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 | Consumer Tips, COVID-19, Consumer Protection

Is your mortgage forbearance ending? | Teresa Murray

If the COVID-19 pandemic affects your ability to pay, here’s what you need to know

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Blog Post | Consumer Tips, COVID-19, Consumer Protection

If you’re behind on your mortgage payments, here are some tips | Teresa Murray

Good news: You may still be able to request a forbearance because of COVID-19

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection, Food

New study indicates toxic chemicals used in take-out food packaging from popular chains

A new study that tested for PFAS in food containers from six restaurant chains found that, out of 29 unique samples, 14 tested above the screening level for fluorine, suggesting PFAS treatment.

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

Consumer Complaints Break Records

On the 10th anniversary of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) establishment as a centerpiece of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the law passed on 21 July 2010 and the Bureau opened its doors one year later), we look at the latest results from the CFPB’s public Consumer Complaint Database. This snapshot finds that, as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on the financial situations of millions of Americans, consumer complaints to the CFPB have spiked to record levels.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Investigation finds 1 in 9 used cars for sale at AutoNation have unrepaired safety recalls

AutoNation, America’s largest auto retailer, is selling used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls including explosive Takata airbags, faulty GM ignition switches and defects with no fix available.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

New analysis uncovers unsafe blood pressure medication distributed in US

A new analysis of publicly available information from the FDA by U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund finds only 26 percent of a class of recalled blood pressure medications have been assessed for carcinogen contamiantion -- and the majority had some lots with higher levels than the FDA considers safe.

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News Release | Consumer Protection

Statement: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau agrees to retain consumer complaint database and enhance elements of the key resource

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced today it would continue to maintain its public consumer complaint database, and that it also plans to make a number of “enhancements” to the database. These include: providing financial information and details into the complaint process to both better address questions and inform consumers before issuing a complaint; and adding materials to help consumers who seek answers to specific questions from financial companies.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection, Higher Ed

College students can save hundreds as they head back to school

College is expensive, requiring many students to take out significant loans to afford an education. On top of that, students have to deal with the additional costs of textbooks, computers and other critical supplies. As students head back to school -- or to school for the first time -- U.S. PIRG Education Fund is releasing a money-saving guide to help them cut those additional costs.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund & Kids in Danger | Consumer Protection

1 in 10 surveyed daycares still using deadly, recalled infant sleepers

Three months after nearly 5.4 million infant sleepers were recalled for causing 36 infant deaths, a new survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education (U.S. PIRG) and Kids in Danger (KID) revealed that many child care facilities continue to use these dangerous inclined sleepers.

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Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

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

A Public Interest Internet Agenda

A Public Interest Internet Agenda prescribes broadband policy solutions that are tied to the common good and our nation’s prosperity. Connecting our entire nation to the Internet at broadband speed is the key to economic development, improved healthcare and education, energy efficiency, robust democracy and open government.

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

Online Behavorial Tracking and Targeting, Legislative Primer

Consumers are increasingly relying on the Internet and other digital services for a wide range of transactions and services, many of which involve their most sensitive affairs, including health, financial, and other personal matters. At the same time many companies are now engaging in behavioral advertising, which involves the surreptitious tracking and targeting of consumers.

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

Mixed Signals

In an effort to determine America’s preparedness for the transition, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund conducted a “secret shopper” survey at 132 locations of five leading national electronics retailers in ten states. The survey found that retail electronic store staff are largely uninformed and are not adequately preparing consumers for the impending transition to digital television.

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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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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

In response to a tidal wave of unfair marketplace practices, the CFPB asked the public to submit comments on the impact of junk fees on their lives. Some 2,500 comments later, consumers have described the pain points caused by unfair junk fees.

Cover graphic courtesy Student Borrower Protection Center, used by permission

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Today, in response to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) request for information (RFI) on harmful “junk fees,” the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund submitted comments exposing how financial service giants and universities are plaguing postsecondary students with unexpected, unavoidable, and hugely expensive charges on a range of financial products.

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Report on issues with "Buy Now, Pay Later" financing plans.

Blog Post

Even with the knowledge I’ve gained working as a consumer advocate for several years, getting my finances in order has been a work in progress. 

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