Who You Gonna Call? Where to Go With Your Consumer Complaints/ July 21st, 2003
Here's the situation: You have a problem with a company, product, or professional and you want it resolved. We've all been there. But it's often hard to get someone to listen to your complaints, especially when dealing with a larger company. To make the process easier on yourself, and to get the results you want, make sure you contact the right agency at the right time.
Where to beginThe Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals International, Alexandria, Va., a global organization of customer care professionals, suggests you try the following steps before requesting help from an outside agency:
- Gather information. This includes the date and location of purchase, receipts, serial numbers or product codes, and manuals. If your complaint is with a service or professional, gather all related documents.
- Write a letter or fax. The nice thing about writing or faxing is that you then have a hard copy of your contact with the company or organization. Keep records of all correspondence. If the company has a complaint department, direct your contact there. Clearly state your complaint and the expected outcome, and include copies of all related documents. Another option that connects you directly to the companies you have a complaint with is PlanetFeedback.com. PlanetFeedback, a division of Intelliquest Inc., allows consumers to fill out complaint letters that are then sent directly to the company the complaint is about--for free. Registration on the site is not required, but does include additional benefits such as tracking letters, managing responses, and rating your satisfaction level. Registration is also free.
- Be patient. If you have a serious request, you should receive an answer almost immediately. Any other request may take a week or more to get a response. If you talk to a customer service representative, ask for a "respond by" date and time.
- Don't be afraid to go higher. If you believe your request is not getting the attention it deserves, don't hesitate to go to a higher level in the company.
A broker could be shut down and ordered to pay restitution.
Consumer issuesThe Better Business Bureau (BBB) is the best place to start with a complaint about a company, charity, or car manufacturer. After you name the company you would like to file a complaint against, it will refer you to the local BBB that will handle your complaint. The local BBB will then take your complaint to the business and report its side to you. If your problem can't be resolved during this process, the BBB does offer mediation and arbitration services. If you need more help than the BBB can provide, contact your state or local consumer protection agency. It can conduct investigations and prosecute offenders. Defective products should be reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC maintains a list of recalls from May 1973 to the present.
Credit problemsThe Fair Credit Billing Act gives victims of credit card fraud, theft, or billing errors 60 days from receipt of an incorrect bill to send a certified letter (request a return receipt) to their creditor's "billing inquiries" address. The creditor then has 90 days to resolve the problem (it has only 30 days to let you know your complaint was received). If the creditor does not do this, you can sue or take your complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Keep records of all correspondence.The rules are different for debit cards, so check those guidelines. A good resource is the Kiplinger.com article, "Debit or Credit: Which Card Is Safer?" A credit billing error can have a long-lasting effect if it ends up on your credit report. Notify the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) about any error on your credit report.
InvestmentsIf you have a complaint against a registered investment adviser who manages less than $25 million in assets, contact the state securities regulatorSecurities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with your complaint. If the adviser also is a broker-dealer, you should contact the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) to file a complaint. But if you want repayment, you probably will need arbitration because the SEC and the NASD cannot force repayment. You may want to touch base with a securities lawyer early in the process. The Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association can help you locate one in your area. Not only can securities lawyers assist you with arbitration (if it comes to that), but it helps to have a professional review any complaint letters, and most securities attorneys offer free initial consultations. For more information, see the Home & Family Finance Resource Center article "Avenging Your Broker's Blunders."
InsuranceEach state creates and enforces its own life, health, home, and auto insurance laws. Contact your state insurance regulator with any complaints about an insurer.
If your complaint is with a service or professional, gather all related documents.