When trying to decide on the latest gadget or novelty, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the massive amounts of information (and misinformation) readily available at the click of a mouse. And while buying has become a type of instantaneous gratification, so has the disappointment of learning that your latest purchase may have also been your latest mistake! We are high tech, speed-driven, information-rich, go-getters with in-boxes full of very important distractions and very little time to allow ourselves to become distracted. So stopping everything to find your receipt and complete a complaint form is the last thing on your mind.
But I’m here to tell you that there is no time like the present to make your consumer product complaints known. American consumers have two strong allies in the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Both the Chairman of the CPSC and the Chairwoman of the FTC are relatively new to their jobs. These fresh faces and their eager staffs can alter the course of consumer product safety in America, but it is up to you to point them in the right direction.
THESE AGENCIES ARE WORKING!
It is no secret that many governmental agencies seem to lack purpose or are terribly inefficient. I have spent most of my legal career dealing with Federal Agencies (FDA, OSHA, CDRH, CPSC, etc.) and have seen it all! I empathize with the public’s reluctance to cross bureaucratic lines, but as an attorney, I had no choice. Reporting, while a nuisance, always helped my clients and was always the right thing to do. That’s still the case, and recent experience suggests that the time is right for consumers to let these agencies know about bad products and false ads.
The CPSC, according to its website, “is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products . . . [that] cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually . . . [and] is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a …. hazard.” The CPSC proudly boasts that its activities have “contributed to a decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 40 years.”
The CPSC online complaint report form takes less than ten minutes to complete and immediately generates an email with an incident report number. After filing reports recently on behalf of several clients, three different CPSC field investigators called. They asked insightful questions, requested a chance to see the reported products and interview the clients, and through their actions proved that they were serious about investigating the complaints.
What is the purpose of the field investigator? They compile data and look for patterns within the data. Is this complaint the result of an isolated incident, or does it appear to be part of a larger problem or a serious product defect? Each report becomes part of a searchable database. The data is about patterns, and yours may be the one missing dot that allows researchers to create the “big picture.” With time, and with enough information, changes can be implemented to improve safety. Your data, however small, could save a life.
Check out the CPSC at: www.CPSC.gov.
The FTC, according to its website and press statements “works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them.” “The FTC’s mission is to protect consumers and promote competition.” Like the CPSC website, the FTC’s website is full of useful information and resources for any consumer who thinks they have “spotted” a false advertisement or statement. There is an “Online Complaint Assistant” if you have questions about your report or how to file it. See: www.ftc.gov.
The FTC says they read all mail they receive, so your voice will be heard! Just last week, the agency began “Operation Full Disclosure,” warning top American advertisers about fine print in ads. And their enforcement strategies are encouraging! There are currently 2411 active cases displayed transparently on their website. They mean business, which is why every consumer should feel compelled to report. If an advertisement strikes you as false or misleading, there is a good chance that someone somewhere believes it. Reporting your suspicions might prevent a rich company from becoming wealthier by taking advantage of consumers less savvy than yourself.
START REPORTING NOW.
Tattletale used to sound so negative, but consumers in the crowded, noisy marketplace need watchdogs. There is a strong momentum toward safer products and stronger government enforcement of existing laws and regulations. The future is bright for American consumers, but we each must take the time to let the proper agencies know when products fail or ads deceive. The CPSC and the FTC are run and staffed by enthusiastic, safety-minded consumers themselves. They want to hear about bad products and false advertising, but it is up to consumers to start the process.