Mexico Consumer Protection Agency More Powerful than the U.S. Counterparts
PROFECO (Procuraduria Federal del Consumidor) is where consumers, any consumer, can make a complaint in Mexico if they have been ripped off by a vendor, have a landlord problem, or believe they have been abused by an institution or business, such as a hospital or clinic.
In the United States, many an aggrieved American's first instinct is to call the Better Business Bureau, only to find it doesn't do anything for consumers. The BBB works in the interest of its due-paying business members. In the last few years, it hasn't even received high marks from them.
If you come to Mexico, it would be a mistake to think of PROFECO as "Mexico's Better Business Bureau." PROFECO really does work for the consumer and is at times surprisingly effective. Reading various posts on online forums convinces me the agency has teeth when it chooses to bare them.
Almost anything that you might turn to a lawyer for in the United States, you would probably be directed to PROFECO instead in Mexico. You do need to go prepared.
Lawyers don't have any power - but they write well
Lawyers in Mexico don't have the authority or power they do in the United States. That's why a session with a Mexican attorney may only cost you 400-500 pesos ($30 dollars). Notaries are the more expensive service in Mexico because they serve the same function in commercial transactions as lawyers do in the U.S.
(Maybe the reason PROFECO can be more effective is that it doesn't have all those pesky attorneys in the way if it decides it likes you.)
The one thing a lawyer in Mexico can do for you however, is to put your complaint in proper Spanish. You are going to need that.
An attorney can write out a step-by-step detailed description of what transpired. This is invaluable and well worth the pesos even if you have to find a translator to go to the meeting with you.
When you are consequently directed to the Office of Tourism, PROFECO, City Hall or any other government agency, after you've verbally butchered their Spanish or they've butchered your English, you can present them with the document with some flourish, saying "Todo que sucedió está en este documento" (Everything that happened is in this document).
Give them a copy and wait patiently while they read it. I take a book, sit down in front of them and immediately become completely engrossed in it. (Usually, I try to find a famous or high-brow title book in Spanish that I can barely understand, but will make them wary).
Transactions and legal processes in Mexico take much longer
Great fun is poked at Mexican tramites (bureaucratic processes), specifically the high level of red tape, paperwork and ambiguity. Things take much longer to get accomplished and your results depend to a higher degree on who you're talking to, and what kind of day they're having. You just have to be patient, do what you're told and still expect to be frustrated.
When you do see people, try to get business cards and clearly written e-mail addresses from everyone you meet. It is much more effective to communicate via e-mail rather than over the phone.
You can look Spanish words and phrases up as you write, leaving you with a good vocabulary list and a written record should you need to show up in person again (which you will).
One free tool that has come in extremely handy for me in situations like this in Mexico is Skitch. Skitch is one of a number of free online tools that enables you to make a screenshot, then make arrows and comments on it.
For example, I am making a complaint against a medical clinic in Mazatlán. I needed to provide proof to PROFECO of what was charged on my credit card.
First I confirmed my translation of the comments into Spanish on Lingee. Then made the notes. I also made printed copies, in case they wouldn't open the attachment.
With these documents, I made a complaint against the Office of Tourism, American Consulate, PROFECO and one other agency dealing with specifically medical issues, the Comisión de Arbitraje Medico del Estado de Sinaloa.
Will any of these measures yield any results? Doubtful, I'm not that ingenuo. The purpose was to get a sense of what to expect in these processes.
Where my efforts will lead, I have no idea. But then again, people say it only costs $300 dollars to have someone killed in Mexico.
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Kerry Baker is a partner with Ventanas Mexico and author of two books, the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online" a curation of links to the best free language site features on the web and "If Only I Had a Place," the go-to book on renting luxuriously in Mexico for less than you ever dreamed.