How to File for a Consumer Complaint

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When a consumer is dissatisfied, the first action they usually take to reach a resolution is to lodge a complaint with the business.  Most consumers start out by calling the business and may even write consumer complaint letters.  Unfortunately customer service is virtually non-existent so many customer complaints are ignored.  So, what's the next step?  The next step is to file a consumer complaint with a federal or state consumer protection agency or a private consumer advocacy group.

Writing a Letter of Complaint

Filing a consumer complaint is a way for a consumer to seek redress if he has been the victim of unfair, abusive, deceptive, or illegal business practices.  The first step in filing a consumer complaint is to determine with whom the complaint should be filed.  The FTC handles complaints involving:

  • Predatory Lending;
  • Debt Collection;
  • Telephone Service;
  • Identity Theft;
  • Internet Fraud;
  • Credit Cards;
  • Investment and Business Opportunities; and
  • Health related products and services.

However, the FTC does not resolve individual complaints.  Its primary responsibility is to detect patterns of wrongdoing by investigating consumer complaints and to prosecute the wrongdoers.

If your complaint involves a local merchant or business, you should file your complaint with the Office of the Attorney General in your state or your state's consumer protection office.  You may also file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

The websites of some consumer advocacy groups contain a wealth of consumer protection advice.  These websites also provide consumers with information about what information to include in consumer complaint letters and where to send them as well as educational information to help consumers protect their rights.

The process of filing a consumer complaint varies depending upon the agency with which the complaint is being filed.  Most agencies accept complaints online, by mail, or via their complaint hotline.  You can obtain consumer protection forms from the various consumer protection agencies.

Generally, a consumer protection complaint should contain information about the nature of the complaint.  If the complaint is about a product or service, the complaint should contain the date the product or service was purchased.  Additionally, your complaint should detail all phone calls you've had with the business as well as copies of any correspondence between you and the business.  If the complaint pertains to warranty or contract violations, a copy of the applicable documents should also accompany the consumer complaint form.

Consumer Fraud Complaints

The number of consumer fraud complaints grows each year.  In recent months, the Federal Trade Commission in conjunction with Attorneys General in all fifty states has been cracking down on consumer fraud associated with foreclosure rescue and loan modification scams.  Consumer fraud complaints arise in relation to various other business practices, including, but not limited to:

  • Lemon Law Violations;
  • New and Used Auto Sales;
  • Predatory Lending;
  • Mortgage Fraud;
  • Banks and Lenders;
  • Credit Cards;
  • Debt Collection Abuses; and
  • Identity Theft.

Some states have consumer complaint centers that offer consumer protection advice and education to the public about identity theft and other consumer protection issues.  Citizens can visit these consumer complaint centers to receive assistance with filing complaints against dishonest businesses.

Getting Legal Help

The FTC and state and local consumer protection agencies are often successful in prosecuting businesses that engage in activities which violate consumer protection laws and these prosecutions often result in the imposition of monetary penalties which may be distributed to the effected consumers.  Nevertheless, if you have been the victim of unfair, deceptive, abusive, or illegal business practices, the best way to ensure that your personal grievances are addressed and that you are adequately compensated is to hire an experienced consumer protection attorney.