At least 25 websites have allegedly been selling the products without actually delivering them to buyers, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The sites are designed to look like genuine sellers of Clorox and Lysol disinfecting wipes and other products.
Operators of the sites use internet search engines, social media and pop-up advertisements to lure consumers eager to get their hands on brand-name sanitizing products. COVID-19, which has killed more than 235,000 Americans and which is continuing to race across the U.S., has driven up demand for Clorox, Lysol and other disinfecting agents, causing shortages.
"The FTC is working hard to stop fraudsters who try to scam people with false promises of scarce cleaning supplies during the pandemic," Andrew Smith, the agency's director of consumer protection, said in a statement this week. "If a seller seems to have items that are out of stock everywhere else, do an online search for complaints about the seller or website before you buy."
The agency believes those running the sites charged consumers thousands of dollars for products that never arrived. In some cases, when the purchasers tried to get a refund, they found the site where they had bought the product no longer existed.
Others who sought chargebacks from their credit card companies found that scammers used phony shipment information, making it harder to get the charges reversed. And some consumers were sent products they didn't want to thwart the chargeback process.
"In numerous instances, taking advantage of consumers desperate to get hold of cleaning and disinfecting products during the worldwide coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, defendants used a series of counterfeit websites that impersonate the websites of well-known brands Clorox and Lysol in order to trick consumers into ordering and paying for such products that defendants never Ship," a federal court judge in Ohio wrote in issuing a temporary restraining order against the sites.
An FTC complaint filed Wednesday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio said the identities and addresses of those operating the sites are currently unknown, although defendants used a mailing address in Hudson, Ohio.
Federal officials have sounded the alarm about other schemes that allegedly sought to take advantage of public fear during the pandemic. In June, the Justice Department warned consumers that laminated cards purporting to exempt people from having to wear face masks in public were phony. And the FTC in March told televangelist Jim Bakker to refrain from claims on his website that colloidal silver products can cure the coronavirus.
The restraining order issued by the court applies to the following sites, which were all named in the FTC's complaint:
First published on November 6, 2020 / 2:32 PM
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