“Get a lighter skin”, “enjoy a flat tummy” and “say goodbye to acne” are some of the “shiny” advertisements through which social media vendors attract people to buy their “fake” or “unlicensed” products, warns the Consumer Protection Society (CPS), which said it consistently receives reports from people who “required receiving a medication after [taking] the medication”.
Over the past three years, virtual markets whose sole platform is a Facebook page or Instagram account have become very popular, especially among females for the “seemingly magical” medications or health equipment for people’s various problems or diseases, according to the CPS.
Samia Abdulkarim, a 27-year-old citizen who was spotted interacting with a similar advertisement, said that she “tried all possible ways to lose weight, but she couldn’t endure any diet, so she became hopeless and ready to try anything that may ease reaching her goal”.
Abu Hani, a 42-year-old resident of Amman, said he does not believe in natural products, but he buys them upon his wife’s request who claims that “if they don’t work, at least they won’t hurt”.
CPS Spokesperson Sahem Abbadi told The Jordan Times that some vendors change their products’ labels to fool customers and sell them what they want.
“We once warned of an ‘imported royal honey’ that was advertised to be a natural aphrodisiac and it was sold for an expensive price, but it turned out to be ordinary honey but with a fake label,” Abbadi told The Jordan Times.
He stressed that it takes pharmaceutical companies at least one year before the drug is licensed and sold at markets, as the process requires several testing measures to check for any side effects or complications the product might cause.
The Jordan Times attempted to contact one of the online vendors to ask about an imported product that would “remove extra hair forever”. However a representative and vendor of the product declined to comment.
Jordan Food and Drugs Administration (JFDA) Spokesperson Hiyam Dabbas said that any individual around the world can now establish an online store to sell products to people without any monitoring.
“Our inspectors are working their hardest to monitor any violating businesses, but the massive number of vendors places a greater importance on raising awareness among the public to stop such businesses from spreading and succeeding,” she told The Jordan Times, adding: “We would need an army to follow up on all these vendors.”
According to Dabbas, there are around 25,000 pharmaceutical institutions and 70,000 food establishments in the Kingdom, which all require monitoring, so the only way to completely demolish these fake markets would be for customers to stop buying these items.
“We always publish warning statements on newspapers; and we talk over the radio and TV, but many people still believe and chase illusions,” Dabbas added.
Abbadi added that such practices will not disappear until deterrent penalties are imposed on violators.
He cited cases they have received in which some girls suffered from skin burns and rashes after using products sold online, in addition to cases in which people had to undergo serious medical treatments following drugs they took for fertility.
“Such crimes are sometimes punished with financial penalties that do not exceed hundreds of dinars, or a few months of detention, which are nothing compared to the profits these gangs make, so they basically return to the market again and even encourage others to join,” the society’s spokesperson claimed.
Dabbas noted that as of 2015, the penalties under the JDFA law were toughened; however, the final ruling depends on the judge after cases are referred to the prosecutor general.
“The administration made previous requests to have its own competent judge who is well-informed about the matter and can accurately estimate the damage and impose a penalty accordingly, but this requires a larger financial budget for infrastructure and more human resources which are difficult at the current time,” she explained.
The on-going issue raised questions over how these vendors were able to import these products, into the country without having them tested and licensed.
Dabbas explained that some of them buy these items in lower quantities so they are considered for personal use and thus undergo less monitoring, while Abbadi noted that some products are ordinary imported food items such as oils or honey that are of lower quality, but then relabelled with fake names.
Abbadi and Dabbas agreed that the issue needed collaborative efforts involving all concerned authorities in order to regulate these businesses.
“The cybercrimes unit can have a major role in tracking these people,” Abbadi said, stressing that customers could end these businesses by getting a vitamin, food supplement, medication or any other health item from a pharmacy, not a Facebook page.