You may have experienced consumer fraud and not even know it! When we want to buy a car or build a deck, we rely on professionals to tell us the truth about what we are buying. The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) provides some of the strongest protections against deceptive practices in order to deter professionals from taking advantage of trusting consumers, like you. The CFA extends beyond the deceptive practices of a car dealership and protects consumers in the sales of most goods or services. Deceptive practices are also referred to as “unconscionable business practices” because it’s not always an outright lie. The failure to provide information, an omission, can also qualify for CFA protections if it was important in your decision to do business with them.
Fortunately, New Jersey takes misrepresentation very seriously. If the Court finds that the CFA has been violated, the business will have to pay treble (three times!) the damages plus attorneys’ fees and litigation costs. Treble damages may seem like a harsh penalty, especially when the contract amount is significant, but it’s important to understand the public policy perspective. New Jersey wants to protect its residents and deter deceptive business practices. Therefore, the penalty must be strong enough to make contractors, sales people, and merchants take it seriously. The reality is that people who are willing to take advantage of you aren’t going to change their deceptive behavior unless the alternative hurts their bank account. The CFA also provides for attorneys’ fees and litigation costs because New Jersey wants to ensure that lawyers are willing to take your case, no matter the size of your recovery. Unconscionable business practices, at any level, are unacceptable.
Who qualifies for this protection? Consumers of good or services, obviously. But it’s important to realize that businesses can be consumers as well. If your business is a consumer of goods and services, which are outside of your business expertise, you may be protected by the CFA too.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) issues regulations which apply the CFA to many industries. One of the most commonly ignored regulations is the information required to be present in a residential home contractor’s contract. By now, we have seen it all. The contractor who doesn’t have a start date and takes two years to do the job. The contractor who uses an “Estimate” as their contract. Or the contractor who doesn’t even have a contract!
The reality is that most residential home contractors do not comply with the regulations and become subject to CFA claims with treble damages. If you are concerned that you’ve experience deceptive business practices, please let us know and schedule a consult with Rachael B. Brekke, Esq.