My role


Spam can seriously damage your health

An investigation backed by the Men's Health Forum has revealed the real health dangers that internet-users run when they fall for email spam advertising prescription-only medicines.

The six month undercover investigation conducted by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and drug company Pfizer, who make Viagra, tells the story of 65 'Spam Donors': people from all walks of life, age groups, and geographic locations who volunteered to donate all their spam email to Pfizer and the MHRA.

Security teams from both organisations analysed these emails and the offers and products they advertised. A variety of products were then purchased and tested in the MHRA and Pfizer laboratories. By combining this with knowledge of the spam donors’ own state of health, they were then able to build up a frightening bank of ‘what if’ case studies – designed to act as a cautionary tale.

The ‘Spam Donor’ stories are outlined in a Pfizer report published today, in partnership with the MHRA, the Patient’s Association, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), HEART UK and the MHF. The report also highlights the latest initiatives to crack-down on email spammers; carries important patient safety advice, and pledges to publicly drive awareness of this issue.

Some of the 'Spam Donor' stories make for disturbing reading. Take Iain, for example.

  • ‘Spam Donor’: Iain, 41, married, Programme Officer, Chester
  • ‘Spam Drug’: Sold as herbal penis enlarger pills. Tests proved it was NOT herbal but contained the undeclared active ingredient which is found in a prescription-only medicine for erection problems
  • ‘Spam Danger’: Health risk for men who have conditions which make this treatment unsuitable such as certain heart problems 

Self-diagnosis is dangerous

Of particular concern to the MHF is the risk men run through bypassing the healthcare system and self-diagnosing. 'Going online to buy prescription-only medicines without seeing your GP means serious problems you have may be missed,' said MHF CEO Peter Baker. 'This could make a counterfeit drug even more dangerous to you than someone else.'

Not one of the 'medications' in the investigation arrived with a patient information leaflet - a legal requirement which should contain instructions on how to take the medicine; safety information regarding possible side effects; and information which highlights interactions with other medications and potential allergic reactions. Packaging ranged from desk calendar sheets and wrapping paper to unmarked boxes.

When clicking on some of the spam email links, the security teams also identified viruses, and put their personal identities at risk with many illicit websites known to clone credit card details for fraudulent purposes and sell email addresses to other counterfeit groups for future targeting.

Mick Deats, Head of Enforcement for the MHRA said: 'Unlike qualified healthcare professionals, criminals who sell medicines or lifestyle drugs over the internet have absolutely no regard for your health. Their only motivation is profit without a second thought to the life threatening tablets they are posting to your door. Don't take a chance buying products from illegal websites via unsolicited spam emails. At best, you might get ripped off, but at worst; you could be risking your health.'

Page created on March 29th, 2011

Page updated on March 29th, 2011