Philadelphia consumers could soon get more protections from the city

The legislation would provide a means to hold repeat offenders of fraud accountable on the local level.

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Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia City Hall, northeast corner. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Philadelphia City Council has moved forward with a bill that would increase the city’s ability to go after fraudsters who prey on Philadelphians.

Solicitor Renee Garcia said the consumer protection ordinance would allow the city solicitor to challenge businesses that exhibit unfair and deceptive consumer practices, from construction companies to financial service agencies.

“This important piece of legislation protects consumers from deceptive business practices and provides tangible relief by holding repeat offenders of fraudulent activities accountable at the local level,” Garcia said.

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Examples of the fraudulent business behaviors the ordinance seeks to address include false advertising practices, such as misleading customers about the product being sold, or causing confusion over what services or materials they’re paying for.

Garcia said the city could make money prosecuting the cases.

“In addition to the compensatory damages, there are fines and penalties,” she said. “That money would come into our general fund, and if we start getting a practice where we’re getting a lot of money coming in, then enough money is coming to the general fund that’s paying for the personnel that are working on the case.”

Lucy Qiu of the Senior Law Center said many cases of elder exploitation in the city have been underreported.

“These older adults often suffer in silence,” Qiu said. “ They remain anonymous. The exploitation has left them in shocking condition.”

Timothy Calhoun, who lives in North Philly, said he’s one senior who is fighting back. He told councilmembers that he was solicited by a realtor in 2022 and signed what he later found out was an exclusive contract for the rights to sell his home for 40 years.

“Later, I learned from a notice from the city department of records that a mortgage was recorded against my property,” Calhoun said. “If I had even heard the word mortgage, I would have hung up that phone.”

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Calhoun said he was proud that his house was paid off and didn’t want any impediment to his heirs. But as it stands now, he can’t do anything to the house without the mortgage company’s approval, including adding family members’ names to the deed.

The bill now goes to the full council for approval. If approved, it would likely be signed by Mayor Cherelle Parker since the proposal originated in her administration.

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