Have you been the victim of misleading advertising?
Often we see commercials on TV, billboards and the internet offering a free product or service. They seem too good to be true, and normally if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. If a company is spending Millions of dollars on advertising and claim that they are offering you something free, you can bet that what they are offering is not free and the company offering it is not in the business of providing free goods or services. If this were true the individual or company would not be making any money in return for the millions they spend on advertising. This is a very illogical use of time and money and ultimately would result in the person offering the free product or service to run out of money
How many times have you heard that some nice individual is offering to give you something for free, or wants to "help" you with a certain problem or situation. You should ask youself, why is this person or company spending millions of dollars advertising a free product or service? If you have been scammed by misleading advertising or free offers of help, you have a remedy in the Florida Unfair And Deceptive Trade Practices law.
Misleading and deceptive in terms of advertising copy, advertising practice, or plan of solicitation is materially misleading or deceptive if, by implication or otherwise, it transmits information in such manner or of such substance that a prospective customer may be led thereby to his material damage or detriment.
False advertising or deceptive advertising is the use of false or misleading statements in advertising. As advertising has the potential to persuade people into commercial transactions that they might otherwise avoid, many governments around the world use regulations to control false, deceptive or misleading advertising. "Truth" refers to essentially the same concept, that customers have the right to know what they are buying, and that all necessary information should be on the label.
False advertising, in the most blatant of contexts, is illegal in most countries. However, advertisers still find ways to deceive consumers in ways that are legal, or technically illegal but unenforceable.
Misuse of the word "free". The usual meaning of "free" is "devoid of cost or obligation". However, retailers often use the word for something which is merely included in the overall price. One common example is a "buy one, get one free" sale. The second item is not "free" under the normal definition, since, to obtain it, the buyer is obliged to pay the full cost of the first item. Similarly a business may offer a "free" service to consumers, when in reality the business intends to sell a product or service to the consumer under the guise of offering a free service.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, misleading is defined as follows:
adj. Tending to mislead; deceptive. Tending to confuse or mislead; deceptive
What Florida Law Provides
The Attorney General's Office is an enforcing authority of Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, which is meant to protect individual consumers and legitimate businesses from various types of illegal conduct in trade or commerce. Pursuant to the Act, the attorney general investigates and files civil actions against persons who engage in unfair methods of competition, unfair, unconscionable or deceptive trade practices, including, but not limited to, pyramid schemes, misleading franchise or business opportunities, travel scams, fraudulent telemarketing, and false or misleading advertising.
For information on how to protect yourself against consumer fraud click here.
Below find the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices law contained in the Florida Statutes.
501.202 Purposes; rules of construction.--The provisions of this part shall be construed liberally to promote the following policies:
(1) To simplify, clarify, and modernize the law governing consumer protection, unfair methods of competition, and unconscionable, deceptive, and unfair trade practices.
(2) To protect the consuming public and legitimate business enterprises from those who engage in unfair methods of competition, or unconscionable, deceptive, or unfair acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce.
(3) To make state consumer protection and enforcement consistent with established policies of federal law relating to consumer protection.
501.203 Definitions.--As used in this chapter, unless the context otherwise requires, the term:
(1) "Final judgment" means a judgment, including any supporting opinion, that determines the rights of the parties and concerning which appellate remedies have been exhausted or the time for appeal has expired.
(2) "Enforcing authority" means the office of the state attorney if a violation of this part occurs in or affects the judicial circuit under the office's jurisdiction. "Enforcing authority" means the Department of Legal Affairs if the violation occurs in or affects more than one judicial circuit or if the office of the state attorney defers to the department in writing, or fails to act upon a violation within 90 days after a written complaint has been filed with the state attorney.
(3) "Violation of this part" means any violation of this act or the rules adopted under this act and may be based upon any of the following as of July 1, 2001:
(a) Any rules promulgated pursuant to the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. ss. 41 et seq.;
(b) The standards of unfairness and deception set forth and interpreted by the Federal Trade Commission or the federal courts;
(c) Any law, statute, rule, regulation, or ordinance which proscribes unfair methods of competition, or unfair, deceptive, or unconscionable acts or practices.
(4) "Department" means the Department of Legal Affairs.
(5) "Order" means a cease and desist order issued by the enforcing authority as set forth in s. 501.208.
(6) "Interested party or person" means any person affected by a violation of this part or any person affected by an order of the enforcing authority.
