Whether it’s the trunk-slammers of home security companies or “buy one, get one for half price” promotions found in countless ads, deceptive sales are a serious problem that can damage consumer confidence and trust. Luckily, consumers can do something about it—by filing civil suits that hold deceptive marketers accountable. Those lawsuits can result in the recovery of monetary damages and the retraction or cessation of certain marketing practices.
To constitute deception, a representation, omission, or practice must meet three key requirements: First, the claim must mislead consumers. Second, the misrepresentation must be likely to mislead a reasonable consumer in the circumstances. And third, the misrepresentation must be material.
There are numerous acts that can be considered deceptive, including making misleading price and savings claims; using bait-and-switch techniques; failing to disclose material limitations or conditions in a transaction or course of dealing; and false advertising. However, in evaluating a particular act or practice as being deceptive, the agencies consider not only its individual elements but also how those acts or practices are presented to the consumer.
In order to determine whether a product or service is worth the investment, it’s important to understand the risks involved. Buying a good or service with a high risk factor often requires consumers to assume the worst-case scenario, which can be financially devastating in the event that the good or service is defective or unfit for its intended purpose.
The federal government has made strides in the years since the trunk-slammer days in putting a dent in the number of deceptive sales tactics used by door-to-door security salespeople and other unscrupulous businesses. And consumers can do their part by verifying the identity of any salesperson who approaches their homes and carefully reading contracts before signing them.
However, Driggs notes that homeowners shouldn’t be too quick to judge a company or product by the fact that they are sold through door-to-door sales methods. He says that the practice is still a useful way to reach many consumers and it’s been used in a range of industries for decades—from auto manufacturing to health care.
For those who have been harmed by deceptive sales, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has created an online tool that allows consumers to easily report companies that violate federal antitrust and unfair competition laws. Consumers can file complaints that help the FTC better monitor these practices and take action when necessary. In addition, the agency’s Consumer Sentinel Network is a database of consumer complaints that helps law enforcement officials track and investigate complaints of this kind. For more information, visit http://www.ftc.gov/sentinel/. The database allows anyone to submit a complaint, and if the matter is determined to be a violation of federal law, the offending party can face civil and criminal penalties. The Consumer Sentinel Network is accessible to all U.S. residents and is operated by the FTC’s Office of Consumer Protection. There is no cost to use this resource, and it’s available in multiple languages.