En español | Twenty-five websites that allegedly tricked people into paying thousands of dollars for Clorox and Lysol products that were not delivered have been temporarily shut down.
Some people instead were shipped a pair of socks and had difficulties when seeking refunds, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which filed a lawsuit to dismantle the sites. A judge Thursday issued a temporary restraining order to do that for now.
The websites, doing business since at least July, used 25 different names including clorox-sale.com, cloroxstore.com and lysol-cleaners.com, says the FTC, a consumer protection agency. Nobody placing an order through the websites ever got a cleaning or disinfecting product, the FTC says.
Playing on COVID-19 fears
The agency accused the people behind the websites of “playing on consumers’ COVID-19 fears.” One agency official had this advice for consumers: “If a seller seems to have items out of stock everywhere else, do an online search for complaints about the seller or website before you buy.”
The guidance came from Andrew Smith, who directs the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC is working hard to stop fraudsters who try to scam people with false promises of scarce cleaning supplies during the pandemic,” he added.
Online Buyer Beware
Here’s the full list of “counterfeit” websites subject to a temporary shutdown:
Some consumers told the FTC that when they tried to return to one of the websites in question for a refund “it was gone in a matter of days or weeks.” The agency says the defendants “moved on to set up a new website with a different URL,” the link that appears in the window of a web browser.
The temporary restraining order to dismantle the websites for now was issued by U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi in Akron, Ohio. The case is due back in court Nov. 19 as the FTC seeks a preliminary injunction.
The FTC wants a permanent ban against the defendants and refunds for consumers. The defendants are not named in the FTC's civil lawsuit but are identified this way: “one or more unknown parties deceiving consumers into making purchases” through the 25 websites the FTC assailed as “counterfeit.” Mitch Katz, an FTC spokesman, said Friday the agency could not speculate on whether the defendants were believed to be in the United States or a foreign country.
Disinfectants from Clorox and Lysol are in high demand but short supply as the coronavirus outbreak rages on. Cleaning products from both brands have been proven in lab testing to kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, on hard surfaces.
The FTC said items, such as socks, sent to buyers as substitutes were “worthless products that consumers did not order.” But such substitutions “made it harder for consumers to get the charges reversed” by credit card companies because the defendants “used falsified shipping information,” the agency says.