On September 20, 2018, the FTC and Utah Department of Commerce held a symposium in Salt Lake City, Utah, discussing, among other things, how the two work together to combat consumer fraud in various areas. The panels provided a unique insight into how law enforcement agencies coordinate and their respective priorities. Below are two key takeaways from the various panels.
- State and Federal Agencies Are Working Together
Although it may seem like no one is getting along these days, there continues to be a significant degree of coordination and cooperation between the federal government and state counterparts to achieve the common goal of battling consumer fraud. Agencies are forming partnerships to better understand vulnerable areas for consumers and better situate themselves to obtain the most consumer redress. Some groups, such as the Investment Fraud Working Group, which comprises both federal and state agencies, meet formally every quarter to discuss strategic plans. For example, as a panelist noted, depending on the size of a given case and whether it involves activities crossing state lines, the Utah Department of Commerce may refer a case to the FTC because it can cross state borders and can obtain asset freezes and temporary restraining orders.
- Consumer Complaints Drive Enforcement Actions
Enforcement actions seek to address the problems consumers are facing in two ways: (1) by obtaining redress for consumers already harmed, and (2) by preventing new harm by stopping companies that violate the law and deterring others. Achieving these goals typically requires the imposition of harsh monetary and injunctive relief against the target of an enforcement action—as displayed by the FTC’s recent actions.
Companies that are causing large consumer economic harm are a top priority. The panelists stated that the majority of the consumer complaints Utah Department of Commerce is seeing derive from: internet sales, such as nutraceuticals; home improvement and repair companies; coaching and mentoring; and telemarketing “imposter” schemes (as well as others).
It is unclear what this heightened level of communication between agencies is going to do with regard to the number of enforcement actions and the targeting of certain industry areas. It does seem clear that monitoring and addressing consumer complaints are important to reduce the level of consumer harm. Seeking legal counsel to provide good compliance procedures is essential for companies to help ward off potential enforcement actions.