Don’t put your health at risk: Fake health supplements slip through on ecommerce platforms

A check on these ecommerce websites revealed that many commonly used supplements are being sold at dirt-cheap prices of up to 70 per cent cheaper by overseas sellers.


A person looking at possibly fake supplements on an ecommerce platform. PHOTO: THE STAR

November 17, 2023

PETALING JAYA – Don’t jump for joy if your usual supplements are being sold at knockdown prices on ecommerce websites, because they could be fake or counterfeits that could pose a health risk.

A check on these ecommerce websites revealed that many commonly used supplements are being sold at dirt-cheap prices of up to 70% cheaper by overseas sellers.

The “bogus” supplements bear the real brands and existing labels from the United States, United Kingdom or Australia, which are not that common in Malaysian pharmacies.

ALSO READ: Suspicious supplements have consumers on high alert

They include popularly consumed supplements like multivitamins and those for joint health, heart health, anti-inflammatory, anti-ageing, antioxidants, probiotics and enzymes.

Buyers are, however, unable to view or verify where these sellers are based. 

From the parcel delivery label and information, the products seem to have come from overseas with the parcels delivered through a shipping and consolidating company based in Selangor.

ALSO READ: ‘Ecommerce sites should be held accountable’

While many Malaysians have purchased these products from such sellers, some noticed differences between the original product in terms of product label, design and packaging, and the actual supplement’s look, form and smell.

Malaysian Community Pharmacy Guild (MCPG) Kuala Lumpur and Selangor chairman Rachel Gan said the cheap pricing does not “make sense.”

“It’s quite impossible for these supplements to go so cheap,” she said in an interview.

Questioning the content of such products, she said they could be made with powders used as “filler.”

“But the concern is that they could be made of something else that is unknown and which could damage your kidneys or liver in the long run,” said Gan.

MCPG president Foon Hwei Foong said these products could have been adulterated with unknown substances that could be dangerous to a person’s health.

Finding out what these substances are poses another challenge as it is costly to do so, said Gan, adding that consumers who suspect something amiss could send the supplement to a lab to test its ingredients.

“It may cost a few thousand ringgit. That’s why consumers usually don’t bother and just throw the products away since they spent so little to buy them in the first place,” she said.

She added that consumers were likely to only take action when their health is affected.

Despite existing laws and controls to ensure the safety of medicines and supplements in the market, Gan said the emergence of online sellers poses a challenge.

“Any sellers, either from Malaysia or overseas, are allowed to sell online, offering all kinds of unregistered products.

“It could be any overseas brand and the products can pass through Customs checks and reach Malaysian consumers.

“This is because if the product is for personal use for no more than three months, Customs can let it go through.

“This sounds scary as any supplement can come into Malaysia without being regulated. Online platforms also do not control who can sell what, and they don’t filter what products are on their platforms,” she said.

Gan said a concerted effort from several ministries and agencies is needed for greater enforcement to stop fake supplements from reaching consumers.

For example, she said the Health Ministry can tighten its rules and enforcement through the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), while the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) can require ecommerce platforms to filter their sellers and products, requiring them to have authorisation letters from the concerned brands or the Customs Department.

“The Domestic Trade and Cost of Living Ministry could also play its part in creating awareness among online consumers,” she said.

Gan noted that the NPRA required all medicines, cosmetics and supplement products sold in the Malaysian market to be registered with the Health Ministry.

“The registered products will have a hologram sticker on the item and a registration number beginning with MAL issued by the Health Ministry.

“Consumers can run a check on the hologram by using the FarmaChecker app,” she added.

scroll to top