09 Dec Consumer Protection Laws You Need To Know
As consumers, we expect that the products or services we purchase will do what they are supposed to do — and that they will do what the seller tells us they will do. When a consumer’s experience does not meet their expectations or when a company engages in unethical or fraudulent marketing practices, it can leave the consumer feeling frustrated. Often, however, consumers feel they have no recourse.
The reality is that there is a framework of consumer protection laws in place to protect individuals from a range of issues, from unethical marketing practices to fraud. In fact, the federal government and individual states have enacted multiple pieces of legislation designed to protect consumers in the U.S.
In some states, laws governing consumer protection hold marketers/sellers to a higher standard than that imposed by federal laws. Other states’ statutes mimic federal regulations to a large degree. For individual consumers, this patchwork of rules can be confusing to navigate and interpret. Understanding some of the most common regulations can help you determine whether your rights as a consumer have been infringed upon and what your legal recourse and available remedies may be.
Common Consumer Protection Rules and Regulations
Congress and the Consumer Protection Bureau establishes, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is charged with enforcing, a range of federal laws governing consumer transactions. These include regulations dealing with consumer privacy, warranties, advertising and marketing, and financial practices.
Companies are obligated under consumer protection rules to protect consumers’ information, ensure that the information maintained and shared is accurate, and only share information with third parties as allowed by the law. Key federal laws related to consumer protection include the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), among others.
The FCRA addresses who can access consumers’ credit histories and contains data privacy rules that consumer reporting agencies must follow when collecting, storing and using consumer information for credit/background checks.
The provisions of the GLBA require U.S. financial institutions to follow certain rules in the collection and handling of consumers’ information and to inform consumers in writing of their privacy practices.
When you purchase a product, it comes with either an express warranty or an implied warranty that the product will perform its intended function. In other words, even if your purchase does not come with a written guarantee that the product will work, the law says that retailers of new or used products must warranty that their products will work for the purpose it was intended. The period for implied warranty protections provided by the FTC can, and do, vary depending on several factors.
Advertising and Marketing
Federal laws are also designed to hold companies accountable and protect consumers from false or deceptive advertising practices. Retailers must ensure their product packaging, labeling, print and digital advertisements, websites, brochures, etc. are truthful and do not include misleading claims or omit material information. Specific regulations related to marketing and advertising protection include various truth-in-advertising laws; the CAN-SPAM Act, which deals with unwanted electronic communications; and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
The TCPA applies to phone calls, text messages and faxes. It provides consumers with remedies if they receive unwanted communications after asking to be added to the “Do Not Call” list or unwanted messages sent without the consumer’s express consent opting in to such communications.
There are several laws designed to protect consumers in financial transactions, such as taking out mortgages and other loans and investing in securities. These laws include regulations promulgated under federal and state securities acts, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the Dodd-Frank Act, bankruptcy laws, and others.
The FDCPA’s provisions provide a framework within which debt collectors must work when attempting to collect consumer debts. Generally, the FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from harassing or abusing consumers verbally or in writing.
Dodd-Frank and federal and state securities laws address oversight of banks and financial institutions. Dodd-Frank established the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) to address lending practices.
Enforcing Your Rights as a Consumer
To be held liable for violating one or more provisions of a consumer protection law, a company or individual does not necessarily need to have intended to break the law; wrongdoers can be held responsible for inadvertent violations. However, the individual who was harmed must clear a few hurdles in order to take advantage of the protections afforded by consumer protection statutes.
The first hurdle a harmed consumer must meet is demonstrating that they meet the definition of a “consumer” or an “end user” under the law. A corporation will not generally meet this test, but an individual or household typically will. Next, if you want to hold a company or individual responsible, you’ll need to demonstrate that you have a cause of action under the law. That means you can prove that the company violated one or more provisions of one or more laws designed to protect consumers.
At Stein Saks, PLLC, our consumer advocacy lawyers can provide legal advice, representation and services related to four key areas of consumer protection, including FCRA, FDCPA, TCPA, and bankruptcy matters. We can help fight for the compensation you’re entitled to under the law and stop abusive practices. To learn more and schedule a consultation, contact us today.