Consumer Fraud - Animal Law Source

Consumer Fraud

Consumer Fraud

Consumer fraud is a catch all term used to describe any and all deceptive practices used by an individual, group of individuals, or companies that result in financial or other losses for consumers in the course of seemingly legitimate businesses transactions.

How to Report Consumer Fraud?

There are several government agencies one can report claims to depending on the type of fraud one believes they have fallen victim to. For example, if you purchased a particular item and did not get what you had paid for the Federal Trade Commission may be the appropriate agency. In the world of animal law this could occur if someone purchased an animal based on an online advertisement that was deceptive about the condition of the animal. Often times puppy mills will place adds of healthy, well groomed animals when in fact the animals they are selling are not healthy and not well groomed. Below is a tutorial on how to file a claim with the FTC and a link to getting started with the filing process:
How to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
Federal Trade Commission – Complaint Assistant
Other federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration also provide consumers with a full list of animal product recalls (these can be found in the drop down menu under “animal health”)

FDA recalls, withdraws, and safety alerts

Building a Case
If a consumer believes they are a victim of fraud it is imperative that he or she begins to build a case as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. The first step is to notify the business in writing that a report will be filed against it, and then report the suspected violation to the appropriate state or local consumer protection agency. For a full list see: State and Local Consumer Agencies.

Violations of federal laws should be reported to the appropriate federal agency. For a full list of these agencies see: Federal Government Departments and Agencies

After reporting one’s claim the state attorney general will take over and prosecute the consumer’s claim in addition to seek out additional consumers with the same or similar claims.
Attorney General of Georgia – Consumer Information
Legal Resources ; Consumer Links
A general time-line for a consumer fraud claim is as follows:
– consumer will file a complaint with the Attorney General, either at the state or federal level
– once a complaint is received it will be entered into a tracking system and will be assigned a complaint number and investigator (this information will be sent to the consumer within a few days of filing their complaint)
– after having entered the complaint into the Attorney General’s tracking system the assigned investigator will contact the business by sending it a copy of the complaint filed against it, and will reach out to the consumer about his or her options whether it be mediation or litigation
– the business will be granted several days to reply (each state and the federal government are different); if a reply is not received the Attorney General’s office will send a follow-up letter demanding a response

Some states have created “action handbooks” which are available both online and in print for free to provide consumers with the information they need to not only raise a consumer fraud claim, but do so successfully. Georgia, for example, provides consumers with information on how consumers can protect themselves or effectively build a consumer fraud case against a business.
Consumer Action Handbook Online

Dog Fighting and Consumer Fraud

Every state and the federal government have passed legislation outlawing dog and other animal fighting events. At the state level investigations are conducted through the local police force in conjunction with animal control or other agencies. At the federal level, the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture handles dog and other animal fighting crimes across the country.

Where does dogfighting and consumer fraud intersect?
– It is well documented that dog fighting rings are often connected to large criminal organizations. These organizations take advantage of consumers is a variety of ways including but not limited to the sale of sick or otherwise defective animals.
– One of the most common findings in dog fighting cases is that the organizations involved are often responsible for large scale breeding operations known as “puppy mills”.
– Dogs breed in puppy mills are subjected to unimaginable conditions in which they are deprived some of the most basic necessities to life include food, water, and shelter. These animals suffer abuse that inhibits their physical growth as well as their social development making it extremely difficult to rehabilitate and adopt out these animals to loving homes.
– If a sick or otherwise unfit animal is sold to a consumer most, if not all, states allow the purchaser to return the animal within 14 days and receive a full refund along with any expenses incurred while caring for the animal. The problem arises when puppy mill dogs are sold to stores or individuals as the criminal nature of the organizations and persons within them completely ignore these laws leaving defrauded consumers without an ordinary course of action. Instead consumers who have purchased sick or unfit animals from puppy mills, usually with the help of the state authorities and/or animals rights advocates, must bring civil or criminal charges against these criminal organizations.

Enforcement of Federal Dog Fighting Laws
– State and local agencies will handle a significant portion of the investigation and enforcement of the State and Federal laws regarding animal fighting.
– The USDA and the Office of the Inspector General play a crucial role in protecting consumers interests and the overall health and well-being of animals by conducting thorough inspections of breeding facilities licensed by the USDA. If the conditions of breeding facilities do not meet the standards set by the department then it has the authorization to confiscate the animals in addition to fining, and in some cases filing criminal charges against the violators.
– The USDA’s Office of the Inspector General’s website contains additional information regarding investigations into Federal Dog Fighting:

USDA – Office of the Inspector General
What to consider when making agreements online
• Fraudulent sales of animals through websites are become more and more common. The utilization of online transactions allows puppy mill organizations to operate at significantly higher levels and become involved with interstate trade.
• The anonymity of online sales can make discovering the true identity of the seller very difficult for the defrauded buyer, thus inhibiting their ability to seek relief, and the ability of state and local officials to find and potentially prosecute these persons for their criminal conduct.
• Many states provide consumers with some simple steps and information for avoiding fraudulent transactions or other situations which may lead to them being taken advantage of in the online market place.