The FTC has just announced the launch of The Community Advocate Center initiative, designed to provide a new way for community organizations who provide free or low cost legal services to report fraud and other illegal business practices on behalf of their clients directly to the FTC.  The FTC says that the purpose of the initiative is to help these organizations provide their clients with “specific, concrete steps they can take to try to get their money back.”  

Participating organizations will also receive aggregated data detailing the types of fraud and other illegal business practices affecting lower income communities, “such as the methods scammers use to defraud consumers, methods they use to demand payment, and the amount of money consumers report losing.”  Community organizations are invited to sign up at the Community Advocate Center.

Also announced by the FTC was its “Operation Income Illusion,” a crackdown by more than 50 law enforcement actions against the operators of work-from-home and employment scams, pyramid schemes, investment scams, bogus coaching courses, and other schemes. The FTC noted that the impact of these scams “has intensified as scammers take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and financial crisis” and that they have targeted, or had a particular impact on, specific communities, including lower income people, immigrants, Black Americans, Latinos, the hearing impaired, and older adults.  

The complaint in one of the enforcement actions, against the company Moda Latina, alleges that the company specifically targeted Latina consumers in Spanish-language ads on TV with false promises of earnings at home, and defrauded consumers out of millions of dollars.  In another action, the company, LLC, is alleged to have targeted retirees, older adults, and immigrants with false promises that its investment-related services would enable consumers make consistent profits and beat the market; this scheme took in over $137 million in three years from consumers.

Stopping and preventing fraudulent business activity to protect consumers is, of course, central to FTC’s mission and authority. These new efforts underscore its interest in protecting the most vulnerable consumers and stopping those who would seek to exploit them.

(Description of graphic for visually-impaired readers: screen shot from Moda Latina ad from FTC complaint, showing woman counting money.)