Who Enforces Consumer Protection Laws?

State attorneys general typically enforce state consumer protection laws, often through divisions established to focus exclusively on consumer issues. Individual consumers can enforce some consumer statutes on behalf of the state through “private attorneys general statutes.” Once a plaintiff files suit under one of these statutes, the state must decide whether to take over prosecution of the lawsuit. If it declines to do so, the individual plaintiff may continue to pursue the case. Either way, the plaintiff is entitled to a percentage of damages and recovery of attorney’s fees from an unsuccessful defendant.

If no private attorney general statute applies to a claim, the consumer must bear all costs personally, although some state consumer protection statutes allow plaintiffs to recover attorney’s fees, court costs, and additional damages if they can prove a defendant acted willfully or with malice.

At the federal level, numerous agencies investigate violations of consumer statutes, and they occasionally file civil lawsuits to enforce these statutes. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Department of Justice, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission are three of the biggest and most prominent agencies charged with enforcing federal consumer law. The FTC handles many well-known programs, such as the “Do Not Call List” targeting telemarketers.
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