By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi and Kelly N. Garson
On June 11, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in a press release that it issued stop sale, use, or removal orders (SSURO) to Amazon.com Services LLC (Amazon) and eBay, Inc. (eBay) for selling certain pesticide products that EPA claims are unregistered, misbranded, or restricted-use pesticides, and pesticide devices that EPA asserts make false or misleading claims. The SSUROs address over 30 products sold on Amazon and over 40 products sold on eBay, and include several products marketed with what EPA believes are false or misleading claims of efficacy against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19.
EPA notes that Amazon and eBay are two of the largest e-commerce marketplaces and that they oversee millions of product listings. EPA further notes that it has held discussions with the companies, and other e-marketplaces, to stop sales of products that falsely claim to be effective against COVID-19, as discussed on our blog. Prior SSUROs issued to Amazon are discussed on our blog.
Registration of pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) is required prior to selling or distributing pesticides in the United States and it is a violation of FIFRA Section 12(a)(1)(A) to sell or distribute an unregistered pesticide. The EPA-approved label for a FIFRA registered pesticide product contains directions for use, precautionary statements, and other provisions that reflect EPA’s evaluation of data to and determination of acceptable risk for the product at issue when used as directed on the label. Pesticide products and devices are considered “misbranded” and in violation of FIFRA if, among other potential facts, they contain false or misleading claims and/or if their labels are missing certain required information (e.g., ingredients, precautionary statements, and directions for use).
EPA included a list of the products and devices at issue in attachments to the SSUROs. In the Amazon SSURO, EPA states that none of the listed products is registered with EPA, and that the products were misbranded because EPA believes they contain one or more false or misleading statements on their labels. In the eBay SSURO, EPA provides three attachments listing products eBay offered for sale that EPA claims are unregistered, misbranded, or classified as restricted use in violation of FIFRA.
The SSUROs prohibit Amazon and eBay from distributing, selling, or offering these products for sale. EPA requires that Amazon submit a written accounting of all the violative products listed in the attachment to the SSURO, including providing the location, quantity, and container size for these products, every 30 days for the next 150 days following Amazon’s receipt of the SSURO, or until Amazon no longer has the violative products in its ownership, custody, or control. Amazon must obtain written approval from EPA before it moves or removes any of the products from its facilities. EPA requires eBay to notify EPA of the corrective actions eBay will take regarding the violative products in writing within ten days of receiving the SSURO.
EPA notes in its press release the following examples of what it believes are pesticidal claims made for the products at issue that would require their registration prior to sale or distribution:
- “Kills COVID-19”
- “Complete sterilization including the current pandemic virus”
- “Coronavirus disinfectant”
- “2020 Coronavirus Protection Coronavirus Protection Clearance Sale”
- “A Powerful, Green, Non-Toxic Solution Proven to Inactivate our current viral strain”
- “Epidemic Prevention”
- “Efficient disinfection to prevent the spread of disease”
- “Help keep your family and those you care for healthy”
- “Nontoxic causes no permanent injuries”
- “Ingredients are biodegradable and have no harmful impact on the environment”
- “There is no damage to the environment”
- “You can easily purify the living environment”
- “Safe for all people using”
- “Gentle to Child & Pets”
- “Chemical Free”
EPA claims as additional violations that the products it believes are pesticide devices sold by Amazon also lack required EPA establishment numbers (i.e., site-specific information for the facility where the pesticide or device was produced) that is a required element on all pesticide and device labels.
The eBay SSURO also addresses claims that eBay sold restricted-use pesticides without limiting those sales to certified applicators as required by FIFRA Section 12(a)(2)(F). EPA states that EPA representatives purchased and received restricted-use products listed in Attachment C, Table 2 of the SSURO, but were not certified applicators at the time of the purchase, and were not required to submit proof that they were certified applicators prior to or during the sale. Restricted-use pesticides may only be distributed or sold to certified applicators or persons under their direct supervision. Certified applicators and persons they directly supervise are the only persons authorized to use restricted-use pesticides.
