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Agencies issue bioterrorism scam alert, caution Carbon consumers to beware

Recent reports of anthrax exposure have spawned numerous web sites and e-mails offering to sell American consumers antibiotics for treatment. But the United States Federal Trade Commission warns Carbon residents that scam artists frequently follow the national headlines, tailoring fraudulent offers to prey on consumers' fears and vulnerabilities.

The FTC, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indicate that, unless people are specifically notified or instructed by public health officials, there is no need to obtain or take antibiotics to prevent anthrax.

Confirming an infection requires a medical doctor's examination and diagnosis. The verification is particularly important for anthrax.

Some Internet sites may claim to sell FDA approved drugs manufactured to comply with established U.S. standards, points out the federal agencies.

But the web operators may be peddling similar drugs made at foreign locations, where there may be no guarantee of appropriate manufacturing standards.

In addition, consumers face a difficult - often impossible task - when attempting to determine whether a drug is an ineffective knock-off by looking at the pills.

In reality, the drugs could be counterfeit or adulterated with dangerous contaminants, points out the FTC.

Online, anyone can pretend to be anyone, cautions the federal agencies. Because faking e-mail addresses is easy, Carbon County consumers should exercise caution before opting to purchase products from unfamiliar companies or individuals.

To ensure that a website is reputable and licensed to sell drugs in the U.S., the FDA recommends that Carbon consumers visit the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy website at or call the organization's office at (847) 698-6227.

In addition, the FTC and the FDA have developed several precautionary measures for consumers to follow:

•Do not buy medications from web sites offering to prescribe drugs without a physical examination.

Never deal with companies or individuals selling drugs without a prescription.

Avoid web sites offering to sell drugs that are not approved by the FDA.

According to the American Medical Association, prescribing medication without a doctor's examination constitutes a substandard, potentially dangerous health care practice.

•Never transact business with web sites that do not provide access to a registered pharmacist to answer questions.

•Avoid companies that fail to provide a name, physical business address and phone number.

•Refrain from purchasingproducts promoted via foreign web sites, especially at the present time.

It is generally illegal to import prescription drugs purchased from the foreign web operators, explains the federal agencies.

The risks associated with the web sites are greater and there is very little the United States government can do in the event foreign operators rip off American citizens.

•When opting to buy prescribed medications online, pay by credit or charge card.

If consumers pay for online purchases by credit or charge card, the Fair Credit Billing Act will protect the transactions.

Under the federal billing law, consumers have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances and withhold payment while the creditor is investigating the charges, point out the agencies.

In the case of unauthorized use of a credit or charge card, consumers generally are held liable only for the first $50 in charges.

Some credit or charge card companies may provide additional warranty or purchase protection benefits, concludes the federal agencies.

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