Unlawful business practices encompass fraud, misrepresentation, and oppressive or unconscionable acts or practices by business, often against consumers, and are prohibited by law in many countries. Unlawful or unethical business practices may arise in many areas, including:
• Tenancy matters
• Matters involving the advertising and sale of products and services to consumers
• Matters involving insurance claims and the settlement thereof
• Debt collection in cases of default
Unlawful business encompasses a broad array of torts, all of which involve economic injury brought on by deceptive or wrongful conduct. The legal theories that can be asserted include claims such as trade secret misappropriation, unfair competition, false advertising, palming-off, dilution and disparagement. It can arise in any line of business and frequently appear in connection with the more traditional intellectual property claims of patent, trademark and copyright infringement.
If you own a business in Utah, you ought to be very aware of the Unfair Practices Act that Utah has in place. This act is designed to protect consumers from being discriminated against, taken advantage of, and from unfair competition. The main points of unfair practices that this act protects against are:
• Discrimination in price between different purchasers of commodities of like grade and quality
• Paying or accepting anything of value as compensation, or any allowance or discount in lieu thereof, except for and not exceeding the actual cost of such services rendered in connection with the sale or purchase of goods
• Discrimination in favor of one purchaser against another purchaser
• Advertising goods you are not prepared to supply
Avoiding Unlawful Business
It is, of course, natural to want to have a successful business that accrues plenty of profit. Some unlawful practices may even seem like a logical way to boost your revenue. Nevertheless, these practices should be avoided at all costs; otherwise your business may be subject to legal consequences.
Additionally, it is also important to be familiar with the laws so you do not inadvertently infringe upon them. Knowing what you can and cannot do when advertising, the types of things that you must disclose to your customers and other such guidelines can save you from having to deal with lawsuits over unfair business practices.
Keep the following guidelines in mind when advertising and selling products to your customers:
• Ensure information about price, value, and quality is not misleading.
• Ensure that any disclaimers are prominent and visible, not obscured by images, graphics or text, and do not undermine or contradict the main offer.
• Ensure that any promises, opinions, or predictions are true or have reasonable grounds to be true.
• Ensure that you give consumers enough information to make an informed choice. Do not remain silent about important facts regarding your goods or services.
• Ensure that your advertisements are not offensive.
• Ensure that you do not make false or misleading claims about the characteristics of your goods or services.
• Ensure that you provide any gifts, rebates or prizes that you offer. They must match their advertised description.
• Ensure that you keep a reasonable supply of any sale items you advertise.
• Ensure that you never take advantage of a vulnerable person.
• Ensure that you always act in good conscience.
• Ensure that you do not use undue pressure, influence or unfair tactics to force a consumer into an unreasonable contract.
Protecting Yourself against Deceptive Trade Practices
Consumers must do their best to avoid these swindles before they happen. A state consumer protection office can give you the most up-to-date information on local scams, and receive reports about a person or local business engaging in deceptive business practices. Many unethical business practices are illegal, and they may also be a breach of your contract. If your business provides services to another vendor and is not paid, that gives you the right to sue. In general, unlawful practices occur when a person or business:
• Employs an unconscionable tactic while selling, disposing, or renting goods, services, or real estate
• Uses an unconscionable tactic in collecting or enforcing an obligation is also illegal
• Fails to deliver on any promised goods or services, including failing to refund money
• Unfair business tactics can be used to unlawfully lure consumers into buying a product or service. This is referred to as consumer fraud. Consumer fraud includes:
I. False advertising
II. Pyramid scheme
III. Bait and switch
Many contracts contain severability clauses designed to protect the contract if one portion is found illegal. A severability clause, however, might mean that the rest of the contract is still enforceable. Even in these instances, a court may rule that a contract is unconscionable, which occurs when the terms of the contract are so draconian that no reasonable person would sign it. Consumer protection laws are designed to help protect you from fraudulent, unfair, or unlawful business practices. Through a consumer protection class action lawsuit, consumers can restore the financial losses they and others have suffered. They can also put a stop to the company’s offending practices, ensuring that others will not be harmed in the future.
Antitrust laws are designed to promote fair market competition. They set rules for competition in the marketplace, ensuring that businesses do not engage in predatory business practices that are harmful to consumers. Antitrust litigation is one of the most complex types of business litigation because the claims are fact-intensive and turn on the unique nature of the illegal activity in the particular industry involved. Antitrust litigation is hard-fought, requiring a lengthy and significant legal battle against well-funded defendants.
Filing a Complaint Against a Business
A formal complaint is not necessarily intended to act as a bad review or as a warning to other potential customers. It is a way for you to get a business to address a service issue that you have with them. A complaint may also alert appropriate agencies of a business’s questionable practices.
