Here are the important federal laws relating to consumers. There are also many state consumer laws you should be aware of, and we are working on providing those (see here for California).


Online Shopping Concept. Shopping Cart With Boxes Over Laptop

1. General Consumer Rights

Are there any rules about shipping time? 

When you buy something on the internet, the seller must ship the goods within the time frame it gives you (or if not specified, within 30 days), otherwise you have the right to cancel the purchase.1Federal Trade Commission rule found at Code of Federal Regulations, Title 16, Part 435

What is a deceptive business practice?

In general, businesses may not engage in deceptive or unfair marketing or other business practices.2Section 5 of Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. Sec 45 This can mean many things, but essentially it means that companies must be truthful about their products. See here and here for examples.

What are the rules regarding telemarketing and robocalls? 

Companies must maintain do-not-call lists, and if you ask to be put on the list, they can’t call you anymore. Also, companies may NOT make unsolicited robocalls to cell phones.3Telephone Consumer Protection Act

Can a business require me to agree not to criticize them on Yelp, social media, or other places?

No. Many businesses are starting to put in a non-disparagement clause in contracts to prevent consumers who use their products or services from writing negative reviews. But these clauses are illegal and a business cannot prevent a consumer from sharing their “honest opinions” about the business’s products or services.4Consumer Fairness Review Act But that does NOT mean you can post things that are harassing, abusive, or false or misleading.

2. Banking

Does my bank need to ask me before signing me up for overdraft protection? 

Yes. If you attempt to pay for something but don’t have enough money in your bank account, your bank is not allowed to automatically let the transaction to go through and then charge you an overdraft fee. It MUST ask you whether you want to make the overdraft & pay the fee OR have the bank decline the transaction.5Federal Reserve regulations found in 12 CFR Part 205

When must my bank legally make my deposited funds available?

If you make a deposit to a bank in person, the bank must make the funds available by the next business day. If you make a deposit electronically after business hours, the bank must make the funds available by the second business day.612 CFR 229.10

Are there any rules about depositing large amounts of money?

Yes. If you deposit in a bank more than $10,000 cash (meaning, not a personal check, but may include cashier’s check) at a time, the bank must report this to the IRS.731 USC 5313 Also if you make several deposits of less than $10,000 that are “structured” in order to evade reporting requirements, this is a crime.8Bank Secrecy Act at 31 USC 5324

In addition, if you receive more than $10,000 in cash (which can include cashier’s check) for a business transaction or multiple related transactions, you must report this within 15 days to the IRS using Form 8300.

3. Cell phones

Unlocking your phone. After you have fully paid for your cell phone (which may include finishing your phone service contract), you have the right to “unlock” your phone in order to switch carriers.9Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act of 2014

Your cell phone bill. Cell phone companies may not add charges to your bill from outside companies without your clear consent, must clearly identify these charges as from outside companies, and must give you the option to block the charges. This practice is called “cramming.”

4. Drones (aka Unmanned Aircraft Systems)

Drone Owners must register their drones with the Federal Aviation Administration.


To exercise your other consumer rights: If you feel that one or more of the above laws applies to you, you should first talk to the seller/bank about it and tell them you know the law. If they won’t fix the issue, you can do any of the following:

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