HOUSTON — More than two dozen bogus websites have taken consumers to the cleaners by claiming to sell disinfecting supplies then failing to deliver the goods, according to a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit filed in federal court.
The FTC has secured a temporary restraining order against 25 websites that used lookalike web addresses such as www.cloroxstore.com and www.lysol-wipe.com to advertise name-brand merchandize from established national cleaning supply companies.
“This scam is an outright scam,” said Fil DeBanate, an FTC attorney. “These are counterfeit, copycat websites.”
According to the FTC complaint, the websites used search engine marketing, social media and pop-up advertising to lure consumers, playing on their fears about the COVID-19 pandemic. Several of the now-defunct sites contained language such as “help prevent the spread of coronavirus” and purported to offer “flash sales” at a time when cleaning products were in high-demand and often in short supply.
“Folks are getting tricked into making orders through this websites and they're paying for them,” DeBanate said. "Did anybody get any cleaning products? No.”
The lawsuit alleges some tried to check on the status of their orders by calling or emailing the defendants but got no response. Others received falsified shipment information in an effort to thwart refund requests and make it harder for consumers to get charges reversed with their banks.
A federal judge in Ohio granted a temporary restraining order against the websites, but the FTC is still trying to determine who is behind them all. DeBanate said the agency has received hundreds of complaints about the websites and is investigating even more from the manufacturers of Clorox and Lysol products.
“I will say that the extent of this kind of scam is pretty huge, it is definitely a national scam,” DeBanate said.
DeBanate advised consumers to always double check the web address of an online retailer and look for strange punctuation or misspellings. He also encouraged consumers to search the web address and the word “complaint” to identify any red flags. Fraud complaints can be reported online here.