With a new administration in Washington, one of the top officials soon to be replaced will be Jodie Bernstein, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Bernstein has established a reputation as a tough watchdog of consumer affairs, especially abuses of customers by new businesses (and scams) that have developed on the Internet -- and she is a Galesburg native.
Bernstein was born Joan Zeldes 74 years ago in Galesburg, where her father owned Louie's Liquor store and her mother was a buyer at a department store. After high school, where she developed an interest in politics, Bernstein went on to college at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, graduating in the top of her class, Next she went to Yale Law School, graduating in 1951, again one of the top in her class.
After marriage to a Chicago doctor, however, Bernstein put her career on hold for a while, raising three children. In the late 1960s, though, the couple, whose marriage has lasted 48 years, moved to Washington, D.C. and Bernstein took a job with the Consumer Protection Bureau, working there, for other agencies and in private practice for the next two decades. In 1995 her old boss, Robert Pitofsky, was appointed chairman of the FTC and he, in turn, appointed Bernstein head of the Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Bernstein quickly found out that a major area needing attention was the new world of business on the Internet. Under her direction, the Bureau investigated such things as the Fortuna Alliance, a Ponzi scheme in which ''investors'' were promised a return of $5,000 a month on an ''investment'' of $250. The scam had taken in $11 million from over 25,000 people before Berrnstein's office responded to complaints and shut down the operation, recovering about $5.5 million for more than 15,000 of the scheme's victims.
Other rip-offs the Bureau investigated included a sex website that advertised ''free'' pictures but connected victims to European websites with $2 per minute phone charges. The Bureau has also worked to ensure that Internet auction sites give customers the same protections online that the law entitles them offline, encouraged website operators to post privacy policies, investigated misleading advertising claims by some dietary supplement companies, and shut down scholarship search services for scamming families looking for money to pay for college.
The 5-foot-2, 112-pound Bernstein, who has been called the nation's ''Top Cybercop'' (by the National Inquirer), will be leaving her position soon, as it is the usual custom to replace heads of the FTC and their subordinates when a new administration takes over. Her retirement party is May 27th and the City of Galesburg is issuing a resolution honoring her. She may be remembered for a number of accomplishments -- and as part of a Jeopardy game show question: ''Jodie Berrnstein, consumer protection head for the FTC, helped kill this animal symbol of Reynolds Tobacco. Answer ''Joe Camel.''