Business and Professions Code 17500
(False Advertising in California)

California Business and Professions Code 17500 BPC is the California statute that defines the crime of false advertising. Under this code section, false or deceptive advertising is when a person or company makes false or misleading statements to consumers about the nature of a product or service.

Examples of false advertising are when:

  • A t-shirt company advertises that all of its t-shirts are “Made in the U.S.A.” when they actually come from another country.
  • A pharmaceutical company advertises that a product is “clinically proven” to have certain benefits when no such proof exists; and,
  • A beverage company advertises that its new flavored water is “calorie free” when it actually has 100 calories per bottle.

Penalties

A person or company that violates BPC 17500 is guilty of a misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by:

  • Imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months; and/or,
  • A fine not to exceed $2,500.

A person or company guilty of false advertisement may also face a civil lawsuit and/or an injunction.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses available if a person commits a crime under Business and Professions Code 17500. These include showing that an accused party:

  • was truthful in its advertising,
  • did not deceive, and/or
  • acted without knowledge.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

california false advertising law BPC 17500
Under 17500 BPC, false advertising is when a person or company makes false or misleading statements to consumers about the nature of a product or service

1. The Legal Definition of False Advertising in California

California Business and Professions Code 17500 prohibits false advertising.

A prosecutor must prove two things to show that a person or company is guilty of this crime. These are:

  1. The person or company made a false or misleading statement in connection with a service, product or the sale of a service/product/property; and,
  2. The person or company knew, or should have known, that the statement was false or misleading.1

A statement is considered false or misleading if members of the public are likely to be deceived.2 The determination of whether or not a public member is deceived is based upon the facts of a given case.3

The second element above is referred to as knowledge. The falsity of an advertisement has to be known, or should have been known, by the defendant for a BPC 17500 conviction. If an ad simply contains a mistake, that error would not likely be considered a violation of the law.

Business and Professions Code 17500 applies to advertisements that are run across a wide range of communication channels. These include:

  • Television;
  • Radio;
  • Print publications - like newspapers and magazines;
  • Websites, blogs, and the internet; and,
  • In-person solicitations.

2. Legal Defenses

A person accused of false advertising under BPC 17500 may challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a California false advertising charge reduced or even dismissed. Please note, though, that is critical for an accused to hire an attorney to raise a defense on his behalf.

Three common defenses to BPC 17500 accusations are:

  1. Truthful advertising,
  2. No deception, and/or
  3. No knowledge.

2.1. Truthful Advertising

A false or misleading advertisement has to be just that – false or misleading. Thus, the truth is a solid defense to this crime. As stated above, if an ad simply contains a truthful mistake, that error would not likely be considered a violation of the law. Further, some advertisements contain negative messages. But, if the messages convey the truth, the ad is not considered criminal.

2.2. No Deception

Please recall that California law says a member of the public must be deceived by an ad for that ad to be considered false or misleading. This is a very broad and subjective standard. Typically, therefore, a defendant can use the facts of a case to show that the advertisement did not deceive the public.

confused with no knowledge of false advertising
It is an acceptable defense for an accused to prove that he did not have this requisite knowledge

2.3. No Knowledge

Please recall that there can be no conviction for false advertising unless the accused knew, or should have known, that an ad was false or misleading. Thus, it is an acceptable defense for an accused to prove that he did not have this requisite knowledge.

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

A person or company that violates California Business and Professions Code 17500 is guilty of a misdemeanor.4 The offense is punishable by:

  • Imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months; and/or,
  • A fine not to exceed $2,500.5

A person or company guilty of false advertisement may also face a civil lawsuit and/or an injunction.

An injunction is a court order that requires a person or company to either:

  1. Do a particular act, or
  2. Refrain from doing a particular act.

In the context of a false advertisement, an injunction is typically an order that prohibits a company from running a deceptive ad.

4. Related Offenses

There are three crimes related to false advertising, per BPC 17500. These are:

  1. Internet Fraud,
  2. Mail Fraud, and
  3. Mislabeling of Food.

4.1. Internet Fraud

Internet fraud is a blanket term that describes several different fraud crimes that all involve use of the internet or computers. Some of these can be prosecuted under California law in California state courts. Others are federal crimes. Some are both California and federal crimes and may be prosecuted in either California or federal court.

The most common types of internet fraud categories include:

  1. Fraudulent schemes (carried out through email or the internet);
  2. "Phishing" (using email or the internet to obtain sensitive information like social security numbers or credit card information); and,
  3. Accessing a computer or computer data without permission.

Penalties for these frauds will vary depending on the type of crime, or fraud, committed. They can be charged as either a misdemeanor, felony, or a wobbler offense. The latter is an offense that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony.

Further, the penalties for an offense will vary depending on the specific fraud committed. Possible penalties include:

  • Imprisonment for months, years, or even decades; and/or,
  • Fines up to several thousands of dollars.

4.2. Mail Fraud

Mail fraud, also known as postal fraud, is a serious federal crime. A person can be charged with mail fraud if the authorities believe that he used a United States post office or even a private mail carrier to send or receive any materials related to a scheme to commit fraud.6

A prosecutor has to prove three elements to show that an accused is guilty of mail fraud. These are:

  1. There was some scheme to commit fraud;
  2. The defendant used the mail to further the scheme; and,
  3. The defendant had the specific intent to commit fraud.7

The penalties for mail fraud can grow quite severe. They can include:

  • Up to twenty years in jail; and/or,
  • Fines up to thousands of dollars.8

4.3. Mislabeling of Food

Mislabeling of food is a crime in California under Health & Safety Code 114087 HS.

A prosecutor must prove three elements to convict a party of this crime. These are:

  1. A retail establishment presented food for human consumption;
  2. The establishment presented it in a way that misled or misinformed a consumer;9 and,
  3. The establishment acted either intentionally or with criminal negligence.10

Please note each of these elements involves some technical legal definitions and/or showings. This means defenses to this crime do exist.

Mislabeling of food is a misdemeanor in California. The penalties could include:

Were you accused of false advertising in California? Call us for help…

california false advertising legal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Business and Professions Code 17500, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM. (For similar cases in Nevada, please visit our page on Nevada "Deceptive Advertising" Laws; and, for similar cases in Colorado, please visit our page on Deceptive Sales and Business Practices in Colorado).

  1. California Business and Professions Code 17500 BPC. See also, Pepsico, Inc. v. Cal. Sec. Cans, 238 F. Supp. 2d 1172 (2002).

  2. People v. Toomey, 157 Cal. App. 3d 1 (1984).

  3. See same.

  4. California Business and Professions Code 17500 BPC.

  5. See same.

  6. 18 United States Code ("U.S.C.") § 1341 - Mail frauds and swindles.

  7. Miller v. Yokohama Tire Corp., (9th Cir. 2004) 358 F.3d 616, 620.

  8. 18 United States Code ("U.S.C.") § 1341 - Mail frauds and swindles.

  9. Health & Safety Code 114087 HS – Honest presentation of food [mislabeling of food].

  10. Penal Code 26 PC – Persons capable of committing crime; exceptions.

  11. Health & Safety Code 114395 HS.

Free attorney consultations...

Our attorneys want to hear your side of the story. Contact us 24/7 to schedule a FREE consultation with a criminal defense lawyer. We may be able to get your charges reduced or even dismissed altogether. And if necessary, we will champion your case all the way to trial.

Regain peace of mind...

Shouse Law Defense Group has multiple locations throughout California. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

Office Locations

Shouse Law Group has multiple locations all across California, Nevada, and Colorado. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

To contact us, please select your state:

Call us 24/7 (855) 396-0370