February 2019

Top frauds of 2018

Every year, millions of consumers tell us – and our partners – about the frauds they spotted. In 2018, we heard from 3 million people and learned a lot from the reports entered into our Consumer Sentinel database. Here are some notable facts from the Consumer Sentinel Network’s 2018 Data Book – including that a new category of scams has earned the unenviable right to chant "We’re #1."

Largest FTC COPPA settlement requires Musical.ly to change its tune

We’ll confess to singing along to a Stevie Nicks song or doing an air guitar solo when no one’s looking. But some people take their lip syncing to the next level. More than 200 million people – 65 million of them in the U.S. – downloaded the Musical.ly app. It gave users a platform to create videos and synchronize them with popular songs. It also allowed users to interact directly with each other. That may sound like fun for aficionados, but it raises concerns for parents, especially given public reports that adults have used the Musical.ly app to contact children.

FTC to advertisers: Bills-for-shills product reviews are a no-go

In explaining FTC cases, we try to give readers a behind-the-scenes perspective and sometimes the most accurate insights are out of the mouths of corporate insiders. In the FTC’s first case challenging fabricated reviews on an independent retail site, consider an email from the CEO of Brooklyn-based Cure Encapsulations about a weight loss pill it was selling.

Cybersecurity for small business: Secure remote access

Punching a time clock in and out isn’t how small businesses run these days. Employees are on the road, others are working from home, vendors are accessing your data at off hours – and you’re generating ideas 24/7. How do you maintain high security standards when employees and others may need to connect to your network remotely from a variety of devices? When we met with small business owners across the country, that question came up a lot.

FTC to law violators: Don’t bank on bankruptcy

A recent ruling by a Florida Bankruptcy Judge sheds light on a tenacious team within the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. But first, let’s set the time machine to 2008 when the FTC entered into a settlement with BlueHippo, a computer financing company that pitched electronics to consumers with “less than perfect credit, bad credit, no credit.”

Cybersecurity for small business: Hiring a web host

Your website is the online face of your business. Some companies have the in-house capability to manage their web presence. Others hire a web host to handle it for them. When launching a new business or upgrading their site, savvy business owners comparison shop for web hosting services. At the top of your shopping list should be the security features built into what you’re buying.

In Fat Giraffe Marketing’s ads, truth was the endangered species

The name of the case is FTC v. Fat Giraffe Marketing Group, but the lawsuit has nothing to do with obesity, giraffes, or obese giraffes. OK, perhaps there are some similarities in the sense that the defendants made oversized claims, told tales as tall as tree-topping ungulates, and used protective coloration – in this case, bogus endorsements – to camouflage what they were up to.

They give love a bad name

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the FTC staff released a Data Spotlight highlighting the category of scam with the highest amount of reported financial loss among complaint categories the FTC uses to track fraud. The category may surprise, but here’s a hint. In the words of Bon Jovi, these con artists “give love a bad name.”

FTC-FDA warning letters target treatment claims for Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other serious diseases

Alzheimer’s disease poses what experts agree is a looming public health crisis. But it also exacts an incalculable personal toll on people living with the condition and the family and friends who love them. The FTC and the Food and Drug Administration just sent warning letters to three companies advertising that their products can treat diseases like Alzheimer’s. It’s a development that merits industry attention.

Cybersecurity for small business: Email authentication

As a business person, you know about phishing, of course. At first glance, the email looks like it comes from a recognized company, complete with a familiar logo, slogan, and URL. But it’s really from a cyber crook trying to con consumers out of account numbers, passwords, or cash. In addition to the serious injury these scams inflict on consumers, there’s another victim of phishing: the reputable business whose good name was stolen by the scammer.

The Masked Ringer

Some forms of masquerading are just good clean fun. Consider The Masked Singer, a surprise TV hit in which a panel of celebrities tries to guess the identity of other celebrities who sing karaoke while wearing elaborate disguises. (We’re not making that up. It’s a thing now.) But other forms of masquerading are based in deception, as the FTC alleges in a lawsuit against Global Asset Financial Services Group, LLC, and 15 Buffalo- and Charlotte-based defendants.