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Consumer Protection

Protections Available

Legislative and regulatory protections are provided when abuse occurs in the marketplace. Most consumer protections are available to all consumers, regardless of age. The major group of consumer protection laws falls within state statutes called generically "unfair and deceptive acts and practices" (UDAP). Most UDAP statutes are very broad, and can be used to challenge a wide range of fraudulent, abusive, or deceptive activities. Some state statutes apply generally to the sale of goods and services. Other statutes target specific commercial activities, such as mobile home parks or timeshare properties. State UDAP statutes can vary in the specifics of who can sue, who can be sued, what practices are prohibited, and what relief is available. Most allow many different types of relief, including actual, treble, or punitive damages, injunctive relief, class actions, and in some cases, attorney fees. A public librarian could be of assistance in locating UDAP provisions in a state code.

UDAP statutes might be used to challenge billing practices of nursing homes that charge residents extra money for services covered by Medicaid payments or provide substandard care. The statute could be used to contest unfair terms in an assistive living facility's admission contract or misleading advertising about costs. These laws could be useful obtaining an injunction against a scam artist who tried to steal the equity from a senior homeowner.

Federal laws protect all consumers by requiring specific disclosures in credit transactions through the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). TILA provisions mandate that credit card companies have a process to correct billing errors and allow borrowers to get out of loans if lenders do not make certain disclosures about the cost of the loan. TILA protections can be particularly valuable to the older homeowner who becomes the victim of predatory home mortgage lending practices. Similarly, the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA) is a useful tool to protect older homeowners. HOEPA was enacted in an effort to crack down on the use of high-interest, high-fee loans that strip the equity an older homeowner has built up. TILA and HOEPA are used to halt foreclosures. Under TILA, when the loan is secured by the equity in a home, the borrower's three-day unconditional right to get out of the loan can be extended to three or possibly more years, if the lender failed to make required disclosures. Violation of the HOEPA protections gives the homeowner the right to sue for damages, as well as to seek cancellation of the loan in certain circumstances.

Other consumer protection laws are of special interest to older consumers.

  • • The Consumer Leasing Act, created to address abuses in car leasing, and the FTC Used Car Rule, requiring a prominent sticker describing the car's warranty terms, protect older consumers on the go.
  • • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act curbs harassing practices by debt collectors. The older debtor, who may fall prey to misleading statements or scare tactics by creditors, can use this provision to obtain damages for personal humiliation, embarrassment, mental anguish, and emotional distress.
  • • The Equal Credit Opportunity Act specifically protects against discrimination in the granting of credit because of age. This protection may come into play when a recently widowed person first applies for credit in her own name after her husband dies.
  • • The Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act require callers to give consumers basic information identifying who is making the call. Telemarketers cannot make calls before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. They may not call persons who have asked to be placed on the calling company's "do not call" lists.
  • • The Federal Trade Commission Mail or Telephone Merchandise Rule requires merchants to deliver items ordered by phone or mail within thirty days. Older consumers who may have difficulty getting out to do their shopping need this protection to make sure what they order from home will be delivered as promised.
  • • The Federal Trade Commission Regulation for Door-to-Door Sales specifically gives relief to consumers pressured into buying something at home. The salesperson must tell consumers they can change their mind and cancel the entire transaction. By notifying the company within three business days of the sale, consumers can cancel and get a refund of any purchases made at their home or other temporary locations.

Additional topics

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