AUSTIN, Texas — As of April 20, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said there have been 22,853 overall reports of COVID-19 consumer complaints. The overall fraud loss has totaled up to $17.53 million.
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the FTC have been sending out warning letters to companies allegedly selling products with unsupported claims about their ability to treat COVID-19.
“Well, certainly this is a time where scammers are once again taking advantage of the situation," said Erin Dufner, the chief marketing officer of the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which has also been tracking scams and fraud related to the coronavirus pandemic. “BBB’s also been getting reports of false claims of companies selling products that can, you know, help or treat, you know, COVID-19 and it’s really a problem.”
You can track scams that have been reported to the BBB through their scam tracker.
One of the letters that the FTC and FDA sent out in April was to a CBD seller.
"The third seller warned, CBD Online Store, offers unapproved and misbranded CBD products with misleading claims the products are safe and/or effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 in people," a news release on the FDA's website reads.
“For that to be a statement that companies are using, I think is kind of pulling at people’s heartstrings at a time like this," said Sydney Torabi, the co-founder of Restart CBD in North Austin. “I never want someone to buy a product and expecting something and not getting that result in return.”
Eric Smart, the CEO of CBD company Myaderm, had a similar take.
“Working in the CBD industry since its inception, it has been riddled with fraudulent claims, with people making bogus products, and we’ve been dealing with that for years now. What we’re seeing now is just an intensification of that," Smart said. “It’s terrible what companies are doing – making false claims, trying to convince people that their products are either going to prevent or cure those types of diseases or infections like COVID-19. That needs to be addressed, people need to be called out and they need to stop doing it.”
Dufner said that there has been an increase over the last couple of weeks of complaints related to COVID-19 and that it varies across a lot of different industries whether its scam-related or people wanting refunds or to switch their travel plans.
The BBB told KVUE Tuesday night that Heavezt LLC, an online retailer advertising the sale of N95 and N99 masks, has become the focus of an investigation after people reported ordering some masks but never receiving them.
According to BBB, Heavezt LLC had 119 Nueces St listed as their address. The website now lists a return address in London with a domain registration listed in Morocco, the BBB said.
Dufner mentioned that the company's customer support email had its company name spelled differently.
The BBB said they've received 16 complaints, reviews and scan tracker reports from consumers in the U.S. Of the 16 consumers, 14 of them told the BBB that they never received their orders after paying anywhere from nearly $30 for one mask to nearly $500 for several.
Two of the people who received the masks told the BBB that it essentially wasn't what they saw online.
The BBB has not heard back from Heavezt LLC, nor has KVUE after reaching out Tuesday afternoon.
According to the BBB, some consumers reported asking for a tracking number, only to receive fake numbers or told tracking numbers were unavailable.
The BBB said when searching for N95 and N99 masks online, to buy from reputable retailers, to confirm the business's contact information if you're unfamiliar with a seemingly legitimate company and to pay carefully. BBB said credit cards are generally the safest way to pay for an online purchase.
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