EPA’s press release highlights the following products:
- Described as a “particularly egregious” case are products found on Amazon containing Chlorine Dioxide sold with “unprovable claims of sanitizing and disinfecting hospitals, offices, and homes.” In addition, several versions of the product listed on the site have very little to no English-language instructions.
- Product listings on eBay.com include 55-gallon drums of Methylene Chloride marketed for use against SARS-CoV-2 as a disinfectant and paint stripper. Methylene Chloride is not approved for use against SARS-CoV-2. EPA notes also that EPA banned the retail sale of Methylene Chloride to consumers for paint removal purposes under the Toxic Substances Control Act “due to acute fatalities that resulted from exposure to the chemical.”
- Product listed on eBay called Virus Shut Out claiming to be a spatial disinfection card that would provide protection against SARS-CoV-2 to the wearer. Virus Shut Out was subject to previous EPA enforcement action, discussed in our earlier blog items.
- Product listed on eBay called Xtreme-Bio stating that it was exempt from EPA regulation and made entirely with “clean, green, safe, environmentally friendly ingredients” and that made claims to deactivate SARS-CoV-2.
EPA has been vigilant in reviewing and acting quickly to address products making claims against coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and COVID-19. The actions against Amazon and eBay are significant, as other actions have been largely targeted toward producers. The responses to the SSUROs will be of interest and should be monitored.
Additional information on EPA’s efforts to discover and protect against fraudulent products is available on our blog.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Heather F. Collins, M.S., and Barbara A. Christianson
On June 1, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) announced that it issued a compliance advisory on products claiming to kill SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
EPA states that the advisory was issued because it has received tips and complaints concerning potentially false or misleading claims, including efficacy claims, associated with pesticides and devices. EPA says it is actively reviewing these claims and is working to identify others. EPA states that it intends to pursue enforcement for those products making false and misleading claims regarding SARS-CoV-2. EPA has made available a webpage where tips can be reported.
The advisory reiterates EPA’s message that disinfectant products that claim to kill viruses must be registered with EPA before they can be sold and that pesticide products cannot legally make claims that they kill a particular pathogen, such as SARS-CoV-2, unless EPA has authorized the claim during the registration process.
In the advisory, EPA emphasizes that it will not register a product claiming to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 until it has determined that the product will not pose an unreasonable risk and will be effective when used according to the label directions. EPA notes that it maintains List N, which is a list of disinfectants that meet EPA’s criteria for use against the virus that causes COVID-19. While surface disinfectant products on List N have not been tested specifically against SARS-CoV-2, EPA expects them to kill the virus because they demonstrate efficacy against a harder-to-kill virus or another human coronavirus similar to the one causing COVID-19.
The advisory also discusses devices that claim to kill SARS-CoV-2. It states that a pesticidal device is an instrument or other machine that is used to destroy, repel, trap, or mitigate any pests, including viruses (i.e., ozone generators, UV lights). EPA notes that unlike registered pesticide products, the safety and efficacy of pesticidal devices are not routinely reviewed by EPA. EPA states that it therefore cannot confirm whether, or under what circumstances, such products might be effective against SARS-CoV-2. The advisory states that consumers should be aware that pesticidal devices making such claims have not been reviewed and accepted by EPA. It further states that while pesticidal device labels must have an EPA establishment number (which identifies where a product was produced), they will not have an EPA registration number because pesticidal devices are not subject to the same registration requirements as pesticides.
According to the advisory, pesticidal devices are subject to certain regulatory requirements under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), one of which is a prohibition of false or misleading labeling claims. The advisory specifically states:
Making false or misleading labeling claims about the safety or efficacy of a pesticidal device may result in penalties under FIFRA. Please note that ozone generators, UV lights and other pesticide devices may not be able to make claims against coronavirus where devices have not been tested for efficacy or safety for use against the virus causing COVID-19 or harder-to-kill viruses. In addition, because EPA does not review these data as part of a registration review process, these claims are not supported by any government review.
