How To Right A Wrong
(with Sample Complaint Letter)
Most companies want to make you
happy so youll come back and recommend them to your
friends. But when you find a company thats not
making the grade, how do you resolve the problem?
This article explains your rights when it comes to
mail and telephone order shopping, unordered merchandise,
and door-to-door sales. It also tells you how to write an
effective complaint letter and lists some resources for
Mail and Telephone Order Sales
Shopping by phone or mail can be a convenient
alternative to shopping at a store. But if your
merchandise arrives late or not at all, you have some
By law, a company should ship your order within the
time stated in its ads. If no time is promised, the
company should ship your order within 30 days after
If the company is unable to ship within the promised
time, they must give you an "option notice."
This notice gives you the choice of agreeing to the delay
or canceling your order and receiving a prompt refund.
There is one exception to the 30-day rule. If a
company doesnt promise a shipping time, and
youre applying for credit to pay for your purchase,
the company has 50 days to ship after receiving your
Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA)
If you find an error on your credit or
charge card statement, you can dispute the charge and
withhold payment on the challenged amount while the
charge is in dispute. The error might be a charge for the
wrong amount, for something you did not accept, or for an
item that was not delivered as agreed. Of course, you
still must pay any part of the bill that isn't in
dispute, including the finance charges on the undisputed
If you decide to dispute a charge:
write to the creditor at the address indicated on
the monthly statement for "billing
inquiries." Include your name, address,
credit card number, and a description of the
send your letter in a timely fashion. It must
reach the creditor within 60 days after the first
bill containing the error was mailed to you.
the creditor must acknowledge your complaint in
writing within 30 days after receiving it, unless
the problem has been resolved. The creditor must
resolve the dispute within two billing cycles
(but not more than 90 days) after receiving the
Unsatisfactory Goods or Services
You also may dispute charges for
unsatisfactory goods or services. To take advantage of
this protection, you must:
have made the purchase in your home state or
within 100 miles of your current billing address.
The charge must be for more than $50;
make a good faith effort first to resolve the
dispute with the seller. However, you are not
required to use any special procedure to do so.
Note that the dollar and distance limitations
dont apply if the seller is the card issuer or if a
special business relationship exists between the seller
and the card issuer.
If you receive merchandise you didnt order,
federal law says you can consider it a gift. You
cant be forced to pay for the item or return it.
If you decide to keep the merchandise, you may want to
send the seller a letter stating your intention, even
though youre not legally obligated to do so. Your
letter may discourage the seller from sending you
repeated bills, or it may clear up an error. It's a good
idea to send the letter by certified mail and keep the
return receipt and a copy of the letter. These records
will help you establish later, if necessary, that you
didnt order the merchandise.
Two types of merchandise may be sent legally without
your consent: free samples that are clearly marked as
such; and merchandise mailed by charities asking for
contributions. In either case, you may keep the
Shopping at home can be convenient and enjoyable.
But there may be times when you change your mind about an
The FTCs Cooling-Off Rule gives you three days
to cancel purchases of $25 or more made at your home,
workplace or dormitory, or at facilities rented by the
seller on a temporary short-term basis, such as hotel or
motel rooms, convention centers, fairgrounds and
Some types of sales cant be canceled even if
they occur in locations normally covered by the Rule. The
Rule does not cover sales that:
are under $25;
are for goods or services not primarily intended
for personal, family or household use. The Rule
applies to courses of instruction or training;
are made entirely by mail or telephone;
are the result of prior negotiations at the
sellers permanent location where the goods
are sold regularly;
are needed to meet an emergency. Suppose insects
suddenly invade your home, and you waive your
right to cancel the contract;
are made as part of your request for the seller
to do repairs or maintenance on your personal
property (purchases made beyond the maintenance
or repair request are covered).
Also exempt from the Rule are sales that involve:
real estate, insurance or securities;
automobiles, vans, trucks or other motor vehicles
sold at temporary locations, provided the seller
has at least one permanent place of business;
arts and crafts sold at fairs or locations such
as shopping malls, civic centers and schools.
