Acting Federal Trade Commission Chair Maureen K. Ohlhausen and Commissioner Terrell McSweeny testified recently about the agency's efforts to combat fraud.
Speaking before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation's Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security at a hearing focused on "Staying A Step Ahead: Fighting Back Against Scams Used To Defraud Americans," the Commissioners noted the agency obtained judgments totaling over $11.9 billion for consumers affected by deceptive and unfair practices just in the last year.
That number includes the record-setting $10.03 billion settlement order with Volkswagen Group of America related to its alleged misrepresentations of fuel efficiency ratings, as well as actions based on a host of deceptive behavior. Imposter scams—which topped the FTC's consumer complaint list for 2016—were the subject of multiple agency enforcement actions, particularly scams involving government imposters and technical support.
Other actions cited in the testimony included a deceptive patent promotion program, a crackdown on robocalls in conjunction with the Florida Attorney General, fake prize promotions, and business opportunity schemes. The deceptive marketing of health-related products remains a top priority for the agency, particularly claims that products will improve cognitive abilities, increase the likelihood of overcoming opiate addiction, or result in weight loss.
The FTC also took action against fraud targeting certain populations, such as small businesses, the elderly, and minority groups, as well as consumers struggling to pay mortgages and other debts.
Discussing the Commission's strategy for combatting fraud, the Commissioners explained that cooperation with other law enforcement agencies helps broaden the FTC's reach. The agency also engages in consumer and business outreach and education to complement its law enforcement work.
To read the text of the Commission testimony as well as the statements by Ohlhausen and McSweeny, click here.
Why it matters: In her statement, Ohlhausen set forth her plans for the agency. "As Acting Chairman, I have instructed Commission staff to focus our law enforcement efforts on stopping fraudulent practices, particularly those that are causing the largest consumer harm," she told the lawmakers. "Doing so will ensure that the Commission is using its resources for the maximum benefit of consumers." McSweeny told the legislators that she is "particularly concerned" about the growth in ransomware attacks, predicting that in "the not-too-distant future a consumer might turn on her smart TV only to see a message that asks for $50 in Bitcoin if she wants to watch television again."