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Unfair Trade Practice: Definition, Deceptive Methods and Examples


Unfair Trade Practice refers to the use of various deceptive, fraudulent, or unethical methods to obtain business advantages. This can include misrepresentation, false advertising, tied selling and other acts that are declared unlawful or unethical by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the U.S or equivalent bodies in other countries. Examples can vary from pyramid schemes, to bait-and-switch advertising methods.


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Key Takeaways

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  1. Definition of Unfair Trade Practice: Unfair Trade Practice refers to the use of various deceptive, fraudulent or unethical methods to obtain business. It often leads to restrictions or offenses under consumer protection laws due to the misleading nature of the actions, which can misrepresent the merit of products or services.
  2. Deceptive Methods of Unfair Trade Practice: These methods could include false advertising, misrepresentation of the product or service, false free gift or prize schemes, non-compliance of manufacturing standards and many more. Extreme cases could involve selling of unsafe products or infringement of patents and business secrets.
  3. Examples of Unfair Trade Practice: Examples include bait and switch selling, pyramid schemes, false or misleading advertisement about price reductions, or selling refurbished items as new. These practices not only cheat consumers but also harm competition among businesses and can lead to legal penalties.

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Unfair Trade Practice is an essential term in business/finance as it refers to the use of fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative methods by a company to gain a competitive advantage, thus disrupting the healthy competitive environment. Its importance lies in the fact that it helps identify and regulate unethical business conduct. Understanding this term is crucial for both businesses and consumers. For businesses, engaging in such practices could lead to legal implications, sanctions or damage to their reputation. For consumers, awareness of such practices enables them to identify and avoid deceitful businesses, ensuring that they can make informed buying decisions and receive fair value for their money. Examples of Unfair Trade Practice may include false advertising, misrepresentation of a good or service, deceptive pricing or misleading labeling. Hence, recognizing Unfair Trade Practice is key to ethical and fair business operations.


Unfair trade practices are utilized by businesses to gain an unjust advantage over their competitors or to deceive their consumers. The purpose is often to mislead, manipulate, or otherwise defraud, ultimately resulting in a competitive advantage and/or direct harm or significant disadvantage to the consumers. For example, a company might market a product with false claims regarding its benefits or use bait and switch strategies to lure customers in with promises of one product/service, only to upsell them or substitute an inferior or more expensive item. This not only gives the company using such tactics an upper hand over its competitors but also manipulates consumers.Unfair trade practices, although serving the companies’ interests in the short-term, can undermine the principles of free and competitive markets, thereby impairing overall economic efficiency. It discourages competition which is essential for innovation, high product quality, and low prices, thus negatively impacting the consumer welfare. Consumer-protection laws worldwide aim to prevent these practices, thereby promoting transparency, honesty, and fairness in transactions. It is these laws and regulations that govern the identification and prohibition of unfair trade practices to ensure the overall health of the marketplace.


Unfair Trade Practice refers to the use of various deceptive, fraudulent, or unethical methods to obtain business. It often involves misrepresentation, manipulation, or violation of consumer protection laws. Here are three real-world examples of Unfair Trade Practice: 1. Volkswagen Emissions Scandal: In 2015, Volkswagen was accused of unfair trade practices after it was discovered that they installed software in their diesel cars to cheat emissions tests. The cars would only activate their emission controls during laboratory testing, ensuring that the cars’ pollution output met U.S. standards during regulatory testing, but emit up to 40 times more pollution in real-world driving. Volkswagen misrepresented the environmental impact of its cars, deceiving millions of consumers worldwide.2. False Advertising by Apple: In 2018, Apple faced a lawsuit over allegations that the screen sizes and pixel counts of the displays in their iPhone X, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max were falsely advertised. The lawsuit argued that Apple misrepresented these characteristics through its marketing, therefore constituting an unfair trade practice.3. Wells Fargo Account Scandal: In one of the most notorious cases, Wells Fargo admitted in 2016 to opening millions of unauthorized accounts in their customers’ names without their consent over a period of several years. Employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses. This massive breach of trust and violation of consumer rights is a classic case of unfair trade practices.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is an Unfair Trade Practice?

An Unfair Trade Practice refers to the use of various deceptive, fraudulent, or unethical methods to obtain business. It is any practice that causes significant, widespread or repeated harm to consumers or competitors in the business market.

Can you give examples of Unfair Trade Practices?

Unfair Trade Practices include but are not limited to misrepresentation, false advertising or representation of products or services, tie-in sales, false free prize or gift offers, non-compliance with manufacturing standards, and deceptive pricing.

What are Deceptive Methods in trade practices?

Deceptive methods often involve practices such as presenting misleading advertisements, concealing or omitting critical information about the product or service, or engaging in behavior meant to mislead, confuse, or deceive the consumer.

What’s implications for businesses involved in Unfair Trade Practices?

Businesses found guilty of engaging in unfair trade practices may face severe legal penalties including fines, injunctions, and even the dissolution of the company. In many cases, victims of unfair trade practices can also sue the offending company for damages.

How can I detect if a company is practicing Unfair Trade?

Consumers should be aware of common signs of unfair trade practices like products that seem too good to be true, misleading advertisements, aggressive sales tactics, and reluctance to provide clear answers to questions or disclosed information.

What legal recourse do I have if I fall victim to an Unfair Trade Practice?

If you believe you’re a victim of an unfair trade practice, you can lodge a complaint with your local consumer protection agency, your state attorney general’s office, or the Federal Trade Commission. Legal action, including seeking damages, may also be possible depending on the nature of the violation.

Can Unfair Trade Practices impact economy?

Yes, unfair trade practices can disturb the fair and open competition that is the backbone of an effective economy. It can lead to unhealthy competition, market monopoly, and loss of consumer trust in the market system.

Related Finance Terms

  • Price Discrimination: The action of selling the same product at different prices to different buyers, which may manipulate demand and market conditions.
  • Misrepresentation: When false or misleading information is given that deceives consumers or other businesses.
  • Intellectual Property Theft: The infringement or use of another’s intellectual property rights (trademarks, patents, copyrights) without authorization.
  • Predatory Pricing: A strategy where a product or service is set at a very low price, intending to drive competitors out of the market, or create barriers to entry for potential new competitors.
  • Tied Selling: Any situation where a sale of goods or services is conditional on the purchase of some other goods or services.

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