Skip to main content
Delaware Senate Democrats

Closing this loophole will protect Delaware consumers

March 23, 2021

By Sen. Trey Paradee |

Ms. Ethel is a 73-year-old widow who just bought a new washing machine. She’s on a fixed income so instead of going to a store she purchased her new appliance from a classified ad.

The seller seemed legitimate. He offered to let her make small payments in exchange for a down payment and even promised a full refund if the washer broke down.

But a week later, Ms. Ethel’s washer broke down. Now the man is refusing to honor the refund, refuses to return the down payment and Ms. Ethel is trapped in a payment schedule with such a high interest rate that she’ll never be able to pay off the loan.

Any reasonable person can see Ms. Ethel has been treated unfairly, and in nearly every state in America she would be protected against these unfair business practices by the state’s consumer protection laws.

But here in Delaware, Ms. Ethel is trapped by a loophole in a 1965 state law.

The fact that unscrupulous merchants are able to use this loophole to get away with fleecing unsuspecting consumers more than half a century later is simply unconscionable, immoral, and wrong.

Delawareans deserve to know we have their back if they get ripped off.

That is why I am working with Rep. David Bentz to pass legislation that will strengthen Delaware’s Consumer Fraud Act and protect consumers like Ms. Ethel, as well as the reputable businesses who have to compete in the marketplace and may be put at a disadvantage for holding fast to the principle of fair play.

This is such a common-sense step that the question most people ask is not whether we should pass this bill but why have we not passed it already.

The truth is the Delaware Legislature banned “deceptive” and “fraudulent” business practices 56 years ago, but remains one of only six states in the nation that has yet to explicitly ban “unfair” practices.

Some of the practices that could qualify as unfair under the law would include knowingly selling defective merchandise; price gouging; demanding a consumer agree forfeit part of a down payment; failing to honor refund policies or warranties; and advertising adult products to children.

Another real-world example in which Delaware’s current law is falling short is the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal in which a British consulting firm was allowed to collect millions of Facebook users’ personal information without their consent. While the Federal Trade Commission and other attorneys general have taken aggressive enforcement action against Facebook, Delaware has been limited in our ability to protect our residents because of the narrow reach of our consumer protection laws. 

Delaware has a well-deserved reputation as a business-friendly state and this law will only enhance our standing by establishing that bad behavior will not be tolerated in the First State. 

A free market must never be a market free from accountability. Allowing unscrupulous merchants to mistreat consumers through flagrant price gouging, coercive tactics, and hidden fees is not pro-market policy.

If anything, permitting unfair business practices to continue will only hurt Delaware’s business community by undermining competition, eroding consumer confidence, and providing safe haven to the types of businesses that can survive only through injustice and exploitation.

As a Dover business owner and member of the Senate Banking, Business & Insurance Committee, I am working hard to build a vibrant and thriving business community in Delaware. 

But profits should never come at the expense of our vulnerable and unsuspecting neighbors.

Sen. Trey Paradee was born and raised in Dover, where today he still resides and operates a financial services company that provides advice to small businesses and helps families save for college and retirement. A state legislator since 2012, Sen. Paradee currently serves as co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, vice chair of the Senate Banking, Business & Insurance Committee, vice chair of the Senate Environment & Energy Committee and a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.