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September 10, 1991|KATHIE BOZANICH

You have been waiting for months for the bunk bed set you ordered from a catalogue, although the company had said it would take six to eight weeks to deliver. Several phone calls later, the mail order company still cannot explain why your check has been cashed but you have not received the furniture you ordered.

These and similar complaints can be resolved through the Better Business Bureau of the Southland, in Cypress. The bureau is a private, nonprofit corporation that is not affiliated with any governmental agency. The Cypress office fields inquiries and complaints from Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The most common types of complaints the bureau receives are those involving mail orders, auto repairs and advertising specialty businesses (the "you've won a trip to two to Hawaii" postcards, where a purchase is required to claim the prize), said Debbie Mrstik, office manager for the Better Business Bureau in Cypress.

TYPES OF COMPLAINTS THE BUREAU ACCEPTS

* Those in which the customer has already paid for a product or service and has yet to receive the merchandise, if the delivery date has long since passed;

* Those involving a customer who feels a business acted unethically;

* Those involving a customer who believes a business misrepresented the price, product or service.

TYPES OF COMPLAINTS THE BUREAU DOES NOT ACCEPT

* Those based on prices, fees, products or services where no misrepresentation was involved.

* Those involving landlord/tenant or employer/employee disputes.

* Those involving disputes between private parties or against government agencies.

* Those submitted by someone not directly involved in the dispute.

* Those seeking damages exceeding the actual cost of a product or service.

* Those involving a transaction that happened more than one year ago.

* Those in which a lawsuit is pending or in which a court judgment has already been determined.

* The bureau also cannot provide legal advice or services; make collections or give credit ratings or information on individuals or companies; trace addresses or phone numbers on businesses; accept reports on individuals.

YOUR COMPLAINT

You must first try to resolve your dispute directly with the business. If that is not possible, you can then file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, which will act as an impartial third party in mediating the dispute.

The bureau has a formal complaint form for consumers to file. You do not have to use the bureau's form, but it does act as a guideline for the type of information needed to pursue the complaint.

The following information should be included in the complaint:

* your name, address, home and work phone numbers;

* the business' name, address and phone number;

* the date you purchased the product, the date the problem occurred, the date(s) you complained to the company and the name(s) of the person or people to whom you complained;

* the product or service involved, the brand name or manufacturer and the model name or number;

* the amount you paid for the product, the name of the sales representative and the contract, policy or account number;

* a brief account of your complaint, including any supporting copies of cancelled checks, receipts, contracts and other relevant documents;

* what you would consider a fair settlement of the dispute.

A complaint can be filed in person at the bureau's office, 6101 Ball Road, Suite 309, Cypress, CA, 90630, or mailed to that address.

You are responsible for forwarding a copy of your complaint to the business with which you have the dispute. The bureau will keep a record of when and if the business responds to them about the complaint. Mrstik said the response rate from businesses is about 75%.

There are several possible outcomes to a complaint. The bureau can successfully mediate the dispute; your dispute can be reviewed for the bureau's binding arbitration process; or, if arbitration is not feasible, the bureau can refer you to the proper regulatory agency or another source of help.

OTHER SERVICES

The Better Business Bureau also provides information on individual businesses through an automated telephone service. To access this service, call (714) 527-0680 and follow the directions on the recording. By keying in the phone number of a particular business, you can find out if there have been any complaints filed against it or if there is a pattern to the complaints (several people complaining that a particular business fails to give refunds, for example).

Source: Better Business Bureau of the Southland

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