Recent law enforcement actions demonstrate that established truth-in-advertising principles apply regardless of the language companies use to communicate. Some companies simply run identical ads in English and Spanish. For example, the FTC’s settlement with L’Oréal USA challenged the allegedly deceptive claims for Lancôme Génifique and L’Oréal Paris Youth Code skincare products running in English- and Spanish-language magazine advertisements. The FTC says the company didn’t have scientific support to prove its products provide anti-aging benefits by targeting users’ genes.
Other companies, such as the prepaid mobile provider TracFone, market the same services under a variety of names. For example, in addition to Straight Talk, Net10, and Simple Mobile, TracFone has targeted Hispanic consumers through its Telcel America brand. The FTC recently settled a lawsuit focused on allegedly deceptive claims of “unlimited” data made in ads disseminated under all four brand names. Telcel America customers will share a $40 million refund settlement with other TracFone customers.
Misleading or inconspicuous advertising disclosures—a deceptive practice perennially on the FTC’s law enforcement radar screen—show up in Spanish-language advertising, too. Among the recipients of warning letters sent as part of Operation Full Disclosure, the FTC’s latest offensive against buried terms and conditions in advertising, were companies advertising in Spanish. Recent cases challenging deceptive disclosures in automobile advertising cited examples in which dealerships touted favorable financing in attention-grabbing Spanish headlines, but revealed substantial attached strings in fine-print, English-language footnotes.
The FTC also takes action against fraudsters who aim questionable practices specifically at U.S. Hispanic consumers. In a lawsuit filed against California-based Oro Marketing and related companies, the FTC said telemarketers targeted Spanish-speaking women with false promises that they could make big money by reselling high-end fashion brands such as Gucci and Ralph Lauren. The prospective entrepreneurs shelled out cash to get started, but received shoddy, off-brand merchandise in return. When they refused to pay for the third-rate products, telemarketers turned up the heat with bogus threats of arrest, legal action, or referral to immigration authorities. The defendants ultimately agreed to turn over virtually all of their assets in a settlement, and the mastermind behind the scheme was banned from telemarketing for life.
How is the FTC addressing deceptions targeting U.S. Hispanic consumers? Law enforcement is job No. 1, but the agency is also using new ways to reach out to Spanish-speaking consumers with guidance on how to protect themselves in the marketplace. The agency offers almost all of its educational resources, including brochures, videos, and quizzes, in Spanish at consumidor.ftc.gov.
In addition, the FTC has published a series of fotonovelas in Spanish as part of its ongoing effort to raise awareness about scams targeting the Latino community. Fans of the dramatic publications can read stories that illustrate common forms of fraud and offer tips on stopping scammers. U.S. Hispanics have the full protection of the FTC.
Lesley Fair is an attorney with the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
The above post was adapted from the “Fair Trade” column published in the May/June 2015 issue of ER magazine.