Consumer Law gives individuals the power to speak out if they are being taken advantage of. Consumer protection laws address many types of abuse. Some are unfair, such as making false claims about a product, while others are fraud, such as selling an unsafe or defective product. Consumers can use consumer protection laws to fight against abusive business practices, whether perpetrated by large impersonal corporations, unscrupulous scam artists, or even their neighbors in their town.
Types of Consumer Protection Cases
Consumer rights laws are designed to protect consumers in particularly vulnerable circumstances: For example, debt-collection harassment can be problematic for someone worried about keeping the lights on or avoiding embarrassment when friends and family find out they have financial difficulty. Because of this, debt collection harassment is prohibited by consumer rights laws such as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. A consumer who feels that a debt collector has violated debt-collection laws can bring a claim in Small Claims Court, or, if the violation was particularly egregious, they could file a federal lawsuit against the debt collector.
Before the rise of the internet, consumers would open their mailboxes to find pre-approved credit card applications or official-looking government notifications. Consumers would receive these unsolicited offers, look them over quickly, and order what they could afford.
The "pre-approved" offers often came with exorbitant interest rates, hidden fees, and confusing terms. Over-extended consumers are often left out of options when funds run low or when they face unexpected emergencies. Fraudulent loan providers took advantage of this and used it as an opportunity to carry out fraudulent loan processes that ruined consumers' credit and, in some cases, caused bankruptcy.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has several responsibilities related to consumer protection. Some of these include: enforcing truth-in-advertising laws, regulating offers and promotions, protecting consumer privacy, monitoring consumer-reporting agencies, and stopping ID theft.
Additionally, state attorneys general can become involved in consumer protection issues if the federal government refuses to take the slack.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent agency of the United States government whose responsibilities include protecting and promoting competition. Founded in 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson, the FTC is the nation's primary consumer protection agency. The FTC is in charge of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, which enforces various federal laws dealing with unfair or deceptive business practices.
Since its founding, the FTC's role has expanded from enacting antitrust policies to providing consumer protection in the marketplace. The agency continues that effort, including important initiatives in antitrust concerns and competition for voice-over-internet (VoIP) services.
Class Action Lawsuits against Companies
Consumers fall victim to fraudulent companies every day. This happens when consumers purchase a product or service that does not match the seller's premises. When this occurs, the consumer may suffer a loss equal to the amount paid and perhaps some incidental expenses. But in all likelihood, the consumer's failure will represent only a fraction of the amount of money it would take to bring a lawsuit against the seller.
Consumers have the option of filing a complaint with federal or state authorities in an attempt to have sanctions brought against a fraudulent company. However, this would not allow them to get their money back.
An individual whose rights have been violated can join with other plaintiffs with similar claims against the same defendant. With strength in numbers, a group of victims can present a serious legal threat to even the largest corporations. Attorneys who take up these cases work on a contingent basis, meaning they only get paid if and when the victims are compensated.
Furthermore, victims with claims that are the basis of a class-action suit may decide to "opt-out" and pursue the matter individually when it is in their best interests.
You can learn if you have a consumer protection claim by exploring answers to these three questions:
- Did you purchase a product?
- Did it cause you harm?
- Did you, through your research, conclude the product was defective?
If you believe a merchant has violated your consumer rights, make the most out of your situation. Speak with a lawyer, regardless of whether or not you want to file a complaint. Doing so will allow you to potentially collect financial compensation or persuade the merchant to change their behavior, so no one else has to experience the same abuse.