FTC puts the screws on COVID Treatment Scams

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Federal Trade Commission (USA) Orders More Marketers to Stop Falsely Claiming Their Products Can Effectively Prevent or Treat COVID-19.

Commission targets deceptive and misleading ads placed on social media platforms, including posts from multi-level marketing companies and their distributors.

The Federal Trade Commission ordered more than 20 marketers nationwide to immediately stop making baseless claims that their products and supposed therapies can treat or prevent COVID-19. In cease-and-desist demands sent to these marketers, the agency noted that violators could be hit with monetary penalties under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act passed by Congress last year.

The cease-and-desist demands are the latest action in the FTC’s continued fight against fraudsters attempting to take advantage of ongoing coronavirus concerns, including those related to the Omicron variant.

“Americans are still suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and scammers are still taking advantage of them by making false claims about cures and treatments,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Our efforts to stamp out those claims will continue in 2022, and any marketers not heeding our cease-and-desist demands can expect to face consequences, including civil penalties”

This is the eleventh set of warning letters issued by the FTC. The Commission has previously sent similar health-related letters to 405 companies and individuals.

Most of the demands announced today were sent to companies using social media platforms to sell their products, and in those instances the agency also notified the platform of its demand.

Several of the letters announced today call out products and “treatments” the FTC has warned companies about previously, including peptide therapy, herbal remedies, ivermectin, and supplements. Others concern less-common products and therapies deceptively promoted to prevent or treat COVID-19. For example, letters went to companies claiming that “imprinted filtered water,” nasal irrigation, and even seaweed extract can fight coronavirus. However, currently there is no scientific evidence that any of these products can prevent or treat COVID-19 generally or any specific variant.

In the health-related letters, the FTC states that one or more of the efficacy claims made by the marketers are unsubstantiated because they are not supported by scientific evidence, and therefore violate the FTC Act. The demands order the recipients to immediately stop making all claims that their products can prevent or treat COVID-19, and to notify the Commission within 48 hours about the specific actions they have taken to address the agency’s concerns.

The letters warn the recipients of the FTC’s authority to seek civil penalties under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act. Violators who make deceptive claims related to the treatment, cure, or prevention of COVID-19 are subject to penalties of up to $43,792 per violation.

The actions announced today involved the companies and individuals listed below. Marketers are grouped based on the type of therapy, product, or service they pitched related to COVID-19.

Infoceuticals, Imprinted Filtered Water:

AshNu Technologies Inc. [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-ashnu-technologies ] (infopathy.com) (North York, Ontario, Canada)

IV Ozone and Vitamin C and D Therapy:

Pretty Healthy [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-pretty-healthy ] (New York, New York)
Vita Drip Therapy [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-ivita-drip ], ivitadriptherapy.com (Rock Springs, Wyoming; Liberal, Kansas)

Low-dose Immunotherapy Treatments:

Peine Osteopathic [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letters-peine-osteopathic ] (Boise, Idaho)

Nasal Irrigation Therapy:

Martin R. Hoke, RhinoSystems, Inc. [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-rhinosystems ] (Brooklyn, Ohio)

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatments:

Integrative Pain and Wellness Center [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-integrative-pain-wellness-center ] (Southlake, Texas)

Peptide Therapies/Vitamin Drips and Injections/Skin Care Therapies:

Dr. Tracy Gapin and Gapin Institute [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-gapin-institute ] (Sarasota, Florida)

Supplements, Vitamins, Botanicals, Protease Inhibitors, Ivermectin, and Seaweed Extract:

Krystal Anesthesia & Pain Specialists [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-krystal-anesthesia ] (Arlington, Texas and Holly Lake Ranch, Texas)
Todos Medical [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-todos-medical ] (Rehovot, Israel) and Alchemist’s Kitchen (New York, New York)
Seaweed & Co. [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-seaweed-co ] (Whitley Bay, United Kingdom)
Foraged with Faith [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-foraged-faith ]
Green Star Products [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-green-star-products ] (Victor, Montana)
Armored Nutrition [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-armored-nutrition ]
Sava Holistic Health [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-sava-holistic-health ] (East Hampton, Connecticut)
Sunshine Health Foods & Wellness Center [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-sunshine-health-food ] (Titusville, Florida)
TerraMune Health, LLC [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-terramune-health-llc ] (Portsmouth, New Hampshire)
Austin Compounding Pharmacy [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-austin-compounding-pharmacy ] (Austin, Texas)

