17 November 2018
Viagra is one of the most widely counterfeited drugs. Photo: Internet
Viagra is one of the most widely counterfeited drugs. Photo: Internet

How call centers are becoming fronts for fake drugs

An army of phone operators at a busy call-center hub north of Manila pitch all sorts of goods and services to potential customers at the other end of the line.

Among the offerings, authorities allege, are counterfeit drugs, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In one call center raided by Philippine police Friday for alleged sales of counterfeit drugs, officers say they found a product manual that schooled operators about Viagra and other medicines, a script telling customers they would “receive the highest standard of pharmaceutical care”, and a handwritten ledger detailing feedback from US callers.

“He said the last pills he received were fake,” read one entry from late 2013 shown to the newspaper.

During the raid, witnessed by journalists from the newspaper, police confiscated 150 computers but failed to nab anyone peddling fake pharmaceuticals.

The failure to make arrests was disappointing, said Leigh Wadeson, an intelligence analyst for pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer Inc., who flew to Manila for the raid.

Still, “disruption is what this is all about,” he said.

“Any prosecutions that happen later are a bonus.”

As increasing numbers of people order and renew prescriptions online and over the phone, counterfeiters — like legitimate sellers — are turning to call centers for customer service.

That has brought the action to the Philippines, the world’s biggest employer of call center operators — most of them offering legitimate services.

Like their legitimate counterparts, operators selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals take orders, renew prescriptions, answer questions and try to sell more products.

Common counterfeits include erectile dysfunction medicines Viagra, made by Pfizer, and Cialis, from Eli Lilly & Co. Counterfeiters also make pills to treat malaria and the AIDS virus.

Fake pills often contain a small amount of active ingredients, but some have also been found to contain arsenic, boric acid, floor wax and brick dust, pharmaceutical companies say.

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