As the coronavirus spreads and the concern of getting sick grows, scammers are setting out to capitalize on the mass panic surrounding the outbreak and take advantage of online shoppers who fear the contagious respiratory illness.
The FTC and the FDA have sent seven warning letters as of March 9 to companies who are selling unapproved products that make false claims to help treat or prevent the coronavirus. In an FTC press release, the companies warned were named as Vital Silver, Quinessence Aromatherapy, N-ergetics, GuruNanda, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy and The Jim Bakker Show.
“The recipients are companies that advertise products — including teas, essential oils and colloidal silver — as able to treat or prevent coronavirus. According to the FDA, however, there are no approved vaccines, drugs or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus,” the statement read.
In addition to these companies who are selling products that make false claims, others are sending out targeted social media ads, emails and texts that make similar false claims that there is a vaccine available or some other false treatment. It’s important to avoid clicking on the links, and never send money to anyone advertising these claims.
Below, a list of things to look out for when shopping online, browsing on social media or reading through emails or text messages. Remember, there are no approved vaccines, treatment or preventative products that are cleared by the FDA. So be very suspicious when you come across something that makes specific claims about preventing, curing or “killing” coronavirus.
1. Avoid any product that claims to prevent coronavirus
The FDA and FTC have not approved any products — including supplements or medications — to prevent the coronavirus. It is your choice to take vitamins or supplements that promote general health and immunity (such as vitamin C) but there is no reason to purchase something that specifically says it can prevent the coronavirus.
Claiming that a product can help with immune support is one thing, but the FDA has to preapprove any specific claims on consumer products, and the claims must be backed by scientific research to gain approval.
The FTC and FDA have spotted several companies making unapproved claims that their products can prevent or cure coronavirus. One company, Quinessence Aromatherapy, claimed that essential oils could do that, but its claims are not backed by science.
The FDA and FTC sent a letter to Vital Silver, calling out that the company’s claims about its silver supplements are unfounded, unapproved and make false claims about the coronavirus. Despite what the company claims on their Facebook page, silver supplements are not approved to “kill coronaviruses.” The FDA and FTC also warned about a company selling teas on a website called “coronavirusdefense.com.”
Any food product or supplement that claims to protect you specifically against coronavirus is a scam.
2. Ignore any claim about a vaccine
Again, there is no vaccine for the coronavirus, and there likely won’t be one for quite some time (at least 12 months by some estimates). If you come across an ad, article, social media post or email that claims that there is a vaccine available for the coronavirus, don’t trust the claim.
3. Avoid buying N95 face masks online from unfamiliar brands
The CDC is urging those who are not sick to stop buying face masks. Face masks should only be worn by those who are already sick, or are in close contact with someone who has the coronavirus (i.e. a caretaker or medical worker).
Given that face masks are flying off the shelves anyways, many people are price-gouging masks online and selling masks that claim to be the N95 respirators, but actually are not. Be wary of any online third-party seller that sells face masks and avoid buying them unless necessary to prevent spreading the illness to others. Look for trusted brands such as 3M and Honeywell, or check out the CDC’s list of approved respirator masks.