Help stop consumer fraud of the elderly
How many times have you heard the story of an elderly or disabled person being conned into a contract for services or goods, where the contract is deficient of terms, or the goods or services provided for under the agreement are substandard and not what was represented? Likely, too many times to count.
Nevada law prohibits sellers from using the tactics described above. Nevada’s Legislature has labeled this type of conduct “Deceptive Trade Practices.” There are quite a few Deceptive Trade Practices or “DTPs” defined by Nevada law. However, knowing something is prohibited after being victimized is often not helpful. The Nevada Legislature has recognized this and provided elderly and disabled victims of DTPs with a right to sue and a recovery that could include a fine for each DTP violation as well as an award of reasonable attorney’s fees.
So who is an “elderly person?” Chapter 598 of the Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) defines an “elderly person” as any person 60 years old or older. If that describes you, rather than being upset that you are now “elderly,” be grateful that the Legislature is watching your back. Or, you could always write your Assemblyman or Senator and ask them to use a different term. Maybe “aged,” “ancient,” “long in the tooth,” or even the acronym “BLE” for Beyond Life Expectancy, but I digress. I’ll stick with the term “elderly.”
Deceptive Trade Practices
While not a complete list of DTPs defined under NRS 598, these are what I believe to be the 12 most frequently violated. A DTP violation has occurred where:
Sellers use coercion, duress, or intimidation in the transaction;
Sellers lie about anything material to the transaction including price, characteristics, ingredients, uses, benefits, quantities or the condition of goods;
Sellers fail to disclose all facts material to the transaction;
Sellers lie to buyers about their legal rights, such as a right to rescind or cancel the transaction;
A seller purposefully takes advantage of the buyer’s inability understand the terms of the agreement;
Sellers use threatening, intimidating, profane or obscene language;
Sellers solicit repeatedly in an annoying, abusive, or harassing manner;
A seller uses bait and switch tactics;
Sellers fail to inform buyers in print that refunds are not allowed;
Sellers commit fraud by altering a contract, written estimate, written statement, or other document;
Sellers tell buyers that they have won a prize but a purchase is necessary to receive the prize; and
A seller is not licensed to sell or perform the services sold.
Avenging DTP Violations
You can report DTP violations to the Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP) with the Nevada Attorney General’s office. The BCP investigates and prosecutes DTP violations and it can be reached by telephone at 888-434-9989.
The law also enables elders and disabled persons to take matters into their own hands by filing a lawsuit. There are many risks to starting a lawsuit. Fortunately, the Legislature has reduced some of the risks by providing tools for elderly plaintiffs that should make the idea of suing for damages less repugnant and also prevent future abuses. For example, the law allows for recovery of a penalty of $12,500 for each DTP violation proven on top of recovery for other damages. As well, the law entitles an elderly person in a DTP case to an award of reasonable attorney’s fees if they are able to prevail. Notably, the law is silent as to any entitlement of attorney’s fees for a defendant in such case.
Additionally, other provisions of Nevada law (NRS 41) allow for recovery of double damages where exploitation has occurred. Exploitation exists when a person that has the trust and confidence of an elderly person deprives him or her of money or property by way of coercion or undue influence.
A DTP violation is a serious matter, and doing nothing will only embolden the violators to take further advantage of those in need of protection. Stand up and be a voice for change by encouraging those that have been defrauded by way of DTP violations to make a report to the BCP or see an attorney to determine their rights.
Michael G. Millward, Esq., is an estate planning and business attorney. Michael previously practiced with Cassandra Jones, Esq., at Heritage Law Group, and started his own firm, Millward Law, Ltd., in April of 2017. He is a resident of Douglas County, and practices in state and federal courts in Northern Nevada. He can be reached at 775-600-2776.