HSA Removed More than 1,700 Listings of Health Products Making Fraudulent COVID-19 Related Claims; Warnings Issued to Over 1,600 Individual Sellers and Companies
The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has intensified surveillance on local e-commerce platforms and retail shops to clamp down on health products with false and misleading claims that purport to prevent, treat or diagnose COVID-19. Since February 2020, more than 1,700 product listings have been removed for making fraudulent COVID-19 claims, and over 1,600 warning letters have been issued to the sellers and companies marketing such products.
2 The products detected include test kits for home use, health supplements, herbs, traditional medicines and hand sanitisers. Please refer to Annex A of the pdf version for the online listings of some of these products.
Illegal sale of test kits for home use
3 To date, HSA has detected and removed more than 40 listings of COVID-19 test kits for sale on local e-commerce platforms with the cooperation of Carousell, Lazada, Shopee, Ebay and Facebook etc. The sellers of these test kits have made fraudulent claims such as “positive results may be visible (in) as soon as 2 minutes”, “95% Accuracy and Results within 10 minutes” or “diagnose COVID-19 within 10 minutes”. These test kits were sold at $10 - $290. From HSA’s investigation, none of the sellers had the physical stocks with them and would only import them from overseas upon receiving the orders.
4 HSA has not approved any COVID-19 test kits for home use. These test kits are not validated by the authority and have inherent design and technology limitations that may result in incorrect or misleading findings.
5 Currently, testing for COVID-19 in Singapore can only be done by clinical laboratories or medical professionals in clinics and hospitals to ensure an accurate test result and diagnosis. Consumers who feel unwell should seek medical advice. Self-directed use of such unapproved test kits by consumers can lead to a false sense of security and risk the spreading of COVID-19 unknowingly due to false negative readings, or result in delay in seeking appropriate treatment.
Health products with false and misleading claims
6 Many sellers and companies (such as Chinese medical halls, health supplement retailers and multi-level marketing companies) have also advertised an array of products as being able to prevent or fight against COVID-19. HSA has detected and removed over a hundred such online listings and warned these sellers and companies. The products included health supplements, traditional medicines, herbal remedies and probiotics. Health supplements such as “red ginseng” and “Hawaiian spirulina” sold online were promoted as being “good for coronavirus”, and herbal fragrance pouches sold at a TCM clinic were marketed to help “protect from the coronavirus”. Other products had claims such as “prevent COVID-19 with this immune system booster” and “use Vit C for the prevention of COVID-19”.
7 Most of these products are meant for general health and wellness. There is no scientific evidence that any of these products can prevent or treat COVID-19. These fraudulent claims give a false impression that one may be well-protected or immune from the dangers of the ongoing pandemic.
Misleading claims for sanitisers and disinfectant sprays for hands/body
8 Misleading claims have also been made on hand and body sanitisers. HSA has issued more than 650 warning letters to sellers and companies, which made false or misleading claims in their advertisements. The claims included “protects against Coronavirus”, “kill viruses including coronavirus” and “stops coronavirus”. Consumers are advised that washing your hands regularly with soap and water is still the best way in reducing the spread of germs such as bacteria and viruses. Hand sanitisers can be used when soap and water are not available, but they may not eliminate all types of germs and may not work well if hands are visibly dirty.
9 “Consumers should be aware that there are no HSA approved home-based test kits; no health supplements or herbal remedies, and no consumer devices approved for COVID-19 diagnosis or treatment. Do not fall for the marketing gimmicks of sellers and retailers,” said Associate Professor Chan Cheng Leng, Group Director of the Health Products Regulation Group, HSA. “Not only do consumers waste money on these unproven remedies, they may put themselves and people around them at unnecessary risk due to the false sense of security.”
10 Dr Leong Hoe Nam, infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital and member of the Medicines Advisory Committee, added: “It is unfortunate that many unscrupulous dealers preyed on the fears of public, offering these unproven tests and treatment regimens and even oversell their sanitisers. This is not only falsely misleading, it is ethically wrong. The public should be wary of these gimmicks. The more impossible the claims are, the more likely it is a dud. Don't fall prey, don't be a victim. Fact check and stay safe.”
Alert HSA to suspicious products
11 HSA will continue to actively monitor the market and take stern actions against sellers and companies that make false and misleading claims on their health products. We also encourage consumers to be vigilant and report any suspicious sale or advertising of health products with COVID-19 related claims to HSA, through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 6866 3485 for our further action.
Advisory to sellers and suppliers
12 HSA reminds dealers and sellers not to make false or misleading claims that the products they are selling can prevent, protect against or treat diseases such as COVID-19.
13 Any claim made in relation to COVID-19 must be supported by the appropriate scientific evidence. A product that makes such a claim must first be evaluated and registered by HSA. Sellers who falsely advertise products as preventing or treating COVID-19 are liable to prosecution and if convicted, may be imprisoned for up to 12 months and/or fined up to $20,000.
14 HSA reminds those who intend to deal in medicines or health products over the Internet to first check and familiarise themselves with any regulatory requirements or controls that may be applicable to them, so as to avoid inadvertently contravening the law in Singapore.
HEALTH SCIENCES AUTHORITY
6 MAY 2020
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