What Is False Advertising And Can You Get In Trouble For It?
Most of us don’t set out to mislead anyone, or to make false representations about our business or our product. In most cases, when businesses get in trouble for false advertising, it is the result of an accident, or simply not knowing the line between “puffery,” and making actual false statements.
What Constitutes False Advertising?
As a general rule, anything that is false or which can deceive a consumer, can be called false advertising by federal or state regulators. If you have a question about whether something is legal or legitimate to say in an advertisement, it is always best to get the opinion of a business law attorney.
Good questions to ask yourself are these simplest questions:
- Is what I’m saying true—that is, can it be proven?
- Is it a statement of fact (opinions generally won’t be considered misleading or false advertising)?
Having “disclaimer” language which explains, mitigates, or contradicts what is otherwise said in an advertisement can be helpful—but it won’t always insulate you from a false advertising claim. In other words, if you claim that your product will do X, Y and Z, including small print that says that your product may not actually do X Y or Z, will not protect you.
To give you an idea of the types of statements or claims that usually lead to false advertising investigations by the state, think of false statements that have to do with:
- How much your product costs, or the quantity of a product. To put it another way—do you actually have a supply of the product you are advertising at the price you are advertising the product at? This is sometimes known as “bait and switch” advertising.
- Warranties or guarantees. Saying your product will “last forever,” is likely to just be harmless bragging. But saying that you guarantee your product will last a certain time period, when you know it won’t, can be false advertising.
- Hiding, or obscuring important parts of the deal, such as return policies, shipping costs, or interest rates.
- Sales tactics that are high pressure – certainly you can and should do your best to sell your product. But when your sales tactics start to constitute duress, coercion, or simply exerting too much pressure, you could end up with a false advertising claim.
Government and Private Claims
False advertising can lead to two problems. The first is an investigation by the Florida Attorney General’s office, which can levy serious monetary penalties and fines (not to mention bad press for your business).
But private individuals can also sue you, under Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA). The law allows consumers to sue for lies, or simply unfair dealing. Consumers can get damages, as well as their attorneys fees.
Be successful but safe when running your business. Call the West Palm Beach business litigation lawyers at Pike & Lustig for help today.