FTC Sues Online Retailers for Alleged False Fast Delivery Claims for PPE

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took legal action against online retailers that had falsely promised fast delivery for facemasks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) in high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the FTC’s complaints against three online sellers, the Commission alleged the merchandisers failed to “deliver on promises that they could quickly ship products like face masks, sanitizer, and other personal protective equipment…related to the coronavirus pandemic.” The FTC filed three complaints on Tuesday against QYK Brands, Zaappaaz, Inc., and American Screening.

The suits proffered that the companies violated the FTC’s Mail, Internet and Telephone Order Rule, “which requires that companies notify consumers of shipping delays in a timely manner and give consumers the chance to cancel orders and receive prompt refunds.”

For example, the FTC claimed that QYK Brands, which operates the store Glowyy, advertised PPE items online in March, stating that these products were available in stock and would be shipped the same day. However, the FTC averred that from March through May, the retailer “continued to make explicit promises about shipping dates and times, but consumer complaints show they repeatedly failed to make good on those promises.” Specifically, QYK Brands would create a USPS shipping label soon after an order was placed, but “would fail to actually give the product to the post office for shipping for weeks or months.” The retailer also failed to offer returns or allow consumers to consent to the delays as the Mail Order Rule requires. Additionally, the company “made unfounded claims” for a product called “Basic Immune IGG,” which they claimed could treat or prevent COVID-19 and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which is untrue.

Zaappaaz, Inc., the operator of wrist-band.com and other online retail stores allegedly claimed that PPE items were “in stock” “GUARANTEED TO SHIP TODAY” in as early as March. Specifically, the complaint gives examples of consumers who Zaappaaz promised refunds, but the consumers never received said refunds. Consumers also reported being delivered incorrect or defective products, which the company stated could not be refunded.

American Screening allegedly advertised PPE items in bulk to institutions, such as local governments, hospitals and nursing homes. The retailer claimed that purchased items were “in stock” and would be shipped “within 24-48 hours.” However, the FTC alleged that the company violated the Mail Order Rule regarding delayed shipments. Specifically, a consumer claimed that a protective gowns order placed towards the end of March and totaling more than $10,000.00, “had not arrived more than six weeks later, with no word of any kind from the company about its status.” Again, in violation of FTC rules and regulations.

“When online merchants lie about the availability of personal protective equipment or about the ability of products to prevent and treat COVID-19, it’s a significant safety concern, and it’s illegal,” Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said.  “The FTC will take aggressive action to stop such troubling conduct.”

These lawsuits are part of the FTC’s larger ongoing enforcement effort against companies taking advantage of consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic.