The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced it has issued twenty-one additional warning letters to marketers throughout the United States for making unsubstantiated claims that their products and therapies can treat or prevent coronavirus (COVID-19). Relatedly, the following day, the FTC announced it has issued ten warning letters to multi-level marketing companies (“MLMs”) to remove or address claims they are making about their products’ ability to treat or prevent coronavirus and about the earnings that people who have recently lost income can make.
The marketers included in the batch of twenty-one warning letters include those advertising vitamins, supplements, IV therapy, ozone therapy, and stem cell therapy. The marketers’ coronavirus treatment claims included: “high-dose vitamin C protects against coronavirus”; “build up your immune system against coronavirus”; claiming consumers infected with COVID-19 have been “cured with ozone”; and claims that stem cell therapy has “successfully treated” a COVID-19 patient. Despite the companies’ claims, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), there currently are no products that are scientifically proven to treat or prevent the virus.
In the letters, the FTC reminded the marketers that, under the FTC Act, in order to advertise that a product can prevent, treat, or cure human disease, the marketer must have “competent and reliable scientific evidence, including, when appropriate, well-controlled human clinical studies, substantiating that the claims are true at the time they are made.” The FTC requested the companies respond within forty-eight hours describing the specific steps they have taken to address the FTC’s concerns.
The FTC’s warning letters to the ten MLM companies highlighted such impermissible coronavirus treatment and earnings opportunities claims as: “[A] lot of us are worried about getting the virus and since a vaccine has yet to be developed we’re going to have to rely on our good-old immune system to keep us healthy” and “[t]his is a great stimulus package, because you get to teach somebody how to go earn $1,730 literally in their first 10 days in the business.”
In the warning letters, the FTC reminded the MLM companies that 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. As with the other warning letters, the FTC requested that the companies respond within forty-eight hours describing their actions taken to address the FTC’s concerns.
Takeaway: This latest round of warning letters illustrates that regulators are continuing to significantly increase their efforts to stop scams and remove bogus treatment – and now earnings claims—from the marketplace during the current health and economic crisis.