Beware online swine flu cure scams

The US Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on swine flu snake oil.
Learn more
  • Updated:24 Jun 2009

01.Beware online swine flu cure scams

As the world experiences its first global pandemic flu in four decades, sensational claims about products are being circulated on US websites, including an ultraviolet light that can destroy swine flu, an air purifier able to sterilise a room and a product “clinically shown” to kill the virus in the nose. And online security company McAfee Avert Labs reported in April that scam emails linked to online pharmacies were released as soon as the first cases of swine flu were reported in the news.

In the past two months the US Food and Drug Administration has issued more than 50 official warning letters to online sellers, leading to 70% taking down websites or removing false claims. Several news outlets reported that one warning letter led to the removal of 10 websites, raising suspicions that only a few individuals were responsible for the scams.

“We are committed to aggressively pursuing those who attempt to take advantage of a public health emergency by promoting and marketing unapproved, uncleared or unauthorised products,” said the FDA’s Margaret A. Hamburg MD.

“We have achieved some success and will remain vigilant in our efforts to protect consumers from these fraudulent, potentially dangerous products.”

Products being sold by websites included antiviral medications without a doctor’s prescription, dietary supplements and flu kits.

“Consumers who purchase products to treat the novel 2009 H1N1 virus that are not approved, cleared or authorised by the FDA for the treatment or prevention of influenza risk their health and the health of their families,” warned Michael Chappell, acting FDA Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs.

Online security experts at the Better Business Bureau (BBB) are warning its customers to be on alert for scam emails and websites. According to the BBB, scammers scan the media and know that by using a hook from the day’s top headlines, that they’ll be able to snare lots of people with their scams.

Although as yet there have been no reports of such scams in Australia, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s SCAMwatch recently warned consumers to be on alert.


Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.