Consumer Protection Law

What If You Have A Consumer Complaint?

It's frustrating when you spend your hard-earned money, only to not get what you paid for. But consumer protection laws exist to keep people safe from predatory, fraudulent, and neglectful business practices.

Whether you bought a product only to find out it doesn't work as advertised or paid for a lackluster service, as a consumer, you have legal options when you're taken advantage of by poor or fraudulent products and services.

How to Address a Consumer Complaint

When trying to resolve a service or product dispute, the first step you should take is documenting any relevant information.

  • What is the defect?
  • How does it differ from what was advertised?
  • What do the warnings and directions on the packaging say?
  • What documents do you have?
  • What information is on the receipt?
  • Is there a warranty?

Confirming all this information can help you quickly realize if the vendor you purchased from actually made a mistake. It will also prepare you to answer questions that you'll receive during the resolution process.

Once you gather all of this information, you should try going straight to the source of the problem. It's possible that bringing a concern or complaint directly to the company may provide a resolution quickly. Start with an individual salesperson, manager, or customer service representative. If necessary, you can contact people higher up in the business, like an owner, if you don't get the help you are looking for.

If the business cannot, or will not, resolve a problem directly, you may need to escalate your concerns by filing a consumer complaint.

How to File a Consumer Complaint

There are several public agencies at the state and federal levels that can help consumers like you resolve these types of problems. Which one you should contact will depend, in part, on what your specific complaint is, though many issues don't require you to use a specific office.

  • A local or state office, such as your state's attorney general's office, may help investigate a complaint or mediate a dispute. This could be the right way to go when a state agency regulates the company at issue.
  • Your local Better Business Bureau also helps deal with complaints and finding resolutions for problems with a business's products or services.
  • Federal agencies, like the Federal Trade Commission, may help address scams or other situations that require fraud investigations, though they are less likely to offer direct help in resolving the situation between an individual consumer and a company.
  • The International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network is a consumer protection organization that handles complaints with international companies.

You can search for the agency tailored to best address your specific issue. There are a number of ways to file a complaint, like using a website, phone number, or mail address.

For consumer complaints, each agency will have its own complaint form you need to submit. You can search an agency's website to download the form and send it back by mail, or you can usually send in your paperwork and complaints online. Your complaint should explain in detail, with supporting documents, what the problem is, which companies are involved, whether either side took an action to solve the issue, and what relief you hope to receive in a resolution.

It's important to only send photocopies of important documents and not to provide investigators with original copies when you submit the initial complaints. Hold onto original documentation, in case you need to take legal action through a lawsuit.

How to Bring a Consumer Complaint to Small Claims Court

After filing a consumer complaint, you may also want to use the legal system to address a business's wrongful actions.

Generally, an individual doesn't need to contact or use an attorney just to file a consumer complaint. But, if you need to take your fight to small claims court, you may want to get help from someone with more knowledge and experience in the field of consumer protection law.

An experienced lawyer may help you get more favorable outcomes in a court case or negotiation, file a complaint correctly, and contact the right protection groups to make sure you have the support you need to get the resolution that you deserve.