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FTC Warns 71 Web Sites Selling Bioterror Products

January 03, 2002|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials said Wednesday that they warned 71 Web sites selling products that claim to protect against biowarfare agents to remove any claims they cannot support with scientific evidence or risk legal action.

The Federal Trade Commission said the warnings, sent via e-mail, were the second wave in an effort to crack down on Internet sites that try to sell fraudulent products to Americans worried about bioterrorism.

Dozens of Web sites began offering antibiotics, gas masks, air filters and other products in October after the discovery of letters tainted with potentially deadly anthrax spores.

Internet searches by state and federal authorities found more than 200 sites marketing bioterrorism-related products.

In mid-November, the FTC warned 50 Web sites, and more than half of those have eliminated suspect claims, the FTC said.

Those warnings went mostly to firms promoting cures or treatments for anthrax or other possible bioterror weapons.

The most recent warnings, issued in December, were sent to different firms selling protection devices such as air filters, gas masks, protective clothing and ultraviolet light devices.

Some masks and clothing do offer shielding from some contaminants, but the FTC warned firms that they must have evidence to back up any claims they make.

In one letter, the agency said there is no filter or cartridge that can protect against every possible contaminant and said companies should not claim that a gas mask or respirator is effective against all contaminants.

Penalties for making deceptive or misleading claims can include injunctions or civil fines of up to $11,000 for each violation, the FTC said.

Sellers also could be forced to refund customers' money.

The FTC has not publicly named the firms that received the warnings, citing the ongoing investigation.

Authorities identified suspicious promotions through searches done by officials working for the FTC, the Food and Drug Administration, more than 30 state attorneys general and the California Department of Health Services.

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