At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a federal court in Ohio has issued a temporary restraining order against 25 counterfeit websites that allegedly have been playing on consumers’ COVID-19 pandemic fears to trick them into paying for Clorox and Lysol products that the defendants never deliver.
According to the FTC’s complaint, since at least July 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the defendants’ counterfeit websites have been aimed at consumers urgently seeking cleaning and disinfecting products, and designed to look like genuine sellers offering Clorox and Lysol products.
The FTC complaint alleges that none of the defendants’ websites are owned by, affiliated with, or authorized by the companies that make Clorox and Lysol, and that none of the consumers who paid for cleaning and disinfecting products ever received what they ordered online.
“The FTC is working hard to stop fraudsters who try to scam people with false promises of scarce cleaning supplies during the pandemic,” said Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Andrew Smith. “If a seller seems to have items that are out of stock everywhere else, do an online search for complaints about the seller or website before you buy.”
The FTC believes the defendants illegally charged consumers thousands of dollars for Clorox and Lysol products that they never delivered. In some cases, consumers reported that when they tried to return to the fake website to seek a refund, it was gone in a matter of days or weeks, while the defendants moved on to set up a new website with a different URL.
In some cases where consumers have sought chargebacks from their credit card companies, they have found that the defendants used falsified shipment information to make it harder for consumers to get the charges reversed. In other cases, they shipped worthless products that consumers did not order—like a pair of socks—or used other deceptive tactics to thwart the chargeback process.
In filing the complaint, the FTC is seeking an order permanently banning the defendants from their allegedly illegal conduct, as well as the disgorgement of money they collected through the scheme to provide refunds to defrauded consumers.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and seek a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was 5-0. The complaint seeking temporary relief was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
The FTC appreciates the assistance of the Better Business Bureau of Akron, Reckitt Benckiser Group plc, and The Clorox Company in this case.