A consumer attorney, also known as a consumer protection attorney, is an attorney who specializes in consumer protection law. These attorneys help consumers use the law to protect themselves from businesses who use unfair or deceptive practices when dealing with the public and selling goods or services. This can include product liability or personal injury cases, assisting with debt collection or credit report issues, and helping consumers who have been the victim or a scam or other fraudulent activity of a company.
Consumer Protection Laws
There are federal and state consumer protection laws to cover most any type of transaction between a consumer and a company. Most do not cover person to person transactions, but on occasion, they may. Many consumer protection laws govern financial institutions such as credit card companies, banks, mortgage companies, and other lenders. Consumer law also regulates manufacturers by imposing product safety standards, prohibits false advertising by corporations, provides standards to protect consumer's personal information, and helps protect consumers from deceptive or abusive debt collection and telemarketing practices.
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal act commonly used by a consumer attorney to help clients stop debt collector harassment, remove false information from credit reports, and even get the debt collector to pay them. The Act prohibits debt collectors from using unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices while attempting to collect on a debt and gives consumers a claim against them for employing such practices. Some of the actions specifically prohibited by the law include:
- Calling consumers before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.
- Causing a consumers phone to ring continuously
- Threatening a consumer with jail for not paying a bill
- Reporting false credit information
- Threatening to take any action it is not legally allowed to take
- Falsely representing they are a law enforcement officer or attorney
Many states have similar laws that also apply to creditors, such as California's Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (RFDCPA), which mirrors the federal act in the prohibited collection practices, but also applies to original creditors.
Telephone Consumer Protection Act
Another federal law that a consumer attorney may use to help protect consumers is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). This Act was passed in 1991 and requires that auto dialed calls and pre-recorded calls made to consumers only be done so after the consumer specifically consents to receiving the calls. It was originally enacted to protect consumers from unsolicited telemarketing calls, but has since been applied to debt collectors who use auto dialers and pre-recorded messages to harass consumers into paying a bill. The Act prohibits telemarketers and debt collectors from using auto dialers, pre-recorded messages, and text messages when contacting consumers on their cell phones unless the consumer previously gave consent to be contacted in this manner and has not revoked the consent. The TCPA also prohibits telemarketers from calling residential lines with pre-recorded messages unless they have done business with the consumer within the last 18 months, and from calling any number that is registered with the national do not call registry.
A consumer attorney can help you recover from $500 to $1,500 from telemarketers and debt collectors who violate the act. And can put an end to the harassing phone calls.
Electronic Funds Transfer Act
The Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) is another federal law that a consumer attorney can use to help protect you from unfair practices when using electronic fund transfers (EFTs). EFTs include the use of:
- debit cards
- direct deposits
- point of sale transactions
- transfers initiated by phone
- pre-authorized withdrawals from checking or savings accounts
The EFTA allows consumers to limit their financial responsibility for unauthorized EFTs as long as they report the transaction to their bank or financial institution within 60 days of the issuance of the first statement that contains the transaction. So, for example, if someone uses your debit card on the 5th of October and your next statement is issued on October 30th, you have 60 days from October 30th to notify your bank of the fraudulent transaction. Once you have notified your bank of the unauthorized EFT, it has 10 days to conduct an investigation and another three days to report the results of the investigation to you. Most banks will return the funds to you, temporarily, while they conduct the investigation, in order to be sure that they do not miss any deadlines and that you have use of the funds until an investigation can be completed. The Act also provides for a limitation of consumer responsibility for lost or stolen cards reported in a timely manner, requires that banks limit the amount of money that can be withdrawn from your account on a given day, provides a way for consumers to stop automatic bill pays from their account, provides overdraft protection, and allows for compensation for violations of the Act.
Lemon laws are state laws governing the sale of vehicles that are still under a manufacturer's warranty. Most used cars are not still under this warranty, and so lemon laws do not usually apply to the sale of used vehicles. These sales are generally governed by state warranty law, but depending on your state, may be governed by leman laws, if you have a written warranty. Lemon laws vary from state to state, but most cover manufacturers' defects which cannot be repaired after reasonable attempts and that substantially impair the use, safety, or value of the motor vehicle, and they require the manufacture to replace or repurchase a covered vehicle.
If you have a vehicle that you believe is a lemon, you should consult a consumer attorney in your state to help you determine if it is covered by state lemon laws and help you enforce the law if it is.
Both federal and state laws govern warranties, which are promises from a manufacturer or seller that the product you purchase will live up to a certain standard. There are two kinds of warranties, express and implied. Federal law requires all products come with an implied warranty. The extent of the implied warranty is then governed by state law. Depending on your state law, implied warranties may say that the product:
- Is fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used, or will do what it is supposed to do
- Would pass without objection in the trade
- Is adequately packaged, labeled, and contained
- Conforms to the promises made on the label
All implied warranties require that the product will do what it is supposed to do.
Express warranties cover things that the implied warranty does not. Express warranties are promises or statements, made voluntarily by the seller or manufacturer, about a product or service their commitment to remedy defects and/or malfunctions that you may experience that are in addition to the implied warranty. Express warranties that are in writing are governed by federal law. State law governs oral express warranties.
There may be other state or federal consumer protection laws that apply to your situation and you should contact a consumer attorney if a company has caused you harm with its use of unfair, deceptive, or predatory practices. If you think you may need a consumer attorney in California, feel free to contact our office at 1-800-219-3577, for a free, no obligation consultation.