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FILE A CONSUMER COMPLAINT

Before filing a complaint with the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP), please take a few moments to read the following:

If you believe you have been the victim of unfair or deceptive business practice, the first step is to contact the business.  Many problems can be resolved quickly with a letter or telephone call.

However, if you are not satisfied after contacting the business and are unable to resolve the complaint, use one of the links below to file a complaint.  Some examples of complaints handled by OCP are:

  • Unfair acts by a business:  changing a contract, debt collection misconduct or abusive arbitration
  • Prohibited forms of marketing, such as false claims or bait and switch
  • Antritrust issues, including price fixing, monopoly abuse or restraint of trade
  • Problems with new and used cars or trucks:  lemon law, repair, towing, or warranty
  • Telemarketing, phone solicitation and door-to-door sales
  • False or fake winning lottery or sweepstake notifications
  • Gas pricing:  price fixing, gouging or illegal dealing in the gas trade

The complaint should include the name and address of the business, with a detailed explanation of what the problem is, and what you have done.  Copies of relevant documents such as receipts, warranties, cancelled checks, contracts, etc. should either be uploaded with the on­line complaint, or mailed with the form complaint.   Mail the original complaint with copies of your documentation:  do not send originals with your complaint.

(If you unsure if the Office of Consumer Protection is the correct agency, please review our Common Problems: Who to Contact section for assistance in deciding which government agency has the legal authority to assist with different kinds of problems. You may also call the Office of Consumer Protection at (406) 444-4500 or (800) 481-6896.)

Two ways to file a consumer complaint

  • Download a form to mail or fax to the Office of Consumer Protection OR
  • File online (have all information handy as your web session will time out after 45 minutes – you will be notified if this happens)

(If you are filing a complaint against a Non-Profit Organization, click here).

Upon receipt of your complaint, OCP’s investigators evaluate the complaint and documentation.  If OCP needs more information, you will be contacted.  If you need to provide additional information, please do so in writing.

If it is determined that OCP has authority over your complaint, the investigator will send a letter to the business, along with your complaint, to give the business an opportunity to document its position and to resolve the problem if possible.

If it is determined that there was not a violation of the Consumer Protection Act or the complaint is not handled by OCP, you may be referred to another agency. Often another state, federal or local agency may specialize in, or have legal responsibility for, a particular consumer problem.  In such a case, OCP will refer the complaint to the agency best able to help.

The Office of Consumer Protection will keep your complaint on file so that we can monitor illegal practices in the marketplace.

If your complaint involves credit card purchases – In a credit card purchase dispute, the card issuer may credit your account and charge the item back to the business, if you follow these steps:

  1. Write to your credit card issuer at the address for “errors or inquiries” given on your billing statement.
  2. Include vital information such as your name and account number, the date and amount of the disputed transaction and the business name and address.
  3. Describe the dispute. Explain in detail actions you have taken in good faith to resolve the complaint and why you feel the business should not be paid.
  4. Send photocopies of any papers or other documents you believe relate to the transaction. Do not send originals.

The business must then try to collect the disputed amount directly from you. You, or your attorney if you have one, may wish to consult the federal “Truth-in-Lending” regulations (12 CFR 226.12 and 12 CFR 226.13).

If the company has filed for bankruptcy – In some rare instances, consumers may recover some of their money if the company has filed bankruptcy. To have any chance of recovery, you must file a “proof of claim.” Obtain a claim form from the clerk of the Federal District Court in which the business has filed for bankruptcy, fill it out and return it to the clerk. Bankruptcy cases can be very complex, so you may want to hire an attorney to help you, especially if your claim is large.

If the company has moved or gone out of business – Perhaps the most frustrating consumer complaint is one against a company that is out of business.

  • Try to contact the company directly first with a certified letter.
  • If the certified letter goes unanswered and there is no way to contact the company, you can file a dispute with your credit card company if that was your method of payment.  To be eligible under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you must file the dispute within 60 days of the transaction.
  • If that does not work and you are owed a large amount of money, consider contacting a private attorney.  You may also contact this office.

