FTC Orders Fake #COVID19 Cure Firms to Cease

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US consumers have already lost over $13m to COVID-19-related scams since the start of the year, according to new data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The consumer protection agency revealed in figures released on Monday that it had received 17,425 fraud reports linked to the pandemic, around 46% of which featured monetary loss.

The median fraud loss works out at $568, according to the figures.

Of the 17,000 overall reports, the vast majority (55%) were fraud-related, around a third (32%) were labelled “other,” 7% were “Do Not Call” (DNC) telemarketing scams and a similar number (6%) were labelled as identity theft.

DNC scams are mainly automated (72%) and often impersonate government or businesses. Other popular topics linked to COVID-19 are prescriptions and medical-themed calls, debt reduction and warranties/protection plans.

The volume of these so-called robocalls soared by 325% from 2017 to 2018 to reach an estimated 85 billion worldwide two years ago, according to Caller ID firm Hiya.

The most commonly reported FTC scams were linked to travel (30%), online shopping (19%) and text message-based fraud (11%). So far, consumer financial losses from travel scams have hit nearly $4.8m, followed by online shopping ($1.5m) and “imposter: business” fraud ($1.2m).

The largest number of FTC complaints came from California (2068) followed by Florida (1230), New York (1114) and Texas (1109).

In a bid to further protect consumers from COVID-19 scams, the FTC yesterday sent multiple warning letters to companies in the US and abroad demanding they stop making claims their products can treat the virus.

If the companies don’t comply, the FTC said it may ask a federal court to require money be returned to consumers.

The offending products include a “Face Vital Sonic Silicone Facial Brush,” “PuraTHRIVE Liposomal Vitamin C,” and intravenous (IV) solutions such as “Immunity Boost” IV drips, the “Myers’ Cocktail IV package,” and “High Dose Vitamin C Plus Immune Booster” — the latter of which was advertised on Facebook and Instagram.

“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.”

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