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An informed consumer is a protected consumer.
That's the credo of the state's Department of Consumer Protection, which used the occasion of National Consumer Protection Week - held in early March - to remind us about its monthly "Consumer Watch" newsletter.
The state agency says it already has thousands signed up via email to receive the monthly pro-consumer update. The March issue includes some very informative articles, including how to "right a wrong" when handling a business dispute - including a sample letter of complaint if you've been maligned.
It's certainly important that consumers understand their rights, and it's equally important for a state agency committed to consumer protections to get out the word about avoiding bad business practices, false advertising, consumer fraud and the like.
The consumer protection agency, which is based in Hartford, has a full plate. It says it responds to more than 50,000 telephone calls each year and more than 6,000 written complaints from those who say they've been wronged by home-improvement firms, retailers, telemarketers, real estate deals and online shopping scams. Most of these complaints come in to the agency's complaint center, which tracks and ultimately hopes to resolve the disputes between consumers and businesses operating in Connecticut.
It's not an easy task for the agency, which reminds us that the first step to take with a complaint is to contact the business first. If you can't get to the store or business, look for a toll-free customer service number. In these days of online shopping, most firms have a website that includes customer-friendly information.
While the consumer protection agency handles thousands of complaints annually, its scope is somewhat limited. Its purview includes complaints about home-improvement contractors, new-home construction, frauds and scams in advertising, prescription errors, gas and heating-fuel issues and state-based telemarketers and Internet retailers. The consumer protection department's website at www.ct.gov/dcp offers a handy "Information Index A-Z" to help with your complaint.
What the agency can't directly help you with are auto-related complaints - that's the state motor vehicles department area - or with banking issues, which are handled by Connecticut's banking department (which also deals with credit-card and debt-collector issues). And insurance problems are handled by the Connecticut insurance department.
William M. Rubenstein, the commissioner of consumer protection, reminds us of some important safeguards we all should practice: Take your time with a purchase, don't rush it; always read the fine print, no matter how fine it is; think the deal through; and become an advocate for yourself - in other words, become an educated consumer who knows his or her rights and responsibilities.
Rubenstein, who was appointed to head the agency this past year, advocates a message of prevention for consumers. Remember, an informed consumer is less likely to get scammed. So if you're not already receiving the agency's monthly "Consumer Watch," all it takes is a few keystrokes.
Simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and give the agency the email address you want to subscribe. For those who really want to be informed, check out back issues of the monthly pro-consumer publication at www.ct.gov/dcp by clicking on the "publications" link at the top of its home page.
Anthony Cronin is The Day's business editor.