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Advertising has, in many ways, become an inescapable part of modern life. Everywhere you look, there is a company trying to convince you to buy its product or service. Many of these ads rely on “puffery,” or exaggerated claims to get your attention. In and of itself, that is not against the law. There are, however, situations where an advertisement’s claims do cross the line into an unfair or deceptive trade practice, which is against the law in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and most other states.

In many cases, state and federal laws empower private citizens to take direct legal action against a company that engages in false advertising. Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky P.C. is one of the leading consumer protection law firms serving clients in the Philadelphia region. Our team can review your false advertising claim and help you in determining whether civil action–including a possible consumer class action–is an appropriate and justified response. We have a record of proven results in a wide range of false advertising and consumer law matters, and we look forward to learning more about your case and how we can help.

What Is “False” Advertising?

A key concept when it comes to false advertising is that the law forbids more than simply lying. Indeed, most companies are smart enough not to tell an outright falsehood in their advertising. They often rely on more subtle forms of trickery or deceit to mislead consumers, which is still considered “false advertising” based on the context.

Most states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, identify false advertising as one of many “unfair trade practices” prohibited by consumer protection law. In Pennsylvania, for example, false advertising is considered an “unfair method of competition” by a business. Some examples of prohibited behaviors include:

  • passing off goods or services as those of another business or person;
  • representing a product or service is endorsed by someone who has not actually given such an endorsement;
  • creating confusion or misunderstanding as to whether a product is certified by, or affiliated with another organization;
  • making deceptive representations about a product’s geographic origins (e.g., passing off a product made in one country as coming from another country);
  • representing goods as “new” when they are in fact used, refurbished, reclaimed, or secondhand;
  • representing goods or services as being of a particular standard, quality, or grade, when they are not;
  • making false or misleading statements regarding price reductions (i.e., sales) or the reasons for such price reductions;
  • advertising goods or services with the intent not to supply sufficient quantities to meet reasonably expected public demand, unless the advertising discloses there is a “limited quantity”;
  • representing the product is covered by a written guarantee or warning and then failing to comply with those terms after the consumer purchases the product; or
  • using false or misleading representations of facts to disparage the goods or services offered by a competing buyer.

With respect to that last item–disparaging the products or services of a competitor via false or misleading statements–such false advertising can also support a civil claim under federal law, specifically the Lanham Act, which actually enables the competitor to take legal action. The Lanham Act is primarily known as a trademark law, and one of its functions is to ensure a registered mark is not unfairly disparaged or diluted by other parties.

Also, keep in mind that “advertising” encompasses any form of media that a company uses to induce customers to buy their product or service. This includes not just traditional forms of advertising like television ads, but also online ads (such as Google ads) or even statements made on the product’s label or packaging.

Can You Actually Sue for False Advertising?

Historically, complaints of false advertising involving interstate commerce have been handled by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC is the federal agency charged with enforcing consumer protection laws. If a customer complains to the FTC, it can conduct an investigation and take appropriate legal action, which often involves seeking an injunction to stop the false advertising and imposing a civil penalty (fine) on the offending company. In some cases, the FTC may even obtain a monetary award on behalf of individual consumers affected by the false advertising. Every state gives similar authority to its consumer protection regulators, typically the state attorney general’s office.

In recent years, however, states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey have adopted even stronger laws that permit individuals to directly sue a business for engaging in false advertising, even in cases where the FTC or the state attorney general’s office declines to act. For instance, Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law allows such false advertising lawsuits if the following conditions are met:

  • The plaintiff is a person who purchased or leased a good or service primarily for personal or household use; and
  • The plaintiff suffered an ascertainable loss of money or property as a result of false advertising or similar deceptive trade practices.

In other words, if you actually purchased a product because you relied on a false or misleading advertisement, you have the right to file a civil lawsuit to recover your losses.

As far as remedies for false advertising go, a Pennsylvania court can order any or all of the following:

  • up to three times the plaintiff’s actual damages, but in no case less than $100;
  • the plaintiff’s attorney fees and court costs;
  • a permanent injunction barring the offending business from continuing to make false advertising claims; and
  • an order directing the business to make appropriate public statements correcting the earlier false advertising.

Since false advertising typically affects multiple consumers at the same time, it is often more practical for the injured plaintiffs to file a class action representing everyone affected. Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky P.C. has successfully pursued many such class actions, so our team understands how to build and win false advertising cases.

Schedule a Free Consultation With Our Philadelphia False Advertising Lawyer Today

Contact Our Philadelphia Region False Advertising Class Action Lawyers Today

False advertising is not something you simply have to accept. If you have been the victim of a company’s false, misleading, and deceptive practices, you need to work with consumer protection lawyers who have the knowledge and resources to hold businesses legally accountable for their actions. Contact Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky P.C. today to schedule a free case evaluation.