Consumer Protection Mission
The goal of the Consumer Protection Mission is to prevent fraud, deception, and unfair business practices in the marketplace. The Mission is accomplished by identifying practices that cause the greatest consumer injury, stopping these practices through law enforcement, and preventing consumer injury through education.
In fiscal year 1997, three primary strategies were used to address current issues of concern to consumers: (1) protecting consumers from fraud, deception, and unfair practices in three traditional law enforcement areas - health, safety, and financial well-being, (2) evaluating the impact on consumers of globalization and new technologies and adapting consumer protection principles to these frontier areas, and (3) using creative approaches such as education and regulatory reform that are effective in protecting consumers and are not unduly burdensome for businesses. By targeting resources to priority areas, working with law enforcement and industry partners, and coordinating law enforcement actions with education, the Commission was able to increase its effectiveness.
Consumer and Business Education
The Commission puts a high priority on consumer education - the first line of defense against fraud and deception. With each major enforcement initiative, the Commission launches an educational campaign, using both traditional and new media to reach as many consumers as possible. In fiscal year 1997, the Office of Consumer and Business Education produced 99 new and revised consumer and business publications: 88 for consumers, 10 for businesses, and 1 for nonprofit organizations. A record 5.5 million print copies of Commission publications were distributed in response to requests from the public. To complement its online FTC ConsumerLine (www.ftc.gov), the Commission developed the online FTC BusinessLine (www.ftc.gov) to disseminate business information. An additional 609,000 copies of publications were accessed through these two Web sites. The Office continued to produce new information products, including postcards and FTC Briefs - a collection of tips that address specific consumer issues.
A unique initiative of the Commission is the Partnership for Consumer Education, a national coalition of over 90 businesses, trade associations, consumer groups, and government agencies. Originally conceived to combat telemarketing fraud, the Partnership now participates in all types of educational campaigns. From January 1996, when the partnership was launched, through September 1997, this group disseminated over 100 million educational messages.
In fiscal year 1997, the Commission led a multi-agency initiative to develop consumer.gov, the first Internet site to provide one-stop access to federal consumer information resources, offering information by subject rather than by federal agency. Charter partners in the site include 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. As the host agency, the Commission maintains the site and provides all technical support.
The Commission works hand-in-hand with other federal agencies, states, and local authorities in a variety of coordinated law enforcement efforts and task forces, including individual cases involving fraud and deceptive advertising, efforts to boost industry compliance with rules and regulations, and consumer and law enforcement training programs. By sharing information and resources, these joint efforts are able to more effectively target issues that have a direct impact on consumers. In fiscal year 1997, the Commission led 13 major joint law enforcement efforts resulting in 60 Commission actions and 444 state and federal actions. For every case the Commission brought, its state and federal partners leveraged seven more.
Programs Under the Consumer Protection Mission
The Consumer Protection Mission is advanced by five law enforcement programs - Advertising Practices, Credit Practices, Enforcement, Marketing Practices, and Service Industry Practices - the Office of Consumer and Business Education, and the Commission's 10 regional offices. Regional staff are responsible for a wide variety of significant consumer protection cases in the various programs and are important contacts for state Attorneys General and other state and local consumer protection officials.
Advertising Practices Program
The Advertising Practices Program strives to ensure that advertising is truthful and non-deceptive and is not done in a legally unfair manner, to protect consumers in a way that maximizes the amount of information available for decision-making. The Commission's market-based national advertising standards foster these goals.
Health and safety claims in advertising are of particular concern because of the significant potential for consumer injury if the claims prove to be deceptive and because they usually involve claims that consumers cannot readily evaluate based on their own experience. In addition, this area often involves rapid, new scientific and technological developments. Thus, advertisers are faced with the challenge of conveying complex scientific or technical information in a manner that is truthful and non-deceptive.
This program monitors health-related claims for dietary supplements, food, and over-the-counter drugs (especially "switch" drugs, those that previously were available only by prescription). Moreover, an increasing number of new methods of advertising and promoting prescription drugs are being monitored.
The Commission has important responsibilities for administering the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act and for administering and enforcing the Comprehensive Smokeless Tobacco Health Education Act. In fiscal year 1997, public comment was requested on proposed revisions to the testing method used to determine the tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide ratings of cigarettes.
