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Legal Guide to Consumer Transactions

You make consumer transactions all the time. Each time you make everyday purchases like groceries or gasoline, you technically enter into a sales contract.

Buying something is simple, yet the legal landscape behind these transactions is anything but. A network of federal and state laws protects consumers in the marketplace.

This section covers common topics about transactions for consumer goods and services. Learn how the law impacts parts of the shopping experience, like refunds and warranties. You can also find information on when and how to contact a consumer law attorney.

Unique rules apply to some product and service types. See other FindLaw sections to learn about consumer laws for complex transactions, such as those with financial institutions, securities, and real estate.

What Is a Consumer Transaction?

Laws usually define a consumer transaction as buying (or leasing) goods and services for personal use or household purposes.

These transactions can include deals you make through:

  • Brick-and-mortar stores
  • Online shopping websites
  • Telemarketing phone calls or email offers
  • Door-to-door salespersons
  • Trade shows, such as bridal expos or fandom conventions

Your transaction could be as simple as buying a vacuum from an online store. Or, you might hire a landscaping professional to mow your lawn. Even your utilities are a consumer service.

Some consumer transactions are complex with higher stakes. For example, you may want to buy a car, order medicine, or adopt a pet. These deals often need extra time and attention to complete.

As a Consumer, You Have Rights

You should also know how consumer protection laws govern the small transactions you make every day. A transaction is a two-way street. You have rights but must also fulfill your part of a deal. You may also be subject to limitations.

Many sources can influence your options and obligations as a consumer, such as:

Consumer protection laws create a barrier between you and serious issues like fraud and theft. Sales agreements and business policies specify the terms of a deal, but they don't supersede the law. Knowing your rights and options as a customer can make a difference if an issue affects your purchase.

Do My Rights Apply to Online Shopping?

Yes, federal laws protect shoppers on the internet. Online shopping introduces different issues from buying products in a physical store. For example, you may buy and ship online products across state lines. Modern laws account for these complications.

For example, customers who purchase an item online, over the phone, or through mail should receive it within 30 days. If this doesn't happen, customers are entitled to a full refund. Federal law also protects consumers who get bills for items that never arrive.

Read the articles in this section to learn more about laws for online shopping.

Protect Yourself in the Transaction Process

Consumers like you must navigate many phases of a transaction, including:

  • Choosing among many sellers, some of which may be fraudulent
  • Researching the safety, quality, and authenticity of a product
  • Paying for your purchase using your sensitive information
  • Waiting for the delivery of your product
  • Requesting a return, refund, replacement, or repair of the product

Consumer protection laws apply to each of these steps. They also govern what happens before a transaction, such as how a seller advertises its products or services. In addition, you can use smart shopping strategies to avoid problems.

The articles in this section will explain shopping tips and your legal rights during transactions. You can also find resources about scams and consumer safety through the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Shopping Disputes and Consumer Fraud

A transaction might fall below your expectations. For example, the quality of a designer purse looks far worse in person than in the seller's online ad, but you can't return it for a refund. Or, a seller charges you monthly payments for a so-called free trial. Worse yet, a company might expose personal information like your credit card number.

If you have a commercial transaction problem, your first step should be to contact the product's seller or manufacturer. Businesses often work to satisfy you to keep their customer retention rate high. Sometimes, you can get a solution through your credit card company or bank.

Yet, resolving a dispute with a company can be difficult. While many consumers can solve their problems informally, some conflicts need a solution through the legal process.

Federal and state laws let you hold the other party accountable for violating your rights. For example, the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) gives customers the right to file a class-action lawsuit against a company for its unfair or deceptive practices.

When To Call a Consumer Law Attorney

A deal gone wrong can lead to costly losses. Unfortunately, sellers aren't always helpful. You might be fighting serious issues, such as dangerous counterfeiting or invasion of privacy.

In such cases, learn about your rights and how to report a consumer claim. Consider contacting a local consumer protection lawyer to discuss your recovery options. Their experience in the legal profession can help you find a path forward.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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