US authorities warn SARS spammers

12 May 2003

Federal authorities in the US are warning website operators not to promote products claiming to prevent or treat SARS.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are warning website operators who suggest that their products will protect against, treat, or even cure Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), that they are aware of no scientific proof for such claims and that the website operators must remove any misleading or deceptive claims from the internet.

According to the FDA, a co-ordinated search found 48 sites touting a wide variety of SARS treatment or prevention products. The FTC also retrieved seven promotions for SARS products from its spam database. The two agencies sent warnings to website operators and email solicitors, cautioning that it is against US law to make claims about SARS protection or treatment, or any other health benefit, without rigorous scientific support. The FDA has sent eight warning letters to manufacturers and distributors that are making misleading claims.

The warning campaign is based on information gathered by the FTC with the help of the FDA and the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services. Included in the review were websites that promised consumers would be protected from SARS if they purchased such items as personal air purifiers, disinfectant sprays and wipes, respirator masks, latex gloves, dietary supplements such as colloidal silver and oregano oil, and SARS ‘prevention kits’ that package various items together, such as gloves, masks and wipes.

“Scam artists follow the headlines, trying to make a fast buck with products that play off the news,” said Howard Beales, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Our message to e-marketers making deceptive claims is ‘change your site to comply with the law.’ At the same time, our message to consumers is ‘hold on to your money.’ No products have been found effective in preventing, treating or curing SARS,” he added.

By Dick O’Brien