The Omicron variant has consumers saying “Omigosh,” but even before the current surge, advertisers have been using questionable COVID-related claims to promote their products. FTC staff sent 25 more Cease and Desist Demands to businesses, most of whom have made unsubstantiated prevention or treatment representations for tinctures, teas, and sundry services. But there’s a key point that differentiates these Demands from the more than 400 letters that preceded them. Copies of the Cease and Desist Demands were sent to the social media platforms the advertisers used to convey their claims. For a numerical breakdown of those platforms, read on.
The FTC sent Cease and Desist Demands to the following 21 advertisers, reminding them that under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, marketers who make deceptive COVID claims are subject to civil penalties and other financial remedies.
Armored Nutrition. In promoting its multivitamins for children, adults, and people 55+, the company described its products as “YOUR COVID-19 SHIELD” and “the leading over the counter product for COVID-19 and other common viruses.” In addition, Armored Nutrition claimed that its three multivitamin formulations “support lung health to protect against COVID-19’s long term damaging effects.”
AshNu Technologies Inc. Using its website, Facebook, and Instagram, the Canadian company sold “infoceuticals” – remedies that have been supposedly “imprinted” with bio-information to correct energy distortions in the body. The company claimed that “protocols have been developed to destroy the coronavirus directly. We know the resonance frequency of the virus RNA and calculated the exact frequencies to kill it.”
Austin Compounding Pharmacy. The Cease and Desist Demand cited claims that appeared on the company’s website and in social media that “Taking Ivermectin once a week will decrease your risk of infection and reduce the severity if you do contract COVID-19” and “No one needs to die. Ivermectin does work.” The company also pitched its “Corona 6-Pack” of supplements as a way to “prime your immune system and fight back against COVID-19.”
Foraged with Faith. On its website, the purveyor of mushroom-based products asked, “Are you trying to prevent Covid19 or recover from it? . . . We can help! All of our supplements have huge medicinal properties!” The company also claimed that chaga mushrooms have “such massive anti-viral properties that a regular dose can prevent viruses like CV19.”
Gapin Institute and Dr. Tracy Gapin. On its website and on Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn, the Sarasota, Florida, practice recommended Thymosin Alpha 1 as a treatment for COVID. For example, an Instagram post promoted “PEPTIDE THERAPY WITH THYMOSIN ALPHA 1 TO REDUCE SEVERE COVID-19 SYMPTOMS.”
GoodStuff Juices LLC. “Rest assured – that 2020 super bug can’t touch you with Lung Tea stocked in your freezer” and “Never be scared of COVID again. Kills COVID quick!!” Those are just some of the comments the North Carolina company posted on Facebook and other social media platforms to promote its Lung Tea product.
Green Star Products, Inc. The company pitched a dietary supplement called Viro Spectrum Shield by claiming that testing showed “efficacy results from 93% to 99.9% against the COVID-19 Virus . . . .” Claims for the product also appeared on Twitter and in a USA Today publication called “America Forward.”
Han Institute and Dr. Angelica Kokkalis. The Indiana-based company used its website and social media to promote Silver Flower capsules and Golden Flower herbal tea as “great for boosting the immune system for the prevention of Covid19.” Furthermore, as Dr. Kokkalis stated in a YouTube video, “If you or a loved one is infected with Covid19, Wei Labs has the best Chinese herbal medicine to offer.”
Integrative Pain and Wellness Center. In addition to representing that “Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) helped improve outcomes and decrease mortality during the Spanish flu of 1918,” the Texas-based practice claimed that Golden Flower herbal tea “may help prevent the Coronavirus from infecting individuals through immediate germ removal and immune support.”
IVita Drip Therapy. Based in Wyoming and Kansas, IVita Drip Therapy pitched a “COVID Blend” intravenous treatment as a “powerhouse of immunity boosting Vitamin C, along with other essential elements working together to strengthen immune responses to serious viral illness. . . .” According to a Facebook post, “WE NO LONGER LIVE IN FEAR OF COVID-19 AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO EITHER!”
Krystal Anesthesia & Pain Specialists. On their websites and in social media, the Texas-based businesses responded to the question “How am I staying healthy during these times???” by promoting a variety of supplements. In addition, the businesses stated on Facebook that Thymosin Alpha 1 “Reduces the Mortality of Severe Coronavirus.”
Peine Osteopathic Medicine, PLLC. The Idaho practice advertised “Low Dose Immunotherapy” as a “New Covid-19 Treatment” discovered by Dr. Abraham “to prevent the immune-activated inflammatory response to COVID-19, which is responsible for the symptoms associated with COVID-19.” The purported result: “significant improvement or complete resolution of symptoms within 24 hours.”
Pretty Healthy. According to the Cease and Desist Demand, Dr. Namavar made statements on the Pretty Health website and in social media promoting high-dose vitamin drips for COVID. For example, on Facebook, the New York practitioner linked to an article that said, “To help in the fight against coronavirus, my practice offers IV Vitamin C and Glutathione, along with a wide range of preventative and treatment-based infusion protocols, individually customized for each patient’s needs.”