Because EPA does not review or register pesticide devices, these products are not included on List N.
It is important for pesticide device producers to review carefully the data supporting the claims made for their devices to ensure that they comply with the regulatory requirements under FIFRA.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom and Kelly N. Garson
On April 29, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to halt the sale of a fraudulent coronavirus (COVID-19) treatment. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the court’s decision in an effort to halt the sale of silver products fraudulently claimed to prevent and cure COVID-19.
DOJ filed a civil complaint on April 27, 2020, against defendants Gordon Pedersen of Cedar Hills, Utah and his companies, My Doctor Suggests LLC and GP Silver LLC. The complaint alleges that defendants began fraudulently promoting and selling various silver products in early 2020 with claims that the silver products would treat and prevent COVID-19. Some of the alleged false and misleading claims made by defendants include that having silver particles in the bloodstream would block the virus from attaching to cells, that silver would “usher” the virus out of the body, and that silver would destroy all forms of viruses and protect against COVID-19.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement on the Utah case that “FDA will continue to help ensure those who place profits above the public health during the COVID-19 pandemic are stopped” and that FDA is “fully committed to working with the Department of Justice to take appropriate action against those jeopardizing the health of Americans by offering and distributing products with unproven claims to prevent or treat COVID-19.”
The enforcement action will be prosecuted in a coordinated action by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah and the DOJ Civil Division Consumer Protection Branch, with the assistance of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and Office of the Chief Counsel. In addition to the TRO, prosecutors obtained a separate court order temporarily freezing the defendants’ assets in order to preserve the court’s ability to grant effective final relief and to maintain the status quo. A hearing on the DOJ’s request for a preliminary injunction is set for May 12, 2020. If the case proceeds to trial, the government will need to prove its allegations to obtain a permanent injunction against the defendants.
In another case, DOJ announced on April 17, 2020, that the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida issued a TRO to halt the sale of an unapproved and potentially dangerous industrial bleach product being marketed as a “miracle” treatment for COVID-19. The FDA and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had issued a warning letter to the defendant, Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, on April 8, 2020. According to the FDA, oral ingestion of the defendant's product called the Miracle Mineral Solution can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe dehydration. The FDA and the FTC have issued nearly 40 separate warning letters in 2020 to companies selling unapproved or misbranded products with claims to prevent or to treat COVID-19.
Particulate elemental silver and silver salts can be effective antimicrobial agents, and numerous products containing these active ingredients are currently registered for various antimicrobial uses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with other federal agencies, are working to ensure that necessary reviews and approvals of legitimate products intended to address COVID 19 are as expeditious as possible. Products that need these regulatory reviews and approval, but that are marketed without them, are and will likely continue to be a current enforcement focus.
By Kelly N. Garson and Barbara A. Christianson
On April 24, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that the agencies prevented a significant number of shipments of illegal health products from entering the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
The products at issue were not registered with EPA, including Virus Shut Out products. EPA previously announced on March 25, 2020, that EPA and CBP had prevented several shipments of Virus Shut Out from entering U.S. Pacific Ports. The announcement noted that because the product is not registered, EPA had not evaluated its safety and efficacy against viruses. Additionally, its label does not contain directions for its use in English as required by law, and on-line advertisements for the product contain misleading claims about its safety and effectiveness. The Department of Justice charged a Georgia resident with federal criminal charges relating to the illegal importation, sales, and distribution of Virus Shut Out, or Toamit Virus Shutout, on April 9, 2020, discussed in our earlier blog item.
Following the shipment denial on March 25th, EPA notified Amazon, and Amazon removed the product from its marketplace. EPA has been in communication with several retailers to ensure that these products are removed from their online marketplaces and asking for monitoring for products with illegal pesticidal claims.
