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The US Food and Drug Administration has announced plans to fight counterfeit drugs. The FDA will introduce technology that could show at a glance if drugs are real, such as watermarks or electronic tags. It will also tighten requirements for drug wholesalers so it's tougher to sneak counterfeits into legitimate supplies.

That's good news for antispam advocates. Here's why.

The spam comes in almost daily, and tries to lure us toward a Viagra vendor. We decided we had enough of it and wanted to complain.

No can do. The merchant's site mentions no phone number, no email address, not even a postal address. All we could enter was a credit card number. Someone was definitely hiding.

A couple of things were obvious: while the site was hosted from China, it was registered by a Canadian called Richard Girard, a familiar name for those surfing antispam newsgroups. Mr Girard, if that is his real name, has registered a lot of domain names lately.

Turns out he is changing domain names every fortnight or so. To name but a few:

www.viagr1adomainsmarketg.biz,
viaga3domainsmarketing.biz
getyourviagracheap.biz
www.viag25rdomainsmarketing.biz
discountviagra.com.ar
24larger24.biz
viagraonlinenow.biz
bestviagramerchant.com
bestpricesforviagra.biz
viagraonlinenow.biz
www.12345at90210.com
www.topofthelinecunt.com

Which pretty much sums it all up.

Most of these web pages have mysteriously disappeared, or leave messages such as: THIS PAGE HAS BEEN RE-DIRECTED FOR ABUSE / SPAM VIOLATIONS. Seems Mr Girard isn't popular.

That comes as no surprise. Some of his spam has been carried by notorious spam gangs such as Superzonda and Cyberangels.nl. More importantly, Mr Girard is selling counterfeit Viagra. Or Generic Viagra, as online vendors will call it.

The point is, there is no such thing as Generic Viagra. Viagra is manufactured exclusively by the American Pfizer Corporation. It holds the patent on sildenafil citrate, the active ingredient in Viagra. Selling Generic Viagra from the US, Canada or Europe is illegal.

In some countries, like India, patent laws protect the process of making the drug, but not the drug itself. In China there is hardly any patent protection. Chinese state media occasionally report of police seizures of large quantities of fake Viagra.

Companies that make and sell Generic Viagra outside the reach of regulatory bodies are free to put whatever they like in these pills, even sugar or starch. Some pills do contain sildenafil citrate, but Pfizer has no idea how it gets in there. “They may have grinded the Real McCoy,” a Pfizer spokesmen says.

Counterfeit Viagra isn't new at all. Last year seven people and five companies were indicted in the US for manufacturing and selling counterfeit Viagra tablets on the web, the outcome of a seventeen-month long investigation.

A list of fake Viagra vendors is published by Web-Clinic, an association of professionals which recognises the importance of Internet medicine and online medical services. Some companies pretend to be selling from China, but ship secretly from North America. Others pretend to be in the US, while they are not.

"Pfizer actively defends its trademarks and patented products," says Daniel Watts of Pfizer Canada, who happily passed along our information regarding Mr. Girard to its legal team. "We continue to work with boards of pharmacies and other groups to communicate the potential dangers of counterfeit drugs brought on the Internet.” ®

Related stories

UK crackdown on prescription drug ads on the Web
Which? slates online quacks

Fab O'Really T'shirt at Cash and Carrion
How to deal with Spammers - permanently

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