December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

To serve and protect: FTC director is both teacher and cop to online retail community

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The bricks-and-mortar retailers who have turned to e-retailing usually understand the rules. It is the pure-play companies new to the retail business that have the most problems, she says. “Most of the rules and precedent that govern retailing pretty much apply to Internet retailing,” she says. “The issue is one of new people who have never been in the business before. They aren’t aware of the rules that govern retailers.” In fact, CDNow, one of the seven e-retailers fined for Christmastime delays, said it was not aware that mail-order rules applied to Internet sales.

If e-retailers have any questions on how to comply with consumer protection rules they should call the bureau, she says. “The first thing they can do is get on our web site and review the business education materials that pertain to their business-get them, read them,” Bernstein says. The bureau routinely works with retailers to sort out which regulations apply to that type of business and which do not. “Sometimes people are worried about things that really have nothing to do with them. We want Internet commerce to succeed and we want the businesses to succeed. It’s not in our interest to have a lot of people get into trouble.”

Like a beat cop walking a familiar street, look for the FTC to “keep monitoring and be ready at all times to move very quickly if an event occurs that is injurious to consumers,” Bernstein says, adding: “I have people doing Internet work all over the bureau, and some in the regional offices. It’s not an isolated function. We have a large band of Internet police.”

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