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Man falls victim to online pharmacy scam; here’s how to protect yourself

Even as he reported the incident to the Cyber Crime Portal, the process took 24 hours due to technical issues.

Representative image / UnSplash

From fake medicines to illegitimate pharmacies and unregulated online marketplaces, the health industry in India has been lucrative for its ever-inventive army of scammers who use unprecedented measures to dupe victims. 

Kunal Jain, who recently returned to Jaipur, Rajasthan, after living in the United States for 20 years fell prey to one such scam. Jain returned to India to take care of his ailing mother who has been struggling with Parkinson's disease.

While looking to order some specific medicine for her illness, Jain made the purchase from exportsindia.com, hoping it was a genuine website with verified suppliers. However, it turned out that the website had several unverified medical suppliers whose authenticity was not confirmed. 

"Unfortunately, I didn't realize that they don't check the authenticity of their vendors, allowing anyone to register without verification," Jain told New India Abroad.

As part of the scam, Jain was contacted by a vendor for the medicines through the popular messaging platform WhatsApp. Thinking it was authentic, he wired the vendor approximately 35,000 INR (US$ 422) for the medicine and insurance. "However, they kept asking for more money, and I soon realized something was wrong," Jain added.

Upon realizing about the fraud, he tried to get his money back through his bank, "but they couldn't help."

Even as he reported the incident to the Cyber Crime Portal, the process took 24 hours due to technical issues. He further expressed disappointment in the inability of the government to crack down on the scams despite them opening several new bank accounts. 

"It seems like it should be easier to track down the culprits since they received the money in their bank accounts. Now I'm just waiting for the police to take action," he said, expressing discontent. "I thought moving back to India would be a great experience, but this incident has left me feeling disheartened," Jain added.

As per a study by the Authentication Solution Providers’ Association (ASPA), India has seen an increase of 47% in counterfeit medicines sold in the country. 

Considering counterfeit drugs have emerged as a serious threat to public health, here are some ways people can protect themselves from falling victim to illegal online pharma markets: 

  • Buy medications only from a reputable source such as a licensed pharmacy.

  • Check and verify the pharmacy’s license before purchasing online.

  • Counterfeit medicines are often sold at cheaper prices than the market cost. Check the prices and be aware of costs to prevent fraud. 

  • Stay on the lookout for signs of authenticity such as packaging, labeling, and physical characteristics of the medication.

  • Report any counterfeit pharmaceuticals to the authorities to protect public health.

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