How the Federal Trade Commission protects consumers: Internet Scambusters #494
The Federal Trade Commission, the official US consumer protection agency, is almost 100 years old.
But it's right up to date when it comes to protecting Americans from crooks and their scams.
This week, we put the FTC and its services in the spotlight as part of our occasional series exploring scam-fighting organizations.
Spotlight on the Federal Trade Commission
If you only bookmark two scam protection websites, make sure one of them is -- the Federal Trade Commission.
(The other one, of course, is Scambusters!)
We write about the Federal Trade Commission a lot here, for the simple reason that it's the main source of official information and advice on consumer fraud.
So, it's a natural for our occasional series spotlighting the best "scambusting" organizations and showing you how to make best use of them.
The FTC was established as an independent consumer protection agency in 1914 - so its centennial will be coming up in a couple of years.
It includes the US Bureau of Consumer Protection, which, among other things, has responsibility for the telemarketing blocking service, the Do Not Call Registry. And, in conjunction with other government agencies, it manages the federal online consumer safety site OnGuardOnline.
A couple months back, in his 2012 Highlights Review, Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz identified the key areas where the agency is currently active including:
- Using law enforcement, education and policy actions to protect consumer privacy.
- Fighting mortgage, debt collection and other abuses targeting financially vulnerable Americans.
- Promoting competitive healthcare and prescription costs.
- Challenging deceptive marketing and advertising practices, including spam.
- Tracking and identifying the implications of changing technology.
- Safeguarding children online and protecting them against deceptive marketing.
- Monitoring fuel and energy markets and checking out environmental marketing claims.
We won't go into the commission's history here. If you want to know more, check out the Wikipedia entry, which is actually a more concise overview than the FTC's own site.
But here are the key things you need to know:
Making a Complaint
The Federal Trade Commission is the go-to place for consumer complaints. Although it doesn't actually resolve individual complaints, it uses them to tackle fraudulent practices, putting crooks out of business and sometimes securing refunds for victims.
In 2011, some 1.8 million of us lodged complaints with them, 280,000 of those about identify theft, with debt collection in the number two position, followed by phony lotteries.
To simplify the overall complaints process, the Federal Trade Commission has a kind of online "wizard" called the FTC Complaint Assistant, which leads you through a series of questions so your complaint is properly categorized.
If you have a complaint against a non-US entity, the Federal Trade Commission is a member of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network and points you to an international portal.
Keeping Tabs on Scams
Behind the scenes, the FTC works every day to spotlight and stop all kinds of fraud and questionable practices.
You can keep up to date with what's going on by using one or more of its news alert services.
These include a monthly newsletter, Penn Corner, which covers current FTC activities and is particularly useful for schools and community organizations as an educational tool.
For a more frequent flow of information, you can subscribe to the FTC's news releases or tune in to its blog features via regular emails. You can also subscribe to the separate OnGuardOnline blog.
Now and then, they host an online gathering, known as a Twitter Chat, focusing on a particular issue, like mobile payments or consumer privacy.
Use the Twitter hashtag system to tune in. If you're not sure how to do this, or to see a list of upcoming Chats, see FTC Live in Social Media.
Guidance for Small Business
If you run a small business or you want to know what the Federal Trade Commission is saying to businesses about the way they behave, you can visit a dedicated site -- the Bureau of Consumer Protection's Business Center.
The service has its own blog and a useful library and directory of legal resources, with policy statements and industry guides.
Of particular interest to consumers and businesses alike is the section on advertising and marketing. Learn here exactly what companies are allowed and not allowed to do, especially in relation to marketing to children.
Finding Out More
If you don't find what you need from the sources we've outlined here, the FTC website is fully searchable, via a search box on the home page.
You can also contact them toll free at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or find other contact numbers or by mail at: 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20580.
All in all, as it nears its 100th birthday, the FTC does an important job in protecting consumer rights.
In the never-ending fight against scams, it's great to have the Federal Trade Commission on your side!
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!