Thank you Sally for that warm introduction. And thanks to Commissioner Ohlhausen for the FTC’s incredible partnership in the work to protect consumers. I am honored National Consumers League invited me here to mark the launch of its new Fraud.org site. And I welcome the opportunity to speak with so many leading consumer stakeholders, experts, and advocates, as well as federal, state and local partners — all of you who engage in the daily work of exposing fraud against consumers and constructively finding solutions that the American consumer deserves.
As Sally mentioned, I lead the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. As the largest litigating component of the Department, we represent the United States in an incredibly broad range of matters, many of which grab headlines in the paper every day. Among other things, I am proud of our work vigorously investigating and punishing financial fraud — work that makes a real difference in the everyday lives of Americans.
We have made protecting consumers a centerpiece of the Department’s overall anti-fraud efforts. From the creation of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force and its Consumer Protection Working Group — chaired by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Justice; to the record-breaking law enforcement results our Consumer Protection Branch has been able to achieve; to our outreach and collaboration with many of the advocates and organizations represented in this room — all of these efforts underscore an unprecedented level of commitment to confronting challenges that threaten our economic security, and the health and safety of our families. Challenges that affect not just investors on Wall Street, but the folks on Main Street.
We are bringing more consumer cases involving financial fraud, including mortgage fraud, telephone cramming, lottery and sweepstakes scams, abusive and deceptive debt collection practices, and business-opportunity schemes. We are employing all of the tools in our enforcement toolbox, administrative, civil and criminal. We are collaborating with other federal agencies and state partners — sharing information, data and investigative practices where we can. And we are recognizing the importance of a vibrant collaboration with the consumer advocacy community, the individuals and organizations like NCL who have been at the heart of this effort.
This commitment comes from a recognition that consumer fraud can cause devastating financial impacts, with effects that can go beyond simply losing money and extend to a loss of trust in the marketplace; a loss of confidence in the critical products we need like the medicines we take or the food we eat; and a loss of security when we fall victim to a scam.
The results demonstrate that our efforts are making a difference. Since 2009, the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, working together with our partners in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, has secured over $5.8 billion in criminal fines, forfeiture, disgorgement, and restitution ordered to victims. During that same period, the Consumer Protection Branch has obtained criminal convictions against 115 individuals and total prison sentences exceeding 312 years.
But none of this enforcement success would be possible if consumer victims never came forward. Research shows that financial fraud is dramatically underreported. For example, according to the AARP, only one in four investment fraud victims, even after losing up to $25,000 in a scam, was willing to admit he had been victimized. Unlike victims of violent crime, victims of financial fraud may not realize that the thing that happened to them — the offer or opportunity or investment — is actually illegal. And they are more likely to blame themselves, feeling shame, embarrassment, and humiliation.
We want victims to know that fraud is not their fault and that they are not alone. Without their stories and that data, we may not always identify where fraud is happening, and whom it is hitting the hardest. And ultimately, we may be unable to use our enforcement tools to greatest effect.
That is why we are so enthusiastic about the launch of NCL’s new site, Fraud.org. Consumer advocates like NCL are the front line for so many consumers who have been defrauded and just don’t know where to turn. Like its predecessor, the Fraud Center, the new site will make it easier for consumers to report potential fraud or misrepresentation, and for law enforcement organizations, like the Civil Division, to do something about it.
Of course we all realize that as much as we want victims of consumer fraud to report, we would prefer there not be any victims in the first place. From that perspective, even more important than its reporting feature is Fraud.org’s educational component. NCL will provide reports, issue alerts, and post web pages that warn consumers about new scams and help level the playing field with accurate, consumer-friendly information. Although DOJ’s primary role is enforcement, we know we cannot prosecute our way out of every consumer fraud. That is why we emphasize prevention as much as prosecution. And in so doing, we rely on organizations like NCL, and sites like Fraud.org, to help arm consumers with the tools they need to protect themselves from financial predators.
Consumer threats are everywhere. And every day I realize that, despite our successes, we have much work yet to do. But in those moments, I am grateful for the partnerships we have forged with organizations like NCL, and so many of you in this room, that have allowed for more innovative and creative solutions to these threats — and that will help ensure that we continue the progress in our shared goal to protect consumers.
Thank you very much.