They say the truth will set you free, but sometimes, not telling the truth can make you lots of money.
That’s the assertion made by a California woman suing the maker of a major orange juice brand, claiming that its “100% pure and natural” orange juice is, in fact, not. In a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year, she claims the company, knowing consumers “want and demand natural products,” deceives them in its advertising and packaging for some of its juice. In fact, the juice is extensively processed in a way that changes its essential nature, she adds.
This is hardly the first time people have claimed something was wrong with their drink. In my book, “Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals” I explore the fascinating case of yet another beverage, which made health claims about its products that some consumers found misleading.
The question is, what do you do when you think a company has lied about one of its products?
Based on the previous two examples, you might think a lawsuit is the fastest and easiest way to get a company to start telling the “truth.” It isn’t. Actually, it’s most often the last resort. Lawsuits are expensive and they take a lot of time. Unfortunately, the good guys don’t always win, either.
Did you do all of your research before plunking down your credit card? Often, with just a little research, you can determine if a company’s assertions are correct, or if they’re inflated. As I explain in Scammed, most lies can – and should – be caught at this stage: before you buy.
Ask for clarification.
If you’ve bought something you believe is fraudulent, try asking the company for clarification. Sometimes, what you think is a fib is actually a misunderstanding, and it can be fixed with a quick conversation. Note: It’s better to phrase this as a question, rather than an accusation (in other words, instead of saying, “This orange juice isn’t 100 percent pure!” try “What does 100 percent pure mean, exactly?”
Appeal to the management or executive level.
If you’re unhappy with the answer you get from a rank-and-file employee, contact a manager. The best way to get an “official” answer or clarification is to put your request in writing, preferably as an email. I list the names of many managers on my customer-service wiki.
Go to a higher authority.
Take your case to a government regulatory agency, a media organization or, ahem, a consumer advocate (like me). A third party may be in a better position to gain clarity, and possibly push for clearer language to appear in any labeling or marketing claims. It would also send an unmistakably clear signal to the company that you’re not going away until it does something.
Stop buying the product – and tell others to do the same.
The boycott should be your last stop before filing a lawsuit. Tell everyone you know that the product is phony, urge them not to buy the product, and only if that fails should you take your case to a court.
Companies stretch the truth about their products – or lie – often. But if you follow these steps, you can help put an end to it.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.