This time last year, we all were adjusting to a new normal. As the pandemic took hold, the FTC kicked into high gear on COVID-19-related issues, while continuing its work on other fronts, too. The just-announced 2020 Annual Highlights reflect important enforcement actions, policy initiatives, and outreach efforts undertaken in the past year. The agency sued companies that made deceptive claims and didn’t correct them, made sure that deceptive claims for hundreds of products were quickly removed, and sent hundreds of warning letters. The FTC also published more than 100 blog posts to inform consumers about COVID-19 scams, remind businesses about their responsibilities regarding honest advertising, and alert companies about scams targeting them. Based on the 2020 Annual Highlights, here are some important developments from a very unusual year.
- Action-oriented. The Commission filed 21 administrative actions, 56 federal actions, and 5 civil penalty actions. In 2020, the agency also completed a number of cases: 23 administrative matters; 66 cases that resulted in redress, disgorgement, and permanent injunctions; and 8 actions where civil penalties were awarded.
- New and notable. Just as consumers were struggling to adapt to rapidly-changing circumstances, millions headed to virtual platforms to stay connected — and the FTC challenged misleading claims by Zoom that gave users a false sense of security about how their information was handled. The Commission also brought several cases against companies that failed to deliver on their promises to get consumers goods in high demand as a result of the pandemic. A federal court in Ohio issued a temporary restraining order against 25 counterfeit websites that allegedly tricked consumers into paying for Clorox and Lysol products that the defendants never delivered. The FTC also brought some firsts: its first law enforcement crackdown on deceptive claims related to cannabidiol (CBD) products, and its first cases enforcing the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act.
- Blog appeal. In 2020, this blog — with 101,471 subscribers — featured 144 posts for businesspeople and attorneys. During the same period, the public ordered more than 309,000 copies of 17 business publications (in English and Spanish).
- On the road again. The FTC and its regional partners in Cleveland, Ohio, hosted a virtual workshop to discuss advertising and data security basics for small businesses. The Green Lights & Red Flags: FTC Rules of the Road for Business workshop brought together Ohio business owners and marketing executives with national and state legal experts to give practical insights to business and legal professionals about how established consumer protection principles apply in today’s fast-paced marketplace.