Here is another one of my homework assignments for Media Organization and Regulations class. Please read it if you are interested in preventing financial abuse to yourself or others. Some of this information you probably know but it never hurts to have a refresher on such a critical issue. This paper has been graded but I haven’t changed anything since turning it in yet. I’ll update these comments if I do so later.
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Geri L. Dreiling, J.D.
MEDC 5350: Media Organization Regulations
13 December 2020
Dealing with Deceptive and Unfair Messages
The Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, has the authority based on Section 5(a) of the FTC Act to protect citizens from unfair or deceptive commercial messages. A message is considered deceptive if it is likely to mislead a reasonable consumer (“A Brief Overview…”). An unfair practice is one that causes or is likely to cause “substantial injury” which consumers cannot reasonably avoid and there are no “countervailing benefits” to justify it (“A Brief Overview…”).
The first line of defense for consumers is information. The FTC provides a web page with information to help consumers recognize deceptive messages as well as tips on what actions to take if they receive such a message (“How to Recognize…”). Blocking and reporting messages are recommended strategies. The FTC recommends reporting SPAM messages to the app the consumer is using, as well as to the FTC. The FTC investigates complaints and if unlawful activities are found, the FTC will take administrative or judicial action which may eventually result in civil penalties (“A Brief Overview…”).
An example of one case brought by the FTC to get justice and relief for victimized consumers is Federal Trade Commission vs. Ecommerce Merchants, LLC and Cresta Pillsbury, Jan-Paul Diaz, Joshua Brewer and Daniel Stanitski (Federal Trade Commission… 1). The FTC alleged that the defendants were guilty of sending 30 million unwanted SPAM messages that were not only unwanted but deceptive (Federal Trade Commission… 5-6). Just receiving the unwanted messages was financially damaging to the consumers who according to their service contracts possibly had to pay or use credits to receive the messages (Federal Trade Commission… 7). Monies that the deceptive messages generated for the defendants was deemed by the FTC to be unfair and the defendants likely to continue to offend (Federal Trade Commission… 9).
The FTC petitioned for the following actions (Federal Trade Commission… 9-10):
- That the activity cease while the case is pending, the assets preserved and accounting performed.
- The defendants be permanently banned from sending these messages.
- The injured consumers be released from contracts, be paid restitution and refunds, and fraudulently obtained monies be confiscated from the defendants.
- Repayment of court costs and other expenses deemed necessary by the court by the defendants to the plaintiff.
If implemented, it is my opinion that the above should adequately punish the offenders and repay the consumers if the victims are allowed to collect not only for the dollar value of what they lost but other expenses such as the time they spent dealing with and documenting the problem. The consumers should also be made whole if they had to pay late fees, have their credit score damaged or other such losses that can occur when a financial problem starts snowballing.
A weakness in this kind of enforcement is apparent when consumers are victimized by international scams. An organization called econsumer.gov, an initiative of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), attempts to unite consumer protection agencies from around the world to fight international scams. With only 40 countries participating, obviously there are many countries that do not cooperate. I think we should consider not allowing messages from countries that don’t participate in this or some similar international anti-fraud program to be sent to US-based text or email addresses.
“About Us.” International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), 2020, econsumer.gov/en/Home/About/3#crnt. Accessed 13 December 2020.
“A Brief Overview of the Federal Trade Commission’s Investigative, Law Enforcement, and Rulemaking Authority.” Federal Trade Commission, 2019, www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/what-we-do/enforcement-authority. Accessed 13 December 2020.
Federal Trade Commission vs. Ecommerce Merchants, LLC and Defendants. 1:13-cv-01534. 2013. www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cases/2013/03/130307superiorcmpt.pdf. Accessed 13 December 2020.
“How to Recognize and Report Spam Text Messages.” Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information, 2020, www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-recognize-and-report-spam-text-messages. Accessed 13 December 2020.
Trager, Robert Susan Dente Ross and Amy Reynolds. The law of journalism and mass communication. Sixth Edition. SAGE Publications, Inc. 2018.