RhinoSystems, Inc. and Martin R. Hoke. The Cease and Desist Demand to Ohio-based RhinoSystems quoted claims the company made on its website and in social media for a nasal irrigation product called Naväge. The company cited a study that purported to show that “individuals who tested positive for Covid and immediately began using nasal irrigation twice-a-day were 8.4 times less likely to be hospitalized or die than those who did not . . . .”
Sava Holistic Health. On Etsy, Instagram, Facebook, and elsewhere, the Connecticut practitioner advertised products to prevent or treat COVID-19. For example, in promoting tinctures that sold for $500, Dr. Sava stated, “Since everything is censored it’s hard to tell anyone about what I can do . . . but please note I have a set of tinctures that has worked wonders on people with the lovely c v rus.”
Seaweed & Co. On Twitter, the UK company promoted its products with claims that “[i]n a test of antiviral effectiveness against the virus that causes COVID-19, an extract from edible #seaweeds substantially outperformed remdesivir, the current standard antiviral used to combat the disease.” In a Facebook post, Dr. Rose stated, “Initial research shows oral application of vitamin D3 reduced COVID-19 ICU admission from 50% to 2%.”
Sunshine Health Foods & Wellness Center. The Florida company advertised products – including Quercetin, NAC, and Vitamin D – with claims that they can prevent COVID-19. For example, as Mr. Pendry stated in a Facebook post, “I have found enough information about Hydroxychloroquine and its off the shelf relative Quercetin, that suggest they may help the body protect itself from RNA based viruses like COVID.”
TerraMune Health, LLC. “Our Natural COVID-19 Vaccine Alternative.” That’s how the New Hampshire company described ViralHalt, its “proprietary blend of Earth’s natural minerals” that “demonstrates broad-spectrum antiviral properties, which have been laboratory tested and confirmed by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) . . . .”
Todos Medical USA. Marketers promoted Tollovid as an “orally administered proprietary blend of plant extracts that includes a powerful 3CL protease inhibitor that helps support and maintain healthy immune function.” What’s more, they stated in social media that the product “is being evaluated as a potential therapeutic target for COVID-19 by several groups . . . .”
Wei FASST Patch Hawaii. The Cease and Desist Demand cited claims on the marketer’s website that Golden Flower herbal tea “helps prevent the Coronavirus from infecting individuals through immediate germ removal and immune support” and that ingredients in Silver Formula “can help alleviate respiratory symptoms caused by acute respiratory tract viral infection and inflammation due to . . . coronavirus disease (COVID-19).”
Wei Laboratories, Inc. Based in Santa Clara, California, Wei Laboratories marketed Silver Flower capsules and Golden Flower herbal tea on its own and through others. Among other claims, the Cease and Desist Demand cited the company’s representation that “Silver Flower and Golden Flower herbal formulas have shown great results in patients diagnosed with COVID-19.”
An additional four companies received Cease and Desist Demands that raised concerns about COVID claims made by participants or representatives of the companies’ business opportunities. The FTC’s Business Guidance Concerning Multi-Level Marketing makes it clear that MLMs are liable for deceptive claims made by their participants and other representatives. To that end, MLMs should educate their participants to avoid misleading or unsubstantiated representations and monitor what they’re claiming. Here are the four MLMs that received Cease and Desist Demands.
AmpLIFEi. According to the Demand, social media posts by AmpLIFEi’s business opportunity participants or representatives made claims like this: “IF YOU, OR A LOVED ONE, IS EXPERIENCING ADVERSE EFFECTS FROM THE COVID-19 SHOT, OR MANMADE VIRUS . . . THIS IS FOR YOU!” and “Look at one of the newly launched products. . . FULVIC ACID?? WORRIED ABOUT COVID? NOT ANYMORE!!!”
BlackOxygen Organics USA. Posts by participants and representatives of Black Oxygen Organics promoted products on social media as treatments for COVID. For example, according to a post on Instagram, “David tested positive for COVID-19 in April 2021 and was experiencing lingering side effects. Him and his wife discovered BLACKOXYGEN and within 24 hours felt like himself.”
Enagic USA, Inc. The Cease and Desist Demand cited several claims that Enagic’s participants and representatives made on social media, including a statement on Twitter describing Enagic’s Kangen Water as a “natural prevention method for COVID-19.”
Family First Life, LLC. Participants and representatives of Connecticut-based Family First Life took to TikTok and YouTube to tout the money they claimed to have made through the company’s business opportunity. For example, citing burn-out from COVID as a reason for her job transition, a nurse claimed to have earned $40,000 in the past month, and represented that people can “make your WEEKLY salary in ONE DAY . . . .” Another participant reported losing her job due to COVID, but then made in one weekend what she would have made in 10 months in her previous job.
Take a closer look at the Cease and Desist Demands and you’ll note that cc:ed on the letters are the platforms used to disseminate the companies’ questionable representations. Indeed, many of the companies used multiple platforms to convey their claims. Eighteen companies used Facebook and 11 used Instagram, with 5 each disseminating representations via Twitter or YouTube. The platforms Etsy, LinkedIn, Shopify, TikTok and YouTube each received one cc:ed letter. A recent Business Blog post by Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Samuel Levine, FTC analysis shows COVID fraud thriving on social media platforms, explains how companies making deceptive COVID claims have been able to extend their reach – and thereby magnify the risk of injury to even more consumers – by using social media platforms. As he said in that post, “No firm should be putting profits ahead of public health.”