Consumer issues can come up whenever an individual purchases goods or services as a consumer. There are different consumer protection laws at both the federal and state level which are meant to protect consumers from unfair and dishonest practices by sellers.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a major federal agency that is given the task of protecting consumer rights and the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection enforces the different federal laws which are meant to prevent exploitative and deceptive practices throughout the consumer economy. Consumer protection laws often involve many different legal concepts.
What are Some Common Issues that Consumers Face?
There are some common consumer issues and they may be at the center of many lawsuits and legal proceedings. Among the major ones are:
- Consumers’ lack of information or bargaining power.
- False advertising and deceptive business practices.
- Consumer fraud issues.
- Predatory lending and financial scams.
- Issues regarding product safety and defects.
- Personal injuries resulting from dangerous or defective products.
- Breaches of contract and breaches of consumer warranties.
- Product recalls.
- Identity fraud.
- Getting billed for products and services not provided.
What are Some of the Solutions?
If you think that your consumer rights were violated, you can exercise certain options such as:
- Filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Filing a complaint with your state’s Attorney General Consumer Protection Division.
- Filing a complaint with your Better Business Bureau.
- Filing a complaint in small claims court.
- Hiring an attorney if your case involves large monetary damages.
Consumer Protection and the Internet
Similar to catalog and TV shopping, shopping on the Internet involves some risk of fraud because it is difficult to evaluate the seller without seeing a showroom or salespeople.
Also, certain websites that claim to sell products or services may be fake or the business running the website may not have the reliable means of fulfilling the orders made by customers.
There are special rules that protect consumers who are involved in mail or telephone transactions and these rules also include fax and Internet sales.
The FTC’s Mail and Telephone Order Rule includes goods which are ordered by mail, telephone, Internet and fax. Under this Rule, the goods that consumers buy through these means must be shipped within the time the sellers have advertised.
If there is no time period that is specified, the goods are required to be shipped within thirty days of the order. If they are not shipped by this time, the customer must have at least received a notice which informed them of the delay and of when to expect delivery.
The seller has to also offer to cancel your order and send you a refund within one week if you do not want to wait anymore. Many states also have laws that protect you even more than the federal law.
What About Legal Disputes?
If you have a legal dispute that involves a consumer issue, you can take certain steps such as:
- Keep copies of your purchase receipts and sales documents which can be used as evidence if necessary.
- Keep a record of any losses which was caused by the consumer issue and this can include things such as medical bills, pay-stubs for lost wages and financial account statements.
- Review any documents that may detail your warranty rights in relation to the purchase.
- Prepare a list of contacts who may be available as witnesses along with some of their personal statements regarding the incident.
What are Class Action Lawsuits?
Consumers may often be disadvantaged when they have to take on large companies in individual lawsuits and they may have trouble recovering monetary compensation. In this context, consumers may sometimes file class action lawsuits in which an individual whose rights were violated can join together with others who have similar claims against the same defendant.
Due to the economy of scale of these lawsuits, a group of individuals with similar complaints can seriously challenge even the largest companies in litigation. Attorneys who have these cases work on a contingency basis which means that they only get paid if and when the individuals are compensated.
Also, individuals in these lawsuits can decide to opt-out and they can pursue their claims individually when it is in their best interests to do so.
Should I Contact a Lawyer?
Consumers may face different types of legal challenges and consumer protection laws at both the federal and state level can be complicated. If you have specific questions regarding your consumer rights, it would be beneficial to consult with a local consumer attorney before proceeding.