Consumer Protection Laws in Chicago: A Minefield of Interests

800px-One_US_dollar_note_0127_22-300x133The bedrock of the consumer protection laws in Chicago is the need to protect members of the public from unscrupulous business practices. Specifically, the law was written in response to consumer complaints that largely went unaddressed. It was noted that in some cases, the bureaucratic minefield of forms and procedures meant that consumers were unable to get to the decision-makers who might have made a difference. The laws were carefully designed in such a way as not to hurt the business community, a community that has contributed much to the prosperity of the state and its cities.

Putting the Consumer First

It is important to understand the fact that the law perceives the consumer to be a vulnerable entity that needs to be protected from powerful business interests. The “customer is right” ethos sometimes masks the manipulation of consumers in order to get them to spend more money on things that are most profitable to a given business. False advertising and even price mislabeling are common tactics. The consumers find themselves in a situation where they are effectively backed into unfair contracts. These arrangements are hard to exit without significant consequences for the consumer.

The law tilts the balance so that the business itself is at risk of facing significant problems if it continues disrespecting consumer rights. There is nowhere where this is more evident than in the administration of consumer credit. Many businesses in Chicago get into the consumer credit business even if they are classified as financial institutions under the existing framework. Instead, they opt to use consumer credit as a means of getting individuals to spend money that they neither have to spend nor have a realistic prospect of legally obtaining. The end result is spiraling debt and multiple court actions designed to recoup some of the sunk costs.

Legislators feel that consumers are being taken advantage of and that it is the responsibility of the law to provide some level of protection. This would not be understood to consist of absolute and unconditional support. There is still room for people to take responsibility for the consequences of the decisions that they make. The law does not infantilize the consumers, but rather empowers them in such a way as to gain access to the rights and responsibilities that they are entitled to under the law.

Abstraction from the Individual Cases

It was never envisaged that the state attorney would be directly involved in civil litigation. However, if criminality is proven, there is an expectation that this would go through the normal channels of prosecution. The law is merely conceived as a means of creating a conducive environment in which consumer rights and responsibilities would be protected. If that means an overlap with criminal law, then the prosecutorial powers would be deployed as and when appropriate.

Sometimes, other businesses argue that a particular actor is engaging in unfair competition. This could go to the commercial and trade courts for arbitration. There are other micro issues such as the use of pyramid schemes and the sale of counterfeit products. In order to deal with the diversity of issues as well as the complexity of the law, it is necessary to delineate proceedings according to their most relevant category. Therefore, it is possible for a case to be handled in both the civil and criminal courts using the same basic pieces of evidence.

Likewise, it is deemed appropriate that the victims are compensated in some way. The operation of contract law and equity are then used as legal anchors for any action that is recommended by the courts. If you have questions or a case regarding consumer protection law, contact David Freidberg attorney at law at (312) 560-7100.