11.16.09

FOLLOWING SCHUMER'S URGING, FTC ANNOUNCES MAJOR CRACKDOWN ON H1N1 SCAMS PREYING ON FEARS AND WORRIES OF AMERICANS

Last Week Schumer Requested The FTC Step Up Enforcement Actions Against Websites Peddling Fake H1N1 Cures and Prevention MethodsToday The FTC Announced Major Crackdown on Offenders - Sent Warning Letters to Ten Offenders, Telling Them They Must Cease Peddling Phony Remedies or Face Closure; May Also Be Required To Pay Back Customers So-Called Remedies, Such As "Ionic Silver" Have No Proven Effect Against H1N1- Using Such Remedies Could Encourage Complacency, Make Pand

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is embarking on a major crackdown on companies selling phony H1N1 remedies.  As the problem of fake remedies grows worse, and concerns about the H1N1 flu increase, the FTC announced that they would take further enforcement action against ten companies that are peddling fake H1N1 remedies online.  Last week, Schumer requested that the FTC act swiftly and aggressively to stop companies behind the wave of phony products claiming to cure and inoculate consumers against H1N1 being sold online.  Schumer said that such products, in addition to costing consumers thousands of dollars with no tangible benefits, make consumers feel safe, but do not in fact provide any medical benefit.  Products that claim to provide medical benefit or protection, but in fact do not, have profound public health implications because it may discourage people from being vaccinated and encourage them to take part in risky behavior.  Furthermore, because the spread of H1N1 is limited as more people are vaccinated, the use of ineffective alternatives puts everyone at risk.   Schumer said that preying on the fears of New Yorkers is a reprehensible practice that must immediately be stopped. 

 

Today the FTC announced that they would take further action against ten companies selling H1N1 remedies online as part of a major crackdown against H1N1 cure hucksters.  The companies are being told to cease marketing these products as H1N1 cures or remedies, or face closure.  They may also be required to provide refunds to all consumers that have purchased the products in question.  Before this round of letters the FTC has only made this request of a single company.  Schumer said today's action represents a major increase in enforcement actions. 

 

The FTC identified the marketing of products such as dietary supplements, air filtration devices, homeopathic remedies, items containing silver, and cleaning agents as potentially violating the law. 

 

"It is great to see the FTC cracking down on these appalling scam artists - they must stop anyone trying to make a quick buck off of Americans' fears of a flu pandemic," said Schumer.  "The FTC must continue to aggressively pursue flu remedy hucksters, and not be afraid to close them down if they continue to flaunt the law."

 

The websites feature such products as gloves, inhalers, masks, shampoos, herbal extracts, air fresheners, and an array of vitamins that make claims about fighting H1N1.  Schumer said that these products have been in no way proven to combat the H1N1 virus, and may in fact make the problem worse by increasing complacency among users.  In turn, these users, thinking they are no longer contagious, may go out in public and further spread the virus.  Schumer pointed to media reports implicating qbased.com and Weil Lifesyle LLC as companies that advertise products to combat the H1N1 virus. The Food and Drug Administration has identified 140 different products making these false claims being sold online.  

 

The full letter Schumer sent last week is below.  For an example of the type of letter the FTC announced today, see:   http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm186837.htm

 

The Honorable Jon Leibowitz

Chairman, Federal Trade Commission

600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20580

 

CC:  The Honorable Margaret Hamburg, M.D.

Commissioner, Food and Drug Administration

10903 New Hampshire Ave

Silver Spring MD 20993

 

Dear Chairman Leibowitz,

 

I write today to ask the Federal Trade Commission to take immediate action to stop and shut down companies behind the internet sites and other advertisements which claim falsely that their products and treatments can cure, prevent, treat or diagnose the H1N1 influenza virus.  A wide variety of phony flu remedies apparently are being packaged and sold to unsuspecting customers. At a time when consumers already are worried and anxious about the possibility of contracting the virus, these flybynight scam artists are seeking to make a profit by preying on those fears.  These hucksters need to be stopped.  

 

I appreciate that the Commission and the Food and Drug Administration already have taken many positive steps toward warning consumers about the fraudulent claims of these companies.   Under your leadership, Mr. Chairman, the FTC has played a prominent role in policing these scam artists, but more can always be done to protect consumers.  I ask that you turn your attention to these H1N1 con artists in order to protect consumers from being fleeced - and possibly harmed - when they are only trying to stay healthy.   

 

I urge you to determine whether these websites and advertisements violate any of the laws enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, and to act swiftly against any website or company violating such laws.  I also ask that you continue to make public any information regarding how consumers can avoid being taken advantage of and where consumers can go to receive the proper information regarding the H1N1 influenza virus and vaccine.

 

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.  I look forward to hearing from you on this issue.  If you have any questions, please contact my staff at 202 224 6542

 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

 

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator



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