Herbal Remedies, Teas, and Juices:

Wei FAST Patch Hawaii [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-wei-fast-patch-hawaii ]
Dr. Angelica Kokkalis, The Han Institute [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-angelica-kokkalis-han-institute ] (West Lafayette, Indiana)
Wei Laboratories, Inc. [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-wei-laboratories-inc ] (Santa Clara, California)
Good Stuff Juices [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-goodstuff-juices ] (Greenville, North Carolina)

Multi-Level Marketing Companies:

The Commission also sent cease-and-desist demands to four multi-level marketing companies, advising them to them to remove and address claims that they or their participants are making about their products’ ability to treat or prevent coronavirus disease or about the earnings people who have recently lost income can make.

This is the third set of letters to MLMs the FTC has announced as part of its ongoing efforts to protect consumers from COVID-19 scams. The letters refer the companies to the agency’s guidance for MLMs [ https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/business-guidance-concerning-multi-level-marketing ], remind them that they are responsible for the claims made by their participants and representatives, advise the recipients that they and their participants must immediately cease making all claims that are false or misleading, and inform them that they must notify the Commission within 48 hours about the specific actions they have taken to address the agency’s concerns.

The FTC sent the letters to the four companies listed below. The recipients are grouped based on the types of claims made.

Product Claims:

_AmpLIFEi_ [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-amplifei ] (Greenwood, Indiana)
_BlackOxygen Organics USA_ [ https://edit.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-blackoxygen-organics-usa ] (Sheridan, Wyoming)
_Enagic USA, Inc._ [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-enagic-usa-inc ] (Torrance, California)

Earnings Claims:

_Family First Life, LLC_ [ https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/warning-letters/letter-family-first-life-llc ] (Uncasville, Connecticut)

Other COVID-related FTC Enforcement Actions

In October 2021, the FTC sued Xlear, Inc., a Utah-based company, for violating the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, [ https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2021/10/ftc-sues-utah-based-company-falsely-claiming-its-nasal-sprays-can ] alleging that it falsely pitched its saline nasal sprays as an effective way to prevent and treat COVID-19. In its lawsuit against Xlear, Inc. and its owner, the FTC is asking a federal court to impose monetary penalties on the defendants and bar them from continuing to make such false and unsupported claims.

In April 2021, the FTC announced that 30 marketers nationwide had stopped making unsubstantiated claims [ https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2021/04/ftc-directed-30-more-marketers-stop-making-unsupported-claims ] that their products and therapies can prevent or treat COVID-19. The marketers removed these claims after receiving FTC warning letters citing the agency’s new civil penalty authority under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act.

Also that month, the FTC charged St. Louis-based chiropractor Eric Anthony Nepute and his company Quickwork LLC [ https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2021/04/first-action-under-covid-19-consumer-protection-act-ftc-seeks ] with violating the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act and the FTC Act, by deceptively marketing products containing vitamin D and zinc as scientifically proven to treat or prevent COVID-19. It was the first case the agency has brought under the new law.

In November 2020, a federal court in Ohio has issued a temporary restraining order [ https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/ftc_v_unknown_-_tro_with_attachment_a.pdf ] against 25 counterfeit websites that allegedly have been playing on consumers’ COVID-19 pandemic fears to trick them into paying for Clorox and Lysol products that the defendants never deliver.

The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition [ https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/bureaus-offices/bureau-competition ], stop deceptive and unfair business practices and scams [ https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/bureaus-offices/bureau-consumer-protection ], and educate consumers [ https://consumer.ftc.gov/ ]. Report fraud, scams, or bad business practices at ReportFraud.ftc.gov [ https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/ ]. Get consumer advice at consumer.ftc.gov [ https://consumer.ftc.gov/ ].