HSA Took Down More Than 2,500 Listings of Adulterated Products or Products Making False or Misleading Claims from E-commerce Platforms During International Week of Action

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has removed more than 2,500 listings of adulterated products or products making false or misleading health claims from local e-commerce platforms during Operation Pangea, an Internet-based enforcement action coordinated by INTERPOL between 3 and 10 March 2020. During this week, HSA intensified its surveillance online to detect and disrupt the sale of illegal health products. Adulterated lifestyle products such as weight loss pills, sexual enhancement medicines and cosmetic products comprised more than 32% of the listings taken down.

2        This year, HSA also detected a significant number of product listings claiming to prevent or treat COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019). These fraudulent products included health supplements, herbs, traditional medicines and “clip-on” products. The false and misleading claims made include “strengthen the immune system against the coronavirus” or “prevent and cure coronavirus”. There is currently no evidence that such products can prevent or treat COVID-19. HSA also detected rapid test kits which claimed to be able to diagnose COVID-19 within 10 minutes. Testing for COVID-19 can only be done by clinical laboratories or medical professionals in clinics and hospitals to ensure an accurate test result and diagnosis. Product listings with false claims related to COVID-19 made up about half the total number of listings taken down by HSA. Such fraudulent claims are not allowed and HSA will take actions against the sellers of these products.

Findings from intensified online surveillance

3        HSA’s surveillance and investigations also found that there were sellers who attempted to evade detection by both HSA and the e-commerce platform administrators. They did this by advertising their products as common household brands of soaps and shampoos when they were in fact medicinal products and creams. From 1 January to 10 March 2020, more than 1,100 unique seller accounts have been issued warnings on the regulatory requirements that they have to comply with.

4        Additionally, HSA’s investigations uncovered that some individuals were selling their leftovers or unused health products such as steroid creams, antibiotic creams and painkillers. Many of these individuals were first-time sellers who claimed that they were unaware that such products are prescription medicines that can only be prescribed by doctors. HSA would like to remind everyone that the sale of prescription medicines by individuals is an offence under the Health Products Act.

5        Please refer to Annex A of the pdf version for some examples of listings of adulterated products and products making false or misleading claims that were taken down by HSA.

Consumer advisory

6        Members of the public are advised:

  • Exercise caution when buying health products online. They may be cheaper and appear to offer better value, but the lower price could be due to unsafe or inferior ingredients, poor manufacturing methods and substandard or unhygienic storage conditions. They could also be adulterated with harmful or banned ingredients.
  • Some sellers may claim that their products have been developed based on “scientific studies” or “evidence”. Such claims often lack a robust scientific basis and cannot be verified.
  • There is currently no evidence that any health supplement, Chinese proprietary medicine, traditional medicine, herbs or “clip-on” product can boost the immune system specifically to help prevent, protect against or treat COVID-19. There is also no evidence that test kits bought online can detect the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 accurately within minutes. Consumers who use them may end up with a false sense of security and delay seeking treatment if they feel unwell. For more information, consumers can refer to the advisory on products claiming to prevent or treat COVID-19.
  • When buying health products online, buy them from websites with an established retail presence in Singapore.

Advisory to sellers and suppliers

7        HSA takes a serious view against those engaged in the sale and supply of health products that are adulterated or carry misleading claims, and will take strong enforcement action against such persons. Anyone who supplies such health products is liable to prosecution and if convicted, may be imprisoned for up to 3 years and/or fined up to $100,000.

8        Members of the public who encounter illegal, counterfeit or other suspicious health products  are  encouraged to contact the Enforcement Branch of HSA at Tel: 68663485 or email: hsa_is@hsa.gov.sg.

Operation Pangea

9        HSA has participated in this global week of action coordinated by INTERPOL for 13 consecutive years. 90 countries took part in this year’s Operation Pangea.

19 MARCH 2020

Download pdf version here967 KB

Consumer, Industry member, Chinese Proprietary Medicines, Cosmetic products, Health supplements, Medical devices, Therapeutic Products, Traditional medicines

Press Releases