Antitrust laws protect consumers by creating a competitive marketplace. They restrict monopolies, ensuring that no single business can control a market and use that control to exploit customers. They also protect the public from price-fixing and dangerous products.
Specific Activities Covered by Antitrust Laws
One of the most famous antitrust cases is that of AT&T in the 1980s. The charges actually originated in 1974, but the Justice Department’s case did not reach fruition for several years. The essence of the AT&T case was that by controlling a vast majority of land-line home telephones, the company had created a monopoly for itself and a noncompetitive environment in which customers were locked into whatever rates AT&T chose to charge.
As a result of the government’s lawsuit against AT&T, the company was divided into several smaller companies. While this did have negative consequences for AT&T’s stock market value, it also allowed other companies to enter the land-line market, and allowed consumers to benefit from this newly competitive industry.
Antitrust laws do not only cover monopolies, however. In cases of price-fixing, multiple companies may privately agree to a set price point for products or services. The result here is similar to what happens in a monopoly. Consumers find their choice restricted, and often end up paying far more than what products and services are worth.
Most violations of antitrust laws are variations on the above themes. Companies may agree not to compete with each other in certain states, or large contracts may be given out based on bids secretly agreed upon beforehand. All of these situations are considered fraud, and can be prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.
What to do if you Suspect a Company of Violations
Antitrust cases can be prosecuted by state or federal governments, or handled in private civil suits, although private civil suits may only happen with the government’s permission. The penalties in these cases are harsh, and the antitrust division takes any allegation of this type of consumer fraud very seriously.
If you suspect a company is violating antitrust laws, how you pursue your suspicions depends first upon where the company operates. If the business has a national presence, bringing your allegations to the Antitrust Division or Federal Trade Commission is your best option. A local company or one operating only within your state of residence can be prosecuted, but you should contact your state’s Attorney General with your suspicions.
You may only pursue a private suit after the government has confirmed your allegations and conducted their own prosecution. This may take some time, but the benefit is that once the government has confirmed your charges you are far more likely to find success in your own lawsuit.
If the situation has reached this point, hiring an attorney familiar with antitrust laws increases your chance of receiving restitution for money lost due to this fraudulent behavior.