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Consumer Law

State & Federal Consumer Protection

While a vast majority of businesses in the consumer marketplace conduct themselves in an upstanding and decent manner, there are always a few that choose to deal with consumers in a deceptive or unreasonably harsh manner. The area of law that governs such situations is referred to as consumer protection law, and it encompasses the powerful set of state and federal laws that protect ordinary consumers from dishonest, unscrupulous, and unfair business practices. Businesses who engage in these practices may face stiff penalties or fines, depending on the exact violation that they committ. Additionally, these laws provide individual consumers with the right to recover money damages from businesses who have acted illegally toward the individual consumers and caused them economic injury.

A few of the more common situations that these laws address are:
  • Harassing telemarketers
  • Dishonest and/or abusive debt collectors
  • Illegal foreclosures or repossessions
  • Automobile fraud (e.g. odometer fraud, warranty issues, lemon laundering)
  • Deceptive lending practices
  • Credit discrimination
  • Commercial misrepresentations (e.g. paying for a new product but having a used one delivered)
  • Pyramid or multi-level marketing scams
  • False advertising

In addition to the consequences noted above, businesses who violate these consumer protection laws with respect to the elderly or disabled may be subject to enhanced penalties and may be liable to the victimized consumer for a greater amount of damages.

Identity Theft

Identity theft fairly broad term that describes situations where a victim's personal identifying information (social security numbers, drivers' license numbers, medical history, credit card or bank account information, etc.) is obtained illegally by a party who uses the victim's information to open accounts in the victim's name, make purchases, and defraud others. These cases frequently arise in two ways: people or organizations who legitimately possess identifying information of victims (such as banks or governmental entities) may inadvertently release it to a malicious third party, or the identifying information may be obtained from the victim in a criminal manner (through computer data theft or a telephone scam).

Identity theft cases typically have two parts which give victims two opportunities for recovery. First is the disclosure of the victim's information. If the information was obtained from a person or entity who is in lawful possession of that information, that person or entity may be liable to the victim for damages caused by its negligence; if the information was obtained criminally, the person who stole or obtained the information fraudulently may be liable to the victim. The second part of an identity theft case is the use of the victim's information in an unlawful manner. Besides obtaining and possessing the victim's identity data, a perpetrator may also be liable for damages caused by the perpetrator's use of the victim's data to open accounts, make purchases, etc.