Dominican con artists posing as special agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration have been running a clever prescription medication scam that has, so far, bilked some Americans out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to the US DoJ, people who purchase prescription drugs online from foreign manufacturers are now the target of an elaborate internet swindle in which criminals have found a way to hack into a buyer’s personal information and then use it to squeeze them out of their life savings.

Last month, authorities in the Dominican Republic arrested 17 men suspected in the extortion of more than $800,000 from American citizens. DEA officials say the majority of those victimized in this scam were led to believe they had illegally purchased pharmaceuticals from the Dominican Republic.

The is how the shakedown happens: After a victim places an order online for prescription medication, someone impersonating a DEA officer contacts them and declares their drug purchase was violation of federal law. "They find a known DEA name for example the DEA head of a Houston office, Dallas, San Francisco, something like that, and they call up claiming to be a DEA agent," said DEA special agent Steve Robertson.

The conning culprit then gives the victims an ultimatum -- either pay a hefty fine or go to jail. Since the victims typically have no interest in being locked up in federal prison, most opt to pay the fine, which the criminal has them do using a prepaid credit card -- making the transaction untraceable.

Although purchasing controlled substances online is usually against federal law, special agent Robertson says the DEA would never contact a person over the phone to discuss these types of indiscretions. "If law enforcement have a fine or something like that they would notify you in person. They would require you to appear in an office or a court of law where you would then have to make a payment," he said.

The DEA is not exactly sure how these criminals are obtaining this personal information, but there is speculation that foreign call centers are selling the data to organized crime rings. In recent busts, authorities discovered criminals in possession of the names, addresses, and credit card numbers of Americans who purchased prescription drugs online.

Mike Adams writes for stoners and smut enthusiasts in HIGH TIMES, Playboy’s The Smoking Jacket and Hustler Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @adamssoup and on Facebook/mikeadams73.