As the marketing opportunities on the Internet grow, so do the opportunities for fraud and deception. The Commission works with industry, consumer groups, and the states to identify and address consumer protection issues in this rapidly growing market, including the collection of personally identifiable information from children online. In fiscal year 1997, program staff issued a letter outlining several principles that it believes should generally apply to the collection of this type of information and stating that it would monitor online sites that collect information from children and initiate enforcement actions as appropriate.
The Advertising Practices Program puts a special emphasis on all types of children's advertising issues. This includes reviewing advertising directed to children for deception, maintaining a close liaison with industry self-regulatory efforts, exploring new children's marketing issues on the Internet, and reviewing questions about inappropriate placement and content of advertising for adult products on programming for underage audiences.
To encourage cable networks and print media to develop advertising screening programs, Commission staff work with members of these media, gathering information about individual media screening programs, and exploring and encouraging interest in a self-regulatory program. In fiscal year 1997, as part of "Operation Waistline," a law enforcement and consumer education effort designed to stop misleading weight-loss claims, letters were sent to 80 publications that disseminated weight-loss advertisements, urging them to improve their screening. A media screening tip sheet on weight-loss fraud was also sent to these publications. During the fiscal year, a regional media screening conference was held, and staff met with major magazine publishers to discuss a Partnership Program.
The Commission coordinates closely with other federal agencies with parallel or overlapping authority in the advertising area. For example, it maintains a close working relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in monitoring environmental and pesticide advertising and ensuring that marketers do not make deceptive claims concerning their participation in the Federal Acquisition, Recycling, and Waste Prevention Program. The Commission also works closely with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on drug, cosmetic, and medical devices issues, and on monitoring health fraud activities. In addition, the Commission consults with and obtains expert assistance from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and other agencies.
Some activities, such as consumer education projects, are coordinated with non-governmental organizations. In fiscal year 1997, in connection with "Project Workout," a law enforcement effort involving advertising by manufacturers of exercise equipment, consumer education material was issued nationwide in conjunction with three consumer and professional organizations, as well as the President's Council on Physical Fitness.
Credit Practices Program
The Credit Practices Program identifies and deals with problems that have resulted from the proliferation of credit. It enforces several federal credit statutes that affect more than 113 million consumers who hold over 900 million credit cards and many millions more who obtain credit through loans. With files on approximately 200 million Americans, the major credit bureaus have a responsibility to ensure the accuracy and privacy of this personal and sensitive information. One of the major types of complaints received by the Commission, however, is that many of these credit histories contain errors. A major goal of this program is to ensure that these credit histories are accurate and remain correct.
At the same time, personal credit histories are being distributed constantly both among those who have legitimate reasons for seeing them as well as among those who may not be entitled to them. The value of the information in these histories makes it likely that their rate of dissemination will increase. The Credit Practices Program works to ensure that only those parties who have permissible purposes will receive these reports.
Privacy is becoming an important concern to consumers. Following up on the Commission's 1996 privacy workshop and report, a four-day public workshop on consumer privacy issues was held in fiscal year 1997. Through the workshop, the Commission began to gather data for a Congressionally requested study on "look-up services," or computer databases that contain identifying information about consumers. The Commission also examined the computer database industry's response to the growing concern about personal privacy in the new online marketplace, including concerns about unsolicited e-mail and the privacy of children. Similarly, the Consumer Electronic Payments Task Force, on which the Commission participates, held two public meetings to address privacy and other consumer issues arising from emerging electronic payment systems.
Charging higher prices or denying credit for reasons unrelated to creditworthiness (such as race or age) continues to be a serious problem. Attempting to ensure that everyone is able to obtain credit on an equal basis is part of this program.
The way credit or leases are advertised and the information that is given to the borrower before the transaction is consummated are also important. Consumers must be able to meaningfully compare terms and costs to shop effectively for credit. Program staff monitor the way credit is advertised, to ensure that it is not deceptive, and the subsequent disclosure of information, to ensure that it is conspicuous as well as accurate. The same concerns arise with leasing, particularly with the rising popularity of automobile leasing.
Once credit is granted, delinquency and default can occur for a variety of reasons. How consumers are handled who do not or cannot pay is extraordinarily important to the efficacy of the overall credit transaction. It is the responsibility of the Commission to prevent abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices.
