Last month, the Supreme Court of Maryland delivered a pivotal ruling defining the scope of the Maryland Telephone Solicitations Act (MTSA), holding that the act extended to inbound calls initiated by consumers who engaged with merchant advertisements. The Maryland Supreme Court also confirmed that the Maryland Public Service Commission can enforce the MTSA against covered entities.

The case, In the Matter of Smart Energy Holdings, LLC D/B/A SmartEnergy, originated in response to customer complaints to the Public Service Commission’s Consumer Affairs Division (CAD) alleging that their bills were excessive and that they were unable to cancel their service with SmartEnergy, a provider of 100% green energy. After proceedings before an administrative law judge, the Public Service Commission held:Continue Reading The Power of Customer Calls: Maryland Supreme Court Upholds Public Service Commission’s Interpretation of the Maryland Telephone Solicitations Act

On Tuesday, February 13, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held an informal hearing regarding the Proposed Rule on the Use of Consumer Reviews and Testimonials. Three interested parties each had the opportunity to submit 30 minutes of oral commentary on the proposed rule and generally voiced concerns about the rule’s ability to address the issues surrounding consumer reviews.

The FTC’s proposed rule seeks to prohibit certain unfair or deceptive acts involving consumer reviews and testimonials. Specifically, it would prohibit buying positive reviews, selling or obtaining fake reviews, suppression of negative reviews, and selling fake social media indicators. Perhaps most importantly, if the rule becomes final, the FTC would be able to seek civil penalties against those engaged in violative review and testimonial practices. Previously, the FTC has only been able to obtain injunctive relief when combating fake reviews, and would have to rely on state attorneys general to join a suit to obtain monetary relief.Continue Reading FTC Contemplates Rule Aimed at Combating Deceptive Consumer Reviews

Join us over the next few months as we spotlight select chapters of Venable’s popular Advertising Law Tool Kit, which helps marketing teams navigate their organization’s legal risk. Click here to download the entire Tool Kit, and tune in to the Ad Law Tool Kit Show podcast, to hear the authors of this chapter dive deeper into the issue of product safety and recalls in this week’s episode

On rare occasions, notwithstanding the best of engineering design and testing, a consumer product contains a manufacturing or design defect, or a failure of adequate instructions, that results in its being unsafe for use and a potential for causing bodily harm. This most often reveals itself when consumers bring the matter to the attention of a manufacturer, retailer, or direct-response marketer, or upon receipt of a notice from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).Continue Reading Product Safety and Recalls: An Excerpt from the Advertising Law Tool Kit

If your business offers a loyalty program in conjunction with a gift card, you likely already know that Section 520-e of New York’s General Business Law took effect December 10, 2023. This new law gives consumers a set grace period to use their credit card reward points when certain changes (e.g., modification, cancellation, closure, or termination) are made to a “reward, loyalty, or other incentive program.”

Specifically, under the new law, “[i]f any credit card account or rewards program is modified, cancelled, closed or terminated,” the issuer must provide notice to the card holder as soon as possible, but no later than 45 days of the action. Then, unless the customer has engaged in fraud or misuse of the account, starting with the date on which the notice is sent, the holder shall have 90 days to redeem, exchange, or otherwise use any accumulated credit card points, subject to the availability of rewards.

The new provision defines “modification,” as one that has the effect of “eliminating points, reducing the value of points, affecting the ability of a holder to accumulate points, limiting or reducing rewards availability, limiting a holder’s use of points or the credit card account, otherwise diminishing the value of the rewards program or the credit card account to the holder or changing the obligations of the holder with respect to the rewards program or credit card account.”Continue Reading Reminder: New York’s Credit Card Reward and Loyalty Program Law Is Now in Effect

In March, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asked for comments on a proposal to replace the Prenotification Negative Option Rule with a more expansive Negative Option Rule. Now that the FTC has had the chance to review those comments, the FTC has set an informal hearing to allow for testimony from six of the over 1,000 commenters.