(7) "Consumer" means an individual; child, by and through its parent or legal guardian; business; firm; association; joint venture; partnership; estate; trust; business trust; syndicate; fiduciary; corporation; any commercial entity, however denominated; or any other group or combination.
(8) "Trade or commerce" means the advertising, soliciting, providing, offering, or distributing, whether by sale, rental, or otherwise, of any good or service, or any property, whether tangible or intangible, or any other article, commodity, or thing of value, wherever situated. "Trade or commerce" shall include the conduct of any trade or commerce, however denominated, including any nonprofit or not-for-profit person or activity.
(9) "Thing of value" may include, without limitation, any moneys, donation, membership, credential, certificate, prize, award, benefit, license, interest, professional opportunity, or chance of winning.
501.204 Unlawful acts and practices.--
(1) Unfair methods of competition, unconscionable acts or practices, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful.
(2) It is the intent of the Legislature that, in construing subsection (1), due consideration and great weight shall be given to the interpretations of the Federal Trade Commission and the federal courts relating to s. 5(a)(1) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. s. 45(a)(1) as of July 1, 2001.
501.206 Investigative powers of enforcing authority.--
(1) If, by his or her own inquiry or as a result of complaints, the enforcing authority has reason to believe that a person has engaged in, or is engaging in, an act or practice that violates this part, he or she may administer oaths and affirmations, subpoena witnesses or matter, and collect evidence. Within 5 days, excluding weekends and legal holidays, after the service of a subpoena or at any time before the return date specified therein, whichever is longer, the party served may file in the circuit court in the county in which he or she resides or in which he or she transacts business and serve upon the enforcing authority a petition for an order modifying or setting aside the subpoena. The petitioner may raise any objection or privilege which would be available under this chapter or upon service of such subpoena in a civil action. The subpoena shall inform the party served of his or her rights under this subsection.
(2) If matter that the enforcing authority seeks to obtain by subpoena is located outside the state, the person subpoenaed may make it available to the enforcing authority or his or her representative to examine the matter at the place where it is located. The enforcing authority may designate representatives, including officials of the state in which the matter is located, to inspect the matter on his or her behalf, and he or she may respond to similar requests from officials of other states.
(3) Upon failure of a person without lawful excuse to obey a subpoena and upon reasonable notice to all persons affected, the enforcing authority may apply to the circuit court for an order compelling compliance.
(4) The enforcing authority may request that an individual who refuses to comply with a subpoena on the ground that testimony or matter may incriminate him or her be ordered by the court to provide the testimony or matter. Except in a prosecution for perjury, an individual who complies with a court order to provide testimony or matter after asserting a privilege against self-incrimination to which he or she is entitled by law shall not have the testimony or matter so provided, or evidence derived therefrom, received against him or her in any criminal investigation or proceeding.
(5) Any person upon whom a subpoena is served pursuant to this section shall comply with the terms thereof unless otherwise provided by order of the court. Any person who fails to appear with the intent to avoid, evade, or prevent compliance in whole or in part with any investigation under this part or who removes from any place, conceals, withholds, mutilates, alters, or destroys, or by any other means falsifies any documentary material in the possession, custody, or control of any person subject to any such subpoena, or knowingly conceals any relevant information with the intent to avoid, evade, or prevent compliance shall be liable for a civil penalty of not more than $5,000, reasonable attorney's fees, and costs.
501.207 Remedies of enforcing authority.--
(1) The enforcing authority may bring:
(a) An action to obtain a declaratory judgment that an act or practice violates this part.
(b) An action to enjoin any person who has violated, is violating, or is otherwise likely to violate, this part.
(c) An action on behalf of one or more consumers or governmental entities for the actual damages caused by an act or practice in violation of this part. However, damages are not recoverable under this section against a retailer who has in good faith engaged in the dissemination of claims of a manufacturer or wholesaler without actual knowledge that it violated this part.
(2) Before bringing an action under paragraph (1)(a) or paragraph (1)(c), the head of the enforcing authority shall review the matter and determine if an enforcement action serves the public interest. This determination shall be made in writing, but shall not be subject to the provisions of chapter 120.