Credit scams are always emerging in the marketplace. Misleading promises about credit availability or procurement are constantly being made and advertised. Credit card fraud is increasing in a variety of contexts. Typically, perpetrators of deception and fraud prey on consumers who are unable to obtain credit legitimately and thus are most vulnerable to false claims. The Credit Practices Program works to protect these consumers as well as all who need credit to live and prosper.
The Commission also enforces the current Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Extensive FCRA amendments became effective on September 30, 1997. As mandated by the newly enacted amendments, the Commission prescribed notices that will be distributed by credit bureaus - one for consumers, which summarizes their FCRA rights, and others for those that furnish information to credit bureaus and use credit reports, which summarize their FCRA responsibilities.
During fiscal year 1997, the new Credit Repair Organizations Act was passed. The Act prohibits false claims about credit repair and makes it illegal for credit repair companies to charge a fee until they have performed their services. The Commission began working with states to implement the Act, and hosted a public/private conference to discuss possible joint efforts in this area. The Commission sent information on the new law directly to over 1,000 credit repair companies. It conducted a "surf day" for credit repair ads on the Internet and created a new section on the Commission's home page (www.ftc.gov) providing information on credit repair.
The Commission continues to work in the area of identity theft, which occurs when an individual appropriates another's name, address, social security number, or other identifying information to commit fraud. In fiscal year 1997, the Commission held a meeting at which industry members, consumer representatives, and law enforcement officials discussed specific problems and proposed solutions in working groups. Through these types of meetings, the Commission focuses the attention of the consumer credit industry on the plight of the victims of identity theft and prompts changes in industry practices.
The Enforcement Program enforces Commission administrative orders and more than a dozen statutes and rules, covering such diverse areas as care labels on clothes, mail and telephone order sales, energy labels on appliances, buyers' guides on used cars, octane ratings, door-to-door sales, and the receipt of unordered merchandise. This program also initiates cases involving false or unsubstantiated product claims that may result in significant economic injury. In fiscal year 1997, staff investigated the truthfulness of advertising claims for air-cleaning devices, such as ozone generators, and automotive products, such as engine oil treatments.
The Commission's administrative orders, which are issued to address a wide array of unfair or deceptive practices, govern the sales and marketing conduct of many major, national firms. The Enforcement Program monitors and enforces compliance with these orders, overseeing redress programs, such as cash reimbursement to consumers, to ensure that firms comply with their obligations as specified in the orders.
Program staff also process requests by firms to modify or vacate orders on the basis of legal or factual changes or other grounds. Under a rule adopted in January 1996, existing Commission administrative orders that are more than 20 years old expire automatically, unless there has been a court-filed action to enforce the order during the last 20 years. Adoption of this rule has resulted in the termination of over 10,000 orders that reflected outmoded policies or contained requirements no longer of value to consumers.
Another important responsibility is to implement the Commission's ongoing project, initiated in 1992, to review all rules and guides every 10 years. During the last 27 months, additional efforts were focused on regulatory review, responding aggressively to President Clinton's memorandum urging agencies to streamline and eliminate unnecessary or obsolete regulations. Since the beginning of the regulatory review project, the Commission has reviewed more than half of its rules and industry guides, repealing more than one-third of them - 12 rules and 15 guides. An additional 19 rules and guides have been updated, clarified, or streamlined.
The statutes and rules enforced by this program require sellers to provide consumers with information they need to make informed choices. For example, the Care Labeling and Textile Rules require sellers to disclose care and fiber content information accurately on more than 10 billion garments annually so individuals can make informed purchases and care for their garments properly.
Global harmonization of labeling requirements received significant attention in fiscal year 1997. The Commission announced that it would permit the use of symbols in lieu of words to provide care instructions on garments, thus avoiding the necessity of giving information in three languages in North American markets. Implementation efforts, including working with business groups to conduct a comprehensive consumer education campaign to help consumers learn the meaning of the symbols, began during the last quarter of fiscal year 1997. In addition, to facilitate global trade, efforts were made to harmonize the care labeling symbol system developed for use in North America by the American Society for Testing and Materials with the system adopted for use in Europe by the International Organization for Standardization.
