The FTC collects complaints about companies that allegedly violate the data privacy, data security, advertising, and marketing laws. The result is a massive database of consumer complaints known as “Consumer Sentinel” that is used by the FTC and other consumer protection regulators to identify and investigate enforcement targets.

Regulators can use Consumer Sentinel to search for complaints on any company. They can also request that the database alert them to new complaints about an organization, or connect them with other law enforcement agencies that might have an interest in investigating the same organization. In addition to these functionalities, the FTC also creates a “Top Violator” report and a “Surge” report that track those organizations that the FTC believes may have a suspicious pattern of consumer complaints.1 The end result is that the vast majority of FTC enforcement actions target companies identified within the FTC’s database. The following provides a snapshot of information concerning the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel.

28 million

Number of consumer complaints maintained in Consumer Sentinel.2

93.8%

Percentage of FTC enforcement actions that target a company found in Consumer Sentinel.3

35

Number of government agencies that contribute complaints to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel.4

195

Number of distinct “law violations” tracked by the FTC.5

394 – 2,795

Range of complaints filed per month against the top
50 organizations tracked.6

 

What to think about when considering the records that the FTC maintains about your organization:

  1. Has your organization been identified as a potential enforcement target on the FTC’s Top Violator or Surge reports?
  2. Does your organization routinely track the quantity of complaints that the FTC maintains about it?
  3. Is the volume of complaints filed about your organization above, or below, those of others in your industry?
  4. If the FTC, or another regulator, searched for the complaints about your organization what potential compliance issues would they identify?
  5. If your organization were investigated by the FTC, is the volume of complaints filed about it easily explained?
  6. Is the volume of your complaints trending up, or trending down?
  7. Have plaintiffs’ law firms investigated your complaint volume?

1. FTC Office of Inspector General, Evaluation of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Resources, OIG Evaluation Report No. 14-003, p. 4, 8 (Oct. 2, 2014), https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/evaluation-ftc-bureau-consumer-protection-resources/2015evaluationftcbcpreport.pdf.

2. FTC, Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for January – December 2015, p. 3 (February 2016) (12 million complaints from Consumer Sentinel and 16 million from do-not-call database).

3. FTC, Fiscal Year 2015 Performance Report and Annual Performance Plan for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017, p. 51 https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/fy-2016-2017-performance-plan-fy-2015-performance-report/pprfy16-17_0.pdf.

4. FTC, Consumer Sentinel Network Data Contributors, https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/consumer-sentinel-network/data-contributors (last viewed Nov. 11, 2016).

5. Based upon Law Violation Codes used within the FTC's Consumer Sentinel database.

6. FTC, Top Companies Receiving Complaints in Consumer Sentinel (Aug. 1, 2016 – Aug. 31, 2016) (excludes complaints relating to scams connected to impersonating the government).