CONSUMER PROTECTION

 

Today’s marketplace, with its confusing claims, offers and high prices, often resembles a maze, rather than a safe place to purchase the products and services we need for our families. Often we do not know what to believe about a product or service, or what they are truly worth. The Lee Law Group watches the marketplace, looking for consumer scams and misrepresentations about products and services. When threats to the consumer are found, we act to stop the offending activity and seek damages for those who are injured, making the marketplace a safer place for the consumer to shop for his or her family and friends.

 

Unfair & Unlawful Business Practices

Business owners must follow California's consumer protection laws applicable to their business. These laws protect you, the consumers, from unfair and deceptive practices. They go beyond the traditional legal remedies available for breach of warranty to really help consumers.

 

Hundreds of cases have been brought under consumer protection laws in California and throughout the country. So that you know what consumer rights violations look like here are a few examples of prior consumer protection cases:

•A man sued a department store that ran out of an advertised waffle iron and didn't give him a rain check. This was a violation of the consumer protection law in his state.

•A homeowner sued a roofing contractor that falsely advertised that it could arrange financing for roof repair jobs.

•A woman sued a health spa that reneged on its promise to return her deposit and cancel her contract if she changed her mind within three days.

 

California lawmakers have taken great efforts to ensure consumers are protected from unscrupulous companies. For example, California's main consumer protection law known as the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL), and codified as 'Business and Professional Code sections 17200-17210', protects consumers from any “unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising”. The UCL allows for broad injunctive relief and civil penalties for violations of these laws. This means, businesses that violate this states consumer protection laws may be fined or enjoined, that is, stopped from continuing to commit violations and/or ordered to repay and otherwise compensate consumers who were harmed by these unfair businesses practices.

If you believe that your consumer rights have been violated, contact the Lee Law Group so that we may investigate your situation and if applicable use California’s consumer protection laws to protect your consumer rights.

 

California’s UCL and Actions on Behalf of the General Public

Under California law ordinary people, or private party plaintiffs, are permitted to file lawsuits and seek remedies for actions that violate the UCL on behalf of the general public. Initially, this in effect allows these private party plaintiffs to be private, attorney generals of the state. However, in 2004 lawmakers amended the requirements for whom is allowed to bring these types of actions so that after 2004 ‘private claims’ could still be brought by any person acting on behalf of the general public, but now these private party plaintiffs must be able to show they also suffered an "injury-in-fact". These injuries in fact mean that these private party plaintiffs had to have "standing" i.e., they were adversely affected by the issues(s) for which they are now suing. Given that “persons” are defined by statute to include corporations, firms and partnerships, private party plaintiffs can still bring private suits under the UCL on behalf of the general public as long as they can meet the updated injury and standing requirements.

 

What is considered a Violation of My Consumer Rights?

Under the California’s UCL, there is no all-encompassing enumerated list of conduct prohibited. Thus, it has been interpreted broadly in the past to include a wide range of unfair or deceptive conduct. That said, it is safe to say that any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising act is prohibited

For example, a company that engages in pricing practices that effectively harms competition may be considered unfair and in violation of the UCL, even if the purpose of the pricing practice was not intended to injure competitors; however, merely because another company cannot compete against the prices does not by itself deem the pricing

 

 

False and Deceptive Advertising

False and deceptive advertising is prohibited by California’s UCL, (Business and Professional Code, (BPC) sections 17200-17210 and under BPC sections 17500-17509. These code sections prohibit unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising, and try to clarify when an advertisement is unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading.

Under both federal and state law, an advertisement is unlawful if it tends to mislead or deceive, even if it doesn't actually fool anyone. If an ad is deceptive, whether it was intended to mislead the customer or not, it violates the law. What counts is the overall impression created by the ad not the technical truthfulness of the ad’s individual parts.

California courts have interpreted “advertising” to include almost any statement made in connection with the sale of goods or services.

