FTC ramps up enforcement with new wave of warning letters

By Danielle Masterson contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images Tero Vesalainen
© Getty Images Tero Vesalainen

Related tags: Ftc, Health claims regulation, coronavirus

As Americans begin to emerge from quarantine and many cities begin the process of getting back to ‘normal,’ the FTC continues to keep an eye on companies making unsupported coronavirus claims.

From stem cell treatments to electromagnetic field blocking patches, the FTC sent 35 more warning letters last week, putting the total of letters at over 160​.

In the natural products category, the FTC called foul on the following marketers that sell vitamins, supplements, silver, and Chinese herbal treatments:

The letters state that one or more of the efficacy claims made by the marketers are unsubstantiated because they are not supported by scientific evidence, and therefore violate the FTC Act. Recipients are advised to immediately stop making all claims that their products can treat or cure COVID-19, and to notify the FTC within 48 hours about the specific actions they have taken to address the agency’s concerns.

Social media 

FTC has sent out warning letters to manufacturers that make claims on social media, whether made directly by the company or endorsed by the company through a retweet on Twitter or a “like” on Facebook. 

Because social media posts and claims fall under product labeling, “retweets” or “likes” are interpreted as a company endorsement under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The Act defines labeling as “written, printed or graphic material accompanying a product.” 

Multi-level marketers 

In addition to the list of offenders above, the FTC also sent six other letters to multi-level marketing companies​ (MLMs) to remove and address unproven health and earnings claims. This is the second batch of warning letters sent to MLMs. 

The companies claimed their products’ could treat or prevent coronavirus and/or made unsubstantiated claims regarding potential earnings that was messaged as a way to to recoup income lost due to the pandemic.

The FTC sent the letters to the companies listed below. The recipients are grouped based on the types of claims made.

Both Health and Earnings Claims:

Isagenix International LLC​ (Gilbert, Arizona)

The Juice Plus+ Company​ (Collierville, Tennessee)

Earnings Claims:

Melaleuca, Inc.​ (Idaho Falls, Idaho)

Health Claims:

Youngevity International, Inc.​ (Chula Vista, California)

Vivri USA, LLC​ (Dallas, Texas)

Plexus Worldwide, LLC​ (Scottsdale, Arizona)

#WhatTheHealth 

The letters point out specific claims made on social media and videos posted online:

A Spanish-language social media post promoting Vivri USA, LLC that said, “Take care of your health, your body, avoid many diseases many viruses, since this virus and many others are here to stay, coronavirus, influenza, flu, we should nourish our cells, our immune systems, reinforce it with the best nutrition system in the world …”

A social media post that said, “#VIRUS_CORONA Worried? I’ve been boosting my immune system for several years with high-quality Plexus supplements. You can too! #Plexus provides excellent all-natural supplements that truly work. Be sensible –not fearful. Scientifically formulated & doctor-approved! Ask me!”

A video promoting The Juice Plus Company that said, “There are a lot of people out there who have lost income … You may want to build a side income, you know, make $500 a month, $1,000 a month or more. There’s no ceiling on this. It’s whatever you want it to be … What would you like this do to for you? … Maybe it could cover one of your bills, like a car payment. Or enjoy more time and financial freedom. I can tell you those are both possible at the same time because I’ve been living that for the past eight years, and it’s wonderful to be able to offer that to other people.”

Recipients are instructed to immediately cease making all unsubstantiated health claims and to notify the FTC within 48 hours about the specific actions they have taken to address the agency’s concerns.

The letters also refer the companies to the agency’s guidance for MLMs​, noting that they are responsible for any claims made by their participants and representatives.

According to the latest consumer complaint data on its website, the FTC reported that so far there have been 64,236 overall complaints, $46.17 million in total fraud loss with $454 being the median fraud loss amount,

Related topics: Regulation

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