Consumer Tips

PROTECTING YOURSELF IN A COMPLEX MARKETPLACE — Our researchers and attorneys provide key tips for how you can shop for the best bank, get the best car loan, protect against identity theft and more.

Protect Yourself

In today's marketplace, it takes a savvy, informed consumer to avoid common pitfalls and threats. Financial decisions in particular require assessing a blizzard of advertisements and navigating pages of jargon-laden fine print to make decisions about credit cards, bank accounts, loans, health insurance, and cell phone contracts, among other things.

It’s more important than ever to protect yourself:

  • Consumers who finance their cars through a dealership pay more than $25.8 billion in additional hidden interest over the lives of their loans.
  • In 2010, more than 8 million households were victims of identity theft, a 33 percent rise since 2005.
  • One out of 20 consumers has errors on their credit report significant enough to lead to higher rates on loans.
  • Banks made around $30 billion in overdraft fees in 2011. Adding insult to injury, these fees were pitched as “overdraft protection,” which most consumers would be better off without.

That's why the U.S. PIRG Education Fund has compiled recommendations and resources for consumers. Our tip sheets address some of the most common complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission—read on, and protect yourself from becoming a statistic.

 
Note that these tips are not intended as, nor should they be construed as, legal advice. If you need legal advice dealing with a consumer problem, consult an attorney. 

Issue updates

Agency votes to begin rulemaking process to protect American children, firefighters from hazardous flame retardant chemicals

Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals (known as “organohalogens”). The CPSC directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain these chemicals. Once again, the CPSC has made an important action for consumers.

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News Release | Consumer Protection

Today’s Equifax News Beyond Troubling, Investigations an Important Step - Congress Should Make Credit Freezes Free

Statement by Mike Litt at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on news that Equifax failed to fix its security vulnerabilities.

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Statement on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

Statement from U.S. PIRG Education Fund Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of over 145 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

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High Levels of Lead Found in Fidget Spinners

WITI FOX6 News in Milwaukee recently tested certain fidget spinners for lead and according to the lab results, four fidget spinners bought from high-profile online and retail stores contained alarmingly high levels of lead. One fidget spinner contained a part that was found to be more than 400 times the legal limit for lead. 

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High Levels of Lead Found in Fidget Spinners

WITI FOX6 News in Milwaukee recently tested certain fidget spinners for lead and according to the lab results, four fidget spinners bought from high-profile online and retail stores contained alarmingly high levels of lead. One fidget spinner contained a part that was found to be more than 400 times the legal limit for lead. 

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News Release | Consumer Protection

Equifax Offers Incomplete Protection After Breach: Advocates Suggest What Else Consumers Can Do

Consumers should know the risks and limits of what Equifax is offering and consider getting credit freezes with all three national credit bureaus instead.

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News Release | Consumer Protection

Equifax Breach Puts Millions at Risk of New ID Theft

Statement by Mike Litt at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on the recently announced Equifax data breach.

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Texas Chemical Explosions: More Safety Needed Now

Two small explosions last night at a Texas chemical facility highlight that comprehensive emergency regulations need to be enforced more strictly at chemical plants.

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Statement on P&G’s Consumer Product Fragrance Disclosure Announcement

U.S. PIRG Education Fund applauds consumer product giant Procter & Gamble, the maker of brands like Olay, Old Spice, and Pampers, for its announcement today that it will increase fragrance ingredient transparency in all of its consumer brands.

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Report | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Mortgages and Mortgage Complaints

Our sixth report analyzing complaints in the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database evaluates mortgage complaints, the number one source of complaints to the CFPB, totaling 38% of nearly 500,000 complaints posted since 2011.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2014

Among the toys surveyed this year, we found numerous choking hazards and five toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards. In addition to reporting on potentially hazardous products found in stores in 2014, this installment of the report describes the potential hazards in toys and children’s products.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

We Urge CFPB To Provide Mobile Financial Protections

Along with the Center for Digital Democracy, our co-investigator on a series of projects related to "big data" and financial opportunity, we've filed detailed comments to the CFPB regarding the need for strong consumer protections as more and more consumers use mobile financial services. We argue that "mobile technologies and services pose both opportunities and risks to consumers, their privacy, and to the kinds and price of services they are offered."

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The Unfriendly Skies

Consolidation in the airline industry, along with pressures created by new security rules and the recent high cost of aviation gasoline, has changed the way we fly. It seems as if every consumer has an airline travel story—how they were trapped on the tarmac, tricked by fees, missed their connection, or lost their bag.

What many consumers don’t know is that they do have a number of new rights as well as a right to complain, both to the airline and to the government.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Debt Collectors, Debt Complaints

This is the fifth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about debt collection, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with debt collectors and documenting the role of the CFPB in helping consumers successfully resolve their complaints.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Report Finds 1 In 4 Consumers Feel "Threatened" By Debt Collector Tactics | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray and Washington, DC Attorney General Karl Racine for release of new CFPB data on debt collector abuses. Fully 1 in 4 consumers feel "threatened" by abusive, possibly illegal, debt collector tactics. The release also included an emphasis on problems with the "debt buyer" industry, comprised of firms that buy older, uncollected debt for as little as less than a penny on the dollar.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

U.S. SUPREME COURT TO DECIDE WHETHER CREDIT CARD COMPANIES CAN CONTINUE TO OBSCURE THE TRUE COST OF CREDIT | Michael Landis

Credit cards are convenient. But using them is expensive. The problem is that most consumers don’t know just how expensive it is. That might change in some states after the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on a case currently pending before it.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

OUR TAKE ON THE LATEST ATTACK ON THE CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU | Michael Landis

Though the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finds itself under constant attack. The most recent is from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. U.S. PIRG Education Fund—along with nine other consumer and civil rights organizations—filed an amicus brief in support of the CFPB’s request for a rehearing before the entire D.C. Circuit. The Department of Justice also filed a brief in support of the CFPB’s request. It is important that the October ruling is corrected so that the CFPB remains a strong and independent agency that looks out for consumers.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

This New Year, Celebrate the CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

This month, we published our 8th report based on analyzing consumer complaints collected in the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database. The release of "Big Banks, Big Overdraft Fees" provides a good year-end opportunity to summarize a few of the reasons to be thankful for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which took over in July 2011 as the first federal regulator with just one job: protecting consumers from unfair financial practices. The idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Fight Against Unfair ATM Surcharge Fees Heads to the U.S. Supreme Court (UPDATED) | Michael Landis

UPDATE: I recently wrote about an amicus brief that U.S. PIRG Education Fund filed in support of consumers and independent ATM owners in two consolidated cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Well, those cases aren’t pending anymore. On November 17, 2016, the Court issued a rare order throwing out the cases before they were argued.

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