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 | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Coronavirus worry triggers most surgical mask, sanitizer prices to spike at least 50% on Amazon

As the Coronvirus outbreak became more widespread, the price of most of the sanitizers and masks rose at least 50 percent higher than the 90-day average. Even one in six products sold directly by Amazon saw prices rise at least 50 percent higher in February

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New investigation: Supermarkets failing to warn public about food recalls

Americans are not hearing about food recalls, and that communication breakdown is having serious repercussions for public health. For example, less than two years ago, people kept getting sick for months after 12 million pounds of Salmonella-contaminated beef was recalled. The pattern has repeated for other recalls even when news outlets have publicized warnings from food safety agencies.

A new report finds that most grocery stores -- which should be some of the best sources for consumers to learn about recalls -- don’t make it easy for consumers to find. TexPIRG Education Fund’s Food Recall Failure: Will your supermarket warn you about hazardous food? scorecard gave a failing grade to 84 percent of the nation’s 26 largest supermarket chains. Chains receiving a failing grade include HEB,and Whole Foods. Shoppers can search for their grocery store on the organization’s website.

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

Hack doesn’t absolve Equifax of being careless with consumers’ data

Congress must hold companies accountable for failing to protect condumers' confidential information.

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Meat recalls remain high; produce and processed food recalls drop

Contaminated food, from Tyson's chicken strips containing chunks of metal to E. coli-laden romaine lettuce, posed a serious danger to Americans’ health in 2019. TexPIRG Education Fund crunched last year’s numbers for its How Safe Is Our Food? report and found that while recalls for produce and processed food have fallen 34 percent since 2016, recalls for meat and poultry have increased slightly since then -- and are up 65 percent since 2013. 

 

“Consumers shouldn't have to worry that their next bite might sicken or kill them, especially when food safety agencies leave so many solutions in the pantry,” said TexPIRG Director Bay Scoggin. “Our analysis suggests that when commonsense protections are implemented, our food gets safer.”

> Keep Reading

The Watchdog: Tornado damage attracts bad guys, but here’s one who got away — and more Watchdog tales

new report from TexPIRG, a consumer public-interest group, accuses AutoNation, the nation’s largest auto retailer, of selling cars that required recall repairs that weren’t done.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Meat recalls remain high; produce and processed food recalls drop

Contaminated food, from Tyson's chicken strips containing chunks of metal to E. coli-laden romaine lettuce, posed a serious danger to Americans’ health in 2019. TexPIRG Education Fund crunched last year’s numbers for its How Safe Is Our Food? report and found that while recalls for produce and processed food have fallen 34 percent since 2016, recalls for meat and poultry have increased slightly since then -- and are up 65 percent since 2013. 

 

“Consumers shouldn't have to worry that their next bite might sicken or kill them, especially when food safety agencies leave so many solutions in the pantry,” said TexPIRG Director Bay Scoggin. “Our analysis suggests that when commonsense protections are implemented, our food gets safer.”

> Keep Reading

The Watchdog: Tornado damage attracts bad guys, but here’s one who got away — and more Watchdog tales

new report from TexPIRG, a consumer public-interest group, accuses AutoNation, the nation’s largest auto retailer, of selling cars that required recall repairs that weren’t done.

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

Deadly infant products sold after recalls at T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced today that discount stores T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods sold 19 different recalled products to consumers between 2014 and 2019. In the case of five products, the stores’ parent company TJX initiated the recall. The products included the Rock ‘N Play and Kids II inclined infant sleepers, which are responsible for a number of fatalities, rattles that can break and pose a choking hazard, and electronics that overheat or explode.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New government data & TexPIRG investigation reveal unsafe toys impact on kids

More than 226,000 kids went to the emergency room in 2018, according to newly released data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission--the majority from choking hazards.  TexPIRG Education Fund released its 34th-annual Trouble in Toyland report on the same day to help identify dangerous products still for sale in 2019 and provides tips for parents and gift-givers. 

