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What is Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices & Consumer Protection Law?

Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL) has been around since 1968, prohibiting businesses from engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices, as well as unfair competition. The Consumer Protection Bureau of the State’s Attorney General’s Office investigates and prosecutes consumer complaints under the law, but, perhaps more importantly for Pennsylvania’s citizens, the statute also permits private lawsuits. As a result, an individual customer who has been injured by a business‘s unfair activity can look to the UTPCPL for help.

Who can sue under the unfair trade practices law?

The UTPCPL authorizes a lawsuit by “[a]ny person who purchases or leases goods or services primarily for personal, family or household purposes and thereby suffers any ascertainable loss of money or property, real or personal,” as a result of conduct that the statute prohibits. (73 P.S. section 201-9.2.)

What are unfair trade practices?

The law is very broad, enumerating 21 different types of unfair practices. These include, for example:

  • Passing off goods or services as those of another;
  • Causing likelihood of confusion as to the source of goods;
  • Claiming that goods are new if they are not;
  • Claiming that goods or services have characteristics, ingredients, uses, or benefits that they do not have;
  • Claiming that goods are of a particular style or quality if they are not;
  • Advertising goods for sale with the intent not to sell them as advertised; and
  • Knowingly misrepresenting that services, replacements or repairs are needed if they are not.

Under this statute, Pennsylvania also prohibits so-called pyramid schemes and chain letters, wherein purchasers of goods or services must solicit other additional purchasers to participate in purchasing goods or services. In addition, telemarketers cannot solicit sales of goods or services without first identifying the seller, stating that the call’s purpose is to sell goods or services, identifying what the goods and services are, and stating that, if a prize is offered, no purchase or payment is necessary to receive it.

Beyond the specific forbidden practices, the UTPCPL contains a “catchall” provision prohibiting “any other fraudulent or deceptive conduct which creates a likelihood of confusion or of misunderstanding.” (73 P.S. section 201-2(4)(xxi).) In 1996, the law was amended to clarify that proof of this kind of conduct does not have to satisfy the requirements of common-law fraud. Pennsylvania courts have said that conduct violating this provision need only be misleading, not demonstrably fraudulent.

What damages does the UTPCPL allow?

A plaintiff can recover actual damages or one hundred dollars, whichever is greater. The court is also allowed to award up to three times the amount of actual damages, as well as any additional relief it decides is necessary, including costs and attorneys’ fees.

Contact a Pennsylvania attorney

If you may have been harmed by a business’s unfair or deceptive trade practices, the experienced attorneys of The Kim Law Firm LLC, with offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, can help. Contact the Kim Law Firm LLC today for a consultation.