In an effort to curb illegal pesticide products during the pandemic crisis, EPA has been working with CBP to identify and seize illegal products imported from Japan and Hong Kong through International Mail Facilities (IMF) in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and CBP has as a result of this effort seized a large number of products.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler states “EPA is increasing the number of approved disinfectants on the market while taking action to prevent dishonest actors from selling fraudulent and illegal items that do nothing to protect Americans from the coronavirus.” This has included EPA’s expedited review of submissions for companies to add Emerging Viral Pathogen claims to registered surface disinfectants.
EPA has released an expanded list of EPA-registered disinfectant products that have qualified for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. List N contains nearly 400 products that have qualified to be effective against SARS-CoV-2.
Additional information on EPA’s efforts to discover and protect against fraudulent products is available on our blog.
By Lisa R. Burchi
On April 9, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it had charged a Georgia resident, Rong Sun, a/k/a Vicky Sun with federal criminal charges relating to alleged illegal importation, sales, and mailing of an unregistered pesticide product. EPA also has taken steps to prevent further imports, sales, and distributions of this product within the United States, announcing in its press release that it prevented several shipments of this product from entering U.S. Pacific ports.
The product at issue, Toamit Virus Shut Out, was sold through eBay and made claims to protect individuals from bacteria and viruses and to reduce transmission risk by 90 percent. Claims regarding the product also included the following statement: “In extraordinary times, access to public places and confined spaces will be protected by one more layer and have one more layer of safety protection effect, thus reducing the risks and probability of infection and transmission.” The product was not registered by EPA under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division is prosecuting the case. EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, and USPS are investigating this case. This type of collaborative investigative effort among federal agencies can be expected to continue to prevent defrauding victims during this coronavirus pandemic. In its press release announcing the arrest, DOJ stated that it “will take quick action through the Georgia COVID-19 Task Force to put a stop to criminals preying on the public with Coronavirus-related fraud schemes.” EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine stated further: “Reliance on fraudulent products may increase the spread of COVID-19 and exacerbate the current public health emergency.”
By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi and Barbara A. Christianson
On April 3, 2020, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced it would allow enforcement discretion by County Agricultural Commissioners (CAC) for licensing and certification requirements for pesticide applicators who perform sanitization services to control the spread of COVID-19.
DPR states in its announcement that, under normal circumstances, a “Pest Control Business (PCB) must always have a Qualified Applicator License (QAL) holder to supervise pest control services. Generally, where a PCB performs sanitization services, the QAL must also be certified in Category A, P, or K” described as follows:
- Category A allows PCBs to perform sanitization or disinfection in residential, industrial, or institutional (RII) use settings such as hospitals, schools, or prisons;
- Category P allows PCBs to perform microbial pest control in RII use settings; and
- Category K allows PCBs to perform health related pest control services under a government-sponsored program.
DPR acknowledges that due to Governor Newsom’s March 4, 2020, “Stay at Home” Executive Order, DPR cannot proctor in-person licensing examinations to certify licensees. DPR thus announced that it will use enforcement discretion by allowing “licensed and registered PCBs to perform sanitization services for the control of COVID-19 if they have a designated individual at each business location with a valid QAL in any category” (emphasis added by DPR). DPR specifies that enforcement discretion applies when all of the following conditions are met:
- The professional sanitization service is performed for COVID-19 control and only during the next 90 days.
- The PCB without the specific QAL license category notifies the CAC in writing with an explanation for why the sanitization work is necessary.
- Examples of necessary work may include situations in which the PCB is the only licensee registered to do business in the county or where other properly licensed PCBs are unavailable to perform COVID-19-related work.
- The QAL holder ensures that all applicators applying antimicrobials are properly trained and are in strict compliance with label directions and all other applicable laws and regulations.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi and Barbara A. Christianson
On April 3, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted an interactive telephone call with U.S. retailers and third-party marketplace platforms to discuss imposter disinfectant products and those that falsely claim to be effective against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19. EPA hosted the call due to recent complaints on the availability of products with unsubstantiated and potentially dangerous claims of protection against SARS-CoV-2 and has enlisted the help of the retail community to prevent these products from coming to market.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler described the call as “informative and productive,” and stated that “together, we will work diligently to ensure that consumers have access to EPA-approved and verified surface disinfectant products; products that we know to be effective against the novel coronavirus.”
