Your supply chain is global, and chances are that your customer base is, too. International commerce has become business as usual for most direct response marketers, and international consumer protection is a growing part of the mission of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). How does FTC promote consumer interests in the borderless world of online commerce? Through effective law enforcement and stepped-up cooperation with the agency’s global counterparts.
Many DR marketers owe their success to the reach of online commerce, but they’re not the only ones reaping the benefits. Scammers have been known to exploit the anonymity of the Internet to the detriment of consumers and legitimate entrepreneurs. One critical tool in FTC’s enforcement armory is the Undertaking Spam, Spyware, and Fraud Enforcement With Enforcers beyond Borders (US SAFEWEB) Act. Passed in 2006 and reauthorized in 2012, the law enhances FTC enforcement against cross-border fraud threatening American consumers.
Many of US SAFEWEB’s most dramatic law enforcement successes have taken place behind the scenes, but this much can be reported: In recent years, FTC has brought dozens of cases with cross-border components such as foreign targets, evidence, or assets that would have been difficult to file without the information-sharing provisions of the law. Of course, US SAFEWEB’s door swings both ways—FTC also has assisted the efforts of international law enforcers.
In addition, FTC is working to make it easier for consumers to file complaints against businesses in other countries and report possible scams. Just last year, the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN)—a partnership of 34 consumer protection agencies around the world including FTC—relaunched econsumer.gov. Available in eight languages, the site guides consumers through the process of filing a complaint about online shopping, travel and vacation scams, questionable telemarketing, and other common concerns. Complaints filed through econsumer.gov are entered into the Consumer Sentinel complaint database maintained by FTC and available to enforcers and regulators. The information helps spot trends, identify possible law violators, and combat fraud.
There’s closer cooperation on the consumer privacy front, too. FTC and agencies from Australia, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom—all members of the Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN)—have joined forces to create GPEN Alert, a new technology that helps members share information confidentially about privacy-related investigations.
Why should international cooperation matter to your business? Because an effective law enforcement presence boosts consumer confidence, a key component to overcoming shoppers’ reticence about doing business with unfamiliar names in faraway places. Knowing that a close-knit cadre of consumer cops is on the beat globally is good for online shoppers, and for marketers eager to win their business.
Lesley Fair is an attorney with the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
The above blog post was adapted from the “Fair Trade” column published in the May-June issue of ER magazine.