Consumer protection agencies shield consumers from predatory business practices and promote fair trade. They can be governmental agencies or nonprofits, and they can be found at the federal, state and local level. Governmental agencies are authorized by statute to take punitive actions against violators. Nonprofit agencies use accreditation and publicity to rein the bad guys in.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

The FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection stops unfair, deceptive and fraudulent business practices by collecting complaints and conducting investigations -- even suing businesses that break the law. Complaints are often shared with local law enforcement agencies, which can then pursue criminal penalties. Additionally, it educates consumers and businesses about their rights and responsibilities under the law, and it issues an annual report that documents the number and type of complaints it receives and investigates.

Better Business Bureau (BBB)

The BBB is a nonprofit organization designed to promote trust in the marketplace by providing educational information to consumers and expert advice to its accredited members. Accreditation is available to businesses that meet certain strict performance standards. Those businesses that meet these requirements must agree to uphold a comprehensive set of best practices to maintain their accreditation.