First of all, contact the seller. Approach them with evidence: canceled checks, receipts, photos of the problem, warranties, or contracts. Perhaps you want the item replaced, but you may just want an apology. Regardless, determine what you need to resolve the issue. Call the store or service provider to schedule a meeting with the manager or other appropriate representative. Describe the issue in detail and tell them what your goal is. Keep track of dates and names for any meetings or phone calls. If there’s a warranty on the product, it may be better to contact the manufacturer instead of the seller.

If the above failed to resolve the issue, seek out a consumer complaint agency. The city or state consumer protection agency, local Better Business Bureau, or an industry trade association are good places to start. Who to contact for specific issues:

  • Banks: State-banking regulator
  • Insurance: State insurance regulator
  • Securities: Securities regulator
  • Utilities: Public utility commission
  • Licensed trades, like plumbers: State-licensing department
  • Used cars: State consumer protections agency
  • Mail order/mail fraud: Area postal inspector

When the above options fail, you’ll have to file a lawsuit, or a case in small claims court if the amount is small. Often, simply having an attorney draw up a letter outlining the lawsuit to the service provider or seller leads to resolution of the issue. You won’t need a lawyer in small claims court, but in the case of a lawsuit, you should hire a lawyer.