3 things you can do to dodge pet med scams: Internet Scambusters #521
Scams are rife in the pet industry and, when it comes to pet meds, you should be as cautious as you would be about the medications you take for yourself.
But how can you tell whether your pet medication, or even the company selling it, is genuine?
We tell you in this week's issue, along with advice on where to check pet food products and the qualifications of your veterinarian.
And now for the main feature...
Pet Meds Scams: How They Work & How to Avoid Them
With pets in about 73 million American homes, it's not surprising that the pet meds business is booming.
Unfortunately, so are pet meds scams.
They're one of several ways that crooks who claim to care about our pets could actually be threatening their lives while helping themselves to some of the $45 billion we spend each year on pet food, veterinary treatment and pet meds.
Let's take a closer look at their tricks.
Pet Meds Scams
Most of these scams take place online -- the lures are usually deeply discounted prices, ease of ordering and the convenience of home delivery.
There are several types of crooked behavior to watch out for, most of them interrelated:
- Unapproved drugs: In the US, animal and human pharmaceuticals are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -- not so in other countries.
Pet owners sometimes turn to unregulated pet medication sources in desperation to find treatment for their ailing pets.
This may include drugs normally used on humans or even banned here, with all the danger that implies.
- Prescription meds without a prescription: Again come from foreign purveyors or illicit US dealers.They may feign credibility by providing pet owners with an online symptoms form on which they supposedly base a diagnosis.The drugs you get may or may not be the real thing but if you didn't get a diagnosis from a veterinarian, you're dicing with danger -- the drug might not be appropriate or be in the wrong dosage.The FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) says it's especially worried about owners who use this method for pain-relieving, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and anti-heartworm meds, both of which it says can be dangerous if you didn't consult a veterinarian or their usage is not professionally monitored.
- Counterfeit pet medications: This links to the previous scam. Overseas laboratories, especially in the Indian subcontinent and China, churn out millions of copycat versions of licensed drugs.These are not the same as what we call "generic" versions of drugs that have been licensed for use in the US.Instead they're usually just an attempt to replicate the pharmaceutical formula or pass it off as the real thing.But poor manufacturing conditions can result in contamination, while unscrupulous operators have been known to mix in other powders, like chalk, or liquids to bulk them out.
- Old or expired stock: Not always a scam and sometimes encountered from careless suppliers in the US.But crooked dealers also obtain old stock that should have been destroyed.Either way, drugs have an expiration date for a reason -- they lose their potency or may even become dangerous.
- Plain-old vanilla theft: Yep, it's no surprise that some pet med suppliers aren't really pet med suppliers.
Their websites are just a front to grab your money or even your personal details for identity theft.
What You Can Do
Although there are many genuine and reliable online pet meds suppliers, there are also plenty of crooked ones. Here are three things you can do to avoid the dangers:
1. Don't buy prescription drugs without a prescription. See a veterinarian if you think your pet is sick enough to need these types of medications.
2. Check that your online supplier is accredited with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy's Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (Vet-VIPPS).
This is a voluntary program so non-membership doesn't necessarily mean a scam.
But you should be even more worried if a supplier claims to be verified when it isn't. So don't take their word for it -- check them out at
3. Look out for these warning signs, identified by the FDA:
- Sites that don't have a licensed pharmacist on hand to answer questions.
- Inaccurate or absent contact details. You need a verified address and phone number.
- They're based overseas or, if in the US, are not licensed by their State Board of Pharmacy - check this yourself online with your Board.
- Prices that are dramatically lower than normal -- the "too-good-to-be-true" syndrome.
- Pet meds that don't look like the ones your pet usually takes.
As always, exercise caution before giving anyone online your credit card details.
Check them out thoroughly and independently before dealing with them.
Start with a search for the name of the company plus the word "scam." You'll soon find out what others are saying about them.
Other Pet Scams
Pet med scams are probably the most crooked corner of the pet supplies and treatment business but they're not the only one. Watch out too for:
- Bogus Veterinarians: The news media regularly carry reports of individuals who claimed to be veterinarians but weren't qualified.
Sometimes they are genuine animal lovers or, perhaps, ambitious veterinary nurses, but, whatever their motive, they're a threat to your pet.
They should have a license on display, but check them out anyway with your state veterinary board.
- Pet Food Scams: There's a narrow dividing line between unsafe pet food and downright scams.Look out for food that is offered after its "Best by" date and monitor pet food recalls via the FDA. Beware of new food products you've never heard of (legit manufacturers usually advertise them), unlabeled packaging or, again, pet food being offered at an unrealistic discount.
Americans are a nation of pet lovers but that, unfortunately, means they're an ideal target for scams.
If you can be as wary about your pet care as you should be about your own health, you stand a good chance of avoiding pet med scams and related con tricks.
Time to close today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!