Steven Depolo

We live in a consumer culture where everything is accessible.. for a price. Whether we’re looking at buying weed on SilkRoad or Instagram, or taking part in wardrobing (buying items then returning them) there are many ways people can break the law.

One area that is still relatively unregulated: online pharmacies. These places promise to sell you all kinds of prescription drugs for a much cheaper price than, say…Walgreens. Many of the websites offering these drugs appear to be Canadian, and cash strapped Americans associate the cheaper drug prices with the differences in Canadian health care laws.

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But these are “rogue” pharmacies. At best, you might lose your money. At the worst, you might get pills which are very different from those actually offered.

“Claiming to be a Canadian pharmacy is one of the hallmarks of Internet sites that sell illegal prescription drugs,” wrote the FDA, in their Consumer Health Information report.

Many medications sold this way lack the active ingredient needed to get the desired effect, and people looking to cut costs will actually find that their health won't improve.

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"Consumers are able to buy prescription drugs, unapproved drugs and potentially counterfeit drugs without a full understanding of the risks that they take when they do that," said Jim Roth, director of the FDA’s Office Of Criminal Investigations, "What worries me is that people naively believe that these medicines are safe."

Progress is being made to crackdown on these pharmacies. The FDA reported that 1,677 were shut down in 2013. One of the reasons these sites do so well is smart marketing. Brands buy domain name like www.walgreens-store.com and www.c-v-s-pharmacy.com. and people mistakenly click on them and think they’re reputable.

FDA Special Agent Daniel Burke estimates that there are “40,00-60,000 domain names that could be tied to illegal online pharmacies at any given time.” He said that many of the drugs on the pharmacy websites are stolen or counterfeit, and could endanger purchasers’ health.

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So how do you stay safe? A red flag should be pharmacies offering drugs with "no prescription needed" and those that say their doctor will "write your script for you." A full checklist can be seen here.

This is one of those examples where, if it looks to good to be true, well, it probably is.

Image via Flickr/Steven Depolo