Consumers in the United States are protected by federal and state law from any unfair and deceptive trade practices of businesses. On the federal level, these issues are addressed by the Federal Trade Commission. At the state level, in Massachusetts, these issues are addressed by the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection.
If you think you have been the victim of such practices, you can contact the Rights Protection Law Group to learn more about your rights and how the law applies to your case.
How Does the Law Define Unfair or Deceptive Trade Practices?
The law defines unfair or deceptive trade practices as any action on the part of a seller of a product or service to
deceive the buyer or treat the buyer unfairly. This can include any action that is immoral, unethical, dishonest, or likely to cause harm. The concept even applies when the seller was unfair or deceptive without intending to be, because intention is not a factor in determining whether or not the conduct was unfair or deceptive.
To illustrate and give a better idea of what kind of issues are covered as unfair or deceptive practices, the regulations include examples. It is important to note that the following examples are not all encompassing, and other actions can be considered to be unfair or deceptive.
One very common example of unfair and deceptive trade practices is false advertising, such as untrue statements about the quality of the product or the ingredients. This can also include false testimonials and photos of the wrong product in advertisements. Even posting prices that are inaccurate is covered by this, as is advertising an item that is not really available.
Then, there is bait and switch advertising, which involves advertising an item that the seller does not actually intend to sell, perhaps at an unreasonably low price or of a quality that the item does not actually possess. The aim is to get the customer into the store with the advertised item and price (the bait), and then try to sell the customer something entirely different (the switch), while refusing to sell the advertised item.
Another common issue is found in deceptive pricing practices, in which the seller says that an item is on sale by pretending that it usually sells for a higher price (either by the seller or by their competitors), when it does not. They may even use fake stickers to indicate that the price is usually higher than it is when it is ‘on sale.’
Sometimes, sellers will use terms that are deceptive, like ‘clearance price’ or ‘sale price,’ when the price is not really reduced and may even be higher than the usual selling price. All of these actions are considered to be unfair or deceptive, and consumers are legally protected from such practices at the federal and state level.
The Rights of Victims of Unfair or Deceptive Trade Practices
While the state Attorney General can enforce legislation against unfair or deceptive trade practices, the consumer can also do so. The consumer has a right to take a seller to court over such actions. To start this process, the consumer has to send a 30-Day Demand Letter to the seller, which expresses the complaint, the associated harm, and an acceptable resolution. In cases where the seller starts a legal action against the consumer, the consumer can also bring up unfair or deceptive business practices as a counterclaim, without the need of a demand letter.
When composing a 30-Day Demand Letter, the consumer should include their name and contact information, a detailed account of what practices are involved in the complaint (including dates, names of associated staff, and description of the given practice). This information will help the seller to investigate the situation and respond appropriately. You should also explain how you were harmed by the practice, and how you wish to have the situation resolved. For example, you may want your money back or a replacement product. In many cases, a seller will attempt to resolve such issues to your satisfaction without having them go to court.
It is important to send the letter by certified mail with a return receipt requested, to ensure that the letter reaches its destination and you will have proof that it did. You should also keep a copy of the letter for your own records, as well as the certified mail receipt. In cases where the seller is part of a chain, you should try to also send a copy of the letter to the corporate office.
As indicated by the ’30-Day’ part of the 30-Day Demand Letter, the seller has thirty days to respond. They may respond with a settlement offer or with a rejection letter, if they do not think you have a valid complaint. You do not have to accept the settlement offer, if they present one, and if you do not think it is reasonable or fair. However, if you take the matter to court, and if the court determines that the initial settlement offer was fair, then you will not be able to recover any further compensation (including legal fees).
In cases where the seller does not respond at all, or if they respond with a rejection of your complaint or an unreasonable settlement offer, you can take the case to court by filing a claim. It is wise to have a Massachusetts consumer protection attorney on your side for this process. The attorneys at Rights Protection Law Group can help you to determine which court is most appropriate for your case (Small Claims, District, Housing, or Superior), depending on the value of your damages and the kind of transaction that you’re dealing with. Should you win the case, your legal fees, including attorney’s fees, will usually be covered.
Having said that, taking the case to court is not your only option. In some cases, it may be more appropriate or helpful to contact the Office of Consumer Affairs or the Attorney General. They can investigate the situation and bring legal action against the seller who engages in unfair or deceptive business practices. Call the Rights Protection Law Group to learn more.