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Fraud groups ding Bing for illicit pharmacy promos

9 of 10 drug ads flout US law

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Updated Microsoft's new search engine Bing is a haven for criminal enterprises operating unlawful online pharmacies, according to a report that estimates almost 90 percent of sponsored links advertising prescription drugs on the site are violating federal and state laws.

The report, jointly prepared by two groups that monitor websites for illegal advertising, spent the past month plugging search terms such as "xanax vicodin" into Bing to see what kind of advertisements would be returned. Their conclusion: 89.7 percent of them were placed by businesses that are flouting US laws. Of the 10 ads that the researchers studied in depth, none of them required a prescription as required by law, according to the authors, who went on to catalog a litany of other problems.

"It is important to emphasize that the ten advertisers analyzed in this report are not engaged in minor violations of pharmacy law," they wrote. "Rather, they are wholly fraudulent websites run, in most cases, by criminal networks. They sell unapproved or counterfeit drugs, including addictive medications, without any requirement of a prescription."

The researchers are from Knujon, a group whose name means "no junk" spelled backwards, and LegitScript, an organization that monitors and verifies websites selling prescription drugs. They ordered drugs from two of the 10 Bing advertisers and both companies sent what purported to be the advertised drugs with no proof of a prescription. The researchers tested a sample of a drug that one of the online pharmacies claimed was Cialis and found it was counterfeit.

Almost 24 hours after this article was first published, Microsoft issued a statement that said: "We take these claims very seriously and are currently investigating this issue." Microsoft guidelines clearly require online pharmacies advertising on Bing to adhere to US laws.

In many cases, the Bing ads lead to websites that are clearly operated by people violating laws forbidding the sale of drugs from countries such as India, Garth Bruen, one of the Knujon principals, told The Reg. And in other cases, the players were members of Russian organized crime gang. But even when the ads appeared to come from online pharmacies operating legally, users who clicked on the links were often directed to rogue sites that had no affiliation with the legitimate companies.

To be fair to Microsoft, it wouldn't be surprising to learn that Google and Yahoo are also running ads for online pharmacies that operate illegally. Stay tuned. Bruen says reports from other websites are coming soon. ®

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