Bamboozled July 6, 2017: 4 things every consumer should know

When we analyze consumer complaint cases, sometimes the consumer is right, sometimes the consumer is wrong and sometimes, there’s enough blame to go around.

Before you get yourself into a situation where you may need Bamboozled’s help, brush up on your rights and responsibilities.

Here are four things every consumer should know.

Do your homework

When we write about a consumer’s mess, it’s not uncommon for our more critical readers to object. They often blame the victim, saying the consumer should have known better or should have done more research.

We’ll never blame the victim, but yes, there are plenty of times when a consumer who was wronged didn’t take the right steps before doing business with a troublemaker.

You have a responsibility to take those steps — to do research — before you hire anyone.

There’s a lot you can learn before signing on the dotted line or handing over your cash.

Most companies have a paper trail. For example, you can check to see if a company is registered or licensed by the appropriate government agency or if it belongs to any trade organizations. Of course, being properly registered or joining an industry group doesn’t mean a company will do the right thing by consumers, but it increases the chance it’s on the level.

You need to take it further, though. Here’s a guide to show you how you can access public records — the same items Bamboozled checks when it researches companies.

Don’t forget the power of a simple Google search. Typing in the name of a company and the word “complaints” or “lawsuit” will bring you to message boards and other websites where consumers share their experiences.

Understand contracts

If you contract with a company for any kind of job, it’s your responsibility to know what you’re signing.

Read every word of the contract. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask someone to help you.

Really. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help.

You also need to know your rights. In New Jersey, thanks to the Consumer Fraud Act, there are certain items that must be on most contracts, such as the start and end dates for a job.

Some companies don’t care about the rules while others aren’t as knowledgeable as they should be. That’s why you can’t leave it to the company. But before you sign, make sure it’s right. If it’s not right, that’s a red flag.

Check out this consumer brief by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs to brush up on the law.

Keep meticulous records

When we contact for a service or buy a product, we don’t expect things to go bad. But sometimes they do.

The better your recordkeeping, the more ammunition you’ll have to be made whole.

If you purchase a product, save the receipt. Sounds simple, but you might not think of it when you get a $20 hair dryer or an inexpensive electronic for your kid.

Also save whatever packaging and paperwork that comes with the product. It may detail any guarantees or warranties, and it may provide serial numbers or other identifiers that may come in handy.

If you’re contracting for a service, grab a notebook and start a timeline list.

Even if things are going well, every time you have contact with a company, write down the date, the name of the person you spoke to and what the conversation entailed. If a dispute arises, your notes will help you remember all the details you’ll need.

Learn how to complain

If you’re unable to get satisfaction through a company’s customer service channels, there are plenty of other ways to get attention for your complaint.

First, put yourself in the shoes of the customer service rep. These folks are just doing their jobs, and if you start out nasty, you’re less likely to get the result you’re hoping for.

Getting more with sugar than vinegar? So true.

Keep your emotions in check. Stick to the facts. Be firm, but be nice — at least at the start.

If you can’t get satisfaction using a company’s 800-number, try contacting the company via social media, such as Facebook or Twitter. No company wants unhappy customers posting negative comments online, so they’re often quick to respond. Some companies even have social media pages dedicated to helping consumers.

Here are some tips on how to use social media to your advantage.

If you’re not a social media fan, you can go the traditional route, writing letters to top brass at the company. Consider an EECB, or “Executive E-mail Carpet Bomb.” An EECB is basically when you pull out all the stops to track down the correct contact information for higher-ups who can get your problem solved.

Check out these tips to writing an effective complaint letter.

If a company is unresponsive, it’s time see which government agency handles complaints like yours. There’s a watchdog agency out there for just about every consumer issue. Here’s some help in finding the right one for your problem.

Also consider contacting your legislators. Like companies, some are more responsive than others, but those who enjoy helping constituents can apply a little pressure to get your problem resolved.

If all else fails, you might need to file a lawsuit. Depending on the amount of your loss, you might choose to represent yourself or find an attorney who will fight on your behalf. The New Jersey Courts’ website will tell you everything you need to know.

Don’t forget you can always give Bamboozled a try. Even if we can’t take on your case, we might have some helpful suggestions.

We’re here to help.