To determine whether advertising is misleading, California’s courts evaluate the advertisement’s entire impression, including words, images, format and product packaging. Courts have held that advertising is misleading if “members of the public are likely to be deceived.” However, because of Proposition 64, the plaintiff now has to show that they were actually misled by the advertising, and suffered an injury as a result. To further complicate matters, the courts are split on whether “omissions of material facts” that mislead or confuse the public violate the UCL.

If you think you are the victim of unfair, deceptive and, or misleading advertising; ask yourself if the following is true:

(1) The business or advertiser engaged in unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising; and

(2) That you suffered injury in fact and lost money or property.

You can enforce consumer protection laws in California by bringing a lawsuit or by reporting the wrongdoer to the state's Attorney General. You may enforce your consumer rights the same way on the federal level, which includes California, except the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces federal false advertising laws.

 

Enforcement of Deceptive Advertising Laws

Over the years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken action against many businesses accused of engaging in false and deceptive advertising. If FTC investigators are convinced that an ad violates the law, they can do all of the following:

• convince the violator to voluntarily comply with the law

• issue a cease-and-desist order and bring a civil lawsuit on behalf of people who have been harmed

• seek a court order (injunction) to stop a questionable ad while an investigation is in progress, and

• require an advertiser to run corrective ads, admitting that an earlier ad was deceptive.

 

You the Consumers Have a Right to Sue for False and Deceptive Advertising

Consumers often have the right to sue advertisers under state and federal consumer protection laws. For example, someone who buys a product relying on a deceptive ad might sue in small claims court for a refund or join others (sometimes tens of thousands of others) to sue for a huge sum in another court.

 

Deceptive Pricing

There are two pricing practices that most often violate consumer protection laws. These are seen when businesses:

1. False price reductions are when merchants make incorrect price comparisons with other merchants or with their own "regular" prices; and

2. False Pricing ads offer to sell a product for less than a comparable product that is not comparable

3. Fake Free offers are when merchants offer something that is supposedly "free" but in fact has a cost.

Examples of these deceptive pricing practices are:

a) Examples of False Price Reductions Offering a reduction from your usual selling price is a common sales technique. But the reduced price is misleading unless the former price is the actual, bona fide price at which you offered the article. For example, if store announces a new product for $129, but sell it to wholesalers as if it were a $79 product, and similarly discounts it to direct customers, the $129 price never really existed -- and the store has broken the law. It misleads customers into thinking they are receiving a discount.

b) Example of False Pricing Ads These occur when a store compares its price with what other merchants are charging – or offers to sell for a little less- for the same product but the other merchants are not selling the identical product.

c) Example of ‘Less Than Free’ Offers These occur when a store offers a “free paintbrush” to anyone who buys a can of $12.00 paint for $14.95. The brush really isn't free if you usually charge less than $14.95 for this kind of paint.

 

What If I Think My Consumer Rights Have Been Violated?

Contact the Lee Law Group so we may investigate your situation and determine if your consumer rights have been violated.

If your case warrants it and we are unable to work out a settlement, we will file a lawsuit if necessary to levy fines and other penalties to prevent the future use of unfair consumer practices and, if applicable, to restore your money or property.

Other remedies available as the facts warrant are both monetary damages and injunctive relief.

When an injunction is issued pursuant to section 17200, penalties of up to $6,000 per day for intentional violations are authorized. Restitution and disgorgement of profits are used primarily to deter future violations. Courts use various factors to determine the amount of the penalty, including “the nature and seriousness of the misconduct, the number of violations, the persistence of the misconduct, the length of time over which the misconduct occurred, the willfulness of the defendant's misconduct, and the defendant's assets, liabilities, and net worth.” Civil penalties, up to $2,500 for each violation, are allowed when a lawsuit is brought by an authorized government agency. However, the UCL does not permit punitive damages awards.

It is important however to note that many UCL claims can be brought in conjunction with other business litigation claims. For instance, a company may pursue injunctive relief under the UCL while seeking damages under various business torts or contract claims that may allow for punitive damages.

The law surrounding California’s Unfair Competition Law can become quite complicated and difficult to completely understand. Therefore, if you believe your consumer rights have been violated it is important to contact the Lee Law Group as soon as possible and speak with an experienced consumer attorney to be advised of your rights and options.

