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""Have you ever been overcharged at a store? Has a business ever used misleading advertising to trick you into buying certain items? Were you unable to return a purchase or use a warranty?

Often, customers don’t know that a business is taking advantage of them or, if they do, they don’t know what to do about it.

Massachusetts General Law Chapter 93A — better known as consumer protection law — safeguards consumers against unfair or deceptive business practices. The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) provide information on how to approach businesses that may have committed a consumer rights violation, how to file a claim, and how to use these laws to be a smarter consumer.

What Are Consumers Protected From?

The first step toward protecting yourself from unfair or deceptive business activity is to know your consumer rights. If a business is in violation, you can use consumer protection laws to file a complaint and sue in certain circumstances.

OCABR’s basic guide to Massachusetts consumer protection law shares a few examples of unfair or deceptive business practices:

  • A business charges you more than the price marked on an item.
  • A business’s refund, return, or warranty policy is unclear.
  • A business misleads or fails to tell you relevant information about a product or service.
  • A business uses “bait and switch” advertising, which is when a seller advertises a low-priced item, but encourages a customer to purchase a less favorable, higher-priced item.

Consumer protection law in Massachusetts also covers buying cars through lemon laws and other retail violations.

3 Steps for Filing a Claim Against a Business

If you believe you have been wronged by a business, OCABR suggests calling the seller to see if you can resolve the problem. Be sure to keep records of any interaction you have with the seller. If contacting the merchant doesn’t resolve the complaint, you can file a claim with the AGO, send a demand letter, and may eventually sue the business.

  1. File a Claim — After 30 days, you can file a complaint with the AGO. You can file a complaint online, or print the form and mail it to the Public Inquiry and Assistance Center (PIAC) at:

Office of the Attorney General

Public Inquiry and Assistance Center

One Ashburton Place, 18th Floor

Boston, MA 02108

You may also take the issue to the appropriate Small Claims Court if you are trying to recover less than $7,000.

  1. Consider Legal Assistance & Send a Demand Letter — While you may consider representing yourself in a civil case, there are a few ways you can secure legal help.
  • Before filing a claim, you may notify the business by sending a demand letter. The letter should describe the unfair or deceptive practice and identify how the merchant can resolve your complaint, including any money you wish to recover. The AGO provides a sample 30-day demand letter to help you write one.
  • Contact the AGO to see if your complaint qualifies for free mediation services through the PIAC.
  • Reach out to a nonprofit Local Consumer Program for information and mediation.
  • Hire a lawyer to represent you with your claim — be sure to consider the costs and types of legal representation before choosing one.
  1. Receive Damages — If you win the lawsuit, the amount of award money typically equals the damages you sought. There are a few factors that affect awards claimed by the plaintiff (the victim) — for example, a judge may have the defendant (the business) cover legal fees. A judge may also award double or triple damages in certain circumstances.

By understanding the laws and resources that can help and how to use them, Massachusetts residents are in a better position to protect themselves against unfair or deceptive business practices. Just remember, knowledge is the best defense.

Comment below or tweet @MassGov with any questions about consumer protection law.

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