Tim Ramsey, a 59 years old ex-policeman is hired by pharmaceutical companies to buy prescription drugs from DNMs (darknet markets) for test purposes. He is mostly looking for pharmaceutical drugs that are either fake or made in untested labs and sold as counterfeit pills or tabs.
“People are being driven by desperation to buy drugs on the darknet,’’ stated Ramsey, who is working as an operations manager at Centient, where he oversees a team of 15 computer experts who protect brands online by buying counterfeit products on the dark net.
For the pharmaceutical industry, which is worth around $300 billion, the presence of the rapid-growing dark web marketplaces are seriously decreasing both the reputations and profits of pharma companies. There are people all around the world who are mostly turning into buying their prescription drugs from the dark net instead of paying for their expensive medications. This could be good for them since they are acquiring their medications for a cheaper and more affordable price, however, according to pharmaceutical companies, this could also lead to certain dangers. Bill Reid, director of global anti-counterfeiting at Eli Lilly & Co made this statement regarding the case:
“We’ve found products with no active ingredients, too much, and in some cases a totally different active ingredient. The darknet is morphing, quickly’’
There were some cases where the drugs that have been ordered either from the clearnet or the dark web were bad for human health. For example, in April, Eloise Parry (21), a British student died from the diet pills she ordered diet pills from the internet. The pills contained 2,4 Dinitrophenol (DNP), an industrial chemical used as an antiseptic and pesticide, however, it has been banned after scientists discovered it could be lethal as some patients developed fevers topping 43 degrees Celsius.
Where Ramsey works, Centient, it is the company’s first priority to find counterfeiters using the required information and technology for the task, and alert police to shut those vendors down. However, those who Centient and Ramsey are working for could not be identified on their request.
About half of Centient’s purchases are either counterfeit or sold as part of a scam. There was a case when Ramsey bought a treatment for seizures from a seller in Cameroon. A week later, he got a message from the vendor who claimed the shipment had been held up by French customs at Orly airport in Paris, and that he needed to pay a further 150 Euros to get it released. He declined to pay and never got the pills.
The selling of prescription drugs on the DNMs are growing fast according to Ramsey. On Agora alone, the number of prescription drug listings rose 50 percent from March to August, to almost 25.000, according to Fortinet, a cybersecurity consultancy.
“More people are confident in buying from the Internet while at the same time it’s a fantastic platform for criminals,’’ stated Alastair Jeffrey, head of enforcement at the British government agency that regulates sales of medicine. In June, they have seized fake and unlicensed drugs and devices worth 16 million pounds from online vendors.
Michael Sorge, security chief at Bayer AG in Germany, stated that prescription drugs dealers on the dark net are using a relay system. The counterfeit medications are made in Asia (mostly India and the Philippines) and sent to Europe for further distribution. This makes the vendors in Europe look like they are selling genuine pharmaceutical products.
There was a case in Germany, which the media has called the “Pill Gang” who were a group of seven people selling prescription drugs internationally. The band netted 21.5 million euros over several years processing about 17.000 orders a month for erectile dysfunction and diet pills, according to court documents. The drugs were made in India or China, stored in Spain and the Czech Republic, and shipped to customers from addresses in other European countries, with the proceeds deposited in Cyprus.
“At the end of the day, the person who ordered the pills receives a letter from the U.K. or Germany and it doesn’t come from a questionable country,’’ stated Sorge. “These are not shirts or handbags, but medicine and people taking medicine expect it will help, not hurt them.’’