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FTC and NASCO to explore consumer protection and charitable solicitations

Americans are among the most generous people in the world, contributing more than $373 billion to charity in 2015, according to The Giving Institute. Not only are Americans giving more to charity, but evolving marketing practices and new technologies have introduced different ways for organizations to accept donations and new challenges for consumer protection law enforcement and education.

Trial and error

Imagine a series of promotions that involve pain relief promises, cognition claims, endorsements, 30-minute radio ads, “risk-free” money-back guarantees, “free” trial offers, negative options, telemarketing, and upsells of buying club memberships. What could possibly go wrong for consumers?

Where would you like to start?

Participation is voluntary, but live up to what you promise

To facilitate the transfer of data, many U.S. companies that do business internationally participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) system. It’s voluntary, of course, but if companies say they participate, that representation – like other objective claims – must be truthful. That’s the lesson of three proposed settlements just announced by the FTC.

It’s illegal to ban honest reviews

Congress unanimously passed the Consumer Review Fairness Act to protect people’s ability to share in any forum their honest opinions about a business’ products, services, or conduct. Some companies had been using contract provisions – including their online terms and conditions – to threaten to sue consumers or penalize them financially for posting negative reviews or complaints. The new law makes that illegal.

Background checks? Don’t double-dip.

Need to verify an applicant's employment or income history? Checking to see if a candidate has a criminal history or civil judgments?

If you get information from a company that compiles it so you can make eligibility determinations, you must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). That means no double-dipping. If you get a consumer report for one purpose, don’t use it for a different purpose.

Don’t make an R-value claim if you can’t support it

An ongoing FTC case is a reminder to businesses — If you make product claims based on scientific testing, you must have valid proof to back up those claims.

Case in point: Last fall, the FTC filed a lawsuit against Innovative Designs, Inc. (IDI) over allegations that the company violated the FTC Act by making false and unsubstantiated claims about its house wrap products.

What Vizio was doing behind the TV screen

Consumers have bought more than 11 million internet-connected Vizio televisions since 2010. But according to a complaint filed by the FTC and the New Jersey Attorney General, consumers didn’t know that while they were watching their TVs, Vizio was watching them. The lawsuit challenges the company’s tracking practices and offers insights into how established consumer protection principles apply to smart technology.

FTC says filtration system’s Made in USA claims didn’t hold water

For consumers in the market for a water filtration system, the choices can leave them feeling drenched. So when deciding among competing products, a claim that a particular system is “Proudly Built in the USA” may turn a browser into a buyer. But an FTC lawsuit against iSpring Water Systems alleges that the company’s “Built in USA” claims were all wet.

This tax season, join a webinar, protect your data

Tax season has just begun, but tax identity thieves already are posting their “gone phishin’” signs: fake emails designed to trick companies into handing over their employees’ personal information. To help small businesses avoid the hook, the FTC and the IRS are hosting a free Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week webinar on Wednesday, February 1, at 4 p.m. EST.

Track record? Staff report explores cross-device tracking

We recently saw a fellow diner reach across the cafeteria soup station until splat! His phone fell out of his shirt pocket and into the minestrone. But even before he ladled out his soup-logged smartphone, he reached into his bag and took out his tablet. As consumers have come to rely on multiple devices, companies are using technologies to connect a consumer’s activity across those devices – smartphones, tablets, desktops, laptops, and more.

FTC challenges claims for smartphone breathalyzer pitched on “Shark Tank”

Fans of “Shark Tank” will remember it as one of the show’s most dramatic bidding wars. Charles Yim, CEO of Breathometer, pitched his smartphone-enabled breathalyzer as a way to “help people make smarter and safer decisions” about drinking and driving. All five sharks went for the product hook, line, and sinker. But according to the FTC, the defendants’ deceptive claims about the accuracy of the devices’ readings left consumers floundering.

$20 million FTC settlement requires Uber to have proof for earnings, auto financing claims

In promotional materials to attract prospective drivers, ride-hailing company Uber Technologies touted how much money drivers would earn and the favorable terms they could get by financing a car through Uber’s Vehicle Solutions Program. But according to an FTC complaint, Uber exaggerated those earnings claims and misrepresented the terms of its Vehicle Solutions Program.

Looking back at privacy in 2016, and on to the future

Protecting consumers’ privacy and personal data has long been a priority at the FTC. Over the years, we’ve helped millions of identity theft victims recover from that crime. We created the National Do Not Call Registry to limit unwanted telemarketing, and we continue to fight illegal robocalls. And we’ve brought more than sixty cases against companies that didn’t take reasonable steps to protect people’s data.

$586 million Western Union settlement: Be careful about the company your company keeps

“For many years, Western Union’s money transfer system has been used by fraudsters around the world to obtain money from their victims.” That’s how the FTC’s complaint against Western Union opens – and it tells a compelling story of a corporation the FTC says knew that massive fraud was afoot and had the ability to address it, but chose to look the other way.

What’s on? PrivacyCon

What’s that sound? It’s the buzz of the crowd gathering this morning for the FTC’s second PrivacyCon. Leaders from academia, advocacy groups, and industry have convened for a day devoted to the latest research and trends about consumer privacy and data security.

Redress checks and compliance checks: Lessons from the FTC’s Herbalife and Vemma cases

As part of the FTC’s historic $200 million settlement with Herbalife, about 350,000 Herbalife distributors should be watching their mail for a partial refund check. The FTC has more information about the refunds and advice for people thinking about investing in a multilevel marketing opportunity.

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