Only 3 percent of online pharmacies are safe to use, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

The vast majority of web-based medication merchants fail to meet the U.S. standards for pharmaceutical quality and safety.

A recent Federal Drug Administration (FDA) survey found that 25 percent of internet shoppers have used an internet drugstore to purchase their prescription medication, despite the fact that almost one-third of respondents admitted that they weren't sure how to determine a website's authenticity and safety.

The online pharmacy model, with its cheaper, easy-to-obtain drugs, can be very attractive, particularly for seniors and their caregivers.

Older Americans, many of whom may find themselves homebound and floundering in the Medicare donut-hole, are lured by inexpensive medications that can conveniently be ordered from the couch.

But, taking advantage of this seemingly win-win situation can result in severe consequences, particularly for elders who take several different prescriptions to manage their numerous chronic health conditions.

According to the FDA, faux pharmacies present a variety of potential dangers for the unwary shopper.

A lot of online pharmacies aren't controlled by the FDA, so the medications they're selling don't have to meet the FDA's requirements for effectiveness and safety.

When a person purchases prescriptions over the internet, they run the risk of receiving medications that are expired, counterfeit, contaminated, or made with different ingredients than their federal and state-regulated counter-parts. Any one of these issues can drastically affect the effectiveness and safety of a particular prescription drug.

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Identity fraud is another hazard of using unknown online pharmacies.

Many web-based brokers don't have the necessary defenses in place to protect sensitive information. Some even exist solely as fronts to steal personal and financial information from unsuspecting consumers.

The FDA offers caregivers and seniors advice on how to determine whether an online pharmacy is legitimate.

Signs a web-based pharmacy shouldn't be trusted:

  • They are not based or licensed in the United States
  • They let you purchase medications without a doctor's prescription
  • They charge suspiciously low fees for prescription medications

Signs that a web-based pharmacy can be trusted:

  • They have a physical address and phone number in the United states
  • They won't sell you a medication unless you have a doctor's prescription
  • They provide an on-call pharmacist to answer questions and are licensed by your state's board of pharmacy

For more information on safely purchasing medications online, you can visit the FDA's BeSafeRx website .