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Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is power. Growing up in a family where education was the “family business”, this has been a guiding principle for me. As a former high school social studies teacher, I tried to instill this idea in all my students.  
Since coming to work in the Antitrust Section of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, I have added a corollary to this principle - a knowledgeable consumer is a smart purchaser, both personally and professionally. I do not mean just doing comparison shopping, looking for the best price or doing research to determine the best item to purchase. I would include that understanding more about product markets can help inform your behavior, especially when making a choice which can have long-term impacts. Asking questions about what services are provided for, included in the cost, can help one make an informed choice.
The Christmas before I began working as a paralegal in the Antitrust Section, a family member wanted the “it” item that season. I looked around for the item, checking numerous advertisements. The item was the same price at each store I visited. I purchased the gift and did not think much about it for over a year. Then, we were asked to participate in a multi-state investigation into a possible antitrust violation through an illegal resale price maintenance, exclusive dealing and monopolization scheme orchestrated by the manufacturer and implemented, in whole or in part, through combinations or agreements with others. These allegations had me shaking my head as it explained why I was unable to find the item at an even slightly lower price. The manufacturer eventually settled. I will always wonder if I had been a more informed consumer and reported my experiences to this office, would an investigation have begun and the behavior ended sooner. 
I had considered myself an educated consumer. I realized that there were many things I had yet to learn. In my decades of work in the Antitrust Section, I have learned a few things; such as the fees that are imposed on retailers when a consumer uses a credit or debit card.  As such, I try not to use credit cards at “mom and pop” shops. One business I frequent provides a cash discount for their services. I am learning more about purchasing pharmaceutical products and I have found that it is not always cheapest to purchase my medication through my health insurance’s pharmacy benefit management program. 
Just as identity thieves no longer go "dumpster diving” to steal information and now use new techniques, such as telephone scams, “phishing” and “clickbait” to capture one’s personal information, so too have business people who try to thwart competition changed their tactics.  They no longer meet in smoke-filled boardrooms. Instead, they may have a “friendly” drink after meeting a competitor at a conference or trade show. They may use transient message applications to communicate with their competitors.
Those entrusted by the public to conduct work on their behalf have an important arrow to fight back against unscrupulous businesses’ attempts to stifle competition and obtain work and money to which they are not entitled – knowledge.  Specifically, the best shield against unlawful vendor behavior such as predatory pricing, bid-rigging, market allocation, or price fixing is the awareness and understanding of what those tactics are and how to recognize them. The public, whether a private citizen or a public employee, are the “eyes and ears” that help the Antitrust Section of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office do its work because competition matters.
This article was written by Patrice Fatig, a paralegal in the Antitrust Section of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.