You pay a contractor to fix a drainage problem in your yard, only to discover with the next rain that you have a swimming pool in your basement. You keep getting phone calls from a collection agency about a debt you paid off three years ago. Your landlord isn’t doing anything about the tenants in the next apartment who just got a pit bull in spite of the “no pets” clause in the lease.
To resolve problems like this, you can take advantage of a resource you may not know you have. It’s readily available. You already help pay for it with your tax dollars. It can help you find out what your rights are, educate yourself about scams, and resolve complaints with companies that don’t listen or seem to care.
That resource is your state’s consumer protection agency, which may be affiliated with the state attorney general’s office or department of justice. In South Dakota, for example, the Division of Consumer Protection is a department within the office of the state attorney general.
As I discovered for myself recently, filing a consumer complaint can be an effective way to get a company’s attention.
I had transferred a property to a land trust. Because of the change, the mortgagee rejected my next two payments, sending the mortgage to default. I began receiving harassing phone calls from the company’s collections department, up to two a day. Meanwhile, I was talking with the mortgagee’s legal department. After two months of passing documents back and forth, the legal department agreed that if I put the property into a living trust all would be well.
However, neither of these departments communicated with each other. Not only that, the collections department maintained that putting the property into a living trust was not permissible and I must pay off the mortgage. I couldn’t get anyone in the legal department to talk to the collections department, so the harassing phone calls continued.
Finally I filed a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection. The process was simple and straightforward. I completed a form online, attached electronic copies of my correspondence with the company, and submitted the complaint. I could also have printed the form and mailed it along with paper copies, or I could have called the office and requested that a form be sent to me.
Within a short time, an investigator from the Consumer Protection office had looked into the complaint, and a letter was sent from the Attorney General’s office to the mortgage company. The phone calls stopped almost immediately. A week after receiving the letter, the mortgage company had removed the payment stop and restored the account to its active status. They even apologized “for any frustration that Mr. Kahler experienced.”
In the course of browsing for the consumer complaint form, I realized that the Division of Consumer Protection is a useful resource for more than just resolving customer service problems. One of its functions is to warn the public about scams or dubious enterprises like questionable charities. It provides information about privacy rights and how to protect yourself against identity theft. The office also is a source for state residents to educate themselves about their rights and responsibilities as consumers, tenants, landlords, or borrowers.
When you run into problems with a business, the first course of action is always to work with the company directly. Most of the time, this will resolve the issue. If you are not heard, however, or you believe you have been defrauded, filing a consumer complaint may be the next step before you consider taking a company to court. Sometimes the government really is here to help you.