(3) Upon motion of the enforcing authority or any interested party in any action brought under subsection (1), the court may make appropriate orders, including, but not limited to, appointment of a general or special magistrate or receiver or sequestration or freezing of assets, to reimburse consumers or governmental entities found to have been damaged; to carry out a transaction in accordance with the reasonable expectations of consumers or governmental entities; to strike or limit the application of clauses of contracts to avoid an unconscionable result; to order any defendant to divest herself or himself of any interest in any enterprise, including real estate; to impose reasonable restrictions upon the future activities of any defendant to impede her or him from engaging in or establishing the same type of endeavor; to order the dissolution or reorganization of any enterprise; or to grant legal, equitable, or other appropriate relief. The court may assess the expenses of a general or special magistrate or receiver against a person who has violated, is violating, or is otherwise likely to violate this part. Any injunctive order, whether temporary or permanent, issued by the court shall be effective throughout the state unless otherwise provided in the order.
(4) If a violator shows that a violation of this part resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid the error, recovery under this section is limited to the amount, if any, by which the violator was unjustly enriched by the violation.
(5) No action may be brought by the enforcing authority under this section more than 4 years after the occurrence of a violation of this part or more than 2 years after the last payment in a transaction involved in a violation of this part, whichever is later.
(6) The enforcing authority may terminate an investigation or an action upon acceptance of a person's written assurance of voluntary compliance with this part. Acceptance of an assurance may be conditioned on a commitment to reimburse consumers or governmental entities, make contributions, pay civil penalties, pay attorney's fees and costs, or take other appropriate corrective action. An assurance is not evidence of a prior violation of this part. However, unless an assurance has been rescinded by agreement of the parties or voided by a court for good cause, subsequent failure to comply with the terms of an assurance is prima facie evidence of a violation of this part. Such assurance is not a limitation upon any action or remedy available to a person aggrieved by a violation of this part.
(7) In any trial or other proceeding brought by the enforcing authority pursuant to this part, statements having circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness may be used to supplement and explain other evidence and shall not be excluded as hearsay evidence, even though the declarant is available as a witness, if the trier of fact determines that:
(a) The statement is offered as evidence of a material fact;
(b) The statement is more probative on the point for which it is offered than any other evidence which the proponent can procure through reasonable efforts; and
(c) The general purpose of the Florida Rules of Evidence and the interests of justice will be best served by the admission of such statement into evidence.
However, a statement may not be admitted hereunder unless the proponent of it makes known to the adverse party, sufficiently in advance of the trial or proceeding to provide the adverse party with a fair opportunity to prepare to meet it, the proponent's intention to offer the statement and the particulars of it, including the name and address of the declarant.
501.2075 Civil penalty.--Except as provided in s. 501.2077, any person, firm, corporation, association, or entity, or any agent or employee of the foregoing, who is willfully using, or has willfully used, a method, act, or practice declared unlawful under s. 501.204, or who is willfully violating any of the rules of the department adopted under this part, is liable for a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 for each such violation. Willful violations occur when the person knew or should have known that his or her conduct was unfair or deceptive or prohibited by rule. This civil penalty may be recovered in any action brought under this part by the enforcing authority; or the enforcing authority may terminate any investigation or action upon agreement by the person, firm, corporation, association, or entity, or the agent or employee of the foregoing, to pay a stipulated civil penalty. The department or the court may waive any such civil penalty if the person, firm, corporation, association, or entity, or the agent or employee of the foregoing, has previously made full restitution or reimbursement or has paid actual damages to the consumers or governmental entities who have been injured by the unlawful act or practice or rule violation. If civil penalties are assessed in any litigation, the enforcing authority is entitled to reasonable attorney's fees and costs. A civil penalty so collected shall accrue to the state and shall be deposited as received into the General Revenue Fund unallocated.
501.211 Other individual remedies.--
(1) Without regard to any other remedy or relief to which a person is entitled, anyone aggrieved by a violation of this part may bring an action to obtain a declaratory judgment that an act or practice violates this part and to enjoin a person who has violated, is violating, or is otherwise likely to violate this part.
(2) In any action brought by a person who has suffered a loss as a result of a violation of this part, such person may recover actual damages, plus attorney's fees and court costs as provided in s. 501.2105. However, damages, fees, or costs are not recoverable under this section against a retailer who has, in good faith, engaged in the dissemination of claims of a manufacturer or wholesaler without actual knowledge that it violated this part.
(3) In any action brought under this section, upon motion of the party against whom such action is filed alleging that the action is frivolous, without legal or factual merit, or brought for the purpose of harassment, the court may, after hearing evidence as to the necessity therefor, require the party instituting the action to post a bond in the amount which the court finds reasonable to indemnify the defendant for any damages incurred, including reasonable attorney's fees. This subsection shall not apply to any action initiated by the enforcing authority.