The US Food and Drug Administration claims to have taken action against 136 websites that appeared to be illegally selling drugs and medicines to American consumers.

The FDA, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of, amongst other things, drugs, food products, dietary supplements and medical supplies in the United States, issued 22 warning letters to operators of the websites in a campaign which it dubbed the International Internet Week of Action. Notices were also sent to service providers and domain name registrars, advising them that their customers were illegally selling pharmaceutical products.

In many cases, the sites attempt to pass themselves off as reputable pharmaceutical companies, although many sites have been linked to malicious activity, such as the distribution of spam or the distribution of various forms of malware. In particular, websites purporting to sell Viagra and particular forms of steroid have become synonymous with spam activity.

But health officials warn that the risks of using such sites are greater than computer security risks, with drugs being sold by unauthorised websites frequently counterfeits which may not be safe for human consumption.

“Many US consumers are being misled in the hopes of saving money by purchasing prescription drugs over the internet from illegal pharmacies,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said. “Taking these drugs can pose a danger to consumers.”

The problem of online drug stores was highlighted by a report in August of this year, which revealed that 89.7% of online pharmacy advertisements shown on the Microsoft-powered Bing! search engine were for websites that were unlawful.

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