The federal, state and city governments have each established agencies to handle consumer complaints. If you are having a problem with a business or product, or you believe you have been cheated, defrauded or harassed by a business, you can file a complaint.
Before You File a Complaint
- Try explaining your problem to the store salesperson that served you, or to the manager or owner of the business.
- Decide what action the business should be taking to resolve your complaint. You should know what you are asking the business to do before you approach them, otherwise your attempt to seek redress will be frustrating for both you and the business’s representative.
- If the business’s representative agrees to resolve the complaint, put the terms of the resolution in writing and send it back to the business via "Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested." This gives you a legal record that the business received a copy of the terms.
- If the business’s representative DOES NOT agree to resolve the complaint, immediately put the details of your complaint in writing and send it to the president or owner of the business via "Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested." The letter should include the date of the transaction, the problem, and how you would like the problem resolved. Keep copies for your own records.
- Find out if the business in question is a member of a BUSINESS OR INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION that governs proper business practices. In many cases, these associations may intervene on your behalf to resolve your complaint.
If you do not receive satisfaction on your own, you can seek the assistance of a governmental agency by filing a consumer complaint.
The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Protection section can provide some assistance. While the FTC does not resolve individual consumer disputes, your complaint, comment, or inquiry may help them spot a pattern of law violations requiring law enforcement action. It can also help them recognize and tell people about larger trends affecting consumers.
In the Consumer Protection section of their website, you can find a variety of publications on subjects such as credit, health and fitness, buying and working at home, investments, telemarketing, and other products and services. You'll also find business information such as guides to complying with the Mail Order Rule, Telemarketing Sales Rule, Used Car Rule, and other rules and regulations enforced by the FTC.
There are three ways you can contact the FTC: by telephone, toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357); or by regular mail, at:
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, D.C. 20580
If you have a complaint about a particular company or organization, use the FTC’s secure complaint form.
The State's top consumer watchdog is the Consumer Protection Board (CPB). The CPB conducts consumer investigations, research and analysis, develops consumer education programs and materials, responds to individual complaints by working to settle disputes through voluntary agreements and it represents the interests of consumers before the Public Service Commission (PSC) and other State and Federal agencies.
The Consumer Protection Board’s Consumer Assistance Unit (CAU) answers consumer questions and provides mediation between a business and the consumer when a business has engaged in false, misleading or deceptive practices.
The CPB recommends that you should contact the business directly and attempt to remedy the situation immediately, prior to filling out a formal complaint with the CPB. Most reputable businesses will try to find a solution to a bona fide problem. When writing to the company, put your complaint to the company in a neat and organized manner. You can also contact the company by phone and ask to speak to a person who has the authority to resolve your issue. Always be polite and non-threatening. Explain the problem with the product and be specific as to what you want the company to do in order to resolve your complaint. Be certain to write down the date, time and name of the person to whom you spoke at the company so that you can refer to this information in the future, if necessary.
You can submit a complaint to the CPB by mail to:
New York State Consumer Protection Board
5 Empire State Plaza, Suite 2101
Albany, New York 12223-1556
or electronically by filling out the complaint form available on theCPB website. Choose "File a Consumer Complaint." This section will also provide you with a brief description of their consumer complaint process.
The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) provides inspectors who make sure that the laws protecting consumers are upheld. The division enforces the weights and measures, consumer protection and business licensing laws. If you have been cheated by deceptive trade practices related to the sale, lease, rental, or loan of consumer goods or services, or have suffered harassment related to the collection of consumer debts, you can contact DCA.
If you believe you have been a victim of a consumer fraud in New York City, you have a number of options.
- File a complaint online. Expect up to thirty days processing time.
- Call the DCA Complaint/License Hotline at 311, where an operator will tell you if the matter falls within the jurisdiction of DCA. If it does, you will be sent a Complaint Form that you can fill out and mail back, along with documentation relating to the matter.
- Write to Department of Consumer Affairs, Complaints, 42 Broadway, 9th floor, New York NY 10004.
Make sure you read the complaint form carefully. You may have to gather more information before you complete and file it. By filing a complaint, consumers often secure restitution through the mediation process, especially if the vendor in question falls within one of the business categories licensed by DCA. Departmental Hearings could also be set up if the vendor is a DCA licensee. At this hearing, a judge will hear your case as well as the vendor's, and determine if the vendor is in violation of the law.
For more information, go to DCA’s website.