A consumer protection agency is typically a government agency that enforces consumer protection law in a particular jurisdiction. Depending on jurisdictional policy, the consumer protection agency may have the power to investigate potential violations of consumer protection law, engage in educational activities to inform the public of consumer protection laws, and in some instances oversee the licensing of trades and professions. In some cases, a consumer protection agency may also collect consumer complaints regarding experiences with area businesses and may make this information available to other interested parties.
In many places, consumer protection laws protect the interests of consumers against businesses that might engage in fraudulent or exploitative practices. In situations where a consumer believes that he has been defrauded, he may be directed to make a report with a consumer protection agency. One or more reports against the business may result in the commencement of an investigation into that business's operations. Depending on the outcome of the investigation as well as local law, the agency may file a lawsuit against that business, force it to stop doing business, or suspend the professional licenses held either by the business, its owners, or its employees. In particularly egregious cases of consumer law violations, the consumer protection agency may encourage the filing of criminal charges against the principal owners of a business.
Depending on the nature of a consumer protection law, a consumer protection agency may develop guidelines for its enforcement. Periodically, the consumer protection agency may review these guidelines to make both businesses and consumers aware of how certain types of business are most appropriately transacted. The consumer protection agency may solicit public input as it develops these guidelines.
Consumer protection agencies often take a strong role in providing educational services to the general public. These may include consumer awareness campaigns about typical consumer fraud issues, guides to buying consumer goods or contracting for consumer services, and notifications to consumers about their rights regarding debt and credit reporting issues. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) makes available a significant library of information on consumer behavior and law issues. In addition, the FTC also assists businesses in the development of sound business practices by providing educational materials targeted toward business owners.
In the United States, consumer protection agencies are often responsible for the issuing of trade and professional practice licenses. In addition to establishing and enforcing criteria for professional or trade licensure, these licensing boards also engage in disciplinary action against professionals and tradespeople who violate ethical and professional standards. They may also attempt to work with professionals who are the target of consumer grievances in an attempt to address the consumer issue as well as assist the professional or tradesperson in improving his or her business practices.