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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 August, 2004, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Viagra spam forces legal action
Viagra pills, Pfizer
A lot of spam hawks fake Viagra
Drug giant Pfizer has started a legal campaign against spammers and online pharmacies pushing fake Viagra.

The campaign will try to seize domains selling fake pills and stop spammers sending messages offering the drug.

The pharmaceutical firm began the campaign after survey results showed that many people believe Pfizer is the source of spam offering Viagra.

Alongside the legal challenge goes a project to warn people about the dangers of popping fake Viagra pills.

Health warning

Many of the junk messages sent by spammers offer Viagra or so-called generic versions of the pill that supposedly offer the same help with erectile dysfunction that the original drug was created to treat.

The name "Viagra" has become so associated with spam that any junk mailer wanting to use the word has to obfuscate it with non-alphanumeric characters to help the messages slip past spam filters.

Pfizer is now suing websites that illegally use the Viagra name to market the generic versions and to block the sales of these drugs. It is also going after spammers that send out millions of messages offering the drug.

Screen grab of Viagra spam. BBC
Scrambled spellings mean spam
In a survey 25% of men believed that Pfizer was responsible for sending the Viagra-themed spam.

Pfizer said that there was no such thing as legal generic Viagra because such a version of the drug has not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

"Pfizer is taking these steps to help raise consumer awareness about the problems posed by illegitimate online 'pharmacies' and to directly address the source of these problems," said Jeff Kindler, legal spokesman for Pfizer.

The company is working with the US Department of Justice, US Customs and Border Protection, the FBI, and the US FDA to track down and prosecute the sellers of illegal Viagra.

"It's often difficult for consumers to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate internet 'pharmacies,'" said Brian Lamkin, head of the FBI's Financial Crimes Section.

"These websites are cleverly designed to defraud consumers and sell drugs that are not approved by the US FDA," he said.

Awareness campaign

Pfizer is directly suing five organisations and individuals that it claims are infringing its trademarks, engaging in unfair competition and deceptive practices in selling non-approved Viagra or illegal generic versions of it.

It is also attempting to seize 24 websites that it claims are trading illegally on the Viagra name and are trying to sell illegal versions of the drug.

As well as the lawsuits, Pfizer is rolling out a public awareness campaign to warn consumers about the health dangers of taking illegal Viagra pills.

Pfizer said Viagra should only be taken after consultation with a physician as the condition it was created to treat has many causes and taking the drug could exacerbate these other health problems.

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