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 | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New report: the hidden costs of peer-to-peer payment apps

Consumer complaints about peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps such as PayPal, Venmo and Square have surged during the pandemic year. In April, there were 970 digital wallet complaints — almost double the previous monthly high from July 2020. Texas PIRG Education Fund analyzed this growing problem for Virtual Wallets, Real Complaints, a new analysis of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) Consumer Complaint Database.

“People use peer-to-peer apps for convenience but there’s nothing more inconvenient than having your money inaccessible -- or even worse, going to the wrong person,” said TexPIRG Education Fund Director. “We’re seeing as more people turn to payment apps, more people are getting burned by related problems, including scams and fraud. And, more people are experiencing problems bad enough that they’ll go to a government website to register their complaints. It’s time for the CFPB to force the payment apps to provide better customer service.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | US PIRG | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Statement: Beech-Nut to stop selling some rice cereal over arsenic concerns

Beech-Nut will stop selling all single grain rice cereal after Alaska state officials discovered high arsenic levels during routing sampling, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) said in a statement released Tuesday.

> Keep Reading
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 | US PIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Statement: New FDA plan to reduce toxic metal in baby food falls short

A month after announcing a weak plan to reduce heavy metals in baby food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new plan Thursday aimed at making baby food safer over the next several years.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

A year later on Amazon: Comparing pre-pandemic prices to today's for 750 products

At the start of 2020, toilet paper stockpiling and a run on hand sanitizer would have never crossed our minds. Unfortunately, we’ve lived in a different reality since then. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Americans have witnessed shortages of -- and price gouging on -- a range of household and medical products from disinfectant wipes to face masks. And as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths regularly near or exceed record numbers across the United States, even though most products are back in stock, we’re still seeing price hikes on essentials.

“With more than 10,000 Americans dying from the coronavirus each week, it’s unconscionable that anyone would try to make excess profits while so many are suffering,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund Director. “Now is the time to do everything we can to keep each other safe. There is no place for price gouging in a pandemic or any other state or national emergency” 

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

35th annual Trouble in Toyland report uncovers mislabeled and dangerous toys

TexPIRG Education Fund’s Trouble in Toyland report has helped identify dangerous toys for 35 years. But 2020 is unique, and as Americans have worked, learned and played from home to protect themselves from COVID-19, children could be more susceptible to certain toy-related hazards. 

“This has been an incredibly difficult year, and parents and caregivers are overwhelmed. They might do a quick search online for a toy to entertain their kids and trust that manufacturers and online vendors are guaranteeing their safety. This isn’t always the case, so parents need to be on guard,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund’s Director.

> 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.

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

Americans need stronger consumer protections during COVID-19 crisis

U.S. PIRG Education Fund has released a report with the Student Borrower Protection Center and Consumer Action. The report makes recommendations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to upgrade its consumer complaint tool, including the public consumer complaint database, so COVID19-related complaints can be handled more quickly and tracked better.

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

9 Texas legislators demand Amazon, other online marketplaces end coronavirus price gouging

A bipartisan group of nine Texas legislators are calling on the country’s top online marketplaces to crack down on price gouging amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Together, 346 legislators representing 45 states, joined TexPIRG Education Fund in sending a letter Tuesday urging 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. Less than two weeks ago, 33 attorneys general sent a similar letter to the same companies.

“We believe you have an ethical obligation and patriotic duty to help your fellow citizens in this time of need by doing everything in your power to stop price gouging in real-time,” the letter reads, in part.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, the cost of critical health supplies has spiked dramatically on online platforms. An analysis last month from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund found that existing monitoring on Amazon’s platform was not preventing significant price hikes. In particular, the cost of most hand sanitizers and masks rose at least 50 percent higher than the 90-day average. Since then, more than 335,000 Americans have signed PIRG’s petition calling on Amazon to protect consumers from price gouging.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

The 2013 Trouble in Toyland report is the 28th annual U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, U.S. PIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Credit Bureaus, Big Mistakes

Since the CFPB began collecting complaints about credit reporting in October 2012, the CFPB has recorded more than 10,000 complaints about credit reporting.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Banks, Big Complaints

This report is the first of several that will review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state basis. In this report we explore consumer complaints about bank accounts and services with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with their banks.

> Keep Reading

Pages

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

Pages

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. 

Blog Post

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.

Blog Post

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. 

Blog Post

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. 

Blog Post

Getting my finances in order has been a work in progress over several years, starting with tackling credit card debt, paying off my car loan and then building an emergency fund. 

After clearing those hurdles, I set more defined financial goals and plans in motion this year, including automatic deposits into new investment accounts.

View AllRSS Feed

Support Us

Your tax-deductible donation supports TexPIRG Education Fund's work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and to stand up to the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support TexPIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations. 




TexPIRG Education Fund is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.