As seasoned information professionals, we can sense them from a mile off: those bogus or misleading web sites which line the bottom of the internet like lees in a wine barrel.
We try to teach our clients and patrons how to discern the quality of sites on the web by using the five criteria of reliability and validity. The first is authority: what are the author’s credentials? We know that this can sometimes be determined by the suffix on the URL. For example, collegiate websites end in .edu; .org stands for non-profit organization. Governmental sites end in .gov; commercial web sites are capped by .com. Commercial sites exist to sell something. That is fine if you are trying to buy something, but otherwise, beware.
The second criterion is currency: is the web page up-to-date? Third, we consider accuracy or bias, that is, is there a hidden agenda behind the information offered? It costs money to buy a web domain. Who is paying that fee, and why? Commercialism is the fourth consideration. Is the site trying to sell something that should be freely available, like medical information? And finally, we ask our patrons to think about the scope of the page. Does the information answer the question, and in enough depth?
Some of the most dangerous fake web sites are online pharmacies that sell medications that are illegal to purchase without a prescription. Their products are often diluted or even completely counterfeit versions of the real medication. Also, these rouge sites often steal their customers’ financial and personal information.
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) certifies pharmacy sites with its VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) accreditation program. In July 2012, it released the results of its investigation of over 10,000 online pharmacies. It found that an astonishing 97% of them do not comply with pharmacy laws and practice standards.
NABP urges buyers to use only those online pharmacies that merit its VIPSS seal of approval. It hosts a list of verified pharmacies on its site. It also certifies online veterinary pharmacies with its program called Vet-VIPPS (Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites). NAPB also maintains a list of known rogue sites.