Other Situations: Frequently Asked Questions
First, go to the seller of the item. Second, contact the relevant consumer agency. Finally, if neither of these results in satisfaction, you can file a lawsuit or use arbitration.
Contacting the Seller
Before you take your complaint to the store or other entity that sold you the service or product:
Gather any evidence you may need, such as the receipt, a canceled check, photographs showing the problem, a warranty, a contract, or a bill of sale.
Figure out what your goal is. Do you want the product replaced? Do you want your money back? Do you merely want an apology?
Call the store or service provider and ask to make an appointment with the manager, customer service representative, or another appropriate person. Meet face to face with that individual and explain as succinctly as possible the nature of the problem and what you want to be done about it. If you talk on the phone, follow up with a letter, and make notes of the dates of your calls and to whom you spoke.
If the product is covered by a warranty, it's usually better to follow up with the manufacturer instead of the merchant.
If this doesn't produce results, take your problem to a higher authority. This might be a supervisor or a corporate president. You should put your complaint in writing at this point if you haven't already done so. Your letter should include your name, address, phone numbers, and account number (if relevant). If a product is involved, include the date and place of purchase, and the model and serial number. Briefly, state the problem with the product or service, and write about what you have done so far to resolve it. Finally, tell the letter recipient what you want done, and give him or her a deadline. Include copies of relevant documents (not originals), and keep a copy of your letter. Keep copies of anything you receive from the company.
Contacting an Agency
If you still haven't achieved the result you wanted, look in the phone book for a consumer complaint agency, such as the state, county, or city consumer protection office, or the Better Business Bureau.
Or, you might want to go the trade association route. Some industry trade associations offer help in mediating disputes concerning their members.
If your complaint involves a bank, you might wish to contact the appropriate state banking regulator. Similarly, you might want to contact the state insurance regulator if an insurer is involved, the securities regulator for a securities problem, or the public utility commission for utility-related problems.
If the problem involves a state-licensed trade (e.g., a general contractor or a plumber), call the state licensing department.
If you bought a "lemon" used car, investigate your state's lemon laws by contacting your state consumer protection agency.
If the problem involves mail order or mail fraud, contact your area postal inspector, who can be found in the U.S. government section of the phone book.
There may also be a local television news program hotline for resolving consumer complaints.
Call the agency first to find out what procedures it wants you to follow.
Filing a Lawsuit
When all else fails, you might want to file a court case--either a small claims case, if the amount of money involved is small enough (generally, under $5,000)--or a regular lawsuit. More often than not, simply contacting an attorney and having him or her write a letter to the merchant or service provider indicating that you intend to file a lawsuit will get you the result you are seeking. If a small claims case is involved, you generally won't need to hire an attorney, but if the case doesn't qualify for small claims, you'll probably need to hire an attorney.
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