Buying Health Products and Services Online

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The web is convenient for comparing prescription drug prices, researching health products and services, and preparing for your next medical appointment. Use these tips to be smart and safe when researching health products and services online.

Know Who You’re Dealing With

Before you give out any personal or financial information online, whether it’s to buy an item or get more information, remember that anyone can set up shop online. If you’re thinking about buying a heath-related product from an unfamiliar company or website, do some research.

  • Confirm the online seller’s physical address (not just a P.O. Box) and phone number, so you know you can reach someone if you need to.
  • Do a search for the company name and website, and be sure to look beyond the first page of results. If you find a lot of negative reviews, you are better off taking your business elsewhere.
  • Look for indicators the site is secure, like a URL that begins with https (the “s” is for secure). But that’s not foolproof: security icons can be forged. Avoid sites that ask you to send personal or financial information by email, or ask you to wire cash through a money transfer service.

Consider the Source

When you start your search for health products, services, or information, consider who’s behind the information. Government websites (sites ending in .gov) are a good bet. Two great choices are MedlinePlus and Healthfinder.gov; both let you look up hundreds of health topics and the latest health headlines. So are university or medical school websites (.edu).

Nonprofit groups with a mission that focuses on research and teaching about specific conditions (their URLs typically end in .org) also can be good resources, like the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society. MedlinePlus has a list of organizations that provide health information online. Keep in mind that “.org” doesn’t guarantee a site is reputable. Scammers also can set up .org sites.

Buy Prescription Drugs From Licensed U.S. Pharmacies Only

What looks like an online pharmacy could be a front for a scammer or identity thief. The sites may use official looking seals and logos, guarantee satisfaction or your money back, and “look” legitimate. All that can be faked.

You could end up with products that are fake, expired, or mislabeled, or products that contain dangerous ingredients. Or you may pay for a prescription and never get your order — or your money back.

So how can you tell if you’re dealing with a legitimate U.S. pharmacy? To see if a pharmacy is licensed in the U.S., check with the board of pharmacy in the state where it’s based. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) has information on each state’s board. NABP also has a list of online pharmacies that meet its standards, and are accredited through its Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program. Reputable pharmacy websites should:

  • require a prescription
  • have a licensed pharmacist to answer your questions
  • provide a physical business address and phone number

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