Consumer Protection 101

consumer protection

This guide identifies some of the federal consumer protection laws and gives a general introductory description of the things those laws cover. As a general rule of thumb, if you think a company has acted unfairly or been deceptive, it is possible that a federal or state law has been violated.

1. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”)

The FCRA regulates what is included in individuals’ credit reports, the companies that act as credit reporting bureaus, the companies that provide the credit bureaus information about people, as well as the way that people’s credit reports may be used. Among other things, the FCRA permits individuals to access their credit report. People may also dispute accounts listed on their credit reports if the information regarding the account appears incorrect, and the FCRA requires that the companies involved must conduct a “reasonable investigation” of disputes before responding to them within 30 days. Also, if people find that companies have accessed their credit report, the FCRA allows people to protect their credit when a company or person accesses their credit report without a “permissible purpose” or otherwise misuses a person’s credit report. The FCRA may be a valuable tool for people that believe they have been subjected to identity theft. There are many protections and requirements created by the FCRA beyond what is listed here, and if you suspect that you are dealing with questions that may involve the FCRA, consult a consumer protection attorney of your choosing.

2. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”)

The FDCPA requires debt collectors attempting to collect a past-due debt that was incurred for primarily for personal, family, or household purposes. In general, the FDCPA was designed to protect consumers for misleading, unfair, or harassing collection practices. The FDCPA requires that debt collections give certain information to the consumers from whom they are attempting to collect a debt. The FDCPA also prohibits debt collectors from taking certain actions, such as contacting neighbors or family members of an individual that may owe a debt and doing anything other than attempting to acquire location information for the consumer. The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from using misleading threats, harassing repeat calls, or abusive language to force people into making payments on an alleged debt. Also, the FDCPA restricts debt collectors from contacting consumers that give the debt collector the name and contact information of an attorney that represents the consumers. When someone starts receiving debt collection calls and letters, it is often wise to keep a record of all the communications from the debt collector and–if desired–consult with a consumer protection attorney to ensure that the debt collector(s) are following federal law.

3. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”)

The TCPA is often referred to as regulating “robocalls.” In fact, the TCPA does create restrictions about how telemarketing companies, debt collectors, and other companies may contact people. In general, the TCPA restricts companies from calling residential or cellular telephones without “prior express consent” from the subscriber or user of that phone when the company is using a “artificial voice or pre-record message” or an “autodialer” (which is a legal term for a system that allows companies to place numerous calls at the same time and funnel answers to a representative–often identifiable by a pause before some responds to you when you answer). The TCPA has been used to protect people who by for certain phone plans by the minute or who frequently receive “wrong number” calls. The TCPA also prohibits unsolicited faxes from being sent without consent (which is a particular concern for small businesses).

4. The Consumer Repair Organization Act (“CROA”)

CROA regulates the actions of most companies or people that sell services promising to improve a person’s credit history or rating. This law serves to ensure that people buying credit repair services have the information to make an informed decision and that those people are not tricked by unfair or deceptive ads or business practices. CROA requires credit repair organizations to give the people they serve certain disclosures and requires that they only provide people with truthful information. No credit repair organization may charge money for its service before that service is fully performed. Also, people should be aware that CROA creates certain requirements for what is included in a contract/agreement for service with a credit repair organization. Also, consumers have a right to cancel any contract with a credit repair organization without penalty or obligation by notifying the credit repair organization of the cancelation any time “before midnight of the 3rd business day” after the agreement between the consumer and credit repair organization is made.

5. There are Also State Laws that Protect Consumers

Aside from the federal laws that protect consumers, the 50 states also have various laws that have been enacted to protect consumers. While the details of the laws of each state are best addressed by attorneys practicing in any one particular state, in general, most states have a law prohibiting unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices. The names for such laws varies from state to state, but most such laws–like the federal consumer protection laws–create a way for a consumer to seek relief from misleading or dishonest business practices that have harmed him or her. For more information about whether your state may have laws that apply to you are facing, see your local consumer protection attorney.

Conclusion

Whether you are a consumer or small business providing products or services (particularly financial services) to people, it is very important that you be aware of existing consumer protection laws. Whatever your situation, you may be well-served by consulting a consumer protection attorney to learn about the rights and requirements created by these laws.

If you, a friend, or a loved one are having difficulties with business practices that may be deceptive or if you believe your consumer rights may have been violated, you may want to contact us about scheduling a free evaluation of whether you may have valid claims for compensation under the federal or state other consumer protection laws.