Network News: Spring 2017

Spring 2017
Volume 10 | Issue 2
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Sentinel 3.0


This spring brings breezy picnics, azaleas in bloom, and the first major overhaul of the Consumer Sentinel Network in a decade.  In June, the FTC will launch Sentinel 3.0, with key upgrades such as new analytical and visualization tools, phrase cloud and phrase trending, and search results that will personalize user experiences.  Please stand by for the announcement of multiple live training sessions.   

Annual Data Book

The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for 2016 indicates that consumer reporting of identity theft, government imposter scams, and redirection of government benefit scams are on the increase.  Consumers lodged 406,500 government impostor complaints in 2016, up from 353,000 in 2015 – a 15 percent increase, which included imposters who claimed to be FTC officials or employees.  Moreover, for the first time, imposter scams surpassed identity theft complaints as the second highest category of consumer complaints in 2016.  These scammers often victimize particular populations, including the elderly, immigrant communities, and military consumers.

National Cyber Crime Conference

On April 24, 2017, the Sentinel manager attended the National Cyber Crime Conference in Norwood, Massachusetts, which drew about 600 law enforcement members who were investigators, prosecutors, and technical staff such as forensic examiners.  The Sentinel manager conducted a late morning session on using Sentinel to stop cybercrime, defined as computer-related crime.  The chief threat identified at this conference was ransomware, particularly the Cerber family.  Other top threats were malicious spam and impostor scams.


OIG Initiative

The Bureau of Consumer Protection has collaborated with the FTC Office of Inspector General (OIG) and other OIGs to identify opportunities to boost OIG investigations of consumer fraud.  The objectives of the OIG’s ongoing collaboration are to ensure that the OIG community is aware of and uses Sentinel and to identify opportunities to expand Sentinel’s database with consumer complaints lodged with other federal agencies.  The manager has provided tutorials on Sentinel’s upgraded tools for searching common schemes, identifying complainants and witnesses, and isolating key fraud indicators, such as provider names and other information used to fraudulently obtain government benefits or perpetrate other consumer scams. 

Did You Know?

A fraction of consumers file complaints with the FTC as informants.  You can search for informants in Sentinel.  In Advanced Search, locate “Contact Type” and select “Informant.”  Hold down the Control key, and select “Informant” as well as “Complaint.”

Sentinel Complaints Help Stop Recidivists

One way the FTC uses Sentinel is to stop recidivist scams.  In the case Dayton Family Productions, the FTC’s Enforcement Division used Sentinel to identify deceptive acts and practices in violation of a 1998 order for permanent injunction in connection with telemarketing.  In that case, the entity misrepresented to consumers that they won a valuable prize and required payment for it.  FTC staff used Sentinel to identify and interview consumer witnesses; the case investigator also conducted a limited complaint analysis that aided in obtaining a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction.

In another case, Max Results Marketing, the defendants operated call centers that contacted consumers – often veterans, older Americans, or people in debt – with promises of grants from the government or corporations.  Supposedly to determine the amount of the grant, the telemarketers asked consumers for their income, driver’s license number, home value, credit card debt, available credit, access to savings and retirement funds, and other sensitive information.  Information in the Sentinel database helped link phone numbers to the identified boiler rooms and helped show the court that the scam targeted elderly consumers.     

Charity Workshop

In March, the FTC joined the National Association of State Charities Officials in hosting and presenting “Give & Take: Consumers, Contributions, and Charity,” a conference focused on consumer protection issues in charitable giving.  The workshop featured discussions of crowd-funding and cause marketing as well as panels with sector leaders from Guidestar, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Independent Sector, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance discussing how to protect donors from fraud.  Event materials are available at the link above.

A non-public law enforcement section featured training sessions on online and mobile fundraising techniques, how third parties like Charity Navigator, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and GoFundMe identify fraudulent actors, and opportunities for FTC staff and state assistant attorneys general to analyze and discuss fundraising fraud and other issues of mutual concern.


Identity Theft Conference


The Federal Trade Commission held a conference on May 24, 2017, in Washington, D.C. to examine the state of identity theft.  FTC Acting Chairman Ohlhausen delivered keynote remarks at the “Planning for the Future” conference (final agenda).  The event brought together industry representatives, consumer advocates, government officials, and others.

The daylong conference included panel discussions on how identity thieves acquire and use consumer information, how websites trade in stolen consumer information, the impact of identity theft on financial services, health care and other sectors, the challenges that identity theft victims face, and resources available to identity theft victims.  In addition, FTC technical experts gave a presentation describing how malicious actors use consumer data available online.


New Data Contributors

The FTC is working on adding more data contributors to Sentinel.  If you have consumer complaint data that you contribute into Sentinel, you will be able to use Sentinel’s new analytical tools to mine your data.  You will also help fellow Sentinel members boost their law enforcement capabilities by sharing this data.  Contact for details.


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