June 25, 2020
By: Parker E. Lawton
It is important to stay safe in these troubling and uncertain times, and that includes being wary of the many miracle cures, snake oil treatments, and flawed disease prevention products that do not deliver on their promised benefits to combat COVID-19.
A myriad of products have been put into the market offering to diagnose, treat, cure, and prevent COVID-19. Many are not supported by scientific data and have not been approved by governmental agencies tasked with regulating medicine and medical supplies. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has already compiled more than 52,000 consumer reports of fraud and scams related to COVID-19 products and services. The FDA is also actively investigating claims to stop unscrupulous individuals and companies from promoting unsubstantiated treatments and testing products that do not accurately test for COVID-19.
The FTC has issued dozens of warning letters to people and companies who have marketed or sold these bogus products to a frightened public. A list of warning letters is available to the public on the FTC website, https://www.ftc.gov/coronavirus/enforcement/warning-letters.
In late March 2020, shortly after many states ordered businesses to stay closed and citizens to stay at home, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in Texas to enjoin the operators of the allegedly fraudulent website www.coronavirusmedicalkit.com from engaging in a wire fraud scheme to profit from confusion and fear surrounding COVID-19. In April and May 2020, federal district courts in Utah and Oklahoma issued temporary restraining orders against companies and individuals associated with those companies. The courts required the defendants to immediately stop distributing colloidal silver products that the sellers claimed could be used for diagnosing, curing, mitigating, treating and preventing any disease, including COVID-19. The courts’ orders also froze all assets of the defendants pending a preliminary injunction trial and determination if restitution to harmed buyers is appropriate.
Other companies have used the coronavirus pandemic crisis to tout unscrupulous business opportunities. The FTC has uncovered a scheme perpetrated by a multi-level marketing company that recruited people to sell fake and unsubstantiated treatments and cures from their homes. The FTC has also uncovered a text message scam marking ploy which claimed to host a network of coronavirus contract tracing.
The FTC filed a lawsuit against a Rhode Island-based company which promoted a Small Business Administration loan program and Paycheck Protection Program which it claimed would assist small businesses. According to the FTC, the company made false statements to potential small business customers that it was an SBA-approved lender.
Every state has a consumer fraud statute which bars deceptive business practices and may entitle a wronged buyer to relief. The plaintiff may be entitled to damages incurred as a result of the deceptive business practice. In addition, a court order may bar the seller from engaging in the deceptive conduct with other persons who could be victims to the deceptive business practice. Victims of false or deceptive claims made about COVID-19 products may have legal rights of recourse against the seller and many consumer fraud statutes entitle the prevailing buyer plaintiff to recover an award of attorney fees.
It is important to consult with your physician before purchasing or using any form of treatment in connection with COVID-19. Use good judgment, exercise prudent diligence and get a thorough understanding of any products before you buy them.