Keeping you safe: A guide to identifying reputable online pharmacies

A woman looks at her computer with a concerned expression.

You can buy just about anything online these days from groceries and clothing to electronics and appliances. One industry experiencing a significant shift toward online purchasing is pharmaceuticals.

According to newly released survey data, more Americans are purchasing their prescription medications online than ever before, with most having started using an online pharmacy within the last three years.

While the convenience of ordering medications from the comfort of your own home is undeniable, safety can be questionable. With the proliferation of online pharmacies, distinguishing between legitimate pharmacies and potentially unsafe ones can be challenging especially when a staggering 95% of websites selling prescription medications worldwide are operating illegally.1

So how can you spot a reputable online pharmacy? Here’s what to look for to ensure your online prescription medications are safe to take.

Steps to ensure online pharmacy safety

1. Check with your health plan

Start by checking to see which home delivery/mail order pharmacies are in your health plan’s network. An in-network pharmacy will typically save you money on your prescriptions, and you won’t have to worry about legitimacy. Wondering if Express Scripts® Pharmacy is in your network? Register to find out.

2. Verify pharmacy accreditation and licensing

A reputable online pharmacy should be licensed and accredited by regulatory bodies in the country where it operates. Look for certifications from organizations such as the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) or the PharmacyChecker Verification Program. The NABP keeps a running list of digital pharmacies that meet the necessary safety and consumer protection standards. Any website that ends in “.pharmacy” has been specially approved by the NABP, although many online pharmacies that end in “.com” are still legitimate. You can also check the FDA’s “Locate a state-licensed online pharmacy” page. If the pharmacy you plan to order from isn’t listed on any of these sites, it’s best not to use it.

URAC Accredited Mail Service Pharmacy Seal
NABP Accredited Digital Pharmacy Badge
LegitScript Certified May 28, 2024 Badge

3. Make sure they require a prescription

According to the FDA, legitimate pharmacies always require a valid prescription from a healthcare professional for prescription medications. Be cautious of websites that offer prescription medications without a prescription.

4. Check for contact information

All legitimate pharmacies provide both a physical address and phone number for customer support. Beware of websites that only offer email communication or have vague contact information.

5. Evaluate website security

Prioritize your online safety by assessing the security features of the pharmacy’s website. Look for indications of encryption, such as “https” in the website address and a padlock icon in the browser bar. These features indicate that your personal and financial information is protected. Non-reputable pharmacy sites may not protect your personal or financial data or may even sell your personal information to other websites.

6. Ask to speak with a licensed pharmacist

All legitimate pharmacies are required to have a licensed pharmacist on staff to answer your questions. If the online pharmacy you want to use doesn’t have a licensed pharmacist, that’s a big red flag. At Express Scripts® Pharmacy, we have dedicated pharmacists available 24/7, 365 days a year, to assist you with all of your medication questions and concerns.

7. Avoid unusual payment methods

Exercise caution if the pharmacy insists on unconventional payment methods, such as wire transfers or cryptocurrency, as these can be indicative of fraudulent activity. Legitimate pharmacies typically offer only standard payment options, such as credit cards, debit cards or secure online payment platforms.

8. Assess medication quality

Reliable online pharmacies adhere to stringent quality standards for medications and medication storage. Look for pharmacies that source their medications from licensed manufacturers and distributors. Be wary of pharmacies that significantly discount prices of medication or provide offers that seem too good to be true, because that may indicate counterfeit or substandard medications. If you receive medication that has broken or damaged packaging, is written in a foreign language, has no expiration date or is expired, report it to the FDA.

9. Consult with your healthcare provider

When in doubt, your healthcare provider can provide guidance and valuable insights on where to purchase medications for delivery. When it comes to ordering prescription medication online, it’s important to do your due diligence and find properly accredited pharmacies where you can be confident that the medications are of the highest quality and stored properly to maintain efficacy.

If you need more help figuring out if an online pharmacy is operating legally, the FDA’s BeSafeRx campaign provides resources and tools to help you make better informed decisions when purchasing prescription medications online.

Prescription medications you can trust

Express Scripts® Pharmacy was the first to deliver medications to patients’ doors in 1987, and it currently holds three certifications. It’s an NABP-accredited digital pharmacy and a URAC-accredited mail service pharmacy, meaning that the pharmacy meets the highest standards of quality, safety, delivery of patient-centric care management and regulatory compliance. It’s also LegitScript certified, which means it’s trusted, used, recognized and recommended by all major credit cards, as well as Facebook, Amazon and more, so you can rest assured that you’re getting the best quality medication possible and that your personal and financial data are protected.

Express Scripts® Pharmacy provides additional benefits, including stress-free ordering and automatic refills, free standard shipping, flexible payment options, and an average patient cost savings of 32%.2 Learn more about home delivery from Express Scripts® Pharmacy.

1 ASOP Global Foundation: Buying medication online? Verify before you buy (accessed April 10, 2024):
2 Patients save an average of 32% compared to retail pharmacies (Internal analytics, 2022).

Posted date: June 20, 2024

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