FTC warns Web's biohazard hucksters

FTC warns Web's biohazard hucksters

This Web site claims a homemade colloidal-silver generator can neutralize anthrax, contrary to FDA's findings.

Hundreds of sites make claims that products can reduce the threat of bioterrorist

The Federal Trade Commission, assisted by other federal and state authorities, has turned up more than 200 Web sites selling products that claim to prevent or cure anthrax, smallpox and other bioterrorism threats.

FTC has sent e-mail warnings to operators of about 40 of the sites threatening legal action if unsubstantiated claims are not removed.

'There may be additional warnings going out,' said Rich Cleland, senior attorney for advertising practices.

Back it up or give it up

Not all the 200 sites might be violating advertising laws, but 'they're all making the kinds of claims we are interested in,' Cleland said. 'We hope the first 40 will get the message quickly.'

The Internet has been a high priority for enforcement efforts since it turned into a consumer marketing tool around 1997, he said.

To keep tabs on the growth of advertising sites for anthrax-related products, FTC enlisted the aid of the Food and Drug Administration and 30 states' attorneys general. They all contributed staff hours to search with commercial search engines.

'There is no sophisticated technology on our end,' Cleland said. 'The idea is not to watch every site in the world but to catch a large number that are representative.'

The searchers looked for questionable claims about the protective properties of gas masks, protective suits, mail sterilizers, test kits, homeopathic remedies and dietary supplements.

FDA has approved ciprofloxacin, doxycycline and Penicillin G Procaine for treating anthrax, but the agency has found no evidence that colloidal silver, zinc, mineral water or oregano oil can be effective. Sites making such claims received the electronic warnings, generally in e-mail to a contact address.

FTC has achieved about 25 percent to 30 percent voluntary compliance or site shutdowns from such warnings, higher than the success rate for mailed warnings, Cleland said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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