Misleading Information about Products 


Under the Fair Trading Act it is unlawful for a business to mislead consumers about their products or about consumers’ rights.


How do I make a complaint about a misleading advertisement?

The Fair Trading Act makes it illegal to mislead consumers about Goods and Services, this includes misleading advertising.

There are a number of ways that an advertisement could be misleading e.g.

  • Special offers, discounts and sales etc. which are not genuine
  • Representations about the origin, quality and use of the goods which are not clear and accurate. 

If you have bought something because of a misleading advertisement and you can show that the trader has breached the Fair Trading Act you should complain directly to the trader about it and if that does not work you can go to the Disputes Tribunal to make a claim.

You can complain to the Commerce Commission to make a complaint. They don’t act on behalf of individuals, but they do investigate complaints relating to breaches of the Fair Trading Act and can take action against the trader. You can use their online complaint form or call 0800 943600.

You can also complain to the Advertising Standards Authority. This is a free service which allows you to complain about any advertisement which breaches the Advertising Code of Standards. They have codes covering different types of advertising.

You can send a written complaint or use the online complaints form. Where the complaint involves a print advertisement, you should send that in with your complaint. If you are complaining about a broadcast then you should include the date, the name of the television or radio station, and roughly the time you saw the advertisement.

You'll find more information about complaining effectively on our Complaints and Disputes pages. 

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I went into a shop to buy a product that had been advertised in a promotion. But the shop had none in stock at all.

According to the Fair Trading Act, a business has to:

  • supply the advertised goods or services
  • have those goods or services at the advertised price
  • have them in stock for a reasonable amount of time
  • stock those goods and services in reasonable quantities

There is no exact definition of ‘reasonable’; it will depend on the market. Businesses need to be careful that if supplies are limited, they say so in their advertising. The retailer could have a ‘rain check’ system in place to make sure they can get you what you want as soon as possible. If they don’t, you can complain to the Commerce Commission. For more information or advice contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or read this factsheet by the Commerce Commission.

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I won the bid for an iPod off TradeMe but it is not the model that was specified.

Start by telling the seller about the problem so that they have a chance to remedy it (e.g. by offering to give your money back if you arrange to return the item).

If you and the seller can’t resolve it between you, then your options will depend on whether the seller is a trader or not. (From 17 June 2014 the Fair Trading Act requires people who are in trade to identify themselves as such when offering goods or services for sale online (including online auction sites). More about this requirement is on this Commerce Commission factsheet.)


If the seller is not a trader


If the seller is not a trader then, because this is a private sale, your purchase is not covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act nor the Fair Trading Act. This means you don’t get the same protection as you would when you buy something from a shop. You can read more about what you can do, on our Private sales page. 


If the seller is a trader


If the seller is a trader, then the trader is in breach of the Fair Trading Act by misrepresenting the goods to you. You can point this out to the trader when you complain to them.

If this does not satisfactorily resolve the matter, you can make a complaint to the Commerce Commission. They don’t act on the behalf of individuals, but they do investigate complaints relating to breaches of the Fair Trading Act and can take action against the trader. You can use their online complaint form or call 0800 943600.

You’ll find more information about complaining effectively on our Complaints and Disputes pages. For more information about your particular situation and your rights contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

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I saw a food product advertised as being able to lower cholesterol. How do I know whether this claim is true?

From 17 June 2014 a business is in breach of the Fair Trading Act if they make claims about a good or service that can’t be substantiated. This means that they must have reasonable grounds for making the claims, such as from:

  • information provided by a reputable supplier or manufacturer
  • information provided by the business 
  • other reasonable sources, such as scientific or medical journals.

For example, if a business makes a claim about a product which lessens your chance of catching a cold this winter, then you should expect them to be able to back up their claim with credible medical or scientific evidence.

On the other hand, an advertisement that claims men who use Deodorant X will attract hordes of single, attractive women isn’t a breach of the Fair Trading Act because it is so exaggerated that no reasonable person would expect to be substantiated. This is what we call “puffery”.

If you believe a business is making unsubstantiated claims about their product – even if they are true – you can make a complaint to the Commerce Commission.