The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a federal agency that undertakes to maintain a competitive marketplace for both consumers and businesses. The FTC was created in 1914 to prevent unfair methods of competition in commerce. Later on, Congress passed additional laws giving the FTC greater authority to police anticompetitive practices. The Commission also administers a wide variety of other consumer protection laws, including the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Pay-Per-Call Rule and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
The FTC is an independent agency that reports to Congress on its actions. The Commission is headed by five Commissioners who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Each Commissioner serves a seven year term. The President chooses one Commissioner to act as Chairman of the FTC. At one time not more than three Commissioners can be of the same political party.
The FTC’s work is performed by the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Bureau of Competition and Bureau of Economics. The Bureaus are aided by the Office of General Counsel and the FTC regional offices.
Bureau of Consumer Protection
Bureau of Consumer Protection aims to protect consumers against unfair, deceptive or fraudulent practices. The Bureau enforces a variety of consumer protection laws enacted by Congress, as well as trade regulation rules issued by the FTC. The Bureau also contributes towards the Commission’s on going efforts to inform Congress and other government entities of the impact that proposed actions could have on consumers. The Bureau of Consumer Protection is divided into seven divisions and programs, each with its own areas of expertise and responsibilities. They are as follows:
- The Division of Advertising Practices: Protects consumers from unfair or deceptive advertising and marketing practices that raise health and safety concerns, as well as economic injury. The division brings legal actions in federal district court to stop fraudulent advertising practices. It also coordinates FTC actions with federal and international law enforcement agencies sharing authority over health and safety products and services. The Division of Advertising Practices also monitors advertising and marketing of alcohol, tobacco, violent entertainment media, and food to children.
- The Division of Consumer and Business Education: Plans and implements public education campaigns for consumers and industry about fraud, deception, and unfair practices
- The Division of Enforcement: Litigates civil contempt and civil penalty actions to enforce federal court injunctions and administrative orders in FTC consumer protection cases; coordinates FTC actions with criminal law enforcement agencies through its Criminal Liaison Unit; develops, reviews, and enforces a variety of consumer protection rules; coordinates multi-pronged initiatives to address current consumer protection issues; and administers the Bureau of Consumer Protection’s bankruptcy program.
- The Division of Financial Practices: Protects consumers from deceptive or unfair practices by financial services companies through law enforcement in both federal and administrative courts, education, and policy leadership.
- The Division of Marketing Practices: Responds to problems of consumer fraud in the marketplace. The Division enforces the FTC Act and several other federal consumer protection laws by filing FTC actions in federal district court for immediate and permanent orders to stop scams, prevent fraud, freeze assets and get compensation for scam victims
- The Division of Planning and Information: Collects and analyzes data to target law enforcement and education efforts and measure the impact of activities related to the FTC’s consumer protection mission. The division also respond to consumer complaints and inquiries received by telephone, mail, and online.
- Division of Privacy and Identity Protection: Supervises issues related to consumer privacy, credit reporting, identity theft, and information security. The duties of the Division include: enforcing the statutes and rules within its jurisdiction; engaging in outreach and policy development; and educating consumers and businesses about emerging privacy, credit reporting, and information security issues, as well as identity theft prevention and assistance. The Division also analyzes the impact of current and potential legislative initiatives in the areas within its purview.
Bureau of Competition
The Bureau of Competition seeks to prevent anticompetitive mergers and other anticompetitive business practices. By protecting competition, the Bureau promotes consumers’ freedom to choose goods and services at a price and quality that fit their needs. The Bureau investigates and reviews proposed mergers and other business practices for possible anticompetive effects that are potentially harmful to consumers, and makes recommendations to the FTC to take formal law enforcement action to protect consumers. The Bureau also serves as a research and policy resource on competition topics and provides guidance to business on complying with the antitrust laws.
The Bureau of Competition also looks into inquiries and complaints from customers and competitors throughout the country about possible antitrust law violations that do not involve mergers. The Bureau’s staff monitors industry activities through trade publications, industrial reports and company press releases.
Bureau of Economics
The Bureau of Economics provides economic analysis and support to antitrust and consumer protection investigations and rulemakings. The Bureau also analyzes the economic impact of government regulation, and provides Congress, the Executive Branch, and the public with policy recommendations relating to competition and consumer protection.
The Bureau also hosts events that draw together economists and other experts to advance economic thinking. Finally, the Bureau conducts market analysis in a variety of industries of importance to the economy and to consumers which are published as economic reports.
The General Counsel is the FTC’s chief legal officer and adviser. The functions of the Office of General Counsel include representing the FTC in court and providing legal counsel to the FTC, bureaus, and other offices. It also issues a quarterly Litigation Status Report, which summarizes the current status of pending court actions involving the FTC.
The Regional Offices
The regional offices work with the Bureaus of Competition and Consumer Protection to conduct investigations and litigation, provide advice to state and local officials on the competitive implications of proposed actions, recommend cases, provide local outreach services to consumers and businesspersons, and coordinate activities with local, state, and regional authorities.