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FDA impersonators continue attempted extortion

December 30, 2009 | 10:33 am

The Food and Drug Administration is again warning that criminals posing as FDA agents are attempting to extort money from unsuspecting consumers as part of an international scam.

The impostors call people who have ordered drugs over the Internet or via "telepharmacies" and identify themselves as FDA special agents or other law enforcement officers. They tell the victims that purchasing drugs in such a manner is illegal and that action will be taken against them unless they pay a fine ranging form $100 to $250,000. Victims often have fraudulent transactions placed on their credit cards.

The criminals always request that the money be sent by a wire transfer to a designated location, usually in the Dominican Republic. If victims refuse, they are threatened with a search of their property, arrest, deportation, physical harm or arrest. No such actions have actually occurred, however.

The FDA's acting commissioner for regulatory affairs, Michael Chappell, noted that "no FDA official will ever contact a consumer by phone demanding money or any other form of payment." Government agents are not allowed to impose or collect fines. Only a court can take such action, with fines payable to the U.S. Treasury.

Anyone receiving such a call should refuse to pay, hang up, and call the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations at (800) 521-5783.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II