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

News Release | Consumer Protection

Unilever: Go Toxic-Free

On Valentine’s Day, consumer groups thank Unilever for great first step in disclosing fragrance ingredients and call on personal care giant to go toxic-free.

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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Over 7,000 Comments Submitted to Department of Labor

Every year, over $17 billion is lost from retirement savings to fees and charges, according to the Council of Economic Advisors. Today, we submitted over 7,000 PIRG member comments urging the U.S. Department of Labor to finalize a strong rule requiring retirement advisors to put the interests of their customers first. We also submitted a detailed expert comment of our own in the important "conflicted advice" rulemaking.

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Top 10 List: How the CFPB Works for Consumers

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) turns 4 on July 21st. To celebrate and increase public awareness of the agency, U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a new webpage, “Meet the CFPB: Just Ten of the Ways It Works for You.

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New Report: Mortgage Problems Rank #1 at CFPB for Consumer Complaints

Mortgage problems were the top source of complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), according to a report released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. The report also found that Bank of America was the most complained about company in 45 states and Washington, D.C. for mortgage problems.It's the sixth in a series of our reports analyzing nearly 500,000 complaints posted to the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

We Commend CFPB For Adding Consumer Stories To Public Complaint Database

Yesterday, the CFPB published the first batch (7,700) of consumer narratives or stories to the Public Consumer Complaint Database it began in 2011. We've used the database to publish five reports (so far) analyzing complaint trends in markets ranging from credit cards to student loans but we have also long urged the voluntary addition of stories to the data fields. Now, consumers can learn if what happened to them happened to anyone else. Now, researchers can track which banks are more responsive to particular problems and which ignore their customers. A good resource is now an excellent resource.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRG Commends Release of Labor Dept.'s Proposed Rule To End Conflicted Retirement Advice

PIRG today commended the public release of the Department of Labor’s proposed rule that would strengthen the ability for Americans to save for retirement by addressing conflicts of interest that arise when brokers and financial advisers give retirement advice. Wall Street will fight the rule hard, because it requires them to put consumers first.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Retailers appeal swipe fee settlement with Visa/Mastercard | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, big retailers filed an appeal of last month's announced final settlement order in an antitrust case involving price-fixing by Visa and Mastercard. PIRG backs the merchants because non-negotiable swipe fees force all consumers, including cash customers, to pay more at the store and more at the pump.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB getting results for consumers this week | Ed Mierzwinski

Last week, a senior bank industry lawyer said he was "amazed" at the amount of work the CFPB had accomplished "in such a short amount of time." This week, the CFPB stepped up its game another notch, when it returned $34 million to consumers who'd been deceived by a medical debt credit card pitched by their doctors and dentists and their receptionists and also took a big step toward ending forced arbitration in consumer contracts. Had any victims of the medical credit card wanted to go to court because they'd been ripped off, they couldn't, since the small print on that card, like the small print on most others, would send them instead to arbitration, no better than a kangaroo court.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Shopping? We've got your back, online and in the store. | Ed Mierzwinski

Whether you're shopping for toys or anything else this holiday season, the state PIRGs have new resources to help you make better, safer choices. We also have tips to protect your privacy and your wallet from online scams and rip-offs.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Will U.S. Trade Deal With Europe Eliminate Consumer Protections? | Ed Mierzwinski

Tomorrow, Tuesday, on Election Day, Washington State voters will consider the question "Yes On 522: To Label Genetically-Modified Foods." The right to choose your food is a right that American consumers want and every European citizen already has. But at the behest of the powerful agribusiness industry, U.S. trade negotiators want to take it away from all of us on both sides of the Atlantic in a secret deal. U.S. PIRG is among the consumer groups pushing back.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How To: Using the CFPB's Consumer Complaint Database | Laura Murray

Since June 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been getting results for consumers by allowing them to file complaints about a variety of financial products and services.  The complaint process has helped thousands of consumers settle disputes with their banks and lenders.  Many of these consumers obtain tangible relief through the process.

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