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Coronavirus scams: Consumers warned about fake treatments and cures

Companies are preying on people's fears by falsely claiming that their products prevent or treat COVID-19

Coronavirus scams: Consumers warned about fake treatments and cures

4 Minute Read

With the novel coronavirus pandemic spreading rapidly across the world, the amount of disinformation also continues to grow.

On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission issued joint warning letters to seven companies selling teas, essential oils, tinctures, colloidal silver and other products while falsely claiming that they cure, treat or prevent COVID-19.

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The truth? There is currently no vaccine or treatment to prevent or cure COVID-19.

“The FDA considers the sale and promotion of fraudulent COVID-19 products to be a threat to the public health. We have an aggressive surveillance program that routinely monitors online sources for health fraud products, especially during a significant public health issue such as this one,” FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D, said in a statement. “We understand consumers are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 and urge them to talk to their health care providers, as well as follow advice from other federal agencies about how to prevent the spread of this illness. We will continue to aggressively pursue those that place the public health at risk and hold bad actors accountable.”

The claims were bold, false and did not acknowledge that the pandemic sweeping the globe is not a coronavirus of the past, but a new one.

Vital Silver made a Facebook post on Feb. 17, 2020 that said: “So it’s actually widely acknowledged in both science and the medical industry that ionic silver kills coronaviruses. And it’s now known that the Chinese are employing ionic silver in their fight against the spread of the coronavirus.”

Another company, Quinessence Armatherapy, advertised their essential oil products on their website with the description: “Essential Oils to Protect Against Coronavirus . . . There are a wide range of essential oils that have been clinically proven to possess antiviral properties. Whilst these essential oils do not all offer the same level of defence (sic), many have been proven to have a measurable effect on a wide range of infective agents such as influenza A and B, parainfluenza strains 1,2 & 3, vaccinia, herpes simplex and polio.”

N-Ergetics made fraudulent claims on their website by saying that “Preventing The Contraction Of The Novel Coronavirus is Elementary. … Even though there are no vaccines available to combat these coronaviruses, there is a home remedy of Colloidal Silver 100 ppm that has worked effectively on coronaviruses successfully for the last 123 years.”

The other four companies targeted by the FDA and FTC are GuruNanda, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy and The Jim Bakker Show led by the televangelist who was imprisoned on federal fraud charges in the 1990s. He is currently facing a lawsuit filed by the state of Missouri to stop him from falsely promoting and selling silver as a cure for coronavirus.

“What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in the statement. “These warning letters are just the first step. We’re prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam.”

Companies were given 48 hours to remove the fraudulent claims and rectify their violations.

“During this turbulent time, there’s always someone who’s going to benefit from something like this,” said infectious disease expert Laila Woc-Colburn, M.D., associate professor and director of medical education at Baylor College of Medicine‘s National School of Tropical Medicine. “People use this opportunity when there’s a fear or a new disease in order to gain something. Right now, we don’t have any vaccines, pills, potions or products that we use for the disease COVID-19.”

Also this week, Infowars commentator Alex Jones was ordered to cease and desist touting toothpaste, dietary supplements, creams and other products on his website as prevention or treatment for COVID-19 by New York Attorney General Letitia James. Bakker also received a similar letter about his assertions and as have others.

While these claims may sound hopeful when panic, fear and anxiety levels are high, health officials and experts warn that these products have not been tested for safety and efficacy. In fact, experts are concerned that some homeopathic remedies—especially colloidal silver—may do more harm than good. Colloidal silver is produced by mixing silver particulates in a liquid. Online retailers sell these products as a supplement alleging to treat diseases and other health conditions, but there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.

According to the National Institutes of Health, consuming silver does not offer any clinically proven health benefit.

Ultimately, people can protect themselves and those around them from the novel coronavirus by diligently adhering to proper hygiene.

“Wash your hands—wash your hands often,” Woc-Colburn said. “That is the best thing to do.”

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