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Protecting Consumers from Deceptive Scams and Ripoffs

“Scam” and “Ripoff” have millions of search results on Google.  But in North Carolina, consumer Protection laws assist in you getting something that complaining about a business on the internet doesn’t get you: getting your hard-earned cash back.

The internet has produced an incredible opportunity for consumers to get the word out to their fellow consumers about the deceptive tactics of certain businesses.  But consumers are often unaware that posting on does not have to be their final act of defiance against the company.  Posting on a forum or contacting the Better Business Bureau may make you feel better, but what about the money lost?  Many have never considered the option, but consumer’s rights are protected strongly by state and federal law.

North Carolina, as with many other states, have adopted a form of the Federal Trade Commission Act, to allow individuals who have been victimized by unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce to have a private right of action against that business.  This statute is known as the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act (the “UDTPA”).  Each week that a violation continues is a separate offense.  If you were taken advantage of for a year, that would be 52 separate violations of the statute.  Whether or not the business intended to deceive the consumer is irrelevant.  However, if the deception was intentional, courts are entitled to let Plaintiffs recover their attorney fees if they can prove a deceptive trade practice and show that the business’ action was willful, malicious, and frivolous.

To win a claim under the UDTPA, a plaintiff would have to show damages, but that would not necessarily be the extent of their recovery.  In North Carolina, a plaintiff is entitled to either treble damages or punitive damages on top of their compensatory damages, but not both.  Treble damages simply is another word for triple damages .  For example if a party lost $1000 as a result of the deceptive actions of a business, they would be entitled to recover $3000 in treble damages if they were able to demonstrate liability under the statute.  Many individuals have heard of punitive damages, where a consumer receives additional funds with a judgment, not necessarily because the consumer has been injured to that extent, but because the funds are designed to punish the defendant for its unlawful activity.

Any business sales practice that is unfair or deceptive is subject to the UDTPA, but some acts are so pervasive and, unfortunately, effective that the North Carolina legislature has set forth specific statutes governing common sales tactics.  For example, when a company informs a customer that they are subject to an automatic renewal of a service after the initial terms of the contract have concluded, if the company does not alert the customer of that provision clearly and conspicuously of how to cancel that contract, is in violation of North Carolina law.  There are also many restrictions against businesses telling a consumer that they’ve “been selected to receive a fantastic offer” or that they’ve won some sort of contest.  Sales pitches regarding the ability to make enormous amounts of money “working for home”  are also dangerously effective, and there is a specific portion of the UDTPA which references these tactics

These are just examples, any instance in which the customers have been deceived and it has resulted in a financial loss could result in a valid claim under the UDTPA.  Consumers, reporting a scam on the internet makes you feel better, but does it get you your money back?  Contact a consumer attorney if you feel you have been taken advantage of.  Businesses, wondering if some particularly aggressive sales techniques are subject to suit?  It would also make sense to contact a consumer attorney in that instance.

Ed Maginnis, principal and founder of Maginnis Law, PLLC is an attorney who practices primarily in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Holly Springs, and the rest of Wake County, North Carolina.   He accepts cases throughout North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington D.C.  Visit his website at for more information about his practice and how to contact him for a free consultation regarding your legal needs.

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