FOR THE CONSUMER
The FTC's monthly newsletter for the Congressional community
It's the news you - and your constituents - can use.
Volume 8- Number 12
IN THIS ISSUE
STOLEN HOPE. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, Sen. Harry Reid, Catherine Cortez Masto, the Nevada Attorney General, and Tony West, the Assistant AG for the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, announced Operation Stolen Hope, part of a continuing crackdown on mortgage foreclosure and loan modification scams. The operation includes 118 actions by 26 federal and state agencies, including six new FTC lawsuits, which brings the number of FTC’s mortgage relief cases to 28. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/11/stolenhope.shtm.
BLUE HIPPO. The FTC has asked a federal court to issue a contempt order against BlueHippo, a company that promised to provide financing for people to purchase new computers. The FTC alleges that, in violation of a 2008 order, BlueHippo collected more than $15 million but didn’t deliver the financing or the computers. According to the FTC, less than one percent of those who signed up with BlueHippo got the financed computers; “store credits” were rigged to discourage people from using them. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/11/bluehippo.shtm.
SPAM GANG. At the request of the FTC, a federal judge has ordered the mastermind of a vast international spam network to pay more than $15 million for his role in perhaps the largest “spam gang” in the world. According to the FTC, Lance Atkinson, the spam gang ringleader, and Jody Smith, his accomplice, recruited spammers from around the world to send billions of emails to deceptively market products --- male-enhancement pills, prescription drugs, and weight-loss pills --- in violation of federal law. In addition to the $15 million that Atkinson and his company have been ordered to pay, the three companies affiliated with Smith are liable for $3.77 million. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/11/herbalkings.shtm.
ONLINE CHECK WRITING. The FTC has charged the operators of an Internet-based check creation and delivery service with violating a 2009 court order. The FTC has asked the court to impose a daily fine or imprisonment to make Neovi, Inc., its principals and affiliates stop their illegal actions, compensate affected customers, and give up their ill-gotten gains. According to the FTC, the defendants allowed people to create and email checks via the Internet without verifying their identities or their authority to withdraw money from the accounts they were using. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/11/neovi.shtm.
RECHARGED. The FTC has set conditions for Panasonic Corporation’s proposed $9 billion merger of Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd. The FTC charged that the merger would reduce competition for the portable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries used by police and fire departments in two-way radios. The FTC’s order requires Panasonic to sell its portable NIMH assets to FDK Corporation, a subsidiary of Fujitsu, Ltd. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/11/sanyo.shtm.
BROKER CHANGE. The FTC ruled that a Michigan realtor group had reduced competition and harmed consumers when it restricted access to discount realtors’ listings on its multiple listing service (MLS). The Commission found that Realcomp II improperly limited homebuyers’ access to information about homes offered by brokers who accepted lower or flat-rate commissions on home sales. The FTC order requires Realcomp to provide all its members with non-discriminatory access to non-traditional and lower-priced listings on its MLS and to stop preventing such listings from being sent to its public real estate sites. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/11/realcomp.shtm.
COMMENTS: FREE CREDIT REPORT. The Commission will accept comments on its recently issued proposal to amend the "Free Credit Report Rule" until December 7. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/11/freeannual.shtm.
HOLIDAY SHOPPING ON A BUDGET. Tips for creating and sticking to a budget, shopping holiday sale ads, and learning about layaway plans. 8.5"x11", 2 pages.
The following events, which are free and open to the public, will be held at the FTC Conference Center at 601 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC. No pre-registration required. A live webcast of each will be available at www.ftc.gov.
FUTURE OF NEWS MEDIA. The FTC will hold a workshop on Dec. 1-2 about the future of the news media in the internet age, titled "From Town Criers to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?" Participants, including journalists, representatives of news and new media organizations, privacy experts, direct marketers, online advertisers, academics, and consumer advocates will examine the economics of journalism, possible business and non-profit models for news organizations, the role of targeted behavioral and other online advertising, and whether any government actions might be advisable, such as changes in the tax code, or additional copyright protection or limited antitrust exemptions. For more information and to comment, visit www.ftc.gov/opp/workshops/news/index.shtml.
MERGER GUIDELINES. The FTC and U.S. Department of Justice are seeking public comments and will hold five joint public workshops to explore the possibility of updating the Horizontal Merger Guidelines that are used by both agencies to evaluate the potential competitive effects of mergers and acquisitions. The first workshop will be held December 3. For more information, visit www.ftc.gov/bc/workshops/hmg/index.shtml.
DEBT COLLECTION. The FTC will host a roundtable December 4 to discuss protections for people who are being sued by debt collectors. State court judges, government officials, debt buyers and collectors, consumer attorneys and advocates, academics, and other stakeholders will discuss service of process, consumer default rates, time-barred debts, evidentiary requirements in collection actions, and post-judgment issues. For more information, visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/debtcollectround/index.shtm.
PRIVACY ROUNDTABLES. The FTC will host a series of public roundtables to explore the privacy challenges posed by social networking, cloud computing, online behavioral advertising, mobile marketing, and the collection and use of information by retailers, data brokers, third-party applications, and other businesses. Participants — academics, privacy experts, consumer advocates, industry participants and others — will discuss the risks and benefits of information collection and use in online and offline contexts, consumer expectations surrounding various information management practices, and the adequacy of existing regimens to address privacy interests. The first roundtable will be held December 7. For information, visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/privacyroundtables/index.shtml.
SIZING UP. The FTC will host a public forum December 15 about food marketing and childhood obesity. Industry representatives, federal regulators, consumer groups, scientific researchers, and legal scholars will discuss current research on the impact of food advertising on children, and the statutory and constitutional issues surrounding governmental regulation of food marketing. For more information, visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/sizingup/index.shtml.
If you don’t want to pay with plastic and you don’t have the necessary cash on hand, you may want to ask a merchant about a layaway plan. When you use layaway, you typically put down a deposit, and pay over time; the retailer holds the merchandise for you, until you have paid for the item in full. Layaway plans are not limited to brick and mortar stores. Some online merchants offer them — even for items like tickets to sporting events, travel or surgery. The FTC says doing a little research on the front end can help you avoid problems later. When checking out a layaway plan:
- Get the merchant’s layaway policy in writing. Look for details on how much time you have to pay for the goods, any service fees, and what happens if you’re late with a payment.
- What’s the refund policy? If you decide you don’t want the merchandise, can you get all or some of your money back?
- Check out the business. Are there any complaints filed against them? Contact your local state Attorney General’s office (www.naag.org), local consumer protection agency (http://consumeraction.gov), your local Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), and online sources.
- Keep good records. They may come in handy if there’s a problem with the seller.
Learn more at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt173.shtm.
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