HSA warns of e-commerce listings falsely claiming to prevent, treat COVID-19

An example of a fraudulent e-commerce listing of a COVID-19 rapid test kit. (PHOTO: Health Sciences Authority)

SINGAPORE — The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has found a significant number of e-commerce listings in Singapore selling products that falsely claim to be able to prevent or treat COVID-19.

In a media release on Thursday (19 March), it said that these products included health supplements, herbs, traditional medicines and “clip-on” products. The listings would have claims such as their products can “strengthen the immune system against the coronavirus” or “prevent and cure coronavirus”.

There is currently no evidence that these products can prevent or treat COVID-19, which is a new strain of coronavirus that scientists around the world are still finding a vaccine or cure for.

HSA also detected listings of “rapid test kits” which claimed to be able to diagnose COVID-19 within 10 minutes. Such claims are false, as testing for COVID-19 can be done only by clinical laboratories or medical professionals in clinics and hospitals, in order to ensure accurate test results and diagnosis.

More than 2,500 listings removed during operation

Such product listings made up about half the number of more than 2,500 listings removed by HSA during Operation Pangea, an Internet-based enforcement action coordinated by Interpol between 3 and 10 March. HSA will take actions against the sellers of these products.

During the operation, HSA intensified its surveillance online to detect and disrupt the sale of illegal health products. Adulterated lifestyle products such as weight loss pills, sexual enhancement medicines and cosmetic products comprised more than 32 per cent of the removed listings.

HSA also found that there were sellers who attempted to evade detection by both HSA and the e-commerce platform administrators. These sellers advertised their products as common household brands of soaps and shampoos, when they were in fact medicinal products and creams.

From 1 January to 10 March, more than 1,100 unique seller accounts have been issued warnings on the regulatory requirements that they have to comply with.

Additionally, HSA’s investigations uncovered that some individuals were selling their leftovers or unused health products such as steroid creams, antibiotic creams and painkillers. Many of these individuals were first-time sellers who claimed that they were unaware that such products are prescription medicines that can only be prescribed by doctors.

HSA said that the sale of prescription medicines by individuals is an offence under the Health Products Act.

Caution when buying health products online

The public are advised to exercise caution when buying health products online. The products may be cheaper and appear to offer better value, but the lower price could be due to unsafe or inferior ingredients, poor manufacturing methods and sub-standard or unhygienic storage conditions. The products could also contain harmful or banned ingredients.

Sellers may claim that their products have been developed based on “scientific studies” or “evidence”. Such claims often lack a robust scientific basis and cannot be verified. Consumers who use them may end up with a false sense of security and delay seeking treatment if they feel unwell.

When buying health products online, consumers are advised to buy them from websites with an established retail presence in Singapore.

Anyone who supplies such health products is liable to prosecution and if convicted, may be jailed for up to three years and/or fined up to $100,000.

Those who encounter illegal, counterfeit or other suspicious health products are encouraged to contact HSA’s enforcement branch 68663485 or hsa_is@hsa.gov.sg.

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