On August 1, 2016, The FTC’s inflation increases for maximum civil penalty amounts go into effect. You can find the Federal Register Notice containing all of the statutes and amounts here. With penalties increasing, from $16,000 to $40,000 in some instances, it’s time again to look at your business objectively and determine what risks you are willing to take. Here are some areas, business owners and caretakers of brands need to evaluate for exposure.
Police Those Who Try to Exploit Your Brand
Your business is not responsible for what others do if you are not affiliated with them. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to keep us off the regulator radar these days. Whether you are the advertiser or the lead generator, understand the pitfalls that can occur when using third parties. Objectively ask yourself, do you know everything your affiliates or publishers are doing to market on your behalf? Take it a step further and question if you think they know everything their network is doing. No one is 100% error free online, all the time. The mere appearance of not “playing by the rules” could shine a spotlight on your business where infractions could be uncovered.
An unauthorized publisher can put you at risk for regulatory scrutiny or lead to an investigation. If a consumer can’t spot a fraudulent representation of your brand online, then regulators won’t be able to notice at first glance either. It’s critical right now to monitor and enforce standards for your brand’s presence on the Internet. Create a paper trail documenting your efforts to discover and remediate infractions.
Every business is unique, but here some things you can do internally:
- Keep an inventory in a database or even a spreadsheet of your proprietary and authorized third party URLs.
- Set up a monthly audit process to review all URLs for brand, regulatory, and consumer consent compliance.
- Review the user path to ensure nothing was misleading up to the form and consumer consent was collected in the correct places.
- Take screen shots with time/date of infractions.
- Email the screen shots along with a request for remediation to the third party.
- Store all emails back and forth concerning the remediation.
- Schedule a quarterly Internet audit looking for domains and URLs not authorized by your brand and follow the same paper trail and remediation process.
Be Proactive Against Those Who Seek and Exploit Violations
From consumer disclosures and consent language online to contact strategies and database maintenance, leave no stone unturned when it comes to ensuring compliance. There are opportunistic individuals who target certain industries and put themselves in a position to file a complaint or take legal action. You need to get ahead of them.
Look for and monitor all forms of disclosures, consent, privacy policies, terms and conditions, and any other industry specific data or content required. It’s a common mistake to only search for where it exists on the web. Yes, we want to make sure what we know and see is unaltered, but don’t forget to look for instances where these forms have been omitted—which is a tougher search.
Contact maintenance strategies need to be reviewed and followed. Reactive responses to violations will result in fines and suits. It may surprise you how easy it is for individuals to create the exact scenarios that equip them to file a civil suit against a business. Do Not Call (DNC) violations under section 5 of the FTC Act have increased to $40,000 per instance. If you weren’t following DNC best practices, it’s time.
Despite your efforts to maintain industry compliance on a daily basis you may feel exposed on many fronts. The regulatory scrutiny has found its way into many business operations and expense columns with seemingly no reprieve. To help mitigate risks everyone must take an active role and reduce exposure. Lead generation as an industry is strong. Remember, you are not only equipped to be successful while being compliant, but you are in a good position to write the narrative.
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