The WHO estimates that counterfeit medicine represents 10 to 15% of the world market for medical products and that over half the medicine sold on Internet is falsified.
Since its spread in the 1990s, the Internet has revolutionized the world, becoming the largest source of information and the most important trade center across the globe. Freed from “traditional” frontiers, Internet is a unique territory that has exponentially developed both commercial ties and criminal opportunities.
Because of the purchasing power of their populations and the budget they devote to medical expenses, economically developed countries seem to be a key internet target for counterfeit traffickers. This is even more so in that the “traditional” sales channel in these countries is safer and better protected against falsified medicines.
The sale of “online medicines” appeared as early as 2000 in certain countries and authorized in the European Union since 2003. In Europe, as elsewhere, the situation is alarming; 97% of online pharmacies are illegal!
E-consumers of medical products state they appreciate:
- The apparent time saved with this form of commerce,
- The possibility of buying medicine less expensively,
- And obtaining prescription drugs without prior medical consultation.
Internet sites selling pharmaceutical products receive several dozens of thousands of visitors a day. Certain sites have developed to such a point that their traffic is used as an indicator of Internet traffic.
The phenomenon is growing rapidly. The number of sites, including illegal ones, is constantly on the rise. The largest online pharmacy in Canada is currently under judicial scrutiny.
Furthermore, marketing techniques are increasingly refined in order to better target potential consumers and reduce the risk of authorities intercepting transactions. Cybercriminals use 4 main techniques:
- Cybersquatting: the illegal use of domain names to deceive internet users.
- Forums: consumers’ preferred method of discussing prices and deals. They are also the favored means of cybercriminals to organize their activities and share the latest developments in cyber-criminality.
- Spam: invitations to visit specific websites are sent in bulk to encourage potential customers to buy products with excellent value for money. Spam can also be used for direct-mail advertising with the purchase of nominative marketing data, as a means of publicity.
- Manipulating research engines: the goal is to increase visibility on research engines and attract internet users to specific websites. A quarter of the ten most recurrent requests on research engines redirect to illegal pharmacies and the purchasing rates are ten times higher after manipulating research engines than before. Legal online pharmacies cannot compete against such aggressive strategies.
Falsified medicines represent a major risk to public health. Online sales aggravate such risks due to the opportunities they afford to criminals and the increase in the number of people exposed. More and more organizations and legislation are working hard to fight against this serious shift in international crime.