FTC Warns Web Sellers of Unproven Flu Products

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has sent warning letters to 10 Web site operators who have made what the agency called "questionable" claims that products they're selling can prevent, treat or cure the H1N1 flu, often called swine flu.

The FTC, in letters sent last week, told the U.S. Web site operators that unless they have scientific proof to back up their claims, they are violating U.S. law and must drop the claims. The products offered by the Web sites include dietary supplements, air-filtration systems, homeopathic remedies, items containing silver, and cleaning agents, the FTC said in a press release.

The FTC looked for swine flu product claims as part of the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network's 11th Internet sweep, which took place from Sept. 21 to 25. During the sweep, consumer-protection agencies around the world targeted rapidly growing fraudulent and deceptive conduct on the Internet, with a special emphasis on products or services exploiting financial crises or natural disasters such as the H1N1 pandemic, the FTC said.

In addition to sending warning letters to the 10 Web site operators, the FTC referred 14 other site operators located outside the U.S. to foreign law enforcement officials.

"As consumers grow increasingly anxious about obtaining the H1N1 vaccine for their children and other vulnerable family members, scam artists take advantage by selling them bogus remedies online," David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

The FTC will work with other agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to investigate businesses that promote questionable H1N1 products, the agency said.

The H1N1 virus is thought to spread from person to person in the same way that seasonal flu spreads -- mainly through coughing or sneezing by people with the flu. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.

Public-health officials advise those worried about catching the flu to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently.

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