 

“Toys have become safer over the last three decades, but dangerous and toxic toys remain on store shelves. With that in mind, parents need to be vigilant to keep their kids healthy and safe,” said  Lauren Banister, TexPIRG Education Fund Associate. “Manufacturers and regulators must do more to ensure all toys are hazard-free before they end up in a child’s hands.”

While stronger safety standards have significantly reduced the number of dangerous toys for sale, problems persist. TexPIRG Education Fund has identified three categories of toys that parents should be on the lookout for: detectable dangers, hidden toxics and hazards, and recalled toys.

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

Lead In Fidget Spinners

While lead in toys has become less prevalent in recent years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested several models of one of today’s hottest toys, fidget spinners, for the toxic heavy metal. Laboratory results indicated that two fidget spinners purchased at Target and distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C. contained extremely high levels of lead. U.S. PIRG Education Fund calls on Target and Bulls i Toy to immediately recall these two fidget spinners and investigate how such high levels of lead were found in these toys. Also, we call on the U.S.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | 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 | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

For 30 years, TexPIRG Education Fund 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.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

Why You Should Get a Security Freeze before Your Information is Stolen

If and when someone does steal enough of your information to commit any form of identity theft (new account financial identity theft, theft of medical services, theft of tax refunds, etc.) there is really only one type of identity theft that you can stop before it happens: New account identity theft, where someone opens a new account in your name.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

Why You Should Get a Security Freeze before Your Information is Stolen

If and when someone does steal enough of your information to commit any form of identity theft (new account financial identity theft, theft of medical services, theft of tax refunds, etc.) there is really only one type of identity theft that you can stop before it happens: New account identity theft, where someone opens a new account in your name.

> Keep Reading

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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.

> Keep Reading
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!).

> Keep Reading
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

The CFPB is 4 years old and has a lot to show for it! | Ed Mierzwinski

Tuesday, July 21, marks four years to the day since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened its doors to protect consumers and make financial markets work. We've summarized some of the ways CFPB works for you on a new web page.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How the CFPB’s Data Keeps Getting Better and Better | Mike Litt

As the CFPB turns 4 years old on July 21, here is some information on how it works for you and how we at PIRG use its data to produce reports, such as our new report on mortgage complaints to the CFPB. We've also got some photos from the Americans for Financial Reform "CFPB at 4" event.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not join in the call to the country’s top online marketplaces to crack down on price gouging amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. A bipartisan group of 33 attorneys general, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro along with co-leading Attorneys General Hector Balderas (NM), William Tong (CT), and T.J. Donovan (VT), sent a letter today urging the companies -- Amazon, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook and Walmart -- to quickly implement preventative measures on their platforms to ensure that consumers don’t get taken advantage of during this public health crisis.

Blog Post

As the second week of spring break begins, I wanted to update the student resources I sent last week and give you some ways to help others during this unprecedented moment. 

As you know, on March 30th, all classes will resume online and students who live on campus are asked to move out throughout this week. 

Here are a few resources to turn to if you need them:

Blog Post

The spread of coronavirus across the country is a serious threat to our health and financial security. We here at TexPIRG are working from home and wishing everyone health, calm, and plenty of hand-washing.

During this time, we must ensure that consumers are protected from those who would take advantage of the pandemic situation and that everyone has access to what they need to stay healthy and prevent the spread of this disease. 

The changes occurring to our daily lives and the whole country is overwhelming. We’ll get through it by working together, so we wanted to offer some information on what TexPIRG is working on.

Blog Post

As we enter spring break, I wanted to share some important resources as our campuses transition to online classes. 

This change to our daily lives - and the whole country - may feel overwhelming. We’ll get through it together and so we wanted to offer some information for students who may be especially struggling to adjust to this major transition. 

As you are most likely aware, UT Austin has extended it’s spring break an additional week and will resume classes on March 30th. 

TexPIRG is happy to provide the following resources for students during this time.

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