Tips on Getting Your Money Back

Complaint websites help consumers win arguments with companies.

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For a recent article on the art of complaining, I looked into the best ways to lodge complaints against companies. The most important lesson was actually lodging them in the first place—many customers don't, and that's why they end up being overcharged or unsatisfied.

I asked the managers of two popular company complaint websites, Greg Brummer at Planet Feedback and Max Spankie at My3Cents, who receive thousands of complaints from readers, about common mistakes and their advice for getting the results you want. Here's what they had to say:

Don't exaggerate the problem. Brummer says companies don't respond well to threats or embellished stories about the harm they have caused. One consumer, for example, said his son's Christmas was ruined after a company canceled his order.

Always contact the company first. Brummer says consumers have a good chance of resolving their problems with just a quick call to the company—so before involving others, such as his website, make the call.

Check over your bills. Many people don't notice that they are being charged for a monthly service until they've been paying it for months, and companies often resist refunding months' worth of services, Brummer says. He recommends taking responsibility for the accuracy of your billing statements.

Review receipts before you leave the store. Spankie adds that mistakes caught at the point of sale are much easier to resolve on the spot than after you leave the store. One consumer contacted him after a typo by a sales associate at Home Depot led him to pay for 1,058 pieces of molding instead of 1.58. He signed for the transaction before noticing the mistake.

Count your money—it's not rude. Spankie says there's no need to be self-conscious about making sure you were given the correct amount of money, whether it's at a bank or a store. It's better to check than to go home and realize there was an error.

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• Don't miss this week's Carnival of Personal Finance for tips on saving and managing your money.