappell, the FDA's acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, said in a written statement. "The public should note that no FDA official will ever contact a consumer by phone demanding money or any other form of payment."

The FDA pointed out that law enforcement officials are not empowered to either impose a criminal fine or collect one. Only a court can take such action, with fines payable to the U.S. Treasury.

The FDA said some of the scammers have also posed as agents of the FBI, Secret Service, Customs Service and as U.S. and Dominican prosecutors and judges.

Targets of this crime are being asked to call the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations Metro Washington Field Office at (800) 521-5783.

Consumers also are asked to be cautious when buying prescription drugs online or by phone. The FDA has an informational site about the risks.

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