Unfair trade practices are fraudulent or deceptive courses of conduct that businesses can use to get an unfair advantage over their competitors. In Massachusetts, these unfair trade practices are made illegal under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law.
What is an Unfair Trade Practice?
Under the Consumer Protection Law, “unfair or deceptive practices” are illegal. The statute, however, does not elucidate what is meant by “unfair or deceptive.”
There is a reason for the vagueness: Not only does it let courts determine what business practices are unfair on a case-by-case basis, it also prevents businesses from acting deceptively while purposely avoiding activity that is clearly illegal. This means that even novel and untried forms of business deception can be illegal.
However, the uncertainty that this creates can make it difficult for Massachusetts business owners. Novel business practices might run afoul of the law or lead to litigation, in spite of the business owner's best efforts and intentions.
With that said, though, there are some trade practices that courts have deemed unfair or deceptive. These include:
- Refusing to honor a warrantee on a product
- Listing one price in an advertisement, and then charging another
- Hiding a refund policy or refusing to honor it
- “Bait and switch” schemes
- Misleading consumers with false promises or guarantees
How the Consumer Protection Law Works for Businesses
For businesses, Massachusetts' Consumer Protection Law is a double-edged sword: Consumers can use it to claim that the business is acting wrongfully, but the business can also use it to hold its competitors accountable.
Businesses that are being accused of violating the law with an unfair or deceptive trade practice will have to respond to a Chapter 93A demand letter. This is a very sensitive and timely process that requires the help of a skilled business attorney.
Businesses that are suffering from a competitor's unfair conduct can hold them accountable by filing a Chapter 93A complaint. Consumers can also use this process to hold a business accountable for misleading or defrauding them. The process for either party, though, is time sensitive and emphasizes negotiation.
The lawyers at the Katz Law Group can help. Contact them online or call them at (508) 480-8202.