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FTC and you: Agency works to protect and inform

When the Federal Trade Commission is in the news, you should pay attention. Why? The agency goes to bat for you. As the nation’s consumer protection agency, it works to ensure that companies compete fairly and that individuals and businesses do not trick, mislead or defraud consumers when it comes to advertising, selling and marketing products and services.

According to agency data, financial losses due to fraud increased last year. Consumers reported losing $905 million—$63 million more than in 2016. Adults ages 20 to 29 reported losing money more often than their elders. However, when those age 70 and older lost money, the median amount was much higher. 

Here is some information about the FTC and how you can help further its mission.

The FTC comprises three bureaus that work together. The Bureau of Consumer Protection makes sure individuals, businesses and industries adhere to the law when it comes to advertising, telemarketing, financial practices and information collection, and privacy practices. It conducts investigations, collects consumer com- plaints, writes rules and regulations, educates the public and businesses, and takes legal action against alleged lawbreakers.

The Bureau of Competition guards against anti-competitive mergers and business practices. It investigates violations of the law, challenges possible problems and litigates cases. And the Bureau of Economics provides scientifically sound, data-driven analysis that informs regulation and enforcement policy. Five commissioners lead the agency. No more than three commissioners can be members of the same political party—that of the current administration. The president nominates the commissioners and chooses one to act as chair- person. The FTC is based in Washington, D.C., and has several regional offices across the nation. 

The FTC takes action to halt allegedly illegal practices and challenge anti-competitive mergers. In some cases the agency may get refunds for consumers and businesses that have been harmed. Last year, the Bureau of Consumer Protection Office of Claims and Refunds directed mailings that resulted in nearly $320 million in refunds, and it supported programs administered by FTC defendants to deliver more than $6 billion in refunds.

The FTC investigates individuals, businesses and industries. The FTC discusses potential penalties for breaking the law with an alleged violator and what changes are necessary to avoid future violations. If the parties cannot agree, the FTC can sue to stop the illegal conduct. Whether the FTC and the defendant agree to a settlement or a court orders the party to stop illegal practices, the defendant must act in accordance. The FTC checks up on violators for years and can seek civil penalties for settlement order violations.

You can report fraud, identity theft and unfair, deceptive or misleading business practices to the FTC. Even if you were not the party harmed, you can complain at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

Filing a complaint does not typically result in an immediate response or mean that a problem will be fixed. Complaints help other agencies investigate and take enforcement actions whenever they are warranted. The complaints are kept in a database shared with national and global law-enforcement partners.

The FTC educates consumers and businesses. The FTC offers publications on a variety of topics, including privacy and cybersecurity, shopping and advertising, debt, loans, homes and mortgages, jobs and health. To access free print publications and share them with your community, visit ftc.gov/bulkorder.

The FTC holds free workshops, conferences and roundtables open to the public. Events may bring together researchers, industry and consumer representatives, policymakers, service providers and others to examine issues.

For more information or to sign up for scam alerts and stay in the know, visit ftc.gov. 

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