FOR THE CONSUMER
The FTC's monthly newsletter for the Congressional community
It's the news you - and your constituents - can use.
Volume 8- Number 10
IN THIS ISSUE
LOAN MOD SQUAD. The FTC announced two more actions in its ongoing crackdown on mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification scams. The Commission has filed 22 of these cases since the housing crisis began. The announcement was made at a meeting of FTC Chairman Leibowitz, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and twelve state attorneys general who discussed emerging fraud trends in the mortgage marketplace. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/09/loanmods.shtm.
AIRSHIELD. National retailer CVS Pharmacy, Inc., will pay nearly $2.8 million in consumer refunds to settle FTC charges that claims for its “AirShield” dietary supplements were misleading. CVS’ promotions said the product could protect against catching colds in crowded places, such as schools, airplanes, offices, health clubs, theaters, or restaurants. CVS marketed AirShield products by touting their similarity to widely advertised “Airborne,” which settled FTC charges last year for making the same kind of misleading claims. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/09/cvs.shtm.
PAYDAY LOANS. An Internet payday lending operation will pay $1 million to settle charges by the FTC and the State of Nevada that it failed to disclose key loan terms and used unlawful debt collection tactics. According to the FTC, Cash Today, Ltd., and its affiliates told borrowers that the loans had to be repaid by their next payday with a fee of up to $80, or the loans would be extended automatically for an extra fee debited from borrowers’ bank accounts until the loans were repaid. The defendants allegedly threatened borrowers with arrest and legal action, used abusive and profane language in phone calls to them, and improperly disclosed their debts to third parties. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/09/cash.shtm.
COURT: GIVE UP YOUR HOUSE. At the request of the FTC, the operator of a business opportunity scam has been held in contempt for the second time by a federal court and ordered to turn over the title to his home or face jail time. The court found that Richard C. Neiswonger violated a previous court order entering a $3.2 million judgment against him for deceiving consumers with false promises that they could make a six-figure income by selling his services to people trying to hide their assets from potential lawsuits or creditors. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/09/neiswonger.shtm.
ROAD BLOCK. The FTC intervened in a proposed $1.68 billion merger to preserve competition for road salt sales to local governments in Maine and Connecticut. The FTC charged that K+S Aktiengesellschaft’s proposed acquisition of Morton International, Inc., would combine the two primary bidders and lead to higher process for bulk de-icing salt. An FTC order requires K+S to sell its bulk de-icing salt assets in the two states to FTC-approved buyers. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/09/mortonsalt.shtm.
NEGATIVE OPTION. The agency has reopened the public comment period until October 13. Prenotification negative option plans --- for instance, clubs for members to buy books or CDs --- send people periodic notices that merchandise will be delivered unless they decline the items within a set time. Press release: www2.ftc.gov/opa/2009/08/nor.shtm.
BROADBAND. The FTC has filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concerning their development of a National Broadband Plan to ensure that every American has access to broadband capability. The FTC pointed out that competition pressures producers and service providers to offer customers the most attractive array of choices with respect to price, quality and other options. Consumer protections — meaningful and timely disclosures of service terms by broadband providers and strong data security policies — are essential to foster greater adoption of broadband. Privacy protections are particularly important, given new technologies that allow broadband providers to track peoples’ online activities, to identify the source and content of much of the data they handle, and to manage that data in increasingly sophisticated ways, such as delivering targeted advertising online. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/09/fccnbp.shtm.
The FTC testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that the agency is working to protect consumers from fraudulent schemes claiming to give out guaranteed grants from the economic stimulus program, and from other frauds exploiting people who are struggling due to the economic downturn. The FTC and state and federal partners collectively have filed 389 law enforcement actions in FTC-led sweeps targeting “stimulus fraud”during the last six months. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/09/stimulus.shtm.
CHARITY CHECKLIST. Offers precautions to ensure that your donation dollars benefit the people and organizations you want to help. www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt114.shtm.
NEW RULES FOR ROBOCALLS. Explains that most businesses now need your written permission before they can call you with prerecorded telemarketing messages, also known as robocalls. Businesses must tell you how you can opt-out of future calls using an automated system. 8.5”x11”, 2 pages. www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt162.shtm.
HOW TO STEER CLEAR OF AUTO WARRANTY SCAMS. Cautions auto owners to be skeptical of mail and phone calls warning that their car warranty is about to expire and offering high cost service contracts. 8.5"x11", 2 pages. www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt155.shtm.
WEATHERING THE HIGH COST OF HEATING YOUR HOME. Offers tips to help homeowners save money staying warm in winter and explains the EnergyGuide label required on furnaces, boilers and heat pumps to compare the energy efficiency of various models. 8.5"x11", 3 pages.
DEBT FORUM. The FTC will host a public forum November 4 to discuss recently proposed rules to fight deceptive and abusive telemarketing of debt relief services that supposedly can reduce peoples’ credit card and other unsecured debt. The forum will be held at 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20850. Press release: www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/08/tsrforum.shtm.
The following events, which are free and open to the public, will be held at the FTC Conference Center at 601 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC. A live webcast will be available at www.ftc.gov.
FUTURE OF NEWS MEDIA. The FTC will hold workshops on Dec. 1-3 about the future of the news media in the internet age, titled "From Town Criers to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?" Participants, including journalists, representatives of news and new media organizations, privacy experts, direct marketers, online advertisers, academics, and consumer advocates will examine the economics of journalism, possible business and non-profit models for news organizations, the role of targeted behavioral and other online advertising, and whether any governmental actions might be advisable, such as changes in the tax code, or additional copyright protection or limited antitrust exemptions. For more information and to comment, visit www.ftc.gov/opp/workshops/news/index.shtml.
MERGER GUIDELINES. The FTC and U.S. Department of Justice are seeking public comments and will hold five joint public workshops to explore the possibility of updating the Horizontal Merger Guidelines that are used by both agencies to evaluate the potential competitive effects of mergers and acquisitions. The first workshop will be held December 3. For more information, visit www.ftc.gov/bc/workshops/hmg/index.shtml.
PRIVACY ROUNDTABLES. The FTC will host a series of public roundtables to explore the privacy challenges posed by social networking, cloud computing, online behavioral advertising, mobile marketing, and the collection and use of information by retailers, data brokers, third-party applications, and other diverse businesses. Participants — academics, privacy experts, consumer advocates, industry participants and others — will discuss the risks and benefits of information collection and use in online and offline contexts, consumer expectations surrounding various information management practices, and the adequacy of existing regimes to address privacy interests. The first roundtable will be held December 7. For information about participating as a panelist, submitting an agenda topic, and a list of discussion questions, visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/privacyroundtables/index.shtml.
Most teens who drink get alcohol from “social sources” — at parties, from older friends, and from their parents’ cabinets. Teen drinking is linked to injury and risky behavior, often with disastrous results. The FTC’s website, www.dontserveteens.gov, provides parents and others with tools and information to reduce teen drinking and related harm. In its annual effort to keep alcohol out of the hands of teens, the FTC and a coalition of public and private organizations are distributing campaign materials in stores where alcohol is sold. All materials are available in English and Spanish. Reducing teens’ easy access to alcohol can reduce teen drinking. Your member can help reach this goal: post this message on your member’s website and use the campaign materials to get the word out in your district. Learn more at www.dontserveteens.gov/.
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