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Need help? Agencies offer it, but do be polite

As a reporter, one thing that you can always be sure of is that on any given day you never, ever, know what kind of interesting calls you're going to get. Particularly if you work for the Pasco Times.

Some calls are just bizarre:

I found a turkey's head in my turkey.

I found a small sardine floating in my can of evaporated milk.

They tried to arrest me for eating too much at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Some callers have issues and just need someone to listen.

What is the government thinking? They're robbing us!!

How dare you call the Regional Medical Center in Hudson "Bayonet Point"?! It's Hudson!! I demand a correction!!!

The majority of calls, however, are cries for help.

I lost my job.

My boss won't pay me.

My paycheck keeps bouncing.

I spent $1,300 on windows that were the wrong size, and the company refuses to replace them.

I paid $350 for a company to build a Web site that it never built.

Often, the newspaper is the wronged resident's call of first resort. But believe it or not, there are actually government and non-profit agencies whose sole purpose is to answer these calls and to go after the bad guys. And if you talk to any one of them for long enough, you'll see that they just love catching the bad guys.

So here's a small guide to clip and save. There are many more agencies, but these are a few for the most common complaints that we get. If they can't help you, they'll direct you to people who can.

After all, you just never know when there's going to be a sardine in your milk or a paycheck that bounces.

One disclaimer: I won't guarantee that you won't get put on hold or relegated to voice mail when you call some of these numbers. (But, hey, that might just happen if you call the Times, too.)

Here's a tip for dealing with people at these agencies: Be polite, patient and be persistent. You'd be surprised how well those tricks work.

Pasco County Consumer Affairs: (727) 847-8110. Call with any sort of problem with any business, except hospitals and physicians.

Agency for Health Care Administration: Toll free (888) 419-3456. Call for complaints about hospitals or physicians.

Better Business Bureau: (727) 842-5459. Call to make a complaint against any business or before you have a service done or make a big investment. The BBB keeps records of complaints on companies and can also recommend a member that follows its guidelines.

Department of Labor: (813) 288-1242. Call if you're not getting paid for work that you've done, or on complaints on overtime or workers' compensation.

State Department of Consumer Services: Toll free (800) 435-7352. The agency serves as a clearinghouse for consumer complaints and can direct you to the correct department.

Attorney General's Office of Economic Crimes: (813) 801-0600: This agency enforces consumer statutes. It investigates issues such as illegal pyramid schemes and deceptive advertising, and tracks companies with patterns of consumer complaints.

Public Health: (727) 869-3900 or (727) 841-4221. Call with questions about immunizations, environmental health, water quality, head lice, rabies and diseases. The agency also offers HIV testing, diabetes classes, and handles birth and death certificates.

Department of Elder Affairs: Toll free (800) 963-5337 weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Information is available on transportation, income and financial assistance, senior centers, home-delivered meals, housing, health insurance volunteer opportunities and support groups for senior citizens.

For those of you who just want to vent, I'm afraid there's only so much help I can give you. For those of you with wacky stories, don't forget this toll free number: (800) 333-7505 ext. 6229. Or this e-mail:

We can never get enough of those.