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Protecting Consumers from Deceptive Scams and Ripoffs


“Scam” and “Ripoff” have millions of search results on Google.  But in North Carolina, consumer protection laws can help you get something that complaining about a business can’t: your money back.  Protecting consumers is important to us.

The internet has produced an incredible opportunity for consumers to get the word out to their fellow consumers about the deceptive tactics of certain businesses.  Contacting the Better Business Bureau may make you feel better, but what about the money lost? State and federal laws protect consumers, but few people know their options for legal recourse.

Protecting Consumers in North Carolina

North Carolina upholds a form of the Federal Trade Commission Act, to protect consumers from unfair business practices. Individuals victimized by unfair or deceptive practices have a private right of action against that business.  The North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act (UDTPA) protects such consumers .  Each week that a violation continues is a separate offense. Whether or not the business intended to deceive the consumer is irrelevant.  However, if the deception was intentional, Plaintiffs may recover their attorney fees. They must be able to prove a deceptive trade practice and that the business’ action was willful, malicious, and frivolous.

UDTPA claims

To win a UDTPA claim, a plaintiff has to show damages, but not necessarily to the extent of their recovery.  In North Carolina, a plaintiff is entitled to either treble damages or punitive damages on top of their compensatory damages.  Treble damages simply is another word for triple damages.  For example, if a party lost $1000 to deceptive business practices, they could be entitled to $3000 in treble damages.  Many individuals have heard of punitive damages, where a consumer receives additional funds with a judgment, not necessarily because the consumer has been injured to that extent, but because the funds are designed to punish the defendant for its unlawful activity.

Any business sales practice that is unfair or deceptive is subject to the UDTPA, but some acts are so pervasive and, unfortunately, effective that the North Carolina legislature has set forth specific statutes governing common sales tactics.  Take, for example, a company that informs a customer that they are subject to an automatic renewal of a service after the initial terms of the contract. If the company does not alert the customer of that provision clearly and conspicuously including how to cancel, it is in violation of North Carolina law. 

The UDPTA also prohibits businesses from making false or misleading promises. For example, telling consumer’s they’ve won a prize.  Sales pitches regarding the ability to make enormous amounts of money “working for home”  are also dangerously effective, and there is a specific portion of the UDTPA which references these tactics

We can help.

These are just a few examples. Any instance in which a business deceives a customer and he or she suffers financial loss is a possible violation of the UDTPA.  Consumers, reporting a scam on the internet makes you feel better, but does it get you your money back? Businesses, wondering if some particularly aggressive sales techniques are subject to suit?  Contact an attorney.

Ed Maginnis, founder of Maginnis Howard is an attorney who practices primarily in Raleigh, North Carolina.  He also accepts cases throughout North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington D.C.