The Federal Trade Commission testified today at an oversight hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation about the agency’s work to protect consumers and promote competition, including its efforts to combat frauds designed to take advantage of consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Testifying on behalf of the Commission, FTC Chairman Joseph Simons and Commissioners Noah Joshua Phillips, Rohit Chopra, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, and Christine S. Wilson also described an overview of Commission resources and the steps the FTC has taken to continue operating effectively during the pandemic. The FTC has maintained essential services, and has developed virtual processes for a range of agency activities that used to be done in person.
Over the past four fiscal years, pursuant to Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, the FTC has returned more than $975 million directly to consumers and won judgments under which consumers received nearly $10 billion more through defendant-administered redress programs. However, the Commission’s ability to keep getting such results for consumers has been threatened or curtailed by recent judicial decisions, the testimony states.
“In short, our ability to get full redress for consumers is in peril. We request that Congress act now to preserve the FTC’s ability to restore to consumers money they lose to scammers and fraudsters,” the testimony states.
The testimony also asks Congress to reauthorize the U.S. SAFEWEB Act, which allows the FTC to work with foreign authorities on cross-border law enforcement.
The testimony next describes the Commission’s major accomplishments and challenges on the consumer protection front, and reiterates its support for federal privacy and data security legislation. The testimony outlines the many actions the FTC has taken to fight COVID-related fraud, in addition to the agency’s day-to-day work protecting consumers and promoting competition through law enforcement, policy and research, and consumer and business education.
Since the pandemic began in March, the FTC has issued joint warning letters with the Food and Drug Administration to more than 70 marketers regarding claims that their products will treat, cure, or prevent COVID-19, and there are additional warning letters in the pipeline, the testimony states. The FTC also has issued its own warning letters to more than 200 additional marketers of COVID-19 products.
In addition, the FTC has taken action to address unscrupulous businesses posing as the Small Business Administration. In conjunction with the SBA, the FTC issued eight warning letters to such companies and also took action to stop a company the FTC charged with deceptively claiming to be an approved lender for the federal coronavirus relief lending program for small businesses. The FTC also has issued warning letters to VoIP service providers and others assisting and facilitating robocalls using coronavirus-related messages, as well as multi-level marketing companies making allegedly unsubstantiated health and earnings claims.
Overwhelmingly, companies that have received FTC warning letters have taken quick steps to correct their problematic claims, the testimony notes. However, when a company fails to take action in response to a warning letter, or a warning letter is not appropriate given the conduct at issue, the FTC has pursued law enforcement.
Finally, the testimony provides a short summary of the FTC’s work to enforce U.S. antitrust laws in many sectors of the economy that directly affect consumers. This year, the agency is on pace to break its record for the most merger enforcement actions in a year since 2001.
The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, read our blogs and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.