Unproven coronavirus therapy proves cash cow for phantom pharmacies – Krebs on Security


Many of the same obscure organizations that pay people to promote male erectile dysfunction drugs through spam and hacked websites have recently seen an increase in demand for drugs used to fight malaria, lupus and arthritis. , in large part thanks to unfounded suggestions that these therapies may help fight the covid19 pandemic.

A review of sales figures from some of the major pharmacy affiliate programs suggests that sales of drugs containing hydroxychloroquine rivaled that of their main product – generic Viagra and Cialis – and that this as yet unproven coronavirus treatment has accounted for up to 25 to 30 percent of all sales over the past month.

A Google Trends chart showing the impact of web searches for “chloroquine” over the past 90 days.

KrebsOnSecurity has reviewed a number of the most popular online pharmacy companies, in part turning to some of the same accounts in those invite-only affiliate programs that I relied on to search for my 2014 book. , Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime, From the Global Epidemic to Your Front Door.

Many of these affiliate programs – with names like EvaPharmacy, Rx-Partners and Mailien / Alientarget – have been around for over a decade and were the first major catalysts in the creation of large-scale botnets and malware designed to enslave computers to sending spam.

Their products do not require a prescription, are largely sourced from pharmaceutical production facilities in India and China, and are shipped via international parcel post to customers around the world.

In mid-March, two influential personalities – President Trump and Elon Musk, CEO of Teslahas begun to suggest that hydroxychloroquine should be considered more strongly as a treatment for COVID-19.

Pharmacy affiliate programs immediately noticed a major money-making opportunity, noting that keyword searches for chloroquine-related terms were suddenly much more popular than for other pillars in their business.

“Everyone is hysterical,” wrote a member of the Russian-language affiliate forum gofuckbiz[.]com the 17th of March. “It’s time to make some extra money. Do any [pharmacy affiliate] programs sell coronavirus or flu drugs? “

The larger affiliate programs quickly seized the opportunity, which turned out to be a major money generator, albeit short lived. Below is a screenshot of the overall product sales statistics for the last 30 days for all affiliates of PharmaCash. As we can see, Aralene – a chloroquine drug used to treat and prevent malaria – was the third biggest seller behind Viagra and Cialis.

Recent 30-day sales figures for the PharmCash Pharmacy Affiliate Program.

Mid-March, the affiliate program Rx-Partners saw a huge increase in demand for Aralen and other drugs containing chloroquine phosphate, and began to encourage affiliates to promote a new set of product teasers targeting people anxiously seeking cures for COVID-19.

Their main promotion page – still live at about-coronavirus2019[.]com – praises the potential of Generic Aralen, Hydroxychloroquine and Generic Kaletra / Lopinavir, a medicine used to treat HIV / AIDS.

An advertisement promoting various unproven cures for COVID-19, from the Rx-Partners Pharmacy Affiliate Program.

On March 18, an official at Rx-Partners said that, like PharmCash, drugs that included chloroquine phosphate had already peaked in erectile dysfunction drug sales across the program.

But the increase in sales due to the global chloroquine frenzy would be short-lived. The demand for chloroquine phosphate has become so acute around the world that India – the world’s largest producer of hydroxychloroquine – announced that it would ban exports of the drug. On March 25, India also started close its main international seaports, leaving pharmacy affiliate programs to scramble to source products from other countries.

A March 31 message to affiliates working with the Union Pharm program, noting that Aralen supplies had dried up due to the shutdown of shipments to India.

India recently announced that it would resume exports of the drug, and judging by recent posts on the aforementioned affiliate site gofuckbiz[.]com, residents of various drugstore affiliate programs are eagerly awaiting news of exactly when the chloroquine drug shipments will continue.

“As soon as India opens and launches the mail, we’ll start everything, so get ready,” wrote one of Rx-Partners’ senior recruiters. “I’m sure there will always be a demand for pills.”

Global demand for these pills, combined with India’s recent export ban, has contributed to create drug shortages for patients who depend on it to treat chronic autoimmune diseases, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

While hydroxychloroquine has long been considered a relatively safe drug, some people were so concerned with securing their own drug supply that they turned to unorthodox sources.

March 19, Fox News ran a story on how the demand for hydroxychloroquine had driven up prices on eBay for chloroquine phosphate bottles designed to remove pests from aquariums. A week later, Arizona man has died and his wife has been hospitalized after the couple ingested such an aquarium product in hopes of boosting their immune system against the coronavirus.

Despite numerous claims that hydroxychloroquine may be effective in fighting COVID-19, there is little actual data showing how it benefits patients with the disease. the biggest test of the effectiveness of the drug against the coronavirus showed no benefit in a broad analysis of its use in US veterans hospitals. On the contrary, there were more deaths among those who received hydroxychloroquine compared to standard care, the researchers reported.

In a notice published today, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned against the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for COVID-19 outside a hospital setting or a clinical trial because of the risk of heart rhythm disturbances.

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