Living in a consumer-based society can prove lucrative for small, medium, large, and corporate businesses. Many law provisions protect consumers from iffy business transactions; however, rarely do any of us actually complain about these problems. According to a consumer complaint survey conducted by several government-sponsored consumer protection agencies in 2010, the recession-struck U.S. has posed problems for 252,000 consumers who complained about credit, debt, and auto-related business transactions. In addition, fraud climbed into the ranks of the top ten complaints, which also included home improvement contracts, retail sales, utilities, services, Internet sales, household goods, and home solicitations. Other complaints involved inadequate contractual disclosures, medical billing problems, financial “recovery” services, identity theft, wireless television services, wiring fraud, and tax-related scams. All of these complaints have caused concern for local, state, and federal agencies; therefore, consumers should take preventative action against fraudulent and unsatisfactory business transactions.
Contact the Business Immediately
Consumers should contact the seller in an attempt to directly resolve any problems from previous business transactions. Log the details of the conversations by retrieving the name of the representative and what the company promises to do as means to resolve the complaint. If the representative fails to offer a solution, then escalate the claim to the company headquarters. In some cases, the consumer may need to contact the manufacturer for a rebate or replacement. Many companies have a toll-free telephone number to their customer service department in the event a business transaction goes haywire. Customer service managers often thrive on these situations, because it helps identify existing and prospective problems that can destroy a business.
Write a Formal Letter of Complaint
If the aforementioned steps fail to bring about a change, then the next step involves writing a formal letter of complaint. The formal letter of complaint should be clear, concise, and factual. It should include the consumer’s personal details, the company’s personal details, a formal greeting, a body stating the exact details of the case, and then a formal salutation. Consumers should include copies of all relevant documents concerning the complaint, including repair orders, sales receipts, warranties, contracts, canceled checks, and any written correspondence between the consumer and company. Send the letter via certified mail, and submit a request for a return receipt. A few extra dollars will provide proof that the company received the formal letter of complaint. It will also provide the signature of the person who signed for it.
Contact the Existing State and Local Organizations
If the company fails to find a resolution for the complaint, then the consumer should contact their local, state, and federal agencies for proper intervention. Check the local telephone directory for a complete list of names, addresses, and phone numbers of the corresponding offices that handle consumer protection services. For instance, the state attorney general usually has a department that specifically deals with consumer protection cases. Other organizations to contact include the local consumer protection office, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the local postmaster, and the local media outlets. Contact the Federal Information Center listed in the telephone directory under the category entitled “United States Government” for all federal inquiries.
Sites Causing Consumer Problems
Conflict Resolution Programs
A large portion of consumers and businesses consult dispute resolution programs, or third party mediation and arbitration services, as an alternative to going to court. Some businesses require consumers to sign waivers that eliminate their right to go to court; therefore, consumers should always check their contract or product packaging for the fine details. Third party mediation and arbitration services may require no fee, a flat fee, or a fee based on a sliding scale. Mediation services involves an unbiased third party who helps both parties resolve the problem; however, both parties must oblige to an agreement. Arbitration services involves a formal process similar to court hearings, where both parties present their case along with their supporting evidence, which may even include witnesses. After the hearings, the arbitrator or panel makes a decision, which becomes legally binding in the court of law. Consumers can contact their state attorney general, local consumer protection agency, small claims court, nonprofit dispute resolution organizations, bar associations, law school clinics, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and the Association for Conflict Resolution to find the nearest participating program.
Follow these links to learn more about how to solve consumer problems:
- Facts for Consumers
- Consumer Action Handbook
- Index of State and Local Consumer Agencies
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Other Consumer Protection Laws and Regulations
- Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World: A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy
- Better Business Bureau
- FDIC Law, Regulations, Related Acts: 6500 – Consumer Protection
- Automotive Lemon Laws
- Consumer Protection in the United States: A 50-State Report on Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices Statutes
- Safeguarding Consumers
- State Gift Card Consumer Protection Laws
- FTC Enforces “Consumer Protection” Laws
- Consumer Protection Without Law
- Cyber Street Smart
- The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG): Consumer Protection
- Fact Sheet 6b: “Other” Consumer Reports: What You Should Know about “Specialty” Reports
- Sample Complaint Letter
- Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law
- Writing a Complaint Letter
- United States Consumer Product Safety Commission
- FTC Complaint Assistant
- BBB Complaints
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