An area of significant product innovation and improvement has been with so-called "green" products, those promoted as beneficial for the environment. The Commission enforces Environmental Marketing Guides that both give companies a basis to conform their environmental labeling and advertising claims with the law and provide a basis for a coordinated enforcement policy between the states and the Commission. International standard-setting organizations have based their standards on many of the principles embodied in the Guides. The Commission recently determined, after conducting a formal review and a public workshop, that the Guides were effective in preventing deception and encouraging truthful claims.
As the states pass electricity restructuring and deregulation legislation allowing consumers to choose their electricity supplier, many consumer protection issues are raised. Accordingly, the Commission works with other federal and state agencies on consumer information disclosure issues, including "green" marketing claims for electricity, and provides informal advice regarding proposed federal legislation to permit retail competition for electricity.
In fiscal year 1997, the Commission completed a project, organized with state Attorneys General and state weights and measures authorities, to investigate the accuracy of electronic price scanning devices through a multi-state survey. The resulting report showed that many retailers have achieved high levels of pricing accuracy but that scanner errors continue to happen. The report, which was co-authored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the states of Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin, discusses efforts to enlist industry cooperation in improving pricing accuracy. The report's sponsors developed brochures offering guidance to consumers and businesses. Some states also brought actions where frequent or serious overcharge incidents were uncovered.
A fiscal year 1997 report on the accuracy of the net content labeling of milk containers sold to schools for student meals, as well as in retail stores, was released by the Commission and three other federal agencies: the Office of Weights and Measures of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Food and Consumer Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Office of Food Labeling of the Food and Drug Administration. The report, based on inspections conducted by weights and measures inspectors in 20 states, found that about 40% of inspected lots of milk and other products contained less than the labeled amount. Business education efforts were initiated to reduce the incidence of under-filling, and states and the USDA pursued enforcement actions where appropriate.
Marketing Practices Program
The Marketing Practices Program works to stop injury caused by unfair and deceptive practices in the marketing and sale of products and services to consumers and small businesses. Its scope includes virtually any deceptive or unfair practice occurring within a marketing or sales context, ranging from hard-core fraud to inadequate pre-sale disclosure of warranty information. Its principal focus, however, is deceptive sales practices, and a major goal is to halt those abuses that cause the greatest consumer injury or otherwise undermine consumer confidence and fair competition.
The Commission monitors the sales and marketing practices of the multi-billion-dollar franchise industry and enforces the Franchise and Business Opportunities Rule, which requires sellers of franchises and business opportunities to give prospective buyers a disclosure document containing specific information about the franchise and any earnings claims that are made.
During fiscal year 1997, several federal-state efforts were undertaken attacking the fraudulent sale of business activities. "Operation Missed Fortune" targeted a variety of self-employment schemes, including work-at-home scams, pyramid schemes often pitched on the Internet, and pre-packaged small businesses involving everything from vending machine frauds to sophisticated medical billing services. This coordinated law enforcement effort involved more than 75 law enforcement actions, 11 of which were filed by the Commission.
"Operation Trade Name Game," conducted by the Commission and eight states, was an aggressive campaign against scam artists selling bogus business opportunities to own and service in-store carousel racks that display products licensed by well-known companies, including plush toys, t-shirts, and trinkets. A total of 18 enforcement actions, 6 by the Commission and 12 by the states, were brought against companies and their principals involved in this business. The campaign also involved a massive educational component launched in coordination with industry members whose trade names have been used by the scam artists.
Economic fraud directed at consumers and small businesses is one of the most common consumer protection problems. The Marketing Practices Program targets fraud that cannot be readily detected by most consumers or is aimed at vulnerable populations, like older consumers. Many perpetrators of this type of fraud use new technologies in new ways to confuse consumers, such as the Internet, new payment systems (such as 900 numbers and other innovative telecommunications services), credit cards, electronic fund transfers, and demand drafts (bank transactions that deduct money from a consumer's checking account without a written instrument bearing the consumer's signature).
A high priority is enforcement of the Telemarketing Sales Rule, which requires material disclosures and prohibits misrepresentations in telemarketing. The Commission also enforces the Pay-Per-Call Rule, which governs disclosures and billing dispute procedures in the 900-number industry.