Under the Rule, the salesperson must tell you about
your cancellation rights at the time of sale. The
salesperson also must give you two copies of a
cancellation form (one to keep and one to send back) and
a copy of your contract or receipt. The contract or
receipt should be dated, show the name and address of the
seller, and explain your right to cancel. The contract or
receipt must be in the same language thats used in
the sales presentation.
How to Cancel a Door-to-Door Sale
To cancel a sale, sign and date one copy of the
cancellation form. You dont have to give a reason
for canceling the purchase. Mail it to the address given
for cancellations, making sure the envelope is
post-marked before midnight of the third business day
after the contract date. (Saturday is considered a
business day; Sundays and federal holidays are not.)
Because proof of the mailing date and receipt are
important, consider sending the cancellation form by
certified mail so you can get a return receipt. Keep the
other copy of the cancellation form for your records. If
the seller did not provide cancellation forms, write your
own cancellation letter.
If You Cancel
If you cancel your purchase, the seller has 10 days
Within 20 days, the seller either must pick up the
items left with you, or reimburse you for mailing
expenses, if you agreed to send back the items. If you
received any goods from the seller, you must make them
available to the seller in as good condition as when you
received them. If you dont make the items available
or if you agree to return the items but dont
you remain obligated under the contract.
Try to resolve your dispute with the seller first.
Make sure you act quickly. Some companies may not accept
responsibility if you fail to complain within a certain
period of time.
Send a letter of complaint. A letter is important
because it puts your complaint on record and lets the
company know you are serious about pursuing the dispute. An effective complaint letter may look something like the sample. Be sure you keep a copy for your records.
If you cant get satisfaction, consider
contacting the following organizations for further
information and assistance.
State and local consumer protection offices.
Your local Better
Business Bureau (BBB).
Action line and consumer reporters. Check with
your local newspaper, TV, and radio stations for
Postal Inspectors. Call your local U.S. Post Office and ask for the Inspector-in-Charge.
The Federal Trade Commission. Write:
Consumer Response Center
Washington, D.C. 20580
Although the FTC does not intervene in individual
disputes, the information you provide may provide
a pattern of possible law violations requiring
action by the FTC.
1111 19th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
Dispute Resolution Programs
You also may want to consider dispute resolution
programs. A popular way to settle disagreements, a
dispute resolution program can be quicker, less
expensive, more private and less stressful than going to
court. Many businesses, private organizations and public
agencies offer these programs. Two resolution techniques
are mediation and arbitration.
Through mediation, you and the other party try to
resolve the dispute with the help of a neutral third
party a mediator. In the course of informal
meetings, the mediator tries to help resolve your
differences. The mediator doesnt make a decision;
its up to you and the other party to reach an
agreement. The mediator is there to help you find a
In arbitration, you present your case before an
arbitrator, who makes a decision. Arbitration is less
formal than court, though you and the other party may
appear at hearings, present evidence or call and question
each others witnesses. The decision may be binding
and legally enforceable in court.
Contact the following organizations for dispute
resolution options in your area: local and state consumer
protection offices, small claims courts, BBBs and bar
For More Information
If youre not sure what federal agency has
jurisdiction over your inquiry or complaint, contact the
Federal Information Center (FIC), listed in the U.S.
government section of phone books in major U.S. cities.
For a complete list of FIC numbers, send a postcard to:
Federal Information Center
Pueblo, Colorado 81009
To learn more about your consumer rights and
responsibilities, contact the FTC by writing to: Consumer
Washington, D.C. 20580
(YourCity, State, Zip Code)
(Name of Contact Person)
(City, State, Zip Code)
Dear (Contact Person):
On (date), I
purchased (or had repaired) a (name of the
product with the serial or model number or
service performed). I made this purchase at
(location, date, and other important details of
product (or service) has not performed well (or
the service was inadequate) because (state the
resolve the problem, I would appreciate your
(state the specific action you want). Enclosed
are copies (copies, NOT originals) of my records
(receipts, guarantees, warranties, cancelled
checks, contracts, model and serial numbers, and
any other documents).
I look forward to
your reply and a resolution to my problem, and
will wait (set a time limit) before seeking
third-party assistance. Please contact me at the
above address or by phone (home or office numbers
with area codes).
(Your account number)