FTC highlights Covid-19 consumer protection efforts
On April 19, the FTC issued a staff report highlighting the Commission’s efforts to protect consumers during the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. The report addresses hardships consumers face during the pandemic and identifies the Commission’s priorities to tackle Covid-19-associated fraud and other consumer issues using “sophisticated targeting, aggressive law enforcement, and ongoing partnership and outreach.” The report highlights the FTC’s efforts through consumer and business education, including sending out consumer alerts about Covid-19 scams, reminding businesses about their responsibilities regarding honest advertising, and alerting companies about scams targeting them. The report also highlights the Commission’s efforts to protect consumers during the Covid-19 pandemic, including: (i) filing 13 enforcement actions against companies that, among other things, “made deceptive health or earnings claims”; (ii) ordering over 350 companies to remove deceptive Covid-19-related claims concerning treatments, potential earnings, and financial relief for small business and students, and warning companies that it is also illegal to facilitate deceptive Covid-19 calls; (iii) prioritizing privacy enforcement actions related to certain types of conduct “exacerbated in the transformation to digital work and schooling, including videoconferencing, ed-tech and health-tech”; (iv) collecting and tracking over 436,000 reports related to Covid-19 between January 2020 and April 2021 where consumers reported $399 million in fraud losses; and (v) issuing more than 100 Covid-19-related consumer and business alerts. In addition, the report notes that the Commission implemented systems to “track and alert the public to shifts in reports from consumers, launched a public dashboard providing information on reports associated with COVID-19, and used COVID-19-related reports to identify law enforcement targets.”
The FTC also briefed lawmakers on these efforts in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee on April 20. During the testimony, the FTC highlighted its efforts to help consumers facing major challenges as a result of Covid-19 and requested that Congress “affirm the FTC’s authority to return money to consumers using Section 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission.” The testimony noted that the FTC has issued enforcement actions against those who have communicated deceptive Covid-19 claims, engaged in consumer and business education and outreach, and collected millions of reports from the public on fraud, identity theft, and other consumer problems. The testimony also highlighted the FTC’s partnership with the CFPB to ensure renters are not subjected to unlawful eviction practices (covered by InfoBytes here).