Today, FTC Chairman Joe Simons issued a statement about the agency's approach to consumer protection during this time of "national emergency." Most significantly, he said that, in recognition of the "enormous challenges" faced by consumers and businesses, the FTC "will remain flexible and reasonable in enforcing compliance requirements that may hinder the provision of important goods and services to consumers."
Simons cautioned, however, that being "flexible and reasonable" does not mean that the FTC will "tolerate companies deceiving consumers, using tactics that violate well-established consumer protections, or taking unfair advantage of these uniquely challenging times." He emphasized that, when making enforcement decisions, the FTC will take into account "good faith efforts undertaken to provide needed goods and services to consumers."
Simons also said that the FTC is available to give businesses guidance about compliance obligations related to consumer protection issues during this "unprecedented time."
Notwithstanding this more flexible approach, Simons said that the FTC "will not tolerate businesses seeking to take advantage of consumers’ concerns and fears regarding coronavirus disease, exigent circumstances, or financial distress."
What does this mean for business? It certainly doesn't mean that the FTC is saying that it's OK to make health-related claims without competent and reliable scientific evidence. And it's definitely not giving a free pass to fraudulent marketers. But, it does suggest that the FTC recognizes that companies -- in their rush to get much needed products to consumers -- may make some mistakes along the way (which won't necessarily result in FTC enforcement action).
"We will not tolerate businesses seeking to take advantage of consumers’ concerns and fears regarding coronavirus disease, exigent circumstances, or financial distress" -- FTC Chairman Joe Simons