Is it safe to buy medicines and health supplements on the internet?

We have all seen those emails trying to sell us male enhancement products and health supplements that claim to do remarkable t...

We have all seen those emails trying to sell us male enhancement products and health supplements that claim to do remarkable things – often at unbelievable prices. Are they really safe to buy, and who is the person or company you are actually buying from? With so many fake medicines and supplements offered for sale as the real deal on the internet, buying prescription drugs and health supplements can be a hazardous pursuit.
Counterfeit products can also be found within licensed pharmacies where inferior goods can enter somewhere along the supply chain, especially in less developed countries where there are minimal safeguards to protect consumers. There are however some things you can do that can help protect yourself from unscrupulous vendors and copycat products:
  1. Contact Information.  If you can’t see a real address and email then buyer beware! Any real and honest company should provide contact information (not just a PO Box that cannot be traced).
  2. Price. If what is being sold seems really cheap then you have to ask how it can be sold at that price. Can it really be an original and authentic product? Don’t forget that the company behind it has to make a profit somewhere along the line!
  3. Marketing. If you end up on the website of a company that has sent you an unsolicited email then you should consider the fact that if they are prepared to be unethical in the way in which they market their products by sending spam emails, are they likely to be ethical when it comes to the ingredients that are in the products they are selling?
  4. False Claims. If it claims to do the unbelievable then approach with caution. If it says something like ‘this will cure cancer in 1 week’ or ‘loose 20 kg in 1 month’ then question the authenticity. Do they offer a money back guarantee if the product doesn’t work? If the product is that amazing then why wouldn’t they offer a guarantee?
  5. Payment Methods. PayPal and credit cards are accepted payment methods online. If you are asked to send money to a Western Union account or similar then approach with caution. If it is more convenient to pay by this method then do some research and make sure you are buying from an authentic business.
The other problem with the counterfeit products you can buy online is the damage it does to legitimate retailers. A consumer is likely to choose what is the cheaper option. If a product sounds the same, or looks identical, why would you purchase it from the more expensive supplier?
This is a problem that needs to be addressed by the authorities but the internet is of course a worldwide shop so it’s a hugely difficult task for authorities in one county to monitor the entire internet for illegitimate merchants. There are some items where it is certainly worth doing some bargain-hunting but when it comes to medicines and supplements, it is worth paying that bit more to buy from a reputable supplier.
Another factor to consider when buying online is the ability of the entity you are buying from to have the appropriate facilities to correctly store the product you are buying. Is it fresh? Is it correctly sealed? If there is a product recall or safety issue with the product, it is unlikely that a small operation running out of someone’s garage will be aware or will react to what might be reasonably expected of them to do as a retailer.
In addition, it is wise to steer clear of supplements made in China unless you are buying from a reputable website. Poor regulation and substandard manufacturing practices mean their products are more likely to be tainted with dangerous substances or have been manufactured under poor conditions where storage and hygiene procedures have not been done in line with what you could expect to see from a factory in the US or Europe.
One trick that is used to sell products online is to use a similar name to an already successful product in the hope of making customers think they are buying something else, or at least a product that is associated with the original brand. The most common place for this to happen is when buying from sites like eBay where there is little regulation and the ability for anyone acting as an individual to sell goods without a business that can be held accountable for what they are selling.
The internet has opened up so many opportunities and given consumers a tremendous range of products to choose from. The vast majority of us benefit from the convenience and value of buying online but it should always be approached with a level head. Remember to use common sense online, just like you would on any high street. Most importantly, remember the saying: “If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is”.
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