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VIP Federal Trade Commission flies into North Yorkshire

Delegates from America’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) visited their UK counterpart in North Yorkshire on Thursday 10 September to discuss action against scams blighting English-speaking consumers on both side of the Atlantic.

The FTC’s Stacy Feuer and Sara DePaul and met officers from the National Trading Standards eCrime Team (NTSECT). Stacy is Assistant Director for International Consumer Protection and Sara is the FTC’s Counsel for International Consumer Protection. The pair saw NTSeCT’s work on tech support scams, subscription traps, and the copycat website problem.

The technical support scam results in consumers being called and told they have a problem with their computer; the callers often claim to be “Microsoft” certified. Copycat websites pass themselves off as official government sites, charging premium prices for government services. Finally, subscription traps entice consumers with ‘free’ trial offers that land them with costly monthly payments that appear difficult to stop. NTSeCT have been at the forefront of tackling all of these scams, and in the case of the tech support scam were successful in getting the only conviction of a tech support scammer to-date.

The FTC is the US government civil enforcement agency that promotes and enforces consumer protection and fairer trading for businesses, similar to Trading Standards in the UK. The FTC’s powers also extend to breaking up anticompetitive business practices, a function performed in the UK by the Competition and Markets Authority.

The delegation also explored opportunities for intelligence sharing, mutual enforcement cooperation and website takedowns. The visit will result in increased enforcement cooperation to clean up misleading online advertising, something NTSeCT is actively pursuing. Online ads are increasingly being used to lure consumers in both countries into copycat websites and ‘free’ trial subscription trap schemes.

Stacy Feuer, Assistant Director for International Consumer Protection at the FTC said:

“The UK and US are highly lucrative targets for international scammers because of our highly connected populations and some of the highest penetrations of internet users in the world. The tech support scam, where fraud operators pretend to be calling consumers from companies like Microsoft, has defrauded consumers in English-speaking countries like the UK, US, Canada and Australia since 2008, longer than anywhere else in the world. So it makes sense to work with our UK counterparts and tackle some of our most virulent scams. It’s certainly been very encouraging to find an organisation as diligent and committed as our own to detecting and stopping the perpetrators behind these scams.”

Mike Andrews, National Coordinator for the National Trading Standards eCrime Team, said:

“We were delighted to welcome the Federal Trade Commission to North Yorkshire, and are very excited about the opportunity to work with where we can both take action against online scams and misleading online advertising. We have been working with Facebook and Google on the issue of misleading ads, and the added influence of the Federal Trade Commission will benefit consumers in both countries.”