Question: What is a common type of consumer protection case?
Answer: A common type of consumer protection case is one where a business deceives the consumer into purchasing something that the consumer would not have purchased if they had all the facts. This type of deception occurs in many different contexts. Here are a few examples:
Example 1: The business advertises a free trial offer. The consumer signs up for the free offer. The business then starts charging a monthly fee after the trial offer expires. The consumer did not know that they were going to be hit with the charges because that information was not clearly disclosed. This occurs quite frequently in the context of weight loss supplements and skin care products. Products are often advertised with a 14 day trial offer. The consumer only has to pay $4.00 to $5.00 for the shipping costs. After the 14 days runs out, the consumer learns that they are being charged $80 to $90 a month for monthly shipments of the product.
Example 2: The business falsely informs consumers that its product or service is a well known brand name, or top quality, or recommended or approved by a reputable person or organization. The consumer does not realize that they were deceived until after the purchase. I have seen this happen with some supplement businesses, which advertise that their supplement is approved by Dr. Oz, when in fact he has never even heard of the business. Another example I see from time to time is when a business puts the BBB accredited logo on their website even when they are not accredited.
Example 3: The business advertises a product or service to the public. When a consumer shows interest in the product or service, the business attempts to sell the consumer other products or services or adds other terms to the deal. It is not a violation in itself to try to sell other products or services. To be a violation, there must be another element, such as (a) refusal to show the advertised product or service; (b) disparagement of the advertised product or service; (c) requiring undisclosed conditions to be met; (d) refusal to take orders for delivery of the product or service in a reasonable time; (e) showing or demonstrating defective products or services; (f) accepting a deposit then switching to higher priced product or service; and (g) failure to make delivery of the product or service or providing a refund. This is commonly called "bait and switch" advertising.
Question: I signed a written contract or clicked "agree" on the website. Doesn't that mean that I cannot do anything about the fact that I feel like I was deceived?
Answer: Even if you have a contract or agreement with the business, you may have a potential consumer protection case. Contract law is separate from consumer protection law. They are two different legal concepts and you may have a valid, binding contract, but at the same time have a claim against the business under the consumer protection act. In some cases a claim under the consumer protection act may lead to the business and consumer agreeing to cancel the contract or agreement.
Question: The customer service representative had horrible customer service and treated me very rudely. Do I have a claim against the business under the consumer protection act?
Answer: Although we would all like to see great customer service, the consumer protection act does not apply to customer service. I can imagine that there might be a rare instance where terrible customer service might be considered a violation of the consumer protection act, but that is not the focus of the consumer protection act. The purpose of the act is protect consumers from unscrupulous, unfair and deceptive tactics.
Question: I was deceived by the sales representative several years ago. Is it too late to take action under the consumer protection act?
Answer: The consumer protection acts have very short deadlines for filing suit. If you feel that you have a case, please do not delay in having an attorney review the matter. If you wait too long, you will be barred from filing suit. It is called the "statute of limitations."
Question: Can you take my consumer protection case on a contingency basis?
Answer: Harmony Law can take some cases on a contingency basis. It depends upon which law applies. Many federal laws and the Colorado Consumer Protection Act provide for attorney fees and costs. And the Wyoming Consumer Protection Act provides for fees and costs in class action lawsuits. There are options available for consumers.
Question: Can my case be resolved through a letter to the business?
Answer: In some cases a comprehensive and well thought out letter will either resolve the matter outright or lead to discussions that eventually result in a resolution. In other cases, it will not and the consumer will have to file suit if they wish to pursue their claim against the business.
Question: How do you draft a comprehensive and well thought out letter?
Answer: The letter should include the following:
- A narrative describing the basic facts of the matter. It does not have to be long. But it should cover the important facts that led to the dispute.
- A reference to the specific statute or rule that was violated. This should be coupled with a description of how the dispute constitutes a violation under that specific law.
- A short description of the legal remedies available under that specific law.
- A demand to cure or otherwise resolve the dispute. This should include all the items that should be addressed in any resolution.
- Note that once the letter is written, it is important to put it down and read it the next day to see if it is appropriate. Alternatively, have someone else review it. Inflammatory language or insults are counterproductive and should be removed from the letter.
Question: The Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission settled a case with a company that deceived me. What about my claim against the company?
Answer: When the government resolves a consumer protection claim against a business, it will address the consumer claims in one of two ways. First, in some cases the judgment or settlement requires that the business refund the affected consumers. If this happened in your case you may receive notice of how to obtain the refund or other relief. If you have moved a lot, you might not get notice. Many settlement administrators and government agencies post a webpage with information on how to apply for the refund or other relief. If you think that you might be entitled to a refund, please do some research on the government agency's website or via search engines to see if you can find information about the settlement.
Second, in some cases the government simply halts the offending practices without seeking any consumer refunds. Typically, in those cases, the consumer will have to take action personally to address any harm that they suffered from any violations of the consumer protection act.
Question: If I file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office, will that resolve my case?
Answer: State attorney general's offices devote a large part of their efforts to addressing businesses that affect a large number of people. They do not take individual consumer cases. However, some attorney general's offices attempt to resolve consumer complaints through written contact with the business. Normally, the attorney general's office sends a letter to the business along with the consumer complaint and requests that the business respond to the letter. If the business ignores the letter or disagrees with the consumer, that is usually the end of the attempted resolution from the consumer's perspective. Some attorney general's offices cooperate with the BBB to resolve consumer complaints.
Question: Are consumer complaints filed as class action lawsuits?
Answer: Sometimes. There is no general rule that all claims under the Consumer Protection Act must be brought as class action lawsuits. Both the Colorado and Wyoming Consumer Protection Acts allow for class action lawsuits. Colorado's "public interest" requirement tends to make class action lawsuits under Colorado law preferable. However, you may bring a case as a single consumer in both states.