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FTC Charges First person Under COVID-19 False Claims Law

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Key Takeaways

  • Eric Nepute, St. Louis-based chiropractor, is facing charges under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act for falsely claiming that his products, containing vitamin D and zinc, can treat and prevent COVID-19. 
  • Nepute is the first person charged under the COVID False Claims Law. 
  • There are several steps people can take to protect themselves from COVID-19 scams.

A St. Louis-based chiropractor became the first person charged under a new federal law aimed at protecting Americans from fraudulent COVID-19 claims.

Eric Nepute was charged by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act for making false marketing claims. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

In April 2020, Nepute’s business, Quickwork LLC, began advertising and selling products under the trade name “Wellness Warrior.” Wellness Warrior operates and maintains a Facebook page along with at least 11 websites. Soon, Nepute was using these platforms to advertise, market, distribute, and sell vitamin D and zinc products as drugs that could treat or prevent COVID-19.

According to the FTC, there is no reliable scientific evidence that Vitamin D protects against, treats, or prevents COVID-19. Despite having no valid evidence for such claims, Nepute advertised and marketed his Vitamin D and zinc products in this way, violating Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

“The laws under which Eric Nepute is being charged really are aimed at protecting consumers,” Margaret J. Finerty, JD, partner at Getnick & Getnick LLP, tells Verywell. Under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, for the duration of the public health emergency, it is unlawful for any person, partnership, or corporation to engage in deceptive acts or practices affecting commerce associated with the treatment, cure, prevention, and diagnosis of COVID-19.

False Marketing

Julie Grohovsky, JD, partner at Cohen Seglias, explains that the government looks at multiple factors in legal cases including whether the issue at hand is clear. “There’s no scientific evidence that supports his claim that you can both treat and prevent COVID-19 with zinc and vitamin D,” Grohovsky tells Verywell. “So they’re looking at this case because it is very clear cut.”

In addition, Grohovsky says that the government is looking at the case because Nepute reaches a wide audience with his marketing. “Millions of times, people have viewed his videos," Grohovsky says. "So they’re trying to go after fraud that’s affecting a large number of people because it’s unsafe for those people, and also to send a message to the wider community, we’re not going to allow this to happen.”

The FTC notes that one of Nepute’s videos posted on August 5 of last year may have been reposted as many as 176 times. Collectively, his videos have been watched millions of times.

Nepute continued to ignore the FTC’s requests to halt his false marketing. In May 2020, the FTC sent Nepute a letter warning him that his claims about his vitamin C-based products were not verified and to cease claims not supported by scientific evidence. Despite confirming that he received the FTC’s letter, Nepute ramped up unverified claims regarding vitamin D and zinc.

In February 2021, Facebook removed Nepute’s Facebook page from its website. And on February 19, 2021, Nepute created a new Facebook page titled Common Sense Health Nation, linking back to Wellness Warrior websites.

On March 30, 2021, FTC staff sent Nepute a letter notifying him about the passage of the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act.

What This Means For You

If you believe a business is conducting a fraudulent activity, scams, or bad business practices, you can make a report at reportfraud.ftc.gov. Remain vigilant when on your own social media accounts for any potential COVID-19 scams or false claims.

Setting a Precedent

If convicted, Finerty and Grohovsky say the case will hold a legal precedent for future cases. ‘Hopefully, this will prevent others from engaging in this type of deceptive practice that preys upon people who are vulnerable,” Finerty says. 

Finerty adds that the court is seeking a permanent injunction that will ban him from engaging in this behavior moving forward. They're seeking civil penalties, and under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, individuals can get fined up to $43,792 for each violation.

“Each violation would consist of every time he put a video out there or put an advertisement out there in the media," Finerty says. "It’s a warning to people out there in the marketplace that you can’t go around saying that your products will cure people of COVID-19 or prevent them from getting COVID-19."

How to Protect Yourself From COVID-19 Fraud

The FTC offers the following tips for protecting yourself from common COVID-19 scams:

  • Learn how to tell the difference between a real contact tracer and a scammer. Legitimate tracers need health information, not money or personal financial information.
  • Don’t respond to texts, emails, or calls about checks from the government. Here’s what you need to know.
  • Ignore offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures. Scammers are selling products to treat or prevent COVID-19 without proof that they work.
  • Be wary of ads for test kits. Many test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren’t necessarily accurate. Almost all authorized home tests don’t provide rapid results and require you to send a test sample to a lab for analysis.
  • Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.
  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus to get the latest information. And don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri Eastern Division. Complaint for civil penalties, permanent injunction, and other relief. Updated April 15, 2021.

  2. Federal Trade Commission. COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act of the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act. Published February 12, 2021.

  3. Federal Trade Commission. Coronavirus advice for consumers. Updated April 30, 2021.