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Can foreign customers count on protection of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act?

It is widely known that the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (NJCFA) is one of the strongest consumer-protection statutes in the United States. If rights of a consumer were violated under the NJCFA, the consumer may be entitled for treble damages, attorney’s fees, and costs of lawsuit.

But what if the consumer, who purchased some goods or services from a New Jersey seller, is a foreign citizen? What if such customer never physically came to New Jersey and simply made a purchase from a New Jersey seller via Internet (say, a buyer from Russia buys a car via Internet from a New Jersey car dealer)? Can such customer bring a lawsuit under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act in a New Jersey court, if his or her rights were violated?

There is no simple answer to those questions. Every factual scenario is different, and an answer depends on many factors. However, it seems that New Jersey courts have recognized that foreign citizens, who purchased goods and services from a New Jersey seller located in New Jersey, may count on protection of the NJCFA.

For example, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey in the case Boyes v. Greenwich Boat Works, 27 F.Supp. 2d 543, 547 (1998) held: “This court has little doubt that the New Jersey Legislature intended its Consumer Fraud statute to apply to sales made by New Jersey sellers even if the buyer is an out-of-state resident and some aspect of the transaction took place outside New Jersey. Courts have declared that the Consumer Fraud Act should be construed liberally in favor of protecting consumers.

The Court in the Boyes case explained why it is important for the New Jersey courts, in some instances, to protect rights of those foreign consumers who purchase goods and services from New Jersey sellers. The court in Boyes said: “While there can be no doubt that the New Jersey legislature desired to protect its own residents,it is equally clear that this state has a powerful incentive to insure that local merchants deal fairly with citizens of other states and countries. Its magnificent seashore, to say nothing of casino gambling, bring millions of visitors annually to New Jersey making tourism a major industry. This industry would suffer if the state developed a reputation as a place where sellers ripped off the unsuspecting visitor.New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, came to a similar conclusion in the case International Union of Operating Engineers v. Merck, 384 N. J. Super. 275, 288 (App. Div. 2006) (reversed by NJ Supreme Court on other grounds).

In sum, if a consumer lives outside New Jersey or even outside the United States, but his or her rights were violated in New Jersey, such consumer may still be under protection of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. It may be worthwhile to consult with a competent New Jersey lawyer, if one suspects that consumer fraud has occurred in New Jersey.

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