Imagine this scenario: You have just moved into your new house or refinanced your existing home. The phone rings and a friendly voice from a home security company offers to do a free, no obligation home security check. You were thinking of it anyway. It seems harmless. So, you agree.
A nice, helpful person shows up with donuts, walks around your home, and then, the conversation takes a dark turn because the fraudster knows that fear sells. This helpful person is worried. Your family is vulnerable. The neighborhood is dangerous; your existing system is outdated; there has been a rash of break-ins recently. The visitor pulls out a contract. There is a one-time offer available if you make the first payment on the spot with cash. So, you sign up and pay up.
You find out later that neither the home security service nor the price is as promised. Beyond the money lost, your family is more vulnerable than ever. You end up with no functioning home security system at all. You have been scammed.
Or you may get a new home security system installed by one of the well-known companies who supply these systems. In fact, you went with a name brand because you perceive that such a choice will guarantee quality products and services. But then you discover later that errant employee of the brand name home security company is using the system’s security cameras for video surveillance – to watch you! You have been scammed.
Consumer Protection Laws Guard Against a Wide Variety of Consumer Fraud Scams
The consumer fraud problem involves more than home security systems. Some scams that have already been prosecuted are so notorious that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has given some cases nicknames, like the Phoner-Toner Scam in which an office supply company scammed churches and charities. Then there is the Notario Scam that targeted Spanish- speaking immigrants. The variety of scams is endless and includes hearing aids, insulation, debt collection, credit cards, contractor licenses, student debt relief – the list is endless. There is no shame here for consumers who have been fooled. These scammers are incredibly good!
If You Are the Victim of Consumer Fraud, Talk to Our Consumer Protection Attorneys
Our consumer protection attorneys help consumer fraud victims. We advise consumer fraud victims on what to do legally to prosecute wrong-doing and how to recoup losses afforded by federal and Texas state law. Such losses might include wage garnishment, repair costs, replacement costs, etc. If you believe your consumer rights were abused, click this link and fill out and submit the form Contact Kilgore & Kilgore to get the conversation started. We offer a free evaluation of the facts of your case. To learn more about our consumer protection practice, click Consumer Protection Law.
Do not Fall for It – Remember These Consumer Protection Tips
Legal consumer protection begins when the damage is done, but there is quite a lot you can do to protect yourself from home security and other scams before anything happens.
- Do not let anyone into your home until you have had time to vet him or her. To vet someone means to run a background check on the person who wants in. Door-to-door sales are increasingly rare, especially in the time of coronavirus. The latest variation often involves a phone call first to set up a meeting. The goal is to get inside your home.
- No information – No entry. Ask for the person’s first and last name, the company’s mailing address, phone number, and website. Contact the company to verify the identity of the person and other details, such how long the person has worked for this company. If there is no website, Search the internet for the company name and address to see if it shows up in the search results.
- Licenses issued by other states may not be valid in Texas. Ask to see the company’s license. Get the license number and the state that issued it. A license from the Texas Department of Public Service Regulatory Services Division is required for all security companies and their employees who sell and install systems. Do not sign or pay right away. Do not sign anything on the spot. Never, ever pay in cash or gift cards. Never share bank or credit card information.
- Notice the salesperson’s language. Recognize any statements such as emergency or limited time offer for what they are – high pressure sales techniques.
- You have the right to cancel. Keep in mind that the FTC has a cooling off period that gives you the legal right to cancel any contract within three days if it was signed in your home or in any location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business. Under law, the salesperson must notify you about this right and include two copies of a cancellation form with your contract.
- Get to know local scams. The Texas Attorney General’s office has further information about common scams in Texas. You can search the internet for the Attorney General’s website and then select consumer protection.
Texas Laws Provide Consumer Protection
When the damage is done, however, it may take the intervention of a consumer protection attorney to help unwind it and seek legal remedy. Depending on the facts of your situation, one or more of several laws may bring relief.
The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The DTPA covers a broad range of consumer rights abuses and is in some ways the Swiss army knife of state consumer protection statutes. It protects Texas consumers from false, deceptive, or misleading trade practices, including unconscionable actions and breaches of warranty. Among the many examples specifically listed in the statute are:
- representing that goods or services have characteristics or qualities that they do not have;
- knowingly making false or misleading statements concerning the need for parts, replacement, or repair service;
- misrepresenting a warranty; and
- promoting a pyramid promotional scheme.
Individuals who fall victim to illegal practices covered by the DTPA have the right to sue for damages. If the deception was intentional, consumers may recover up to three times the actual damages.
Federal Laws Provide Consumer Protection
Fair Debt Collection Practice Act. The federal FDCPA protects consumers from abusive debt collection practices, including harassment, late night calls, contacting your employer and attempting to collect a debt that is not actually owed. Among other remedies, the law provides monetary damages and attorney’s fees.
Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The federal TCPA may be the consumer’s best defense against robocalls. It places limits on unsolicited prerecorded telemarketing calls made to a landline or a cell phone, including text messages. The TCPA provides for statutory damages of the greater of the “actual monetary loss from such a violation, or $500 for each such violation.” If the violation is knowing and deliberate, damages may be as great as $1,500 per violation.
Common Law Tort Actions Also Provide Consumer Protection
Other possibilities exist under Texas law for legal action. A broken promise about cost or quality may also be a breach of contract. This might include the creepy employee who amuses himself by watching your family via the cameras designed for your home security. That could be defined as an illegal invasion of privacy.
The Texas Constitution protects personal privacy from “unreasonable intrusion.” This means that one person cannot intentionally intrude upon the seclusion, solitude, or private affairs of another by physical invasion of the other’s property, eavesdropping via wiretaps, microphones or, under some circumstances, by video surveillance.
The point is that there are many remedies for consumers who have been the victims of consumer fraud. A full and complete conversation with an experienced consumer protection attorney is the first step in evaluating a potential claim.
Consumer Protection Laws Do Not Define Who to Sue
This can be a thorny issue. Suing the friendly salesperson who brought the donuts and then lied may be satisfying, but it is likely to yield exactly nothing. Consumers must figure out how to get to the company under whose auspices the individual bad actor committed the fraud. A great deal depends on the kind of employment relationship that person has with the home security company or other institution.
If there was no relationship – for example, if that person was simply an enterprising burglar or a freelance fraudster – a civil lawsuit may be relatively fruitless. The miscreant will likely have disappeared with the cash and attributing legal liability to the home security company will be difficult, especially if it had no knowledge of his or her actions.
If the salesperson was an independent contractor, the case is stronger. Two big questions loom: Were the salesperson’s actions just negligent or was there intentional wrongdoing? And: Was the worker acting under the company’s control and instructions or was this an individual adventure (the legal term is frolic).
If the salesperson is an employee, the issues are the same, but the case is even stronger because there is a presumption that employers monitor the actions of their employees. The facts are everything when it comes to a consumer fraud claim.
Our Consumer Protection Attorneys Can Help Consumers Who Have Been Cheated
Outrage is not enough. Our Texas consumer fraud attorneys can help you assess your legal situation and advise on the best strategy for approaching your situation. If you need legal advice in a matter involving consumer fraud, click here to reach a form for submitting your contact information Contact Us. We offer a free evaluation of the facts of your case.