Filing a Consumer Complaint

Find out what steps to take and who you should contact if you need to file a complaint against a company.

Steps to File a Complaint Against a Company

After you buy an item or service you may experience problems with your purchase. If this happens, you have the right to complain. Use these steps to get started:

  • Gather supporting documents, such as sales receipts, warranties, contracts, and work orders from the purchase. Also, print out e-mails, or logs of any contact you've had with the seller about the purchase.
  • Contact the seller, preferably in writing. You may be able to solve the problem by contacting a salesperson or customer service representative. If this doesn't work, contact a supervisor or manager. If this still fails, try going higher up to the national headquarters. Use this sample complaint letter as an example.
  • Contact third parties, if the seller fails to fix your problem. File a complaint with your local consumer protection offices or the state regulatory agency or licensing board that has jurisdiction over the seller. Notify the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in your area about your problem. The BBB tries to resolve your complaints against companies. Contact an appropriate federal agency. While these agencies may not resolve your problem, your complaint helps them investigate fraud. If the purchase was made online across international borders, you may also file a complaint with econsumer.gov.
  • Seek legal help. If none of these options work, you may seek to resolve your problem through the legal system or through an alternative dispute program, such as arbitration, conciliation, or mediation.

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Dispute Resolution Programs

Dispute resolution programs are ways to solve disagreements between buyers and sellers, without going to court. Some companies and industries offer programs to solve disputes. You can also contact your state's attorney general or consumer protection office, law school clinics, or the Better Business Bureau to find a dispute resolution program.

Mediation, arbitration, and conciliation are the three common types of dispute resolution. During mediation, both sides involved in the dispute meet with a neutral third party, a mediator, to create their own agreement jointly. In arbitration, the third party, an arbitrator, decides how to settle the problem. Conciliation is similar to arbitration; however, you and the other party meet with the conciliator separately (not a group meeting). Request a copy of the rules of any program before deciding to participate. You should ask questions like:

  • How much does the dispute resolution program cost you?
  • Are the decisions binding?
  • Are you still able to take legal action if you are not satisfied with the decision?
  • How is the mediator, arbitrator, conciliator, chosen for your case? 

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Mandatory Arbitration Clauses

Mandatory arbitration clauses are phrases written into contracts that state that if you have a dispute with a company, you must resolve it through arbitration. These clauses can prevent you from filing a lawsuit against a company. Arbitration clauses are fairly common in automotive, credit card, and cell phone contracts. But now, they are appearing in website terms and conditions statements, coupons, or corporate social media profiles. While arbitration can be less expensive, it is sometimes seen as unfair to make arbitration a requirement before a negative incident has happened or knowing how serious the problem is. Also, the decisions are binding, so you can’t appeal the decision, even if the company was severely negligent.

Before you sign a contract or even use a website, read the contract or terms of service for mentions of “arbitration”, “binding arbitration” or “resolution programs”; this language is often in the fine print of the contract and can be easily missed. Also, note that some companies may let you opt-out of these clauses, if you do so within 30 days.

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