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Playing hardball when goods go bad

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Your new camera is broken, and you’ve had a difficult time going through traditional channels to fix it.

Try one of these five strategies to get your dispute resolved:

1. Write a letter to the company’s CEO. You probably won’t get a personal response, but someone in the head honcho’s office will work to make the problem go away.

Tip: To make a strong case, say customer-service gurus, document your attempts so far, including names and phone extensions of employees you spoke with, as well as what they promised and whether they followed through. Keep your emotions out of it and your tone courteous.

2. Turn to the “problem solver” or investigative reporter with a local news station. Reporters are always looking for juicy stories about customer service gone awry. A short segment on the evening news certainly will grab a company’s attention.

3. File a credit-card dispute, if you paid with plastic. The Fair Credit Billing Act protects your purchases from unfair billing practices, which includes goods or services not delivered as agreed.

“The important part is you must have already made a good-faith attempt to resolve the situation with the merchant,” says Scott Bilker, founder of

4. Head to small-claims court. Generally, you go to your local municipal court, file a short summary of the problem and pay a fee ($30-$100, which you can add to your requested damages). On trial day, you and the other party make your arguments at an informal proceeding, which is usually overseen by a judge.

5. Alert consumer advocacy organizations, such as the Better Business Bureau. Your state Attorney General’s office will even attempt to resolve the problem, either directly or by arranging mediation.

If nothing else, your complaint serves as a good deed—and warning—for other consumers.

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