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Microsoft, Pfizer Join to Battle Online Drugstores

By Jonathan Krim
Thursday, February 10, 2005; Page E01

Politics, it seems, is not the only thing that spawns unusual couples. E-mail spam is having a similar effect.

Yesterday, corporate giants Microsoft Corp. and Pfizer Inc. filed a total of 17 lawsuits in courts in New York and Washington state targeting various alleged spammers and Web-site operators that peddle fraudulent versions of drugs, particularly the sexual-performance drug Viagra.

_____Spam In The News_____
E-Mail-Address Thief Pleads Guilty (The Washington Post, Feb 5, 2005)
Spammers' New Strategy (The Washington Post, Feb 4, 2005)
Verizon's Spam Policy Criticized (The Washington Post, Jan 19, 2005)
More Spam News

Lawsuits by Internet service providers such as Microsoft, EarthLink and America Online have become commonplace since the passage of federal and state anti-spam laws. But this is the first time an ISP has joined a major retailer to attack the entire supply chain of online scams.

Pfizer attorney Marc Brotman said that roughly 25 percent of all spam is related to pharmaceuticals, and that Pfizer sought out Microsoft to pool the two firms' extensive investigative resources.

The result is yet another disturbing look at the sophisticated schemes that power the underbelly of e-commerce.

The most noteworthy of the suits target two online stores, one of which, according to Pfizer, masquerades as a legitimate Canadian pharmacy. Pharmaceutical companies don't like any Canadian pharmacies that sell drugs at lower prices than in the United States. But many of them require prescriptions from U.S. doctors, have them reviewed by Canadian physicians, and dispense real drugs.

Not so for CanadianPharmacy and E-PharmacyDirect, according to the lawsuits. The sites look quite professional, with large photos of people with stethoscopes around their necks. They contain few of the spelling and grammar mistakes common to spam. One even links to a Pfizer site on women's health. (The Web addresses for those pharmacy sites do not precisely match their names.)

For sale are purportedly generic or original forms of drugs such as Viagra, Lipitor for high cholesterol and Xanax and Valium for depression or anxiety, all at bargain-basement prices. And no prescription is required. Your satisfaction is guaranteed, the sites say, though the link for 24-hour customer service at E-PharmacyDirect did not work.

More important, according to Brotman, the drugs are generally not the real thing. He said investigators traced the Viagra to an unauthorized supply house in India.

It's not that the drugs are made of some weird substance, but Brotman said they are likely to contain improper amounts of Viagra's primary ingredient, which might also be expired or contaminated.

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