Money can buy love. But fairness? Not so much.

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When the Federal Trade Commission came out with changes that now affect testimonial advertisements, bloggers and celebrity endorsement guidelines, I wondered just how long it would take for those who didn't want to abide by the FTC's new rules, to make up their own.  The answer would be: not long. 

I'll admit, I haven't always agreed with the FTC's initiative's, but I've been fair and upfront about my opinions. I use my real name to voice my real views.  I stand behind what I believe and welcome debates. I support the FTC's truth in advertising initiative -wholeheartedly.  Though a bit confusing on what and how many times a disclosure is necessary, the intent was clear: be truthful and upfront on the merits of an opinion and the blogger's interest or special interests. Or pay the price (as much as $11,000).

The FTC's advertising guidelines could be viewed as a way to weed out phony testimonials, fake websites and false endorsements and force everyone to be transparent and to play by the rules. For instance, it must be stated somewhere in the advertisement that the person providing the testimonial was or was not compensated (that means paid) for their endorsement.  The FTC has extended this rule to include those who blog about business, and I for one have embraced that rule.  I have always been upfront about the fact that I am a spokesperson for LifeLock, and that even though they pay me to speak about the dangers of identity theft as one of their education specialists, they do not control what I say or what I write. Others have not been so forthcoming.

There will always be people who try to get around the intention of laws, rules and regulations.  What about those who seem to have found a way around the FTC's crackdown?  There are those who make it their business to take a back-handed approach to "endorsements."  I call them anti-endorsements: instead of disclosing their interest in product X, they instead smear the competition Y.  This has the same effect as endorsing X but without any of those pesky disclosures.
Another way the client/advertiser/sponsor can avoid having to include a disclosure statement is by embedding links to the sponsoring entity.  That way, the writer is saying, in essence, "Go here!  This is good stuff!" without actually triggering a need for a disclosure.  No crime, no foul.  No disclosure is required.

These kinds of anti-endorsements follow the letter but not, in my opinion, the spirit of the FTC regulations.

I attempted to reason via a comment with a blogger who has "a long professional history in the finance industry."  She stated--in what I believed to be a thinly veiled attack on LifeLock--that she would not want to do business with a company that was under investigation by the FTC.  Oh, really?  A bit tired of reading what I viewed as a hidden agenda, one that wouldn't be clear or fair to her readers, I felt compelled to comment -and did;
I find it a bit disingenuous to say you would be wary about doing business with any company that is under investigation by the FTC when you appear to be doing just that. This website has an array of advertisements (and links) to services such as Free Credit Score, owned by the major credit bureau Experian, a competitor of LifeLock. They have on different occasions themselves been under investigation and fined by the FTC. (See FTC notice here and additional FTC Settlement news here.)
 The LifeLock FTC settlement is over advertising that the FTC claims was misleading to consumers for the period March 2005 to April 2008 and for issues the FTC had with their services during their earlier days. Not their current services. It is very old news and the service they offer today is far superior to what they offered in earlier days and includes services we cannot do for ourselves such as scouring public, private databases and underground chat rooms where our data is bought and sold.
Now, if you want to talk about aggressive marketing, no one can beat the singing pirates:  f.r.e.e. spells free, baby--not!  The FTC offered spoof parody videos to help consumers avoid falling for the plentiful fake free credit report ads, and direct them to the correct site.
 Remember, the real problem is identity theft, not those people who are offering solutions to fight it

That comment has not seen the light of day. To me, that speaks volumes. Money can buy love, but not fairness.

According to a quote from Mary Engle, director of the FTC's Division of Advertising Practices, "Companies, including public relations firms involved in online marketing, need to abide by long-held principles of truth in advertising. Advertisers should not pass themselves off as ordinary consumers touting a product, and endorsers should make it clear when they have financial connections to sellers."

I agree.
Transparency is a good thing--and that means no bait and switch. No smoke and mirrors. No hidden agendas.  I don't think the intent of the truth in advertising rules mean smear the other guys and avoid sharing news of your financial interests or possible motives for doing so. The FTC's truth in advertising rules can seem blurred but the spirit is not: Stop trying to pull the wool over the eyes of consumers.

As a whole, the identity theft protection industry can be of great value in fighting this crime. Trouble is, many in the industry and the media continue to work against those who are trying to find real solutions. With cyber-crimes and data breaches growing right along with crime sophistication, that's a disservice to the public -and the industry itself.

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The new FTC rule formally called Title 16 – Code of Federal Regulations, Part 322, for Mortgage Assistance Relief Services goes into effect December 19, 2010.

Under the new rules, loan mod company operators also need to beware of Title 16 – Code of Federal Regulations, Part 322, for Mortgage Assistance Relief Services aka MARS.

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