The days are short and the nights are long, but at least we have the monthly public Federal Trade Commission (FTC) meeting to keep us entertained and informed during these cold months. And we had a bit of an unusual agenda yesterday. First up were some congratulations to Chair Lina Khan on the birth of her son and what was described as a “brief” maternity leave. Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter, in a throwback to the early days of the Biden Administration, led the meeting in Chair Khan’s absence. Next was a presentation on “age-related fraud reporting trends,” and the final agenda item was “recognizing the extraordinary contributions of FTC staff.”
For many years the FTC mantra has been that it is a bit of a myth that seniors are more susceptible to fraud, but – and it’s a big but – when seniors do fall victim to scams, they generally lose more money. And of course, there are some scams, like grandchildren scams, that will logically target older people.
And with that we turn to the staff presentation. The staff report, based on data reported to the FTC, appeared to confirm that seniors are not more likely to fall victim to fraud, but when they do, they do so in a bigger way. Not surprisingly, although online and by telephone are the first and second most common ways fraudsters target all of us, regardless of age, the telephone is a closer number two for seniors. The types of fraud also reflect generational differences. Seniors are more likely to be targeted by fraud involving things such as tech support scams or the aforementioned friends and family scams. Younger adults are more often targeted by online shopping scams, investment scams and job scams. Finally, seniors are more likely to pay fraudsters via gift cards, while younger adults are more likely to use payment apps or crypto (maybe not so much anymore). After the report, each Commissioner took the opportunity to thank staff and comment. Commissioner Christine Wilson stirred the pot a bit with her comments, reflecting on the Commission’s long and successful history of combating fraud but noting that statements by former Commissioner Rohit Chopra and current Chair Khan may reflect a shifting of Commission priorities and resources away from fraud toward other priorities such as rule-making, which in her view will harm consumers.
Next up on the agenda: the awesomeness of FTC staff. So for those who may be scratching their heads and wondering why we are having a discussion on the awesomeness of FTC staff, the answer is twofold. First, well, FTC staff is generally pretty awesome. One of us was there for 23 years and would gladly sign an affidavit to that effect regarding most FTC staff, and the others strongly agree. The second reason is that all reports indicate that there is a very real and very significant staff morale problem at the agency. We highlighted that in a blog back in April 2022, and in a recent tweet, Commission Wilson indicated that the latest survey results do not reflect improved perception of the agency, particularly with respect to staff views of agency senior leadership. (The formal results of the latest survey have not yet been produced.)
There is a lot underlying the staff morale issue, and although we tend to be people of the highly cynical variety, certainly part of the solution is more frequently and more publicly acknowledging the hard work and accomplishments of the staff. It is of course far from a full solution to the morale problems raised, but it is at least a start, and we were glad to see this agenda item. And what we heard from the three Commissioners present for the meeting did remind us about the often unrecognized and underpraised efforts of our hardworking agency staff.
It felt a bit like we were watching the Academy Awards. Each year the Commission has an awards ceremony, recognizing over 100 staff for various types of exceptional service. Much like the Academy Awards, some of the awards were given off camera, but at yesterday’s meeting the Commission reacknowledged the three recipients of the Bob Pitofsky Lifetime Service Award, named for the former commissioner, chair and BCP Director, Bob Pitofsky. There were separate presenters for each award recipient, teleprompters with glitches (the last names of the recipients were omitted, but the Commissioners ad-libbed them) but no speeches and no bad jokes. The three honorees reminded all of us of the longevity and mission dedication of so many on the Commission staff.
And finally, we turn to the public participation part of the meeting. At yesterday’s event, two issues predominated: comments for and against the Commission’s proposed rule regarding non-competes, and comments by numerous grocery workers in opposition to a proposed grocery store merger. These two-minute pleas to the Commission to block the merger are unlikely to supplant the number crunching and poring over emails and documents that are the bedrock of the Commission’s merger review process, but Commissioner Slaughter described these “human” stories as “thought-provoking” and “compelling.”