The relationship between a consumer and a business is something that is highly regarded by society and by the legal system. This relationship is further complicated by the exchange of money between two parties, thereby enhancing the amount of oversight and legal regulation. Based upon the provided scenario, the circumstances surrounding the boss in question is very disturbing. It is clear that the actions of this business are unethical. In the following paragraphs, we will determine if the business' actions are illegal and how the boss can take action.
The business in question is definitely in violation of different laws. First, consider the issue of selling counterfeit merchandise. This is illegal for two reasons. The knock-off merchandise is a copycat image of a design that is likely copyrighted (Barbieri, 2004). Even though it is not an exact counterfeit match, the resemblance is enough for people to think that it looks like the real version, which is a copyright violation (Barbieri, 2004). In addition, it is illegal for a business to stock or sell counterfeit goods in the state of New York (McDonald, 2007, p. 1). The business owners can be held liable and in some cases the owner of the building can also be held liable as a third party (McDonald, 2007, p. 1).
Second, consider the fact that the business owners charged the boss $50 to process a return of only $9.95 when the initial purchase price was $172.95. The boss should examine the terms of the initial sale; most likely the terms do not mention a $50 process return fee. However, even in the event that there is a mention of the fee, it does not change the fact that the fee is unreasonable and that the math does not compute correctly. For all intensive purposes, the business' actions regarding collections and returns are fraudulent. In my opinion, the firm has most likely broken multiple laws concerning fraud and could be held criminally liable by the Federal Trade Commission and New York's Attorney General's Office (Federal Trade Commission, 2010; Office of the Attorney General, 2008). Third, consider the issue of charging the boss' credit card a $50 return fee without her consent. In my opinion, this most likely violates the merchant's credit card agreement with the credit card company. This type of violation allows the credit card company to take action against the firm as well.
Protection of Rights
In my opinion, there are different ways that the boss in question can protect her rights. First, the boss should record all of her phone conversations with the business. Most states have adopted the Federal Communication Commission's guidelines that only one person needs to be informed that a phone conversation is being recorded (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, 2010). In this case, the person informed is the boss herself. Second, it makes sense that the boss should take pictures of the sunglasses and of the shipping box. Third, it is logical that the boss should keep a copy of all written communications between herself and the firm. Fourth, it would be very helpful if the boss maintained a detailed written narrative about all interaction, including names, times, dates, and phone numbers. All of this information is instrumental if the case goes before a court.
It is also important to note that I do not think the boss has done a good job of protecting her rights thus far. The provided scenario does not provide any indication that the boss recorded her phone conversation, took pictures of the product or shipping box, retained written communication, or kept a detailed narrative. In addition, the narrative explains that the boss returned the product and box; therefore, it is no longer in her possession. Unfortunately, this means that any legal action that the boss takes is not supported with solid evidence, which decreases the likelihood of successful litigation.
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There are multiple state and federal agencies with jurisdiction over her complaints. First, consider the New York State Department of Consumer Affairs (NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, 2009). This organization is designed from the ground up to accept consumer complaints and take action against firms. Second, consider the New York State Consumer Frauds Bureau (Office of the Attorney General, 2008). The Consumer Frauds Bureau is a component of the Attorney General's Office (Office of the Attorney General, 2008). The Consumer Frauds Bureau "prosecutes businesses and individuals engaged in fraudulent, misleading, deceptive or illegal trade practices" (Office of the Attorney General, 2008). Clearly, this description fits the circumstances in the scenario perfectly. Third, consider federal agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission. In my opinion, since the product was bought and sold between two states, the sale qualifies as a form of interstate commerce. The Federal Trade Commission is tasked for protecting consumers in situations of interstate commerce (FTC, 2010).
Course of Action
There are several things that I would recommend the boss do immediately. First, she should call the business, decoremyeyes, and kindly let them know that she will be filing several complaints if she is not refunded the full purchase price and the return fee by a reasonable date that she specifies. It is important that she not threaten the company; the phone call is merely a last attempt to rectify this situation. Second, even if the company does provide her with a full refund, I would still suggest that she file a complaint with all of the government agencies that have jurisdiction: New York State Department of Consumer Affairs, New York State Consumer Frauds Bureau, and the US Federal Trade Commission.
This notification might be helpful for other consumers that are in similar situations. Third, if she is not provided a refund by the firm, decoremyeyes, then I would suggest that she contact her credit card company and notify them of the situation. Hopefully they will launch an investigation and remove the charges from her statement. Fourth, I would also suggest that she look up a company's history before purchasing from an unknown business. She could do this by doing a generic search on the Internet, which might find information such as the New York Times article provided with the scenario, or she could contact the Better Business Bureau.
The situation that the boss has found herself in is very problematic. Fortunately, there are multiple protection mechanisms that are provided by the state and federal governments. In my opinion, the boss's lack of concrete evidence must be taken into account. If I were in her shoes, I would not pursue this matter in a civil court. Instead, as suggested above, I would rely on the various government agencies and my credit card company. At the very least, hopefully the agencies would be able to prevent this from happening to a future consumer. Lastly, this entire situation is an excellent learning opportunity for the boss. I would expect her to be more guarded with unknown businesses and to be more knowledgeable of collecting evidence.
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