FTC Warns Internet Peddlers that Potentially Bogus H1N1 Influenza Products May Violate Federal Law

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The Federal Trade Commission has warned Web site operators who made claims that their products can prevent, treat, or cure the Influenza A/H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, that they must have scientific proof to support their claims. The FTC told the companies, whose products include dietary supplements, air filtration devices, and cleaning agents, that without scientific proof they are violating federal law and must drop the claims or face further action.

“Scam artists follow the headlines, trying to make a fast buck with products that play off the news – and prey on concerned people,” said Eileen Harrington, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We’re online and telling e-marketers their sites must comply with the law.”

The FTC reminds consumers that the only products recommended for use are the prescription antiviral drugs, Oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (brand name Relenza).

FTC staff identified 10 Web sites making suspect flu treatment, prevention, or cure claims. Of these 10, four domestic Web sites already have complied with the FTC’s request by removing questionable Web pages; one site was referred to the Food and Drug Administration; three foreign Web sites will be referred to the FTC’s international counterparts; and two other sites remain under review.

FTC staff will revisit all the Web sites later to determine if further law enforcement action is warranted. Because the Web sites are the subjects of ongoing FTC investigations, their identities are confidential.

The FTC has developed a new Consumer Alert, Rx for Products That Claim to Prevent H1N1? A Healthy Dose of Skepticism, which warns the public to be skeptical of claims that products like pills, air filtration devices, and cleaning agents can kill or eliminate the virus. The alert advises consumers to:

  • Know the facts: The H1N1 virus is thought to spread from person to person in the same way that seasonal flu spreads – mainly by cough or sneeze by people with the flu. Sometimes, people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
  • Keep your hands clean: Public health authorities advise that basic personal hygiene is the best protection against infection. Wash your hands thoroughly. When soap and water are not available, health authorities suggest using alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers. These products are available in most supermarkets and drugstores.
  • Check travel advisories for affected areas: To lower your risk of infection, the Centers for Disease Control suggests avoiding travel to affected regions.
  • Seek medical attention: If you think either you may have influenza symptoms, or you may have been in direct contact with someone who has the flu, consult a health care professional immediately.
  • Stay informed: For more information from the federal government about the H1N1 flu, visit the CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu.

Consumers who wish to file a complaint against a company that they believe may be deceptively advertising H1N1 flu products are urged to call 1–877–FTC–HELP (1–877–382– 4357) or visit https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.

(Swine flu folo.wpd)

Contact Information

Betsy Lordan
Office of Public Affairs
Rich Cleland
Bureau of Consumer Protection