Everything you need to know about the COVID-19 consumer protection action against scams and unfair practices in a nutshell.
Advice to consumers and traders*
Consumers should be on high alert when shopping online, and traders should be fully aware of the rules. As recent checks carried out by national Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) authorities have shown, rogue traders use various means to attract consumers, there are a significant number of products which are falsely presented as able to cure or prevent COVID-19 infections or bear false conformity certificates and in some cases, fraudsters also use offers to steal email addresses and passwords.
Where consumers come across unsupported or dubious offers on online platforms, they should use the reporting tools provided by the platform operator or contact the competent national authorities or consumer organisations. The Network of European Consumer Centres (ECC) has published COVID-19 related consumer information and offers support to consumers. The Safety Gate can help identify dangerous goods found in the EU.
Consumers can also look for general information from authoritative sources that many platform and website operators link on their websites in order to help consumers identify false information or claims in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How to identify potential scams when shopping online?
There is currently no Covid-19 vaccine, authorised for the EU market, that can be purchased by individual consumers online. All authorised vaccines are procured through government authorities only. Vaccines offered to consumers online are scams and most likely unsafe.
In the EU, traders must provide their identity and contact details: consumers should consider shopping elsewhere if this information is not easily available.
Beware of spellings errors such as “C?V?D?19”, “cor/na?vir?s”: these are commonly used to avoid detection by website operators’ algorithms. Read web addresses and page titles carefully, and avoid using pages with systematic misspellings.
Remember that there is currently no scientific proof that any food or food supplement can cure or prevent COVID-19 infections.
Products must be clearly identified with precise and understandable text descriptions: consumers should be cautious when they see mainly promotional elements such as :
- slogans commonly linked to the pandemic, e.g. “#stay safe”, “stay at home”, “social distancing”;
- images of a virus next to the image of the product;
- endorsements by name or logo by:
- doctors, health professionals, and other experts;
- artists, athletes, bloggers or other celebrities;
- government authorities, official experts or international institutions;
- news articles, academic reviews and other content presented as coming from authoritative sources;
Consumers should identify pressure selling techniques and avoid falling into a trap, such as:
- products advertised as a “unique opportunity”
- claims that a product is the “only product offering effective protection”, the “only testing kit for home use” or sold at “the lowest price on the market”;
- scarcity claims such as “only available today” or “sell out fast”
- very high discounts.
Market conditions should not be falsely presented:
- consumers should be aware of prices that are well above or below the normal price for similar products;
- consumers should check more than one website for an understanding of average prices;
- and consumers should be aware that in some countries, governments have actually regulated the price for high-demand products, such as protective masks and/or sanitising gels.
*Last updated on 21 January 2021.
As the new virus spreads across the EU, rogue traders advertise and sell products, such as protective masks, caps and hand sanitizers to consumers, which allegedly prevent or cure an infection. It is in the general interest to guarantee a safe online environment where consumers, in particular in the context of distress caused by the current crisis, feel well protected against any illegal practices that potentially put their health at risk.
On 20 March 2020, the consumer protection (CPC) authorities of the Member States, with the support of the Commission, issued CPC Common Position COVID19 on the most reported scams and unfair practices in this context. The objective is to ask and help online platform operators to better identify such illegal practices, take them down and prevent similar ones to reappear.
Letters sent to online platforms
On 23 March 2020, Commissioner for Justice and Consumers Didier Reynders wrote to a number of platforms, social media, search engines and market places to require their cooperation in taking down scams from their platforms, following the common position endorsed by the CPC network. Platforms replied to his call for cooperation and Commissioner Reynders welcomes their positive approach. The Commission and platforms continue information exchanges on regular basis. You can find their replies below.
Replies from online platforms, including measures taken
Screening (‘sweep’) of online platforms and advertisements
On 30 April 2020, the CPC network, under the coordination of the Commission, launched a broad screening (“sweep”) of coronavirus related products advertised on websites and online platforms. More details on the sweep can be found in the summary document below. The main findings show that rogue traders continue to mislead consumers with a variety of illegal practices but online platforms are taking measures to address this. The Commission will continue to keep consumers informed whenever necessary with updated advice to consumers and traders.
The high-level sweep of online platforms was repeated by the CPC network in June and its latest results show that CPC authorities, in a number of instances, still found a significant number of potentially misleading offers and advertisements related to COVID-19 on platforms. While reports from the major platform operators suggest that the number of such offers has declined, CPC authorities continue the close dialogue with these online platforms and remain on guard.
The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) prohibits commercial practices which deceive consumers about the benefits or the results to be expected from the use of a product; or when a trader claims that a product is able to cure an illness or that the product is only available for a very limited time when this is not true. Where a trader claims that his product is able to cure an illness, they need to be ready to provide the relevant evidence as to the accuracy of such claims. In accordance with the requirement of professional diligence under the UCPD and Directive 2000/31/EC, platform operators who are active in the EU should take appropriate corrective measures whenever they become aware of any illegal activity taking place on their websites. The CPC network, with the support of the European Commission, investigate potential breaches of these rules and take the necessary coordinated enforcement measures.