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

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

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
News Release | US PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Consumer tips: What families should know about child tax credit payments that start July 15

Starting Thursday, many families with children under 18 will start getting monthly payments as part of the American Rescue Plan that became law this spring. Eligible families will get payments every month through December by direct deposit or by paper checks or preloaded debit cards that come in the mail. These payments will add up to half the child tax credit you should be entitled to for 2021; you can claim the rest next year when you file your tax return.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Waking up to the dangers of inclined infant sleepers | Teresa Murray

If you’re stunned that safety standards for inclined sleepers weren’t required before, get this: The new rules don’t take effect for a year. That’s one of the problems in the world of infant sleep.

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News Release | US PIRG | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Statement: CPSC vote to regulate infant sleep products will save lives

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission approved tough new standards Wednesday to regulate several infant sleep products for the first time.

> Keep Reading
News Release | CoPIRG | Consumer Protection

Denver financial empowerment office helps thousands of residents reduce debt, save money, avoid debt traps

CoPIRG released new data highlighting the success of the Denver Office of Financial Empowerment and Protection (OFEP), which in 2020 helped thousands of Denver residents reduce debt by $1.4 million, increase savings by $227,000, avoid $826,000 in tax prep fees, and improve credit scores by an average of 43 points. CoPIRG highlighted that the Denver OFEP success underscores the role a statewide Office of Financial Empowerment could play to help leverage Denver’s success across the state.

 

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A week's worth of help and tips during Consumer Protection Week

Being a consumer is a tough job. Really tough. During National Consumer Protection Week, which runs through March 6, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff is offering a daily dose of tips and advice to help you navigate life’s biggest consumer challenges.

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News Release | CoPIRG Foundation, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Frontier Group | Consumer Protection

Study: CFPB complaints shattered records in 2020, exposing how the COVID-19 pandemic battered consumer finances

Consumer complaints about problems with financial companies such as banks, credit bureaus and debt collectors rose by more than 50 percent in 2020 and set new records for each month of the year, according to a new report from the CoPIRG Foundation. The report, Consumers In Peril, which analyzed complaints received by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), was released Monday to kick off National Consumer Protection Week.

> Keep Reading
News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

FTC settles first case against VoIP provider for allowing illegal robocalls

This FTC settlement must be a wake-up call to phone service providers so they do more to protect consumers. If not, the FTC must be vigilant in going after companies that enable the immoral practice of preying on consumers. And the FCC should require providers to block spoofed calls that we all know are scams.

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Report | CoPIRG Foundation and Frontier Group | Consumer Protection

Medical Debt Malpractice

Medical debt collectors often employ aggressive tactics and attempt to collect debt from the wrong customers – putting consumers' credit records at risk. A review of 17,701 medical debt collection complaints submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) suggests that many consumers contacted about medical debt should not have been contacted in the first place, and that many contacts involve aggressive or inappropriate tactics.

> Keep Reading
Report | CoPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

CoPIRG Foundation staff examined toys recalled by the CPSC between January 2015 and October 2016 and looked at whether they appeared to still be available for sale online. Since January 2015, the CPSC, in cooperation with manufacturers and distributors, has announced over 40 recalls of toys and children’s products totaling over 35 million units. We found that over a dozen recalled toys appeared to be available for sale. Also, parents should watch out for recalled toys that could still be in their homes.

> Keep Reading
Report | CoPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Predatory Loans & Predatory Loan Complaints

This is the seventh in a series of reports that review complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In this report, we explore consumer complaints about predatory loans, categorized in the database as payday loans, installment loans, and auto title loans.

> Keep Reading
Report | CoPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2015

For 30 years, CoPIRG Foundation has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children. Check out the 2015 survey.

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Report | CoPIRG Foundation | 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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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of over 145 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

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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.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumers Count: Five years of the CFPB standing up for consumers | Kathryn Lee

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns five years old! As part of our efforts to tell more people about the CFPB, we're cross-posting this video blog and comments written by Zixta Q. Martinez of the CFPB (check out the infographic at the end, too!).

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

30 Years of "Trouble in Toyland," 30 Years of Safety Improvements | Anna Low-Beer

Every year, U.S. PIRG Education Fund releases Trouble in Toyland, a report on toy safety which examines toys bought at major national retailers, looking for safety hazards including toxic toys, choking hazards, labeling violations, powerful magnets, and excessibely loud toys. We continue to find these hazards on store shelves, which indicates the need for continued vigilance and adequate enforcement of safety regulations. But despite lingering dangers, in the last 30 years, we've come a long way in terms of both policy and compliance with standards.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

We went to a VW Dealership today | Danny Katz

Today, I went to a VW dealership with one of the 482,000 VW owners who unknowingly purchased a “clean” diesel vehicle that was designed to get away with violating the law. I went there to encourage dealerships to join with VW customers and call on VW to give people their money back for these misleading vehicles.

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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 | 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. 

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.

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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