In remarks made during a Friday Breakfast Meeting at the ABA Spring Meeting, Acting Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP) Eileen Harrington emphasized the role that the FTC will play in the government’s responses to the financial crisis. Section 626 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 gives the FTC broad rulemaking authority with respect to mortgages. Relying on the FTC’s expertise in protecting consumers of financial services, Ms. Harrington said that the FTC will consider new rules protecting consumers from fraudulent and unfair loan modification services, loan rescue and foreclosure abatement services, loan servicing practices, and loan collection and foreclosure practices. She described this as a “target rich environment.” Consistent with its jurisdiction, the FTC will focus on consumer protection and will work closely with those federal agencies regulating financial institutions. This rulemaking should begin within the next three months.
BCP will also focus on promulgating rules under Section 13407 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which gives the FTC rulemaking authority to establish notification requirements for electronic health records vendors and other non-HIPAA covered entities if the security of electronic health records is breached.
Ms. Harrington indicated that the FTC will increase its focus on fair credit reporting. The FTC has recently launched a viral marketing campaign to eliminate consumer confusion about their right to obtain free credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com. The first videos in this campaign are spoofs of the catchy FreeCreditReport.com ads and are designed to educate consumers that the only place to receive a truly free credit report is through AnnualCreditReport.com. In addition, the FTC will renew its focus on accurate credit reporting.
Although privacy and data security has been a primary area of activity for the FTC, taking a cue from Chairman Liebowitz, Ms. Harrington indicated that the FTC may expand its focus to include practices such as the collection of data on-line for purposes other than advertising. Furthermore, broader privacy legislation may be introduced in the near future, and the FTC will act as a thought leader as any such legislation develops.
Although much of her remarks discussed what lies ahead for BCP, Ms. Harrington also talked about continuity of the BCP’s enforcement priorities and of BCP management and personnel. She highlighted national advertising, both self-regulation and enforcement, food marketing to children, consumer credit statute enforcement, and order enforcement as continuing priorities for BCP.