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

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

Trouble in Toyland 2017

For over 30 years, U.S. PIRG 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.

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). 

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

32nd Annual “Trouble in Toyland” Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Stores nationwide are still offering dangerous and toxic toys this holiday season and, in some cases, ignoring explicit government safety regulations in the process, according to U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund’s 32nd annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping for children’s gifts.

 

 

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

Target Removes Lead-Laden Fidget Spinner From Website, But Still Available For Sale In-Store

Since late yesterday afternoon, Target appears to have made the 33,000 ppm-lead containing Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass unavailable for sale on its website. U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff went to a Target store today and found the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass was still available for sale in-store, despite the website saying it was unavailable there. Also yesterday, one of the CPSC’s Commissioners, Elliot F. Kaye, re-stated his opposition to the CPSC’s guidance and the acting chairman's statement when he tweeted, “Seems obvious fidget spinners are toys and should comply with all applicable federal safety standards.”

> Keep Reading
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
News Release | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG CONSUMER ADVOCATE MIKE LITT TESTIFIES AT CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON EQUIFAX

Our Consumer Advocate, Mike Litt, was invited by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to testify this week at a Congressional hearing on the Equifax data breach. This was a continuation of the committee's previously held hearing on October 5th entitled "Examining the Equifax Data Breach."

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Agency votes to begin rulemaking process to protect American children, firefighters from hazardous flame retardant chemicals

Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals (known as “organohalogens”). The CPSC directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain these chemicals. Once again, the CPSC has made an important action for consumers.

> Keep Reading

Statement on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

Statement from TexPIRG Education Fund Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

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

Equifax Breach Puts Millions at Risk of New ID Theft

The Equifax breach affecting over 140 million Americans appears to be the largest of its kind and is beyond troubling. The types of stolen information, including social security numbers and dates of birth, can be used to commit new account identity theft against all of these people. Additionally, stolen credit cards affecting over 200,000 people in this breach can also be used to commit existing account identity theft. 

Equifax should alert all affected people to the benefits of credit freezes and offer them to all Americans for free of charge with all three major national credit bureaus. For people who don’t want credit freezes, Equifax should offer free credit monitoring for an unlimited amount of time.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

Harvey Victims Threatened by Scams and Unfair Insurance Practices

AUSTIN—The Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) is warning consumers against potential scams and is advising consumers to take advantage of the resources available to them online from various legal groups.

TexPIRG notes FEMA has announced that homeowners and renters are getting robocalls telling them their flood premiums are past due. In order to have coverage for Hurricane Harvey, consumers are told they need to submit a payment immediately.

> Keep Reading

Texas Chemical Explosions: More Safety Needed Now

Two small explosions last night at a Texas chemical facility highlight that comprehensive emergency regulations need to be enforced more strictly at chemical plants.

> Keep Reading

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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

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Newly-revealed details by the New York Times about of the crash of two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes may stun even the most hardened observer. The planes lacked a safety feature that may have warned pilots about problems because it was not required and Boeing charged airlines extra to include it. Adam Garber, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog issued the following statement.

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

The amount of money Texans owe on their cars is now at an all-time high  -- up 75 percent since the end of 2009 to $6500 per capita, the nation’s highest. Americans’ rising indebtedness for cars raises concerns about the financial future of millions of households as lenders extend credit to more and more Americans without the ability to repay, according to a new TexPIRG Education Fund report.

“Texans deserve both protection from predatory and unfair practices in auto lending, and a transportation system that provides more people the freedom to live without owning a car,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director. “Texans shouldn't have to fight their way through a thicket of tricks and traps at the auto dealer just to get the transportation they need to get to work or school."

Access to a car is all but required in much of America to unlock opportunities for work, education and play. But the financial cost to households is steep: Transportation is the second-leading expenditure for American households, behind only housing.  

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund

In much of America, access to a car is all but required to hold a job or lead a full and vibrant life. Generations of car-centric transportation policies – including lavish spending on roads, sprawl-inducing land use policies, and meager support for other modes of transportation – have left millions of Americans fully dependent on cars for daily living.

Car ownership is costly, and often requires households to take on debt. In the wake of the Great Recession, Americans rapidly took on debt for car purchases. Since the end of 2009, the amount of money Americans owe on their cars has increased by 75 percent. A significant share of that debt has been incurred by borrowers with lower credit scores, who are particularly vulnerable to predatory loans with high interest rates and inflated costs.

Americans’ rising indebtedness for cars raises concerns for the financial future of millions of households. It also demonstrates the real costs and risks imposed by our car-dependent transportation system. Americans deserve protection from predatory loans and unfair practices in auto lending. Americans also deserve a transportation system that provides more people with the freedom to choose to live without owning a car.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

While we are glad that Fiat Chrysler is paying something for damaging the health of Americans and deceiving customers, this settlement does not go far enough. It neither ensures these violations of the public trust won’t happen again nor makes consumers whole.

Report | TexPIRG

Why Shop Refurbished?

Black Friday prices year-round: You can usually find great deals on used electronics, getting something that’s like-new, but for a sizable discount. Technically, the minute you open a new device, it becomes used, so the difference between a used and new item can be negligible. You can get an item that’s close to new at prices lower than Black Friday deals.

Buying used is a greener choice: Buying used gifts is better for the environment. Most of the environmental damage from our electronics comes from the manufacturing process.

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