PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) was put in place more than five decades ago to protect consumers, and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha says changes being made to it this week will help them even more.
Prior to the pandemic, Neronha said his office’s Consumer Protection Unit received 600 to 700 calls a month, but that’s since ballooned to more than a thousand a month.
“There are many instances where Rhode Islanders are being taken advantage of and frankly can’t afford or it’s not worth the cost of a lawyer,” he said. “This office can step in when a particular business or entity is treating Rhode Islanders as a class, as a group unfairly.”
The DTPA first became law in 1969 and it’s meant to protect Rhode Islanders from unfair or deceptive business practices, according to Neronha.
“The problem for Rhode Island was in the 1980s, our Supreme Court interpreted that statute very narrowly,” Neronha added. “The attorney general can only act to protect Rhode Islanders when someone violates that statute if nobody else in federal government or state has the ability to do so.”
As the law currently stands, his office is unable to take action against businesses regulated by another state or federal agency, such as a health insurer or a bank.
“If that business or that entity was really being unfair to Rhode Islanders, multiple Rhode Islanders, there was nothing this office could do to investigate it, let alone stop it,” Neronha explained. “The danger would be for us is if a company went to court and say, ‘Hey, they don’t have the power to issue that civil investigative demand because we’re regulated by somebody else.'”
But that’s about to change.
“It’s the same statute, it’s just been amended to make it very clear that this office has that authority to act on behalf of the people in the state of Rhode Island,” Neronha said.
Neronha said the update to the law will also help with national businesses operating within the state.
Gov. Dan McKee is expected to sign the bill into law Tuesday.