Illegal Online Pharmacies Prey on Consumers

Search-engine manipulation redirects shoppers to unauthorized drug sites, report says

Topics: Computers / Internet Computers / Internet: Misc Prescription Drugs

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Unsuspecting consumers attempting to buy prescription medications over the Internet may fall victim to one of the many illegal online pharmacies popping up on the web, according to a new report.

Cyber-security experts at Carnegie Mellon University said that infected websites are redirecting online shoppers to dangerous unauthorized pharmacies.

"We have known for some time that unauthorized online pharmacies have been using email spam to tap the wallets of unwary online consumers, but that method did not blanket enough customers so now the online thieves are infecting websites to redirect unwary consumers to hundreds of illegal online pharmacies," cautioned Nicolas Christin, associate director of the university's Information Networking Institute, in a Carnegie Mellon news release.

The researchers examined the top results for 218 drug-related web searches over the course of nine months in 2010 and 2011. The researchers found the search results were being manipulated to promote unauthorized pharmacies.

One-third of the search results were of 7,000 infected websites, redirecting consumers to hundreds of rogue pharmacy websites, the researchers said. Among the top 10 search results, 25 percent actively redirected to illegal pharmacies. The researchers noted another 15 percent of the top results had previously been compromised but were not presently redirecting consumers.

"So, to those who aim to reduce unauthorized pharmaceutical sales, more emphasis needs to be made in combating transactions facilitated by web search," concluded Christin.

Experts note that research is considered preliminary if it has not been subjected to the rigorous scrutiny required for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration provides more information on how consumers can protect themselves when buying medications online.

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