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Details on State Deceptive Trade Practices

A deceptive trade practice is an activity in which an individual or business engages that is calculated to mislead or lure the public into purchasing a product or service. False advertising and odometer tampering are two of the most blatant examples of this commercial lying. Such activities are given special status as offenses against the citizenry in general and are therefore accorded by law special enforcement status.

Deceptive trade practices result in criminal prosecution in some states; in others, statutes provide for private enforcement, whereby a citizen is entitled to sue a business for violating deceptive trade practice laws and may be able to recover punitive damages and/or statutory fines. The attorney general of the state may also bring a lawsuit against an offending business enterprise.

Because a deceptive trade practice may affect individuals or businesses from more than one state, a number of states have adopted the standardized Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act (UDTPA). The Uniform Act does not add or detract from the law of any one state; rather, it is inclusive and tends to cover, in general terms, all the prohibitions and issues addressed in state law in this area. For example, the Uniform Act prohibits making deceptive representations in connection with commercial goods. This obviously covers odometer tampering, but it also addresses all forms of deception in the marketing or advertising of goods and services. Those states that have not adopted the UDTPA have laws similar to it.

There is little controversy among the states over what activity amounts to a deceptive trade practice. However, there is a great deal of variety concerning the remedies available for the violations and who may sue for those violations. There are two main purposes of the statutes providing for remedies for businesses engaging in unlawful activity: (1) injunctions or restraining orders forbidding the continued deceptive trade practice and (2) punishment via fines, damages, and imprisonment. But because businesses are generally in violation of deceptive trade practice laws, and because it is difficult to determine whom to punish in the violating business, fines are generally the most effective method of extracting restitution.

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