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How often were you in a desperate need for a solid consumer advice or tried to do an Internet research struggling to find information about particular service rating? Have you ever wished you could turn to somebody giving free immigrant consulting on stuff like consumer protection? Wouldn't it be nice to know how to easily compare prices and decide what and where to buy (choices, choices...). Personally I always try to figure what NOT to do or buy! I am trying to find out more and would love to share my ideas and learn from you.

Let's face it, we are all consumers. Whether you are buying a car or booking a hotel room, you are entering into the relationships with the other party, the service provider. And your interest is sometimes directly opposite from theirs. On top of that, "them" are often a huge organization supported by dozens of laws and rules and pretty often you even don't get to see a live person, it is just a phone call or a promotional letter that you've responded to.

Quiet often people get confused and feel desperate dealing with these consumer issues. You don't know the rules, you are "small" and simply nobody cares about you. This is how some people loose the battle and become an easy pray for the ruthless crooks. For the recent immigrants the problem may get even more complex because of the language barrier and the overall lack of natural "common sense" in seemingly simple everyday situations. I've been there and gone through all the suffering and embarrassment, confusion and anger, big mistakes and little victories. I will try to help you out to avoid some of the pain with a little word of advice, encouragement or simply by hearing you out.

There is a very good phrase: "Knowledge is power, information is how you get it." I am a firm believer in self-education, especially now, the era of global computerization. Honest to goodness, I can't do anything without first consulting with that wonderful world of Internet. Ninety nine percent of the time you can find the right (or at least, honest) answers because chances are somebody sometime had the same problem and decided to share the solution with the rest of the world. With me, it almost became an obsession to spend time and effort researching on the Internet even the smallest problems, like "What is the best gas grill under $150?" or "How many exemptions should I claim?" But I developed my personal approach and ways of finding these bits and pieces of information and it gives me a very cozy feeling that (I think...) I've done it right.

Very often I start with About.com or Howstuffworks.com. There you can simply type in a few keywords and find at least a general answer to the problem. For more personalized answers I use Forums, where people post their questions and get an answer from the fellow Internet user or an expert. My favorites are Allexperts.com and Epinions.com. These Web sites allow you to find an expert in specific field, ask him or her your question and get an educated help. You can also browse the existing "threads" and get a feel for the problem.

For traveling I found Fodors.com to be the best and most helpful. You can find invaluable tips, things-to-do and, more important, not-to-do. For legal needs I sometimes use Freeadvice.com, it saved me a few lawyer's appointments and a lot of money. And I never hesitate to get on the government Web sites, like IRS, FTC or State Attorney General for consumer protection help. Just recently I fought and won a battle against giant marketing company and saved our family thousands of dollars in fraudulent credit card charges! And I did it with "bare hands", armed with just the keyboard and supported by invisible Internet allies.

There are a lot of good sites comparing wholesale prices and rating services, like Gomez.com, Angieslist.com, Mysimon.com and many-many others. Some of them are free, a few charge for the annual membership. And the most amazing of all the sites I found was Martindale's Science and Reference Desk, with over 25,000 links to all kind of awesome information. The guy is absolutely genius!

How do you approach the hard problem? Who do you turn for help to? Where do you find support and understanding? Let's share experiences, I would be glad to hear from you.

O.K., I am not trying to make a wrong impression that I've learned everything. But the point I'm trying to make is that it is possible to get information, learn and at the end of the day become a better human being. And if you contact me, I'll try to assist you in your day-to-day life, find an answer or the very least, try to point in the right direction.

A few links to the sites I find very helpful:

http://www.gomez.com/index.asp

http://www.mysimon.com/index.jhtml

http://www.angieslist.com/

http://home.about.com/

http://www.allexperts.com/

http://www.epinions.com/

http://www.howstuffworks.com/index.htm

http://www.martindalecenter.com/

http://www.ftc.gov/

http://www.fodors.com/

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