The Federal Trade Commission today said it fired off 19 warning letters to online sites it said were illegally selling documents to obtain International Driving Permits. The FTC says that consumer groups and state and local law enforcers have charged that in some cases, the documents are being promoted as legitimate identification to undocumented immigrants in the United States.
The U.S. has chosen only two organizations -- the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance -- to issue International Driving Permits to lawful holders of U.S. driver's licenses, according to the FTC.
"An International Driving Permit is an official document created by international treaties that translates a domestic driver's license into several foreign languages. Under these treaties, residents of a particular country must obtain an IDP from a governmental agency or organization designated by that country. Such a permit issued by an agency or organization designated by a country's government is the only official translation of a person's domestic driver's license. No document issued by any other organization, individual or company meets the requirements set forth in these treaties," the FTC stated.
In the letters, FTC stated that the marketers' websites appear to be making a variety of false claims about the document, saying falsely that their permits:
" establish a person's right to drive in foreign countries;
" carry an official status or is recognized as such;
" meet the requirements of any of the United Nations Conventions on Road Traffic;
" serve the same purpose as an International Driving Permit;
" constitute proof that a person's domestic driver's license is valid;
" let persons drive in foreign countries without experiencing difficulties caused by language barriers;
" fulfill an automobile rental company's requirement that renters possess an International Driving Permit;
" can be used to purchase automobile insurance; and
" can be used as an identification document in the same ways a person can use a government-issued photo-identification document.
In the letters, FTC staff advises the marketers to review their websites to identify all deceptive or misleading statements, and to notify FTC staff if they intend to remove or revise any claims.
This isn't the first time the FTC has gone after such online sites and there have been lawsuits filed across the country on this type of activity. For example, the Arkansas attorney general's office last week said it filed a consumer protection lawsuit against a Las Vegas company accused of selling invalid international driver's licenses and identification cards to Arkansas residents. According to the lawsuit, American ID Solutions, operated by Saul G. Gomez of Las Vegas, fraudulently tout the ID cards as official, legal documents. In advertisements targeting Spanish-speaking consumers, American ID Solutions claims that the cards entitle holders to drive in any part of the world, rent a car in any city, obtain title and insurance and avoid most traffic citations.
The letter looks like this:
Dear Sir or Madam:
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff has reviewed marketing claims on your website(s) [website address(es)] for a document purporting to translate a person's domestic drivers license into several foreign languages. For convenience, we will refer to your document as a driver's license translation (DLT). Some of the claims made on your website appear to be false, and therefore violate the law. The FTC, the nation's consumer protection agency, enforces laws that prohibit unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce. The FTC Act requires that advertising claims, including those promoting DLTs, be truthful and non-deceptive.
As the attached press release indicates, the FTC has sued companies and individuals in connection with the advertising and sale of DLTs. In those cases the FTC alleged that, in violation of the FTC Act, the defendants falsely claimed that their DLTs: (1) authorized purchasers to drive legally in the United States; (2) allowed consumers to avoid points or traffic violations, as well as sanctions for driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license; and (3) could be used as an identification document in the same ways that a person uses a government issued photo-identification document.
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is an official document, created by several United Nations Road Traffic Conventions, that translates a person's domestic driver's license into several foreign languages. Under these conventions, residents of a signatory country must obtain an IDP from a governmental agency or organization designated by that country. An IDP issued by an agency competent authority of a Contracting State or subdivision thereof, or by a duly authorized association and sealed or stamped by such authority or association.") organization designated by a signatory country is the only translation of a person's domestic driver's license contemplated by the U.N. conventions.
Therefore, no document issued by any other organization, individual or company meets the requirements set forth in these conventions and no such document carries any official status under these conventions. The United States has designated the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance as the only two authorized issuers of IDPs to United States citizens and legal residents.
Contrary to the facts stated above, your website makes express or implied claims about the DLT you are selling, including that it:
! establishes a person's right to drive in foreign countries;
! carries an official status or is recognized as such;
! meets the requirements of any of the United Nations Conventions on Road Traffic;
! serves the same purpose as an International Driving Permit;
! allows persons to drive in foreign countries without experiencing difficulties caused by language barriers;
! constitutes proof that a person's domestic driver's license is valid; and
! fulfills an automobile rental company's requirement that renters possess an International Driving Permit.
In addition, other websites we have reviewed contain additional claims you should avoid. The claims assert that the seller's DLT:
! can be used to purchase automobile insurance; and
! can be used as an identification document in the same ways a person can use a government-issued photo-identification document.
We urge you to review your website to identify all deceptive or misleading statements. Once you have reviewed your website, please advise the FTC staff if you intend to remove or revise any claims, identify the claims you intend to remove or revise, and tell us when you will make those changes. You may call me at (202) 326-2981, if you have any questions or to follow up on this letter.
Lemuel W. Dowdy
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This story, "FTC Warns 19 Online Sites About Falsely Promoting International Driving Permits" was originally published by Network World.