Each and every one of us is a consumer, meaning that we purchase or rent products and services for our own use. During these consumer transactions, we are protected by consumer protection laws which were developed to encourage fair trade, competition, create warranties on the quality of products and services, and ensure the disclosure of truthful information for good business practices and safety. Moreover, consumer protection laws seek to discourage fraud and unfair business practices, and create recourse for consumers in the event that they are treated in an unethical and/or fraudulent manner.
Consumer Law is Government Regulated Contract Law
Consumer protection laws are government regulations, which dictate the terms of contracts. Most adults have been party to a contract at some point during their lives. For example, you might sign a lease to rent an apartment, hire a roofer to put a new roof on your house, or you may buy magazines from a door to door salesman.
A contract is a legally enforceable agreement between adults. To be enforceable, the contract must be entered into voluntarily, have clearly agreed upon terms and conditions and demonstrate the exchange of “consideration”. Clearly agreed upon terms refers to the idea that everyone understands the nature of the deal being made. This is referred to as a “meeting of the minds.” “Consideration” means that each party contributed something or gave up a right as part of the agreement. An agreement can have clear agreed upon terms but still not be a contract, if consideration is not present.
Consumer Protection Laws Fight Common Abuses
Below, three specific areas of consumer law are listed. These sales areas are highly regulated due to a long history of abuse.
Door to Door Sales
Likely, the most high pressure situation is door to door sales. Examples would be the sale of old school encyclopedias, vacuums, magazine subscriptions, and cleaning products. All door to door sales contracts must contain written notice of a three day cooling off period. This means that the consumer has three days to change his or her mind about buying a product or service sold door to door, without penalty.
When you can’t walk into a brick and mortar store and speak to an individual, it can be difficult to address problems with service or obtain a product not yet received. A mail order company must send the product you’ve ordered within 30 days, unless you were informed of a back order when you placed the order.
Telemarketing often targets the elderly and is high pressure. Fortunately, you can stop most telemarketing by registering on the National Do Not Call Registry; register at (www.donotcall.gov) or by a toll-free number (888-382-1222.) Ask your elderly loved ones for permission to register their telephone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry as well.