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Thanks for the opportunities, and goodbye

Updated: January 11, 2013 6:11AM

Dear readers:

After seven wonderful years of writing this column, I’m leaving for a new opportunity in consumer reporting with another organization.

It’s bittersweet, because being “The Fixer” has allowed me to get to know Beacon-News and Sun-Times Media readers in ways I never did as an ordinary reporter.

I was right there with you, getting frustrated over your inflated bills, your missing refunds, your broken appliances, lopsided car contracts and lost luggage. That includes one reader’s bag I managed to locate 3-1/2 months later, untagged, in a warehouse in Cozumel, Mexico.

When I was able to get your money back, I was just as thrilled as you were. And when I wasn’t, I wrote about it anyway — to try to warn others.

For those of you whose letters weren’t chosen — I wish we’d been able to pursue all the requests, but I sincerely hope that if the column couldn’t help you, you were able to win your battle on your own.

There were some doozies over the years, from the woman who almost lost her home because of an insurance company’s paperwork screw-up to the bank that repossessed and sold the wrong person’s car.

Many times your letters weren’t even about the money. “It’s the principle,” readers would say again and again.

When something goes wrong, consumers just want someone to respectfully listen and make it right — not give them the runaround. I wish more companies would realize that.

Writing this column also has given me a greater appreciation for all the front-line employees out there. I will never forget the poor sales clerk whose supervisor made her accept a return of used underwear. And I will never talk on a cellphone in a checkout line again.

Some other things I’ve learned from writing this column:

A free trial is rarely free.

Sometimes people’s greed gets the better of them, making them vulnerable to scams they would otherwise ignore.

When used car dealers say they’ll fix something after the deal is signed, they’re lying.

Call center workers sometimes “accidentally” disconnect calls because they fear losing their job if they take too long with one person.

There are still more good people in this world than bad.

I will miss the annual “Good Guys” feature, in which readers offered stories of unexpected generosity instead of complaints and frustration.

One of my all-time favorites concerned an equipment business that had rented out a metal detector to a consumer:

This consumer was totally stressed out; her husband had just had surgery, her adult daughter was in the hospital and her other daughter was sick, too, and the grandchildren needed her care. Plus she had a part-time job. In all the commotion, she lost her 44-year-old diamond engagement/wedding ring.

She used the rented metal detector all over her house to no avail, and when it came time to return it, she stood at the cash register ready to pay.

The rental shop owner asked if she’d found what she had lost. As she replied no, she started to weep.

“As I extended my credit card,” the reader told me, “that dear man with concern on his face, compassion in his eyes and a gentle voice said, ‘Oh no, there’s no charge for the metal detector if you couldn’t find what you lost.’ ”

The reader told me she drove halfway home before she realized that didn’t make any sense. But his kindness, she said, “put my world back together.”

I hope that in some small way, by writing about this stuff, I helped make things better for consumers.

And speaking of making things better, I was thrilled when some of you had your own successful forays into fixing, whether by launching a Twitter or Facebook campaign, taking a business to small claims court or just writing a really awesome letter that got your problem fixed. Hats off to you.

I will miss you all. I hope I’ll reconnect with some of you when I start my new gig at ABC News. And I wish you all a safe, happy and ripoff-free new year.

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