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Consumer Protection: A Beginner’s Guide

This post is coauthored by Barbara Bavis and Robert Brammer, senior legal reference specialists.

Consumer protection touches on a number of areas of law, and as such, has been broadly defined by Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary as “[f]ederal and state laws established to protect retail purchasers of goods and services from inferior, adulterated, hazardous, and deceptively advertised products, and deceptive or fraudulent sales practices; these laws cover everything from food to cosmetics, from banking to fair housing.”  Because laws that deal with consumer protection can be found in several different areas of law, starting one’s research in “consumer protection law” can be somewhat overwhelming.  Through this Beginner’s Guide, we hope to provide some access points to this significant field of study.

From producer to consumer. Illustration by Udo J. Keppler. (Published 1911). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.27699

From producer to consumer. Illustration by Udo J. Keppler. (Published 1911). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.27699

Federal and State Statutes and Regulations

Many consumer protection laws can be found in both federal and state statutes. Federal statutes can be found in the U.S. Code. You can access state statutes through our Guide to Law Online page. Indexes are generally not available online, so it helps if you know the name of the title or code which is concerned with consumer protection so you can browse that title. The organization of statutes varies by jurisdiction, but you might want to look in areas like: “commerce and trade”; “public health and welfare”; “banks and banking”; “business and professions”; “commercial codes”; “insurance”; “health and safety”; “food and agriculture”; “regulation of trade, commerce, investments, and solicitations”; “commercial relations”; “motor vehicle sales”; and, as you might expect, “consumer protection.”

Be sure to also check federal and state regulations that implement consumer protection statutes.

Case Law

You may also want to locate cases that support your claim. You can locate free case law online. In addition to searching for keywords of interest, you may want to search for cases that cite to the consumer protection statutes you have located.  Also, be sure to visit your local law library to use a legal citator like KeyCite or Shepard’s to make sure the cases you wish to rely upon have not been questioned, distinguished, overturned, or repealed by a subsequent case or statute.

Books

As always, we suggest that researchers entirely new to an area of law like this start their research by using a secondary source, like a book or journal article.  Below, please find a selection of resources from the Law Library of Congress collection that might be good options for a researcher new to consumer protection law:

Websites

In addition to the resources listed above, researchers can find a substantial amount of information and guidance on the free web, including the wealth of information included in these websites:

We hope you found our Beginner’s Guide to Consumer Protection helpful. Are there any other topics you would like to see featured in a Beginner’s Guide? Please let us know in the comments.

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