Bamboozled: A helping hand for the scammed and suckered

Bamboozled is always glad to read your emails, but we can’t always help everyone who asks. When we can’t work on a reader’s case, we always try to offer resources to help you solve your consumer problems.

??????????????????That’s where today’s column comes in.

One reader wrote some time back, suggesting we publish a list of all the consumer help numbers and web sites we share in individual columns. That way, readers could have a one-stop resource for when they have a consume problem, he suggested.

We thought that was a great idea, so here goes — and don’t forget to bookmark this link, just in case you need it.

CONSUMER HELP:

Consumer Affairs: This agency takes online consumer complaints against businesses, or you can call (973) 504-6200. You can find your county’s consumer affairs agency here. Click here for information on various licensing boards and committees through the division, and you can make specific complaints directly to the correct board. If you have a complaint with an out-of-state business, you can find nationwide consumer protection divisions here.
Postal Inspection Service: File online reports of scam letters and other mail issues, or call (877) 876-2455.

Federal Trade Commission: You can file complaints about identity theft, scams, telemarketing and more with the FTC online, or call (202) 326-2222 You can also forward scam emails to spam@uce.gov.

National Do Not Call Registry: To complain about unwanted phone calls and to get your number on the Do Not Call list, go online or call (888) 382-1222.

Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): This partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center takes internet-related criminal complaints. IC3 doesn’t have a consumer phone number, so if you can’t file an online complaint, call the FBI in Newark at (973) 792-3000.

N.J. Board of Public Utilities: BPU handles complaints on utilities, third party energy companies, cable c
ompanies and slamming. File online or call 1-800-624-0241

TROUBLE WITH TAXES:
Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration: You can report IRS impersonation scams and other tax-related fraud online, or call (800) 366-4484

IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS): Contact TAS if you have a problem with the IRS that you cannot solve on your own, and the regular reps can’t seem to help. Or, call (877) 777-4778

pipNew Jersey Office of the Taxpayer Advocate: Same as the feds, but this is where you can get help for your state tax problems. Go online or call (973) 921-4043
FINANCIAL SERVICES

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: This relatively new agency takes complaints about financial products and services. Go online or call (855) 411-CFPB.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC): The FDIC takes online complaints about financial products, services and institutions, or call 1-877-ASK-FDIC

Financial Industry Regulatory Association (FINRA): Use FINRA’s BrokerCheck tool to check out individual brokers or firms, or to file complaints. Or call (301) 590-6500.

Banking Regulators: Different banks are regulated by different entities. The Federal Reserve takes complaints about the banks it regulates online or by phone at (888) 851-1920, while the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency handles others online or by phone at 1-800-613-6743. Also, you can check out this tool that helps you figure which agency is the one you need to contact.

N.J. Bureau of Securities: This agency takes online complaints about brokerage firms and investment advisors, or you can call (866) 446-8378 If you’re doing business with an out-of-state advisor, you can find a listing of other state’s bureaus here.

N.J. Department of Banking and Insurance: You can file complaints about banking, real estate and insurance entities. You can also call (800) 446-746

CREDIT:

Everyone can get a free copy of their credit report once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you see an item that’s incorrect, you can notify the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Unless they can prove the item is correct, they’ll have to remove it.

If you’re ever concerned that someone has stolen your identity or something has compromised your credit, you can ask the bureaus to put a fraud alert on your credit files, or ask for a credit freeze.

You can reach Equifax online or at (800) 535-6285, Experian online or at (888) 397-3742 and TransUnion online or at (800) 680-7289.

A FEW OTHERS:

Court: If you think you need to head to small claims court, the New Jersey Courts site will tell you what you need to know. You can also get contact information for each county on the site

County offices: To find county offices — just about any county office, check out this link.

SOME FINAL TIPS

One of the best things you can do to fight a business is to keep a running list of all your contact with the entity. Have a notepad near your phone, and record the number you called, the names of people you talked to, and the dates, times and content of your conversations. Along the same lines, save every email and paper letter you send or receive on the issue. Same goes for text messages.

It’s a great timeline to have in case you need to escalate your issue, or if you ever have to file a complaint with a government agency

Before you raise your hackles with complaints to outside agencies. start at the source.

First contact the customer service department of the company you’re dealing with. If you don’t get relief, work up the food chain and ask for a manager.

If things aren’t looking good, consider posting a complaint on the company’s Facebook page, or Tweet the firm. It’s common for companies to have consumer reps staking out their social media accounts for consumer problems, and that might just push you up in line.

If that doesn’t work, and only after you’ve exhausted all other options, consider the EECB. The Executive Email Carpet Bomb.

This is relatively simple. Go to the company’s web site and look for the “corporate information” or similar section of the site, and figure out the names of the Chief Executive Officer and other company execs.

It’s unlikely their email addresses will be there for you, so do a little sleuthing to see how the firm’s email addresses are structured. If you find the “newsroom” or “public relations” section of the site, you’ll probably find an email address for someone at the company. Don’t bother with the press person, because they won’t usually respond to consumers. But do take down the structure of the email address.

If the press rep’s email is John.Smith@BadCompany.com, the email for CEO James Jones is probably James.Jones@BadCompany.com. If your email bounces back, try other combinations as JamesJones@BadCompany.com, JonesJ@BadCompany.com, James_Jones@BadCcompany.com. If you have a pers
n’s middle initial, try email combinations that use the initial, too.

You can read more about writing complaints that get results, and how to start an EECB, with a story I did for Inside Jersey a few years back.

So, dear readers, hang on to a copy of this list in case you ever need it. Have we missed any? Post your suggestions and helpful sites in the comments section below.

And if all else fails, you know where to find me.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.