Sept. 28, 2009 -- Even in the best of times, there are lots of potential consumer pitfalls and problems and, last I checked, these are not the best of times. So, three cheers for a government offering that actually helps. It is the annual "Consumer Action Handbook," a 170-page guide to most everything we spend money on. And you don't have to spend any more money to get it. It's free!
The most popular section of the handbook includes a sample complaint letter and guidance on which government agencies can help with different kinds of consumer problems. Yes, there are dozens of government agencies out there whose job it is to intercede on behalf of consumers! And guess what? Their services, too, are free. Contacting the private, nonprofit Better Business Bureau is not enough. And hiring a lawyer costs too much. You want to add these public servants to your arsenal and this book tells you where to find them.
The guide also tackles complex issues, like foreclosure rescue scams and simple ones, like online orders that arrive in the wrong size or color and how to cope.
Past guides have also included contact information for major manufacturers, like auto makers, appliance companies, and so on. In the age of phone trees and Internet "contact us" forms that never get answered, this list can be a goldmine. It gives you the name, address and number of the department that actually works with consumers. This is my favorite section.
The government PR person who reminded me that the annual guide is now available described it this way:
"Its main focus is to save people money in a confusing and elaborate marketplace littered with scams and frauds which are deceptive ... to even the most savvy buyers."
For your free copy of the annual Consumer Action Handbook, click here: http://www.consumeraction.gov.