Consumer Protection on Camera
It’s awards season for the entertainment industry. There’s no red carpet in front of the FTC and no one’s likely to ask “Who are you wearing?” — except to ascertain that the manufacturer complied with the Care Labeling Rule. But consumer protection is a common theme in movies nonetheless. With acknowledgments to Steve Baker, director of the FTC’s Midwest Region who first started the list, here are some of our favorite consumer protection-themed films:
The Net (1995) Identity theft is just one of the crises facing computer geek Sandra Bullock in this Web 1.0 thriller. After uncovering cloak-and-dagger shenanigans, she falls into a convenient three-day coma. When she wakes up, her identity’s been stolen. Lots of chartreuse-on-black screenshots answer the question “What did the Internet look like when you were little, Mommy?” Too bad the lead character didn't visit the FTC's identity theft site.
The Flim Flam Man (1967) George C. Scott stars as Mordecai Jones, M.B.S., C.S., D.D. — “Master of Back-Stabbing, Cork-Screwing and Dirty-Dealing.” Conman Jones travels throughout the South teaching the tricks of the trade to a protégé. Slim Pickens appears as the victim of the classic pigeon drop. The movie also features the “punchboard” scam, challenged as an unfair trade practice in Globe Cardboard Novelty Co. v. FTC, 192 F.2d 444 (3d Cir. 1951), and other cases.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) In a David Mamet story reminiscent of some of the FTC’s land sales cases, high-pressure salesmen use all the tricks of the trade to get a buyer’s signature on the dotted line. Alec Baldwin gives a memorable performance as the hatchet man sent by the higher-ups to boost sales: “A B C. Always Be Closing.” Their potential targets should read up on 10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Fraud.
The Last Seduction (1994) Linda Fiorentino joins Double Indemnity’s Barbara Stanwick and Body Heat’s Kathleen Turner in the pantheon of Film Noir Femme Fatale Scammers. Only this time she’s a crooked telemarketer running a boiler room. Even her lawyer, played by J.T. Walsh, is appalled: “Anyone checked you for a heartbeat lately?” There's not much we can do about that, but Complying with the Telemarketing Sales Rule offers helpful guidance on staying on the right side of the TSR.
Tin Men (1987) This Barry Levinson film features Danny Devito and Richard Dreyfuss as competitors in Baltimore’s cut-throat aluminum siding business. The movie begins with a fender bender involving their Cadillacs (Check out the tail fins!) and ends as the Maryland Home Improvement Commission investigates their shady dealings. Their tactics resemble door-to-door sales cases brought by the FTC. For example, in Holland Furnace, 55 F.T.C. 55 (1958), aff’d, 295 F.2d 302 (7th Cir. 1961), sales representatives posing as “inspectors” would disassemble homeowners’ furnaces and then refuse to reassemble them, citing grave fire hazards. In came the respondent, who sold replacement boilers. Thinking about home improvements? Check out these tips from the FTC first.
Matchstick Men (2003) Reloading is particularly pernicious kind of con. Scammers rip off consumers and then go back for a second helping, posing as law enforcement officers on the trail of the crooks. In this Ridley Scott film, Nicolas Cage’s character uses a bogus prize promotion to sell water filtration systems. Then he follows up as “Agent Kellaway from the Federal Trade Commission” who just needs to “verify” victims’ checking account numbers to nab the bad guys. Here's more on spotting a reloading scam.
Crazy People (1990) In this Dudley Moore vehicle, an advertising agency executive enlists fellow sanitarium patients to draft ad copy, proving that when it comes to truth in advertising, there’s truth . . . and then there’s truth. See also Clark Cable’s 1947 classic, The Hucksters, and Advertising FAQs: A Guide for Small Business.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) This Broadway musical comedy traces J. Pierpont Finch’s career as an ambitious executive with World Wide Wicket. His corporate Waterloo is a rigged prize promotion broadcast live on national TV. Find out more about the telltale signs of a sweepstakes scam.
The Joneses (2009) Demi Moore, David Duchovny, and their two kids look like a typical American family, but they’re really a marketing team sent undercover in suburbia to hype their clients’ products. Too bad they didn’t read the Endorsement Guides and The FTC's Revised Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking about disclosing materials connections.
Any additions to the list?