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If you are a consumer who feels you have been cheated when you made a purchase of merchandise or services, there are a number of routes you can follow to try to get your money back:
The Massachusetts Bar Association's Consumer Advocacy Task Force recommends that consumers visit the following websites and phone numbers for consumer protection information:
The Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries compiled a repository of selected case law and regulations covering general standards with respect to consumer protection. On this site, you also will find forms and other online resources to assist individuals seeking to learn more about consumer rights and perhaps pursue their own claims for unfair and deceptive practices.
The Massachusetts Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation agency created a site to assist individuals in preparing their own 30-Day Demand Letter, pursuant to M.G.L. Chapter 93A. Here, you will find information outlining the basic requirements for demand letters, along with a sample form available for download.
The Federal Trade Commission created an interactive website allowing users to select various categories of potential consumer protection issues. For example, users can select "scams and rip-offs" or "identity theft" and learn more about these categories. In addition, users can specifically identify or explain what violation of consumer rights they potentially experienced.
One way is to send a letter to the merchant who sold you the merchandise or services, using the Massachusetts law against unfair and deceptive trade practices. This law, which is sometimes known by its number, Chapter 93A, requires the letter you send to contain four specific things:
The merchant has 30 days to respond to your letter, and propose a settlement. If the merchant doesn't respond or does respond but doesn't make a reasonable settlement offer, chapter 93A allows you to recover up to 3 times the amount you lost, and also recover your attorneys' fees if you have to bring a lawsuit to get your money back. There is a model of a chapter 93A demand letter here.
Another route you can go to get your money back is to call the Consumer Hotline of the Attorney General's Office, at (617) 727-8400. You can also contact them on the web. For this call or form, you will again need the same four key pieces of information:
The Attorney General's Office receives many complaints, and they cannot help in every case. However, in many cases, they are able to contact the merchant and directly whether the merchant is willing to engage in a mediation process to settle your complaint. If the merchant is willing, a trained mediator from the Attorney General's Office works with you and the merchant to try to come up with a settlement that is satisfactory to both sides.
If you are not able to reach a settlement with a merchant you believe cheated you, either by sending a chapter 93A letter or with the help of the Attorney General's Office, you may decide to go to court. If the amount you believe you lost is less than $7,000, your best bet is to go to Small Claims Court. It is not necessary to have a lawyer to go to Small Claims Court, and many people go to Small Claims Court without one. (Of course, if the amount you lost is more than $7,000, you are well advised to get a lawyer. The Massachusetts Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service can refer you to a lawyer using this online form or by calling (617) 654-0400 or (866) 627-7577.
To find the Small Claims Court closest to you, go to the District Court that is closest to you, and ask when the Small Claims are heard (or, if you live in Boston, go to the closest division of the Boston Municipal Court). All of these courts use a standard Small Claims complaint form, known as a "Statement of Claim." You can find this form and other helpful Small Claims Court information (including filing fees, which range from $40 to $150) here.
Once you have completed the form, you should bring or mail it to the Small Claims Court closest to you, along with the filing fee. The court will notify you of the date when you need to appear for hearing. When you appear, you need to bring with you all the papers you have concerning the purchase you are complaining about. When the case is called, you will have a chance to explain to the judge what happened to you, the merchant will have a chance to tell their side of the dispute, and the judge will then decide between you.
There are a number of other places you can go to pursue a consumer fraud claim. One is the Better Business Bureau, which you can reach by calling (508) 652-4800 or going to www.bbb.org. Another is the Federal Trade Commission, which handles certain kinds of consumer claims.
*These answers do not constitute legal advice and are written for general information purposes only. Individuals should consult with a lawyer for specific legal advice.
If you have any questions concerning these topics or other consumer protection issues, we highly suggest that you contact the Massachusetts Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service. Get an instant online referral here. Or call us to speak to an LRS representative* (Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m. - 4:45 p.m.) at (617) 654-0400 or (866) 627-7577.