One Year into COVID-19 Pandemic, New FTC Staff Report Highlights Agency’s Ongoing Efforts to Protect Consumers

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The Federal Trade Commission staff issued a report highlighting the agency’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report addresses challenges consumers face during the pandemic and details the Commission’s strategy to combat COVID-related fraud and other consumer issues using sophisticated targeting, aggressive law enforcement, and ongoing partnership and outreach.

The report notes that the agency developed a public dashboard to track and alert the public to shifts in COVID-related reports from consumers, identify and respond to emerging threats, and identify law enforcement targets. Staff highlights the agency’s work in addressing deceptive claims through law enforcement actions and warning letters, designed to get deceptive claims removed quickly.

The report also highlights the FTC’s efforts through consumer and business education, noting the agency has sent out alerts informing consumers about COVID-19 scams, reminding businesses about their responsibilities regarding honest advertising, and alerting companies about scams targeting them. The agency will continue to use this strategy in harnessing data, halting fraud in its tracks, educating consumers and businesses, and partnering with stakeholders to efficiently and effectively protect consumers, including communities already hardest hit by the pandemic.

Specifically, the report notes that in the first year of the pandemic the agency:

  • Filed 13 enforcement actions against companies that, among other things, failed to deliver personal protective equipment or made deceptive health or earnings claims, including its first action under the new COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act.
  • Directed more than 350 companies to remove deceptive claims related to COVID-19 treatments, potential earnings, financial relief for small business and students, and warned companies that it is illegal to assist and facilitate deceptive COVID-19 calls.  
  • Prioritized privacy enforcement actions addressing the types of conduct that have been exacerbated in the transformation to digital work and schooling, including videoconferencing, ed-tech and health-tech.
  • Collected and tracked more than 436,000 reports associated with COVID-19 between January 2020 and April 7, 2021, in which consumers reported $399 million in fraud losses.
  • Issued more than 100 consumer and business alerts on COVID-related topics.

The report emphasizes that the FTC will remain vigilant in protecting the public from harms that stem directly and indirectly from the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic fallout and the technological shift in how people live, learn and work.

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