FTC and FDA Take Joint Action to Stop COVID-19 Fraud

March 16, 2020 | Marc S. Ullman | COVID-19 | FDA | Fraud and Abuse | Legislation and Public Policy | Litigation

On March 6, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued joint Warning Letters to seven companies calling for them to cease marketing products appearing to violate federal law by making deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims about their ability to treat Coronavirus (COVID-19). The companies targeted, (1) Vital Silver, (2) Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., (3) N-Ergetics, (4) GuruNanda, LLC, (5) Vivify Holistic Clinic, (6) Herbal Amy, Inc., and (7) Jim Bakker and The Jim Bakker Show (yes, that Jim Bakker), were directed to respond to the agencies within 48 hours (instead of the usual 15 working days) with an explanation of the corrective measures implemented in response to the letters.

The products involved include teas, essential oil and colloidal silver marketed with claims, express and/or implied, that they could treat or prevent COVID-19 infection. According to the letters such claims cause the products to be illegal, unapproved new drugs under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and to violate the FTC’s rules, as no substantiation exists for any product claiming to treat or protect against COVID-19. According to FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims. These warning letters are just the first step. We’re prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam.”

The FTC specifically cautions any company considering marketing a product targeting consumers afraid of contracting COVID-19 that “Coronavirus-related advertising claims will be subject to exacting scrutiny. The FTC has a magnifying glass on the marketplace to monitor Coronavirus claims. We’ll be taking a close look at what companies are saying. That also includes an examination of product names, URLs, metatags, and other ways companies can suggest or imply claims to consumers.”

Consumers are also urged to watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying that they have information about the virus; to ignore online offers for vaccinations as there are currently no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure COVID-19; and to do proper homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites.

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