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Feeling wronged? Want your money back?

When it comes to dealing with a transaction gone wrong, there are ways for the consumer to complain more effectively.  Here are some tips on how to deal with airlines, the cable company and car rental agencies — and win.
/ Source: TODAY

Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world, and chances are there will be times when things you spend money on move you to make a complaint.

And more people are doing just that. Last year, the Better Business Bureau processed more than 1.2 million complaints spanning 3,900 business categories — up from about 800,000 in 2004. 

Consumer complaints about the airlines more than doubled in July to a five-year high.  

Lots of complaints are lodged against cell phone companies — 30,000 complaints last year alone. 

Just do a Web search ... type in “consumer complaints” and you'll find millions of videos, blog entries and Web postings from angry consumers. If you check your local Better Business Bureau, it will likely have plenty of complaints about businesses near you.

What are we complaining about? Ironically, customer service a big one — rude reps, incompetent reps, calls being bounced to India, endless hold times. Outsourcing has caused some real issues. There are complaints about product quality, or company return policies. Companies have been cracking down on stricter return policies — 15 days instead of 30 days to make a return, and you must have the receipt. There are complaints about car dealers, cable companies and the airlines. 

But if you find yourself in a situation where you are unsatisfied with the product or service you received, you need to know how to act before you even consider a complaint.

How to complain effectively:

Stay calm. No matter how upset you are, remain calm (but firm). Getting angry and shouting will likely make resolving your problem more difficult. Even if it is difficult, remain polite. Being rude is not going to win you points and will make it more difficult to resolve the issue.

Act quickly. Act as as soon as you see the problem. If the problem happens in the store, make the complaint then and there. If it happens at another point, don't wait a week before doing anything. The sooner, the better. If you can't solve the issue immediately on the premises, contact the company's consumer affairs department by e-mail, or phone as soon as possible. Look up contact information for big companies on their Web sites or on Yahoo! Finance.

Ask for a manager. Don't waste time telling your problem to someone who isn't in a position to help. If you aren't getting anywhere with your complaint, ask to speak with a manager. Generally, the higher the position, the more authority they will have in solving the issue. Keep a written log of who you spoke to, names, dates, nature of conversation, what was promised, etc.

Be concise. Keep your story simple and concise: Boil it down to the essential elements ... a maximum of one written page. List the product or service you had trouble with, along with the make, model, name, dates. Stick to the facts.

Know what you want. Let the company know exactly what you want to resolve the issue.  Then they don't have to guess. Specify a reasonable time limit, like two weeks. Say “My flight was delayed, it was the airline's fault, not the weather, and I missed an important meeting”  rather than saying “What can you do for me?”  Be specific: “Ten thousand frequent flier miles would go a long way toward making me feel better.” The company is going to work hard to keep you happy, particularly if you're a valuable customer who spends a lot of money with them. It's cheaper for a company to keep an existing customer than to attract a brand-new one. Use that to your advantage.

If you take these steps and still haven't resolved your issue, think about whether it is worth the time and effort to continue pursuing it. If necessary, take it to the next level.

Take your complaint to the next level

Organizations to contact:

  • Contact a consumer advocacy group like the Better Business Bureau ,which seeks to resolve complaints on behalf of consumers.
  • Look up the Attorney General's Office for the state in which the business is based:
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission. They won't resolve the dispute for you, but if they receive enough complaints, they will use the info you provided them with to investigate cases of fraud.

Complain online: Air your grievance online. A growing number of Web sites and blogs let consumers make public, online complaints, which can generate publicity that helps resolve problems. 

Here are a few:, and

Utilize the media: Many local TV stations and newspapers have consumer reporters who are looking for a good story about someone who has been wronged. Media clout helps resolve issues.

Take it to small-claims court: If all else fails, consider going to small-claims court to resolve the issue. You'll need to research whether or not you can actually make a claim there. If you can, it is relatively inexpensive (usually under $100) to file a claim, and you'll get your day in court to convince a judge you deserve what you're asking for.