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Fake Covid-19 Products Sold on Facebook, Other Sites, EPA Says (1)

April 23, 2020, 6:59 PMUpdated: April 23, 2020, 8:17 PM

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday warned Facebook and other e-commerce platforms that they were being used to sell disinfectants that fraudulently claim to fight the coronavirus.

Facebook Inc., eBay Inc., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., Shopify Inc., Qoo10, JoyBuy.com, Wish.com and banggood.com should “take action against these dishonest dealers and immediately take these illegal products off of their sites,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a news release.

Facebook and several of the companies could not be immediately reached for comment.

But Shopify had yet to receive any communications from the EPA, said Sheryl So, the company’s s public relations director. Any false or deceptive promotion of listed products would violate the company’s “acceptable use policy,” she said.

“Shops listing medical products or making medical claims must be substantiated by our merchants, and failure to do so results in account suspension or termination,” So said.

And eBay said it’s been employing a combination of digital and manual surveillance tools to remove products marketed with the term “coronavirus” since Covid-19 became a global pandemic.

“EBay is taking significant measures to block or quickly remove items on our marketplace that make false health claims,” said Ashley Settle, the company’s senior manager of corporate communications. “We are making every effort to ensure that anyone who sells on our platform follows local laws and eBay policies.”

Insuring Compliance

The announcement is the latest in the agency’s effort to crack down on companies that falsely claim to sell EPA-approved disinfectants. Unregistered disinfectants can put consumers at risk, as they may be ineffective against the virus that causes Covid-19, the EPA has said.

Earlier this month, Wheeler met with online retailers and third-party platforms to ask for their help in preventing impostor coronavirus-fighting products from coming to market.

“EPA takes our responsibility to protect Americans from fraudulent surface disinfectants seriously,” Wheeler said.

If one of these platforms fails to remove a fraudulent product, or doesn’t provide adequate measures to ensure the products being sold are legitimate, attorneys say they could face number of civil and legal penalties.

“It’s been the case for some time that online sellers of pesticides are responsible for insuring compliance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act,” said Thomas Brugato, special counsel at Covington and Burling LLP who specializes in environmental and pesticide law.

Brugato said EPA has the authority to bring enforcement actions against e-commerce retailers, including stop-sale orders, as well as civil penalties and fines.

In 2018, Amazon.com Inc. was ordered to pay a $1.2 million penalty to settle nearly 4,000 alleged violations of illegally distributing unregistered and misbranded pesticide products, EPA said at the time.

In order to make sure a disinfectant is approved for use on coronavirus, EPA is advising consumers to consult the agency’s List N of pre-approved products.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout, comment from companies. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Allington in Washington at aallington@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergenvironment.com

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