During fiscal year 1997, four major law enforcement efforts were initiated under the Telemarketing Sales Rule. "Operation Trip-Up" targeted travel scams and resulted in 36 law enforcement actions, 5 filed by the Commission and 31 filed by 12 state Attorneys General. The American Society of Travel Agents partnered with the Commission in this effort to produce and distribute a variety of consumer education materials designed to provide consumers tips on how to avoid being a victim of travel fraud. With participation from all 50 state charities regulators, "Operation False Alarm" targeted deceptive activities of certain for-profit "telefunders" who falsely represented that they engaged in fundraising on behalf of police departments, fire fighters, and other community organizations. This effort involved 57 law enforcement actions, including 3 filed by the Commission and 54 filed by the states. In conjunction with this effort, the Commission launched a nationwide public education campaign in cooperation with the National Association of Attorneys General. In a third effort, "Operation MagaScheme," fraudulent magazine marketers who bilked tens of thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars were targeted in a crackdown by the Commission and Attorneys General from five states. Finally, "Peach Sweep," targeted geographically based fraud in one particular region of the United States and resulted in 3 actions filed by the Commission and 23 actions taken by eight states.
In a significant fiscal year 1997 initiative, the Commission asserted its leadership as the Nation's chief consumer protection agency by improving the process for handling consumer-protection-related complaints from the public. This effort has a threefold mission: to continue to develop and improve the Commission's role as the custodian of the leading consumer protection law enforcement database; to respond promptly and helpfully to public inquiries, whether by telephone, mail, or e-mail; and to generate statistics and other information, both for public education and for measuring how effective the agency is in meeting its overall consumer protection mission.
As a follow-up to an earlier conference, in fiscal year 1997 program staff organized a second conference on cross-border fraud and represented the Commission in several meetings with Canadian officials to discuss mutual law enforcement concerns. The conference, co-hosted by the Commission and the Canadian Provincial Attorney General's office, resulted in the formation of working groups on cross-border criminal law enforcement, civil law enforcement, and information sharing. In addition, Canadian officials are reviewing the Telemarketing Sales Rule as a starting point for consideration of how Canada's consumer protection laws, which are primarily criminal, might be expanded to the civil arena. Greater attention to cross-border fraud has already started to pay off as the number of complaints related to Canadian-based telemarketing appear to have begun a downward trend.
One innovative way the Marketing Practices Program is addressing the growing problem of fraud on the Internet is through the organization of law enforcement Internet "surf" days. Commission staff identifies Internet advertisements that appear fraudulent (e.g., illegal pyramid or business opportunity schemes) and trains other law enforcement personnel to search the Internet for similar advertisements. Internet sites that appear fraudulent are identified, and messages are sent to Web site operators informing them of relevant laws and directing them to the Commission's Web site (www.ftc.gov) for additional information. Each surf undertaken in fiscal year 1997 took only three hours, but yielded hundreds of offending sites. After messages were sent to Web site operators, more than one-fifth of the offending sites were removed; other sites became targets for further investigation.
Another goal of this program is to remedy consumer injury that occurs when sellers fail to provide important information to consumers. By enforcing its Funeral Rule, the Commission imposes sanctions on funeral providers who fail to give consumers information about choices and prices for all goods and services sold. In conjunction with the National Funeral Directors' Association (NFDA), the Commission designed an industry training and certification program, the Funeral Rule Offenders Program (FROP), to bring noncomplying funeral homes into compliance with the Rule without formal law enforcement actions. FROP participants make a voluntary payment to the U.S. Treasury or the state, which is generally less than paying the civil penalty that may have been assessed by the court. They also agree to enroll their personnel in NFDA's training program and submit to NFDA certification and business form review procedures.
Service Industry Practices Program
The Service Industry Practices Program addresses a variety of frauds and market failures that cost consumers a substantial amount of money each year. A major focus is consumer fraud in the sale of investment goods and services. Fraudulent telemarketers and Internet operators have increasingly turned to investment scams, and deregulation in the telecommunications industry continues to spawn numerous investment ventures designed to capitalize on purported new markets. False claims are made concerning the value and capabilities of the particular technologies being promoted, the profits to be earned, and the risks of investing.
In fiscal year 1997, the Commission continued its efforts to combat investment fraud as well as to educate consumers against these pervasive frauds with its project known as "Field of Schemes." This effort by U.S. and Canadian enforcement authorities resulted in 61 law enforcement actions, 8 filed by the Commission and 53 filed by the states. It also included a major consumer education campaign warning consumers about the hottest investment scams being pitched and encouraging them to report suspected frauds.
