The FTC fulfills its law enforcement mission by bringing court and administrative actions to enhance competition and protect consumers.
The Commission has long prioritized competition in health care markets because such competition helps contain costs, improves quality, increases access, and encourages innovation. Relying primarily on enforcement, the Commission works to prevent anticompetitive mergers and conduct that would harm competition in these markets.
The Commission maintains a robust program to stop pharmaceutical companies’ anticompetitive conduct designed to stave off generic competition. For instance, Reckitt Benckiser Group plc agreed to pay $50 million to settle charges that it violated the antitrust laws through a deceptive scheme to thwart lower-priced generic competition to its branded drug Suboxone, a prescription oral medication used to treat opioid addition. Reckitt introduced Suboxone tablets in 2002. Before generic versions of Suboxone tablets became available, Reckitt developed a dissolvable oral film version of the product and worked to shift prescriptions to this patent-protected film, a tactic known as “product hopping.” To further this scheme, Reckitt falsely claimed the reformulated film version was safer than the tablets because the film packaging reduced the risk of accidental pediatric exposure.
More recently, the Commission charged Vyera Pharmaceuticals, LLC with engaging in an anticompetitive scheme to preserve a monopoly for the life-saving drug, Daraprim. The complaint, which the FTC filed with the NY AG, alleges that Vyera purchased Daraprim in 2015, raised its price by more than 4,000 percent, and kept the price high through anticompetitive acts that deterred and prevented potential generic competitors from entering or attempting to enter the market. The complaint also names as defendants Martin Shkreli and Kevin Mulleady, who allegedly were directly responsible for orchestrating the scheme, as well as Phoenixus AG, Vyera’s parent company. In another matter, the Commission successfully challenged a conspiracy involving dental products distributors. In this matter, an administrative law judge held that two of three dental product distributors named in the FTC’s complaint violated the antitrust laws by conspiring to refuse to provide discounts to, or otherwise serve, buying groups representing dental practitioners.
In 2019, the Commission achieved an important milestone in its efforts to combat harmful reverse-payment settlements when the last defendant in the landmark case FTC v. Actavis settled on the eve of trial. The 2009 case was on remand from the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2013 that reverse-payment settlement agreements are subject to antitrust scrutiny, an important validation of the agency’s decades-long efforts to challenge these agreements. AbbVie, the owner of defendant Solvay, agreed to settle the charges with broad relief that prevents the company from entering into certain patent infringement settlement agreements that restrict generic entry and contain common forms of reverse-payments, such as a side deal or a commitment not to make an authorized generic version of a brand name drug.
In another reverse-payment case, the Commission ruled that Impax Laboratories entered into an illegal reverse-payment settlement with Endo Pharmaceuticals to block consumers’ access to a lower-cost generic version of Endo’s branded drug, Opana ER. Eliminating the risk of competition through a reverse-payment settlement is a cognizable anticompetitive harm under the antitrust laws, and the Commission found there was ample evidence of a risk that Impax could have launched a generic product before the agreed-upon date, had it not entered into the reverse-payment settlement with Endo. Impax has appealed, and the case is pending before the Fifth Circuit.
Another key enforcement effort is to prevent mergers that would remove competitive constraints and likely enable health care providers to raise rates or decrease quality for vital services. Recently, the Commission closed its investigation into the proposed merger of in-home nursing providers Aveanna Healthcare and Maxim Healthcare after the parties abandoned their deal. The Commission’s investigation raised concerns about the transaction’s potential anticompetitive effects. With the deal abandoned, patients and private duty nurses will continue to benefit from competition between Aveanna and Maxim. In another case, the Commission required health care provider and insurer UnitedHealth Group Incorporated and health care provider DaVita, Inc. to divest a health care provider organization in the Las Vegas area to preserve competition for managed care provider organization services sold to Medicare Advantage insurers and Medicare Advantage plans sold to individual Medicare Advantage members. Without this remedy, the transaction would have increased the likelihood that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would make higher payments to Medicare Advantage insurers, and that seniors in the Las Vegas area would incur higher co-pays and receive fewer benefits and lower quality health care services.
The Commission also continues to review carefully mergers between medical device manufacturers. For instance, the Commission required Boston Scientific Corp. to divest assets used to make drug eluting beads, which are used to treat certain liver cancers, to resolve charges that Boston Scientific’s proposed acquisition of medical equipment and pharmaceutical supplier BTG plc would be anticompetitive. The Commission also ordered Otto Bock HealthCare North America, Inc. to unwind its consummated acquisition of Freedom Innovations (FIH Group Holdings), finding that the acquisition resulted in anticompetitive harm in the microprocessor prosthetic knee market and likely leading to higher prices and less innovation for amputee patients and prosthetic clinic customers. Otto Bock has appealed the case to the D.C. Circuit.
