For those of you not living or working in or near Washington DC, the moving trucks have arrived at the White House, the porta potties, security barriers and bleachers are in place. The transfer of power is about to take place. And we have one more item on our wish list for the new FTC.
The FTC creates educational materials that are second to none (and if you’ve ever tried to read an IRS Tax Publication you know what we are talking about.) On the business side, we love the FTC’s blog and we sometimes wonder whether the various business guides won’t eventually turn outside counsel into potted plants. On the consumer side there are an abundance of resources, including consumer friendly guides, videos and Spanish language materials. Yet, every year millions of Americans fall prey to outright fraud or marketing schemes that they should realize are too good to be true, and the FTC devotes time and energy to putting these folks out of business. We staff a local consumer law resource center once a month and we hear lots of these stories first hand. No doubt many of these individuals are part of the most vulnerable populations and probably don’t check out potential vendors online or even realize that other online resources are available.Is there more that can be done to reach such folks directly? On the business side we’ve seen firsthand how the FTC meets with and speaks directly to advertisers, and we think that’s very effective in getting the intended message across. Doing this is more challenging on the consumer side – there aren’t, for example, annual conferences of gullible consumers. And we’d be the first to admit that we don’t know the full extent of the Commission’s consumer outreach activities. Nevertheless, having made that disclosure, we wonder if it isn’t worth thinking about whether there is still more that can be done; things like additional partnering with local community or civic groups or even State AGs or county DAs to try to bring the message directly to those most likely to be targeted. Much like drugs, if you can begin to limit demand it can restrict the proliferation of such schemes and not drag down the reputations of legitimate businesses in those spaces. As we’ve said before, we know that neither time nor resources are likely to magically grow in the next four years but perhaps this is an area worth squeezing out a few more hours and dollars.