Consumers also continue to purchase what are claimed to be rare coins, precious metals, gemstones, and other hard assets. The Service Industry Practices Program targets unscrupulous telemarketers who often blatantly misrepresent the value, past performance, and risk of these investments.
It also challenges deceptive and fraudulent representations made by idea promotion firms who offer services of very little value to consumers who want to make money from their inventions. In fiscal year 1997, the Commission and two state Attorneys General brought actions against a significant number of companies in the invention promotion industry for perpetrating a massive fraud on consumers. As part of this effort, called "Project Mousetrap," a message of extreme caution was issued to consumers about using the very expensive, but almost always fruitless, services of invention promotion firms.
In addition, this program addresses fraudulent representations in the area of career services and education. In fiscal year 1997, staff continued to follow up on "Project $cholar$cam," a massive consumer education and law enforcement effort highlighting scams that target high school and college students in need of money to finance their education. Consumer education materials have been widely distributed to high schools and colleges throughout the country, including bookmarks and posters targeted for high school and college students, posters distributed in 2,000 college bookstores, flyers for college financial aid offices, and alerts targeted at high school guidance counselors and college financial aid advisors. The Commission worked with many partners in the private sector: The Interactive Services Association's Project Open launched its public service announcement campaign with the Commission by featuring alerts warning of scholarship scams through member online services. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the College Board, and Sallie Mae all publicized "Project $cholar$cam" and provided links to the Scam Alert located at the Commission's home page (www.ftc.gov). In addition, Olan Mills distributed posters to 5,000 high schools in 27 states. The Commission joined with the New York Attorney General's Office to notify 25 operators of Web sites offering scholarship services that they may be engaged in deceptive or unfair practices. Law enforcers had identified the sites as containing many of the claims the Commission warns consumers are "red flags" of a scam.
"Project Career Sweep," conducted in fiscal year 1996, resulted in seven law enforcement actions against employment-search schemes. In fiscal year 1997, in conjunction with this effort, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida secured federal grand jury indictments of six telemarketers of fraudulent employment services, charging them with 99 counts of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering. Three of the individuals pled guilty and received prison sentences. Authorities in central Florida report that, since the Commission actions, complaints about fraud perpetrated by the entire telemarketing community have significantly dropped.
The Commission joined forces with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the U.S. Postal Service in fiscal year 1997 to produce a consumer alert on federal job placement scams. This alert was made available on job information computers located at federal facilities and a new Web page that lists job openings (www.usajobs.opm.gov).
The Commission's authority to go into federal district court to halt violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act is a powerful weapon in the fight against consumer fraud. In the past five years, the Commission has obtained nearly 400 federal district orders against individual and corporate defendants. In fiscal year 1997, a vigorous enforcement program was initiated to ensure compliance with these orders and to prevent further harm to consumers.
The Commission also focuses on the fraud and deception in the promotion, marketing, and sale of health care goods and services. The amount of information available to consumers about health care and health care products is unprecedented, and with emerging technology such as the Internet, it will continue to expand dramatically, as will consumer fraud. The Commission coordinates its health services activities with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies; works with other private and consumer groups concerned with health care issues; and has expanded its efforts to encourage professional associations to adopt advertising guidelines. In fiscal year 1997, in consultation with Commission staff, five professional associations developed and endorsed advertising guidelines for refractive eye surgery. The Commission also co-sponsored a two-day conference with the National Association of Attorneys General and the Federation of State Medical Boards, which focused on coordination of federal and state resources to combat fraudulent and misleading advertising and marketing of health care services.
This program also addresses a variety of consumer problems that may arise in other service industries. These include newly deregulated services (e.g., certain segments of the financial planning industry), services that target the elderly and homeowners, and private product standards and certification bodies that may deceive consumers or inhibit innovation.
Finally in fiscal year 1997, the Commission published its first annual report documenting its efforts to combat consumer fraud. The report, entitled "Fighting Consumer Fraud: The Challenge and the Campaign," described recent efforts led by the agency to fight telemarketing fraud against older people, investment fraud, business opportunity and job placement scams, and consumer finance scams. The report outlined a road map for combating fraud through collaborative, cooperative law enforcement actions combined with innovative public-private sector consumer education campaigns.