Participants included the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), the National Retail Federation, Walmart, Amazon, and eBay. All expressed commitment to “work closely with trusted suppliers to ensure that all products that they sell meet or exceed all applicable U.S. safety standards and legal requirements” and to “work closely with EPA to remove fraudulent products from the marketplace as soon as possible.” EPA is also coordinating with the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal partners to bring the full force of the law against those selling fraudulent or unregistered products.
Based on tips, complaints, and research, EPA has identified illegal products that are claiming anti-viral, antibacterial, disinfectant, sterilizing, or sanitizing properties but have not gone through EPA’s robust registration process under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and are not legal for sale in the United States. EPA only registers disinfectants that can be used effectively against the novel coronavirus on surfaces. Non-registered products may not effectively eliminate the virus or reduce the spread of the virus and could even be harmful to consumers’ health. Consumers are urged to refer to EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (List N) for EPA-registered disinfectants that EPA has determined to be safe and effective against the novel coronavirus.
The following is a list of some of the unregistered products that have been identified. EPA typically enforces FIFRA through stop-sale orders and penalty actions. EPA provided the following information to ensure that Americans have as much information as possible to help them protect themselves from COVID-19:
- Lanyards that illegally claim to protect wearers from coronavirus:
- Unregistered disinfectant tablets:
- “Epidemic prevention Chlorinating Tablets Disinfectant Chlorine Tablets Swimming Pool Instant Disinfection Tablets Chlorine Dioxide Effervescent Tablet Chlorine Disinfectant 100g Cozy apposite Fun Suit”
- “The Flu Virus Buster, CLO2 Disinfection Sticker, Removable sterilize air purifier, Anti COVID-19, Stop Coronavirus disease infection /Influenza Buster Disinfectant 1 Box/10 Tablets”
- Unregistered disinfectant sprays:
- “Fullene silver antibacterial solution/24 Hour Defense Hand Sanitizer Disinfectant Spray Against Corona Virus COVID- 19 Kills 99.99% of Germs Bacteria 24 Hours of Lasting Protection Alcohol Free 50ml (1.7 fl. oz.)”
- Unregistered disinfectant wipes:
- “99.9% Sterilization Wipes/16/32/48/64/96pcs Sterilization Rate of 99% Disinfection Wet Wipes and Paper Napkin Prevention of Coronavirus”
Additional information on the recent telephone conference is available here.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On March 30, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Press Release to clarify its Temporary Policy released on March 26, 2020, regarding EPA’s enforcement of environmental legal obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic. A discussion of the Temporary Policy is available on our blog.
The impetus for the Press Release was based, according to EPA, on the “reckless propaganda” by certain news outlets that provided erroneous or exaggerated information about the Temporary Policy, particularly that the Temporary Policy is providing a blanket waiver of environmental requirements or is creating a presumption that the COVID-19 pandemic is the cause of noncompliance.
EPA’s Press Release outlines certain elements of the Temporary Policy that should not be overlooked:
- The Temporary Policy states that EPA will not seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting requirements, if, on a case-by-case basis, EPA agrees that such noncompliance was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Policy is not intended to cover:
- Exceedances of pollutant limitations in permits, regulations, and statutes.
- Cases which may involve acute risks or imminent threats, or failure of pollution control or other equipment that may result in exceedances, except in possible circumstances where the facility contacts the appropriate EPA region, or authorized state or tribe, and allows regulators to work with that facility to mitigate or eliminate such risks or threats.
- Normal operations and maintenance of public water systems and required sampling of vital drinking water supplies.
- Regulated parties must document the basis for any claim that the pandemic prevented them from conducting that routine monitoring and reporting and present it to EPA upon request. EPA states that it is using this approach to allow EPA to prioritize its resources and respond to acute risks and imminent threats, rather than making up-front case-by-case determinations regarding routine monitoring and reporting requirements.
