It’s a challenge worthy of Drs. Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, and Ray Stantz – and it could result in a prize of as much as $25,000 for a creative tech tinkerer.
“Just like the white winged dove sings a song,” you can count on the BCP Business Blog to celebrate the “Edge of Seventeen” – 2017, of course – with a recap of in-case-you-missed-it developments from 2016. (Sorry, Stevie Nicks. That was a stretch.) In no particular order, here is our take on ten noteworthy consumer protection actions from the year gone by.
Before we start making New Year’s resolutions for 2017, let’s assess last year’s pledges. In announcing Operation Collection Protection, a coordinated federal-state-local initiative to take on illegal debt collection practices, we made two promises: 1) to continue our commitment in the courtroom, if necessary; and 2) to foster close working relationships with law enforcement partners across the country. Here’s what we have to report.
You oversleep, spill the coffee, and get caught in a rush hour traffic jam. Then you check your messages and the day really heads south because according to the State Bar (or Board of Accountancy, Medical Society, or other group), you’re in trouble with your professional association.
Or are you?
So you’ve taken every precaution against a zombie attack. You’ve sealed the windows, stockpiled kerosene, and keep a machete or two handy. But despite your best efforts, The Undead still manage to reanimate themselves and stalk their unsuspecting prey. We hate when that happens. But this time it’s not an episode of The Walking Dead.
When thinking about buying a used car, some people hit a speed bump when they get to the “used” part. It’s one thing to spot a dinged fender or smudged floor mat, but it’s tougher to evaluate a used car’s essential systems. In separate complaints, the FTC charged that CarMax and two large dealership groups touted how rigorously they inspect their used cars and yet failed to clearly disclose to prospective buyers that some were subject to unrepaired safety recalls.
For academics and researchers in consumer privacy and data security, think of it as Coachella without the sand and Burning Man with nothing spontaneously combusting (we hope).
Promoting a “Young People’s Revolution,” multi-level marketer Vemma pitched its business opportunity to college students and other young adults as a big-money, fast-lane alternative to “the traditional 9-to-5.” In 2015, the FTC sued Vemma and related parties, alleging that its smoke-and-mirrors earnings claims were obscuring the true nature of what Vemma was up to. As a result of an FTC settlement, there’s a revolution underway all right.
Claims about employment prospects and income levels are like any other objective advertising representation – and Job #1 for advertisers is to support those promises with solid evidence. DeVry University and its parent company have entered into a $100 million settlement to resolve the FTC’s allegations that the defendants’ claims didn’t make the grade.
If you care about data security and privacy, you’ll want to read about the FTC’s settlement with ruby Corporation, ruby Life Inc., and ADL Media Inc. – the companies that operate AshleyMadison.com.
Is it time for a little heart-to-heart about making health claims for mobile apps? An FTC settlement with California-based Aura Labs challenges misleading representations the company made about its Instant Blood Pressure app. In addition, if you keep your finger on the pulse of FTC endorsement law, the complaint describes a course of conduct marketers will want to avoid.
Chances are that you or someone you know will be among 2.7 million AT&T Mobility customers who will be getting a refund soon. The FTC is returning a total of $88 million to people who were billed for premium text message services they didn’t authorize.
“What do your TV viewing habits say about you?”
Using background checks to screen tenants? Or maybe your company provides those background checks to landlords? Make sure you’re complying with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FTC’s new guidance for landlords and for tenant background screening companies can help.
What do landlords need to know?
The military community makes many of the same consumer decisions as their civilian counterparts. We all need to manage our money – and avoid rip-offs. But servicemembers and their families also face unique challenges, like frequent relocations and deployment. When a permanent change of station is on the horizon, a military family needs to rent or buy a new place to live, manage money while on the move, and be vigilant about dealing with businesses in an unfamiliar locale. A servicemember’s regular paycheck from Uncle Sam can make them a target for scammers.
The FTC applies a consistent approach to evaluating ad claims. Companies must have a reasonable basis for objective representations, including claims that a product can treat specific health conditions. Whether it’s an over-the-counter drug, dietary supplement, or food, the same established standards apply. And as an FTC Enforcement Policy Statement explains, that also holds true for OTC homeopathic drugs.
Whether they’re tuned to “The Real Houseplants of Poughkeepsie” (guilty as charged, Your Honor) or more high-brow fare, TVs are a lot smarter than many people realize. Smart TVs, streaming devices, game consoles, apps and set-top boxes may track consumers’ viewing habits in one way or another. The benefits of tracking technology are apparent anytime a person follows a “Viewers who watched The Night Manager also enjoyed The Last Panthers” recommendation. But what about the privacy implications?
In an eye exam, the bottom line is the toughest to see. But responsible eye care prescribers and contact lens sellers clearly understand another “bottom line”: They comply with the FTC’s Contact Lens Rule.
From the perspective of consumers, the whole purpose of prepaid debit cards – their reason for living, if you will – is to give consumers immediate access to their money. Those cards are an especially important financial lifeline for people who don’t have traditional bank accounts.
The FTC’s Used Car Rule has been the law of the land since 1985. It requires used car dealers to post a Buyers Guide on cars they offer for sale. The Guide gives customers important warranty and other information to help them make informed buying decisions. After asking for public comments, the FTC has made some changes to the Buyers Guide that every used car dealer needs to know about.