Many agencies can help wronged consumers. The Federal Communications Commission, for example, mediates phone bill disputes, and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants to hear about problems with credit cards.
First, contact the business directly and try to resolve the problem. In fact, some regulators will insist on this before they help you.
Consumer advocates say it's best to make your case in person, if possible. Politely — and briefly — state the problem, and what the company can do to make things right.
If this doesn't work, take your case up the management chain, all the way to writing the chief executive officer if necessary, says Tod Marks, a senior editor with Consumer Reports.
Some consumer advocates say if success continues to evade you, air the grievance on social media sites, particularly Twitter. Many large companies monitor these sites and will reach out to unhappy customers to avoid negative publicity.
If the problem is fixed, Marks says, it's good "netiquette" to praise the company on the sites.
If your attempt to fix things with a company fails, lodge a complaint with regulators or other groups. Maintaining documents and a record of the times you contacted the company and the people you spoke with will help regulators.
Here are resources to handle common complaints:
Consumer Protection Division, Mediation Unit Karen Straughn, director of the state mediation unit, suggests customers unsatisfied with businesses start with her office.
"If we are not the right office, it's part of our responsibility to get you to the right office," she says.
The unit also is a good place for consumers to find out their rights under the law before they complain to a business.
It oversees a wide range of areas, including new home construction, tenant and landlords, car purchases, retailers, homeowners and condo associations, phone service and Internet businesses.
Consumers can call 410-528-8662 or complain online at http://www.oag.state.md.us.
Once the unit gets involved, Straughn says, it will mediate disputes and advocate on behalf of consumers when there's been a violation of the law.
The mediation group gets about 50,000 calls a year and handles around 12,000 complaints annually. Its success rate — when consumers are satisfied with the results — is 60 percent, Straughn says.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau The new federal agency now is accepting complaints about credit cards.
File a complaint by calling 855-411-CFPB or filling out a form at consumerfinance.gov. The online form offers a "chat now" feature so you can ask questions of a staffer when filling out the complaint.