What Are Consumer Rights?
On March 15, 1962, President John F. Kennedy said, “If consumers are offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened and the national interest suffers.”
It was a speech that launched what’s known as the Consumer Bill of Rights, and it triggered a flurry of consumer protection laws enacted throughout the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and beyond.
Nearly 60 years later, March 15 is celebrated as Consumer Rights Day, and the laws the day honors protect buyers and hold sellers accountable. Going beyond the individual, these laws strengthen America by instilling trust in the impossibly huge amount of stuff and services bought and sold every second in the country’s massive $21 trillion consumer economy.
Consumer Rights Come From Many Different Laws
There is no one law governing consumer rights in the United States. They come from a variety of laws, many of which came after Kennedy’s address, but not all. The 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, for example, remains one of the most important consumer protections. Here are some of the other major laws and the areas they regulate:
- Deceptive trade practice statutes like the Federal Trade Commission Act
- Product safety laws like the Consumer Product Safety Act
- Debt collection statutes like the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
- Privacy statutes like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act, and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act
- Credit and banking statutes like the Fair Credit Reporting Act
- Real estate statutes like the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act
The FTC Is the Watchdog of Consumer Rights
The Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 established the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the organization that enforces consumer rights laws. Laws and statutes, after all, are meaningless without consequences.
When consumers want to file complaints, they do so with the Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP), the organization within the FTC tasked with processing and investigating reports of violations to America’s consumer protection laws. It has the authority to sue both people and companies it suspects of breaking the law.
The BCP has eight divisions:
- Division of Privacy and Identity Protection
- Division of Financial Practices
- Division of Consumer and Business Education
- Division of Enforcement
- Division of Marketing Practices
- Division of Advertising Practices
- Division of Litigation Technology & Analysis
- Division of Consumer Response & Operations
How To File a Complaint
If you have a violation to report and you can’t work it out with the seller, USA.gov advises consumers to:
- Contact their state’s consumer protection agency. USA.gov maintains a database of state consumer protection offices.
- Contact their state attorney general. You can find contact info on Find my AG.
- File a complaint with the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov
This article is part of GOBankingRates’ ‘Economy Explained’ series to help readers navigate the complexities of our financial system.
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