Consumer Protection Laws in United States
The citizens of United States are protected from unsafe products, fraud, deceptive advertising, and unfair business practices through a variety of federal, state and local laws. The Principal Consumer Protection Agency at the federal level is the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC administers a wide variety of consumer protection laws by its own initiatives and in coordination with other federal agencies. The overall aim of FTC is to afford the US Consumers a deception-free marketplace and to provide the highest quality products at reasonable costs. FTC is an independent federal agency with five Presidentially-approved, Senate-confirmed Commissioners. The two main goals of FTC are:
- To protect consumers by preventing fraud, deception and unfair business practices in the marketplace, and
- To maintain competition by preventing anti-competitive business practices.
The Bureau of Consumer Protection of FTC aims to achieve the first goal. FTC has investigative authority to uncover deception, unfair activities or violation of any statute. Upon completion of an investigation, if the FTC has reason to believe that a violation exists, and that enforcement is in the public interest, it may issue a complaint to the Administrative Law Judge who will hear and decide the matter. Seven (7) divisions of the Bureau of Consumer Protection carry out the FTC’s mandate to protect the consumers.
Other federal agencies that protect the consumers are:
- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that aims to reduce the injury or death caused by consumer products other than food, drug, cosmetic and medical devices.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which concentrates on food, drug, cosmetic and medical device safety.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which covers automobile, truck and motorcycle safety.
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has jurisdiction over broadcast communications and communication common carriers and it resolves consumer complaints regarding communication services.
- Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection with a charge of regulating the offering and provision of consumer financial products or services under the Federal Consumer Financial Laws.
State-Level Consumer Protection Agencies
In most of the fifty (50) states, the State Attorney Generals are charged with enforcing the consumer protection laws. They have the authority to issue Civil Investigative Demands (CID). Most States have statutes prohibiting unfair and deceptive business practices. All the States have different systems for enforcing the consumer protection laws in industries like energy, transportation, health and financial institutions. Further, the States regulate trade and professions through licensing boards and enforcement divisions.
Private Right of Actions for Consumers
Each Citizen of United States can use the State and Federal Court Systems to protect him/her from fraud and deceit in the marketplace. Although federal and state courts operate independently, there are numerous commonalities to the private right of action protecting consumers.
Consumer Credit and Debt Collection
There are some laws at the federal level like Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), Credit Card Act of 2009 to protect the consumers who avail credit to make a purchase. Most States have equivalent state laws to protect the consumers.