Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and U.S. Attorney Scott Brady have joined forces to investigate potential fraud related to coronavirus. In addition, the task force includes the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. postal inspectors, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Social Security Administration’s inspector general, the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general, and the state police.
The group seems to be taking a tough approach and will look at issues such as price gouging and scams related to the pandemic. In a press release, Brady said, “Our goal is simple: we seek to ensure there is no gap between the shields of federal and state law enforcement in protecting the public from fraudsters — whether here in Pennsylvania or around the globe — who would exploit this crisis in order to harm the citizens of western Pennsylvania. Bad guys should know we are open for business. We will find you and we will stop you.”
The task force is not alone in closely monitoring businesses’ marketing tactics. The Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration have also jointly issued warning letters to seven sellers of unapproved and misbranded products that claimed to treat or prevent coronavirus. As businesses turn to more creative marketing practices to stem the downturn in sales, they should be aware that regulators are aggressively working to protect consumers during this unprecedented time. Marketers, retailers, wholesalers, and distributors should all anticipate falling under this increased scrutiny, and should continue to ensure that their product claims and marketing tactics comply with federal and state consumer protection laws. You will also need to monitor your third party vendors’ conduct on your behalf because regulators will also hold you responsible for their violations of law.