Stop selling phony coronavirus cures, FTC warns marketers
WASHINGTON - Could an acupuncturist’s five-drug treatment be a cure for the coronavirus, or could a CD of “musical medicine” help prevent someone from catching the virus?
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But businesses on the internet trying to drum up sales have still tried to claim it’s possible anyway.
The Federal Trade Commission announced on Thursday that it had sent 45 more letters warning marketers to stop making unsupported claims that their products and therapies can prevent or treat COVID-19, bringing the total number of notices the commission has sent out to coronavirus hucksters close to 100.
Other recipients include a New York water filter salesman who claimed his product “removes viruses” from a user’s bloodstream, a Montana company that lied by saying the virus was caused by “electromagnetic radiation” from 5G cellular network equipment and a Georgia chiropractor who claimed his chiropractic treatments would help his customers avoid catching COVID-19 by strengthening their immune system.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued more than 60 emergency use authorizations for medical products like coronavirus test kits and experimental drugs, but there are currently no scientifically-proven products to treat or prevent COVID-19.
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The FTC has received more than 37,000 COVID-19-related complaints, most of which were related to fraud. Consumers reported more than $26 million in losses related to fraud.
“Any references to COVID-19 when you’re making a product performance claim is going to be problematic,” Peter Marinello, vice president of the BBB National Programs’ Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council, told FOX Business.
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Marinello said the BBB has also seen “a proliferation” of marketers making unsubstantiated claims related to the coronavirus.
Last month, the FTC also sent 10 warning letters to direct-selling businesses over inaccurate claims they made about their products and the coronavirus and about the income someone could earn by selling the goods.
“They’re trying to exploit certain demographics, particularly right now the unemployed, the elderly folks who may be particularly vulnerable to these types of messages,” Marinello said.
In the letters, the FTC advised the businesses to stop making the claims and told them to respond within 48 hours about the action they’ve taken to remove the misinformation. If the businesses don’t comply, they could face a federal court injunction and an order to refund money.
The commission already brought one California-based vitamin marketer, Marc Ching and Whole Leaf Organics, to court over his coronavirus-related claims.
“There’s no proof that any product will prevent or treat COVID-19 … Let’s be clear: companies making these claims can look forward to an FTC lawsuit like this one,” Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said.
In the case of direct-selling claims, Marinello said it is possible to add some supplemental income, but consumers should be wary of anyone making big promises, especially under current economic conditions.
Many legitimate direct-selling companies have income disclosure statements that anyone considering joining can review in order to get an idea of the generally-expected income, according to Marinello.
“Folks have to just be extra vigilant and pay careful attention to the claims being communicated,” he said. “Do your research with respect to these companies.”