FDA Warning: Most online pharmacies are fake

If you're trying to save money by ordering medicine online, a review of thousands of online pharmacies finds you can't always count on getting what you pay for.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns most online pharmacies cannot be trusted. Many are not even pharmacies. They're simply unscrupulous con artists using phony websites to sell outdated, contaminated or counterfeit medicine.

"The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy did a survey of 10,000 online pharmacy sites and found that only about 3 percent were compliant with state and federal requirements," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.

In other words, for every 100 pharmacies you find on the Internet, fewer than three are legal. Legal online pharmacies require a prescription. They're properly licensed, with a physical address, qualified pharmacists and certified pharmaceutical manufacturers. But if you order meds online without investigating -regulators warn chances are high you get a fraudulent site and dubious deliveries.

"Products that are counterfeit, that are substandard and don't have the active pharmaceutical ingredients in them at the levels that they should," Hamburg explained.

Some fake pharmaceuticals have been found to contain ingredients such as chalk, floor wax, shoe polish, toxic metals, even rat poison. Counterfeit medications are blamed for an estimated 100,000 deaths every year. So before you go online to save money on meds, do your homework. Does the site ask for a prescription? If an online pharmacy promotes no prescriptions necessary- stay away. Does they have a pharmacist with a telephone number? Are they located in the United States? Are they legally licensed?

The FDA says nearly 1 in 4 people surveyed purchased prescription medicine online without being confident they were doing it safely. The problem is so widespread the FDA just launching a campaign to help you spot fake pharmacies and avoid getting ripped off- or worse. A new website outlines the risks and tells you how to spot a fraudulent online pharmacy and shows you how to safely purchase prescription drugs online.