New research shows that 60% of online searches for pharmaceutical drugs lead to fake medicines, putting consumers at risk of buying fake products.

Search engines are refusing to remove such websites in their search results, brand protection provider Incopro found, and six out of 10 of Google’s first-page results following searches for the antibiotic Bactrim (trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole) were for locations very likely to be operating unlawfully.

The company also revealed that in more than a quarter of cases (26%), counterfeit goods were featured in the top three search results, which studies have shown is where the majority of visitors go.

In pharmaceuticals, the traffic to infringing websites originating from product or brand search terms was 53.2%, indicating that consumers are being fooled when shopping for particular drugs.

“Unfortunately, while the ability to purchase prescription products online means consumers have easier access to sourcing important pharmaceuticals, the risks this brings with it are paramount to public safety awareness,” explained Simon Baggs, chief executive officer and co-founder of Incopro.

“Not only has uncontrolled purchasing of pharmaceuticals lead to epidemics like the opioid crisis in America, it also allows for unlawful operators to sell counterfeits products. These counterfeits pose a direct risk to consumers safety due to their unregulated production.”

The protection provider monitored patterns of illegal activity and geo-located online listings to decipher the likelihood of them being counterfeit, as while counterfeiters are continuing to get smarter, they still leave a range of traces that can be used to track down the root of the problem.

Baggs continued, “Most concerningly, potentially infringing pharmaceutical sites are one of the most reliant on search results to drive traffic to their websites. The gravity of the risks that counterfeit medicinal and pharmaceutical products to consumer health and safety is significant.”

The company is calling on search engines to do more in de-indexing and acting on counterfeit sellers that appear in their results and protect consumers from harm.