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:
- Top Ten Ways the CFPB Can Help You With Financial Questions
- How to Choose a Bank
- How to Avoid Problems When Paying Taxes
- How to Choose a Credit Card
Credit Reports, Credit Scores, and Identity Theft:
- How to Access Your Credit Report and Avoid 'Free' Credit Report Scams
- How to Fix Mistakes on Your Credit Report
- How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Common Consumer Problems:
- How to Pick a Cell Phone Plan
- How Tenants Can Protect Themselves from Predatory Landlords
- How to Avoid Common Mistakes When Buying a Car
- How to Avoid Dangerous Toys
- Your Rights As an Air Traveler
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.
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.
“Supermarkets should be our best recall notification system, but instead, we found that shoppers must go on a nearly impossible scavenger hunt to learn if they’ve purchased contaminated food,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund Director. “Stores already use modern technology to track customers, place products, and target us with ads. There’s no reason why they can’t also keep us healthy.”
U.S. PIRG assessed supermarkets on publicly available information about whether they tell customers about the following: recall policies, in-store notification, and direct customer notification. Findings include:
● 22 out of 26 stores failed to adequately inform the public about recall notification efforts, how to sign up for direct notifications, or where to find in-store postings. Only Harris Teeter, Kroger, Smith’s and Target received a passing grade.
● 58 percent of stores reported some program to directly notify consumers about recalls through email or phone. Of those 15 stores, only eight made it clear how customers could participate, how the system works, or what information is included in warnings.
● Not a single store provided information online about whether recall notices are posted at customer service desks, checkout counters, or store shelves.
Congress must hold companies accountable for failing to protect condumers' confidential information.
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.”
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.
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