 

 

Protection from Usury (Illegally High Interest Rates)

Usury is the charging of interest rates in excess of that allowed by law. Usury laws are complicated and there are many exceptions to the general rules. Listed below are some of those general rules. Since there are exceptions and the penalties for violating usury laws are severe, individuals making loans for which there are interest charges should contact an attorney for further guidance.

The California Constitution allows parties to contract for interest on a loan primarily for personal, family or household purposes at a rate not exceeding 10% per year. As with all other percentages we are listing, this percentage is based on the unpaid balance. For example, if a loan of $1,000 is to be paid at the end of one year and there are no payments during the year, the lender could charge $100 (10%) as interest. However, if payments are to be made during the year, the maximum charge allowed could be much less.

In regard to usury, a loan to be used primarily for home improvement or home purchase is not regarded as a loan for personal, family or household purposes. With these loans and for any other loans which are not for personal, family or household purposes, the allowable rate is the higher of 10% or 5% over the amount charged by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco on advances to member banks on the 25th day of the month before the loan (if the agreement to loan and the actual lending of the money are in different months, the 25th day of the month before the earlier event is used).

The usury laws do not apply to any real estate broker if the loan is secured by real estate. This applies whether or not he or she is acting as a real estate broker. The limitations also do not apply to most lending institutions such as banks, credit unions, finance companies, pawn brokers, etc. State laws place limitations on some of these loans, but at a higher percentage rate than the usury laws listed above.

Time payment contracts (for example: retail installment contracts and revolving accounts) are not generally regarded as loans. The usury laws normally do not apply to them. There are no limits on finance charges for the purchase of personal, family and household goods or services at this time. Banks take the position that the charge for third party credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc.) are not subject to these limitations. Therefore, your auto loan may be over 20% and unfortunately, this is not a violation of the usury laws.

 

 

In transactions for the purchase of goods or services which are not for personal, family or household purposes, there are normally no limits to finance charges except those set by the parties.

In the absence of an agreement, the rate of interest upon a loan or forbearance (an agreement not to collect until later for money already owed) of any money or goods or accounts (after demand) is 7% per year.

Usury laws are complicated. Therefore, if you think you may have been charged usurious interest, i.e., too high interest rates, you should not hesitate to contact an experienced consumer rights attorney to investigate your situation to see if you have a case. If you have been subjected to illegally high interest rates contact, the Lee Law Group and we will fight for you.

UNFAIR & UNSAFE BUSINESS PRACTICES

If a corporation or business engages in fraudulent and unscrupulous conduct in order to steal money from individuals, the consumer fraud attorneys at the Lee Law Group can hold them accountable.

COUNTERFEIT PRODUCTS - BIG PROBLEM

MISREPRESENTATION IN ADVERTISING

When you work with individuals who provide advice and guidance on your financial affairs, such as investment counselors, stockbrokers, insurance agents, and accountants, they have a fiduciary responsibility to act in your best interest.

When they act in their own best interests instead of yours or when they act negligently with your affairs, and you lose money, you have recourse under consumer protection laws.

 

Identity Theft

Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information, such as your Social Security number, address, phone number or financial account information, and uses it to open up lines of credit in your name. Then the thief can take out a mortgage, buy a car or obtain credit cards to use on a shopping spree.

Credit card fraud happens when someone gains access to an individual's legitimately opened credit card account and uses it to buy items, take out cash advances and create other illegal schemes. Credit card fraud costs credit card companies millions of dollars per year. But the consumer isn't generally responsible for any of it, as many companies have zero dollar fraud liability guarantees. Identity theft poses a longer-term risk, since basic personal information rarely changes.

 

Tips on How to Avoid Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud

Lee Law Group

Pay attention whenever you are asked to provide your address, phone number, date of birth, Social Security number or account numbers. Consider who
is asking for the information and what they are going to do with it. If you haven't initiated the interaction, be extra careful. Con artists can be extremely persuasive and will
say almost anything to get you to divulge your personal information.

