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by Ron Burley, AARP The Magazine, February 15, 2007
914-378-2000; www.consumersunion.org and www.consumerreports.org
Cost: Limited free information; subscription fee for monthly magazine
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
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)
Cost: Free online information; $24 annual subscription to electronic consumer newsletter
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)
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)
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
The percentage of fraud complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by 50-plus consumers in 2005.
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.
The dollar amount (in millions) of fraud losses people 50-plus reported to the FTC in 2004.
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.
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.
Per the ASU study, the percentage of people who had a negative service experience in 2005.
In 2005 the percentage of consumers who wanted to seek revenge on a company that had wronged them.
The percentage of consumers who felt that customer service had gotten "considerably better" in the past year.
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