What is the MMPA

SB 832 and HB 2089 make dramatic changes to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, Missouri’s law against consumer fraud. If passed, regular people who are ripped off by cheating businesses will be deprived of the main law that provides a remedy.

The MPA has been law in Missouri since 1967. It protects consumers against unfair or deceptive tactics that some unscrupulous businesses use. SB 832 would eliminate the MPA’s protections and give businesses that lie, cheat and steal a huge advantage.

Shady businesses do not have to defend themselves against too many lawsuits. According to the state Attorney General’s Office, the largest number of MPA cases filed in any recent year is 53, statewide, in 2010. Over the last 8 years, the average number of MPA cases filed is 38. That’s less than one per County, per year.

Corrupt businesses, however, are filing cases by the thousands in Missouri. For example, Midland Funding, a large debt buyer that has been exposed for filing frivolous collection lawsuits against consumers, files around 5,000 cases a year in Missouri alone. That is nearly 100 times more cases filed against consumers by just one unscrupulous business in one year than all the consumers’ cases combined in any given year.

Clearly, the only crisis is that consumers already get meager protection. This bill would eliminate even that and give deceitful businesses free reign to file even more bogus lawsuits against consumers.

Under the bill, only the government would be able to file a suit to address consumer fraud. While government regulators are, for the most part, well meaning, they cannot possibly address all the fraud occurring today. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which is charged with protecting consumers in the financial marketplace, filed a total of 60 enforcement cases from 2011 through 2014. During that same time, the CFPB received more than 300,000 consumer complaints.

The Missouri Attorney General (AG) receives more than 125,000 consumer complaints a year. They are able to file less than 50 cases per year.

Thus, the federal government is receiving 5,000 times more complaints than cases they are able to file. The MO AG is receiving 2,600 times more complaints than cases they are able to file.

The bill says Missouri consumers could not sue scammers under the MPA if any Missouri or federal government entity “regulates” the fraud. So, this bill embraces government regulation and takes away a private individual’s right to get their own relief. These supposedly “regulated” businesses include payday lenders, finance companies, banks, credit card companies, mortgage servicers, student loan servicers, pawn shops, title lenders, or a host of others that fall under the auspices of some federal or state bureaucracy.

In addition, anything that happened after the conclusion of a deal with an unscrupulous business would no longer be covered by the MPA. Home foreclosures, vehicle repossessions, credit card abuses, bogus collection lawsuits, false credit reporting, and many more bad acts would be allowed, unchecked.

However, businesses could still sue consumers for money they don’t owe.

The bill also requires that a fraudulent act caused the consumer to enter into the transaction. Thin about that for a minute, how many people would enter into a transaction if they knew the business was cheating them? Exactly no one.

Under the bill, consumers could no longer recover the value of what they thought they were buying. For example, when a business lies to consumers and tells them that the furnace they are buying is new, but the furnace is actually a cleaned-up junkyard unit, consumers could no longer recover the value of the furnace they thought they were buying. Or, if the furnace broke down some years later, the consumers couldn’t sue the business. SB 832 requires them to find out about deception the moment it happens and limits their recovery to the market value of the junk that was represented as top notch goods. Presumably, consumers must have specialized knowledge or hire someone to inspect each furnace part, for example, before they buy it.

Finally, the bill, under the guise of “reform,” eliminates the ability of people to band together and right a wrong that was perpetuated on a large group of folks. No more class actions for cheating people out of their money. Private individuals now must rely solely on the government to stop a widespread scam.

Were SB 832 or HB 2089 to become law, unscrupulous businesses would have a huge advantage over honest ones. Businesses that resort to unfair or deceptive practices would have no fear of being held accountable. Honest businesses couldn’t compete. More and more scammers would migrate to Missouri while fewer and fewer honest businesses would stay.

It is clear SB 832 and HB 2089 would harm Missourians who are subjected to fraudulent business practices. The only advantage of the bill goes to those who lie, cheat and steal.