The agency will pass complaints on to card issuers. If issuers ignored you before, certainly a complaint forwarded by the CFPB will grab their attention. Unresolved disputes go back to the CFPB for review.

Public Service Commission The state commission regulates electric and gas utilities, landline phones and taxicabs.

The PSC received more than 14,000 utility-related complaints last year, far outnumbering tiffs with taxicabs. You must try to resolve a problem with the utility first before going to the PSC. There's no deadline for the company to respond, but customers can contact the commission if they think the utility is dragging its feet, says spokeswoman Regina Davis.

File a complaint with the commission at psc.state.md.us or by calling 800-492-0474 or 410-767-8028. Companies must respond within seven days, Davis says.

Federal Communications Commission The agency oversees phones — landline and mobile — radio, television, satellite services and indecency on TV.

The FCC, which received more than 160,000 complaints in the first half of this year, runs two call centers with 67 staffers who help consumers mediate problems with carriers. Often the disputes involve telephone rates and bills, including some cases of overseas travelers who unwittingly racked up thousands of dollars in international roaming charges on their cellphones.

"We recover quite a bit of money for consumers," says Joel Gurin, chief of the FCC's consumer and governmental affairs bureau. "We tend not to give up."

He says the agency typically returns $4 million to $5 million annually to customers.

File a complaint online at fcc.gov/complaints or call 888-225-5322.

Maryland Insurance Administration The agency handles complaints ranging from denials of benefits to increases in premiums for health, life, and property and casualty insurance.

If a medical claim has been denied, consumers usually must appeal to the health plan first. But if you have been denied benefits during an emergency, you may appeal directly to the state agency at 800-492-6116.

Complaints about other types of insurance or premium increases must be made in writing. Download forms online at http://www.mdinsurance.state.md.us or call the agency for assistance. The MIA's website posts a schedule to indicate when staffers will appear in public places to help consumers file complaints.

To quickly resolve disputes over auto and homeowner claims without filing a formal complaint, try the agency's rapid response program. Information is available at 410-468-2340.

Department of Transportation Unhappy travelers for the past year or so have been able to file a grievance online with the federal agency, a quicker and easier format, says Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance.

Before, consumers were able to complain only in a letter or by leaving a phone message, and they often left out critical information that delayed the process, Leocha says.

The online complaint form at airconsumer.dot.gov/problems.htm asks for all the necessary details.

"It's just a far more efficient system," Leocha says.

Once the DOT gets your complaint, it will forward it to the airline.

"When an airline gets something forwarded to them from the Department of Transportation, all of a sudden everything breaks," he says.

The DOT will act on a complaint if an airline violates rules, Leocha says. But often the agency is looking for trends that might become the basis for new regulations.

Better Business Bureau Before social media, there was the BBB, where consumers could lodge complaints, and the company's response — or lack thereof — affected its published rating.

Some BBB offices protect consumers aggressively, says Anthony Giorgianni, an associate finance editor with Consumer Reports' Money Adviser. But others, he says, seem more interested in adding businesses to membership rolls.

Giorgianni says it's still worthwhile to complain to the BBB because your experience will become part of the company's record and serve as a warning to other consumers.

File a complaint online at bbb.org.

Angie Barnett, president of the BBB of Greater Maryland, says the organization forwards complaints to businesses, which are given 14 days to respond and a reminder if they don't. If the two sides can't resolve the dispute, Barnett says, the BBB offers a variety of services, including mediation and binding arbitration.

In the past 12 months, the Greater Maryland BBB received 11,275 complaints. Two-thirds of the complaints against nonmembers were settled to the satisfaction of both sides, Barnett says, while 98 percent of complaints against members were settled.

Members pledge to resolve complaints, Barnett says, and the 2 percent that didn't were booted from the BBB.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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