In late 2019, the Commission ordered the largest ever divestiture in a merger enforcement matter when Bristol-Myers Squibb Company and Celgene Corporation agreed to divest Celgene’s Otezla, the most popular oral treatment in the U.S. for moderate-to-severe psoriasis, for $13.4 billion. The Commission required the divestiture after concluding that BMS’s pipeline oral product to treat psoriasis would likely be the next entrant into the market and compete directly with Otezla.
On the consumer protection front, health-related misrepresentations remain a core enforcement priority. The Commission settled its lawsuit against Gerber Products Company, which allegedly made deceptive claims about its Good Start Gentle baby formula’s ability to reduce the risk that infants would develop allergies. The FTC also obtained orders and substantial monetary relief in two cases, NatureCity, LLC and A.S. Research, LLC, to resolve allegations that the companies deceptively promised that their products would treat a variety of conditions and chronic pain affecting older consumers.
In the FTC’s first case challenging fake paid reviews on an independent retail site, the settlement with Cure Encapsulations, Inc. resolved allegations that the defendants made false and unsubstantiated claims for their garcinia cambogia weight-loss supplement and that they paid a third-party website to write fake reviews on Amazon.com.
As a supplement to lawsuits, the Commission also notifies companies of their responsibilities when advertising their products. In March 2020, the FTC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent joint letters to seven companies about allegedly deceptive or unsubstantiated claims to treat Coronavirus. According to the FDA, there are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus. During 2019, the two agencies also sent warning letters about unsubstantiated claims that certain dietary supplements treat or cure serious medical conditions. The FTC sent warning letters to three sellers of cannabidiol (CBD) products, explaining the long-established principle that advertisers must have sound science to support their statements. Finally, the FTC issued orders to six e-cigarette manufacturers seeking information to study the companies’ sales, advertising, and promotional methods to complement the agency’s similar studies on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products.
Competition in technology sectors can be especially important in driving innovation and growth in the economy, introducing more efficient products and processes into the marketplace, increasing quality, and decreasing prices. In recognition of the growing importance of technology in our economy and to ensure that consumers benefit from free and fair competition in technology markets, the Bureau of Competition established the Technology Enforcement Division to look closely at the markets in which digital platforms compete, investigate any potential anticompetitive conduct in those markets, and take enforcement action when warranted.
Earlier in the year, the FTC achieved a notable victory when a district court ruled that Qualcomm’s licensing practices relating to its modem chips violate the antitrust laws and that those practices enable the company to maintain its monopoly power, extract higher royalty rates, and foreclose a substantial share of the market from rivals. The court ordered extensive injunctive relief, including requiring Qualcomm to renegotiate all of its existing patent-licensing deals. Qualcomm has appealed and the case is pending before the Ninth Circuit.
The Commission also brought its first case involving a health information platform. In April, the FTC filed a federal court action against Surescripts LLC alleging that the company unlawfully maintained its dominant position in two e-prescription markets through a web of exclusive arrangements and other exclusionary conduct. More recently, the Commission challenged a consummated merger between two makers of body-worn camera systems used by large, metropolitan police departments across the United States. The administrative complaint alleges that the May 2018 acquisition by Axon Enterprise, Inc. of its closest competitor VieVu, LLC eliminated direct and substantial price and innovation competition between the two firms, and allowed Axon to raise prices paid by police departments for cutting-edge products that officers need to do their job. The Commission’s complaint also challenges the non-compete agreement that barred the former owner of VieVu from entering into any line of business in which Axon operated, not just body cameras. Both cases are pending.
In 2019, the agency continued its ongoing efforts to combat illegal robocalls. The FTC announced four new cases and three settlements as part of Operation Call It Quits, a coordinated action against scammers responsible for more than a billion illegal calls. The FTC—with 25 federal, state, and local law enforcement partners—filed another 87 lawsuits, including five criminal cases.
In the FTC’s first Telemarketing Sales Rule action against a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service provider, a federal court stopped the operations of Globex Teleco. Inc., which allegedly played a key role in robocalling to promote a credit card interest reduction scheme that bilked consumers out of millions of dollars. Four separate operations settled the FTC’s charges that they violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule when they allegedly bombarded consumers nationwide with billions of unwanted and illegal robocalls to pitch auto warranties, debt-relief services, fake charities, and more. The settlements ban the defendants from robocalling and most telemarketing activities.
