The Justice Department is raising alarm over what it says are a growing number of scammers promoting fraudulent COVID-19 treatments, with federal prosecutors in Texas moving to stop an "ozone therapy" company from allegedly promoting a novel coronavirus cure.
According to a Wednesday court filing, the group Purity Health and Wellness Centers used posts on its Instagram page as far back as January to model its ozone therapies, an alternative treatment that purports to increase the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream, as an effective way to prevent contracting COVID-19.
"The CORONA VIRUS is here in the USA. The only prevention is ozone," read one post on Jan. 22.
Prosecutors say the firm's owner, Jean Juanita Allen, claimed that the treatment would make it "impossible for viruses to manifest" and was "95 percent effective even for someone who had tested positive for COVID-19."
“This defendant preyed on public fear, peddling bogus treatments that had absolutely no effect against COVID-19,” said Erin Nealy Cox, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. “As we’ve said in past COVID-19 civil cases: the Department of Justice will not permit anyone to exploit a pandemic for personal gain.”
On Friday, a federal judge granted a request from Nealy Cox's office for a permanent injunction demanding the group halt its promotion of the treatment. Instagram posts referenced by prosecutors in the complaint have since been taken down.
In one instance, Allen allegedly told an individual who called the firm posing as a customer that the treatment "was safe even for children" and "would sanitize anything."
Prosecutors said agents surveilling the store had seen several customers patronizing the location in recent days that they suspected were victims of the scam.
The firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.
Tune into ABC at 1 p.m. ET and ABC News Live at 4 p.m. ET every weekday for special coverage of the novel coronavirus with the full ABC News team, including the latest news, context and analysis.
Just last Friday, the office secured a similar court order against a Dallas chiropractor who was allegedly touting a "homeopathy" treatment for COVID-19 in videos posted to his Facebook page.
The Justice Department announced Tuesday it has so far successfully disrupted "hundreds" of online COVID-19 scams after cooperation with local law enforcement and private sector companies, based on more than 3,600 complaints sent to the FBI since the start of the crisis.
Among those cases was one website "pretending to solicit and collect donations to the American Red Cross for COVID-19 relief efforts," as well as others that posed as government programs that collected personal information, according to the DOJ.
The department has urged Americans who believe they are a victim of fraud or an attempted COVID-19 scam to alert law enforcement by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or by emailing email@example.com. Victims of cyber scams are urged to submit complaints on https://www.ic3.gov.
What to know about coronavirus:
- How it started and how to protect yourself: coronavirus explained
- What to do if you have symptoms: coronavirus symptoms
- Tracking the spread in the US and Worldwide: coronavirus map