Sunday, August 07, 2005

Help writing a complaint letter is just a click away

In this age of instant communication, letter writing sometimes seems a lost art, eclipsed not just by the telephone but by e-mail, instant messaging, even cell-phone texting.

That's sad for those who cherish the care and thoughtfulness of an old-fashioned letter – even one composed on a computer. But for a dissatisfied consumer, it can be costly, too. Sometimes a written complaint is the only way to get someone's attention. Sometimes it's necessary to preserve your legal rights. And it's a crucial step if you'll ever need to document the facts of your complaint.

Here's the good news. The Internet may have contributed to a common discomfort with letter writing, but it also can lead to a solution, through its wealth of sample complaint letters that can be cut, pasted and modified to the specifics of almost any situation.

Here are a few that I've found in a quick search – use them, or look for your own.

Have a problem with a product? The Federal Citizen Information Center in Pueblo, Colorado, is is a great resource for all sorts of information, much of it available on its Consumer Action Website. It offers a generic sample complaint letter – in printer-ready form, no less – that's adaptable for gripes about virtually any goods or services.

But the Web’s real advantage is its specificity.

Say you have a problem with a mortgage-loan service company, perhaps related to the transfer of your loan, problems with escrow, or the imposition of unreasonable fees. It may be covered by the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act; this FTC mortgage-rights brochure will help you figure that out. And it includes a sample letter you can use to try to enforce your rights.

What about a problem with a credit-card account? Bankrate.com offers this sample letter for disputing a charge.

Or say you’ve been dunned by a company for a payment you’ve already made. Scroll through this “How to Complain and Get Results” brochure from the Indiana Department of Financial Institutions, and you’ll find a Microsoft Word formatted complaint letter that fits the bill, so to speak.

How about a complaint about cell-phone service? Consumers Union has a sample letter to a wireless carrier that yours will hear loud and clear. It also has a page full of carriers’ addresses, plus instructions for filing complaints with state and federal regulators, if you can’t solve a problem on your own.

You can even find a sample letter of complaint about a fabric-care problem. No longer do you have to create one out of whole cloth.

Obviously, I'm just scratching the surface. With a search engine and a little imagination, you’ll easily find scores of sample letters. But before you start, a couple of caveats:

One is that you’ll also find a number of sites, some managed by law firms, that will offer to draft a letter on your behalf – for a fee. You might ultimately need legal advice in any dispute. But you can probably take the first step yourself, with a little help from the Internet.

The other is that, just like in elementary school, neatness counts, so take care that your cut-and-paste letter doesn't look like a sloppy clip job. And be sure to proofread carefully. Trust me: Your complaint will carry more weight if it doesn't include a return address like "1234 Main Street, Anywhereville, USA."

Above all, remember your goal: A good letter gets your gripe on the record and gives a company a clear chance to do the right thing. With any luck, that's all you'll need to do.

3 Comments:

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005  
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