What Is Consumer Law?
Keeping the marketplace for consumersBy Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on February 3, 2023
Consumers are usually at a disadvantage in the marketplace. Whereas lenders and large companies have considerable power to set the terms of any transaction, consumers generally face a “take it or leave it” option. Unsurprisingly, many consumers are ripped off when sold misleading or defective goods. And they can suffer abuse when lenders aggressively try to collect debts.
Fortunately, consumer protection laws have been instituted as a means of safeguarding customers from these illegal practices and scams. A consumer protection attorney can help you protect your rights.
Consumer Law – What You Need to Know
- Consumer law protects consumers from unfair practices in the marketplace.
- Consumer law attorneys can help bring lawsuits against shady dealers, reimbursing customers that have been ripped off or deceived.
- Legislators have passed “Lemon Laws” to protect consumers who are sold a defective vehicle.
- The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) has outlawed certain debt collection practices.
An Overview of Consumer Law
Legislators pass consumer laws to protect consumers from unfair practices in the market. The battle is waged on a few different fronts. What follows is an overview of the most prominent areas of this expansive area of law.
Consumer fraud rips off countless consumers who would not purchase a product if they received accurate information. Fraudsters know this, which is why they lie about their consumer goods. Some common examples of consumer fraud include:
- False advertising—a company or retailer makes false claims about a product or makes a false claim of origin.
- Counterfeit goods—cheap knockoffs claiming to be a famous brand, like Nike or Chanel.
- Deceptive trademarks—a company uses a confusingly similar trademark to another company’s mark.
- Misrepresentation in warranties—a business claims that a warranty covers more than it does.
These deceptive practices cost all of us billions of dollars each year. Fortunately, a consumer law attorney can help you bring a lawsuit and receive reimbursement for what you paid. You might also receive other compensation from the seller.
Lemon laws protect consumers who are sold a defective motor vehicle. The car’s defect should substantially impair your safety or ability to operate the automobile—for example, if an axle is cracked or brakes don’t work. A tire slowly losing air pressure wouldn’t qualify since you can pump up the tire yourself.
Each state has its own lemon laws, which all differ a little from each other. In some states, lemon laws apply only to new vehicles, while the rules in other states also apply to leased or used cars. Regardless of the law, you can typically bring a claim for compensation when the seller can’t fix the car after multiple attempts. Lemon laws provide crucial legal rights to consumers, few of whom are mechanics, so they don’t know if the vehicle they are buying is in good shape.
Abusive Debt Collections
The debt collection industry has a well-earned industry for harassing people. But the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) has outlawed some of the worst abuses:
- Debt collectors cannot harass you or someone close to you, such as your spouse, using the phone or other communication methods.
- Debt collectors cannot call you at unusual or inconvenient times and definitely can’t contact you before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.
- Debt collectors can’t contact you if they know you have an attorney.
- Debt collectors can’t lie and say they are attorneys or misstate the amount you owe.
Sadly, many debt collectors violate these rules and continue to harass consumers over debts. By hiring a consumer law attorney, you take control of the situation and can ask a judge to stop the harassment. The judge can also award you compensation to make up for the abuse.
If you miss a car payment, your lender can usually repossess the car. That’s the agreement you reached when you signed the loan document. However, some repossessions are illegal, so you can fight them. For example, you might not have been late with a payment, or the repo man might have broken into your garage to take the car. State laws prohibit trespass and other breaches of the peace to get at a vehicle. The sooner you meet with an attorney, the more options you’ll have to fight or prevent a repo.
After repossession, you can typically ask the lender to reinstate the loan or give up the car. A consumer law attorney can help you think through which option is best for you.
Some lenders might also sue you for a “deficiency judgment.” Essentially, they sell your repossessed car at auction, which might only bring in $11,000. If you still have a $13,000 balance on your car loan, you’ll have a $2,000 deficiency. In some states, the lender can sue you for this amount, but an attorney can help negotiate a settlement or defend you.
What is identity theft? Essentially, a thief gains access to your personal or financial information. For example, someone could steal your wallet and use your credit cards by pretending to be you. Scammers commonly gain access to your Social Security Number and address and use this information to open credit accounts. Think car loans, personal loans, or credit cards. The thief has no incentive to repay the loan because it’s not in their name—it’s in yours.
Identity theft is on the rise. According to the Insurance Information Institute, over 1 million people have filed complaints for identity theft in recent years. Identity theft can shred your credit, but a consumer law attorney might help in the following ways:
- Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- File a police report
- Reach out to banks and other institutions to report the fraud
- Request that false information be removed from your credit reports
- Help you replace government IDs
- Communicate with debt collectors regarding the fraudulent accounts opened in your name
- Help you understand how to protect yourself from identity theft in the future
If the police find the fraudster, a consumer law attorney can help you sue them.
False Credit Reporting
Lenders rely on accurate credit reports to decide whether to make a loan, and nothing is more embarrassing than having a loan application rejected. Employers also use credit reports as part of the hiring process. Unfortunately, many credit reports have errors, including mistakes related to:
- The wrong balance listed on your account
- Wrongly reporting you are late with your monthly payments
- Reporting an open account as closed
- Someone else’s account is listed as yours
- Wrongly reporting that you have been denied credit
The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives you rights when a credit report has false information. For example, you can dispute any erroneous item, and the credit reporting bureau must perform an investigation and remove it. Someone who denies you a loan or job because of a credit report must also tell you.
You can sue for any violation to hold the business or credit reporting bureau accountable for their errors.
How Can a Consumer Law Attorney Help Me?
An attorney can help advise you on consumer rights and take legal action if you’ve been harmed by scams or other unfair business practices. This type of lawsuit can help you recover the money you lost and possibly compensate you for the headaches you have had to endure. Consumer lawsuits are a critical way that we keep businesses in check. Although the government regulates companies, consumer lawsuits are another way to ensure they follow the law and play fairly.
Should I Contact an Attorney?
Yes. Bringing a consumer protection claim requires complex knowledge of federal laws and rigorous advocacy skills. Larger companies have lawyers on speed dial to defend them, so you would benefit significantly by having a seasoned consumer law advocate in your corner.
When meeting with a consumer law attorney, ask some of the more essential questions to help you understand your case:
- How much is my claim worth?
- What evidence do you need to show deceptive trade practices or another violation of consumer law?
- Should I try to get a refund or replacement product first?
- Do I need to file a report with a government agency?
- How can I afford an attorney? Can I request attorneys’ fees as part of my claim?
Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs
It is essential to approach the right type of consumer lawyer—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.
To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who practices consumer law.
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