Scams involving Ozempic, Mounjaro, and Wegovy increase

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published June 24, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Prescription GLP-1 drugs used for weight loss treatment are in high demand.

  • Online scammers are targeting people seeking weight loss drugs with fake and misleading websites, ads, and social media posts.

  • Data shows a 183% increase in these scams in the first quarter of 2024.

Popular GLP-1 weight loss drugs such as Ozempic, Mounjaro, and Wegovy are in high demand.[] The US and Europe have experienced a shortage of these drugs. In recent months, a plethora of scams have shown up across social media in response to the shortage and increasing public demand. According to research from online security company McAfee, scams related to these weight loss drugs increased by 183% in the first four months of 2024.[]

The company uncovered over 176,000 phishing attempts and nearly 450 scam websites. Scammers also target weight loss drug seekers through social media avenues, such as Instagram and TikTok, as well as through localized advertising platforms like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Often, these scams only accept payment made through popular apps such as Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App. Some scams ask for payment through cryptocurrency platforms such as Bitcoin.

Scams can take on different forms on different platforms. For instance, scammers on Craigslist or Facebook often create posts claiming to be people with “extra” pills available to sell.[]Other scammers might list weight loss pills they say are “substitutes”  from overseas. McAfee researchers found 207 scam postings of this type on Craigslist during a single 24-hour-period in April 2024.[]

Scams on platforms such as TikTok can be even more misleading. On these social platforms, scammers posing as physicians and other medical professionals create content advertising weight loss pills and offer to provide pills without a prescription.[] Some videos even feature false testimonials from customers claiming to have received a weight loss pill and used it successfully.[] 

GLP-1 demand

Ozempic was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for type 2 diabetes in 2017.[] Weight loss is a noted side effect of Ozempic. People treated with Ozempic often saw significant weight changes, and the drug began being prescribed off-label as a weight loss treatment. Demand for Ozempic—and the generic semaglutide— increased as more people saw results. In recent years, celebrities and social media influencers alike have touted Ozempic and similar GLP-1 medications as the ultimate weight loss secret, leading to skyrocketing demand.[] 

Currently, more than 1 million legitimate prescriptions for Ozempic, Wegovy, and other GLP-1 medications are filled each week in the US.[1] It’s worth noting that while Ozempic is the GLP-1 drug most linked in the public eye to weight loss, the medication is still only approved by the FDA as a treatment for diabetes. Physicians have been prescribing Ozempic as an off-label weight management treatment over the past several years, but the only GLP-1s approved for weight loss are Saxenda, Wegovy, and Zepbound.

Legitimate prescriptions for GLP-1 medications can be difficult to acquire, and the shortage of these medications can make filling these prescriptions an additional challenge. So, it’s not surprising that many people have turned to internet searches in the hopes of finding a way to acquire these medications. 

Increasingly sophisticated scams 

Scams can be difficult for consumers to spot. Today’s AI allows scammers to create websites and forms that seem legitimate. Experts say that it’s becoming harder than ever to know when an email, website, post, or text message is a scam.

Cybersecurity expert Chester Wisneski explains: “We used to tell people to watch out for specific telltale signs. These were things such as spelling and grammar mistakes or images and logos that didn’t quite match the brand. With AI, that advice no longer applies. Those telltale signs have been wiped away by artificial intelligence  The fakes are getting good enough that it’s hard for a normal person to tell the difference.”

As a result, people often believe they’ve found a genuine treatment solution when they stumble upon one of these scams. Unfortunately, these scams can result in money loss and identity theft. 

Patients seeking weight loss treatments aren’t the only ones who can be the targets of scams. Some scammers go after medical providers, too.[] The FDA has seized thousands of units of fake Ozempic from the US drug supply chain.[] In December 2023, the administration issued a warning to healthcare professionals that counterfeit Ozempic and potentially unsterile needles had been found throughout the country. The FDA is encouraging physicians, practices, pharmacies, and patients to double-check any Ozempic they receive for legitimacy. 

What this means for you

The demand for Ozempic and other GLP-1 medications is high. Unfortunately, as a physician, you can’t stop online scammers or prevent your patients from being targeted. However, you can have open conversations with your patients about these medications and their potential benefits and drawbacks. Patients who fully understand their weight loss options might be likely to turn to TikTok and other sources for advice and treatment.

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