Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
We face many questions when buying goods. Purchasing unseen products can raise doubts about what we’re going to get. Making payments with credit cards, PayPal, or gift cards can raise concerns over fraud and identity theft. By ordering online, by phone, or through mail order, we run the risk of an item arriving damaged or different than expected. Merchants’ and other sellers’ advertising practices aim to attract customers, but not necessarily fully inform them. When people, money, and personal property intersect in the marketplace, concerns can be many and disputes frequently arise. This section offers articles and resources on the legal issues involved in buying goods and the protections consumers are provided under the law.
American law is closely concerned with the buying and selling of goods. Federal and state agencies regulate marketing practices, payment methods, and the quality and safety of many items you purchase. Courts and attorneys frequently get involved in contract interpretations and contract disputes. Cases arise over warranty disputes, defective consumer products, and personal injuries. All of these areas combine to protect consumers and provide specific legal rights.
Knowing What You’re Going to Get
Consumers have many protections when it comes to knowing what they’re going to get when they purchase a product. Some of these affect consumers indirectly, such as federal and state regulatory agencies. For example, the Food and Drug Administration’s mandate is to ensure that food, drugs, and medical products pose no risks to the public. The agency’s inspection and approval processes benefit consumers of these goods. State agencies also investigate and punish deceptive marketing campaigns, predatory sales practices and the sale of substandard goods.
Then there are consumer rights. Many states provide cooling-off periods for purchases made door-to-door, at trade shows, over the Internet, or involving major items like cars. Federal and state agencies often provide consumers with a means to report faulty products or shady practices. This can deter unscrupulous merchants from bad behavior. Articles in this section can advise you of ways to protect yourself when you buy.
Paying for Stuff
Many protections exist when it comes to paying for stuff. For instance, credit card customers are shield from paying for fraudulent charged beyond $50. This comes from the federal Truth in Lending Act. In many states, customers don’t have to worry about gift cards expiring thanks to state laws that view these cards more like cash. Online customers can gain some comfort from knowing that federal and state law regulates payment services such as PayPal as well.
Once again, there are indirect protections for consumers as well. Federal and state law enforcement agencies investigate and punish fraud, theft, and other crimes relating to property. Many articles in this section detail common concerns about making payments.
Special Rules for Certain Goods
You may want to be aware of special laws affecting certain goods. Federal and state laws can affect your ability to buy beer, wine, and spirits online and ship them to your location. Buying prescription drugs online can save money, but also prove dangerous and sometimes illegal. Many states also have specific laws on the books when it comes to buying pets. Sellers can be required to provide prospective owners with information about an animal and to accept its return if it proves sick.
Consumer Law Attorneys
Most of the time, problems with buying goods are resolved between the seller and the buyer. When that doesn’t happen, consider speaking with a consumer law attorney. An attorney can consider your case and advise you on how to proceed.
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