Agency should exercise broad authority to stop predatory business practices during this public health emergency
Washington (March 11, 2020) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urging the agency to immediately develop and deploy a comprehensive plan for protecting consumers during the coronavirus outbreak. As the disease continues to spread and public anxiety increases, consumers are especially vulnerable to scams and predatory business practices across many different industries, including harmful travel reservation policies, fake donation drives, and price gouging for supplies such as hand sanitizer, medical masks, and disinfecting wipes.
Although the FTC has acted to warn the public about particular scams and monitor companies that are allegedly marketing unapproved coronavirus treatments, piecemeal efforts are insufficient in light of the magnitude of this public health crisis.
“The FTC is authorized to take enforcement actions and issue rules to address unfair or deceptive acts or practices across much of the nation’s commerce,” writes Senator Markey in his letter to FTC Chairman Joseph J. Simons. “The FTC should not allow any consumer to suffer from a scam or predatory business practice during this public health emergency. That’s why I urge the FTC to immediately develop and deploy a comprehensive plan for protecting consumers during the coronavirus outbreak.”
A copy of the letter can be found HERE.
As a result of the novel coronavirus, consumers are being exposed to unfair or deceptive practices across many different industries. For example, consumers who want to change their travel plans to avoid the disease may be subject to inconsistent policies across hotel chains and booking sites that only permit certain travelers to cancel their reservations without penalty. Even travelers who purchase trip insurance may find themselves unable to cancel as insurers begin to categorize COVID-19 as a “foreseeable event” to deny claims. Additionally, Americans attempting to buy supplies such as hand sanitizer, medical masks, and disinfecting wipes may be vulnerable to possible price-gouging by unethical sellers. Scammers are also exploiting the crisis and posing as government agencies to fraudulently solicit donations for a coronavirus vaccine.