Consumers should be able to trust the businesses they choose to deal with. We should not have to wonder whether the business is telling the truth in its advertisements or dealings. Small or large, businesses should deal fairly and honestly with consumers. Virginia law agrees. Through several different statutes, Virginia has taken steps to ensure that consumers are protected from various unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices.
One such statute, the Virginia Consumer Protection Act (VCPA), is intended to curb a number of unfair or unseemly practices by Virginia businesses. This is a very powerful, but somewhat unknown, tool for consumers to fight back against these unfair practices. (There are other specific laws addressing automobiles, credit reports and scores, homes and foreclosure, identity theft, and phone fraud).
The VCPA lists a number of “prohibited practices” in order to protect consumers from unscrupulous or shady business methods. A claim under the VCPA is triggered when a “supplier of goods” in a consumer transaction performs one or many of a number of “prohibited practices.”
Prohibited practices include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Misrepresenting goods or services as those of another;
- Misrepresenting the source, sponsorship, approval, or certification of goods or services;
- Misrepresenting the affiliation, connection, or association of the supplier, or of the goods or services, with another;
- Misrepresenting geographic origin in connection with goods or services;
- Misrepresenting that goods or services have certain quantities, characteristics, ingredients, uses, or benefits;
- Misrepresenting that goods or services are of a particular standard, quality, grade, style, or model;
- Advertising goods or services with intent not to sell them as advertised, or with intent not to sell at the price or upon the terms advertised;
- Making false or misleading statements of fact concerning the reasons for, existence of, or amounts of price reductions;
- Misrepresenting that repairs, alterations, modifications, or services have been performed or parts installed;
- Misrepresenting by the use of any written or documentary material that appears to be an invoice or bill for merchandise or services previously ordered;
In short, consumers are protected from being harmed by Virginia businesses that engage in misrepresentations, false advertisements or statements, and failures to adequately disclose relevant information.
Common violations of the VCPA occur when a business advertises or sells goods that are used, secondhand, repossessed, refurbished, reconditioned, blemished, defective, irregular, or deteriorated without clearly and unequivocally advertising that fact. Other common examples are unfulfilled promises to repair, phony claims of product performance, and deceptive details concerning the product or service.
In addition, the VCPA’s list of prohibited practices includes a wide variety of other state consumer protection legislation, e.g., Virginia Health Spa Act, Virginia Home Solicitation Sales Act, Automobile Repair Facilities Act, Virginia Lease-Purchase Act, Virginia Public Telephone Information Act, etc. Therefore, a violation of any of these other laws is likewise a violation of the VCPA.
For wronged consumers, one of the most helpful features of the VCPA is the available remedies in the event of a violation. Any person who suffers loss as a result of a violation of the VCPA can recover actual damages or $500, whichever is greater. And if the violation was willful, the person can recover up to three times the actual damages, or $1,000, whichever is greater. Additionally, the VCPA recognizes the financial difficulty a consumer may face in order to pursue these types of consumer protection claims and provides that a successful consumer can recover his reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs. Therefore, if you have been wronged in a consumer transaction, you should be encouraged to obtain legal representation from experienced consumer protection attorneys.
If you think you may have a claim under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, call Robert E. Byrne, Jr. at (434) 817-3100 to schedule a consultation. The consumer protection attorneys at MartinWren, P.C. welcome the opportunity to discuss your case and help you receive full compensation for any wrong you have suffered.