“False Advertising” happens all the time. What Can You Do About It?
Scenario 1: You open the mailbox. Tucked in with all the junk mail you see a great offer: a discount on something you’ve been wanting for months, available only for a limited time. You go to the store to buy the advertised special. But you get there, and the price advertised isn’t what is being charged.
Scenario 2: An online retailer’s website lists a color printer at $199. You buy it. 4 days later, the package arrives in the mail, and you open it only to find that the printer is a black and white printer.
Scenario 3: Autotrader.com has a truck listed for $16,990. You go to the dealership and when you sign the paperwork, you realize that the real price has been jacked up to $18,500.
Scenario 4: You take the family out to dinner at “The Red Crawfish,” where you order a fillet of red snapper. But it doesn’t taste like snapper. In fact, the underside of the fillet has some small black scales. Turns out, you’ve been served mullet instead.
All these scenarios have something obvious in common: they involve false advertising. False advertising can come in many forms, and new ones are invented every day, it seems. The reasons are obvious: businesses will do almost anything to get you to buy their products. And while some exaggeration is harmless and expected, are merchants allowed to lie about the products they sell? Absolutely not. And if they do, then they can be taken to court and held responsible.
Like most states, Alabama has a specific statute prohibiting false advertising: the Alabama Deceptive Trade Practices Act, or “ADTPA,” as we lawyers call it.
The ADTPA, which can be found at Ala. Code Title 8, Section 19, contains a list of specific prohibitions. Here are a few:
- “Causing confusion or misunderstanding as to the source, sponsorship, approval, or certification of goods or services.”
- “Causing confusion or misunderstanding as to the affiliation, connection, or association with, or certification by another.”
- “Using deceptive representations or designations of geographic origin in connection with goods or services.”
- “Representing that goods or services are of a particular standard, quality, or grade, or that goods are of a particular style or model, if they are of another.”
- “Advertising goods or services with intent not to sell them as advertised.”
- “Disparaging the goods, services, or business of another by false or misleading representation of fact.”
- “Making a false or misleading statement of fact concerning the reasons for, existence of, or amounts of, price reductions.”
- “Engaging in any other unconscionable, false, misleading, or deceptive act or practice in the conduct of trade or commerce.”
Translated to normal English, here are some examples of what the Alabama Deceptive Trade Practices Act means:
- They can’t say a product is “Made in the USA” if in fact most of it was made elsewhere.
- If you sell Grade A Angus Beef, then you can’t serve Grade B Beef, or Grade A Pork/Beef Mix, or Grade A Beef made from any cow other than an Angus. It must be Grade A, and Angus, and Beef.
- You cannot advertise that your product has a 2 year warranty if you only provide a 1 year warranty.
- They cannot put “red snapper” on the menu if what they sell people is something other than a Lutjanus campechanus (a.k.a. Red Snapper).
- They can sell “Grouper” even if the grouper comes from Madagascar.
- If a label says “Certified Organic,” then the food must be organic and certified.
- If a restaurant brags that it was “Voted Best Hamburgers in Alabama,” then it must have some good reason for saying that.
- If a price is advertised as “25% Off,” then the non-discounted price should be 33% higher than the “discount” price. (Because (3/4 of A) x 4/3 = A).
The Alabama Deceptive Trade Practices Act also forbids false advertising of services in many instances. For example:
- If a debt settlement company claims it can cut your debt by 50%, and you pay them to do so, but they don’t perform, then they’re false advertising.
- If a credit repair service claims to be able to boost your score by 100 points, then they better be able to do it.
- A car finance company or dealer who says that “If you have a job and $500, you can get a new car!” must have new cars that they are actually willing to sell to anyone who has a job and $500.
How to Prepare A False Advertising Case
There are a few things you need to cover before you rush to a lawyer’s office, though.
First, you must get proof of the actual advertised terms.