Two settlements about the use of endorsements in social media demonstrate the FTC’s commitment to stopping deception online. The FTC’s action against Devumi, LLC alleged the company sold fake followers, phony subscribers, and bogus likes to companies and individuals that wanted to boost their social media presence. The case against Sunday Riley Modern Skincare, LLC alleged its employees posted fake product reviews on a well-known retail website. The Commission also took steps to stop deception online more generally. For example, online lender Avant, LLC paid $3.85 million to settle the FTC’s charges that the company allegedly used deceptive and unfair loan servicing practices, such as imposing unauthorized charges on consumers’ accounts and unlawfully requiring consumers to agree to automatic payments from their bank accounts.
Consumer Products and Services
The Commission works to prevent anticompetitive mergers and conduct that could lead to higher prices or fewer choices for consumers purchasing everyday products. For instance, the Commission stopped a merger between the country’s two leading makers of private label ready-to-eat cereal, charging that the merger was likely to result in higher prices for a household staple. In April, two distributors of wine and spirits abandoned their proposed merger in the face of Commission concerns that their deal likely would have resulted in higher prices and diminished service in several states. The evidence developed in the investigation strongly suggested the merger would have harmed wine and spirits suppliers that depend on these distributors to promote and distribute their products, and retail and foodservice customers that purchase those products.
The Commission also took action to prevent higher prices for food products distributed to restaurants and other venues that serve food to consumers away from home. In September, US Foods, Inc. agreed to divest assets in order to acquire Services Group of America, Inc. The Commission alleged the acquisition would raise prices for broadline foodservice distribution for customers in four local markets and for national and multiregional customers throughout the country.
Also on the merger front, the Commission filed suit to block Edgewell Personal Care Company’s acquisition of Harry’s, alleging that the proposed transaction threatens to eliminate the disruptive competitive force that Harry’s has brought to the wet shave razor industry in the past few years. The complaint also alleges that the proposed transaction threatens to make the market more vulnerable to coordination. In the face of the Commission’s challenge, the parties abandoned their transaction. In September, the Commission blocked a merger between two of the so-called “Big Four” title insurance underwriters in the country, alleging that Fidelity National Financial, Inc.’s $1.2 billion acquisition of Stewart Information Services would substantially lessen competition in state markets for title insurance underwriting for large commercial transactions and in several local markets for title information services. The Commission also took action to preserve competition for office supply products sold to small- and mid-sized businesses. Office supply distributors Staples, Inc. and Essendant, Inc. agreed to establish a firewall separating Staples’ business-to-business sales operations from Essendant’s wholesale business to settle Commission charges that their merger would violate the antitrust laws. The firewall will restrict Staples’ access to the commercially sensitive information of Essendant’s customers.
In the consumer protection arena, retailer Truly Organic Inc. and its CEO paid $1.76 million to settle the FTC’s charges that they falsely claimed that their bath and beauty products are “100% organic” and “certified organic” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Snack box company UrthBox, Inc. settled the FTC’s charges that they misrepresented customer reviews as being independent. In reality, the company gave people free products to post positive reviews. In addition, those who signed up to receive a supposedly free snack box from UrthBox, Inc. were charged automatically for six months of shipments because they did not opt out before the end of the month.
Stopping Activities Related to Deceptive and Unfair Marketing
Fighting fraud is a major focus of the FTC’s law enforcement efforts, including cases against imposters, pyramid schemes, sweepstakes scams, deceptive debt collectors, phony business opportunities, and other companies that deceive consumers.
Tech support software provider Office Depot, Inc. and its supplier paid $35 million to settle charges that they falsely claimed a scan detected signs of malware, then tricked consumers into buying millions of dollars’ worth of computer repair and technical services. In another tech support case, the FTC alleged that Elite IT Partners, Inc.’s scheme tricked consumers into believing their computers were infected with viruses in order to sell them costly computer repair services. The terms of the settlement permanently ban the company from offering tech support products and services.
In 2019, the Commission took action against two illegal pyramids. In AdvoCare International, L.P., the FTC alleged that the multi-level marketer deceived consumers into believing they could earn significant income as “distributors” of its health and wellness products. Under the settlement, the defendants paid $150 million and are banned from the multi-level marketing business. The FTC’s case against the leading AdvoCare promoters is continuing. In the case against Neora, LLC (formerly known as Nerium International, LLC), the FTC alleged the company falsely promised recruits that they could achieve financial independence by joining the scheme. The FTC is seeking to permanently stop the defendants’ deceptive practices and return money to consumers.
