Online and Mail-Order Medicine: How to Buy Safely

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on March 25, 2015

You can save time and money when you buy medicine online or through a mail-order pharmacy. But is the seller legit? And are the drugs safe?

Follow these steps to make sure you're getting a good deal.

1. Be wary of a super-bargain.

"If it's too good to be true, it probably is," says Carmen Catizone, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).

An extremely low price can be a sign that there's something fishy going on. For example, if you normally pay $100 for your medicine and you can get it for $5, be careful. It could mean the drugs are sold outside the U.S. and aren't approved by the FDA.

2. Check for the VIPPS seal.

When you go to a pharmacy's web site, look for a seal that says VIPPS. It stands for "Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites."

If it's there, it means the site was screened and approved by the NABP.

3. Look for "dot pharmacy" in the address.

If an online pharmacy has ".pharmacy" at the end of its web address, it's OK to buy medicine there. Only outfits that follow the law can use that domain.

4. Make sure it's licensed and based in the U.S.

Your seller should be located in this country. Make sure the seller is licensed or registered by the state where it's based. To find out, go to the web site of the NABP.

You can also look for licensing information on the pharmacy's web site. "If they don't list it, that's a warning sign," Catizone says.

5. Check that it has a pharmacist.

You should be able to talk with one on the phone, by email, or online, says Laura E. Knockel, PharmD, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Iowa.

Look for a 1-800 number. Call the pharmacist if you have any questions, even a small one.

Knockel suggests you fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy, if possible. You'll get to know your pharmacist, and it'll be easier to spot problems, like drugs you can't take together.

6. Don't buy if you're not asked for a prescription.

Only use pharmacies that require a prescription from your doctor or other licensed professional.

If the pharmacy doesn't ask for one, you could get the wrong medicine.

7. Look at privacy policies.

The pharmacy should list privacy and security settings. They should be easy to spot and understand.

The web site should not sell your personal information unless you sign an agreement saying it's OK.

8. Keep personal info to yourself.

Unless you know the pharmacy is safe, don't share your:

  • Social security number
  • Credit card information
  • Personal medical history

No. 9. Do your homework.

If you follow these tips, you should be good to go. Once you find a pharmacy that's on the up-and-up, "it's safe to order online," Catizone says.

Show Sources


Carmen Catizone, MS, RPh, DPh, National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

Laura E. Knockel, PharmD, BCACP, University of Iowa College of Pharmacy.

National Association of Boards of Pharmacy: "Buying Medicine Online."

USFDA: "Buying Prescription Medicine Online: A Consumer Safety Guide."

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