If advertisements are written, then they are usually allowed to have footnotes and fine print that “explain” the terms they are advertising. You must obtain a copy or printout of any written, TV, or internet advertisement. Read the whole thing. Make sure you paid attention to it before you went to buy the advertised product. If a “disclaimer” or “Explanation” was hidden, it may not have any legal effect.
Oral or radio advertisements may have a similar explanation at some point during the advertisement. If you have been cheated or scammed by a radio advertisement, you need to listen for the advertisement that fooled you and record it.
Second, you must show that you bought the falsely advertised product or service.
This is pretty easy. If you have a receipt, bill of sale, credit card statement, or any other record of your purchase, then you can show that you were in fact the victim of the false advertising.
If you’ve been cheated by false advertising, it is important to take action quickly. The Alabama Deceptive Trade Practices Act only has a 1 year statute of limitations, which means that you have 1 year to take them to court once you’ve discovered (or should have discovered) the false advertising. Furthermore, you have to write a letter demanding compensation at least 15 days before you sue them.
The content of this letter should be drafted with the assistance of a consumer protection attorney, because if not drafted properly, it will not have legal effect.
Linda sullivan says
Please call me 205-XXX-XXXX need to file complaint .against PCH
Attorney Judson E Crump says
I’m afraid I need more information. Call me at 251.272.9148.
Concerned Citizen says
There is a company near me that has billboards up that say “Lower your monthly security cost.” The problem is they are 3 times the price of my current security company. If they had said Call to see IF we can lower your monthly security cost that would be acceptable but the ad is telling me they will. Would this be a good false advertising case?
Attorney Judson E Crump says
I think that in order for it to be false advertising, there has to be something that is close enough to a promise that it is likely to mislead an honest and reasonably intelligent consumer. If the billboard said: “We will lower your security cost by at least 30%,” then that would be false advertising. But if it just says “Lower your monthly security cost,” most would read that as an offer to try to do so, not a promise.
Mercer King says
What about car dealers who advertise a dollar or 100 dollar sale price on Facebook or Craigslist and it turns out that is a down payment loss leader and they have no intention of such a price? Is this fraud. Is this fraudulent? Is it prosecuteable under current statutes?
Attorney Judson E Crump says
It depends on what exactly the advertisement said. If it made it clear that there is a certain sale price, and then they change the sale price when you get there, that could be false advertising. But to know for sure, I’d have to see the advertisement itself and the documentation of the price change. If this happened to you in Alabama, then I may be able to help you. You can call my office at 251-272-9148.
greg palermo says
I feel I’ve been a victim of false advertisement. The other day I heard a radio advertisement from High Country Toyota in Scottsboro, Alabama. The commercial stated the following “From now until this Saturday only, ALL CREDITS ARE WAIVED”. To me All credits waived means a few things. It could mean no credit checks, it could mean that credit scores aren’t consider hence “Waived”. Instead, when you call them up they tell you fill out an application, they tell you this is to make sure you don’t have any bankruptcies. All of a sudden you get about a 1/2 dozen credit inquires. Then the company tells you they can’t help you because of your credit. So not only does the company do credit checks, you will get denied if your credit is bad, and then you will have over 1/2 dozen credit inquiries on your credit report which will further bring down your credit score for a two year period. All of the creditors they use are the standard creditors other companies use “Capital One, Santidar, etc…” The bottom line, the company falsely advertises when they say all credits waived.
Alton Neal says
Thank you for your speedy response, I look forward to working with you and your staff. SMTB.
Attorney Judson E Crump says
Patricia Reaves says
Went to a local home improvement store to look at flooring. The flooring I had been looking at for months was tagged 14 cents per square foot, limited time only. The first employee we spoke with said she thought it was wrong but would have to sell it to us for that price. She called a manager who said she would have to get permission to override the price it was scanning for in their system. The next manager removed the tag, said she couldn’t sell for that price and offered us a 10% discount at $51.00 per carton. I took a picture of the tag before it was removed. Is this false advertising?