Consumer Protection Briefing

Consumer protection overview

American shoppers are projected to spend an estimated $462.95 on gifts for family members this holiday season, according to reports from the National Retail Federation. Some shoppers, swayed by a salesperson’s well-meaning exaggeration, may be disappointed by the goods they buy. Some shoppers may even believe they have been deceived by sellers who have gone beyond mere overstatement. Of these unsatisfied customers, some may choose to pursue legal action.

When shoppers are duped by defective products or dishonest business practices, they may rely on private action and a complex web of state and federal consumer protection laws. These laws seek to offer buyers legal recourse when businesses engage in unfair practices.

Consumer protection issues also go beyond this immediate relationship between buyer and seller. For example, consumers who fail to pay their credit accounts because they are not happy with a product may require legal assistance if they are sued for failing to pay the debt. Additionally, victims of predatory pay-day lending, or abusive debt collection practices may look to consumer protection laws for help.

Victims of unfair and deceptive trade practices can seek private action, but state and federal bodies are also empowered to regulate business practices. The Federal Trade Commission, as well as its seven regional offices, is tasked with preventing unfair practices in commerce. The federal agency administers a number of consumer protection laws, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

The FTC also administers the Federal Trade Commission Act, the federal law that governs consumer protection. The Act prohibits “unfair or deceptive trade practices in or affecting commerce” and empowers the Commission to prescribe rules regulating trade, among other things. Many states look to this Act for guidance in crafting their own laws. These state laws, commonly referred to as Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices, or UDAPs, provide many basic protections for consumers, and have been adopted in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.