FOX13 Investigates: Companies peddling false COVID-19 preventions, treatments, and cures

BOSTON — They promise to "help fight the coronavirus" by strengthening your immune system, with shots, teas and other concoctions that aren't FDA-approved.

Some are easier to spot than others, with bad grammar and misspelled words in the advertising.

But consumer advocates say bogus COVID-19 treatments and cures continue to flood the market and aren’t going away anytime soon.

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“Essentially, what we’re seeing is like the modern-day snake oil salesman,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director with the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG).

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulators have sent out more than a hundred warning letters to companies across the country, flagging deceptive products like “COVID-19 Core Formula,” “Coronavirus Herbal Tea” and an antibacterial nebulizer.

The FDA has not approved any product or service that can prevent, treat or cure COVID-19, outside of the antiviral medication remdesivir, which can only be administered in a hospital setting.

"There is nothing out there right now that is going to protect you from COVID-19 or help you get better from COVID-19," said Dr. Shira Doron, an Infectious Disease Physician and Hospital Epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center.

According to MASSPIRG, more than half of the products flagged by federal regulators in March and April claimed to either "enhance immune systems or have antiviral properties that would prevent, mitigate, treat or cure COVID-19."

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"This pandemic is really an info-demic, right? Everybody is being bombarded with information. There's so much to read on the internet, on social media, and everybody is texting you with the latest thing. It can be impossible to tell what's real and what's not real," Dr. Doron said.

Cummings said scammers are taking advantage of people's anxiety and fear.

“Consumers are afraid and when you create that environment, they’re going to look for things that will help protect them,” Cummings said.

Cummings said there has been strong action by the FDA and FTC, but U.S. PIRG’s research still found deceptive products when they searched online.

“If someone thinks they’ve been cured through one of these fake products and then they’re out in the public, that risks the spread of the disease,” Cummings said.

“I’ve definitely had patients ask me about various vitamin supplements,” said Dr. Paul Sax, Director of the Infectious Disease Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Sax said he's reminded of the early days of the HIV/AIDs epidemic.

“There were people selling all kinds of things that were supposed to help cure AIDS, clear AIDS from the bloodstream, reverse your immune deficits, they were essentially all really garbage,” Dr. Sax said.

The FTC sent warning letters in April to three New England companies: Blessed Maine Herb Farm in Athens, Maine, Windhorse Naturopathic Clinic in Brattleboro, Vermont, and Integrative Acupuncture in Montpelier, Vermont.

The three businesses were reprimanded for making "unsubstantiated claims for coronavirus prevention or treatment," federal documents show.

Gail Faith Edwards, the owner of Blessed Herb Farm, said the post on her website was taken “out of context.”

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"Their objection was not that I was claiming any product of mine as a cure for COVID-19, but that I posted the preventive health article on my herbal products website," she wrote in an email.

"When the issue regarding our article regarding prevention arose, it was immediately removed, no problem," Edwards wrote.

Kerry Boyle, an acupuncturist with Intergrative Acupuncture, said they were surprised to get a warning letter from the FTC.

“We saw our newsletter as a source of disseminating factual information and not providing treatment recommendations for COVID19. We immediately complied and removed the blog and Facebook post of our newsletter to comply with the FTC’s recommendations,” Boyle wrote in an email .

Windhorse Naturopathic Clinic did not respond to an email for comment on this story.

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