In its Office of Claims and Refunds Annual Report, the Federal Trade Commission reports that its law enforcement efforts between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, returned $6.4 billion in refunds to consumers, including $391 million sent directly by the FTC to 6.28 million consumers. This is the first such report on money returned to consumers and businesses. The report describes how the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection obtained 168 court orders for more than $12.72 billion during this one-year period (not including judgments that were suspended by courts due to defendants’ inability to pay).
The FTC also reports that 72% of individuals who received FTC checks cashed them, and the FTC paid an average of 4.85% in administrative costs, which are higher if the agency has to conduct a claims process to disburse refunds.
The report also details how the FTC identifies who is eligible for a refund. Typically, a court order requires the company to provide a list of customers, their contact information, and how much each customer paid. If the list is reliable, the FTC will send the refund directly to the customer. Otherwise, customers must apply for a refund through a claims process, which involves either a media campaign to contact potentially eligible individuals or the use of available data to inform consumers about the refund process. If neither of those options are feasible, the agency’s Consumer Sentinel Database may be used to find eligible recipients.
In addition to identifying eligible consumers, the report outlines the process for mailing refund checks, finding current contact information for potential recipients, and deciding whether additional check mailings are feasible. There is typically a $10 minimum for checks mailed by the FTC.
The FTC’s report also provides links to web pages outlining details of some of its most successful cases and refund programs.