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A Guide to Counterfeit Pharma Test Purchases

Josh Bargar | July 9, 2019

In a previous blog post, we talked about the dangers of purchasing pharmaceuticals via the web. Our efforts to stop the sale of counterfeit drugs typically focus on the online sellers who are, how shall we say, of less than reputable character – sellers who are not licensed or authorized to disperse pharmaceuticals and, who never in the course of the transaction, ask for verification of a prescription.

As counterfeiters grow in number and sophistication, research-based pharmaceutical companies are committed to supporting anti-counterfeiting efforts in any way they can. These companies realize the detrimental effects counterfeits can have not only on the health of individuals, but on the economy. The sellers of counterfeits take full advantage of the legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers research and development expenses because all they have to do is duplicate the appearance of the product, not its effectiveness, thus putting consumer health further at risk. 

And this is where IPS comes into play.

We work closely with pharmaceutical companies to help them combat the sale of counterfeits by conducting TPs (test purchases) from suspicious online sellers. These TPs are used to identify the seller, track the product source, and obtain samples of the product to conduct lab analyses. Our TPs can be broken down into three main parts: the hunt, the purchase, and the report

The Hunt

The hunt consists of an investigator searching for online advertisements of a specific pharmaceutical. This can be challenging at times, not just because sellers can be inconspicuous with their sale, but also because some ads could be a flat-out scam designed with one thing in mind – to take your money and run.

Generally, our experience has shown that if the target is located in Cambodia, stay away. Those sellers will typically offer you any drug-related product under the sun, take your payment, then reach out to you 1-2 weeks after the purchase to request more money, explaining that the package has been intercepted and money needs to be paid for its release. This is, of course, bogus. More than likely the a package was never sent out in the first place.

We’ve even seen situations where the seller provides us with a fake tracking number that links to a site designed to look like an actual tracking website, indicating where the package is “located.” The website is rarely affiliated with any reputable shipping company. These sellers can usually be identified by the stock they offer (remember, they will offer anything and everything drug-related in their advertisements). Their stock is usually laid out on the advertisement with lines or dots extending across from the product to the price of the item.

Pharmaceutical Stock List

Aside from the occasional scammer, hunting for sellers is typically productive. We utilize a few different keywords to run searches across many of the predominate online marketplaces. These keywords could be the product itself or its street name. Sometimes, we even have luck just searching for the dosage amount. Prior to making the purchase, our investigators will run some cursory background checks on the information from the advertisement (phone numbers, emails, websites, etc.) to put together an initial analysis for our client. Once the client gives permission to proceed with the purchase, we rapidly move onto our next phase.

The Purchase

The purchase is fairly straightforward, but where IPS really shines is our use of undercover profiles and the creativity of our investigators. Sometimes, purchases have to be stalled, and sometimes our investigators need to retrieve more information from the targets, which can call for some rather quick-on-your-feet thinking. After the purchase has been made, we make it a habit of asking for a tracking number. A valid tracking number goes a long way to verify a legitimate sale and is a fairly common ask in this type of purchase because, let’s face it, no one wants to be made a sucker from a scammer. Sellers typically do not have an issue with providing a tracking number if they’re legitimate. 

The Report

The report may be the most important part. For every TP conducted, our investigators draft a litigation-ready report that includes what was purchased, who was paid, a narrative that establishes the timeline of events, any information found during the course of the purchase, and any additional research performed. While next steps are ultimately up to our clients, the comprehensive report can be used to help build a civil case against the seller or handed off to law enforcement for criminal enforcement.

Test purchases are an important part of evidence collection for any company that wants to protect their IPR and brand reputation. If you’re looking for licensed investigators to conduct TPs for your company, please contact us – we’ll work with you and your counsel to stop the sale of counterfeit products affecting your brand.

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Josh Bargar

Josh Bargar

Josh Bargar is a seasoned investigator who uses his talents to put away the bad guys. Over a decade ago, he graduated with a B.A. in Criminal Justice and was on-boarded at IPS as a fraud prevention analyst. Josh decided to move into the realm of brand protection where he continues to fight online crime and recently received his Master's in Project Management. His taco making skills are also outstanding.