How to Complain
Due to insufficient resources, the Consumers League cannot function as your attorney or advocate to help you solve your individual problem. However, from our experience, we can tell you how and where to complain, and how to take simple problems to Court. We are, of course, very interested in consumer problems, and you may send us a letter describing your complaint, but we are more honest than most agencies in admitting we do not have the staff to work on your problem. Consumers League helps consumers in the Legislature, in Congress, and by providing consumer education.
First, Get Organized
The first step is to keep and organize all the papers, contracts, and receipts which relate to your problem. Write down an outline of what happened, starting with the very beginning. You are going to be telling your story to people who have not heard it. It really helps to get to the key points: Who did what? What happened? Where? When? (Dates?) Why are you complaining? What relief do you want? How many dollars will it take to fix the problem? If you cannot answer these questions quickly, and come to the point (what do you want?), first, no one will listen to you, and second, you won't get what you want.
Always get the name, title, and employer of persons to whom you speak on the phone, immediately when the person answers the phone. If a business makes a promise, get them to put it in writing. If they make a promise over the phone, send them a letter confirming that on such a date, you promised to do such a thing for me. It is a good idea to send important letters by Certified Mail, return receipt requested, so you have proof you sent the letter, and proof the business received it. Later on, a letter sent early might prove that a problem existed.
Think proof. How are you going to prove your story to a stranger such as a Judge? Your testimony (what you and other witnesses, saw) is proof, but it helps to get photos, and to get reports from expert repairmen and estimates of the cost to fix it, repair it or otherwise make the matter right. When you consult an attorney or an agency, bring all the papers and proof with you. An attorney can't give you an opinion about a contract which she has not seen.
Don't take "No" for an answer from a business. Talk to a supervisor, then call and write to the President, CEO, or the Attorney for the outfit. Write often. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Be polite, summarize your facts, and make it very clear what you wish the business to do for you.
If the business will not give you what is rightfully yours, you must be prepared to continue to complain. Shady businesses count on the fact that most consumers will give up at this point. Don't give up. But understand that if you are not willing to work on your problem, no one else in the world is going to either. There is no magic wand to solve consumer problems.
Your choices in getting help are: complaining to the government or the Better Business Bureau, or getting an attorney, or suing "pro se" (meaning you act as your own attorney). The drawback in seeking help is that you will not know whether the agency is going to help you. The advantage of help is that the more agencies which contact the business, the more the business may feel pressured to settle with you.
The Better Business Bureaus are more useful to contact before you enter a large money contract such as a home improvement or car sale. The BBB will tell you how many complaints have been filed against a business within the last few years, and whether the complaints were "resolved."
Government agencies have power to sue offenders, or revoke their licenses. However government agencies are often swamped with a high volume of complaints. Some act only when a "pattern" of multiple complaints develops against one company. It is a good idea to send in a complaint to the government, and to the BBB, if only to register them as warnings to the next consumer. Some agencies to which you may complain are:
NJ Division of Consumer Affairs:
NJ Board of Public Utilities:
NJ Department of Banking & Insurance:
National Consumers League's Fraud.org
US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
Federal Trade Commission:
Federal Communications Commission:
U.S. Office of Comptroller of Currency (National Banks):
When complaining, remember to be organized, get to the point, and send in copies of the important papers or evidence which proves your case.
But don't take the attitude of "letting George do it." You are the one with the incentive to start work on your problem right now. The government might not get to it for a while, perhaps not for a very long while, if ever. Sad to say, most of the time you complain to a government agency, you will be disappointed. But nothing ventured, nothing gained-- sometime the extra pressure of the government will help settle a case.