Ad Law Insights - Legal and Regulatory Updates
Latest FTC and state attorneys general compliance, investigation and enforcement developments of concern to advertisers and marketers
On January 30, 2023, the Criminal Liaison Unit of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP CLU) issued its 2022 Criminal Liaison Unit Report, describing the history of the BCP CLU, its program operations, and major accomplishments over the past five years. In an effort to ensure criminal prosecution of appropriate consumer fraud cases, the BCP CLU refers cases to partner agencies with criminal jurisdiction, including U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the county, Divisions of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and others.
“For the worst individual and corporate wrongdoers, civil remedies may not be sufficient to protect the public from further harm,” said FTC lawyer Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Government works best when agencies work together toward a common goal, and we are proud that our partnership with criminal enforcers leads to justice for bad actors and a safer marketplace for us all.”
The FTC, which is not authorized to bring criminal law enforcement actions, established the BCP CLU in 2002 to bring the “worst of the worst” offenders to the attention of prosecutors. As it grew, the BCP CLU worked to establish relationships with prosecutors and educate them about the Commission’s consumer fraud and deception cases. Success in initial cases proved that criminal consumer protection cases were not only viable, but could result in substantial prison sentences.
Over the past five years, the report notes, BCP CLU referrals have led to criminal charges against 107 new defendants,
The Federal Trade Commission has taken action against Instant Brands, manufacturer of Pyrex-brand kitchen and home products, for allegedly falsely claiming that all its popular glass measuring cups were made in the United States during a time some measuring cups were imported from China. The FTC’s proposed order against Instant Brands would stop the company from making deceptive claims about products being “Made in USA” and require them to pay a monetary judgment.
“Consumers rely on marketers to make truthful ‘Made in USA’ claims,” said FTC lawyer Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If marketers move their manufacturing outside the United States, even temporarily, they must update their advertising to make it accurate.”
According to the FTC’s complaint, Instant Brands faced increased demand for its glass measuring cups in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when consumer interest in home baking spiked. Pyrex has purportedly long used the U.S. origin of its products as a selling point. By early 2021, the company was allegedly not able to meet the demand for certain measuring cup sets sold on Amazon with cups produced in the United States. From March 2021 to May 2022, Instant Brands produced some Pyrex cups in China, according to the FTC.
When the production shifted to China, the company allegedly continued to market the Chinese-made products on Amazon as “Made in USA,” despite the cups themselves being marked “Made in China.” While the Chinese cups were being sold the company also purportedly continued its marketing that implied all Pyrex cups were of U.S.
On January 13, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission announced that as a result of a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit, investment advice company WealthPress has agreed to a proposed court order that would require it to refund more than $1.2 million to consumers and pay a $500,000 civil penalty for allegedly deceiving consumers with purportedly “outlandish and false claims about their services.”
The case marks the first time that the FTC has collected civil penalties against a company that received the Notice of Penalty Offenses regarding money-making opportunities sent last October, and the first civil penalties for violations of the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act. (ROSCA)
“We’ve brought several cases this year against companies making false earnings claims, and we won’t hesitate to bring more,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “WealthPress is now paying the price for deceiving its customers and ignoring our Notice of Penalty Offenses on money-making claims.”
The FTC’s complaint against WealthPress and its owners, Roger Scott and Conor Lynch, alleges that the company used deceptive claims to sell consumers investment advising services—often claiming that the services’ recommendations were based on a specific “system” or “strategy” created by a purported expert. The company charged consumers hundreds or even thousands of dollars for access to these services.
WealthPress sold consumers on their services with purported false claims about the likelihood consumers would make money by following the recommended trades,
The Business Opportunity Rule (“Bizz Opp Rule”) was first adopted in 2012. It applies to commercial arrangements where a seller solicits a prospective buyer to enter into a new business, the prospective purchaser makes a required payment, and the seller – expressly or by implication – makes certain kinds of claims. Without limitation, opportunities where a seller says it will help the buyer set up or run a business are covered. The Bizz Opp Rule generally exempts business opportunities that meet the definition of a “franchise.” Consult with an FTC defense attorney to see if that that applies to you.
A covered seller has three key legal responsibilities that involve providing the prospective purchaser with specific information to help them evaluate a business opportunity and associated risks, including a disclosure document and an earnings claims statement. The seller must also comply with general truth-in-advertising principles, including avoiding deceptive practices.
The Disclosure Document
First, the seller has to provide a buyer a one-page Disclosure Document. To keep things simple the seller should use the standard form.
The seller has to provide the Disclosure Document seven (7) days before the prospective buyer signs a contract or pays any money for the business opportunity. The Disclosure Document must list key pieces of information: (i) Identifying information (e.g., company name, business address, telephone number, the sales person’s name, and the date the document was provided to the prospective buyer;
Looking for advice on substantiating your company’s advertising claims? FTC staff just issued a new Health Products Compliance Guidance publication that merits careful attention. You may be wondering if the publication reflects major changes to the FTC’s 1998 guidance.
Say you have routinely consulted the FTC’s 1998 brochure. Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide for Industry, the new publication, is designed to take its place. For the most part, the legal fundamentals remain unchanged, but there are key revisions.
The new publication’s substantiation compliance guidance is not just for companies that sell dietary supplements.
One major change is the title, which is meant to make it clear that the guidance applies across the board to all health-related claims.
The new publication draws upon key compliance points conveyed by FTC actions brought since 1998.
When it comes to advertising claim substantiation, a lot has happened since 1998 – including more than 200 FTC law enforcement actions challenging false or deceptive health claims.
The new guides incorporate the lessons of those cases in numerous new examples – revisions designed to add a practical gloss on long-standing compliance fundamentals. In addition, the new publication reflects updates from other FTC guidance documents – for example, guidelines on endorsements and testimonials and the enforcement policy statement on homeopathic drugs.
The new publication aims to correct misunderstandings and “urban myths” that have circulated about FTC substantiation standards.
About This Blog and Hinch Newman’s Advertising + Marketing Practice
Hinch Newman LLP’s advertising and marketing practice includes successfully resolving some of the highest-profile Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general digital advertising and telemarketing investigations and enforcement actions. The firm possesses superior knowledge and deep legal experience in the areas of advertising, marketing, lead generation, promotions, e-commerce, privacy and intellectual property law. Through these advertising and marketing law updates, Hinch Newman provides commentary, news and analysis on issues and trends concerning developments of interest to digital marketers, including FTC and state attorneys general advertising compliance, civil investigative demands (CIDs), and administrative/judicial process. This blog is sponsored by Hinch Newman LLP.