Miracle cures and other preparations for the coronavirus is an industry growing quickly, though not quite as quickly as the virus.
Complaints of potential coronavirus scams doubled in a week’s time, Federal Trade Commission officials said on Monday, to 7,800. By comparison, the number of U.S. deaths due to the coronavirus has been doubling even more rapidly — roughly every three or four days.
Seeking to suppress the burgeoning field, the FTC and the Food and Drug Administration in recent weeks have been sending form letters to companies warning of potential legal action.
“There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure COVID-19,” the letters say. “Thus, the claims cited above are not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. You must immediately cease making all such claims for products that you advertise, market, sell, or otherwise promote or make available in the United States.”
Otherwise, the letters threaten, there could be legal action.
Yet the reports keep coming in, hundreds a day, a testament both to the desperation of Americans for some way to prepare for the coronavirus and the ingenuity and breadth of the putative cures.
One of the first cited by federal officials was “The Jim Bakker Show,” a television program hosted by the famed televangelist, to whom federal authorities issued a warning on March 6 about his claims about something called “Silver Sol Liquid.”
The show was advising people to put the liquid in a nebulizer and inhale it because “it can kill any of these known viruses,” according to the government filing.
But that was just the beginning. Here’s just a sampling of the written pitches that have been cited by federal authorities since then:
A nasal spray known as Corona-Cure “contains an antiseptic that will kill the virus on contact before it is able to enter your body.”
An ad for something called an “Immune Tonic” boasts that “natural antiviral herbs boost immunity & decrease virus virulence to achieve herd immunity.”
And like Bakker’s pitch, another one offers the healing powers of silver: “Wellness!! Vital Silver!!! Simple!!! Go on the offense this year against viruses including the Coronavirus — it’s simple!”
As outlandish as these claims may seem to the skeptical, the coronavirus may have made some people more willing to believe in a miracle cure.
“Fear is a powerful motivator,” said Monica Vaca, head of the FTC division that collects consumer complaint data. “When people are stressed out…that’s going to be an appealing offer.”
Of the 7,800 consumer complaints filed so far, officials said, many are simply about vacations canceled because of the coronavirus. Others are about toilet paper and other supplies that are offered and never arrive. And some sound vaguely government-related.
“Thank you for calling Coronavirus Hotline,” goes one phone pitch recorded on the FTC website under the heading “Scammy Calls About the Coronavirus. “Because of limited testing we are first taking Medicare members. Earn a Free [inaudible] test for you or for you and your spouse.”
And another: “The Families First Coronavirus Response Act has made coronavirus testing more accessible immediately. If you want to receive a free testing kit delivered overnight to your home, press 1.”
The FTC has also sent letters to nine tech companies that may have helped the firms send out robocalls.
“Many of these robocalls prey upon consumer fear of the pandemic to perpetrate scams or disseminate disinformation,” those letters say. “FTC staff have reason to believe that one or more of your customers may be involved in such illegal telemarketing campaigns.”