3 pet medication scams — and what you can do about them

What you don’t know about the Internet could make Fido sick and you broke.

Last year, Americans spent nearly $56 billion on their pets — an all-time high — and are expected to spend $60 billion this year. Plenty of that went to veterinary care, which includes prescription medication, as well as over-the-counter meds. In aggregate, Americans spend more than $14 billion a year at the vet and more than $13 billion on supplies and over-the-counter medication. This means that some pet owners must shell out hundreds, even thousands, for medications for their pets each year.

Thanks in part to these high costs, more pet owners are turning online for their pet’s medication. “Consumers realize that pets often require medicine that is absurdly expensive when compared to the human drug equivalent, because of the veterinary markup over wholesale and dispensing fees charged at many vet offices,” says Laura Nativo, pet expert from Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family” show. “With the growing number of Internet pharmacies, savvy pet parents realize that shopping online can amount to lower prices, added convenience.”

But that convenience and cost savings can come with a serious downside: the risk of scams. SiteJabber, a website where customers can review online businesses, has seen a 60% year-over-year increase in the number of consumer complaints over businesses selling pet medications online. “It’s one of the fastest-growing areas of complaints on the site,” says Jeremy Gin, the founder of SiteJabber.

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SiteJabber analyzed more than 1,000 consumer complaints about online pet medication companies to determine the most-complained about issues. Here are three.

1. Automatic shipments that won’t stop (and you keep paying for)

More than 15% of the customer complaints about online pet medication businesses involved auto-shipments, according to the SiteJabber analysis. Here’s what often happens: A pet owner sets up an auto-shipment of certain medications because her pet has a recurring condition that needs regular medication. But when she tries to cancel the auto-shipments, she finds it nearly impossible to do so — and keeps getting charged for medications she no longer needs.

What consumers can do: Gin recommends that right after consumers call the pet med company to cancel auto-payment of their medications, they also call their credit card company to let them know that they should not authorize any more automatic payments from that company.

2. Shipments that take forever — or never come

One in five pet owners who bought pet medication online complained about pet medication shipments that took far longer than promised or never even came, the SiteJabber data revealed. This may be a particularly acute problem if you order from a company based abroad, as customs may be an issue, he says.

Not only is this annoying, but it can be harmful to your pet’s health if they aren’t getting the medication they need.

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What consumers can do: Have a backup pharmacy in town that you know will have the medication (call to make sure they have it in stock) — even if it will cost more, says Gin. That’s because even if you call the company to confirm the delivery date of your medication — or even if they have a guaranteed delivery date — the company may still not get it to you on time. To try to get your money back if they don’t deliver when promised, request it both in writing and verbally; that may not work though, in which case, you may have to go through your credit card company, says Gin.

3. Fake pharmacies that send fake medications

“Many online pharmacies are not safe,” says Amber Anderson, a veterinarian based in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.; and indeed, of the 420 online pet pharmacies reviewed on SiteJabber, more than one in three were identified as non-legitimate pharmacies, meaning that they likely violated laws or regulations around the sale of drugs. These pharmacies may give you medication that isn’t what you asked for (and thus does not help your pet), sugar pills or other fake pills, diluted versions of the medication, medication with additives that may be bad for your pet, and more.

What consumers can do: Consumers need to verify that the pharmacy they are using is legitimate, and because there are so many that aren’t, this isn’t an easy process. The FDA recommends that you only order from a website that is designated Vet-VIPPS, which stands for the Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites; this is given by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to online pet med pharmacies who comply with NABP’s criteria, including licensing and inspection requirements, quality and validity of prescription orders. Gin says that you should make sure the site is verified by LegitScripts.com, and Nativo recommends looking at online TopConsumerReviews.com as well as searching for the company online and through social media to see what other customers are saying. Steve McFarland, the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, says that you should also ask your vet how to get less expensive medication that is safe or ask friends for referrals. And Nativo says she likes sites like PetCareRx.com, DrsFosterSmith.com and even Costco.com.

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Finally, “many online pharmacies touting too-good-to-be true advertising such as ‘Discount pet drugs! No RX required!’ are not regulated, but may seem legitimate, which causes unfair confusion for consumers,” says Nativo. “Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is — and saving money is not worth potentially short changing your pet’s wellness.”

View more information: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/3-pet-medication-scams-and-what-you-can-do-about-them-2014-07-30

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