August 2011

Right on the money

Two announcements today underscore a key FTC enforcement priority:  getting money back for people deceived by companies’ illegal practices.

More than 110,000 refund checks totaling about $1.9 million are in the mail to loan applicants who were tricked into paying for a separate debit card through a misleading pre-checked box on an online form. According to the FTC, Swish Marketing, Inc., and VirtualWorks LLC came up with the promotion.  Both companies — and five of their corporate officers — were held liable.

Relief pitching?

“You can settle your credit card debt for pennies on the dollar without filing for bankruptcy.”

For people struggling to stay afloat, Debt Relief USA’s national TV ads must have seemed like a lifeline.  When consumers called the company, representatives assured them that low monthly payments to Debt Relief USA would cover both the settlement of their reduced debts and the company’s fees. For the service to work, said the reps, people had to stop making payments to their creditors — and stop talking to them at all.

Linking, liking, and loading

Logo for BCP Business Center - Your link to the law

OK, now that it’s just us, here’s a reminder that most resources in the BCP Business Center are in the public domain. Thus, according to 17 U.S.C. § 105, they’re not subject to copyright restrictions. (Sorry for the citation. Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.)  So you’re free to download, link, paste, tweet, like, dislike, and otherwise use FTC materials.

Mag-Moss rule review: Is it warranty-ed?

These days many shoppers wouldn’t think of buying a product without checking if it comes with a written warranty.  And companies in it for the long haul understand the importance of living up to their promises if something goes kablooey.  But that wasn’t always the case.  It wasn’t until 1975 — when Congress passed the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act — that federal teeth were added to consumer warranty protections.

"Rule clean up on Aisle 16!"

You or your clients are in the grocery business and customers are lined up to take advantage of an advertised special. Great news — as long as the stock on hand meets their demand. But if it doesn’t, the FTC’s Retail Food Store Advertising and Marketing Practices Rule — known to its friends as the Unavailability Rule — kicks in.

Trash or treasure?

Maybe your IT staff has sold you on the benefits of new computers.  Or perhaps you plan to replace the clunker in the rumpus room in anticipation of the upcoming school year — and it includes your “homework” from the office or personal data like financial information or family Social Security numbers.

Of course, you’ll do your research before investing in a new system.  But have you thought about how to securely dispose of your old computer?  Before you log off for the last time, make sure your tech trash doesn’t become a fraudster’s treasure.

Clothes call

Even people unfamiliar with the FTC carry with them virtually ever hour of the day a little reminder from America’s consumer protection agency. It’s the care label included on most things they wear — and the FTC is asking for feedback on its future from consumers, members of the apparel and textile industry, people in the cleaning business, and others.

Closed encounters of the third kind

Savvy executives like to stay in the loop on FTC activities that could affect their industry.   They make it a habit to scan the headlines or check for relevant workshops or reports.  But there’s a third category of information a bit less understood: closing letters from BCP staff.

In the spirit of transparency, the agency posts them online.  Here in the BCP Business Center, recent letters appear in the Compliance Documents section of each topic area.

Throwing the book at 'em

A fax comes through at the office looking like it’s a form to re-up your existing phone directory listing.  It includes information about your business, a “Yellow Page ID number,” and a familiar “walking fingers” logo.  The fax, not addressed to any particular person or department in your company, instructs the recipient to sign and send the form back by an impending deadline.  Buried in fine print is the only indication the fax is really a solicitation for new business.

Handle with care

If there were a master list of topics that need to be addressed gingerly, death and debt would rank at the top.  For debt collectors attempting to collect the debts of a deceased consumer, a recent policy statement issued by the FTC addresses changes in state probate procedures and emphasizes debt collectors’ obligation to make sure they’re acting within the law.

The road ahead

The Road Ahead logo (Selling, Financing & Leasing Motor Vehicles)As big wheels in the automotive industry know, the FTC is sponsoring a series of workshops across the country to discuss consumer protection issues related to the sale, financing, and leasing of cars, SUVs, and trucks.