- The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have sent warning letters to seven companies, including televangelist Jim Bakker's show, accusing them of fraudulently selling products to treat the rapidly spreading new coronavirus.
- The companies are hawking unapproved drugs that haven't been shown to fight the virus, called SARS-CoV-2, the agencies said. Using the products could pose a risk to patients, who might delay needed care or suffer other side effects, they said.
- In addition to The Jim Bakker Show, the agencies sent letters to Vital Silver, Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., GuruNanda, LLC, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy LLC and Xephyr, LLC, which they said does business as N-Ergetics.
The FDA and the FTC said they will crack down quickly on people trying to take advantage of consumers concerned about the coronavirus infection outbreak. An "aggressive surveillance program" is monitoring social media, online marketplaces and complaints from consumers, they said.
"There already is a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus," FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in the agencies' March 9 press release. "What we don't need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims."
The agencies demanded answers within two days on how the companies would fix the violations. If needed, the FDA and the FTC said they're prepared to take legal action or seize products to stop the scams.
No products are approved to treat or prevent COVID-19, which the World Health Organization said had infected 113,702 people around the globe as of March 10. More than 4,000 people have died. While the vast majority of infections have been in China, the virus has now jumped to more than 100 other nations, some of which are experiencing fast rising infection counts.
Bakker, who served time in prison after being convicted of fraud and conspiracy in 1989, has promoted a product called Silver Solution as a potential cure for coronavirus, the FDA and the FTC said. They cited a misleading claim on the show's website that said Silver Solution "has been proven … to kill every pathogen it has ever been tested on."
The televangelist's claims have also drawn the attention of the Missouri Attorney General, who is seeking a restraining order to stop Bakker from promoting the supposed treatment.
Other companies are making similar claims. Quinessence Aromatherapy's website contains a list of "the most powerful anti-virus essential oils" that can defend against coronavirus, the FDA and FTC said. On its website, Herbal Amy discusses a protocol customers should use for particular herbs that are "specific in one way or another for this virus."
Beyond combating scams and taking care of patients, governments and the health industry are racing to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which has begun to disrupt operations and events in the U.S.
The FDA this week announced it's postponing inspections of overseas plants and facilities as a result of federal travel restrictions, medical meetings are being canceled and top drugmakers are telling their employees to work from home.