What’s a Consumer To Do?: It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, so consumers beware. Librarians are often front and center (today may be shaping up to be a Run With the Clichés Day, so bear with me) when ordinary people (and this sometimes includes attorneys I might say), visit their local public or law library to ask, “How Do I Get Out of This Mess?” or “The #%^& Ripped Me Off!.”
It’s not easy and there are more consumer law resources than I could possibly begin to list here, but a little advice first and then sources of information:
First, think logically. If the problem is with your cable company, start with the cable company and work forward (or backward as the case may be). Look on the web or ask at your local library to find out which government office, if any, regulates the business, the service, the product. If the problem is with a defective item you ordered through the mail, at a local restaurant, with your car, or with anything else (including services) you purchased, sit down and gather facts and develop a strategy for fixing the problem. Plan to do a little research first. It will save you time and aggravation.
Second, be creative: If you have access to the web, use it. Look for local consumer law web pages, and then look for state and federal ones. Educate yourself about your problem. You are not the first and you sure won’t be the last to have a [fill-in-the-blank] product, service, credit-card charge, etc. Look for advice on dealing with cable companies, identity theft, payday lenders, etc.
Third, Don’t Expect Someone Else to Solve Your Problem: But do expect information, guidance, advice, and sometimes useful intervention. It’s a big country, with a lot of people who complain a lot, sometimes rightfully, sometimes not. Be smart, be prepared, be assertive, be persistent, but be courteous. Good manners will never hurt your cause.
Fourth, Consumer Lawyers: Yes, there are such people, and excellent ones they can be. Sometimes you will need one – not every problem is a self-help one. Read about consumer lawyers here, and here, and here.
Last, but not least, don’t forget your daily newspapers and websites. Many publish lots of information for consumers on product recalls, food warnings, and stories on hot consumer topics, such a payday lenders (also here) or West Nile prevention tips.