Blumenthal Highlights Dangerous COVID-19 Scams, Calling for Federal Enforcement & Corporate Accountability

“False cures not only take people’s money, they can kill, and deception can be deadly.”

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Tuesday, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) highlighted the rise in dangerous and deceptive coronavirus-related scams, questioning witnesses about the obligation of businesses and federal and state governments to protect the public from this fraud.

In his opening remarks, Blumenthal emphasized the need for stronger federal enforcement to deter online scammers. The Senator stressed that although the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has already issued 255 warning letters to companies defrauding and endangering consumers during the pandemic, those companies continue to operate after altering marketing pitches, stating: “Warning letters to marketers simply fail to give consumers their notice, they fail to inform, they fail to correct wrong information and they send no real signal to the market. There needs to be real deterrence, not just warning letters, a slap on the wrist.

Blumenthal also expressed alarm over tech firms “enabling consumer harm through negligence and inaction,” as unsafe supplements claiming antiviral properties continue to be sold through Amazon and other online marketplaces, saying: “We need to stop the snake oil salesmen.”

In an exchange with Center for Science in the Public Interest Policy Director Laura MacCleery, Blumenthal asked about the responsibility companies like Amazon, eBay, Facebook, and Etsy have in protecting consumers from misleading and potentially dangerous products, asking “Shouldn’t they be held accountable?” MacCleery agreed, stating “we think that there could be a much more compelling partnership between the platforms and the government to deal with fraud and abuse.”

Blumenthal emphasized the importance of a federal price gouging law, agreeing with FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Andrew Smith after he stated that it would be helpful to have a federal price gouging statute giving the agency authority to address this issue. Blumenthal said: “Right now, there really is no federal price gouging law and that is a real obstacle to effective federal enforcement. I encountered this issue when I was State Attorney General, urging the then-Attorneys General of the United States to take action – and the FTC – and they said to me, ‘well, we have no federal law.’”

The full video of Blumenthal’s opening remarks can be found here. The first round of questioning can be viewed here and the second round here.