Seniors looking to save money on pharmaceuticals may be receiving dangerous counterfeit medicines

In recent years, Big Pharma has come under fire for steadily rising prescription medication prices.

Value-based pricing on medications considered indispensable by health workers and the World Health Organization mean the sky’s the limit on prescription drugs that may in reality cost only a small fraction of the price tag to manufacture.

But how much can a drug-maker charge for a medicine a consumer quite literally can’t live without?

Often, the answer is far more than many of those on a fixed income can sustainably afford–especially as the cost of living rises, COLAs stagnate, and new health concerns pop up with time.

These challenges lead many seniors to seek out vital medications via non-traditional sources promising the same quality product for extremely reasonable prices.

Sadly, it’s often the case these “pharmacies” can offer such amazing deals on brand name prescriptions because what they’re selling contains only a small amount of the active ingredient. Or what they’re selling isn’t the medicine at all.

Welcome to the wide world of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and fake pharmacies. Just search for any medication online and you’re sure to see page after page of online pharmacies offering that medicine for cut-rate pricing.

But according to SafeMedsOnline.org, only 3% of the pharmacies you’ll find online are legitimate.

You may find one of these bogus pharmacies searching around online yourself or they may send you an email advertising a few name brand drugs for incredibly cheap to entice you.

Once you’ve navigated to their site, they may boast their certifications, their licensed pharmacists, access to “international drugs,” or the ability to provide drugs without a prescription or write the prescription via live chat with a doctor.

But all of these “bonuses” should look more like red flags:

  • Certifications? In the U.S., if they aren’t certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy? They aren’t certified at all.
  • Licensed pharmacist? What license? And for that matter, many of these “pharmacies” claim to be Canadian. In Canada, it’s illegal for a pharmacist to prescribe a medication to a foreigner. This is something a licensed pharmacist certainly would never do.
  • “International drugs” means drugs the FDA hasn’t approved. These are potentially dangerous and definitely unpredictable. Steer clear.
  • No doctor who wants to keep his license to practice medicine will prescribe medication to a patient he hasn’t examined. Live chat does NOT constitute an exam. Similarly, would you trust a pharmacist who fills prescriptions without the prescription? Probably not.

In reality, this pharmacy is not a pharmacy. The doctors aren’t doctors. And the pharmacist is not a pharmacist. In all likelihood, the drug you’re about to pay for isn’t the drug you think it is.

Counterfeit medicine manufacturers often operate in clandestine and unsterile conditions. The people making the drugs have absolutely no training in biology, chemistry, or healthcare of any kind. Their ingredients may be somewhat like those in the legitimate medication–there might be a fraction of the actual active ingredient in the dupe–or it will be a total knock-off.

In these latter cases, the pill you take can be a total placebo, or worse still, a cocktail of potentially harmful ingredients mixed together by an amateur and prescribed to a patient with absolutely no knowledge of her medical history.

The ramifications can be horrific. Suppose in an effort to be thriftier with her benefits during retirement, someone turns to these pharmacies for crucial heart medication. Weeks after taking what was promised to be a quality medication, her condition worsens. It then turns out later she was taking a fake pill and her heart condition went totally untreated.

The FDA warns of the over 10,000 pharmacies online advertising cheap medicine, just over 9,700 are operating illegally. They’ve officially deemed fake pharmacies and counterfeit drugs a serious health threat:

“Buying medicines from rogue online pharmacies can be risky because they may sell fake, expired, contaminated, not approved by FDA, or otherwise unsafe products that are dangerous to patients,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said.

And the fake pharmaceutical racket is showing zero signs of stopping.

For your own safety, don’t respond to emails and advertisements offering cheap medications online. Always acquire your prescription medications via a trusted healthcare professional after you’ve consulted a doctor face-to-face.

To end his phony collections calls, Andrew Therrien topples a false debt empire

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 9.54.26 AM

Rhode Island salesman Andrew Therrien takes on fake debt collectors in this piece at Bloomberg.

Staying in the loop about the latest financial schemes and frauds is kind of a drag sometimes.

Most of the time we write about some new phishing ploy or unscrupulous sales or dating tactic, the scammer is rarely brought to justice.  In many cases, the victims of these jerks have little if any recourse to get their belongings or money back–it just wasn’t caught in time or the nature of the con makes catching these criminals virtually impossible.

In other words, writing about financial scammers, especially those preying on the vulnerable, often means you’re writing about scammers who got away.  And writing about the exploited often means you’re writing about someone who will likely be left to suffer the consequences.

Unless you’re writing about Andrew Therrien.

In 2015, Rhode Island salesman Andrew Therrien totally lost his patience after receiving a phone call from his wife.  A man left her a threatening voicemail in an attempt to collect some debt Therrien apparently owed.

