For businesses in the middle of a global pandemic, there’s no such thing as “business as usual.” The percentage of Americans working remotely has grown substantially, now reportedly up to 33% of the U.S. workforce. Accompanying that seismic shift have been increased security threats to data, with one analysis reporting that over 36 billion online records were exposed in the first half of 2020 alone. Consumers whose lives have been upended by identity theft are paying close attention to how corporations are responding.
Yellowstone – the majestic national park – is known for Old Faithful, roaming bison, and vistas to take your breath away. According to a 2020 FTC complaint, Yellowstone – the merchant cash advance provider – was unfaithful to its promises, buffaloed small business owners, and made illegal withdrawals that took their cash away. A settlement will return more than $9.8 million to customers and includes injunctive provisions to change how Yellowstone does business.
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) technology promise to revolutionize our approach to medicine, finance, business operations, media, and more. But research has highlighted how apparently “neutral” technology can produce troubling outcomes – including discrimination by race or other legally protected classes. For example, COVID-19 prediction models can help health systems combat the virus through efficient allocation of ICU beds, ventilators, and other resources.
Congress passed a law in December 2020 – the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act – that imposes monetary penalties on violators. The Department of Justice and the FTC just brought their first action under the statute, alleging that a Missouri chiropractor and his company violated both the new law and the FTC Act by deceptively marketing vitamin D and zinc products to treat or prevent COVID-19.
The FTC’s long-standing Holder Rule requires businesses to include a special notice in credit contracts that gives consumers certain protections. Today, a Staff Note reiterates the Commission’s determination that the Rule applies regardless of the size of the transaction – and corrects some staff guidelines published in 1976.
Have you marked your calendar for April 29, 2021, to attend Bringing Dark Patterns to Light: An FTC Workshop? The virtual event will examine digital “dark patterns,” potentially deceptive or unfair user interfaces on websites and mobile apps. In addition to your participation, the FTC is asking for research and public comments on topics related to the workshop.
People who claim that hindsight is 20/20 probably weren’t talking about the post hoc evaluation of clinical testing. That’s an alleged flaw the FTC challenged in purported substantiation submitted by the marketers of Hepaxa and Hepaxa PD, fish oil products advertised as clinically proven to treat liver disease in adults and children. In addition to injunctive provisions, the proposed settlement includes a financial remedy of $416,914.
According to a recent CFPB report, the pandemic has left more than 8.8 million consumers behind on their rent. Tenants at risk of homelessness are disproportionately people of color, primarily Black and Hispanic families. Federal, state, and local governments, including the CDC, have put temporary holds on evictions for non-payment of rent – a measure proven to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Equal access to credit based on non-discriminatory criteria is an essential component of economic opportunity and a fair marketplace. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits creditors from denying credit based on a host of discriminatory criteria, including race, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, etc.
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 check’s in the mail.” You’ve heard it before, but this time it’s true if you are one of the 147,000 University of Phoenix students who will be receiving payments totaling more than $50 million as a result of the FTC’s law enforcement action against the online school.
Many consumers experience sticker shock when they total up what they pay each month for television, add-on channels, satellite programming, streaming services, and the vast array of other content they buy. So it’s no surprise that people thinking about cutting the cord were drawn to claims by New York-based Wellco, Inc., and CEO George Moscone that the company’s TV antennas would let users cancel their cable service and still get all of their favorite channels for free.
The pandemic is still taking a toll on your customers, your employees – and your business. The new American Rescue Plan, just signed into law, gets the ball rolling to help out on many people’s financial well-being. Payments will soon be coming by direct deposit, checks, or a debit card to people eligible for the payment. You can learn more about who’s eligible, and the timing, at IRS.gov/coronavirus. Share that link with your staff to help keep them informed.
Consider those three little words that many people long to hear. “I love you?” No. This is the Business Blog and that would be weird. We’re talking about “Made in USA.” A proposed FTC settlement – including a financial judgment – with a marketer of promotional products reminds companies of the need to substantiate their Made in USA representations.
Misleading tactics in the sale of magazine subscriptions is an illegal practice the FTC has challenged in numerous cases. But an action just filed by the FTC and the State of Florida focuses on a new audience allegedly targeted for deception: the families of people who are incarcerated and inmates themselves. The pending case also suggests compliance reminders that apply to companies in just about any industry.
You know those friendly calls from people contacting you on behalf of charities whose missions are close to your heart?
Wondering what you can do to help protect consumers in your area? The FTC just launched an initiative aimed at partnering with legal aid organizations to expand outreach to lower-income members of the community. The goal: to connect people who have experienced fraud and other consumer problems with an easy way to report it and with advice to help them recover.
It’s like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. Our hero enters a cave in search of treasure and every labyrinthine turn poses another unexpected hazard – trip-wired blades, runaway boulders, and snakes (“I hate snakes”). But we’re not talking about a rollicking adventure flick. We’re describing the experience of many online shoppers as they navigate some companies’ websites to avoid digital danger – for example, extra items showing up in a consumer’s cart, unauthorized charges, or the unintended disclosure of personal information.
Online romance may begin with Panic! At The Disco’s High Hopes, but according to a new FTC Data Spotlight, all too often it ends with the conclusion that – to quote the J. Geils Band – Love Stinks.