Globalization of trade, improvements in international telecommunications, outsourcing, and the advent of the Internet have created unprecedented new opportunities for consumers and businesses. The FTC pursues the development of an international market-based consumer protection model, which focuses on protecting consumers from significant harm while maximizing economic benefit and consumer choice.
These developments have also posed new problems for American consumers. The problems have ranged from traditional scams that thrived online, such as pyramid schemes and business operations making false product claims, and aggressive advance-fee loan, foreign lottery, and sweepstakes telemarketing schemes, to Internet-enabled frauds like spoofed emails, web addresses, and computer system scans. The challenges for the FTC and other law enforcers have included the global reach and speed of the Internet; the ability of scammers to cloak themselves in anonymity; the ease of moving ill-gotten gains to offshore asset havens; and the roadblocks to information sharing and cooperation created by national laws and borders.
As more U.S. companies and consumers do business overseas, and as technological developments make consumer protection a more global concern, the FTC’s work involves international cooperation. The FTC works with more than 100 foreign competition and consumer protection authorities around the world, and cooperates with foreign authorities on enforcement and policy matters through formal and informal agreements. In the area of consumer protection enforcement, the FTC relies on 4 key tools: (1) information sharing; (2) investigative assistance; (3) cross-border jurisdictional authority; and (4) enforcement relationships. The US SAFE WEB Act enables these international consumer protection tools.
The FTC also participates in consumer protection fora such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), the London Action Plan, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum, among others. Privacy enforcement and policy also has an international dimension. The FTC enforces the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework. The FTC also participates in several privacy networks, such as the Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN), the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC), the Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities (APPA) Forum, and the APEC Cross Border Privacy Enforcement Arrangement (CPEA). For policy work on e-commerce and emerging technologies, the FTC participates in the Committee on Consumer Policy of the OECD, the Working Party on Information Security and Privacy of the OECD, the APEC Electronic Commerce Steering Group and its Data Privacy Subgroup, and the APEC Telecommunication and Information Working Group.
The FTC also supports econsumer.gov, a project sponsored by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network ICPEN and consumer agencies in 30 countries. Consumers can use econsumer.gov to report cross-border complaints. Enforcement agencies can use those complaints to investigate fraud.