Monday, January 02, 2006

How to Resolve Complaints & Get your Money

This is a guide I made a while back for people who were getting ripped off by free site companies who claimed to give out prizes for doing offers. Most of these sites were run by underaged kids who had no clue what they were doing. Although it worked for awhile, the roof finally caved in when one of their major advertisers, SearchCactus, revoked everyone's credit for fraudulent clicks. Many of the people who were doing these sites were teenagers as well and didn't have credit cards or anyway to make online purchases. So, they would end up doing free offers or putting a lot of fake information in. Eventually, these companies caught on and everything went down hill from there.

Now, there are only a couple companies that legitimately work like this. Anyway, here is the guide. It can apply to many situations, but not all.

  1. You want to go up the chain of command and just ask the first person and other employees in company if possible. Ask them 3-4 times, bug them until you at least get a reply or a response. If you get what you're looking for, consider yourself lucky. Email them, call them, write them certified letters - do whatever it takes to try and get a response. Be sure and always save records of what you sent them and what you've received. Print it out and save it somewhere.
  2. Search around forums, newsgroups, and communities dealing with whatever type of company (or person) you're having trouble with and see what other people are saying. Are other people having similarly bad experiences, or are you one of the few? Get a general idea if its turning into a problem, or it could be just you --in which case you would want to give the person more patience. A lot of times there will start to be a lot of excuses adding up on top of each other for delays that start to get very suspicious. Keep open communication with people who are also dealing with the company or individual and see if everyone is getting the same canned responses. Be smart when dealing with this - if a person runs an organization on their own, they might occasionally have backups or problems. Most well run companies will have other employees to take care of problems and delays should be short.
  3. Go into the site in question and take screen shots of every page, copy and paste everything into a Word document or download the site incase it mysteriously disappears out of the blue. ImageShack QuickShot is a tool you can use to take screenshots and upload it to their website easily. Save all conversations, emails, and anything else relevant to whatever you're dealing with. Documentation is important for later verification or if you have to go to court or detail your experience for any other reason. Again, print everything out - even if you have to go to Kinkos and do it. Look up the person's domain registration info through a WHOIS service such as NetSol. Just type in the domain name (ie: freejunk.org) and it should come up with the persons personal info. If it's registered through a proxy, that might be a problem. But, there are still other potential ways on identifying this person. How to find someone is a whole article in itself, but needless to say, there are many ways to do this. Start with the phone books and usual searches and see what you can come up with.
  4. Call the person out on the boards, newsgroups, and/or create a blog about your experience. There are many sites detailing scams for certain industries, such as scam.com Let them know that you haven't been fulfilled in your obligations to get your prizes, merchandise, services or whatever. This has a two fold effect. It's sort of like a cyberdemonstration. You're making the owner mad and you're showing people who might of wanted to potentially sign up to his site that it might be a scam. Demonstrations outside of local buildings usually charge the company they're demonstrating against up to $200 an hour missed work, along with a detailed invoice of all the sheets and stuff they've printed up, along with the hours it took doing it. (According to the Rip Off Revenge) Mention to them again, that you would just like to resolve this matter (be courteous the whole time, even when they're not). Save the chatlogs if the individual threatens you or says weird stuff to you, just don't cross over to their level. This is the best place to negotiate to get your stuff, but you have to make them realize that. Any deviation from this level will result on you (the consumer) charging interest rates and so forth, filing reports with the BBB, FTC, FBI Cyberfraud department, your state attorney general, and possibly state and local governments. Let this person know you are totally serious and they could save a lot of hassle and problems if they would just fulfill their end of the bargain.
  5. Still nothing? Well, it's time to get dirty. File a report through the BBB through this link: http://complaints.bbb.org/welcome2.asp
    Write a Rip Off Report on the company and mail it to them, any other companies that run similar sites. Post it on chatboards, and send it to the admins and moderators. Post it anywhere they post and other sites dealing with cheating like GPT Boy-Cott. You can also report them to the FTC from their form here. The FBI Cybercrime, US Justice Dept. and USPS Postal Inspectors also maintain sites about fraudulent activity and how to report it, but that is really just a last ditch effort and don't expect much out of it unless you've lost a lot of money or it's really a major problem. Don't file reports with them out of anger.
  6. So, this person just wants to play games, so now it's time to play back. You should wait a week or so after complaining to the BBB and you'll either get a contact back showing they got it and replied, or you'll get nothing, indicatating that they most likely have not replied (it takes longer for the BBB to fully say they never replied). But, since the BBB doesn't have any power or authority, it's not much of a big deal anyway.

