Thank you David Vladek for that introduction, and for hosting us here at Georgetown Law. I am pleased to attend this second annual Consumer Protection Summit during National Consumer Protection Week. And I want to thank the Co-Chairs, Executive Director, and members of the Consumer Protection Working Group for making this event possible.
As many of you know, the Consumer Protection Working Group is a part of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which President Obama created in 2009. The mission of this Working Group is to leverage resources across the federal government and in partnership with our state counterparts, to strengthen consumer protection; to enhance civil and criminal enforcement efforts; and to educate the public in an effort to prevent consumers from being victimized.
As head of the Civil Division at the Department of Justice, I am particularly proud of our work to protect the health and safety of Americans and to combat financial fraud and other scams. Protecting consumers through the vigorous civil and criminal enforcement of federal consumer protection laws is the mission of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch. We use all the tools at our disposal to confront challenges that threaten the personal economic security of our families, as well as the health and safety of our citizens.
We have made protecting consumers a centerpiece of the Department’s overall anti-fraud efforts because consumer f raud affects ordinary people every day and can devastate victims. Fraudsters and scam artists target vulnerable populations who can least afford it, such as the elderly and families of servicemembers who have been deployed.
Victims can lose more than money. They can lose trust in the marketplace. They can lose opportunities, and the ability to take control of their finances and their future. They can lose confidence in the critical products we need like the medicines we take or the food we eat. And they can feel a loss of security from having been taken advantage of.
In the panels this morning, you will hear about some of the work of the Civil Division and our partners in the Justice Department and across the government to protect consumers. You will hear about dietary supplement safety, debt relief scams, phantom debt scams, payday lending, lottery scams, and even romance scams. But our work is much broader than that because c onsumer fraud comes in many, many forms, and our enforcement efforts reflect that.
To give you some examples: We pursue cases against companies that manufacture food under insanitary conditions and that mislead consumers about the safety and efficacy of the drugs they produce and market; against debt collection companies who employ abusive tactics or try to collect debts that are not owed; against those who import and try to sell hazardous children’s toys; against individuals and companies who purport to sell business opportunities, but instead defraud victims out of their money, their time, and their credit; And, against those who offer to help consumers facing debt or foreclosure, but instead take their money and leave them worse off than when they started.
The results demonstrate that we are making a difference. In 2012, the Consumer Protection Branch, working with U.S. Attorneys’ offices across the country, secured over $1.95 billion in criminal fines, forfeiture, restitution and civil disgorgement -- and saw 23 defendants criminally convicted.
Just as important, however, we have made many companies change their ways and deal fairly with consumers – through injunctive relief we obtain from courts, internal corporate reforms the government negotiates in settlements, and the deterrence that comes from vigorous enforcement.
Although we are proud of our work, we know that enforcement alone is not enough; we cannot prosecute our way out of consumer fraud. We need collaboration, education, and outreach as well.
That is why this Summit is so important. Because it allows all of us who are dedicated to consumer protection to harness our collective experiences, discuss enforcement to protect consumers, and increase public awareness so ordinary citizens can protect themselves.
With the assistance and knowledge of those here today, and through additional discussions with experts, advocates, and stakeholders, we will develop strategies and solutions for preventing and combating consumer fraud. This is my goal, this is the Civil Division’s goal, and this is the goal of the Department of Justice.
Attorney General Holder has made protecting American consumers a top priority. In fact, he said those words at this Summit last year. Although the Attorney General was not able to be here today, he asked me to share a video he prepared for this Summit. I thank you for coming today and for joining us in this vital discussion. And now I give you the Attorney General of the United States.