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Online services offer consumer dispute resolution

May 29, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
When you have a consumer problem with a company, what do you do to resolve it? What if solving the dispute was as easy as just typing it up online and having a company step in to fight your battle?

There is a new and growing Internet industry specializing in just that: electronic "non-traditional" dispute resolution. Some sites are free, while others ask you to pay a fee.

From complaints about wireless service, used car lots, pet care companies, and in Neal Alderson's case, sunglasses. New online resolution sites claim to "take the pain out of complain."

Alderson says when his expensive sunglasses broke in half, he requested a replacement pair from the maker, but all he got was the runaround. So he posted a "gripe" on Gripevine for free. Gripevine contacted the sunglass manufacturer and soon Alderson got a replacement pair.

What makes Gripevine and other new problem-solving sites like Scambook and PeopleClaim different than traditional complaint resolution avenues? The Internet.

"Social media is what I call the 'great equalizer' when it comes to getting your complaint resolved," said John Breyault, National Consumers League.

While filing complaints on some sites is free, others may charge you. For example, on PeopleClaim, filing a complaint is free and the site will notify the company about your problem. But if that company doesn't respond, you can pay $7.95 to have your dispute posted publicly online. And for $14.95 PeopleClaim will also notify watchdogs, regulators and the media.

On Scambook it's also free to file a complaint, but you can pay $4.99 a month for a personal investigator to be assigned to your case, who will mail certified letters to the company for you each month. Of course this is something consumers can do themselves.

"These sites offer to step in and play that role for you," said Breyault.

Do these sites get results? Scambook told Eyewitness News: "We have resolved over $10 million in reported damages." PeopleClaim says: "Far more than half the complaints filed are resolved." And Gripevine suggested we ask its customers. We did.

"It's a very quick easy way to get your situation dealt with," said Neal Alderson.

You should know none of the companies provides mediators or legal services.

Also, PeopleClaim says if the company you're complaining about doesn't respond to your public post in 90 days, it will refund your $7.95.


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