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The whole experience was so frustrating, so painful that even today Robert Lindsey, 46, cannot talk about his trouble calmly. "Five months ago," says Lindsey, who works as a short-order cook on Los Angeles' industrial East Side, "I called a repairman to fix my 21-in. TV set." The repairman took one look and said the tuner was broken, a minor matter of $20 or $25. He produced a blank "authorization" for repairs for Lindsey to sign. "So I signed it."

For the next two months, TV Fan Lindsey struggled vainly to get...

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