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 about a purchase.

Infographic: How to File a Consumer Complaint

Filing a consumer complaint may seem complicated, but it doesn't have to be. Use this graphic to learn the steps to take.

How to file a consumer complaint infographic

Steps to File a Complaint Against a Company

If you have problems with an item or service you purchased, you have the right to complain. If working with the company doesn’t get results, you can contact a government or nonprofit consumer organization to look into your case. Use these steps to get started.

1. Collect Supporting Documents

  • To file a complaint against a company, first gather your records: sales receipts, warranties, contracts, or work orders from the purchase.

  • Then, print out email messages or logs of any contact you've had with the seller about the purchase.

2. Contact the Seller, Preferably in Writing

There are several things you can do to try to resolve an issue before seeking legal help:

  • Contact a salesperson or customer service representative. You can find a company’s customer service contact information on their website. Look for "contact us," "customer service," "about us," "terms and conditions," or "privacy statement."

  • If you can’t solve your issue through them, you can go higher up to a supervisor, manager, or the company’s corporate headquarters.

  • Use this sample complaint letter as an example. You can also use USA.gov's complaint letter wizard to write and download a complaint letter.

3. Contact Third Parties If the Seller Doesn't Fix Your Problem

If you still can’t solve your issue by contacting the seller, government and nonprofit consumer organizations may be able to help you:

  • File a complaint with your local consumer protection office 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.

  • Some federal agencies accept complaints about companies. 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.

4. Seek Legal Help

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? 

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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Last Updated: May 30, 2019

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