The Federal Trade Commission testified today on alternative hormone replacement therapy before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. The testimony, provided by Eileen Harrington, Deputy Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, discussed the Commission’s efforts to address the misleading online advertising of “alternatives” to hormone replacement therapy, as well as its work to combat all types of Internet fraud.
The testimony described the FTC’s three-part approach to combating fraud: law enforcement, consumer education, and business outreach. Specifically, the testimony noted that “over the past decade the FTC has initiated 229 enforcement actions challenging false and misleading health and safety claims for products ranging from weight-loss pills to cancer cures.” The testimony noted the wide range of consumer education materials that the FTC makes available on how to avoid being victimized by false claims for health products, specifically citing the FTC’s recent Consumer Alert on HGH pills and sprays.
The testimony also discussed the FTC’s close partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), citing the agencies’ project to address misleading claims for alternative hormone replacement therapy products sold on the Internet as a good example of their joint efforts. The testimony noted that following the termination of a Women’s Health Initiative clinical trial of hormone replacement therapy, some marketers began promoting progesterone creams and sprays as “natural alternatives” to hormone replacement therapy. The testimony stated that, “working in conjunction with the FDA, FTC staff surfed the Internet for websites claiming that their progesterone products were safe or could prevent, treat, or cure serious diseases.... The FTC found 34 websites making questionable safety or disease prevention claims and sent warning letters to each. The FDA staff sent letters to an additional 16 websites.” The testimony also discussed the FTC’s recent review of these Web sites and noted that, “The FTC staff now is following up with the companies and will make enforcement recommendations.”
The testimony also described how the FTC combats a wide array of online consumer protection issues, including spam, spyware, and phishing scams. The testimony stated that, “Online fraud generally falls into two categories: (1) old-fashioned schemes that have simply
moved online, such as pyramid schemes, deceptive work-at-home opportunities, and false product claims; and (2) Internet trickery and other scams that exploit new technology and are unique to the computer age, such as pagejacking, phishing, and modem hijacking. Since 1994, the FTC has filed 538 actions against individuals and corporations that have used the Internet to unleash a wide variety of deceptive and unfair practices on American consumers.”
Specifically, the testimony used the Commission’s work to combat spam and spyware as examples, noting that, “Since 1997, the Commission has filed 89 actions against 241 defendants in which spam was an integral clement of a scheme that harmed consumers,” while “in the past three years, the Commission has filed 11 cases against purveyors of spyware, disgorging over $12.9 million of their alleged ill-gotten gains.” The testimony describes some tools the FTC uses, including the spam database, the Consumer Sentinel database, and the US SAFE WEB Act.
The testimony concluded, “The FTC has been involved in policing the Internet for more than a decade and will continue to protect consumers from the various types of online fraud. As technology and scams change, the Commission continues to shift its resources to target those frauds that cause the most harm to consumers. In addition, the FTC will continue its efforts to ensure the truthfulness and accuracy of advertising for health-related products, regardless of the medium in which the ads appear.”
The Commission approved the testimony by a vote of 5-0.
NOTE: The views expressed in the written testimony represent those of the Federal Trade Commission. Oral testimony and responses to questions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission or any individual Commissioner.
Copies of the testimony are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
Office of Public Affairs
Bureau of Consumer Protection