Each presenter will be limited to ten minutes but can supplement their remarks with written content. The FTC has appointed Carol Fox Foelak, an administrative law judge at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to serve as presiding officer.Continue Reading New Year, New Rule: FTC to Review Updates to Negative Option Rule During January Informal Hearing

This week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a Proposed Rule, “Rule on Unfair or Deceptive Fees.” The Proposed Rule comes after the FTC solicited comments through its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in November 2022. The Proposed Rule would cover any business selling in physical locations and online. There is one exception for motor vehicle dealers, which is addressed in a separate rule. The below requirements apply to businesses regardless of whether they are providing the goods or services themselves (e.g., an online travel agent advertising for a hotel chain).

The FTC broadly identified two practices that it intends to regulate: (1) omitting mandatory charges and fees from advertised prices; and (2) misrepresenting the nature and purpose of the charges or fees.Continue Reading FTC Releases Proposed Rule Targeting “Junk” Fees

On October 3, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Community Financial Services Association of America, Limited, where the Court is reviewing the Fifth Circuit’s opinion that struck down the Payday Lending Rule because the Fifth Circuit found that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (the “Bureau”) funding structure is unconstitutional. While the Fifth Circuit decision was limited to the Payday Lending Rule, a ruling upholding the Fifth Circuit’s decision would have severe ramifications for the Bureau and could potentially lead to the demise of the agency without congressional action.

As a refresher, the Fifth Circuit held that the Bureau’s “unique” funding structure violates Article I of the Constitution—vesting Congress with appropriation power—because the agency is not funded through congressional appropriations. Rather, the Bureau receives its funding from the Federal Reserve, which is funded through bank assessments. In short, the Fifth Circuit found that Congress had abdicated its “power of the purse” and had run afoul of the nondelegation doctrine where it has no involvement in the CFPB’s ongoing funding.Continue Reading C[FPB] You Later? Agency’s Future Hangs in the Balance After Oral Argument

On September 19, Sam Levine, the director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, outlined the agency’s priorities at the annual conference of the National Advertising Division. Here are the highlights:

Levine outlined three pillars of the enforcement agenda:

  • Focus on the practices that cause the most consumer harm
  • Obtain relief that not only halts the violative conduct but also changes incentives to engage in such conduct in the future
  • Use tools beyond case-by-case enforcement to change behavior (think rule making)

After also noting that the pace of enforcement at the FTC had increased, Levine then focused on some substantive areas of concern, starting with junk fees and dark patterns.Continue Reading FTC Consumer Protection Chief Sam Levine Outlines FTC Priorities at the NAD Conference

As we covered previously, courts are coming around to reading Section 19 of the FTC Act more narrowly than the Federal Trade Commission may hope. In the latest instance, on June 9, 2023, a magistrate judge in the Southern District of Texas issued a report and recommendation rejecting the FTC’s claim for consumer redress, even after finding there was consumer injury. The report and recommendation were adopted by the district judge on August 3.

In Federal Trade Commission v. Zaappaaz, LLC, the FTC argued at summary judgement, and the court agreed, that the defendants violated the Merchandise Rule by falsely advertising shipping speeds of personal protective equipment and refusing to offer refunds. For these rule violations, the FTC further argued that the appropriate measure of consumer redress under Section 19 was net revenue of the PPE sales—$37,549,472.14. In denying the FTC’s request for net revenue, the court distinguished between requiring the agency to demonstrate individual reliance as a means of proving consumer injury and the amount of compensation necessary to redress that consumer injury.Continue Reading Following Noland: Another District Court Tightens the Reins on the Scope of Consumer Redress

Last week, the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture proposing a $20 million forfeiture, essentially a fine, against two telecommunications service providers for failing to properly authenticate customers’ identity before providing online access to Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI). CPNI includes sensitive data, such as called phone numbers, the length and time of calls, and service features. FCC rules mandate that companies handling such information use “reasonable measures” to guard access to CPNI.

Because it would be easy for third parties to impersonate customers and gain access to their CPNI, FCC rules prohibit the use of readily available biographical information or account information. “Readily available biographical information” includes “information drawn from the customer’s life history and includes such things as the customer’s social security number . . . mother’s maiden name; home address; or date of birth.” Account information is “information that is specifically connected to the customer’s service relationship with the carrier, including such things as an account number or any component thereof, the telephone number associated with the account, or the bill’s amount.” FCC rules thus requires service providers to authenticate customer identity without the use of the above information and then require a password.Continue Reading FCC Proposes $20 Million Forfeiture Against Telecommunications Service Providers for Failing to Protect User Data