Consumer Protection Mission
Consumer and Business Education
Publications and Other Products
The Office of Consumer and Business Education produced 99 new and revised publications: 88 for consumers, 10 for businesses, and 1 for nonprofit organizations. During fiscal year 1997, the Office distributed more than 5.5 million print copies of Commission publications in response to requests from the public, including brochures sent to consumers with mailings of redress checks as a result of settlements of cases. To complement its online FTC ConsumerLine, the Office developed the FTC BusinessLine to disseminate business information. An additional 609,000 publications were accessed through these two Web sites. The Office continued to produce new information products including postcards and "FTC Briefs" - topic-specific consumer tips. Its Partnership for Consumer Education has grown to include the Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority, Atlanta Gas Light, and others. The Partnership provides consumer education campaigns against fraud, both telemarketing and non-telemarketing fraud.
To reach new audiences, the Office is working with the Commission's regional offices to translate selected consumer publications into Spanish and other languages, as needed. It also developed or repackaged materials for special audiences. For example, Getting Back in the Black - produced with the Chicago regional office, the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Chicago, and the Better Business Bureau - is designed to help indebted consumers become solvent. The Office also worked with the Washington, D.C., Fraud Task Force to produce and distribute a Consumer Alert - Thinking About a Home Improvement? Don't Get Nailed - to warn D.C. residents about unscrupulous home improvement contractors. The Alert was distributed through the local Meals-On-Wheels program and more than 550 District churches and senior centers.
During the three-day national Public Service Recognition Week event on the Mall with 60 other federal agencies, Office staff met the public and distributed more than 10,000 consumer brochures. In another outreach effort, the Office teamed up with the American Society of Travel Agents to distribute consumer education materials during the three-day D.C. Travel Fest.
The Office also continued its education effort to combat scholarship scams. Since 1996, nearly one million flyers, bookmarks, and posters have been distributed to counselors, students, parents, and college bookstores throughout the country. The project's specialized Web site has received tens of thousands of hits. In June 1997, two million bookmarks were printed and distributed through the 3,000 member stores of the National Association of College Stores. In addition, the College Board is distributing 40,000 bookmarks to the nation's high school guidance counselors. The Office also worked with public school systems and military family service centers across the country to disseminate consumer education materials.
The Office continued its work on consumer.gov - a Web page with links to federal consumer information - with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs.
The Office continues to develop public/private sector partnerships to advance its education efforts whenever possible. During fiscal year 1997, the Office designed, developed, and marketed multi-pronged communications efforts including print, broadcast, and specialty Web sites for the following projects:
- Project Missed Fortune - with the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) - to alert consumers to fraudulent get-rich-quick schemes.
- Operation False Alarm - with the Seattle Regional Office, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), secretaries of state, and other state charities regulators - to attack badge-related fund-raising fraud. In addition to regular distribution to national media and more than 6,500 consumer opinion leaders, a targeted mailing list was compiled of more than 2,000 consumer and business media and nonprofit outlets with a combined circulation of more than 210 million readers.
- Project Price Check - with several private-sector organizations - to tell consumers how they can avoid pricing errors in stores using electronic scanners and to provide tips for business to help them better implement good pricing practices.
- Who Cares? Sources of Information About Health Care Products and Services - with NAAG - to provide information to consumers on how to avoid deceptive claims and whom to contact about alternative medicines or prescription drugs, complaints about nursing care facilities, and much more. The Office released a radio public service announcement in English and Spanish that was distributed to an estimated 2,200 stations across the country.
- Operation Trip Up - with the American Society of Travel Agents - to warn consumers about travel-related scams. The U.S. Tour Operators Association and the National Tour Association cooperated in the promotion and distribution of these materials.
- Project Waistline - a long-term public education program to alert consumers to misleading and deceptive weight-loss claims and to steer them to accurate information about healthy weight loss.
- Disaster Response and Consumer Protection: Action Items - with NAAG and the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators - to help law enforcement officials prepare for or respond to disaster-related consumer protection problems. The information kit includes a 10-step guide to disaster response and other materials.
- Internet Pyramid Surf Day - with the Interactive Services Association through Project OPEN (the Online Public Education Network) - to tell consumers how to avoid potential scams when surfing the net for investment and business opportunities.
- Project CLEAN - with clothing and laundry appliance manufacturers, retailers, detergent and bleach companies, and other industry members - to educate consumers about the new, voluntary clothing care symbols.
- Project Workout - a public education campaign with the American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine, and Shape Up America! to educate consumers about fitness and shopping wisely for exercise equipment.
- Measuring Up: Good Packaging Practices for Dairy Products - with the National Institute of Standards and Technology - a business brochure that highlights findings of a federal/state study on "short-filling" of milk, other dairy products, and juice.
- Field of Schemes - with NASAA - to increase public awareness of fraudulent investment opportunities.
- Project Trade Name Games - with Walt Disney and Warner Bros. - to alert consumers to fraudulent display racks scams involving licensed products from well-known companies and organizations.
- Project Mousetrap - with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, inventors associations, and other public and private sector groups - to tell consumers about the invention marketing and patenting process and to alert them to the fact that fraudulent invention promotion companies promise returns, but never deliver.
- Costly Coupon Scams - with the Coupon Information Center (CIC) - a brochure giving tips to consumers tempted to buy into a coupon clipping venture. As part of Internet Coupon Surf Day, the Commission and CIC identified 31 Internet ads for potentially fraudulent coupon-related schemes and warned promoters, by e-mail, of the consequences of running such schemes.
- The Low-Down on High Octane Gasoline - a Commission brochure informing consumers that regular gasoline, not high octane, is the right fuel for most cars. Exxon Corporation, as part of a consent agreement with the Commission regarding unsubstantiated advertising claims, launched a massive consumer education and advertising campaign that includes 15-second television ads and the distribution of its own consumer publication at Exxon service stations nationwide.
- Fair Credit Reporting Act, as amended - a long-term education campaign to alert consumers, employers, insurers, and other businesspeople about major changes to the FCRA.
- Project Mail Box - with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, NAAG, 25 state Attorneys General and local law enforcement officials, and the American Association of Retired Persons - announced 190 law enforcement actions against fraudulent direct-mail schemes.
- The Alliance for Investor Education -- a public/private consortium to alert consumers to bogus investment opportunities.
- The Leasing Education Project Team - a public/private effort coordinated by the Federal Reserve Board to educate consumers about vehicle leasing.
Additional Education Efforts
Additional education efforts include: Ready, Set...Credit, with the American Express Company; Buying Time: The Facts About Pre-Paid Phone Cards, with American Express and the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York; Federal Job Scams, with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; Advertisements Offering Debt Relief May Be Offering Bankruptcy, with the American Financial Services Association; Look Before You Lease; Magazine Subscription Scams; International Telephone Number Scams; Knee-Deep in Debt; and Toll-free Telephone Number Scams.
The Office also continues to work with the Consumer Literacy Consortium, the Federal Consumer Information Center, the Alliance Against Fraud in Telemarketing, the International Credit Association, the National Coalition for Consumer Education, the Fair Lending Task Force, and the JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.