Reporting Internet Marketing Violations

As a follow up to my previous posts, “Internet Marketing Ethics – is this Ethical?” and “Is this Legal? FTC Internet Marketing Guidelines“, I thought I’d outline actions one can take should they feel that they have been subject to illegal internet marketing practices.

Here’s what the FTC says you can do:

What can my company do if a competitor is running an ad that I think is deceptive?
You can:

  • Explore your legal options under federal and state statutes that protect businesses from unfair competition. For example, the Lanham Act gives companies the right to sue their competitors for making deceptive claims in ads.
  • File a complaint with the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, if your competitor’s ad is running nationally or regionally. The NAD is a private, self-regulatory group affiliated with the BBB. It investigates allegations of deceptive advertising and gives advertisers a mechanism for resolving disputes voluntarily.
  • Call your local BBB or file an online complaint with the Better Business Bureau if the ad is local. Many BBBs have procedures for resolving disputes between businesses.
  • Contact the radio station, television station, or publication where the ad ran. Let them know that they’re running an ad you think may be deceptive.
  • Contact your state Attorney General’s Office or your city, county, or state Office of Consumer Affairs. To get their phone numbers, check your telephone directory.
  • Contact the FTC. By mail: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580; by telephone: toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP. https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/

If my company files a complaint about a competitor with the FTC, will the FTC resolve the dispute?

The FTC is authorized to act when it appears that a company’s advertising is deceptive and when FTC action is in the public interest. Although the FTC cannot intervene in an individual dispute between two companies, the agency relies on many sources – including complaints from consumers and competitors – to find out about ads that may be deceptive. To file a complaint against a competitor who you believe has engaged in false advertising, contact:

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
Toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357)
Online Complaint Form
If my company files a complaint against a competitor with the FTC, will we be kept informed about the status of any investigation?

No. The FTC keeps investigations confidential. Matters become public only after the FTC reaches a settlement with a company or files a lawsuit. However, you can be assured that complaints received from companies alleging that competitors are advertising deceptively are reviewed carefully.
Can I find out if the FTC already has an investigation against a company?

The FTC can tell you if it has already taken formal action (e.g., filed or settled a lawsuit) against a particular company or against similar kinds of advertisements or products. But the FTC cannot disclose whether an investigation is going on. To find out if a company or product has been the subject of a recent FTC action, search the FTC’s website.

In the case of the issue I discussed in my earlier posts, Internet Marketing Ethics – Is this Ethical? and Is this Legal? FTC Internet Marketing Guidelines, there were several actions I took.

First I contacted the marketers directly. All they did was justify why they were right in using their unethical tactics.

The second thing I did was to alert the company with which the internet marketers had a relationship, Infusionsoft, because they were using that relationship with Infusionsoft to create credibility for their unethical campaign. My correspondence here took a while. In the end the company thanked me and told me that they had had a conversation with the unethical marketers and had asked them to stop their practices. Unfortunately, it was the last day of their campaign, so it had virtually no impact.

The third thing is I followed the FTC’s suggestions and filed an online complaint. The problem is that they just log it in their database and don’t follow up.

There were two other avenues that I could have pursued but didn’t because of time.

I could have contact my local or state law enforcement office and report the offense to them.

Second, I could have consulted my attorney to learn if they had indeed violated any local, state or federal laws. This can be costly, however, I have a Prepaid Legal membership which gives me access to ask questions of an attorney for a very low monthly fee. I just wasn’t prepared to take the time to pursue this further.

Had this been an issue of someone sending me an unsolicited SPAM email, one reader suggested reporting it to the web hosting company from which the email generated. In my case, I was an opt-in on their list, so this was not truly SPAM.

Are you aware of any other methods to report internet marketing ethical or legal violations?

About Debra Zimmer

After 25 years of growing entrepreneurial businesses at companies such as Microsoft, where she attracted 700,000 members into an online community in 18 months and then grew a second one to 250,000 members in 10 months, Debra Zimmer then struck out on her own to grow an online retail store to 6-figures of income and put it on AUTOPILOT for 3 years. With an engineering degree and an MBA from Columbia Business School, Debra is the undisputed expert in helping experts, entrepreneurs and executives to focus their brilliance and magnify their impact using social media and internet marketing tactics.

Comments

  1. Kathy Sacks says:

    Thanks for your detail here for readers. It's important stuff and many people don't know what the options really are. We appreciate you bringing your experience to light. We're committed to best practices in marketing across our customer and partners that use Infusionsoft for personalizing and automating their marketing and sales. Thanks for your insight and public views on the topic.

  2. Said says:

    Hi friend, Thank you for these tips! Keep posting others 🙂

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