The FTC also brought an action against online dating service Match Group, Inc.—the owner of Match.com, Tinder, OKCupid, and PlentyOfFish—alleging the company used fake love interest advertisements to trick hundreds of thousands of consumers into purchasing paid subscriptions on Match.com.
In the Career Education Corporation case, the operator of several post-secondary schools paid $30 million to settle the FTC’s charges that they used sales leads from lead generators that falsely told consumers they were affiliated with the U.S. military, and that used other unlawful tactics to generate leads.
In the largest forfeiture the FTC has ever obtained in a case of this kind, the operators of a sweepstakes scam surrendered a record $30 million in cash and assets and were permanently banned from the prize promotion business. The proceeds were used to refund money to victims.
At the FTC’s request, a federal court has temporarily stopped operation and frozen the assets of Global Asset Financial Services Group, LLC, a debt collection scheme that allegedly bilked consumers out of millions of dollars, using deceptive and threatening tactics to collect phantom debts that they did not owe. A related settlement permanently banned the operators of the scheme from the business of debt collection.
The Commission and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection sued Nudge, LLC and affiliated companies, alleging that they made empty promises about earning money by “flipping” houses, to convince consumers to buy real estate training packages that cost thousands of dollars. A federal court in Utah issued a preliminary injunction; the case is ongoing.
Under the terms of the settlement with Digital Altitude, LLC, the defendant paid $1.9 million to resolve the FTC’s allegations that they deceptively claimed people could earn “six figures in 90 days” by using their business coaching scheme. In a related matter, the FTC alleged that the operators of Allied Wallet, Inc. knowingly processed payments for merchants that were engaged in fraud, including some merchants the FTC had taken enforcement action against, such as Digital Altitude, LLC.
In the Manhattan Beach Venture, LLC matter, the FTC charged the operators of two similar student loan debt relief schemes, and a financing company that assisted them, with bilking millions of dollars from consumers.
Money for Consumers
A core part of the FTC’s mission is to return money to consumers who are harmed by illegal business practices. In 2019, FTC actions led to more than $232 million in refunds to consumers across the country. Over the last four years, consumers have cashed more than $1 billion in FTC refund checks.
In a record settlement, the University of Phoenix, Inc. paid $191 million to settle the FTC’s charges that the for-profit school used deceptive advertisements falsely touting their relationships and access to job opportunities with companies such as AT&T, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Twitter. The settlement requires them to pay $50 million in cash, as well as cancel $141 million in debt owed to the school by students who were harmed by the deceptive ads.
AT&T Mobility, LLC (Mobile Data Service) paid $60 million to settle litigation with the FTC over allegations that the wireless provider misled millions of its smartphone customers. AT&T allegedly charged consumers for “unlimited” data plans while reducing their data speeds to the point that many common mobile phone applications, such as web browsing and video streaming, became difficult or nearly impossible to use.
As part of a settlement with Lifelock, Inc., the FTC sent more than $31 million in refund checks to affected consumers. The settlement resolved allegations that the identity theft protection provider violated a 2010 Commission data security order.
Protecting the privacy of consumers’ information is one of the Commission’s top enforcement priorities. In a history-making settlement order, Facebook, Inc. agreed to pay a record-breaking $5 billion penalty, the largest ever imposed on any company for violating consumers’ privacy. The FTC charged the tech company with violating a 2012 FTC order by deceiving users about their ability to control the privacy of their personal information. Facebook also submitted to new restrictions and a modified corporate structure that will hold the company accountable for the decisions it makes about its users’ privacy. In a related matter, the Commission issued an Opinion and Order that data analytics company Cambridge Analytica, LLC violated the FTC Act by using deceptive tactics to collect personal information from tens of millions of Facebook users for voter profiling and targeting. The Commission also settled related charges against the company’s former CEO and an app developer for their use of deceptive tactics.
In its case against Equifax, Inc., the FTC alleged that the company did not secure the massive amount of personal information stored on its network, leading to the 2017 data breach that exposed the personal information of 147 million people. Under a global settlement that includes the CFPB and states, Equifax will pay at least $575 million, and up to $700 million.
Auto dealer software provider LightYear Dealer Technologies, LLC—doing business as DealerBuilt—settled the FTC’s charges that it allegedly did not take reasonable, readily available, and low-cost steps to secure consumers’ data, leading to a breach that exposed the personal information of about 12.5 million consumers.
