What Do Direct Response Marketers Need to Know about the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network?

by Bill McClellan on Mar 15, 2017 12:00:00 PM Government Relations


Earlier this month the FTC released its annual summary of consumer complaints from its Consumer Sentinel Network. It also released a new Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book which you can find here. There is a lot that Direct Response marketers should know about this data release and the report itself. It is important to understand that the FTC and other consumer protection enforcers use this report, and the underlying data, as a sort of roadmap for future enforcement activity. So it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for it every year. It is a great tool to help you understand and predict future trends in the consumer enforcement arena.

What is the Consumer Sentinel Network?

Consumer Sentinel is the unique cyber tool that provides members of the Consumer Sentinel Network with millions of consumer complaints. The system is based on the premise that sharing information can make law enforcement more effective. Contributors to the system include consumers and a whole host of other consumer protection entities, including Attorneys General, CFPB, CBBB, Department of Treasury, Department of Justice, state & federal law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organizations among other stakeholders.

Why Do Consumer Complaints Matter?

Across the board, consumer protection enforcers believe that when there is smoke there is fire, with respect to upticks in complaint volumes. That’s one of the reasons we at ERA strongly suggest that members of the industry aggressively monitor and resolve any customer complaint issues as soon as they arise. Similarly, any uptick in customer complaints noticed internally should be tagged and the underlying problem addressed immediately before customers feel the need to reach out the CBBB or regulatory agency for redress. The reality is, if you are experiencing an uptick in customer complaints, there is a high probability that the underlying issues will be surfaced both at the CBBB and the FTC. Rising consumer complaints are seen as a red flag that will often result in increased scrutiny for you and your business moving forward.

The 2016 Top 10 Complaint Categories 

In 2016, the Consumer Sentinel Network collected more than 3.1 million consumer complaints. The Federal Trade Commission has sorted these complaints into 30 top complaint categories. Below you will find the 2016 top 10 complaint categories. In 6th place we find the Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales category represented 4% of received complaints with a total of 109,831 complaints received. Debt collection, identity theft, telephone & mobile services, lenders and prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries all ranked higher. Clearly industries represented at the top of the charts should expect heightened scrutiny in 2017 and should consult with counsel for a compliance audit to proactively address any issues identified.

  Number of Complaints Percentages
Debt Collection 859,090 28
Imposter Scams 406,578 13
Identity Theft 399,225 13
Telephone & Mobile Services 292,155 10
Banks & Lenders 143,987 5
Sweepstakes & Lotteries 141,643 5
Shop-at-Home & Catalogs 109,831 4
Auto-Related Complaints 94,673 3
Credit Bureaus/Info Furnishers 49,679 2
Televison & Electronic Media 49,546 2


BillMcclellan.jpgBill McClellan joined ERA in January 2003 as director of government affairs. Prior to joining the association, Bill worked as a lobbyist at the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association, covering the state legislature and Georgia's congressional delegation. Before working for the GADA, Bill managed political campaigns at both the congressional and state constitutional levels

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