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Prepared Statement of the Federal Trade Commission: Curbing COVID Cons: Warning Consumers about Pandemic Frauds, Scams, and Swindles

04/27/2021 | 10:55am EDT

PREPARED STATEMENT OF THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION

CURBING COVID CONS: WARNING CONSUMERS ABOUT PANDEMIC FRAUDS,

SCAMS, AND SWINDLES

Before the

COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION

SUBCOMMITTEE ON CONSUMER PROTECTION, PRODUCT SAFETY, AND DATA

SECURITY

UNITED STATES SENATE

WASHINGTON, D.C.

APRIL 27, 2021

  1. INTRODUCTION

Chairman Blumenthal, Ranking Member Blackburn, and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Daniel Kaufman, Acting Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission (Commission or FTC).1 I am pleased to appear before you today. Despite the unprecedented challenges of the past year, the Commission has endeavored to protect consumers and competition. A key part of this work has been combatting COVID-related harms. The Commission staff recently released a report describing the major challenges consumers face from the pandemic and the Commission's efforts to help: using reports from consumers to identify and respond to emerging unlawful practices in real time; filing more than a dozen law enforcement cases; directing the removal of deceptive claims related to COVID-19 made by more than 350 companies; and educating consumers and businesses through more than 100 alerts on COVID- related topics.

The civil penalty authority in the newly-enactedCOVID-19 Consumer Protection Act2 and additional funding the Commission recently received from the American Rescue Plan will enable us to intensify our efforts to protect consumers from unscrupulous actors that seek to exploit the pandemic and its economic fallout. The Commission just brought its first action seeking monetary penalties under its new authority, targeting deceptive COVID-19 marketing of vitamin D and zinc products.3

In this testimony, I provide a high-level summary of the Commission's efforts.

  1. This written statement presents the views of the Federal Trade Commission. The oral statements and responses to questions reflect my own views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission or any Commissioner.
  2. Pub. L. No. 116-260, 134 Stat. 1182, Division FF, Title XIV, § 1401(b)(1).
  3. FTC Press Release, In First Action Under COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, FTC Seeks Monetary Penalties for Deceptive Marketing of Purported Coronavirus Treatments, https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press- releases/2021/04/first-action-under-covid-19-consumer-protection-act-ftc-seeks(Apr. 15, 2021).

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  1. COVID-19CONSUMER PROTECTION EFFORTS

The Commission has worked diligently to identify and address the effects of the COVID- 19 pandemic on American consumers and businesses. The Commission's response to COVID-19 has included law enforcement, consumer education and outreach, and data collection, each of which is discussed in more detail below.

a. Law Enforcement

Most recently, the FTC deployed its new authority under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act to charge that a chiropractor and his company deceptively marketed products containing vitamin D and zinc as scientifically proven to treat or prevent COVID-19.4 The federal court complaint seeks civil penalties authorized by the new statute and an order barring baseless health claims.

This action is merely the latest in a long line of enforcement efforts that began early in the pandemic. The FTC issued its first warnings to consumers about COVID-19 related scams in February 2020, even before the declaration of a national emergency.5 As schemes proliferated in response to demand for scarce goods, to peddle treatments and cures, and to exploit consumers' and small businesses' financial distress, the FTC moved quickly to challenge deceptive claims.

The agency filed its first court action6 just one month after the national emergency declaration.7 In that case, the FTC alleged that a company falsely claimed to be an approved lender to induce struggling small businesses to submit applications for the Paycheck Protection

  1. See supra n. 3.
  2. Coronavirus: Scammers follow the headlines, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/02/coronavirus-scammers- follow-headlines(Feb. 10, 2020).
  3. Complaint, FTC v. Ponte Investments, LLC, Case No. 1:20-cv-00177 (D.R.I.), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/sbacomplaint.pdf.
  4. Proclamation 9994 of March 13, 2020, available at https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-03- 18/pdf/2020-05794.pdf.

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Plan loan program, administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA).8 In response, a federal court order has barred the defendants from misrepresenting affiliation with the SBA or that they are authorized to issue SBA loans.9

In a second action against a government impostor, the FTC sued a company that

allegedly deceived consumers with mailers that featured a Great Seal of the United States and a mock stimulus check and promised to get them federal COVID-19 stimulus benefits.10 As alleged in the complaint, rather than assisting consumers obtain stimulus benefits, the mailers sought to lure consumers to a car dealership.

