Health Groups: Beware of Rogue Cipro E-Tailers

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While anthrax prevention and treatment products remain top sellers on the Web, health organizations are warning about rogue sites.


The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, Park Ridge, IL, said some unlicensed sites are using search engine advertising, spam and banner ads to market Cipro [ciproflaxin], the antibiotic used to treat anthrax exposure.


The sites, including 2-buy-cipro.com and 4erectiledysfunctions.com, only require patients interested in a Cipro prescription to fill out a questionnaire, which is forwarded to participating doctors who write a prescription. Some of the sites sell "anthrax packages" for $240 to $399 and higher.


"Practitioners involved could lose their license, and pharmacies could be shut down or lose their licenses," said Carmen Catizone, executive director of the NABP. Both the American Medical Association and the Federation of Medical Boards have ruled that simply using a questionnaire is not standard medical practice and their members could face disciplinary action.


The NABP also has a problem with sites that are clearly capitalizing on people's fears about anthrax. One sponsored link on Google, for example, is titled: "Gas Masks and Cipro Online." The URL listed is gas-masks-israeli-gasmasks.com.


"That is the most outlandish one we've seen," Catizone said.


Tony Spencer, owner of Cipro-for-less.com, San Francisco, told iMarketing News that after successfully selling Viagra online using the questionnaires, a friend told him that Cipro also would be a good seller.


"I threw up a quick page [on Oct. 10] and have sold thousands of bottles," Spinzer said.


The site has had 45,000 impressions since Oct. 16, yet the only advertising is a sponsored link on Google.


Meanwhile, many more mainstream Web sites are seizing the opportunity to promote their anthrax-prevention products and services.


Through public relations efforts and messages on its site, drugstore.com is offering an "Emergency Kit" containing food, water, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding for $49.99, a discount of 20 percent.


Drugstore.com's sales of Cipro leaped 2,000 percent from Oct. 8 to Oct. 15. However, the site cautioned consumers that they do not need Cipro unless they have been infected by or exposed to anthrax.


"The drugstore.com pharmacists would like to remind the public that this drug is not to be used unless your physician has prescribed it. Consumers should be wary of rogue online pharmacies that offer the drug without a prescription," according to a statement from the company.


An e-tailer of security equipment and gas masks, Spycameras4less.com, Mandeville, LA, is relying on search engine placement to sell the products, at a cost of $600 a day on GoTo.com. Though owner Kevin Lazar said he had sold about 175 gas masks a day the week of Oct. 8, sales dropped to about five a day the week of Oct. 15.


"Now people have realized that gas masks are not going to have any effect if it [anthrax] is going through the mail," he said.


Interamer.com, the Web site for Inter-American Security Products, Miami, is marketing its gas masks with search engine placement and weekly e-mails to 10,000 customers.


VCampus Corp., Reston, VA, announced Oct. 11 that it expanded its online training courses to two terrorism and bioterrorism classes for businesses and government. The company made "How to Respond to an Anthrax Threat in a Mail Center" and the first class in a series called "Protecting Against Terrorists" immediately available to its customers.


VCampus did not return calls.


Airtech International Group, Dallas, is not buying any online or offline advertising to promote its Titan II Photocatalytic Oxidation technology, designed to rid the air of anthrax spores, to businesses. However, the company issued a press release and is educating its distributors, who market the product mainly as an eliminator of mold and other spores, that it should be pushed only to corporations and building owners to eliminate anthrax that is spread through the air.


"We're receiving a lot of phone calls now from corporate offices, worried about harm from someone putting stuff [anthrax, cyanide or other poisons] in vents," said John Harris, vice president of Airtech.


In addition, the international group Building Owners and Managers Association has warned its members that this type of event is a real possibility.


Airtech is evaluating a multi-phase marketing strategy to push the PCO technology to major heating and cooling equipment manufacturers, contractors and BOMA.


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