Charles E. Tempio
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Attorney at Law

The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (N.J.S.A56:8-2 et. seq.) protects New Jersey consumers from fraudulent and deceptive business practices. It was enacted to provide compensation to the victims, promote ethical business transactions and day-to-day commerce, and penalize/deter fraudulent behavior from merchants. There are three possible bases for liability: 

  1. Any unconscionable commercial practice, deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise [or] misrepresentation. 

  1. A knowing concealment, suppression, or omission of any material fact. 

  1. The contingent statutes and administrative regulations applicable to the specific situation.  

The Consumer Fraud Act offers all consumers of goods and services extensive protection. Regarding the omission or deliberate modification of information, even if the deceptive practice lacks explicitness or was not inherently fraudulent, it is still a violation of the CFA if it misleads the consumer. 

If proven to be violated, a successful consumer can acquire treble damages (three times the dollar amount of damage inflicted to the consumer) and attorney’s fees and costs. 

The New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs Consumer Fraud Regulations 

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) issues regulations applying the Consumer Fraud Act. I argued the cause for respondent, Edward Gnoinski, on appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County. The plaintiffs sued for treble damages and fees under the Anti-Eviction Act and filed a claim under the Consumer Fraud Act. Please refer to the unpublished appellate opinion by clicking here   

Consumer Fraud in Particular Industries 

Real Estate  

The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act has been extended to apply to commercial sellers and landlords of real estate and brokers engaged in such transactions through case precedent. The CFA does not impose its remedies upon the non-professional, casual sales of real estate. Homeowners who sell their residence are not liable, but real estate brokers who sell on their behalf are. However, a person who holds a real estate license is not inherently liable – if they did not advertise real estate services, provide real estate services, or initiate contact, they might not be subject to the CFA.  Some examples of violations include: 

  • Failure to Supervise: Failure to supervise violations occur when a broker fails to properly oversee a salesperson’s activities and, if an officer of a corporation, the corporation’s real-estate activities. 

  • Misrepresentation: A real estate broker may misrepresent material facts during a professional transaction by deliberate/accidental modification and omission. 

Automobiles 

The Consumer Fraud Act applies to the leases, sales, repairs, and financing of automobiles. Dealers can commit auto fraud, and thereby violate the CFA, in multiple ways, including their advertising, their firsthand interactions with the consumer, and in their contracts. Some examples of auto fraud include: 

  • Junk Fees: Dealers are not permitted to charge fees unless the sales contract itemizes each documentary service they are providing, its cost, and what it entails.  

  • Estimated Fees: When a dealer provides the title and/or registration, the fee occasionally exceeds its actual cost and is described as “estimated”. If a dealer charges an additional amount, they are bound to refund the excess charges. If not returned, auto fraud may be applicable.  

  • Misrepresentation or Failure to Disclose History and/or Condition of the Vehicle: When advertising an automobile, dealers often paint the product in a positive, persuasive light. They will often boast about its condition and might avoid announcing any blemishes or defects it has. However, a Dealer is to disclose the absolute mechanical condition of the vehicle, as well as its history (accidents, owners, repairs, etc.).  

  • Warranties: A Dealer may not lie about whether the vehicle has any existing warranties and its terms.  

Home Improvement

Contractors are defined as persons engaged in the business of making and selling home improvements. Home improvement includes the construction, installation, replacement, improvement, or repair of property including, but not limited to, driveways, sidewalks, swimming pools, terraces, patios, landscaping, fences, porches, windows, doors, cabinets, kitchens, bathrooms, garages, basements and basement waterproofing, water purifiers, insulation installation, siding, wall-to-wall carpeting or attached or inlaid floor coverings, and other changes, repairs, or improvements made to residential property.  

All home improvement contracts must be in writing and include the following: 1) name and address of contractor; 2) start/completion dates; 3) a description of the work to be performed and of the supplies to be utilized; 4) all applicable warranties; 5) the contractor’s license number with the DCA; 6) a copy of the contractor’s general commercial liability policy and the insurance company’s phone number; 7) the total price (including fees and charges); 8) specific language allowing for cancellation of the contract and accessible refund of the amounts paid.  

Violations of the Consumer Fraud Act in the Home Improvement Industry can include, but are not limited to, the following; 

  • The contractor demands the final payment before the job is complete and/or before it is due in terms of the contract.  

  • The deliberate or unintentional misrepresentation of the supplies and materials to be utilized, such as substituting material for that of less quality. 

  • The failure of the contractor to attain permits or commencing the job before attaining such.  

  • If a contractor makes disparaging misrepresentations about a competitor in the industry. 

  • “Bait and Switch” advertising (fraudulent advertising committed by retailers to lure potential customers with specific claims that turn out to be unavailable).  

  • Poor workmanship that causes the consumer to repair and/or replace goods and services at an additional cost.  

  • Failure to begin or complete the job within the amounted time without a written extension and/or proper reason or cause.  

Employment Agencies 

Full-time and temporary employment agencies are governed by the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs. Violations of the rules and regulations set forth by the DCA may constitute Per Se Violations of Consumer Fraud Act (Per Se Violations do not require showing of causation because it is against the law in and of itself). Employment agencies are bound to the following: 

  • A written contract must exist. 

  • The contract must explicitly list all fees to be paid and describe all services to be provided.  

  • The contract must explicitly declare that it does not guarantee employment.  

  • The contract must provide three calendar days for cancellation. 

  • The agency must provide the consumer with copies of every signed document.  

  • They must be duly licensed with the state of New Jersey. 

  • Fees must not be charged without the acceptance of employment from the consumer. 

  • If the consumer is discharged or quits without just cause, they may not be charged more than 1% per day of the scheduled fee.  

  • If the consumer does not report for work or quits without just cause, they may not be charged more than 30% within 30 days. 

 

Other Industries 

Certain industries have been included in the CFA by statute or regulation, such as health clubs, personal information security, internet dating agencies, telecommunications, banks and lending institutions, pet purchases, the service and repair of home appliances, and information services. However, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act protects all consumers from fraudulent and deceptive business and commercial practices across various industries.  

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