The Federal Trade Commission and Federal Drug Administration took action by sending warning letters to several companies for allegedly selling products using deceptive or unsupported scientific claims about the products’ ability to treat the SARS strand of COVID-19 known as coronavirus.
Amazon, which removed more than a million products from its platform that made false claims related to the virus, and Facebook, which announced banning advertisements for products offering cures or preventions, have addressed similar instances of abuse on their respective platforms.
Last week, warning letters were sent to companies advertising products such as teas, essential oils, herbs and colloidal silver. Colloidal Vitality, Quinessence Aromatherapy, N-ergetics, GuruNanda, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy, and The Jim Bakker Show are among those companies, according to Lewis Rice law firm in St. Louis.
Lauren Carey, associate at the Lewis Rice law firm in St. Louis, writes in an email to Search Marketing Daily that “As of this morning, it looks like most of the claims flagged by the FTC and FDA" in warning letters "have been removed or revised,” adding: “However, a few of the flagged claims by Quinessence appear to still be live.”
Under the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 41 et seq., it’s illegal to market a product as one that can prevent, treat, or cure human disease without reliable scientific evidence. The letters demand recipients to cease making claims that their products can treat or cure coronavirus.
The FTC can pursue a variety of civil and criminal remedies, Carey explains. In terms of criminal remedies, any person or company that violates Section 52(a) of the FTC Act, the dissemination of false advertisements, may be guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction shall be punished by a fine of not more than $5,000 or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.
A second conviction could bring a fine as much as $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.
One targeted myth is that drinking silver can help kill coronavirus. A letter sent to Jennifer Hickman, owner of Colloidal Vitality, her website purevitalsilver.com, still up and running, but the company’s Facebook page has since been taken down.
The letter provides examples of misleading claims on the website from a February 6, 2020 post: Wellness!! Vital Silver!!! Simple!!! Go on the offense this year against viruses including the Coronavirus – it’s simple!” from a February 6, 2020 post, and “The Silver is flying off the shelves as folks stock up due to the increased awareness of the coronavirus” from a February 4, 2020 post on Facebook.
Amy Weidner, owner of Herbal Amy owner, also received a warning letter for making claims in the product description suggests it treats, mitigates or cures coronavirus.
“A number of the herbs are strongly antiviral for corona viruses,” she wrote on her website, according to the letter. A website page notes a “Coronavirus Protocol,” to improve the immune system, cellular protection, cytokine interruption, among others.
After receiving the letter, Weidner did add a statement at the bottom of her website: "For educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration." In the statement, she also says the products are "not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease" and that they have been "prepared in a kitchen that has not been inspected by a regulatory agency."