The global outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus has people around the world concerned for their safety and well-being, which creates a natural environment for some people to try to exploit those fears for their own financial gain. On Monday, two federal consumer protection bodies announced efforts to combat such fleecing by sending warnings to multiple companies about selling "fraudulent" cures and means of prevention for the virus.
According to a news release issued Monday by the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission sent letters to seven different companies "for selling fraudulent COVID-19 products." The release explained that the products in question are "unapproved drugs that pose significant risks to patient health and violate federal law" and that the agencies' letters are the first such warnings to go out amid the recent virus outbreak.
According to the FTC, the warning is for companies that are selling products such as essential oils, teas, and colloidal silver with claims that the products can either prevent or treat the disease. The FDA said that there are still no approved drugs or vaccines to treat or prevent the virus, and while "there are investigational COVID-19 vaccines and treatments under development," the agency added, "these investigational products are in the early stages of product development and have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness."
Furthermore, the FDA added that colloidal silver "is not safe or effective for treating any disease or condition," as explained in a final rule on the substance issued in 1999.
"The FDA considers the sale and promotion of fraudulent COVID-19 products to be a threat to the public health," FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in the release. "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."
Hahn added that while people's concerns about the ongoing global outbreak of the new coronavirus are understandable, he urged them to "talk to their health care providers, as well as follow advice from other federal agencies about how to prevent the spread of this illness."
The agencies say the joint warning letters went out to companies Vital Silver, Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., Xephyr LLC doing business as N-Ergetics, GuruNanda LLC, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy LLC, as well as "The Jim Bakker Show" — a televangelism program also known for selling emergency food buckets to help viewers prepare for the end of days.
In a statement, FTC Chairman Joe Simons said that the letters "are just the first step" against companies accused of peddling faux coronavirus remedies. "We're prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam."
"There already is a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus," Simons said. "What we don't need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims."
The letters argue that the coronavirus cure claims could put the warned companies in violation of federal law and that if they continue, the FTC could seek a court injunction and order mandating that they refund money to consumers.