Consumer Protection Actions

Chapter 15.3

Key Terms

Mediation - use of a third party who tries to resolve the complaint between the consumer and the business

Arbitration - A third-party action resulting in a decision is legally binding.

Class Action Suit - a legal action by one party on behalf of a group of people who all have the same grievance.

Small Claims Court - a court systems in every state that exist to resolve cases involving small amounts

Common Consumer Problems

Source of Complaints - States attorneys general have the primary responsibility for the enforcement of their stste's consumer protection laws.

Deceptive Business Activites - Each year, federal government agencies report consumers losing billions of dollars on phony investments and other deceptive offers. The most common online scams involve sales of Internet services and general merchandise. Online actions, non-delivery of products, credit/debit card scams, and work at-home offers are also common sources of fraud. Internet scams can also take the form of prizes and sweepstakes and credit card offers.

Protection for Shoppers - Federal laws that protect Internet and TV shoppers are the same as those that govern purchase made by telephone. The seller must send you items within 30 days or within another period specifically. If there is a delay the seller must notify you. If an undeceived or returned item is billed to your credit card, you then have 60 days to dispute it. The company has 30 days to respond, within 90 days of your letter, the credit card company must investigate the matter and explain why the bill is correct or in correct. You do not have to pay the part of your credit card bill under dispute until the matter is resolved. To avoid finance charges, you must pay the rest of the bill on time.

The Complaint Process

Step 1: Contact the Place of Purchase - Most consumers complaints are settled by returning to the place of purchase. Calmly explain the situation, provide evidence of your purchase and the problem. A receipt or other dated documents will help you convice the store to take action in your favor.

Step 2: Contact the Company Headquarters - If communicating with thhe purchase isn't bringing satisfaction, you should move up the organization. Contact the customer service department or other office within the company. When contacting the company, provide facts about the situation, tell what happen in a brief letter or email, providing copies of the documents that back up your story. Be specific of the actions you want to take.

Step 3: Involve a Consumer Agency - If communicating with the comppany dosen't satify your demand, consider using the services of a consumer agency or public interest organazation. Contacting a local, state, or federal goverment agency can encourage the business to take action.

Step 4: Take legal Action - When the first three steps do not work, more extreme actions may be required. Several legal actions are available to consumers. These inclued the use of a third party for dispute resolution, class action suits, small claims courts, and hiring a lawyer.

Legal Actions for Consumers

Third-Party Settlements - A third party may be used to settle consumer differences. A mediator suggests a compromise between the two parties, this process helps the parties work out their own mutually agreeable solution to the dispute. If the parties agree to it in advance, another third-party action may be used, after hearing both sides and considering evidence the arbitrator makes a desision. Both the consumer and the business must abide by the arbitrator's verdict.

Class Action Suits - In this type of lawsuit, one person or a small group represents the interests of many others. This settlement may result in a reund to all consumers involved. If they cannot be identified, the the funds are sometimes given to public education programs or schools.

Small Claim Courts - In every state a court system exist to reslove cases involving small amounts. The rules are simple and informal, and the dispute involves less than a set amount. The limits for cases heard in a smal court vary by state. Most often lawyers are not involved, the individuals present facts of the situation and provide written and other evidence witnesses may also be used.

Using a Lawyer - If everthing else fails the final step is to hire a lawyer. When the situation involes larger amounts of money or severe injuries from the product, the use of athority is the best choice. Information about potential lawyers may be optained from advertisements or referral from other people. Before using the services of a lawyer you should ask various questions.