The Rise in Fraudulent Advertising During a Global Pandemic

May 04, 2020

The Rise in Fraudulent Advertising During a Global Pandemic

"What we don't need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products
with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims." – Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joe Simons

Amid the current outbreak of the novel coronavirus 2019, there has been a surge in exploitative marketing efforts by companies seeking to capitalize on the global public health emergency. Misleading ads for products claiming to treat, cure, or guarantee prevention of COVID-19 have flooded the internet. Users on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have reported seeing misinformed advertisements from many health and wellness companies pushing fraudulent treatment products for profit. But the fact is, there is currently no approved cure, vaccine, drug or investigational product to treat or prevent COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus 2019.[1]

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and state and local governments have warned consumers to be on the lookout for scammers determined to make a profit off a global crisis. In a unified effort, both federal agencies have sent warning letters to sellers of unapproved and misbranded products. From essential oils to teas to colloidal silver, the following companies have advertised products they claim will treat or prevent coronavirus and have been issued a warning letter (letters linked): Vital Silver, Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., N-ergetics, GuruNanda, LLC, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy LLC, The Jim Bakker Show, among others.

The following are examples from these companies of deceptive product claims sourced primarily from social media:

The FTC located several controversial posts made from Quinessence Aromatherapy on their company Twitter page alleging that “essential oils can protect against coronavirus.” Their Twitter page has since been deleted.

The health and wellness company, Vital Silver, utilized Facebook as a platform to circulate product misinformation about colloidal silver:

“So, it’s actually widely acknowledged in both science and the medical industry that ionic silver kills coronaviruses. And it’s now known that the Chinese are employing ionic silver in their fight against the spread of the coronavirus.” [].

Colloidal silver products marketed for any medical purpose are considered mislabeled. The FDA has previously warned that colloidal silver is not safe or effective for treating any disease, virus, or other medical condition; there are no scientific studies that support such uses of colloidal silver.

Another company that attempted to capitalize off of the COVID-19 pandemic was Vivify Holistic Clinic, which went to the extent of creating an entire website dedicated to “coronavirus defense” on which consumers can purchase products. The site has since been taken down after the FTC and FDA demanded immediate termination to correct violations. Nevertheless, some of the claims made on their website prior to its termination were grossly misleading. Vivify Holistic advertised an anti-viral formula as both a preventive measure and treatment for the virus:

“Each 100 ml of product will last 16 days for a preventative dose and 8 days for an infection dosage. . . .Take Extracts #1 through #3 as preventative. . . .If you are infected, take all 4 products and use the infection dosage.”

There are no products proven to cure COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Ads for such products are making unfounded claims and favoring profit over consumer health and safety. The FTC and FDA have joined forces to remind companies that it is “illegal to advertise that a product 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.”

At the local level, enforcement agencies are taking similar actions. For example, the Los Angeles City Attorney brought an action against L.A. area’s Applied BioSciences Corp for unlawfully advertising and selling an in-home COVID-19 antibody blood test that has not been approved by the FDA.

Deceived consumers also have a role to play in holding misleading companies accountable, and Keller Rohrback is investigating such consumer claims. We have seen a rise in treatment ads claiming to cure or prevent COVID-19 because companies are choosing to capitalize on coronavirus anxiety. To learn more about our COVID-19 false advertising investigation, please click here or contact us at (800) 776-6044 or [email protected].

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