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.

The Best Ways to Protect Yourself

Being a consumer in today’s marketplace can be tough. Financial decisions in particular often require navigating a torrent of misleading advertisements and pages of jargon-filled small print. Even the simplest choices — everyday financial decisions like opening a credit card, creating a bank account, applying for a loan, or sorting through cell phone contracts — can take time, energy and knowledge that too many of us don’t have.
   
Many financial institutions don’t set out to make it easier for their customers:

  • 1 out of every 20 Americans — millions of consumers — have errors on their credit reports significant enough to raise their rate on loans.
  • Financing cars through dealerships costs consumers more than $25.8 billion in additional hidden interest.
  • From 2005 to 2010, identity theft rose by 33%. In 2012, an estimated 12.6 million Americans became victims. That is 1 victim every 3 seconds. 
  • Banks made around $11 billion in overdraft fees in 2015, fees they pitched as “overdraft protection” but actually cost consumers more.

Despite these practices, there are ways to protect yourself. We want to help. This is why we’ve created the following tip sheets based on common complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. Read on. Protect yourself from becoming a statistic.

File a complaint if you have a problem

For all sorts of everyday consumer problems, there are government resources that can help. Federal agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Consumer Product Safety Commission exist to protect us from unfair or dangerous products. Submitting complaints to government agencies can help resolve your problem AND it helps these agencies hold companies accountable for unfair practices. For more information, consult our tip sheet on the subject, which includes information on how to contact the CFPB with financial complaints, the CPSC with toy and other product safety complaints, the NHTSA with car safety complaints, and DOT with air travel complaints: How to File a Consumer Complaint and Use Government Databases.

Keeping Track of Your Money:

Credit Reports, Credit Scores, and Identity Theft:

Common Consumer Problems:

Please 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 Protection

CFPB receives over 2,500 junk fee comments | Ed Mierzwinski

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

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

Report: Airlines’ refund policies, scheduling problems irk flyers

When the COVID-19 pandemic turned life upside down in early 2020 and commercial flights came to a near-halt, the U.S. government gave the airline industry $50 billion to save jobs and keep the industry afloat. Since then, despite surviving because of their customers’ tax dollars, the airlines repeatedly have canceled and delayed flights, denied refunds and failed at customer service, according to complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Not First Class: Flyer complaints soar as airlines cancel flights, deny refunds, ruin plans, a new report released Thursday by CoPIRG Foundation analyzes more than 200,000 DOT complaints going back to 2016. 

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

Not First Class: Flyer complaints soar as airlines cancel flights, deny refunds, ruin plans

We looked at the data around more than 200,000 complaints against the airline industry and the data around flight departures and arrivals starting in January 2016. This analysis should help consumers to take as much as possible into account when deciding where to fly and through which airline.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How I got my finances in order | Mike Litt

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. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | CoPIRG Foundation and U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Report: Airlines’ refund policies, scheduling problems irk flyers

When the COVID-19 pandemic turned life upside down in early 2020 and commercial flights came to a near-halt, the U.S. government gave the airline industry $50 billion to save jobs and keep the industry afloat. Since then, despite surviving because of their customers’ tax dollars, the airlines repeatedly have canceled and delayed flights, denied refunds and failed at customer service, according to complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Not First Class: Flyer complaints soar as airlines cancel flights, deny refunds, ruin plans, a new report released Thursday by CoPIRG Foundation analyzes more than 200,000 DOT complaints going back to 2016. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | CoPIRG | Consumer Protection

After decades of saving ratepayers money, Colorado’s utility watchdog has a new name and expanded responsibilities

After 37 years of critical watchdog work that has resulted in nearly $2 billion in savings for utility ratepayers, the Office of Consumer Counsel will be the Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (UCA) moving forward. Reauthorized by the Colorado General Assembly this year for another seven years and with modernized responsibilities and additional resources and staffing, the UCA has new momentum to advocate for affordably-priced, safe and reliable utility service. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | US PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Back to school: financial literacy tips for college students, teens

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.

> Keep Reading

Statement: Johnson & Johnson recalls sunscreen products after tests detect carcinogens

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. said Wednesday it’s voluntarily recalling all lots of five types of Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen after internal testing showed “low levels of benzene” -- which can cause cancer -- in some samples. J&J also said consumers should stop using the sunscreen.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | CoPIRG Foundation and U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Not First Class: Flyer complaints soar as airlines cancel flights, deny refunds, ruin plans

We looked at the data around more than 200,000 complaints against the airline industry and the data around flight departures and arrivals starting in January 2016. This analysis should help consumers to take as much as possible into account when deciding where to fly and through which airline.

> Keep Reading
Report | CoPIRG | Consumer Protection

Data from the Denver Office of Financial Empowerment and Protection

Data provided by the Denver Office of Financial Empowerment and Protection shows that thousands of people were helped in 2020.

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

What Coloradans Are Fixing 2021

Here in Colorado, we want to fix our stuff – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a review of data from iFixit, which describes itself as the “repair guide for everything, written by everyone,” over 1 million unique users from Colorado went to www.iFixit.com to look up how to repair something in 2020. Even as repairing our devices for learning and working became critical to staying safe, 6 of the top 10 most popular manufacturers of devices that Coloradans were trying to fix restrict access to parts and service information

> Keep Reading
Report | CoPIRG Foundation, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Frontier Group | Consumer Protection

Consumers in Peril

A review of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s public complaint database finds that consumer complaints about financial grievances spiked during the pandemic year of 2020, eclipsing 2019, the previous record year. Analysis of complaint volumes and the types of complaints received shows that, as consumers dealt with the economic fallout of the pandemic, they increasingly faced  problems with financial companies.

> Keep Reading
Report | CoPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates, parents, the leadership of Congress, state legislatures, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).  Despite this progress, our survey of 40 toys this year found 15 toys with issues including toys with high concentrations of unsafe chemicals and with potential choking hazards. With hundreds of new toys hitting the market every year, our survey of only 40 toys suggests there may be other potentially dangerous toys slipping through existing protections or worthy of further investigation.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB receives over 2,500 junk fee comments | Ed Mierzwinski

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

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How I got my finances in order | Mike Litt

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. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How I started my estate and end-of-life planning | Mike Litt

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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Resources I used to prepare my advance directive | Mike Litt

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. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

What I decided to do after shopping for long-term care insurance | Mike Litt

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. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

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

Report | CoPIRG Foundation and U.S. PIRG Education Fund

We looked at the data around more than 200,000 complaints against the airline industry and the data around flight departures and arrivals starting in January 2016. This analysis should help consumers to take as much as possible into account when deciding where to fly and through which airline.

News Release | CoPIRG Foundation and U.S. PIRG Education Fund

When the COVID-19 pandemic turned life upside down in early 2020 and commercial flights came to a near-halt, the U.S. government gave the airline industry $50 billion to save jobs and keep the industry afloat. Since then, despite surviving because of their customers’ tax dollars, the airlines repeatedly have canceled and delayed flights, denied refunds and failed at customer service, according to complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Not First Class: Flyer complaints soar as airlines cancel flights, deny refunds, ruin plans, a new report released Thursday by CoPIRG Foundation analyzes more than 200,000 DOT complaints going back to 2016. 

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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