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Online Pharmacies: Are they all legal and safe? - The Health Depot

Online Pharmacies: Are they all legal and safe?

By: Tahani Dakkak
BSc, MMASc, PharmD ‘23

Now that you know a little bit more about online pharmacies from our last blog, you may have found the idea appealing mainly due to convenience and accessibility. However, before you proceed to fill your prescriptions online or purchase medications from online stores, we need to have a quick chat. Unfortunately, the internet is not regulated and anyone can create a website and put items up for sale including medications and other health essentials. The National Associations of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) reviewed 11,700 websites in 2017 and found that 96% of these sites are operating illegally and did not comply with provincial and federal laws or NABP patient safety standards. 74% of the sites reviewed were selling medications sourced outside of Canada and not approved by Health Canada, thus endangering the lives of many. Medications from unregistered or illegal websites could potentially be contaminated, stored improperly, diluted, poisonous, or expired. In addition to buying unsafe medications, if you buy a medication from a fraudulent online pharmacy, you might be putting yourself at risk of having your personal information compromised. Therefore, before you purchase medications online, it's important to check if the online pharmacy is certified and operating legally to protect yourself and your family.

We are aware that many online pharmacies are fraudulent so we have decided to educate the public about how to check if an online pharmacy is legal and certified in Canada because your safety is our number one priority. So here are a few tips on how to verify the legitimacy of an online pharmacy outlet. 

1. Verification with a Canadian Pharmacy Regulatory Authority

One way to verify the legitimacy of an online pharmacy is to check if it's licensed to operate in the province it claims to be established in. To do that, you need to gather information about the pharmacy such as name of pharmacy, address, contact phone number, email address, which are usually found on the website (usually under the home or contact us page).

Online Pharmacy Credentials

Next, go to the website of the pharmacy regulatory authority for the province where the Pharmacy claims to be operating. In this example, since the address is in Ontario, then we should verify this pharmacy at the Ontario College of Pharmacists. For a list of other pharmacy colleges in Canada, please refer to this link

  1. Click on “Find a Pharmacy / Professional"
  2. Type the name or address of the pharmacy

Phew, we are real and certified! 

2. Know the signs of a safe online pharmacy

Are you still not at ease and want to find another way to check the legitimacy of an online pharmacy? Here are a few signs and indicators that the pharmacy may be fraudulent:

  1. If your doctor prescribed a medication that needs a prescription to be purchased but the online pharmacy did not require a valid prescription.
  2. If the pharmacy doesn't have a valid street address. After all, your prescription is not filled by angels and dropped from clouds to your doorstep. Every online pharmacy should have a “brick and mortar” pharmacy with a team of pharmacy staff members that  meets the regulatory requirements in your province/territory.
  3. If the pharmacy can ship medications worldwide then most certainly it is operating illegally. Many countries including Canada have strict restrictions regarding the importation of medications across the border and it’s only permitted for certain entities. Therefore, it’s deemed impossible to have an online pharmacy able to ship worldwide.
  4. If the medication is being sold at a really low cost or discounted drastically then it’s probably a counterfeit medicine and does not have active ingredients so it will not have any therapeutic effect. It may also contain the wrong ingredients, be expired or contaminated putting the health of you and your loved ones at risk.
  5. If there are no credible memberships or certifications displayed on the website then it is probably not a trustworthy online pharmacy outlet. For a pharmacy to operate, it has to be licensed by a regulatory authority. Safe online pharmacies often display an accreditation number, memberships, certifications as well as partnerships on their website to establish credibility, as shown below.


Think you found a fraudulent pharmacy?

If you have been a victim of fraud, please report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at or call the toll-free line: 1-888-495-8501. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is managed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who will collect information regarding illegal sites and facilitate law enforcement action against unlawful sites to protect the lives of others.

If you have consumed a product that caused adverse effects, please report it to Health Canada by using the health Product complaint form (FRM-0317) on Health Canada will work closely with the Canada Border Services Agency to prevent importation of unauthorized products but will also take the appropriate actions to inform Canadians. 

In the meantime,
Stay Healthy, Stay Home.


Tahani Dakkak
BSc, MMASc, PharmD ‘23

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