The Commission’s consumer and business education program is a critical part of the agency’s consumer protection mission. The program produces and distributes actionable, practical, plain-language guidance on dozens of issues and reaches tens of millions of people each year through the FTC’s website, the media, and partner organizations. In 2020, the Consumer Center blog published 470 consumer blog posts (243 in English, 227 in Spanish) sent to more than 367,000 subscribers: more than 312,000 in English and 55,000 in Spanish. The FTC’s blog posts from 2020 (in English) logged more than 7.9 million views. Last year, the FTC’s consumer and business education videos (in English & Spanish) were viewed two million times on the Consumer Center, Business Center, and the FTC’s YouTube channel.
As early as the beginning of February 2020, the FTC began educating consumers about scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic and since that time, developed a multimedia campaign with a dedicated website. The FTC’s Coronavirus webpage contains a library of more than 100 consumer and business posts and scam alerts on topics ranging from stimulus payments and health claims to charity fraud, government imposter scams, as well as misinformation and rumors. Of the posts penned last year, the most popular post was Checks from the government (published March 2020). The post, which logged 1,605,395 views, reminded people that the government would not ask them to pay or share sensitive information to get a stimulus payment. The webpage also includes free one-page infographics that other organizations can share with consumers. FTC staff regularly updates the page, linking to related consumer and business alerts, law enforcement actions, consumer report data, and other details about the FTC’s efforts to educate consumers and combat scams related to COVID-19.
In response to the pandemic, FTC staff also has conducted national and local outreach with partners to reach a variety of audiences, including older consumers, ethnic media, housing organizations, re-entry groups, library patrons, and the military community by using webinars, tele-town halls, Twitter chats, Facebook Live events, as well as interviews with local and national media. During the pandemic, FTC staff have participated in hundreds of virtual webinars, presentations, and interviews — in English, Spanish, and Mandarin.
In its other work, the FTC expanded its Stop Gift Card Scams campaign to give retailers, industry associations, and state and local law enforcement agencies a new toolkit to help them protect people against gift card scams. The toolkit includes materials to alert customers buying gift cards about possible fraud: a carousel or display rack sign, an infographic card for cashiers, a bookmark for customers to take away, and a sticker for retail windows or a checkout counter. These resources are available in English or Spanish. Anyone can download, print, and hand them out. People also can share tips about avoiding these scams in messages sent directly to customers or by posting the tips on social media.
The FTC created resources in English and Spanish to alert people to the importance of emergency preparedness, particularly during the pandemic. The FTC developed and promoted free resources as the Atlantic hurricane season got underway, including: a mobile-friendly site, ftc.gov/weatheremergencies; a new blog post, Hurricane Season 2020 and COVID-19 with helpful tips on how to prepare during a pandemic; a new infographic to share on social media; and a one-page handout, Picking Up The Pieces After a Disaster, with space for local groups to customize. The handout has tips on avoiding common post-disaster scams, protecting personal information, and getting back on your feet financially. Partners can customize the piece with local consumer protection and emergency service contacts, print or email the customized copies, and distribute them throughout their communities.
In 2020, the FTC also continued collaborating with its robust network of outreach partners through promotions that included National Consumer Protection Week, Tax Identity Theft Week, Financial Literacy Month, Military Consumer Month, and National Small Business Week.
The Commission also keeps businesses up-to-date on their rights and responsibilities. In 2020, the FTC’s Business Center blog — with 101,471 subscribers — featured 144 blog posts for businesspeople and attorneys. During the same period, the public ordered more than 309,000 copies of 17 business publications (in English and Spanish).
The FTC’s Business Center blog published information warning businesses about COVID-related frauds even before the ramifications of the pandemic were widely recognized, including posts about Coronavirus scams targeting business, how to avoid scammers when applying for Coronavirus-related SBA loans, the first FTC case alleging a phony SBA connection, and posts announcing each new round of warning letters to further encourage compliance with the law.
The FTC and its regional partners in Cleveland, Ohio, also hosted a virtual workshop to discuss advertising and data security basics for small businesses. The Green Lights & Red Flags: FTC Rules of the Road for Business workshop brought together Ohio business owners and marketing executives with national and state legal experts to provide practical insights to business and legal professionals about how established consumer protection principles apply in today’s fast-paced marketplace.