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FOX Toledo Special Report: The new way shoppers get what they want

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(Toledo News Now) -

Before the dawn of the Internet, many frustrated and unhappy customers spent hours on the phone with automated systems and customer service representatives. 

But since the advent of sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, many consumers have found the power balance begin to shift in their favor when it comes to consumer problems. Musician Dave Carroll famously took his consumer complaint to YouTube. He posted a song about how United Airlines broke his guitar while he was traveling. More than 13 million views later, Dave got a new guitar.

"In the first two weeks I received 10,000 emails congratulating me, but also saying that they felt that they didn't have a voice and they wished they had a voice," said Carroll.

It was that sentiment which led Carroll to found Gripevine, a website that empowers consumers to air their grievances with companies, and hopefully be made whole again.

Neal Alderson turned to Gripevine after getting the runaround from the maker of a pair of expensive sunglasses. Alderson says the glasses snapped in half, but the manufacturer refused to replace them. One post on Gripevine, and Alderson got a brand new pair of shades.

"It was resolved very quickly," said Alderson. "I got exactly what I wanted, which was a replacement pair of sunglasses."

Gripevine is free to use, but there are some sites that will go even farther for a small fee.

On PeopleClaim, filing a complaint is free. The site will notify the company about the complaint, but if the company doesn't respond, users can pay $7.95 to have the dispute posted publicly online. For $14.95 PeopleClaim will also notify watchdogs, regulators and the media. PeopleClaim says "far more than half the complaints filed are resolved."   

On Scambook it's also free to file a complaint, but users can pay $4.99 a month for a personal investigator to be assigned to the case. That investigator will mail certified letters to the company each month. Scambook says the site has resolved over $10 million in reported damages.

Experts say the power of the Internet is helping consumers gain leverage over big business.

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

For more information or to file your own complaints, you can visit Gripevine.com, PeopleClaim.com or Scambook.com.

Copyright 2013 Toledo News Now. All rights reserved.

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