When the caller contacted Therrien himself about the alleged debt, Therrien immediately knew something was wrong.  He didn’t owe anyone any money.

And when Therrien treated the call as anyone would a spam call, the caller rang back and made hideous threats toward Therrien’s wife.

Enraged at the call, and fed up with repeated harrassing calls from “collectors” looking for money for debts he knew he didn’t owe, Therrien used his excellent sales skills to track down the source of the calls, obtain evidence of illegal financial activity, and take these scammers all the way down.

Bloomberg has the rest of the story right here.  It’s a lengthy read, but like The Count of Monte Cristo, you’re definitely going to want to get to the end.

Score one for the good guys!

Western Union wire fraud victims may be eligible for compensation

wire-transfer-1668133_1920

In January, Western Union, in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), announced it will pay $586 million to scam victims who wired money to fraudsters using Western Union’s services.

According to the FTC, Western Union knowingly executed wire transactions where evidence of financial fraud was present between January 2004 and August 2015.

During this time period, as many as 550,000 complaints were made to the company about scammers fraudulently accepting money for bogus contests and lotteries, loans, dating services, and  even impersonating family members.

If this isn’t bad enough, Western Union had its own internal investigations revealing agents who repeatedly paid out to known fraudsters, despite warnings from domestic and international law enforcement.

As part of the settlement, Western Union will also work towards training and building its own anti-fraud system.  But in the meantime, if you’ve been a victim of wire fraud through Western Union services between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017, you may be eligible for remission.

Claims are being handled by the DOJ, claim forms have already begun mailing to those who reported a fraud loss to Western Union during this time period.  If this applies to you and you receive a claim form in the mail (it will come from Gilardi & Co., the agency the DOJ is using to process these claims), you will need to use the claim ID and PIN provided in the form to file your claim at FTC.gov/WU.

If you have been a victim of wire fraud during this time period via Western Union and have NOT already reported your loss to Western Union (or you never receive your claim form in the mail), you still have time to report your loss and seek compensation.  Just go to FTC.gov/WU to begin filing your claim.

If you’ve been a victim, be sure to file your claim for remission before February 12, 2018. This is the cut-off date for all claims.

Wiring money is something you should never ever ever do unless you are 100% certain of the identity and motives of the individual on the receiving end.  Wiring money–whether it’s done through Western Union or some other service–is virtually the same thing as handing someone cash.  Once the money is sent and picked up, there’s almost never a way to recover the loss or identify the scammer for prosecution.

No reputable agency or business will ask or pressure you to wire money–period.  In fact, if a telemarketer asks you to wire money, it’s actually illegal.

Don’t wire money to anyone you don’t know personally for any reason.  Be especially suspicious if the person on the other end of the transaction says this is the ONLY way you can pay him or asks you to keep the transaction secret (this happens frequently with the “emergency relative phone call” scam–before you wire cash to your grandchild having an emergency, verify his identity by asking questions only your REAL grandchild would know the answer to).

The FTC offers further tips on how to protect yourself from a wire transfer scammer right here.

 

The warning signs of elder financial abuse

Senior financial exploitation is epidemic (just ask the CDC).

Often seniors make the perfect targets for scammers: they may have large savings accounts, valuable collectibles or heirlooms, limited mobility or cognitive impairment, and they may be socially isolated from family and friends.

But increased vulnerability isn’t the only thing keeping senior financial abuse a growing crime. It can also be a very difficult crime to catch. Many senior exploiters likely never pay for what they’ve done to others because no one ever notices the abuse–or they notice far too late.

Social isolation and lack of regular communication and involvement with older family members is partially to blame.

For the rest, senior victims often build a wall of silence between their abuse and their loved ones. Like victims of any abuse at any age, seniors often hide their abuse from others, fearing shame, embarrassment, becoming a burden to their loved ones, or ultimately losing their independence.

In some cases, a victim might even question her own cognitive abilities, feeling as though the entire mess was her fault.

But it isn’t. Senior financial abuse is never the fault of the victim, no matter what the circumstances may be. Nobody is in the right when taking advantage of someone, and the fastest way to make the abuse stop is to tell someone you trust.

This may seem like sound and commonsense advice, but to a victim of elder financial abuse, these can be the hardest words in the world to absorb.

So it’s up to those around seniors to go the extra mile to protect their loved ones from these horrendous abuses. When you can’t necessarily rely on your older friends and family members to speak up about what’s happening to them, YOU need to stay involved with them and know what the warning signs of financial abuse are so you can take action.

Below are a few helpful videos detailing the warning signs of financial abuse. They discuss things family members, financial advisors and trustees, and caretakers may see that should be treated with concern.

Know the signs, trust your gut, and be prepared to investigate if you feel something doesn’t add up.

