For people with chronic conditions who have little or no prescription drug coverage, the lure, convenience and cost savings of online pharmacies is hard to resist.

However, around the world, illegal online pharmacies and counterfeiting medicines have evolved into a $75 billion global enterprise, according to the Partnership for Safe Medicines ( In some countries, home to many online pharmacies, estimates of counterfeit medicine penetration run as high as 40 percent of their supplies.

That is not to say that all online pharmacies are illegal. There are many websites that operate legally and offer convenience, privacy, and safeguards for purchasing medicines.

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The Partnership for Safe Medicines and regulatory agencies like the FBI, FDA and DEA urge consumers who are using online pharmacies do their homework and know who they are buying from before purchasing medications online.

Legitimate online pharmacies:

  • Require a prescription from a licensed doctor, usually by mail (if they accept a fax copy, they will always call your doctor to verify the prescription)
  • Make you submit a detailed medical history
  • Are located in the United States
  • Have a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions
  • Have a website that clearly states the payment, privacy, and shipping fees

If you do purchase medications online, the Food and Drug Administration has this advice:

  • Only use sites that are accredited through the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS). They have undergone a thorough review of all procedures and an on-site inspection of all facilities used by the site. Visit the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy for a list of VIPPS pharmacies for safe online shopping.
  • Don't buy from websites that sell prescription drugs without a prescription.
  • Don't buy from websites that offer to prescribe a drug for the first time without a physical exam by your doctor or by answering an online questionnaire.

When you receive your medication, check:

  • Is your name printed correctly on the medication label?
  • Is the name of the medication correct?
  • Does the dosage match the prescription?
  • Is the packaging intact?
  • Examine the medication. Is it the same size, shape and color that you normally get from the pharmacy? Does it taste and smell the same? When in doubt, don't take the medication.
  • Is the expiration date clearly listed?

If you have any questions or concerns, check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking the medication. A simple phone call may help you avoid a potentially serious or costly mistake.