What are Consumer Rights?

Kyla G. Kelim

Consumer law establishes consumer rights, or buyer's rights, generally by providing a product warranty or other consumer guarantees. Consumer rights vary by jurisdiction. In addition to a warranty, consumer protection efforts may include the establishment of a governmental body that monitors the market and provides the consumer with some remedies to correct bad sales practices. A statutory product warranty, which is a law that requires manufacturers to warrant that their products are fit for consumer use, is a significant consumer right. Other laws permit consumers to cancel a contract and obtain a full refund, while some jurisdictions give consumers the right to sue for damages.

In 1962, U.S. President John F. Kennedy signed the Consumer Bill of Rights.
In 1962, U.S. President John F. Kennedy signed the Consumer Bill of Rights.

Without government interference, the law of the marketplace has historically been "caveat emptor" or "let the buyer beware." Unfortunately, this principle permits unscrupulous businesses to devastate the individual consumer. In 1962, U.S. President John F. Kennedy signed the Consumer Bill of Rights, the first of its kind. Since then, increasing consumer rights have been added by statute and by proclamation, both in the United States and internationally. These consumer rights guarantee choice, safety and notice, among other rights.

The Federal Trade Commission is involved in protecting consumer rights.
The Federal Trade Commission is involved in protecting consumer rights.

While several federal agencies assist in protecting U.S. consumer rights in part, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is one of the federal agencies charged primarily with protecting these rights. The FTC establishes a number of consumer rights by enforcing laws to curb monopolies and bad business practices in industries such as telemarketing and consumer credit card debt. The FTC can levy fines or bring suit against an unscrupulous company for any of its business practices that violate the various consumer protection laws the FTC is charged with enforcing. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is another U.S. government agency dedicated to the preservation of consumer rights. The CPSC is charged with protecting client safety and has the ability to investigate and recall a huge range of products.

Each U.S. state also has its own consumer protection laws. These laws cover such areas as establishing a warranty for a product, setting a maximum interest rate, providing penalties for deceptive sales practices and establishing remedies for “lemon” automobiles. Some states have an agency, similar to the FTC, that protects consumer rights. Other states protect consumer rights through another agency or office, such as the attorney general.

In addition to governmental agencies, there are a growing number of non-profit organizations that champion consumer rights. Some publish reports or reviews of products, while others focus on product safety. Still other organizations provide consumer advocates and assist in enforcing consumer rights privately.

The FTC enforces laws to curb bad business practices in industries such as telemarketing.
The FTC enforces laws to curb bad business practices in industries such as telemarketing.

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Discussion Comments


@turkay1-- @alisha has given great information, I agree with those recommendations.

If the complaint is related to e-commerce, you can also contact ICPEN. ICPEN is the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network. They have an initiative where people can make complaints about internet fraud. This is especially for internet stores that engage in fraud and have no physical location in one country. The information is shared with international law enforcers.

ICPEN doesn't open legal cases but they try to resolve complaints and make sure that consumer protection agencies in twenty eight countries know about fraudulent internet sites.


@turkay1-- I haven't been in that situation. But I think that a US citizen would have to apply to the consumer rights agency in that country just as all other residents do. Your cousin should speak to the US Embassy to make sure. I don't know how far they want to go with this but they could also hire a local consumer rights attorney to take the company to court.

In the US, which agency you go to first depends on which is available and the nature of the unfair business practice. If someone needs to recover a refund or penalize a business for their fraud or unfair practice, the first place to go is the state attorney general. The attorney general will mediate between the consumer and the business and come to an agreement.

To make sure that this business doesn't engage in such practices again, the business can next be reported to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC deals more with prevention than things like refunds.

If the issue is a hazardous product, the Consumer Product Safety Commission can be contacted. CPSC informs the public about such companies and products and can also guide individuals in the right direction if a legal case will be opened. And of course, a consumer rights attorney can always be hired for help in this process.


So if a consumer is a victim of fraud or harmed by a product, where should he or she go first? Is it better to report with state agencies or federal agencies first?

And what can a US citizen do if they want to pursue customer rights in another country?

My cousin is in Dubai due to her husband's job and her daughter was recently harmed because of a faulty toy. Thankfully, the little girl is fine but they want to make sure that other children aren't injured because of this toy. They have contacted the company but feel that this is not enough. Not being in the US, they are not sure how they should go about this.

Has anyone been in this situation? How can they seek consumer protection rights while being abroad?

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