2012 Consumer Action Handbook

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Sometimes businesses ignore complaints until they see them in writing. Spend some time trying to explain your problem in words or less. Include your name, address and phone number, and account or invoice number, if any. However, if you are going to CC others on your letter, redact cross out account numbers on the copies. If appropriate, include a copy of your cancelled check, receipt or other documents.

Keep a copy of all communications you send and receive. If the first contact does not bring a response, send another.

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Make sure you do not delete emails you send, but save or copy them for future reference. You may need certain documents, or evidence, in order to win your case or prove you paid for the item. Banks may charge a fee for copies of older records. Never send originals of receipts or checks to the company or any complaint-handling agency—always send copies. Copies of your emails or letters can also be very helpful. If the firm claims it never heard from you, copies of letters with return receipts or proof of delivery, or emails with a date header, can help you resolve the problem.

If your first attempt at complaining fails, contact someone higher up in the company. Larger companies often have customer relations or consumer complaint departments that you can contact for assistance. These officials should send your letter to the appropriate person, and may take steps to resolve the dispute promptly. Top executives do not like hearing from consumers, and top-level staff often intervene to solve problems quickly, before they reach the big boss.

Or call any office of the company and ask for that information. You can access this information for free. In most cases, you will get through to someone who will take your complaint seriously. If you cannot get through during business hours, try calling the number after business hours to see if it has a directory of employees you can search by name. Leave a short but informative message about your problem and ask for a return call. Sometimes you encounter a company that makes complaining very difficult. If you are not being treated seriously, it might be time to take your problem to a person higher up in the company, complain to a government agency or consider legal action.

Government agencies will not always intervene to settle your case, but some will contact the company to open up communication. For example, if you complain to the state public utilities commission about a telephone company, it might ask that company for an explanation of its position.

A government financial services regulator might contact your bank to ask for its side of the story. State attorneys general AGs and municipal district attorneys DAs handle many cases that do not fall under the jurisdiction of any other government agency. Some district attorneys have units that offer consumer complaint mediation. Businesses that ignore most complaining consumers often settle cases that are sent to government agencies or consumer groups, business associations or action lines. Government agencies can be excellent sources of information about consumer rights and the laws and regulations that companies must follow.

If you are not sure whether a company has broken the law, call the appropriate government agency and ask for information about your rights. Many businesses are directly regulated by government agencies, such as a department of insurance or department of banking. These agencies receive complaints about the companies they regulate and investigate allegations that those businesses have violated the law. The agencies depend upon consumers to alert them to companies that are engaged in illegal practices. If your complaint involves an out-of-state company, you may still be able to obtain assistance from government agencies in your state.

You can also contact a federal government agency to complain about out-of-state firms. Government agencies usually prefer that you complain by email, phone or mail—not in person. Most are not prepared to help people who walk into their offices without appointments. Some have special complaint forms for consumers to use.

To make sure you are complaining to the appropriate agency, visit its website or call before submitting a complaint, or ask a consumer group which agency to contact. When you call or submit a complaint to a government agency, indicate what you are looking for. To find the appropriate agencies, consult the Consumer Action Handbook , a free guide.

A special government section in most phone directories lists local, state and federal agencies. When you have done all you can on your own, consider whether an organization can assist you. You can file a complaint with the BBB. Few consumer groups handle individual complaints, but action lines in many states help consumers to resolve problems.

The entrance of a third party into a dispute may send a signal to the business that:. Action lines are volunteer programs, usually run through newspapers and radio or television stations. Callers to action lines are not placed on the air. They give assistance to people who are having difficulty resolving complaints. They can contact a business on your behalf and try to work out a solution. You may know of a local station that features consumer complaints. Seek advice. There are many sources of information and advice.

Many consumer groups and action lines offer free consultation about consumer problems. Some government agencies provide advice and information concerning complaints against the companies that they regulate. There are many publications that provide helpful suggestions about resolving consumer problems. Sue in small claims court. Small claims court is an appropriate place to settle many consumer cases.

Contact a lawyer. Usually, the money involved in consumer cases is not enough to involve a lawyer, and legal actions can take years to complete. But a lawyer can advise you about your legal rights and options. Conduct a consumer picket. Use social pressure. The opportunity to shame a business publicly has grown in the age of the Internet. Many complaint websites allow you to post public complaints or to write a review of the business. To find them, do an Internet search. As with a consumer picket, never post anything you cannot prove or defend in court, as you could face legal action from the business if you go too far or make false claims.

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However, this avenue can be effective, as a large number of companies monitor the Web and social media in order to resolve complaints before they create bad publicity or damage their brands. Create a website or a social media page. It is important to remember that the company may try to take legal action against you, and even though you are probably within your rights of freedom of speech, defending yourself could be costly.

To protect yourself from any lawsuit, make sure you have adequate liability insurance on your rental or homeowners insurance policy. You can stop payment on a check or an electronic payment from your bank account. Stopping payment on a check means that you tell your bank not to pay a check that you wrote, but there is no guarantee that your bank can stop a payment. Stop payment orders generally expire after six months. When you stop payment, the company you gave the check to will be unable to get any money for it—unless it cashed the check before you stopped payment.

Businesses often cash checks immediately to prevent customers from stopping payment. To stop an electronic payment from your bank account, you will need to notify your bank at least three business days before the transaction is scheduled to be made. Again, a stop payment fee is likely to apply. This notice may be made orally or in writing.

However, if the notice is made orally, the bank may require you to follow up with written notice within 14 days. Keep a copy of the letter for your records. Once you stop payment, you should immediately tell the company or person what you have done and why.

You can do this by phone, but you should also write a letter to create a written record of your position. If you fail to explain the situation, the company might assume that you are trying to take the item without paying for it. When you stop payment for a purchase, you should return the item to the company. Contact your credit card company. If you paid by credit card, the bank that issued the card may be able to help you resolve the problem.

Make sure the bank receives your notice of billing error within 60 days of the monthly statement containing the unauthorized charges. You may be required to submit your dispute in writing. Your card issuer will investigate the case and may decide in your favor if it believes you have a legitimate complaint.

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Make sure you pay the undisputed portion of the bill. If the bank rules in your favor, it will give you a credit for the disputed amount. If it rules against you, you can still seek a refund in court or through other actions, such as by complaining to government agencies.

The process for stopping pre-authorized, recurring credit card payments to a merchant is a little different than a credit card dispute. First, write to the merchant, directing it to stop the charges.

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Second, notify your bank about any charges that you feel were in error. You may be required to submit your dispute in writing or to explain it in a form the card issuer will provide. See the sample letter and sample email. Copy and paste the text, or download these as plain text files , and insert your own information. You can subscribe to the online edition delivered by e-mail or to the print edition delivered by mail.

You can also order the print edition in bulk to share with your community group, library or school.

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The Catalog is published three times a year. Your subscription is free and you can change or cancel it at any time. In addition there are a number of helpful booklets available on a variety of topics, those listed below are free. Look for the catalog on the lower level of the library or in the Reference Department. Or you can visit usa. Protect Your Rights Go Green!

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