FTC Sends Additional Warning Letters to Companies Over Coronavirus Claims

Advertising Law

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that 21 additional letters were sent to companies in the United States concerning allegedly unsubstantiated claims that their products can treat or prevent COVID-19, and 10 letters were sent to multilevel marketing companies (MLMs) to remove and address health claims, earnings claims, or both.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, there currently are no products that are scientifically proven to treat or prevent the virus.

As discussed previously, the FTC has sent warning letters to sellers of a variety of products, from colloidal silver to IV treatments. This round of warning letters was sent to sellers of a wider variety of products and treatments, from acupuncture to ozone therapy. They include:

  • Elderberry products, marketed as “Elderberry Vs Corona Virus. Elderberry is an antiviral. It prevents the virus from replicating in the body, so you want to take it early and often if you start feeling symptoms. Once a day for prevention, four times if you start feeling sick . . . most importantly[,][elderberry] is high in zinc … ZINC + CHLOROQUINE has shown positive results against Covid19. …”
  • Ozone therapy, marketed as a “Cost[] Effective Treatment for Coronavirus.” In addition, the company has claimed that coronavirus may “have a soft underbelly” that is “easily and safely exploitable with ozone-related services.”
  • Stem cell therapy, claiming that “While experts are diligently working on vaccines and drugs, one surprising treatment has demonstrated efficacy for combatting [coronavirus]: stem cell therapy.”
  • Vitamin C, marketed as “HIGH-DOSE VITAMIN C PROTECTS AGAINST CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) … The coronavirus pandemic can be dramatically slowed, or stopped, with the immediate widespread use of high doses of vitamin C … COULD OUR ALKALINI-C HELP? The answer is yes.”
  • Supplements, marketed as “Buy your Chaga Extract here to block receptor site[s] for Covid‑19/Coronavirus” and “Why N95 Masks DO NOT WORK And Only Hardening Your Immune System With Chaga And Vitamin C, D Does.”
  • Acupuncture treatments, claiming that “The use of acupuncture and herbal medication is vitally important when treating the Coronavirus. Not only can patients recover from the virus by receiving these treatments, patients can also use acupuncture and herbal medication to prevent the contraction of COVID-19.”

Warning letters sent to MLMs take issue with specific claims made by either the MLMs themselves or their distributors, both online and in social media, including:

  • “STAY SAFE!! MAKE YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM STRONG!!! Standard coronavirus protection kit. #antiseptics and #immunity_support.”
  • “Got the coronavirus heebeegeebees? Boost your immunity with this amazing deal!!!!”
  • “… Living in quarantine and where 14 million people applied for unemployment just last week … I’ll stick with the opportunity to change people’s lives … turn a small investment into six figures…. #arbonne … #quarantine #2020.”
  • “Need to make extra money? Find it difficult to pay your bills? Were you laid off/#fired? Be your own Boss w/doTERRA essential oils. Msg me to achieve financial independence #laidoff #unemployed #cantpaymybills #cantpaymyrent #student #sales #sidehustle #makemoney #stayathomemom.”
  • “[E]veryone’s getting stimulus checks right now… There is no better investment you could do… Take that money that you’re about to get back… figure out a way to make this happen tonight.”

This is the first group of warning letters to include warnings related to claims about potential earnings related to the economic fallout from the pandemic. According to the letters, under the FTC Act, claims about “the potential to achieve a wealthy lifestyle, career-level income, or significant income are false or misleading if business opportunity participants generally do not achieve such results. Even truthful testimonials from or about participants who do earn significant income or more will likely be misleading unless the advertising also makes clear the amount earned or lost by most participants.”

As with previous letters, letters to both sellers and MLMs instruct the recipients to notify the FTC within 48 hours about the specific actions they have taken to address the agency’s concerns.

Find the warning letters here.

Why it matters: The FTC continues to scrutinize unsupported claims for a variety of products, including through social media. Moreover, the FTC is expanding its focus to include MLMs and earnings claims. Andrew Smith, the director of the commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, stated that “M.L.M.s and other companies that distribute their products through networks of distributors are responsible for the product and earnings claims those distributors are making.” Advertisers should ensure that claims about treating or preventing COVID-19, as well as earnings opportunities during the current health and economic crisis, are adequately substantiated.

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