Australian consumers are being warned not to fall for sham coronavirus products sold by unscrupulous retailers trying to cash in on people’s fears.
From unproven complementary medicines, to $15,000 ‘subtle energy’ machines flogged by celebrity chefs, Australians don’t have to look far to find so-called cures for the deadly virus.
But the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is warning worried consumers these seemingly miraculous products are no good – leaving customers out of pocket and sometimes worse.
“The TGA is aware that the current pandemic has seen some people take advantage of the heightened vulnerability of consumers,” a spokesperson told The New Daily.
“[We have] warned consumers to be cautious about products claiming to prevent or cure COVID-19 [coronavirus].”
The fake cures identified by the TGA so far include air purifiers claiming to fight the disease, “unregistered products” claiming to kill coronavirus, and “a medical device that treats a number of serious diseases”.
The agency is even investigating celebrity chef Pete Evans after he spruiked a device called the BioCharger NG that he said improves health and includes recipes for “Wuhan coronavirus”.
Evans has no formally recognised medical qualifications or experience.
Dodgy advice ‘explosion’
Choice campaign and communications director Erin Turner said reports of unproven cures are flooding in.
She told The New Daily Choice has also seen an “explosion in online advice from sources with little public health expertise”, including bad recipes for home-made hand sanitiser.
“Remember: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Ms Turner said.
“Double-check claims made about products that say they’ll help prevent or cure any health issues with trusted sources.”
Any company or retailer selling ‘medical’ products with “unclear or dodgy claims” should be reported to the TGA, Ms Turner added, or to Choice.
Consumer Action Law Centre chief executive Gerard Brody also encouraged consumers to report unscrupulous businesses, and welcomed the steps the TGA has already taken to stop the spread of “snake oil” miracle cures.
“It’s really important regulators get on the front foot,” he said.
“It’s a difficult process for an individual to take on a case against a business. They have to take on a court or a tribunal.
“You have to pay fees, you have to go to a hearing, so it can be quite a cumbersome process if you’re trying to get your money back.”
No proven cure found just yet
Dr Chris Moy, a South Australian GP and chair of the Australian Medical Association ethics and medico-legal committee, told The New Daily the surge in fake products is disappointing but unsurprising.
“The bottom line is that there’s currently no scientifically proven treatment – zero, none, forget it,” he said.
“But given the anxiety-provoking nature of this condition it’s normal at this point for people to be grasping for straws.
“And unfortunately it’s quite often in these circumstances people come out of the woodwork like cockroaches, frankly, to take advantage.”
The financial toll of buying a dodgy product is only one of the reasons Dr Moy said Australians should be concerned.
In some cases, people who require genuine medical assistance might use these products instead of seeing a qualified doctor.
Or they could mistakenly feel invulnerable to the effects of the disease because of the confidence these cures instil.
In either case, the risk of serious illness (or even worse) becomes heightened.
“If a doctor was caught doing this kind of thing, it would clearly be unethical, but because there are no restraints on Facebook and the like people can get away with it,” Dr Moy said, while noting doctors who speak out against sham products are often accused of acting in their own self-interest.
“I would ask the community to look past their anxiety and apply the same principles and ethical standards that a doctor would work by when assessing this kind of thing.”