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

Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Men: The Lead in Your Hair Dye Could be Harming You | Kara Cook-Schultz

Lead acetate is a substance used since the Roman Empire added it as a sweetener to food and drinks. But today we don’t drink it — we know that lead acetate can cause serious health problems. Some health risks posed include lung irritation, abdominal pain, nausea, high lead levels in blood and urine, cancer, and even death in the most serious cases.

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

Protecting Those Who Serve

This report, the tenth in our series on the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database, is called "Protecting Those Who Serve." It is an analysis of over 44,000 consumer complaints from active-duty servicemembers, veterans and their families. The report also explains the work the CFPB and its Office of Servicemember Affairs does to protect military families in the financial marketplace. Debt problems also are a leading cause of revoking secuirty clearances, which affects military preparedness.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Court rules that people should be protected from untested pesticides | Kara Cook-Schultz

A groundbreaking court victory came out yesterday: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an important pesticide law and ruled that pesticides can’t be sold until they’re tested for safety. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

> Keep Reading

L'Oréal: Pledge to Be Toxic-Free

Today, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP)), and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures calling on the multinational cosmetic giant L’Oréal USA to eliminate cancer causing chemicals and to disclose its secret “fragrance” chemicals. 

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An $18 Million Lesson in Handling Credit Report Errors

"Even after sending more than 13 letters to Equifax over the course of two years, Julie Miller could not get the big credit bureau to remove a host of errors that it inserted into her credit report. [...] So she tried suing. That worked. [...] “Big punitive penalties may help force the bureaus to upgrade their 20th-century algorithms and incompetent dispute reinvestigation processes,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the United States Public Interest Research Group. “But C.F.P.B.’s authority to supervise the big credit bureaus is one of the most significant powers Congress gave it.”

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

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s 27th annual Trouble in Toyland report. It reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for lead, cadmium and phthalates, all of which have been proven to have serious adverse health impacts on the development of young children. The survey also found small toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that threaten children’s hearing, and toy magnets that can cause serious injury.

> Keep Reading

Fox Business: Consumer Watchdog Gives Bite to Dodd-Frank

"The CFPB has been enormously successful in ramping up over its first year," says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the Federation of State Public Interest Research Groups in Washington, D.C.

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

Bagged Lettuce Recall and Fresh Produce Inspections

The Agriculture Department’s tiny $5 million Microbiological Data Program screens high-risk fresh produce throughout the year for bacteria including Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria. Cutting this program will leave public health officials without a crucial tool used to investigate deadly foodborne illnesses in fresh produce leaving inspections in the hands of produce producers.

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

Listeria Contaminated Eggs Yanked From 34 States

Friday’s announcement of widespread listeria contamination in eggs produced in Minnesota underscores the need for food inspections to happen at more regular intervals.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post

Until recently, I did not have estate and end-of-life planning in mind, but it was the natural next step in my quest to be a responsible adult, with a nudge from the existential threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blog Post

Advance directives are legal instructions that include a living will (different from a regular will) and a health care proxy. In them, you state what treatments you do or don’t want at the end of your life and who you want making health care decisions for you if you can’t. 

Blog Post

Before listening to In Case You Get Hit By a Bus, I didn’t know about insurance that covers the costs of long-term care, such as home health care or nursing home care, for people who need assistance with daily living activities. 

Blog Post

Getting my finances in order has been a work in progress over several years, starting with tackling credit card debt, paying off my car loan and then building an emergency fund. 

After clearing those hurdles, I set more defined financial goals and plans in motion this year, including automatic deposits into new investment accounts.

News Release | US PIRG

During this time of year, families are thinking about the children going back to school, and for parents who are sending their kids to college, it can be a bit overwhelming. A key to addressing those concerns is making sure their teens are prepared for “adulting” -- in other words, taking care of their own lives.

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