European regulators are asking a wide range of digital platforms, social networks, search engines, and online marketplaces to take tougher action against scams related to COVID-19.
European Commissioner For Justice and Consumers Didier Reynders sent a letter to Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other digital platforms declaring that Europe’s consumer protection authorities are in a state of “high alert” and are trying to coordinate action across the continent.
“Following the recent outbreak of the new coronavirus, there has been a proliferation of deceptive marketing techniques on the internet to exploit consumers’ fears in order to sell products, such as protective masks, detergents, or other substances, by falsely claiming that they can prevent or cure an infection with COVID-19,” the letter reads. “At the same time, certain traders are luring consumers into buying such products at exorbitant prices, playing on their fear that such products may cease to be available.”
The battle against internet scams is the latest sign of the complex role digital services are playing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As families become isolated, they are increasingly turning to the internet for information, education, shopping, and social contact. This has created ripple effects, such as concerns about the health of delivery and distribution center employees and the impact on overall internet infrastructure.
In this atmosphere, there’s a real concern that it will be easier than ever for internet scammers to target victims. The letter reminds the platforms that EU law requires them to take “appropriate corrective measures whenever they become aware of any illegal activity taking place on their websites.”
On March 20, EU member states issued a consumer protection warning highlighting a range of “scams and unfair practices” that had been uncovered. These include unsupported claims that products can cure or prevent coronavirus, as well as pressure-selling techniques that claim certain products are in limited supply.
In a tweet, Reynders said he was sending a letter to reinforce the EU’s consumer protection efforts.
— didier reynders (@dreynders) March 23, 2020
Reynders has asked the platforms to furnish him with clear contact information by March 25 to enable the rapid reporting of any issues. And he gave them a March 27 deadline to provide detailed explanations of steps they are taking to crack down on COVID-19-related fraud.