    Now that you have all your tracked information about the person, saved up logs, pictures, graphics, screen shots, email, html, text, etc about you and the persons transactions and communications - contact a collection agency.

    I contacted Linda Wheeler at Fidelity Collection Management. There website is http:///www.fidelitycm.com/

    Here is there info:

    Fidelity Credit Management
    7290 Navajo Road Suite 206
    San Diego, CA 92119
    Tel. 866-460-2899 Fax 619-464-7283

    Linda's # is 866.460.2899. Otherwise, you can fill out the form on their website to open a new client. They charge nothing up front, and take 30-60% of the fees collected. If they don't collect, they are authorized to report the incident to all 3 major credit bureau which can last from anywhere to 7-10 years, unless they file for bankruptcy.

    Keep in mind that you can charge up to 10% interest per month from the date that it went approving, so be sure and mention that when you file a claim and count up how many months that would be.

    Here's my claim sheet showing how much Fidelity has helped me get back from these companies that owe me money.

  7. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us


  8. Take them to court. I really don't have much to say on this because I've never done it, but it will usually involve looking up information about how to file a claim in that particular state's small claims court, filing the paper work and etc. This varies by state to state and you can get information on small claims court from Legal Zoom. You can also check at your local library for info on local laws if the case is in your area. You can file quite a bit against a company depending upon the different laws in that state for whatever reason you were wronged. Here is an example of information on small claims court from the state of California. There are also books on the subject, such as Everybodies Guide to Small Claims Court and Winning in Small Claims Courts. You can probably also find some info in the Wikipedia.
The Law

The law is on the side of the consumer most of the time, it can just be a hassle to go after what's owed to you.

The FTC "MAIL OR TELEPHONE ORDER MERCHANDISE RULE"

What Does the Rule Cover?
It applies to most goods a customer orders from the seller by mail, telephone, fax, or on the Internet.

It does not matter how the merchandise is advertised, how the customer pays, or who initiates the contact.

What is the Mail or Telephone Order Rule?
The Rule requires that when you advertise merchandise, you must have a reasonable basis for stating or implying that you can ship within a certain time. If you make no shipment statement, you must have a reasonable basis for believing that you can ship within 30 days. That is why direct marketers sometimes call this the "30-day Rule."

If, after taking the customer'�s order, you learn that you cannot ship within the time you stated or within 30 days, you must seek the customer's consent to the delayed shipment. If you cannot obtain the customer'�s consent to the delay -- either because it is not a situation in which you are permitted to treat the customer's silence as consent and the customer has not expressly consented to the delay, or because the customer has expressly refused to consent -- you must, without being asked, promptly refund all the money the customer paid you for the unshipped merchandise.

FirstGov - How to file a consumer complaint (link shortened)
FirstGov - Consumer Protection/Scams & Fraud (link shortened)

Be sure and get a free copy of The Consumer Action Handbook published by the GSA. It has many helpful tips, advice and contact information for the various organizations you might need to get ahold of to resolve your issue.

More Information


Services


Books

There are suprisingly actually not that many books on what to do if you've been ripped off, or a lot of information that will actually help you directly to get your money back. Most involves just how to file a report with some agency which will probably get filed away and you come away with an important lesson learned, and your money lost.

Where To Report

The most important thing to do is keep at it and don't give up. There is a lot of red tape and time and effort to go through to get whats owed to you, but if you keep at it, eventually you should get some justice. If you have any other suggestions for this page, please feel free to comment.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually, ConsumerHelpWeb.com promises not to get a refund, but to contact the company in question and get a response. Big difference. But there is a money back guarantee.

Anonymous said...

Pogue,
Do you suggest the same procedure when the company fails to respond to phone calls and emails ?

e-Bullion has my (large) account frozen and does not answer my emails (to assistance/service/webmaster and Goldfinger). Phoning them just puts one in some kind of queue.

The company is incorporated in Panama and has no assets in Ca. so is there any point in registering a complaint with BBB.
The regulators in Ca. don't seem to have their name on file.
They are a NON member of the GDCA and in any case I can't pay the GDCA complaint fee from a frozen account.

pogue said...

That is basically all you can do. Contact the authorities in California where they are registered as a money transfer service and notify them of the situation. Also contact your bank and try to see if it's possible to do a chargeback or something to return your funds. A yahoo group built for SP might help you in this situation sense many of the people there had similar circumstances:
StormpayIllegality

There is also some info on a thread on TG where I posted some info on them:
http://www.talkgold.com/forum/r93892-.html

Good luck.

Free PS3/Wii said...

Great post! I bookmarked it for future reference if I ever happen to fall under this situation.

chandra bose said...

I am soaking with some best stuff! Thanks for sharing this with me!
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