Street Law: A Course in Practical Law

Chapter 27: Becoming a Smart Consumer

Chapter Overviews

Influences on Consumers  Smart consumers are knowledgeable about the process of selling goods. They also analyze their own shopping habits—whether they need a product, whether they can afford it, and how they can make the best possible decisions when purchasing that product. Often, consumers buy things in response to advertising. Today, an increasing amount of advertising is directed at teens because they represent the age group with the most disposable income. Consumers must realize that advertising is meant to make a product seem more desirable and may influence them to purchase a product that they do not really want or need.

Consumer Protection  All levels of government provide certain protections to consumers. Congress has passed laws that protect consumers by prohibiting unfair practices (such as false advertising), ensuring the quality and safety of products, establishing agencies that help consumers protect their rights, improving the operation of the market, and protecting consumers against discrimination on the basis of disability. Many states also have laws that give the government the power to stop unfair practices and provide consumers with remedies if they have been wronged.

Protecting Your Rights as a Consumer  There are several strategies that can help consumers avoid problems when buying a product or service. For example, when making purchases, consumers should compare several different brands and stores to make sure that they get the best deal. Consumers should also read the warranty to learn the company's policy toward quality assurance, returns, and repairs. A consumer unable to solve a problem by contacting the seller or manufacturer may seek the help of one of the federal or state consumer protection agencies.

Direct Action by Consumers  Direct action is a strategy that gives consumers a voice to try to make an impact on a business's practices. These actions may include writing letters, refusing to buy certain products or brand names, holding press conferences, or picketing.

Taking Your Case to Court  If you cannot settle your complaint and a consumer agency is unable to help, legal action may be necessary. If the seller's practices are a crime, the seller may be charged in criminal court. If the seller has not committed a crime but has caused a consumer financial or personal injury, the consumer may receive compensation through an action in civil court.

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