At a three-day meeting being held in Sydney, Australia, the Federal Trade Commission and members of the International Marketing Supervision Network (IMSN) announced two initiatives to combat cross-border fraud: The network reported the results of a global law enforcement sweep involving Internet health scams, and it unveiled the newly designed Web site, www.econsumer.gov , where consumers can file cross-border e-commerce complaints that can be accessed by IMSN partners.
"Cross-border fraud is a growing problem that hurts consumers and dilutes consumer confidence in the global marketplace," said Commissioner Mozelle W. Thompson, head of the U.S. delegation to the IMSN meeting. "The only way to combat it effectively is to cooperate with our foreign counterparts through international networks such as the IMSN. Consumer protection law enforcers need to work together so that fraudsters know that they cannot escape law enforcement scrutiny by setting up shop in one country and targeting consumers in another."
"The development of the Internet and improvements in telecommunications permit fraud to be perpetrated on a large scale - not just across state borders, but also across national ones," said Chairman Timothy Muris. "Combatting cross-border fraud requires international cooperation among consumer protection agencies. I am pleased that Commissioner Thompson is advancing this effort through his work with the IMSN."
The project to combat Internet health scams was initiated earlier this year when law enforcers in 19 countries, including the United States, surfed the Internet for misleading health claims. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the current IMSN president and chair of the current session, organized the surf. Participating law enforcers identified more than1,400 global Web sites as making questionable claims for health-related products and services. Law enforcers sent e-mails to the sites making the questionable claims, warning that they might be violating the law, and stating that if the claims were not modified, law enforcement action may be initiated. IMSN members have announced settlements and enforcement action against at least 45 companies, and many members continue to investigate Web sites making the questionable claims.
The IMSN also launched a redesigned Web site, www.econsumer.gov. The site, originally launched in April 2001, allows consumers to file cross-border e-commerce complaints, access consumer education materials, and contact consumer protection authorities around the world. Visitors to the Web site can access the data in English, Spanish, French, and German. The complaints filed by consumers are accessible to law enforcement agencies that will use the information to decide whether to take appropriate follow-up action.
The new econsumer.gov site includes a streamlined portal and menu that will make it easier for consumers to navigate the site. The consumer education links also have been reorganized to make them more user-friendly. There is a great deal of new content for consumers, including a new "General Guide for Online Shopping" available in four languages. The site also now allows consumers to learn about ways in which they can resolve their complaints through the use of alternative, or out-of-court, dispute resolution programs.
Since its launch by 13 IMSN countries, the econsumer.gov project has incorporated four new members: Japan, Poland, Latvia, and Belgium. More than 2,500 consumer complaints have been filed so far, providing law enforcers with an array of information about different types of cross-border e-commerce scams.