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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

FTC takes action against investment advisor, cites violations of Notice of Penalty Offenses

Federal Issues Enforcement FTC FTC Act ROSCA UDAP Deceptive

Federal Issues

On January 13, the FTC announced an action against an investment advisor and its owners concerning allegations that the defendants made deceptive claims when selling their services to consumers. While the FTC has brought “several cases” concerning false money-making claims, the action marks the first time the FTC is collecting civil money penalties from cases relating to Notice of Penalty Offenses. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC sent the notice to more than 1,100 companies (including the defendants) warning that they may incur significant civil penalties if they or their representatives make claims regarding money-making opportunities that run counter to FTC administrative cases. Under the Notice of Penalty Offenses, the FTC is permitted to seek civil penalties against a company that engages in conduct it knows is unlawful and has been determined to be unlawful in an FTC administrative order. This action is also the first time the FTC has imposed civil penalties for violations of the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA).

According to the complaint, the defendants made numerous misleading claims when selling their investment advising services, including that (i) recommendations about the services were based on a specific “system” or “strategy” created by so-called experts who claim to have made numerous successful trades; and (ii) consumers would make substantial profits if they followed the recommended trades (consumers actually lost large amounts of money, the FTC alleged). Moreover, the FTC claimed that company disclaimers “directly contradict the message conveyed by their marketing,” including that featured testimonials and example trade profits “represent extraordinary, not typical results,” “that ‘[n]o representation is being made that any account will or is likely to achieve profits or losses similar to those discussed,’ and that ‘[n]o representation or implication is being made that using the methodology or system will generate profits or ensure freedom from losses.’” By making these, as well as other, deceptive claims, the defendants were found to be in violation of the Notice of Penalty Offenses, ROSCA, and the FTC Act, the Commission said.

Under the terms of the proposed order, the defendants would be required to surrender more than $1.2 million as monetary relief and must pay a $500,000 civil money penalty. The defendants would also have to back up any earnings claims, provide notice to consumers about the litigation and the court order, and inform consumers about what they need to know before purchasing an investment-related service.