EPA notes that it expects regulated facilities to comply with regulatory requirements, where reasonably practicable, and to return to compliance as quickly as possible, once the COVID-19 threat is over. EPA states that it plans to lift the measures of the Temporary Policy as soon as normal operations can resume, which may occur sooner in some locations than others.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on March 26, 2020, a temporary policy regarding enforcement of environmental legal obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic. EPA states that its temporary enforcement discretion policy applies to civil violations during the COVID-19 outbreak. The policy addresses different categories of noncompliance differently. For example, according to EPA, it “does not expect to seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations that are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic but does expect operators of public water systems to continue to ensure the safety of our drinking water supplies.” The policy describes the steps that regulated facilities should take to qualify for enforcement discretion. To be eligible for enforcement discretion, the policy requires facilities to document decisions made to prevent or mitigate noncompliance and demonstrate how the noncompliance was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
EPA notes that its policy does not provide leniency for intentional criminal violations of law and that it does not apply to activities that are carried out under Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Corrective Action enforcement instruments. EPA states that it will address these matters in separate communications. The policy states that it does not apply to imports. According to the policy, EPA is “especially concerned about pesticide products entering the United States, or produced, manufactured, distributed in the United States, that claim to address COVID-19 impacts.” EPA “expects to focus on ensuring compliance with requirements applicable to these products to ensure protection of public health.”
The policy will apply retroactively beginning on March 13, 2020. EPA will assess the continued need for and scope of this temporary policy on a regular basis and will update it if EPA determines modifications are necessary. To provide fair and sufficient notice to the public, EPA states that it will post a notification on its website at least seven days prior to terminating the temporary policy.
By Lisa R. Burchi and Barbara A. Christianson
On March 10, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that warning letters were sent to seven companies for allegedly selling unapproved products that may violate federal law by making deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims about their ability to treat coronavirus (COVID-19). The warning letters are the first issued by the Agencies alleging unapproved and/or unsupported claims that products can treat or prevent COVID-19/coronavirus.
The agencies sent the letters to the following companies:
- Vital Silver;
- Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd.;
- GuruNanda, LLC;
- Vivify Holistic Clinic;
- Herbal Amy LLC; and
- The Jim Bakker Show.
Each of the seven companies have advertised products as able to treat or prevent COVID-19/coronavirus. The unapproved products include teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver.
According to FDA, there are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus. FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. stated: “The FDA considers the sale and promotion of fraudulent COVID-19 products to be a threat to the public health. We have an aggressive surveillance program that routinely monitors online sources for health fraud products, especially during a significant public health issue such as this one. The FDA’s laws are designed to protect the public health by ensuring, among other things, that drugs are safe and effective for their intended uses.”
The letters state that one or more of the efficacy claims made by the marketers are unsubstantiated and therefore may violate the FTC Act. The letters advise the recipients to cease immediately making all claims that their products can treat or cure coronavirus.
FTC Chair Joe Simons stated: “There already is a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus. What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims. These warning letters are just the first step. We’re prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam.”
FTC and FDA have pledged to continue to monitor social media, online marketplaces, and incoming complaints to ensure these products do not continue to make such claims. The letters sent emphasize that, if the false claims do not cease, FTC may seek a federal court injunction and an order requiring money to be refunded to consumers and instructing the recipients to notify the FTC within 48 hours of the specific actions they have taken to address FTC’s concerns.
In addition, the FTC recently issued a new consumer blog post with information about how to identify and avoid coronavirus-related scams. Coronavirus: Scammers follow the headlines notes that scammers are creating websites to sell bogus products, and using fake emails, texts, and social media posts as a ruse to take consumers’ money and obtain personal information. It then warns consumers of the “red flags” to monitor when shopping for products related to the virus.
EPA also has been active in this area, announcing the release of a new list of EPA-registered disinfectant products that have qualified for use against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and also announcing its process for expediting review of submissions made by companies that are requesting to add Emerging Viral Pathogen claims to its labels of already-registered surface disinfectants.