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Spammers punt 'snake oil' avian flu cure

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Spammers are peddling drugs online that claim to combat bird flu. The junk mail campaigns tout offers to sell Tamiflu, the drug said to be the most effective in protecting humans from the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus, implicated in the deaths of dozens of people in Asia. The drug is in high demand because of fears the virus could mutate into a form that can pass between humans.

The spam emails urge recipients to protect themselves and their families from the avian flu virus by purchasing Tamiflu from an online website, which also supposedly sells Viagra, and a number of other drugs.

"It may make a change from receiving junk email about Viagra, but you should never ever buy drugs online, as you could be putting your health in mortal danger. Spammers are not interested in people's health, they're only interested in making fat profits," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

"Drugs like Tamiflu should be prescribed by legitimate doctors, not quacks on the internet. Buying medicine online, from a website advertised by spam email, is like playing Russian Roulette."

Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company which manufactures Tamiflu, says it has received reports of net sales of drugs which purport to be Tamiflu but are in fact bogus. Doctors are campaigning to alert consumers about the risks of purchasing drugs from untrusted sources online.

In May, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly obtained an emergency court order shutting down dozens of websites allegedly operated by a sophisticated ring of Boston area spammers. The group is allegedly behind millions of unsolicited, deceptive email messages, touting unapproved counterfeit drugs, pirated software and pornography, that had plagued email users for months. ®

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