Since 1914, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been looking out for the best interests of consumers, including the 1938 prohibition of “unfair and deceptive acts or practices.” To that end, the FTC offers numerous ways for consumers to educate and protect themselves.
Whether you need them now or later, there are five basic things every consumer should know how to do through the FTC.
1. File a Consumer Complaint
As the nation’s official consumer protection bureau, the FTC accepts complaints on anything and everything consumer-related.
Categories include identity theft; credit and debt; unwanted telemarketing, texts, or spam; mobile devices or telephones; internet services, online services, and computers; jobs and making money; and an “other” category that includes a wide range of topics, from cable TV providers, to health and fitness, to education scholarships.
The complaint submission process is a simple one, in which you are asked for specifics of your complaint, including an opportunity to “tell your story.”
2. Register For Do Not Call
To keep your phone number out of the hands of telemarketers, the FTC encourages you to register with the National Do Not Call Registry. The FTC provides direct links for registering your phone number, verifying its registration, and submitting a complaint if and when you receive an unwanted phone solicitation.
Note, the FTC warns that scammers have been calling consumers claiming to be with the National Do Not Call Registry. The goal? To steal your information and, in turn, your identity. Don’t fall for it. The National Do Not Call Registry is making no such calls. So if you receive one, do not respond and report the call to the FTC.
3. Report Identity Theft
If you discover that a thief has been using credit in your name, it is important to file an identity theft report with the FTC. Unfortunately, far too many consumers are unaware of such activity because they fail to do something that could alert them to it — monitoring their credit reports.
That’s why you should go through your credit reports with a fine-tooth comb at least once a year. Though, if you suspect your account information may have been compromised — by a data breach for example — it’s a good idea to check your reports more frequently for a while, say every 3 to 6 months.
4. Get Your Free Credit Reports
While it is not the FTC that issues your credit reports, the agency does provide a direct link to AnnualCreditReport.com, the only official source of the free credit report you are entitled to every 12 moths from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus.
The FTC warns of imposter websites that purposely misspell AnnualCreditReport.com, intent on tricking consumers into revealing personally-identifying information they can use to steal your identity. Granted, if you’re clicking through from the FTC website, you should have nothing to worry about. But if you’re entering the URL yourself, double-check it to be sure you’re in the right place.
And the FTC reminds that you can also request your credit reports via phone or regular mail. Call 1-877-322-8228. Or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
5. Order Free Resources
There are a number of free resources you can request from the FTC, most notably the Consumer.gov Toolbox (presented in both English and Spanish). This publication includes basics on managing your money; credit, loans, and debt; and scams and identity theft.
You can find links to each of these actions at Consumer.FTC.gov.