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Weapons in our Consumer Arsenal (a list)

Ah, consumerism. The reduction of citizenry to wallet-wielding, simultaneously insulting and coddling…there’s a lot that could be said about it that other people could say better. But suffice to say that, like me, you may be dubious about our society’s place for “the common man” as primarily a consumer of goods and services. But while there’s nothing wrong with questioning the way things are, that’s still the way they are, though, right?

So anybody with aims towards Free Citizenship had better approach that freedom nowadays as, in large part, a consumer responsibility. That isn’t to say there aren’t very important non-consumer civic rights (and responsibilities), but let’s face it — corporations have as much impact on our world now as governments, and are arguably easier to influence and overthrow. They’re also arguably just as evil-intentioned, requiring active defense tactics if you want to protect yourself and your family from economic predators, legal and illegal alike.

So we need to defend our homesteads, and fight off invaders who would strip our rights and turn us into chattel, yet again. (History repeats what now?) Well, that means we need pitchforks of a sort, and torches and double-barrelled determination, just like the good old days. Here, Mighty Proletary, are ten tools I find recommendworthy in doing Consumer Battle. Go forth and conquer!

  1. The List of Company Contact Information at consumeraction.gov: This is a great resource for “corporate’s” address and telephone information, for companies from A&W to Zoom Technologies. The rest of the site has good information on scams, recalls, telemarketers and more.
  2. The database of phone numbers & prompts at gethuman.com. Not just customer service numbers; also includes what to press to “get a human” without farting around with those damn automated systems. The rest of the site is also worth a read.
  3. The Better Business Bureau online complaint-filing system. That’s right, file a formal complaint from your desk chair. Help other people know what they’re getting into.
  4. With big purchases, know what you’re getting into, too — J.D. Power’s list of company research on consumer satisfaction is a great place to start for cars, boats, travel, telecom and the like. Scroll to the bottom of the main page to see the list of categories.
  5. The FTC Consumer page, with lists of scams operating in different categories (very handy) as well as a button to file a complaint. When truly peeved at a company, nothing beats the BBB-FTC double-complaint-whammy. (Update: You can now submit FTC complaints online as well. Yay!)
  6. Well…almost nothing. The Consumerist is a big, beautifully snarky blog devoted to ferreting out and exposing awful customer service (and good customer service, on the rare occasion it surfaces). They make an interesting news-blog for reading, and you can submit tips to them at tips@consumerist.com. They have a large and vocal readership, so exposing an evil company on their site feels *wonderful*. Even better, if you send them audio or video recordings (and they claim not to mind huge, unedited files), they’ll often post them, guaranteeing humiliation galore for the company that tormented you. Recently, several stories broken on the Consumerist by angry consumers with recordings have made the TV news, so stay sharp!
  7. Also, don’t underestimate the Urban Legend Reference Pages at snopes.com; they’re not strictly company-oriented, but it’s a great place to check for scams in general. Especially if you’re going to perpetuate some story (through email, blog, or what have you), do the world a favor and check it here first.
  8. For more financial-scam oriented fact-checking, check the FTC and search through blogs like Truston’s Identity Theft Blog.
  9. For sniffing out scams, ScamBusters is an ugly-ass site but has tons of information; ScamShield is a nicely civic-minded nonprofit hunting them down and collecting volunteers to combat scams; and I really like Purportal.com, because it lets you search several different scam, virus and hoax pages all from one place.
  10. And last but not least, if you know a lawyer, or live near a law school, these are good places to ask about the up-and-upness of offers and/or what your recourse is if you’ve been had. Of course not all lawyers are nice lawyers (omg!), but the law profession in general is made of people who a) have justice complexes and thus hate scams and screwovers of any sort, b) either are interested in consumer protection or probably know someone who is, and c) have the skillz and tools to do shocking amounts of research. I deal with tons of lawyers, and I’ve yet to meet one who yawned when I mentioned a company taking unfair advantage of its customers, or a scam that was depriving people of their money or information — even if they’re reeeeally jaded, they can’t help but see the possible business opportunity. ;)