The Monmouth County Division of Consumer Affairs recently announced that it recovered more than $1.8 million on behalf of consumers in 2015. The announcement highlights that violating the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act can be costly for Monmouth County businesses.
Provisions of the Consumer Fraud Act
The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act prohibits a range of fraudulent business practices in connection with the sale of goods, services or real estate. There are three possible bases for liability under the statute:
- Affirmative Misrepresentation: The statute expressly prohibits certain affirmative acts, including “any unconscionable commercial practice, deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise or misrepresentation.” A “misrepresentation” is defined as an untrue statement made about a fact which is important or significant to the sale/advertisement.
- Knowing Omission: The statute also imposes liability for acts of omission, specifically the “knowing concealment, suppression or omission of any material fact.” In order to be unlawful, the consumer must establish that defendant acted knowingly or with intent.
- Specific-situation Statute/Administrative Regulations: There are a number of New Jersey statutes and regulations that set forth specific conduct prohibited by law. Many are industry specific, such as health club memberships, sale of children’s products, and home improvement services, while others apply to certain business practices, such as sending unsolicited faxes.
Once the plaintiff establishes a statutory violation, he or she must also demonstrate that the act of consumer fraud caused a measurable loss, i.e. loss of money or property.
Violations of the Consumer Fraud Act
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs is tasked with enforcing the Consumer Fraud Act. However, it also delegates some of its oversight authority to county offices. The Monmouth County Division of Consumer Affairs regularly conducts inspections
to verify that local businesses are in compliance with the Consumer Fraud Act and state regulations. It is also authorized to investigate and mediate individual complaints.
Violations of the Consumer Fraud Act can be extremely costly for Monmouth County businesses. Under the statute, businesses found to have committed consumer fraud must pay treble damages. That means if the consumer suffered $10,000 in damages, the actual amount the business must pay is $30,000. When a consumer brings a successful action under the Consumer Fraud Act, the defendant must also pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, which can also be a sizable amount. Finally, because the Division of Consumer Affairs makes complaint histories of local businesses available to the public, companies can also lose future customers.