The Federal Trade Commission announced that it sent out thirty more warning letters to marketers, directing them to stop making unsubstantiated claims that their products and therapies can prevent or treat COVID-19. This is the tenth sent of COVID-19 warning letters that the FTC has sent.
In this latest round of warning letters, the FTC cited its new authority under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, which entitles the FTC to seek civil penalties of up to $43,792 per violation from marketers who make deceptive claims related to the treatment, cure, or prevention of COVID-19. The FTC said that all of the marketers that the FTC contacted complied with the FTC's demand to stop making these claims.
Significantly, the FTC didn't just reach out to the marketers about these claims. Where the claims ran in social media or on other platforms, the FTC also cc'd them as well. Platforms that were contacted include Facebook, Instagram, Shopify, Twitter, and YouTube.
The FTC targeted a wide variety of treatments and therapies in its warning letters, including chiropractors, exercise, peptide therapies, vitamin injections, infared saunas, and dietary supplements. For example, in its warning letter to Total Life Energy Plan, the FTC told the marketer to stop making claims such as, "To help people prevent and overcome infections and get through this epidemic safely, I developed a set of exercises to strengthen the lungs, upper body, and body’s immunity to the virus" and "7 Simple Exercises to Do at Home to Combat Coronavirus." As another example, in its warning letter to Palm Integrative Health, the FTC told the marketer to stop making claims such as, "Keep your immune system healthy and strong with our provider recommended COVID-19 Immune-Boosting Supplement Pack" and "If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, help prevent yourself from developing a case of the virus with our provider recommended COVID-19 Exposure Supplement Pack."
While this certainly demonstrates that the FTC, even after more than a year of the pandemic, hasn't let up on its COVID-19 related enforcement, there are two important take-aways from the latest round of warning letters.
First, through these warning letters, the FTC is making it crystal clear to industry that it's going to use its new authority to seek civil penalties under the new COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act. As Lesley Fair put it in the FTC's Business Blog, "the resounding message to others is to take down your COVID misrepresentations now." In fact, just last month, the FTC brought its first lawsuit under the Act, charging a marketer with falsely claiming that its vitamin D and zinc products are scientifically proven to treat or prevent COVID-19.
Second, for the first time, the FTC didn't just contact the marketers. Where the false claims ran on social media and other platforms, the FTC cc'd the platforms as well. Does this mean that the FTC is asking the platforms for their help in taking those claims down? Absolutely. Does this also mean that the FTC is gently asking the platforms for their help in preventing these claims from appearing in the future? Probably. And, could this also mean that the FTC might seek to hold the platforms responsible for running these types of claims in the future? Maybe.
"the resounding message to others is to take down your COVID misrepresentations now" -- FTC Senior Attorney Lesley Fair