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Buying Goods and the Law

Buying products is easier and faster than ever. You can order something with the tap of a button from anywhere in the world. But a purchase that seemed like a good idea at the time can have frustrating complications.

Some problems are more serious than buyer's remorse. A product's quality might be much worse than the seller advertised. Retailers may refuse to honor the return policy or warranty. Orders sometimes never arrive. The payment process could expose you to fraud.

In these situations, you should know your consumer rights. Consumer protection laws affect almost every part of your shopping experience. This section will explain your legal options for recovering from scams and buying consumer goods.

Before You Buy a Product

When considering a purchase, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the seller reputable? Do they have the proper license to sell you the product?
  • Does the product have any known safety hazards?
  • What is the expected delivery timeline?
  • Is this purchase part of a recurring plan?
  • Have other customers left negative reviews or filed official complaints against the business?
  • What is the return policy, and how long would you have to return the product?
  • Is the online seller's website secure?

The answers could help you detect potential shopping or product issues before they arise. Whether you're browsing in person or online, taking precautions is wise. Customers sometimes find out too late that a seller has strict policies, poor data security, or unsatisfactory products.

Consumer Protection Laws for Everyday Purchases

Businesses often value good customer service policies to keep you happy and willing to buy from them again. But these policies aren't your only source of relief for a shopping problem.

Customers gain rights from many federal and state laws. These laws stop sellers from using deceitful sales practices to take advantage of people. From small online shops to big-box retail stores, all sellers must follow these laws.

The Consumer Protection Act

The Consumer Protection Act is one of the broadest federal laws for shopping. This law gives you basic rights, including:

  • The right to seek a refund, repair, or replacement for products that are faulty or dangerous
  • The right to fair, balanced sales contracts and policies
  • The expectation that sellers only offer products that are safe for their intended uses
  • The expectation that a product you buy will match the description from the seller, such as the price, materials, size, and risk warnings
  • The opportunity to seek legal action or file a consumer report against a business

If you want to know whether a seller violated your rights, the Consumer Protection Act can be a helpful starting point. You can also ask an attorney to explain these rights in the context of your shopping problem.

Additional Consumer Rights Laws for Shopping

Paying for goods and recovering from shopping scams can involve other laws, such as:

  • The Truth in Lending Act (TILA): This law applies to loans and credit but also relates to shopping-related payment issues. For example, credit card customers don't have to pay for fraudulent charges beyond $50.
  • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA): This law protects you against unreasonable tactics of debt collectors. It might be relevant if you buy a product on an installment contract, such as a cell phone. The retailer or collection agency can't harass you for payments under this law.
  • The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA): This law is part of the Consumer Credit Protection Act. It grants your rights when you dispute billing issues. For example, you may need to dispute a charge on your credit card statement for undelivered merchandise.

Many laws contribute to a mosaic of consumer protection rights in the United States. These laws may not directly target the typical shopping experience. Yet, they may indirectly affect your daily purchases, particularly when encountering a problem.

Many Agencies Enforce Consumer Rights

You don't face large companies and scammers alone. Federal and state consumer protection agencies work to protect consumers from unfair business practices and scams. They regulate marketing, product safety, and more.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the agency that oversees most goods you buy. As part of the federal government, it promotes fair market competition and consumer privacy. It advises customers on shopping safety and related issues, such as identity theft and fraud.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is a federal agency that focuses on product safety standards, defective products, and product-related injuries. It can also teach you how to safely use the products you buy, such as heavy furniture and baby toys.

Some government agencies focus on specific industries or consumer transaction types. For example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) monitors lenders, debt collectors, and other financial institutions. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates medicine, groceries, cosmetics, and more.

If you encounter a problem with a purchase, one of these agencies may have resources to help you. Your state's consumer affairs agency can also provide information about shoppers' rights.

Payment Methods and the Law

Parting with your money always involves a level of risk. You trust a seller to honor their promises and protect your sensitive information.

You can reduce the risk by understanding how the law applies to each of your payment options, such as:

  • Gift cards
  • A credit card or virtual credit card
  • Your debit card
  • Cash
  • A third-party payment service like PayPal or Stripe
  • A layaway plan

Consumer protection laws affect which one offers you the most protection and value. They determine factors like what you're liable to pay and how high interest rates can be. For example, federal law limits fees that diminish the value of a gift card. Enforcement agencies also investigate and punish payment-related crimes, such as fraud and theft.

Certain Goods Have Special Rules

You may want to be aware of special laws affecting particular goods, such as:

Federal and state laws can affect your ability to buy, ship, and use such products. This section features articles that expand on the unique rules for these categories.

Consumer Law Attorneys

Talking to the seller usually ends most shopping disputes. Communication often gives the customer a fair and fast solution. Yet, businesses sometimes fail to respect your consumer rights or even their own guarantees.

Speaking with a consumer protection attorney may be your next course of action. Their legal advice can clarify your options to seek direct relief. They can also help resolve complex cases like identity theft or personal injury.

Learn About Buying Goods

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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