Your best route to dispute resolution

When things go wrong with a new piece of equipment, you have several options to protect yourself from poor dispute resolution

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Also in the same comments section, Gripe Line reader MorrisNTex says, "The individual states have consumer protection laws that guard against this type of stuff. Several years ago I worked on behalf of a client to get replacement monitors for three out of ten that did not work right out of the box. The manufacturer/vendor tried replacing them with refurbished units of a different model."

MorrisNTex's client asked an attorney if that was acceptable. It wasn't, so the attorney called and told the merchant he would file a claim with the attorney general unless the monitors were replaced with new equipment.

"The vendor made an about-face in attitude," says MorrisNTex, "and sent new replacements and pickup tags for the defective units."

It's true that the attorney general's office in your state is a great resource, but the success that MorrisNTex had here is likely due to the intervention of a lawyer. Hiring a lawyer sends a strong message that you are serious, but it may not be cost-effective if your dispute is over a $100 hard drive.

The California attorney general's office offers a very informative page on resolving disputes with companies. Among the suggestions are going to small claims court and hiring a lawyer. There is also a page that offers links to help you find the right government department for various types of complaints. (I'm providing links to California as an example. Your state's attorney general Web site should display the information you need.)

You can certainly file a complaint with your state's attorney general, and if you perceive a trend toward suspect business practices rather than a single-incident misunderstanding, I strongly encourage it. If your state's attorney general sees a rash of complaints against a particular company or group of companies, it will often file a suit against that company on behalf of consumers in the state; for example, the New York attorney general filed against online retailers that deceptively link unsuspecting consumers to fee-based membership programs back in January. But the AG was unlikely to intervene -- at least not quickly -- for Joel in the case of one failed hard drive, especially while the company was working with him.

If you bought your goods by phone or Internet, the Federal Trade Commission watches over such matters. The FTC's Mail or Telephone Order Rule covers merchandise ordered by mail, telephone, computer, and fax machine.

Seeking assistance from the attorney general, FTC, or even the postal inspector is not a trick to save time when trying to resolve a dispute with a merchant, though. All of those agencies suggest you make an effort to resolve the problem yourself first before seeking legal recourse or disputing the charge with your credit card.

And that, of course, is why the very clever Joel wrote to the Gripe Line while also pestering customer support people.

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This story, "Your best route to dispute resolution," was originally published at Read more of Christina Tynan-Wood's Gripe Line blog at

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