Consumer Fraud Prosecution and Defense
Although misleading and deceptive business practices have long been illegal under federal mail and wire fraud statutes, the tools consumers and state governments had to combat such practices were rather constrained until the passage of UDAP, Unfair and Deceptive Acts & Processes, in the states chiefly during the 1960s in 1970s. Pennsylvania’s consumer protection statute known as Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer protection Law (UTPCPL) was passed in 1968 and targets deceptive and misleading trade practices targeted at consumers.
However, despite being broadly construed, Pennsylvania’s consumer protection statute is not necessarily well-known by consumers or by the companies it regulates. However, the statute can have serious and significant financial and legal consequences for both individual consumers and businesses.
The experienced attorneys of Meredith & Narine are committed to protecting and promoting the ability of parties to make and rely on good-faith business dealings and contracts. Therefore our consumer fraud legal practice is dedicated and proud to represent both consumers who have suffered damages due to allegedly deceptive business practices as well as companies facing frivolous or otherwise unwarranted fraud allegations.
The Scope of Pennsylvania’s Consumer Protection Act
The scope of Pennsylvania’s UTPCPL is particularly broad as neither the courts nor the legislature have elected to immunize or protect specific industries. Of the five industries most commonly receiving protection against consumer fraud statutes, Pennsylvania’s statute covers and does not exempt the credit industry, insurance industry, utility companies, post-sale acts, or real estate transactions.
At its core, the statute defines 21 different circumstances where deceptive or unfair business practices can be alleged by a consumer. These practices include:
- Using a deceptive geographic descriptor in connection to goods or services.
- Making solicitations by phone without first “clearly, affirmatively, and expressly stating” the identity of the seller, the purpose of the call is to sell a good or service, the nature of the offer, and that no purchase is necessary to take part in any giveaway or prize promotion.
- Causing a likelihood of confusion regarding the approval, certification, or endorsement of a product.
- Passing off goods as being of a certain type of quality when they are not.
- Representing that goods are new or original when they are previously used or otherwise not new.
- Advertising certain goods or service without intent to actually sell them as advertised (bait and switch)
- Making negative statements about another’s goods or services that are false or misleading in nature.
- Advertising goods and services available for sale but failing to provide a reasonable quantity unless the advertisement explicitly limits quantity available.
- Giving false or misleading reasons behind a price decrease or sale.
- Business endeavors such as pyramid schemes and chain-letter plans.
- Failure to satisfy a written guarantee or warranty.
- Knowingly misrepresenting that repairs are modifications are needed when they are not required.
- Use of a contract that waives the consumer’s right to assert a legal defense to an action against the consumer.
- Failure to inform the purchaser of a new motor vehicle at retail of certain facts including that any rustproofing of the vehicle is optional in nature.
Aside from these expressly defined practice prohibited by the law, the 21st and final provision is a catch-all provision. The catch-all provision reads, “Engaging in any other fraudulent or deceptive conduct which creates a likelihood of confusion or of misunderstanding.” The catch-all provision in broadly construed and reaches an array or behaviors not otherwise explicitly covered by one of the remaining 20 provisions.
Legal and Financial Consequences that Can be Imposed Under Pennsylvania’s UTPCPL
Under UTPCPL there is a wide range of remedies available including monetary damages. Individual consumers are authorized by the act to bring action to recover the greater of the actual damages sustained or $100. However, as is common in many state consumer fraud statutes, the law also contains a provision that permits for the trebling, tripling, of damages plus the imposition of the plaintiff’s reasonable attorney’s fees. In short, the statue provides consumers with significant leverage to address perceived deceptive or fraudulent practices by consumers. The somewhat unsettled nature regarding the necessity of proof of reliance before the filing of a consumer suit, however, does leave some room for less than meritorious claims to be filed. Our firm is dedicated to representing the interests of free, fair, and good-faith trade regardless of whether we are representing the consumer or the business.
Businesses and Consumers Alike Rely on Our Pennsylvania UTPCPL Experience & Business Litigation Attorneys
If you are the victim of perceived unfair practices or if your company is the target of an unwarranted consumer fraud action, the experienced business litigation lawyers of Meredith & Narine can help. We are dedicated to providing high quality legal representation for all. To schedule a legal consultation to discuss your or your business’ consumer fraud concerns call us at 215-995-9769 or contact us online.