PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Almost 2 million Americans are trying to save money by buying medications online, according to a recent Consumer Reports survey. But government investigators have found that many rogue pharmacies peddle bad drugs online that can cause serious harm.

Pharmacies that pretend to operate in other countries often sell drugs that are unapproved or even counterfeit. And some of those drugs have been found to contain dangerous substances like toxic paint or even rat poison.

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This summer, the Food and Drug Administration took action against more than 1,000 sites. But new ones keep cropping up. A recent survey of 11,000 online pharmacies found that only about four percent were operating according to U.S. laws and standards.

Here’s an obvious red flag when researching an online pharmacy: If it doesn’t require a prescription for medication, don’t go near it. If it’s legitimate, it will be state licensed and have a pharmacist that you can consult.

Many people think Canadian online pharmacies are okay. But many Internet pharmacies that claim to be Canadian are not. According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacies, most are fake storefronts selling low-quality products from elsewhere overseas.

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But there are some online sites you can trust. Those run by big-box stores like Costco, drugstore chains like Walgreens, or your local pharmacy meet all regulatory standards.

One way to tell whether an Internet pharmacy is safe and operates within the U.S, look for the seal from the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites program, or VIPPS.

And you can save money on prescription drugs without going online. Many stores offer deeply discounted generic drugs, and some offer loyalty programs that give discounts to members.

Complete Ratings and recommendations on all kinds of products, including appliances, cars and trucks, and electronic gear, are available on Consumer Reports’ website. Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org.

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