Companies also have been quick to capitalize on consumers' concerns about their health and safety. The FTC has sued entities for allegedly breaking promises to quickly ship much needed goods, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning products.11 In one such action, the FTC sued a website operator that misrepresented that critical PPE, such as masks and hand sanitizer, were in stock and would ship the next day. In reality, the Commission alleged, the defendant failed to ship the PPE for weeks without seeking consent for the delay or offering consumers refunds.12

  1. See supra n. 6.
  2. Stipulated Final Order, FTC v. Ponte Investments, LLC, Case No. 1:20-cv-00177 (D.R.I.), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/x200042_ponte_inv_-_stipulated_final_order.pdf.
  3. Complaint, In re Traffic Jam Events, LLC, Docket No. 9395 (FTC), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/d9395_traffic_jam_complaint_final.pdf.
  4. Complaint, FTC v. SuperGoodDeals.com, Inc., Case No. 20-cv-3027 (E.D.N.Y.), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/202_3135_supergooddeals_-_complaint.pdf;Complaint, FTC v. QYK Brands LLC, Case No. 8:20-cv-01431-JLS-KES (C.D. Cal.), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/202_3147_qyk_brands_-_complaint.pdf;Complaint, FTC v. Am. Screening, LLC, Case No. 4:20-cv-1021 (E.D. Mo.), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/202_3158_american_screening_-_complaint.pdf;Complaint, FTC v. Zaappaaz LLC, Case No. 4:20-cv-02717 (S.D. Tex.), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/202_3136_zaappaaz_-_complaint.pdf.
  5. Complaint, FTC v. SuperGoodDeals.com, Inc., Case No. 20-cv-3027 (E.D.N.Y.), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/202_3135_supergooddeals_-_complaint.pdf.

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The FTC also has taken action against the operator of counterfeit websites that tricked consumers into paying for sanitizing products that were never delivered.13 The Commission obtained a federal court order that, while litigation proceeds, prohibits the defendants from making deceptive claims, suspends their deceptive websites, and bars them from using their websites to collect money from consumers.14

The Commission also has used its enforcement efforts to attack dangerous, false claims of COVID-19 treatments and cures. For example, the Commission sued a company that, even after receiving a warning from the FTC, deceptively advertised a $23,000 treatment plan as a scientifically-proven way to treat COVID-19.15 During litigation, the court ordered the defendants to stop making deceptive health claims.16

Similarly, the Commission sued a marketer for making baseless claims that his dietary supplement could treat or prevent COVID-19,17 and issued an administrative order prohibiting

  1. Complaint, FTC v. One or More Unknown Parties Deceiving Consumers Into Making Purchases Through: www.cleanyos.com et al., Case No. 5:20-cv-02494(N.D. Ohio), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/complaint_w-a_filed.pdf.
  2. Preliminary Injunction, FTC v. One or More Unknown Parties Deceiving Consumers Into Making Purchases Through: www.cleanyos.com et al., Case No. 5:20-cv-02494(N.D. Ohio), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/ftc_v_unknown_preliminary_injunction_with_att_a.pdf.
  3. Complaint, FTC v. Golden Sunrise Nutraceutical, Inc., Case No. 1:20-cv-00540-DAD-SKO (E.D. Cal.), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/202_3146_golden_sunrise_-_complaint.pdf.
  4. Stipulation to Preliminary Injunction as to Defendants Golden Sunrise Nutraceutical, Inc, Golden Pharmaceutical, Inc., and Huu Tieu, FTC v. Golden Sunrise Nutraceutical, Inc., Case No. 1:20-cv-00540-DAD-SKO (E.D. Cal.), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/030_- _gs_order_re_stipulation_pi_to_defs_golden_sunrise_nutraceutical_inc._golden_pharmaceutical_inc._and_tieu.pdf; Stipulation to Preliminary Injunction as to Defendant Stephen Meis, FTC v. Golden Sunrise Nutraceutical, Inc., Case No. 1:20-cv-00540-DAD-SKO (E.D. Cal.), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/029_-_gs_order_re_stipulation_pi_to_def_meis.pdf.
  5. Complaint, FTC v. Ching, Case No. 2:20-cv-03775 (C.D. Cal.), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/whole_leaf_complaint.pdf; Complaint, In re Ching, Docket No. 9394 (FTC), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/d09394_administrative_part_iii_complaint.pdf.

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This is an excerpt of the original content. To continue reading it, access the original document here.

Disclaimer

Federal Trade Commission published this content on 27 April 2021 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 27 April 2021 14:54:02 UTC.


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