COVID-19: Commission and national consumer authorities are on high alert and call on platforms to stop scams and unfair practices
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. You can find their replies below.
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. 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.
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.
Questions & Answers
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 cautious if traders in their marketing campaign or offer:
- Use language or images in their marketing which explicitly or implicitly suggest that a product is able to prevent or cure COVID-19 infection.
- Make reference to self-declared doctors, health professionals, experts or other unofficial sources stating that a product is able to prevent or cure an infection with the new virus.
- Refer by name or logo to government authorities, official experts or international institutions which have allegedly endorsed the protective or curative claims without providing hyperlinks or references to official documents.
- Use scarcity claims such as “only available today”, “sell out fast” or similar.
- Inform about market conditions such as “lowest price on the market”, “only product that can cure COVID-19 infections” or similar.
- Use prices that are well above the normal price for similar products due to the fact that they would allegedly prevent or cure COVID-19 infection.
Consumers are reminded that national governments in the EU provide official advice based on scientific evidence on how to prevent COVID-19 infection. Where consumers come across unsupported or misleading claims on online platforms, they should use the reporting tools provided by the platform operator for signalling inappropriate content.
Traders should act responsibly: refrain from and ban the above-mentioned practices, taking into account all national government instructions and advice in relation to the COVID-19 protection measures.
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.