Companies often think they can get away with cheating people out of small sums of money, or otherwise engaging in deceptive business practices, because the damages to each individual may not be worth suing for. But that doesn’t make it right – and that’s why we litigate these cases as class actions. The Wand Law Firm helps protect consumers against unfair business practices, including representing those who have been misled by a company’s claims about a product or service or whose privacy rights have been violated. These cases include claims for false advertising, privacy violations such as data breaches, unlawful recordings, and violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, defective products, and other deceptive business practices. California has strong consumer protection laws that prohibit false advertising and unfair and deceptive business practices.
- California Unfair Competition Law (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200 et seq.): provides for injunctive relief and restitution for unfair, unlawful, and fraudulent business practices
- California False Advertising Law (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17500 et seq.): prohibits dissemination of information about products or services that is untrue or misleading
- California Automatic Purchase Renewal Statute (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17600 et seq.): provides for restitution of revenue generated by unfair automatic renewal of services
- California Consumer Legal Remedies Act (Cal. Civil Code § 1781 et seq.): allows for damages, injunctive relief, restitution, and ancillary relief for consumers deceived by unfair and deceptive business practices
Here are some examples of unfair, deceptive, and fraudulent business practices:
A common form of false advertising involves deceptive or misleading product descriptions, particularly claims that a product has certain features or benefits that it does not, or that it is of a higher quality than it actually is. For instance, a business may:
- Use misleading terms, such as “organic,” “natural,” “light,” or “made in the USA” when they are not;
- Advertise false claims of scientific support or endorsement by scientific or medical authorities;
- Offer a guarantee or warranty for services that do not specify a remedy and then decline to provide any relief to consumers;
- Use misleading illustrations or photographs;
- Falsely claim that a product contains a certain ingredient, misrepresent the quantity of an ingredient, or falsely claim “clinically proven” health benefits; or
- Mislead consumers by using a different standard of measurement, such as by making a product seem larger or smaller than it actually is. Products might include packing material to make them appear larger or include filler to increase the weight.
A common false advertising scheme involves hidden fees or surcharges, which can cause the final price paid by a consumer to be substantially higher than the advertised price. The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) calls this practice “cramming.” This might occur with telecommunications companies, when the service provider hides additional, unauthorized charges on consumers’ bills. Airlines also have been the subject of complaints about hidden fees charged to passengers.
“Going out of business” sales may involve deceptive pricing practices, such as when a liquidator inflates prices while claiming that they have been marked down. Similarly, “perpetual sales” may involve deceptive pricing practices if the business continuously represents its products as being on sale, when really the products are being sold at regular prices.
Automatic Renewal of Services
California law prohibits businesses from automatically renewing services or purchases unless the automatic renewal is disclosed in a “clear and conspicuous” manner, which is defined as more conspicuous than surrounding text, and that such disclosure be before and in immediate proximity to the consumer signature or online purchase authorization button. Non-compliance may result in restitution of all the revenues collected as result of the automatic renewal.
Gift Card Laws
Federal laws generally prohibit gift cards from expiring sooner than five years from the date of issuance. Further, deduction fees cannot be imposed unless there has been at least one year of inactivity on the card, and there can only be one fee imposed per month.
California gift card laws provide even stronger protections. Importantly, the following laws only apply to gift certificates/cards that are redeemable at a single store. In other words, if the gift card can be used at different, unrelated stores, then the following protections likely do not apply.
California Civil Code § 1749.45 makes it unlawful for a business to sell a gift card that contains any of the following:
· An expiration date
· A service fee for inactivity on the card, unless very specific criteria are satisfied (including but not limited to, the remaining value of the gift card is $5 or less each time the fee is assessed, the fee does not exceed $1 per month, the card has been inactive for 24 consecutive months, and the holder may reload or add value to the gift card)
· Any gift certificate sold after January 1, 1997 is redeemable in cash for its cash value
· Any gift certificate with a cash value of less than $10 is redeemable in cash for its cash value
· A gift certificate sold without an expiration date is valid until redeemed or replaced
Food and Product Mislabeling
California laws prohibit companies from making false representations on the labels of food and consumer products. For instance, if is unlawful for a company to advertise that food products have certain characteristics or purported health benefits (e.g., all natural, organic, 100 percent, non-GMO, that the product comes from a certain region, etc.) that they do not. Similarly, it is unlawful for a company to make representations regarding qualities or standards of its consumer products (e.g., clothing made in the USA or that a vehicle achieves a specific gas mileage) when such representations are untrue.