Protection for Consumers: State and Federal

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The purpose of consumer protection laws is ensure the existence of a fair and competitive marketplace and to ensure that consumers have access to truthful information about products in that marketplace. Federal, state, and local agencies as well as private advocacy groups work tirelessly to identify dangerous and defective product complaints and to stop unfair and deceptive marketplace practices.

Federal Consumer Protection

Federal consumer protection laws are enforced primarily by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Justice. Other federal agencies, such as the the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) also play important roles in consumer protection.

  • Federal Trade Commission – The FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection is charged with the elimination and prevention of deceptive, unfair, and anti-competitive business practices. It has investigative and enforcement authority and also works to educate consumers and business owners. The FTC primarily oversees advertising and marketing practices, financial products and practices, identity theft prevention and privacy protection, and the prevention of telemarketing fraud.
  • U.S. Department of Justice – The U.S. Department of Justice investigates and prosecutes violations of federal consumer protection laws. Some of the most common violations occur with respect to the following consumer protection acts:
    • The Fair Debt Collection Act;
    • The Fair Credit Reporting Act;
    • The Truth-in-Lending Act;
    • The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act;
    • The Fair Credit Billing Act; and
    • The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
  • Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – The FDIC is charged with preserving and promoting consumer confidence in U.S. financial institutions. This agency insures deposits in banks and thrift institutions. It is responsible for investigating, monitoring, minimizing, and otherwise addressing risks to insured deposits. The FDIC is also responsible for minimizing the impact to the economy when a bank or thrift institution fails.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission - The CPSC is responsible for monitoring the safety of all products in the marketplace from cars, to toys, to pharmaceuticals. To that end, the CPSC engages in the following activities:
    • Developing voluntary standards within effected industries;
    • Issuing and enforcing mandatory systems to reduce risks to consumers;
    • Banning products when no feasible standard will adequately protect the public;
    • Ordering product recalls and arranging for repairs;
    • Researching and investigating potentially hazardous products; and
    • Educating consumers about hazardous products through the media, state and local governments, consumer advocacy groups, and other private organizations.

The CPSC maintains a list of product recalls going as far back as 1973. In October, 2009, the CPSC recalled dozens of products including:

  • Sony Computer AC Adapters – Risk of Shock;
  • Belkin Surgemaster™ Surge Protectors – Shock Hazard;
  • IKEA Roller Blinds – Strangulation Risk;
  • Toro Zero Turn Mowers – Burn Hazard; and
  • Paula Deen® Cast Iron Cookware – Burn and Laceration Hazard

State Consumer Protection

Many states have consumer protection laws on the books which are very similar to federal consumer protection laws. Every state has laws prohibiting fraudulent business practices. States may also have business-specific laws meant to regulate how certain businesses are run. Business-specific laws typically cover the following businesses:

  • Mobile Home Sales;
  • Vehicle Sales and Repairs;
  • Pawn Shops;
  • Auto Title Loans;
  • Health Club Contracts; and
  • Travel Agencies.

Consumer Advocacy Groups

There are numerous consumer advocacy groups committed to protecting consumers from dangerous and defective products and from unfair business practices. The most recognized consumer advocacy group is the Better Business Bureau.

Seeking Help

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by a defective product or have been the victim of unfair business practices, you should file a consumer protection complaint with the appropriate state or federal agency. You should also contact your local consumer advocacy group and lodge a complaint. It's also important to contact a consumer protection attorney who will assess your case and advise you as to whether you have a valid claim for damages.