As you may recall, the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a short supply of various products. Toilet paper, alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, masks, and even flour were in such high demand, that some consumers would need to visit half a dozen stores before finding such precious commodities. Due to these extreme shortages coupled with extreme demand, new concerns arose regarding predatory pricing practices and misleading advertising that could result from COVID-19. This led Congress to enact what is known as the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act which, by its very text, is meant to prohibit deceptive acts or practices in connection with the novel Coronavirus.
The aforementioned act provides the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) with the exclusive authority to enforce its provisions. Just recently, the FTC began to exercise that power. For example, in April of 2021, the FTC brought its first action under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act when it charged Eric Anthony Nepute and Quickwork LLC for deceptively marketing products as proven to treat or cure COVID-19.
Now, just yesterday, the FTC has brought its first action under the Act against a PPE related entity. Specifically, the FTC filed a complaint in the Middle District of Florida against Frank Romero, also doing business as multiple other entities, for falsely advertising an ability to quickly deliver N95 facemasks to consumers. For example, Romero on multiple occasions failed to deliver any PPE at all, failed to deliver PPE in a timely manner, failed to issue any refunds, and at times even delivered cloth masks despite promising delivery of N95 masks. As a result, the FTC filed an action against Romero for violating both the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act and the FTC Act. Likely, these exemplar cases are only the beginning of cases that the FTC may bring under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act.