Sources of Information and Assistance

Consumer Information Center (CIC)

Pueblo, CO 81009
719-948-4000
Web site: www.pueblo.gsa.gov

CIC, part of the U.S. General Services Administration, is a one-stop shopping center for both print and electronic Federal consumer information. CIC does not handle consumer complaints. The free Consumer Information Catalog lists more than 200 free or low-cost Federal booklets on topics such as careers and education, cars, child care, the environment, Federal benefits, financial planning, food and nutrition, health, housing, small business and more. For a free Catalog, send your name and address to Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, CO 81009 or call 1-888-8-PUEBLO, that's 1-888-878-3256. CIC maintains a mailing list of groups that receive 20 or more Catalogs each quarter.

Visit www.pueblo.gsa.gov to view and download free copies, or to order print copies of all of the publications listed in the Catalog. You can search the web site for the topics you're interested in, link to other Federal agencies and consumer offices with additional information, get a calendar of upcoming events and the latest consumer news, and find new publications and special resources that may not be available in print.

Center for the Study of Services

733 15th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
202-347-7283
Fax: 202-347-4000
Web site: www.checkbook.org

This nonprofit organization publishes books and pamphlets to help consumers select a wide variety of goods and services, including doctors, hospitals and health plans; offers information and services to help consumers get good prices on new cars; and maintains an on-line database to help consumers shop for good prices and desired features in big-ticket products, such as audio and video equipment, major appliances, sporting goods, tires, home-office equipment, etc.

Consumers Union of U.S. (CU)

101 Truman Avenue
Yonkers, NY 10703-1057
914-378-2000
Fax: 914-378-2900
Web site: www.consumerreports.org

A nonprofit, independent organization, CU researches and tests consumer goods and services and disseminates the results in its monthly magazine, Consumer Reports, as well as in other publications and media.

Consumer World

Web site: www.consumerworld.org

Consumer World is a public service site which has gathered over 1,700 of the most useful consumer resources on the Internet, and categorized them for easy access.

Cooperative Extension Service

The Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been a source of information and assistance to consumers for decades. With an educator in nearly every U.S. county, Cooperative Extension brings the research-based knowledge of the land grant universities directly to families and communities. Programs cover food and nutrition, housing, gardening, personal finance issues such as budgeting, borrowing, using credit wisely, and saving for retirement and other goals, and more. To locate your county office, check the blue pages of your phone book or call your county government.

Federal Information Center (FIC)

1-800-688-9889
TDD/TTY: 1-800-326-2996

The FIC, administered by the U.S. General Services Administration, can help you find information about the Federal Government's agencies, services, and programs. The FIC can also tell you which office to contact for help with problems. The FIC is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time, except in Alaska (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Hawaii (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

Grass Roots Consumer Groups

Private and voluntary consumer organizations usually are created to promote specific consumer interests. In some communities, they will help individual consumers with complaints. However, they have no enforcement authority. To find out if such a group exists in your community, contact your state or local government consumer protection office. A list of the state and local offices begins on page 85.

Libraries

The local library can be a good source of help. Many of the publications mentioned in CRH can be found in public libraries. Some university and other private libraries also allow individuals to use their reference materials. Check your local telephone directory for the location of nearby libraries.

U.S. Government Printing Office

Library Service Program
Stop: SLLD
Washington, DC 20401
202-512-1119
Fax:202-512-1432
Website: www.gpo.gov/su_docs/libpro.html

The Federal Depository Library Program provides public access to government information at nearly 1,400 libraries nationwide.

Media Programs

Local newspapers and radio stations often have Action Lines or Hotline services. Many of these services try to resolve all of the consumer complaints they receive. Others handle only the most serious cases or those cases which represent their community's most frequently occurring problems. To find these services, check with your local newspapers, radio and television stations, or local library.

Call for Action, Inc.

5272 River Road, Suite 300
Bethesda, MD 20816
301-657-7490
Fax: 301-657-2914
Web site: www.callforaction.org
TDD/TTY: 301-657-9462

Call for Action, Inc. is a thirty-five year old international nonprofit network of consumer hotlines, which operates in conjunction with broadcast partners to educate and assist consumers and small businesses with consumer problems. Listed below are hotlines in major markets staffed with trained volunteers who offer advice and mediate complaints at no cost to consumers. Consumers in all other locations should use the network information above.

