National Consumer Protection Week is observed every year in March. The goals and ideals of this campaign, as articulated in H. Res. 179, H2602, are to educate consumers so they would be “better equipped to see through fraud and deception, whether in the form of questionable claims in an advertisement, offers that come in the mail or e-mail, or schemes designed to appear to be risk-free.”
We’ve all heard about the high-profile frauds in recent history including: WorldCom’s and Enron’s accounting scandals, Nigerian email scams, tax-related identity theft, and others described in Forbes’ recent image gallery, “The 10 Biggest Frauds in Recent U.S. History.” However, scams, frauds, and fraudsters in businesses and the marketplace are nothing new. In fact, the history of scams and frauds in the United States is a fascinating study in itself. For example, in 2012, Inside Adams published a post on the shenanigans of one of the more colorful fraudsters in railroad business history, Jay Gould. But, there is more…
Scams and frauds have occurred in other industries as well. For instance:
- 1859-1880: Nevada’s Comstock Lode scandal (mining)
- 1872: The “Great Diamond Hoax” (mining)
- 1897: The Buncomb Company and the “moth cure” (advertising)
- 1920s: Charles Ponzi’s eponymous scheme (finance)
- 1901: George Graham Rice, “The Jackal of Wall Street” (finance)
- 1921: Almeda Everts, the “Petticoat Ponzi” (finance)
- 1920s: Oil investment promoters in the early 20th century (petroleum)
And, what about the “good guys”? Not to worry. Consumer protection history is also quite interesting. The following are selected resources that speak further on consumer protection and the consumer movement:
- The Pure Food, Drink, and Drug Crusaders, 1879-1914 by Lorine Swainston Goodwin (1999).
- Radio Active: Advertising and Consumer Activism, 1935-1947 by Kathy M. Newman (c2004).
- Consumer Protection edited by Lester A. Sobel (c1976).
- The Expert Consumer: Associations and Professionals in Consumer Society edited by Alain Chatriot, Marie-Emmanuelle Chessel, Matthew Hilton (c2006).
- The Consumer Movement: Guardians of the Marketplace by Robert N. Mayer (1989).
- Test and Protest : The Influence of Consumers Union by Norman Isaac Silber (1983).
For further research on the history of frauds, scams, and consumer protection, the following Subject Headings will help you identify additional publications:
Consumer protection–United States.
Consumer protection–United States–Bibliography.
Consumer protection–United States–History.
Deceptive advertising–United States.
Swindlers and swindling–United States.
Why should you care about frauds and consumer protection history?” Well, other than a good story, we can learn from the “lessons” of the past to better deal with the present and prepare for the future. Instances of scams and frauds have risen due to the globalization of businesses and the rise of e-commerce. The federal government’s involvement has increased in response, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was formed in 2011. Starting in 2015, President Obama began working with American Retailers to shift towards more secure payment standards via “Chip-and-Pin” (EMV) card technology. You are probably seeing the results of these efforts today as retailers gradually shift towards EMV card readers to accommodate microchip-enabled cards.
Currently, National Consumer Protection Week includes a partnership of 89 federal, state, and local agencies who are working together to connect consumers with educational resources. You are making choices everyday about the products you sign up for. These choices not only affect you, but affect your family as well. While nothing is foolproof, learning about different kinds of frauds and scams, and keeping up to speed on your rights will help you make better, more informed decisions, and become an overall savvier consumer.
Update March 22: This post was written by our new reference librarian in Business Angel Vu. She will eventually become a blogger here at Inside Adams so look for more posts in the future.