Under the terms of its settlement with the FTC, technology company InfoTrax Systems, L.C. will implement a comprehensive data security program to resolve allegations that the company didn’t have security safeguards in place, which allowed a hacker to access the personal information of a million consumers. The FTC also brought charges against 12 companies that allegedly misrepresented their participation in the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework, which enables companies to transfer consumer data legally from EU countries to the United States. In 2019, 11 of the cases settled: One in June, five in September, one in November, and four in December. The case against RagingWire Data Centers, Inc. is ongoing.
The Commission continued its initiatives to protect children’s privacy through rigorous enforcement of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Google LLC and its subsidiary YouTube, LLC paid a record $170 million to settle allegations that the video-sharing platform illegally collected personal information from children without their parents’ consent, in violation of COPPA. Under the terms of the settlement, the companies paid $34 million to the NY AG and $136 million to the FTC, the largest amount the FTC has ever obtained in a COPPA case.
In another of the FTC’s largest COPPA civil penalty cases, the operators of the video social networking app Musical.ly—now known as TikTok—paid $5.7 million to settle allegations that the company illegally collected personal information from children.
In its first action against a marketer of stalking apps, the FTC barred Retina-X Studios, LLC from selling apps that monitor consumers’ mobile devices unless the company takes certain steps to ensure the apps will only be used for legitimate purposes. The settlement resolves allegations that these apps compromised the privacy and security of the consumer devices on which they were installed.
Industrial and Manufactured Goods
The Commission also works to maintain competitive markets for industrial and manufactured goods. In 2019, the Commission took action to preserve competition for several types of machine oils used to make aluminum, tin, and steel. However, the Commission was unsuccessful in gaining a preliminary injunction to prevent a merger between two producers of hydrogen peroxide after a federal district court allowed the merger to proceed despite Commission concerns that the merger would harm competition. Specifically, the Commission alleged that the merger would increase the likelihood of coordination in a market already vulnerable to coordination and with a long history of price-fixing. The Commission also alleged that the merger would eliminate significant direct competition between the merging firms in the Pacific Northwest and southern and central United States. The Commission alleged that the merger would eliminate significant direct competition between the merging firms and would increase the likelihood of coordination in the Pacific Northwest and southern and central United States. Although the parties agreed to divest its plant servicing the Pacific Northwest, the district court allowed the parties to consummate their acquisition of the plant servicing the southern and center United States.
Promoting competitive energy markets is another Commission priority. In September, the Commission imposed conditions on a joint venture’s acquisition of a pipeline serving the Toledo, Ohio area. Joint venture NEXUS Gas Transmission, LLC agreed to buy Generation Pipeline LLC, a 23-mile pipeline in the Toledo area, from a group of sellers for $160 million. The Commission alleged the agreement was anticompetitive due to a non-compete clause that would have prevented one seller from competing to provide natural gas pipeline transportation within a three-county Ohio area for three years. According to the complaint, the clause eliminated actual and potential competition for natural gas pipeline transportation between the seller and any other pipeline competitor in the market, and was not reasonably limited in scope to protect a legitimate business interest. To preserve this important competition, the Commission required the parties to remove the non-compete clause from their agreement and barred them from entering similarly anticompetitive agreements with their pipeline competitors in the market.
International Law Enforcement
The FTC cooperates on investigations and enforcement with competition, consumer protection, and privacy agencies around the world to halt deceptive, unfair, and anticompetitive business practices that affect U.S. consumers.
In 2019, the FTC cooperated on over 30 merger and anticompetitive conduct cases of mutual concern with international counterpart agencies, including in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, the European Union, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom (U.K.). Such cooperation facilitated consistent approaches and outcomes by the FTC and other investigating authorities, including with regard to cases involving high tech markets and novel issues. For example, the FTC, the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), and the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore cooperated in their investigations of Illumina, Inc./Pacific Biosciences of California, Inc. concerning nascent competition in the market for next-generation DNA sequencing systems. The parties abandoned the transaction due to the agencies’ competition concerns. In the investigation of Boston Scientific/BTG plc, following cooperation with the FTC, Spain’s competition agency closed its investigation and cleared the transaction subject to Boston Scientific fulfilling the terms of the FTC’s consent order, thereby avoiding duplicative remedial and monitoring obligations.