If your complaint is against a government agencyIf your complaint is with a government agency rather than a business, contact the elected officials with authority over that agency. For example, if it is a federal agency, contact your U.S. representative or senator. For a local agency, contact a city or county official. You may also call the Montana Citizen’s Advocate Office at (406) 444-3468 or 1-800-332-2272.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE OFFICE OF CONSUMER PROTECTION

The Office of Consumer Protection seeks to protect Montana consumers from, and educate them about, harmful and unfair practices by retail businesses. Some of the laws enacted include.

The Consumer Protection Act prohibits businesses from taking advantage of consumers and the Office of Consumer Protection is here to help; however,

  • OCP cannot act as your private attorney. State law prohibits OCP from giving individual citizens legal advice or opinions or acting as their private attorney. If you feel that you need legal advice, please contact a private attorney, or legal aid society.
  • OCP can only file suit to protect the public interest. State law prohibits OCP from filing a lawsuit whose only purpose is to recover money or property for a single person. In those instances, it is appropriate for the consumer to seek legal advice from a private attorney, legal aid society or other organization. OCP does file suit against companies that violate the laws protecting consumers.  However, OCP files these lawsuits to protect the public interest, not private interests. Whether a lawsuit is in the public interest depends on several factors:
    • the number of consumers who are likely affected and the extent to which consumers will benefit from public enforcement
    • the severity of the case in terms of economic loss or the number and gravity of law violations
    • the possibility of halting a fraudulent scheme quickly
    • the costs of enforcement as compared to the benefits to the public
    • the likelihood of collecting penalties and restitution from the business

OTHER SOURCES OF ASSISTANCE

If you cannot resolve your complaint, or it involves a large amount of money, you may want to hire a lawyer.

  • Private Attorneys – The State Bar of Montana operates a lawyer referral program. Often there is only a small fee for the initial consultation.
  • Montana Legal Services Association (MSLA) – If you can’t afford a lawyer, you may be eligible for federally funded legal assistance. Contact MLSA at 442-9830 or online MontanaLawHelp.org or http://www.mtlsa.org/.

There are a variety of public and private sources that may be able to help with your complaint.

  • Better Business Bureau (BBB) – The BBB serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana is a private, neutral, nonprofit organization that is supported by membership dues paid by business and professional groups in its service area. The BBB often partners with such agencies as the FTC, state licensing divisions, the attorneys general, and regional law enforcement to investigate questionable activity in its service area. The BBB offers:
    • reports on businesses and charitable organizations
    • consumer counseling
    • education and awareness
    • resolution of consumer disputes with businesses using conciliation, mediation and arbitration services

    Contact the BBB at (509) 455 – 4200.

  • Consumer Action Handbook – This free governmental publication lists the consumer contacts for all state and federal agencies and most large companies. It can be read or ordered online at the Federal Citizen Information Center’s Consumer Action Website.
  • Elected Representatives – Members of Congress, state legislators, city council members, county commissioners and other elected officials may help constituents with consumer complaints. These are also the people to contact if you believe there should be a law to protect consumers from a particular problem.
  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable.
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – The FTC enforces fair trade laws and may help consumers resolve complaints.
  • Justice of the Peace or Small Claims Court – All counties have special courts to handle small claims. The filing fees are usually much less than those charged in the county or district courts and the proceedings are less formal, with citizens often representing themselves. In these courts you can present your side to the judge. Present your case with the same information you would include in a complaint, bringing any documents or witnesses that are relevant.
  • Montana Public Interest Research Group (MontPIRG) – The MontPIRG provides a number of consumer services including helping with landlord-tenant issues. Contact MontPIRG at (406) 243-2908 or e-mail info@montpirg.org.
  • National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) – The NACA is a group of consumer attorneys who share information about consumer issues. The Association’s website also has a lawyer referral service.
  • National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) – The NCLC provides information and articles on a variety of common consumer protection issues. The articles are useful to anyone attempting to understand consumer laws and future trends.
  • Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) – The OCC handles complaints about federally chartered banks. If you aren’t sure whether your bank is federally chartered, ask the OCC.
  • Other State Attorneys General – If your complaint is against a company in another state, you may be able to get help from that state’s attorney general.
  • Private Mediation Services – Some cities have private mediation or alternative dispute resolution centers. They are usually nonprofit and charge either no fee or a small fee.
  • Trade Associations – Many industries such as car dealers and contractors have trade associations that perform a variety of functions, often including resolution of complaints against their members.