Before You File a Complaint
Before you file a complaint against a business, it’s usually a good idea to try and resolve your issue directly. If you’ve bought a faulty product, attempt to return it. If they got an order wrong, see if they’re willing to correct the order or give you a refund. If you have an issue with their credit card or other money service policies, call customer support and ask for an explanation. The issue may be covered by the fine print in a contract. You may be able to resolve the issue informally.
When doing this, it always pays to stay polite but firm. Being rude with the person at the company won’t help that person understand your viewpoint. If you’ve attempted this, but the business still refuses to address the issue, then it may be time to file a formal complaint.
Where to File a Complaint?
The first category is for complaints against general businesses. In most cases, these should be considered first. In this category is:
• the Better Business Bureau (BBB)
• the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
• the Utah State Attorney General’s Office
The second category consists of large federal agencies that have more focused areas of operation. These should be considered if the complaint is against a large multistate or multinational company, and if the company is regulated one of these agencies. This category includes:
• the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
• the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
• the Federal Communication Commission (FCC)
The third category is state government agencies that have focused areas of operation. Think Consumer Protection Division and things of this nature. These should be considered if the company works under a state license and if the company is regulated by of one of these agencies. In some cases, these agencies can get quicker and more satisfying results than their federal counterparts.
How to File a Complaint
Most of these agencies allow complaints to be filed online at their websites. Some complaints can be filed only by mail or over the phone. Most of the complaint forms are straight forward and easy to use. Just fill in the information they ask for and submit. Some also allow you to revisit the site and view the progress of the complaint.
When filing a complaint by mail, remember to include your full name, the name and location of the business you are filing against, and a detailed description of what happened, including identifying specific employees, if that applies. If you are filing by phone, email, or online, have all of that information ready.
Considerations for complaints
Every complaint is reviewed to see if an offence has occurred and if an investigation is needed. These are several factors considered when reviewing a complaint:
• whether the issue falls under legislation we can handle
• available evidence to support the complaint
• if a business has prior complaint history
• the number of people affected
• the vulnerability of the consumers
Before you submit a complaint
Before submitting a complaint, it is recommended you try to resolve the problem first. Consumer issues span a vast variety of unique problems. Some can be solved almost instantly, and some involve extensive investigations. Regardless of the circumstances, you have the right to protect your interests and take action if you have been treated unfairly.
When you are faced with a problem, here are the steps you can take:
• Go back to the business: Discuss the issue with the business that provided the goods or services. Be specific about your request, and make sure to get clear explanations as to how your request will be handled. It is best to start this process privately, and give business an opportunity to address the problem.
• Contact your local Better Business Bureau: If a business you are dealing with has Better Business Bureau accreditation, you can file a complaint with Better Business Bureau. This organization may then mediate to get an action from the business to address your problem.
• Contact a professional or industry association: If a business is part of a regulated profession (such as veterinarians, real estate agents, electrical contractors, and so on), business or industry association, contact the relevant organization and ask about options to resolve the matter.
• File a complaint with Consumer Investigations Unit: If the business has committed an unfair practice or unlawful activity as defined in the Consumer Protection Act and there is no remedy from dealing with the business, you can submit an official consumer complaint. All complaints are assessed on a case by case basis to determine an appropriate course of action to address the issue. Anonymous complaints are accepted through the Report a Rip-Off tip line, but anonymous complaints cannot proceed to enforcement action.
• Pursue a civil action
Dispute Resolution Programs
Dispute resolution programs are ways to solve disagreements between buyers and sellers, without going to court. Some companies and industries offer programs to solve disputes.
Mediation, arbitration, and conciliation are the three common types of dispute resolution. During mediation, both sides involved in the dispute meet with a neutral third party, a mediator, to create their own agreement jointly. In arbitration, the third party, an arbitrator, decides how to settle the problem. Conciliation is similar to arbitration; however, you and the other party meet with the conciliator separately (not a group meeting). Request a copy of the rules of any program before deciding to participate.
In this light, after having detailed analysis of various aspects of unlawful business in Utah, that Consumer Protection Act contains a wide definition of and plays a vital role towards combating various ill and unlawful business practices. It is a recognized fact that consumers as buyers have poor bargaining power. In spite of various provisions providing protection to the consumer in different enactments very little could be achieved in the area of consumer protection. We may, however, point out that there are certain laws which prevent to a contract from taking undue or unfair advantage of the other and so on but they all are again punitive in nature and do not provide any direct relief to the consumers.
Free Initial Consultation with a Business Lawyer
When you need legal help regarding unlawful business in Utah, please call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506