By Lisa Shroder
Here are local, state, federal, and nonprofit agencies you can contact to complain about a business or charity. All ask that you first try to resolve your complaint with the company. Most offer some form of mediation.
District and Metro Area
Better Business Bureau of Metro DC, 1411 K St. NW, 10th floor, 20005; 202-393-8000; mybbb.org. Helps resolve consumer complaints with area businesses. Serves DC; Montgomery, Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert, and St. Mary’s counties in Maryland; and parts of Virginia, including Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties.
Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland, 1414 Key Hwy., Suite 100, Baltimore 21230; 410-347-3990; www.baltimore.bbb.org. Works to resolve consumer complaints about Maryland businesses in 18 counties, exclusive of those covered by the BBB of Metro DC (see under District and Metro Area).
Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection, 100 Maryland Ave., Suite 330, Rockville 20850, Attn: New Complaint Dept.; 240-777-3636; montgomerycountymd.gov (click on “services,” then “consumer information,” then “consumer protection office”). Tries to resolve complaints about county businesses. Also provides information on local businesses.
Maryland Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division, 200 St. Paul Pl., Baltimore 21202; 410-528-8662 (complaint hotline); www.oag.state.md.us (click on “consumer protection”). Handles complaints about businesses and discloses previous complaints; also handles auto-warranty, auto-repair, new-home, and landlord/tenant complaints. If mediation fails to resolve the complaint, the office offers binding arbitration. If that fails, it offers an online brochure on how to file in small-claims court.
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, PO Box 1832, Baltimore 21203; 410-528-1591; mdconsumers.org. Nonprofit organization to protect the rights of Maryland consumers. It doesn’t handle complaints but offers advice on dealing with problems and provides online links based on type of complaint.
Maryland Office of Financial Regulation, Commissioner of Financial Regulation, Attn: Complaint Unit, 500 N. Calvert St., Suite 402, Baltimore 21202; 410-230-6100; dllr.state.md.us (click on “financial regulations,” then “complaints”). Handles complaints about mortgage lenders, loans, collection agencies, credit-reporting agencies, banks, and credit unions.
Maryland Home Improvement Commission, 500 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21202; 888-218-5925; dllr.state.md.us (click on “occupational and professional licensing”). Investigates complaints against contractors, subcontractors, or salespersons. Complaints don’t result in monetary awards; however, if you used a licensed contractor, you can file for losses through the Guaranty Fund claim process.
Maryland Insurance Administration, Attn: Consumer Complaint Investigation (indicate life, health, or property/casualty), 525 St. Paul Pl., Baltimore 21202; 800-492-6116 ext. 2340; mdinsurance.state.md.us (click on “consumer information,” then “file a complaint”). Handles complaints about health, life, property, and casualty insurance.
Maryland Public Service Commission, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul St., 15th floor, Baltimore 21202; 800-492-0474; psc.state.md.us (click on “complaints”). Investigates disputes between consumers and utilities or transportation companies.
Office of the People’s Counsel, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul St., Suite 2102, Baltimore 21202; 800-207-4055; www.opc.state.md.us (click on “consumer assistance”). Independent state agency that helps resolve complaints with electric, gas, telephone, water, and sewer utilities.
Alexandria Office of Consumer Affairs, City Hall, PO Box 178, Alexandria 22313; 703-838-4350; alexandriava.gov (click on “business & economy,” then “consumer affairs”). Investigates potentially unfair, deceptive, or illegal retail business practices and mediates consumer complaints. Also offers information on complaints against local companies.
Better Business Bureau of Central Virginia, 701 E. Franklin St., Suite 712, Richmond 23219; 804-648-0016; centralvirginia.bbb.org. Offers mediation and complaint resolution. While this office serves central Virginia, my complaint filed online from Northern Virginia was routed through it.
Fairfax County Consumer Affairs Branch, 12000 Government Center Pkwy., Suite 433, Fairfax 22035; 703-222-8435; fairfaxcounty.gov/consumer.htm. Handles consumer complaints and landlord/tenant disputes to determine whether laws have been violated and provides a complaint history of businesses; also mediates disputes.
Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Office of Consumer Affairs, PO Box 1163, Richmond 23218; 800-552-9963; vdacs.virginia.gov. Handles complaints related to the advertisement, sale, or lease of goods and services related to personal, family, or home use.
Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, Compliance & Investigations Division, Complaint Analysis & Resolution, 3600 W. Broad St., fourth floor, Richmond 23230; 804-367-8504; dpor.virginia.gov. Regulates more than 30 occupations and professions, from architects to home inspectors to opticians. You can file a complaint within three years of the incident, and the board may take disciplinary or criminal action. In some instances, it may offer mediation.
Virginia State Corporation Commission, PO Box 1197, Richmond 23218; 800-552-7945; scc.virginia.gov. Oversees utilities, insurance, state-chartered financial institutions, securities, retail franchising, and railroads. Several divisions handle individual concerns; for instance, the Division of Communications handles complaints about telephone service, and the Bureau of Insurance handles problems related to insurance.
Council of Better Business Bureaus, 4200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 100, Arlington 22203; 703-276-0100; bbb.org. Umbrella organization for the Better Business Bureau system throughout the United States and Canada. On its Web site, you can find a statistical breakdown of complaints for the past year, an explanation of what the bureaus handle (for example, no complaints about government agencies unless it involves a service such as water or electricity, no complaints about the competency of doctors or lawyers, no anonymous complaints) and an explanation of its conflict resolution, which might include arbitration. There’s also an auto line that deals with car-related disputes. You can file a complaint online or locate a local Better Business Bureau office; the council itself doesn’t handle complaints.
Federal Communications Commission, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau, Consumer Complaints, 445 12th St., SW 20554; 888-call-fcc; fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html. Handles complaints related to telephones and cell phones; also those related to indecency, obscenity, and profanity in television, cable, satellite, and radio broadcasts. The Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division offers informal mediation and resolution of complaints.
Federal Trade Commission, CRC-240, DC 20580; 877-ftc-help; ftc.gov. Investigates complaints about everything from identity theft to Internet auctions to charities. You can file online if you believe your problem may be relevant to a national fraud investigation. The commission doesn’t resolve individual complaints; it uses them as part of any larger law-enforcement action. The Web site does offer information to consumers.
Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC Complaint Center, 100 F St., NE, 20549; 202-942-8088; sec.gov/complaint.shtml. Investigates potential violations of securities law.
Call for Action, 5272 River Rd., Suite 300, Bethesda 20816; 301-657-8260; callforaction.org. An international nonprofit network of volunteer hotlines affiliated with local broadcast stations, it provides volunteer mediators who try to resolve problems that individuals and small businesses have with government agencies, businesses, and other organizations.
National Fraud Information Center, 1701 K St., NW, Suite 1200, 20006; 202-835-3323, 800-876-7060; fraud.org. Allows consumers to report Internet or telemarketing fraud and passes complaints on to the appropriate law-enforcement agency. Operated by the National Consumers League (nclnet.org), a private, nonprofit advocacy group.