Keep in mind if you're placing an Internet, phone or catalog order, merchants may ask you to confirm the three digit code in the signature block on the back of your credit card. Asking for this three-digit code, sometimes referred to as a "CID" (card member identification code), is one in a series of steps merchants can take to prevent fraud
and verify that the order is being placed by the real cardholder, especially when the actual card is not present. If you know you are dealing with a trusted merchant, you should feel comfortable providing this code.

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If you've always thought about buying a shredder but haven't yet, you should make that purchase today.

Shredding documents is one of the best ways to protect yourself against identity theft and fraud. By shredding all documents that contain any personal information (including your address, telephone numbers and other, more sensitive data), you make it a lot harder for someone to find any sort of useful information to use against you.

Your best bet is a cross-cut shredder, which turns paper into confetti. Clever con artists can take strips from a strip-cut shredder (shredders that slice paper into long, thin strips) and put them back together. But once you've created confetti, it's impossible to put back together.

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Pay Your Bills Electronically

Paying bills electronically will eliminate some of the risk. If you pay your bills with a check through an unsecured mailbox, your personal financial information could be compromised or stolen before it gets to the intended recipient. But if you pay your bills online, you reduce the number of opportunities for your personal information to disappear. Paying your bills online also saves you time and the cost of buying stamps. Just make sure the Web site is a secure, encrypted environment. To make sure that a Web site is secure, look for a closed lock symbol in the bottom right of the screen, which means the site should be encrypted. Web addresses that begin with "https" also indicate secure sites, and if you click on the lock symbol, it should display the same "https" address.

When it comes to making your credit card payment each month, you can use the card's electronic payment option. You'll get to choose the date on which your payment will be made and how much will be electronically withdrawn from your checking account.

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Passwords can be difficult to remember, especially if you have different passwords for different sites. But it is important to create "strong" passwords and not just use your birth date, your address or another easy password that a con artist can guess.

Strong passwords contain both letters and numbers, making them more difficult for thieves to guess. The strongest passwords include a combination of upper- and lowercase letters. Some security experts suggest putting numbers in the middle of the password instead of at the beginning or end.

Remember: The longer the password, the more secure it will be. When you create a password, make sure it is at least eight characters long.

Finally, select passwords you can remember, but don't use your birthday, your pet's name, family names or your Social Security number..

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It's a good idea to check your credit history regularly, so you know that everything on it is accurate and legitimate. You can order your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus –Equifax, ExperianSM and TransUnion® – by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Federal law entitles you to one free credit report per year from each of these bureaus. (Some states require the credit bureaus to give you more than one free report per year.) Another way to protect yourself is to purchase a credit-monitoring
service from one of the credit bureaus or credit card issuers, which provides you with access to your credit report and credit score. These services will alert you by phone, text or e-mail when there is a change to your credit history.

Remember, you can take action to protect yourself from identity theft by using the tips above. You may think you have better or more important things to do than stay
on top of your personal information, but taking the time to protect yourself will save you time and money in the future.

With Lee Law Group take every neccessary measure in protecting your Consumer Rights.

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Approximately a quarter of a million Americans file a complaint of identity theft with the Federal Trade Commission every year. Since not everyone who is a victim files a report, experts believe the actual number is higher. You can unwind the fraudulent activity that led to identity theft, but it may take a tremendous amount of time to clean up your credit history and restore your credit score. Once you've gone through the paperwork, you will need to check back to make sure that nothing new turns up on your credit history.

When it comes to credit card fraud, your involvement will generally end once you report the fraud to your credit card company. You should do that as soon as you discover your credit card number or information has been stolen or that there are charges on a bill that you didn't make. While the number of identity theft cases has grown over the past five years, the good news is that there are ways you can reduce the chance that your personal information will be stolen.

Personal Attention. Straight Forward Communication. At the Lee Law Group, we give you the confidence of knowing what to expect during a stressful, uncertain time. You'll get the benefit of our years of invaluable legal expertise—but more importantly, you'll get our time..

 

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