Cyber Monday scams: shopping’s biggest day of the year is a free-for-all for online thieves

present-2891876_1920

Since officially entering our lexicon in 2005, Cyber Monday has in many ways whizzed past Black Friday to become the year’s #1 shopping day.

Already in the Christmas shopping mindset and fresh off a long weekend, marketers noticed many consumers were making a large amount of purchases sitting in the office, browsing the web, struggling to get back into work mode.

In response, businesses took advantage of the pattern and built an entire holiday around encouraging online purchases and extending the Black Friday shopping boost through the weekend and into the following week.

Twelve years later, over half of Americans still say they prefer good old-fashioned brick-and-mortar Christmas shopping, but as a 2016 Pew Research study found, as many as 79% of Americans now shop online.

For these Americans, Cyber Monday is king: all of the absurd deals of Black Friday PLUS free shipping and the freedom to search for the perfect gifts while sipping coffee in your pajamas, watching news stories about the stampedes at your local mall the Friday before. Last year, all the perks of Cyber Monday combined to create a record-breaking $3.45 billion in sales.

But with 8 in 10 Americans embracing the online swipe, and billions of dollars up for grabs in a single day of online traffic, to online thieves, the internet on Cyber Monday is like a watering hole in the middle of summer on the Serengeti.

And the scammers are the lions.

How are they doing it? By using the same tricks and techniques cyber scammers always use–except today, they’ll be out in force to intercept the glut of inexperienced online shoppers with large Christmas funds who might only make an online purchase once or twice a year.

They’ll also be relying on shoppers’ expectations of finding phenomenal deals left and right–deals that we might deem “too good to be true” on any ordinary Monday.

On Cyber Monday, online shoppers are much easier to tempt, less apt to find an offer suspicious, eager to take advantage of a short-lived deal, and much more likely not to notice the tell-tale signs of a dupe.

But as we said, the cons they’ll pull are nothing new. As with any other shopping day, you have to know what those cons are and how to avoid them–the only difference is there are more of them and the urge to gamble on a really sweet deal is a little stronger.

Fake websites. These could either be phony versions of legitimate online business pages or totally bogus business sites altogether. You can usually spot these because they…just look…bad. Horrible graphics, sloppy organization, janky user interface, dead or broken links, and more spelling errors than an elementary English teacher can shake a yardstick at.

But not all of them will be readily identifiable–in fact, some scammers can replicate a legitimate business’ site right down to the logo and brand colors. In these cases, the site may look spot-on, but the URL might be slightly off. For example, a scammer might pass a “rn” off as a “m” (“www.xyzrnart.com” instead of “www.xyzmart.com”) or a “1” as a “l” (“www.dealswor1d.com” instead of “www.dealsworld.com”).

Typically, to get shoppers to navigate to these fake versions of sites, the scammer will need to get the fake link to the shopper through an email or a pop-up ad. To avoid this trap, always type the trusted retailer’s URL directly into the address bar of your browser, and don’t visit sites through unsolicited links.

Pop-up ads and windows. Don’t click pop-ups.

Not even if they say they’ll give you a coupon. Not even if they offer you a free trial of a service you might want to use. Not even if it says your Flash is out-of-date. Not even if it looks just like a Windows operating system alert. Not even if it says YOUR SYSTEM IS INFECTED WITH MALWARE!!! (especially if it says this). Not even if it says you’ve been randomly selected and you’ve won a prize. Not even if it says the Federal Bureau of Investigations is screening your computer because it was recently used to look at questionable content and now you’re in really big trouble.

Just don’t click them. Don’t do it. Seriously. If you have a question about whether the content in the pop-up is legitimate, navigate directly to the trusted site and see if you can find more information there.

But don’t click the pop-up. Get an adblocker to help with limiting the amount you see these.

Don’t shop on public WiFi. Man-in-the-middle attacking is very common on public hotspots someone might use in a restaurant, café, large retail store, or shopping mall. This type of attack allows a thief to position himself between you and a legitimate recipient, like an online store, and intercept all of the data you and the target send back and forth, including names, addresses, and credit card information.

But this is just the start of how a thief can wreck you via an unsecure public WiFi connection. So don’t shop on a public connection ever. Save all of your digital purchases for at home on a connection you trust.

Fake phone apps. If you use store apps or shopping apps to do your online shopping this year, be on the lookout for fake phone apps. Once downloaded, these apps are nothing more than malware and skimmers, swiping any information you have stored in your phone or enter into your phone later when making future logins or purchases.

These apps will also often ask you to log into your social media or other online accounts to proceed with use–don’t ever log into anything that prompts you to use your unrelated social media, email, or bank credentials in order to proceed with using the service.

These are just some of the biggest things to watch out for as you shop today and the rest of the holiday season, but the list could go on and on.

Here are some very helpful videos about other risks and red flags you can be watching out for as you do your Christmas shopping online: