Consumers protect yourselves

Caveat Emptor–buyer beware.

While it isn’t really the law of the land, the public is generally ignorant of the fact that it has rights and there are more than a few judges who are also clueless as to consumer rights, so that too often people get ripped off and abused simply because they don’t know.

A little advice up-front

As a consumer the best bit of advice is to avoid getting into problems in the first place. Educate yourself, research the product or service you are thinking of buying, and check out who you are buying it from. Before you sign anything, read everything that you are going to sign. Does it contain in writing everything the seller promised you? KEEP COPIES OF EVERYTHING!

Once the problems start

If you have problems with something you bought or with a service being provided to you, keep records of everything that happens. It is ok to try and resolve things by phone, but ALWAYS send a follow up letter outlining your problem and what you understand they have agreed to do to fix it. Ask that they acknowledge your letter and make all responses to you in writing. Doing things in writing is important because some consumer laws only take full effect if you promptly make a written complaint. It also helps to make sure that everybody understands each other and you don’t get into disputes about who said what. Don’t send your complaint in a bill! It will likely never get seen. Look on your bill, generally on the back, there will be an address to send consumer complaints to. Or when you are talking with someone ask for the address or fax number to send the complaint to.

If they don’t fix the problem

If the dispute is for money and the amount is small, consider Conciliation Court. It is fast, relatively easy and inexpensive.

If the problem is more complex, contact an attorney. If it is a consumer issue, 99 times out of 100, the attorney can take it on a contingency, which means that it won’t cost you anything. To find a consumer attorney in your area check the National Association of Consumer Advocates. Even if they can’t help you, most consumer attorneys will try to steer you in the right direction.