Now more than ever it is important that consumers with grief know how to advocate for themselves.
Consumers are complaining more, haggling over smaller amounts of money and are increasingly crying foul over debt collectors, among others.
Trouble is there are now less folks and resources available to handle the uptick in consumer outrage because state and local consumer agencies are cutting budgets and eliminating services.
According to a 34-state consumer agency survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI), 62% of the agencies say they are receiving more complaints than they were last year.
So what are we complaining about? The top three areas include: Auto-related complaints (in terms of both sales and service), home improvement and construction issues, and credit and debt collection services (specifically those dealing with fee disputes, mortgage-related fraud and predatory lending).
How to Protect Yourself
So with more to worry about and less people to help what can consumers do?
According to the CFA, there are seven ways consumers can protect themselves and lessen the likelihood that they have to file a complaint in the first place.
1. Do Research
Before you deal with an unfamiliar company, check with a state or local consumer agency or the Better Business Bureau.
2. Hire Licensed Professionals
Especially for home contractors, inquire as to whether they must be registered or licensed and then confirm that they are.
3. Pay With a Credit Card
If goods and services are to be delivered at a future date, use a credit card so there is a paper trail if you don't get what you expected.
4. Don't Pay in Full Upfront
Especially for home improvements, if you are asked for a deposit, pay the minimal amount, never the full price upfront.
5. Get All Promises in Writing
Verbal contracts don't cut it. For all business promises: Get them in writing, read them, understand them.
6. Seek Help for Financial Problems from Legit Places
If you are having bill problems, start with a local nonprofit credit counseling service.
7. Watch Out for Red Flags
Pressure to act immediately, the promise of easy or free money for a fee, or any request to deposit a check and then wire some of the amount elsewhere, all should be viewed with high skepticism. When in doubt be sure to request more information.
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