The Federal Trade Commission has warned 10 companies to stop making health claims about treating and preventing the coronavirus or pitching business opportunities amid the pandemic, the agency announced on Friday.
The group of letters represent the first time the F.T.C. has issued warnings about claims of potential earnings related to the economic fallout from the pandemic. The commission and the Food and Drug Administration have previously sent warning letters about unapproved health products related to the coronavirus.
There currently are no products that are scientifically proven to treat or prevent the virus, according to the F.D.A.
In the recent letters, the trade commission targeted so-called multilevel marketers, which distribute products or services through networks of salespeople who are not employees of the company and who do not receive a salary or wage. It warned the companies that false or misleading earnings claims are a violation of federal law.
“M.L.M.s and other companies that distribute their products through networks of distributors are responsible for the product and earnings claims those distributors are making,” Andrew Smith, the director of the commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement announcing the warning letters.
“During this health and economic crisis, we are on the lookout for false income claims for work-at-home opportunities, in addition to spurious health claims that products can treat or prevent Covid-19,” he said.
The letters note videos and social media posts by the companies or their distributors in which the F.T.C. said they made unsubstantiated claims about health benefits and potential income.
One example highlighted by the agency, a video from Pruvit Ventures, which sells ketone supplements, included the statement: “I can tell you that there’s thousands of people that are out of work right now. They’re all looking for a way to go earn money. This is a great stimulus package, because you get to teach somebody how to go earn $1,730 literally in their first 10 days in the business.”
In another warning letter, the commission quoted a social media post by Zurvita, a health and wellness company: “Want to join me in drinking Zeal to combat the Corona Virus? Contact me … to learn how to be your own Corona Virus Super Hero!”
Kevin Wilson, a spokesman for doTERRA International, said in an email on Saturday that the company had received the letter and was “working to address the concerns.” He added that the company, which sells essential oils and is based in Utah, “has been steadfast in its efforts to comply with relevant laws and regulations.”
In a statement on Saturday, Lauren Hartung, a spokeswoman for Rodan & Fields, said the company “does not tolerate noncompliant or misleading income claims, and we routinely initiate enforcement action against such claims.” She said the company, which specializes in skin products, is “committed to following the F.T.C.’s best practices around this topic and will continue to reinforce these guidelines and explore how we can continue to best educate and train consultants surrounding this important topic.”
Zurvita did not immediately respond for a comment on Saturday. But on its Facebook page, the company said that “it is imperative that our Independent Consultants and customers avoid posting that our products are intended to prevent, treat or cure Covid-19 or any other disease,” adding that all coronavirus-related prevention or treatment claims are strictly prohibited by the F.T.C.
The other companies did not immediately respond for comment on Saturday.
The letters said the companies had 48 hours to respond with explanations of what they were doing to correct the violations. It was not immediately clear what consequences the companies would face for noncompliance.