To continue efforts against consumer scams and misleading practices related to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Consumer Protection (CPC) network, under the coordination of the European Commission, has launched on 30 April a so-called “sweep” of COVID-19 related scam products advertised on websites and online platforms. A “sweep” is normally a set of checks carried out on websites simultaneously to identify breaches of EU consumer law in a particular sector.
In this COVID-19 sweep, it was agreed to rapidly carry out an online investigation exercise in a coordinated and simultaneous manner of websites and advertisements to identify potential infringements. Part of the sweep consists in a high-level screening of online platforms, which is linked to a “first sight” investigation of the most common consumer scams as outlined in the CPC common position published by the authorities on 20 March, and the analysis of their occurrence on online platforms.
This high-level screening also provides insight into the effectiveness of proactively taken measures by online platforms. In parallel, the sweep also consists in an in-depth screening of certain offers and advertisements, in order to check in more detail traders’ offers and advertising linked to products that are highly requested by consumers because of the pandemic. The CPC authorities are free to choose which platform they want to screen, namely on how COVID-19 related products are marketed online. The websites or platforms that are associated with irregularities will be flagged for further investigation.
As background information, the most common scams and unfair practices identified in the CPC common position are unsupported claims that products prevent or cure the COVID-19 infection and pressure selling techniques and excessive pricing. Before the launch of the sweep, at the end of March, Justice and Consumers Commissioner, Didier Reynders, wrote to several platforms active in the EU, including e-commerce marketplaces, asking them to closely cooperate with the EU Commission and the CPC authorities. All platforms positively replied to the letter of the Commissioner and explained what measures they have already put in place or plan to adopt to fight these scams.
More information can be found in the European Commission’s website here, including advice to both consumers and traders.