I received an ad from a company which makes customized office supplies. The company states that it donates a percentage of its sales to a local youth athletics organization. I called the organization and discovered that this is not true. What can I do about this? – Truth Seeker
Dear Truth Seeker,
False advertising is a growing problem with both businesses and nonprofits. If you are concerned that a company or charity is making false or misleading claims, there are a number of steps you can take to research and, if necessary, report the organization in question.
Let’s start with a business like the one you mentioned. Corporations, limited liability companies and other businesses need to be registered with the North Carolina Secretary of State. The Secretary of State maintains an online database which you can use to learn more about companies. If you are unable to locate a business online, that should raise a red flag and prompt further research.
You should also search the Better Business Bureau’s website. Companies are not required to be accredited with the BBB. However, accreditation lends credibility to the business. If other people have made complaints about the business, you can find out whether and how those complaints were resolved.
Tax-exempt organizations such as charities should have a tax identification number. You can search for these entities and their public tax filings on the IRS website. Always look into a charity before you donate to it. The Federal Trade Commission has a number of tips on its website to help avoid scams. You can also learn more about charities through private websites like Charity Navigator.
Several North Carolina statutes address false advertising and related issues. It is a criminal misdemeanor to engage in advertising that is “untrue, deceptive or misleading.” Individuals as well as the state can also pursue civil action under the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. This statute allows for attorney’s fees and treble (triple) damages, as well.
Similar to the FTC, the North Carolina Attorney General website has a wealth of information to help protect consumers against scams. If you or someone else is the victim of fraudulent behavior, you can file an online complaint.
There are limitations to what the Attorney General’s office can do. To begin with, the office responds to 20,000 consumer complaints each year. Obviously, this sort of workload means it may take considerable time before the state investigates a particular company or charity. In addition, the Attorney General does not represent private citizens in legal actions. Its job is to protect the public by enforcing trade and consumer laws.
Despite the best efforts of government agencies, organizations continue to engage in false advertising and other misleading claims. You may ultimately need to pursue legal action, depending on the circumstances. Relief may include injunctions or even judgments against the questionable business or charity. If you are unsure whether a company’s practices are ethical or legal, do some research and speak with an experienced attorney to find out what steps you should take.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and not to be taken as legal advice, nor to establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Laura H. Budd or Weaver | Budd, Attorneys at Law. Submit your questions for The Fine Print to: email@example.com