Tester Underscores Need to Restore Federal Trade Commission Authority to Claw Back Money from Bad Actors Scamming Veterans
At hearing, Tester pushes officials to hold bad actors accountable following 2021 Supreme Court ruling
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester led a hearing yesterday to examine fraud and scams targeting veterans and their families, and identify mechanisms to hold bad actors accountable.
“A historic number of veterans are receiving disability benefits,” said Tester. “Unfortunately, more and more bad actors and scammers are seeing these veterans as a payday. While veterans should never have to pay to get the benefits they earned, we are faced with the reality that many veterans are choosing to pay for assistance.”
During the hearing, Tester pressed the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Deputy Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection on the agency’s enforcement tools to hold scammers accountable and claw back money for veterans.
“A critical part of the FTC’s enforcement work has been clawing back money from scammers and returning it to the veteran consumer,”said FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Deputy Director Monica Vaca. “The Supreme Court’s AMG decision dealt a massive blow to the FTC’s ability to obtain that kind of relief. When we’re seeing veterans report more than a 50 percent increase in financial loses in 2022, the AMG ruling has hobbled our ability to fight fraud and get lost dollars back to military consumers.”
The FTC is responsible for enforcing certain unfair or deceptive practices in or affecting commerce. In 2021, the Supreme Court struck down the FTC’s ability to obtain monetary relief for victims of deceptive or unfair business practices under sec 13(b) of the FTC Act.
Following sustained questioning from Tester, Vaca urged Congress to pass legislation to restore the FTC’s ability to claw back money from bad actors and organizations scamming veterans. She also emphasized the FTC’s success in obtaining $10 billion in monetary restitution from scammers. Last Congress, Tester voted in favor of reporting the Consumer Protection Remedies Act of 2022, which would have restored the FTC’s ability to seek monetary relief under sec 13(b) of the FTC Act.
Tester went on to question the Department of the Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Chief Counsel of the Benefits Law Group within the Office of General Counsel David Barrans on how the Department determines and makes referrals for reasonable fees for VA accredited individuals helping veterans and survivors file disability claims.
A staunch advocate of protecting veterans’ benefits, Tester recently introduced bipartisan legislation alongside his colleagues to hold unaccredited entities targeting Montana veterans and survivors accountable for their predatory practices. The bipartisan Governing Unaccredited Representatives Defrauding (GUARD) VA Benefits Act would reinstate criminal penalties for unaccredited claim representatives who charge veterans unauthorized fees while helping them file VA disability claims.