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Extra Help for Consumers

When you're faced with consumer fraud and ripoffs, these organizations can help you handle the bad guys.

Consumers Union

914-378-2000; www.consumersunion.org and www.consumerreports.org

Cost: Limited free information; subscription fee for monthly magazine

Type: Prevention

Consumers Union is the patriarch of consumer groups. For more than 70 years, it has tested and reported on consumer products and services. It has one of the best proactive consumer websites.

Local District Attorney

Cost: None

Type: Complaint and resolution

Your DA's office can help you deal with local companies, though it has little clout against out-of-state or overseas corporations. Be prepared with solid documentation, including contact information for everyone involved and a record of your efforts to date.

Better Business Bureau (BBB)

703-276-0100; www.bbb.org

Cost: Free online information; $24 annual subscription to electronic consumer newsletter

Type: Prevention

The BBB maintains a scorecard of how companies treat their customers. Before you sign a contract or spend more than $500 with any company, check it out with the BBB. Be a good citizen and report your negative business experiences to the BBB. That will help prevent others from stepping into the same consumer trap that caught you.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

877-382-4357; www.ftc.gov

Cost: Free

Type: Complaint and resolution

The FTC is one of the best examples of your tax dollars at work. Like the BBB, it is a great resource for checking out companies, and the FTC website contains information on everything from identity theft to antitrust violations. Unlike the BBB, the FTC will investigate consumer complaints, but be warned: it is so understaffed that it could take years to get even a hearing.

State Corporation Commission (SCC)

Cost: None

Type: Resolution

Many states have their own corporation commissions, which regulate businesses from banks to utility companies. These agencies can be powerhouses for complaint resolution. In some cases they'll even contact businesses for you. Policies vary from state to state—call your SCC to learn what it can do.

Some Interesting Numbers

30

The percentage of fraud complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by 50-plus consumers in 2005.

240

The number of minutes an average consumer spends resolving a complaint, according to the Arizona State University (ASU) National Customer Rage Study. Just 5 percent of complaints are resolved immediately.

152

The dollar amount (in millions) of fraud losses people 50-plus reported to the FTC in 2004.

40

The percentage of people who reported that a company did absolutely nothing in response to their 2005 consumer complaint, as was noted in the ASU National Customer Rage Study.

31,671

The number of complaints the Better Business Bureau got about cell phone companies in 2005, making the industry the number one business bad guy. Number two? Auto dealers.

70

Per the ASU study, the percentage of people who had a negative service experience in 2005.

15

In 2005 the percentage of consumers who wanted to seek revenge on a company that had wronged them.

3

The percentage of consumers who felt that customer service had gotten "considerably better" in the past year.

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