On May 7, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent an additional 45 warning letters to companies and individuals concerning allegedly unsubstantiated claims that their products can treat or prevent COVID-19. This is the fourth set of warning letters. The FTC has now issued almost 100 such warning letters over coronavirus claims.
The warning letters were sent to companies and individuals that marketed a wide variety of products, including:
- A CD “of frequencies to resist the Coronavirus,” claiming that it will “boost your immune system and weaken the virus.”
- Chiropractic services, claiming “[a]nything that interferes with proper nerve system function will have a negative impact on your immune system. Chiropractic has been shown to be the most effective form of healthcare for restoring proper nerve system function.”
- IVs and other purported treatments, claiming “research shows that high dose Vitamin C is effective against COVID-19.”
- Ozone therapy, claiming that it “has been used in Spain with great success against Covid19,” and offering at-home equipment “for $900 as a public service during this pandemic.”
- Herbal tea, claiming that it “helps prevent the Coronavirus from infecting individuals through immediate germ removal and immune support.”
- Processed water, claiming that it “flushes out viruses from your bloodstream” and that “[w]ith countless viruses and diseases that will continue to plague us like the Coronavirus COVID-19 it is important for us to continue our efforts in fighting off such diseases in the best possible ways.”
- COVID-19 homeopathy treatment kits, claiming they are “effective for 80% of people.”
The warning letters reiterate that it is a violation of the FTC Act to “advertise that a product or service can prevent, treat, or cure human disease unless you possess competent and reliable scientific evidence, including, when appropriate, well-controlled human clinical studies, substantiating that the claims are true at the time they are made.” For the products and treatments identified, no such study is currently known to exist.
The FTC stated that marketers receiving these letters must immediately cease the allegedly false marketing and respond to the FTC within 48 hours, describing the specific actions they have taken to address the FTC’s concerns. If the marketing is not addressed, the FTC said that it may seek a federal court injunction and an order requiring money to be refunded to consumers.
To read the warning letters, click here.
Why it matters: Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, has noted, “In nearly all cases so far, those who get the letters have stopped making the false claims or selling the scammy thing—whether cures from a product or earnings from a work-at-home scheme.” However, on April 28, 2020, the FTC announced its first case against a marketer for making unsubstantiated coronavirus claims. According to the FTC, Marc Ching, doing business as Whole Leaf Organics, claimed that an “anti viral wellness booster” supplement treats, prevents or reduces the risk of COVID-19 and that his CBD products can treat cancer. The FTC issued an administrative complaint and sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the advertiser. Advertisers should ensure that claims about treating or preventing COVID-19, as well as other health-related claims, are adequately substantiated. These claims certainly appear to be high on the FTC’s list of priorities.