To further promote collaboration on cross-border competition cases, the FTC exchanges experience and enforcement techniques with its counterpart agencies through bilateral engagement, technical assistance, and participation in multilateral fora. In October 2019, for example, the heads of the antitrust agencies of the United States, Canada, and Mexico exchanged views on enforcement and policy priorities, while senior merger case handlers met to address merger investigative process and techniques. During 2019, senior FTC officials also held bilateral discussions with counterparts in the EC Directorate General for Competition (DG COMP), the CMA, and the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) on competition enforcement issues in the digital economy. Through the FTC’s technical assistance program, staff provided investigative training to case teams, including staff of the Competition Commission of India (CCI), on effective enforcement in technology markets. FTC officials also participated in hands-on workshops of the International Competition Network (ICN) on topics such as merger investigation and analysis, and the evaluation of single firm conduct.
In the consumer protection area, the FTC engaged in enforcement-related mutual assistance with foreign agencies or multilateral organizations in 50 matters. The assistance included using the FTC’s powers under the U.S. SAFE WEB Act to obtain information for and share information with foreign authorities in investigations ranging from government imposter to romance to cryptocurrency scams, as well as privacy and data breach investigations. One highlight was the FTC’s use of the U.S. SAFE WEB Act’s information-sharing powers to collaborate successfully with the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office in the FTC’s investigation into Cambridge Analytica, LLC’s use of deceptive tactics to harvest personal information from tens of millions of Facebook users for voter profiling and targeting. In its Opinion and Order, the Commission also found that the company engaged in deceptive practices relating to its participation in the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework.
The FTC also worked on joint enforcement-related projects with foreign counterparts through the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN), the Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN), the Unsolicited Communications Working Group (UCENet), and the International Mass Marketing Fraud Working Group (IMMFWG), which the FTC co-chairs along with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.K. law enforcement agencies. The FTC continued to support enforcement efforts to combat sweepstakes fraud, including through complaint-sharing with international enforcement authorities. The FTC also worked with its IMMFWG counterparts to coordinate investigations and develop a comprehensive tech support fraud consumer education campaign in the recently announced elder fraud and tech support takedown sweep led by DOJ. Alongside this effort, the agency conducted several trainings and roundtables in the U.S. and India to promote enhanced technological defenses, help develop the capacity of Indian law enforcement to address tech support and other impostor scams, and coordinate further with its international counterparts.
The FTC also entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to facilitate information-sharing and enforcement cooperation on consumer protection matters with the CMA. The MOU recognizes the long-standing partnership between the two agencies and provides for enhanced cooperation in the future. The MOU streamlines sharing investigative information and complaint data, simplifies requests for investigative assistance, and facilitates joint law enforcement investigations. It also provides strong and clear confidentiality and data safeguards.
The FTC brought, or continued to litigate, several significant enforcement actions involving large-scale international frauds. These include new lawsuits against a Canadian-based operation, Educare Centre Services, Inc., which sold sham credit card interest rate reduction services to U.S. consumers through Dominican Republic-based telemarketers, and also used a Canada-based VoIP provider, Globex Telecomm, Inc., to make illegal robocalls. The FTC also took action against payment processor Allied Wallet, Inc. which, through intertwined U.S. and U.K.-based entities, assisted numerous scams, including the global business coaching scams MOBE Ltd. and Digital Altitude LLC, by knowingly processing fraudulent transactions to consumers’ accounts. The FTC also added Latvian defendants to its case against Apex Capital Group LLC and continued litigation involving the Sanctuary Belize overseas real estate investment scam, including a Belizean-based bank that paid $23 million to settle the FTC’s charges that it substantially assisted various U.S. and foreign individuals and entities that defrauded U.S. consumers. In these and many other cases, the Commission relied on the U.S. SAFE WEB Act’s provisions that allow the FTC to reach foreign conduct that has a “reasonably foreseeable” effect on U.S. consumers or that involves “material conduct” in the U.S. as the basis for challenging practices involving international defendants.
In addition, the FTC continued to add enforcers and make improvements to econsumer.gov, an ICPEN project that gathers and shares cross-border consumer complaints. It features a public website for consumers in eight languages and an enforcement portal that provides participating consumer authorities with access to more than 390,000 consumer complaints, from econsumer.gov and elsewhere, about cross-border transactions. The agency, together with foreign counterparts, has also pursued a social media campaign encouraging consumers to report cross-border complaints on such topics as online shopping and travel scams.
Finally, through its International Fellows Program, the FTC brought 13 foreign officials from competition and consumer protection agencies in Australia, Canada, Ecuador, The Gambia, India, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, Ukraine, and the U.K. to work alongside FTC staff, providing the Fellows with a deep understanding of FTC practices and approaches.