What does consumer protection law cover?
The federal government and state governments have enacted many laws that impose safety standards on corporations that sell products on the open market. Other laws control business practices across most industries and shape the interactions of corporations with consumers. These laws often provide enforcement tools for consumers who are injured by defective products or who suffer financial losses because of improper business practices. Thus, they can recover compensation for their injuries or costs. Proving this type of claim can be a complex, technical process, so an aggrieved consumer should retain an attorney if a significant amount of money is at stake.
What is the lemon law?
The lemon law is an area of consumer protection law that applies specifically to motor vehicles and the parties that distribute them. It covers vehicles that suffer from a significant defect that is covered by the warranty and cannot be fixed after reasonable attempts at repairs. About 1% of the new cars sold in the U.S. each year fall into this category. A consumer may be entitled to a replacement or refund if their car qualifies as a lemon. Federal lemon laws generally apply only to new cars, but state lemon laws may cover used cars in certain situations.
Can I sue if the defect or problem was unintentional?
Generally, yes. Laws hold companies accountable even if they were genuinely unaware of a defect and did not intend to release or distribute a defective item. Claims based on injuries caused by defective products often are brought under a theory of strict liability. This means that the company’s negligence or wrongdoing is not taken into account. However, laws in this area vary by state.
Can I sue if I did not purchase anything?
In many cases, state laws protect consumers who did not purchase anything. For example, if a consumer enters a store to purchase a certain item that was advertised, and the store does not have that item or a replacement for it, the consumer may have a basis to sue in some states. The main challenge in these cases might be proving that the consumer incurred some actual damages. If they did not, they could still report the store for violating the statute, and the state or local government might impose penalties on the store, but the consumer might or might not be able to sue.
Do I need to pay for something that I never ordered?
You do not need to pay for something that you did not order. The item can be kept as a “gift,” or you can return it if the seller covers shipping costs. You may want to check to make sure that you did not sign up for a free trial and are now being billed because the free trial expired. If this happened, you can cancel the service and take your name off the seller’s mailing list. Otherwise, you can demand proof of the purchase from the seller. If the dispute continues, you can tell the seller that you are planning to take action against them based on their unfair or deceptive business practices. This may resolve the problem, but you can notify your state consumer protection agency if it does not.
When can I sue based on false advertising?
Companies can be very aggressive in their marketing. As a result, a consumer might make a purchase under the impression that they will receive a certain type of item, only to receive something else that does not at all match the marketing. You can bring a claim against the company in this situation. Even if the advertising contains disclaimers or is technically accurate, the company can be liable if the overall impression would be misleading to consumers. In some situations, a company may be liable even if no consumer was deceived.
When can I sue based on deceptive pricing?
If a company claims that a product or service is free when it is not, this can result in a deceptive pricing claim. Sometimes a company will try to induce consumers to buy its products by making misleading comparisons with a competitor’s products. Or it might make misleading comparisons between one of its products that is on sale and one of its products that is not on sale, trying to convince a consumer that the product on sale is a great bargain. Any of these situations can result in liability in most states.
What should I do if I have been a victim of a scam?
You should promptly contact the local office of your state consumer protection agency. For certain types of fraud, you may want to notify the relevant federal agency or the FBI as well. You can consider reporting the scam to the police and assisting them with filing criminal charges. (However, the decision of whether to pursue charges will be made by a prosecutor rather than you.) Regardless of whether charges are filed or the police think that your case is worthwhile, you can consult an attorney about bringing a civil lawsuit based on the scam. The standard of proof is much lower in civil cases than criminal cases, so you may prevail even if the scammer is not convicted.
What are some common types of scams?
As discussed above, free trial offers may conceal a scam. Offers of government stimulus money or assistance with paying off your mortgage should raise red flags. Many scammers target people who are in serious financial trouble because they believe that these people will be desperate enough to pursue any opportunity, even if it seems suspicious. Lotteries, sweepstakes, and auctions also are areas that are often targeted. Scammers operate online in many cases, so you should beware of phishing emails or online ads for jobs that allow you to work from home. In other cases, scammers may use robocalls to advertise products or services that do not exist. The bottom line is that an offer that seems too good to be true probably is.
Can I get my money back after a scam?
Unfortunately, a consumer usually does not get their money back after being victimized by a scam. You may be able to get your money back if the scam involved a credit card or debit card, though, since you can contact the entity that provided the card to contest the charges. Similarly, you may be able to recoup fraudulent charges on your phone bill by explaining the situation to your phone service provider. If the police catch the scammer, and they are prosecuted, you may be entitled to a certain amount of restitution as part of a plea deal or conviction. Bringing a civil claim against a scammer usually does not reap rewards, since they have few assets from which to collect a judgment.