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FTC Cracks Down on Companies Pitching Fake COVID-19 Cures

Bogus treatments ranged from sound frequencies to high doses of vitamin C

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Director of Bureau of Consumer Protection, Andrew Smith, speak at a press conference on September 4, 2019, at the FTC headquarters in Washington, DC.

MANDEL NGAN / AFP / Getty Images

Andrew Smith of the Federal Trade Commission says making false claims is “shameful” behavior.

En español | The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Tuesday announced it had sent warnings to 10 companies selling products they asserted can treat or prevent COVID-19, even though no products are scientifically proven to prevent or treat the acute respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The warnings represent the U.S. government's latest effort to stop scams and remove from the marketplace bogus treatments and cures that have emerged to purportedly combat COVID-19. The companies most recently targeted by the FTC were selling items such as “anti-virus kits” and intravenous therapies with high doses of vitamin C.

All together, the FTC now has sent 43 warning letters, some in conjunction with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Earlier warnings went to entities selling homeopathic drugs, cannabinol, essential oils, colloidal silver, traditional Chinese medicine and salt therapy.

Some entities sold products online on websites and platforms including Facebook and Instagram; others offered the supposed treatments in clinics or in consumers’ homes.


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'Shameful’ behavior

"It's shameful to take advantage of people by claiming that a product prevents, treats or cures COVID-19,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We're seeing these false claims for all sorts of products, but anyone who makes them simply has no proof and is likely just after your money."

In the latest warning letters, the FTC wrote to one firm that touts a product using sound frequencies to fight the coronavirus that was purportedly developed by “The Man Who Cured Cancer.” The firm identified the man, who is deceased, but Ted Gansler, a physician and strategic director for pathology research at the American Cancer Society, said there was no reliable evidence that the man's invention “has any value whatsoever in the treatment of cancer.”

Florida firm among those warned

The firm touting the treatment developed by “The Man Who Cured Cancer” is Bioenergy Wellness Miami, which on its website advertises Reiki, chakra alignment and other alternative treatments. After AARP sought comment Tuesday from the Miami Beach, Florida, firm, an unnamed person responded in an email saying:

"I complied with the FTC. Immediately when I got the letter. Nothing was sold.” The person did not respond to another AARP email requesting his or her name and title.

The FTC warning letter to Bioenergy Wellness Miami singled out one of its web pages; that page could not be accessed Tuesday.

Under the law, it is illegal to make misleading claims in advertising, and claims about health products need to be truthful and based on truthful, competent and reliable scientific evidence.

"It's FTC Advertising 101: Don't make claims about serious medical conditions unless you have solid proof in hand to substantiate what you say,” an FTC attorney, Lesley Fair, wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

If a company making bogus claims doesn't quit doing so, the FTC may ask a federal judge to order the company to stop and to refund consumers’ money.

To file a complaint to the FTC, go to ftc.gov/complaint or call 877-382-4357, toll-free.

As of April 13, the Federal Trade Commission had received 9,634 consumer complaints about coronavirus-related fraud, with overall losses of more than $13 million.

Just under half the fraud complaints came from people who lost money; the median loss reported was $568.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

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