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

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

Lead In Fidget Spinners

While lead in toys has become less prevalent in recent years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested several models of one of today’s hottest toys, fidget spinners, for the toxic heavy metal. Laboratory results indicated that two fidget spinners purchased at Target and distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C. contained extremely high levels of lead. U.S. PIRG Education Fund calls on Target and Bulls i Toy to immediately recall these two fidget spinners and investigate how such high levels of lead were found in these toys. Also, we call on the U.S.

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News Release | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG CONSUMER ADVOCATE MIKE LITT TESTIFIES AT CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON EQUIFAX

Our Consumer Advocate, Mike Litt, was invited by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to testify this week at a Congressional hearing on the Equifax data breach. This was a continuation of the committee's previously held hearing on October 5th entitled "Examining the Equifax Data Breach."

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Children’s Toys Victory: CPSC Bans Phthalates In Toys

Children’s toys will be safer after a vote today by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to ban five types of phthalate chemicals from children’s toys and other children’s products. Phthalates are commonly used as a softener for plastic children’s toys and child care articles, such as pacifiers and bottles.

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News Release | Consumer Protection

REPORT: MORTGAGE ABUSES LEADING SOURCE OF OLDER CONSUMER COMPLAINTS TO CFPB

Mortgages were the leading source of 72,000 complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from consumers 62 years of age and over, followed by complaints about credit reports and debt collection, according to a new report. Further, legislation passed by the House and awaiting Senate action intended to cripple the Consumer Bureau would place older consumers at greater risk of harm from financial scammers.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund & Frontier Group | Consumer Protection

Older Consumers in the Financial Marketplace

Older consumers are at risk of harm from predatory financial behavior. An analysis of more than 72,000 financial complaints submitted by older consumers (those 62 years of age and older) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB, or Consumer Bureau) and contained in its Consumer Complaint Database suggests that mistreatment of older consumers by financial companies is widespread.

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ARKANSAS STATE PLANT BOARD VOTES TO PROTECT FARMERS FROM DICAMBA DRIFT

Yesterday, the Arkansas State Plant Board unanimously voted to ban the pesticide dicamba for the 2018 planting season. The decision was based on advice from a task force composed of scientists, farmers, and other experts. Arkansas came to the decision after a year of record crop losses caused by dicamba—during 2017, the state received more pesticide complaints than it ever has in one year.

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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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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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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

The CFPB’s Structure is Constitutional and Important to its Mission | Michael Landis

Last fall, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit wrongly concluded that the leadership structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau violates the Constitution. U.S. PIRG Education Fund, along with many others, urged the full D.C. Circuit to rehear the case and correct the obvious errors in the panel’s decision. We were pleased when the D.C. Circuit agreed with our position and decided to rehear the case.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Some Tips To Protect Internet Privacy | Ed Mierzwinski

You may have heard that Congress just voted to take away many of your online broadband privacy protections. After a little background, we will give you some tips on how to protect what’s left.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Congress Votes Against Consumers and Internet Privacy | Kara Cook-Schultz

Yesterday, the House voted to gut online consumer protections, and if the president signs the legislation, internet service providers will be able to use and sell consumers’ personal information without their permission.

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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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