By Diane Bartz

Four Democratic senators, including Senators Maria Cantwell and Amy Klobuchar, introduced a bill that would allow the U.S. Federal Trade Commission return money to scam victims, Cantwell's office said in a statement Wednesday. 

The bill would explicitly give the FTC the authority to ask a judge to order money be returned, even if the lawbreaking conduct has halted. The commission lost that authority when the Supreme Court ruled it had overstepped in fighting deception and fraud.

It will require any relief to be "in the public interest," her office said. The bill creates a statute of limitations of 10 years, according to a copy of the bill released by her office.

The FTC had been suing companies and scammers for decades to recover funds but was stopped in April 2021 by the Supreme Court, which found that the agency went further than it could legally in seeking court orders to make fraudsters return money.

In the five years before the decision, the FTC returned $11.2 billion to consumers, Cantwell's office said.

The FTC needs Congress to expressly give it authority to recover such funds. The House of Representatives passed similar legislation last year.

Business groups had complained that the FTC had been too aggressive.

"For decades, the FTC used this authority to return billions of dollars owed to consumers and small businesses who were scammed, swindled, deceived, or locked out of competitive marketplaces," said Cantwell in a statement. "Our bill restores that power so the commission can get back to its work on behalf of victims."

In addition to Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, the bill was introduced by Senators Ben Ray Luján and Raphael Warnock.