WTAJ-TV Call For Action
Altoona, PA
814-944-9336

WBZ-TV & Radio Call For Action
Boston, MA
617-787-7070

WIVB-TV Call For Action
Buffalo, NY
716-879-4900

WJW-TV Call For Action
Cleveland, OH
216-578-0700

WJR Radio/WXYZ-TV Call For Action
Detroit, MI
810-827-3362

WINK-TV Call For Action
Fort Myers, FL
941-334-4357

KCTV-5 Call For Action
Kansas City, MO
913-831-1919

WABC Radio Call For Action
New York, NY
212-268-5626

KYW-TV & Newsradio Call For Action
Philadelphia, PA
215-238-4500

KDKA Radio Call For Action
Pittsburgh, PA
412-333-9370

KTVI-TV Call For Action
St. Louis, MO
314-282-2222

KCBS Radio Call For Action
San Francisco, CA
415-478-3300

WTVG-TV Call For Action
Toledo, OH
419-534-3838

WTOP Newsradio Call For Action
Washington, DC
301-652-4357

Occupational and Professional Licensing Boards

Many states and some cities and counties license or register members of professions such as doctors, lawyers and home improvement contractors, as well as certain types of businesses, including those engaged in auto repair, debt collection and child day care.

In addition to setting licensing standards, these boards issue rules and regulations; prepare and give examinations; issue, deny or revoke licenses; bring disciplinary actions; and handle consumer complaints.

Many boards have referral services or consumer education materials to help you select a professional or business. If you contact a licensing agency about a complaint, the agency will contact the professional on your behalf and might conduct an investigation and take disciplinary action against the licensee. This action can include probation, license suspension, or license revocation.

To find the office of an occupational or professional licensing board, check your local telephone directory for state, city and county listings under the profession or type of business about which you want information or against whom you want to file a complaint. Your state or local consumer affairs office can also help you find the right agency.

Legal Help

Before you file suit, note that some of the sources of help listed in the Consumer's Resource Handbook have a policy of declining complaints from consumers who have already taken legal action regarding that complaint.

Small Claims Court

Small claims courts were established to resolve disputes involving claims for small amounts of money. While the maximum amounts that can be claimed or awarded differ from state to state, court procedures generally are simple, inexpensive, quick and informal. Court fees are minimal, and you often get your filing fee back if you win your case. Generally, you will not need a lawyer. In fact, some states do not permit lawyers. If you live in a state that allows lawyers and the party you are suing brings one, do not be intimidated. The court is informal, and most judges make allowances for consumers who appear without lawyers.

Remember, even though the court is informal, the judge's decision is binding and must be followed, just like the decision of any other court.

If the party bringing the suit wins the case, the party who lost will often follow the court's decision without additional legal action. Sometimes, however, losing parties will not obey the decision. In these cases, the winning party can go back to court and ask for the order to be enforced. Depending on local laws, the court might, for example, order property to be taken by law enforcement officials and sold. The winning party will get the money from the sale, up to the amount owed. Alternatively, if the person who owes the money receives a salary, the court might order the employer to garnish or deduct money from each paycheck and give it to the winner of the lawsuit.

Check your local telephone book under the municipal, county or state government headings for small claims court offices. When you contact the court, ask the clerk how to use the small claims court. Many state and local consumer agencies have consumer educational material to prepare you for small claims court. To better understand the process, observe a small claims court session before taking your own case to court.

Many small claims courts have created dispute resolution programs to help citizens resolve their disputes before trial. These dispute resolution processes (e.g., mediation and conciliation) often simplify the process. For example, in mediation, both people involved in the small claims dispute meet, sometimes in the evenings or on weekends, and with the assistance of a neutral, third-party mediator, discuss the situation and create their own agreement.

For additional information about dispute resolution, write to the
American Bar Association, Section on Dispute Resolution
740 15th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
or call 202-662-1680.

Finding a Lawyer

If you decide that you need a lawyer, first ask friends and family for a reference. If you are unable to obtain a personal recommendation, check with the Lawyer Referral Service of your state, city or county bar association listed in the telephone directory.

You might also be able to receive some free assistance from a law school clinical program where students, supervised by attorneys, handle a variety of legal matters. Some of these programs are open to all. Some limit their service to distinct groups, such as senior citizens or low income persons. Contact a law school in your area to find out if such a program is available.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may qualify for free legal help from a Legal Aid or Legal Services Corporation office. These offices generally offer legal assistance about such things as landlord-tenant relations, credit, utilities, family matters (e.g., divorce and adoption), foreclosure, home equity fraud, social security, welfare, unemployment, and workers' compensation.

Each Legal Aid office has its own board of directors which determines the priorities of the office and the kinds of cases handled. If the Legal Aid office in your area does not handle your type of case, it should be able to refer you to other local, state or national organizations that can provide help. Check the telephone directory to find the address and telephone number of the Legal Aid office nearest to you. For a directory of Legal Aid offices, contact the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, 1625 K Street, NW, 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20006; 202-452-0620; fax 202-872-1031; send an e-mail to info@nlada.org; or visit its web site at www.nlada.org.

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) was created by Congress in 1974. There are LSC offices in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam and Micronesia. To find the LSC office nearest you, check the telephone directory, call the Federal Information Center at 1-800-688-9889, or call the LSC Public Affairs Office at 202-336-8800. You can also write to the LSC Public Affairs, 750 1st Street, NE, 10th Floor, Washington, DC 20002; access its web site at www.lsc.gov; or send a fax to 202-336-8959.