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News & Updates

The Latest on Internet Pharmacies, Supplements, Designer Drugs, and Other High-Risk Merchants

Visa recommends LegitScript’s services in its Online Pharmacy Guide for Acquirers

LegitScript is pleased to announce that Visa recently released the Online Pharmacy Guide for Acquirers. We think it is important to recognize when organizations take a proactive approach to prevent merchants from operating rogue Internet pharmacies, and Visa has always been an active participant in the fight to prevent this potential danger to the public health.

We thank Visa for including LegitScript in creating this guide and appreciate the company’s endorsement of our ability to identify and classify illegal Internet pharmacies. LegitScript stands ready to help any acquirer vet and monitor current and prospective merchants in the Internet pharmacy and dietary supplement space.

The guide outlines the dangers of the Internet pharmacy market, including the illegal online pharmacies’ failure to comply with basic pharmacy licensure and drug safety laws and regulations. Based on data from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), 97 percent of Internet pharmacy websites operate illegally, with only 3 percent estimated to be in compliance with applicable laws. An estimated 100,000 people die each year from using counterfeit drugs, and this number does not include deaths from overdoses or other medical events from Internet pharmacy sales.

This problem has led to a number of legitimate businesses that provide services to online merchants to pay huge fines for being used by illegal Internet pharmacy merchants to facilitate sales. Google paid $500 million in 2011, and UPS forfeited $40 million in 2013. These are cautionary tales for acquirers.

However, legitimate Internet pharmacy merchants do exist, and the guide seeks to provide acquirers with the needed tools to distinguish between legitimate merchants and those who seek to profit from compromising patient safety. 

The guide outlines four key illicit behaviors that rogue Internet pharmacies are engaged in:

  1. The sale of prescription-only medicines without the required prescription from an in-person examination;
  2. The sale of “unapproved” drugs in the patient’s jurisdiction, based on the applicable overseeing agency;
  3. The failure to obtain and maintain a valid pharmacy license in the established business location, and in all areas where the online pharmacy ships to; and
  4. Providing misleading statements regarding the nature of the drugs or pharmacy business.

We would like to highlight the necessity of a valid license in not just the registered business location, but in all countries and states where the Internet pharmacy is willing to ship prescription medications to patients. In addition, it is usually illegal to import drugs from one country directly to a patient in another country. The appendices section of the guide provides resources for legitimate Internet pharmacy verification and where to verify pharmacy licenses.

LegitScript strongly encourages all acquirers to read the new guide, as it “provide[s] acquirers and Independent Sales Organizations (ISOs) with an overview of what it means for Internet pharmacies to be legitimate. It also provides some tools to better evaluate whether a pharmacy merchant should be boarded, and will assist in untangling what may seem to be a complex web of differing laws and regulations in multiple countries.”

Again, LegitScript thanks Visa for allowing us to provide input for the new guide, as well as encouraging acquirers to contact us for assistance in monitoring and analysis to ensure that Internet pharmacy and nutraceutical merchants comply with Visa’s rules.