Federal judge in Northeast Ohio grants FTC’s request to shut down fraudulent websites claiming to sell cleaning products amid the pandemic

Federal judge in Northeast Ohio grants FTC’s request to shut down fraudulent cleaning supply websites

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Victims who lost money trying to purchase cleaning products during the pandemic are getting some action.

A federal judge in Northeast Ohio ordered several websites to take down fake ads for supplies after a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission’s Cleveland office.

Shamone Panter thought she hit the jackpot in June when she found Clorox and Lysol cleaning products actually available on a website.

“You literally couldn’t find it anywhere,” she said. “I was like wow they’ve got everything Lysol, Clorox. yay!”

But, after she used PayPal to order more than $50 worth of supplies, she started to see the red flags.

The company listed it’s address as a local address that actually belongs to Little Tykes in Hudson.

When she never received the products, Panter filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau, PayPal and the FTC.

“It’s not that it was a lot but it’s my money and I didn’t get my products, so I want my money back,” she said.

She didn’t expect much to come of the reports she made, so she was surprised when she got a call from the FTC asking her to testify in their case against the scammers.

Fil Debanate is an attorney who helped the FTC file a request for a restraining order against the scammers, though it’s not abundantly clear who they are yet.

You’ll see the complaint is filed against unknown parties," Debanate said. “We have enough evidence to file the lawsuit. We know the websites they’re using and we know their general scheme.”

The FTC complaint alleges that none of the defendants' websites are owned by, affiliated with, or authorized by the companies that make Clorox and Lysol, and that none of the consumers who paid for cleaning and disinfecting products ever received what they ordered online.

The websites named in the FTC’s complaint are:

Debanate says since a federal judge in Akron granted their request for a restraining order, attorneys will have more access to data on who is behind the scam and where they may be operating.

Plus, to protect more people, part of the court order authorizes the FTC to shut down the fake websites and online advertising the scammers paid to put on social media and search engines.

“We know the scheme. we know it’s dangerous. So, we don’t want to wait to stop the scheme,” Debanate said.

The FTC believes the defendants illegally charged consumers thousands of dollars for Clorox and Lysol products that they never delivered. In some cases, consumers reported that when they tried to return to the fake website to seek a refund, it was gone in a matter of days or weeks, while the defendants moved on to set up a new website with a different URL.

In some cases where consumers have sought chargebacks from their credit card companies, they have found that the defendants used falsified shipment information to make it harder for consumers to get the charges reversed. In other cases, they shipped worthless products that consumers did not order—like a pair of socks—or used other deceptive tactics to thwart the chargeback process.

The action taken this month is encouraging to victims though like Panter.

“It tells me you should say something. Don’t let it go,” she said.

Debanate says, “Yes. It has real world consequences... We want to hear from you so we know what to act on.”

Panter finally got her money back.

It took three months, but she says she was able to prove to PayPal that the USPS tracking number scammers gave for her order was fraudulent.

“It’s ridiculous. It makes no sense that people try to take advantage in a time like this,” Panter said.

If you need to make a report about a scam and live in the Cleveland area, you can file the complaint with the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad.

You’re also encouraged to make reports with the FTC and the BBB.

The FTC advises consumers slow down when making online purchases and says people should research a company before sending them funds.

Copyright 2020 WOIO. All rights reserved.