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 | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Medical Debt Malpractice

Millions of Americans are contacted by debt collectors every year over debt related to medical expenses. This review of complaints submitted to the CFPB suggest 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.  

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News Release | CALPIRG | Consumer Protection

New report from leading consumer group shows millions are victims of aggressive tactics from medical debt collectors

The consumer group CALPIRG released the ninth in a series of reports that review complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  The latest report explores consumer complaints about medical debt, a major source of problems for consumers, since medical debt items on credit reports are often wrong or about the wrong consumer.  The report also demonstrates the need to defend the CFPB from partisan and special interest attacks.

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News Release | Consumer Protection

Unilever: Go Toxic-Free

On Valentine’s Day, consumer groups thank Unilever for great first step in disclosing fragrance ingredients and call on personal care giant to go toxic-free.

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Statement on Procter & Gamble’s New Preservative Tracker in Personal Care Products

Personal care product giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) recently unveiled a new preservative tracker, which lets consumers know which preservatives are included in various categories of P&G’s products, such as baby wipes, skin care, and hair care products. Consumers can search the tracker by ingredient or by product type.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Yahoo Data Breach Presents Opportunity for Strong Response

Although it failed its responsibility to protect its users, Yahoo has an opportunity to provide the most consumer friendly response to likely the largest breach of its kind by alerting its users to the benefits of credit freezes and offering to pay for credit freezes with all three major national credit bureaus.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

30th Annual Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season. The report reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for toxic chemicals, including chromium and phthalates, both of which can have serious, adverse health impacts on a child’s development. The survey also found examples of toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that can threaten children’s hearing, and powerful toy magnets that can cause serious injury if swallowed.

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Los Angeles Times: Consumer Bureau Chalks Up Victories

"The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is the little agency Wall Street banks and debt collectors love to hate because it works for consumers, not them," said Emily Rusch, executive director of the California Public Interest Research Group. For the first time, we have an agency that's looking out for our interests instead of the banks' interests."

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News Release | Consumer Protection

New Report: Mortgage Problems Rank #1 at CFPB for Consumer Complaints

Mortgage problems were the top source of complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), according to a report released today by the CALPIRG Education Fund.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

CARMAX IS ENDANGERING LIVES IN CALIFORNIA

CALPIRG Education Fund and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation today released results of research into CarMax’s sales of unsafe, defective recalled cars in California, and called upon California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the California Department of Motor Vehicles to protect the public from CarMax’s sales of unrepaired, defective vehicles that are subject to federal safety recalls.

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Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since bank deregulation began in the early 1980s, the PIRGs and other consumer groups have conducted numerous studies documenting skyrocketing consumer banking fees. Our studies have helped to focus national attention on the problem of skyrocketing bank fees. Our results are substantiated by the results of the Federal Reserve Board's annual fee reports to Congress.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Safe Energy

The Campus Credit Card Trap:

College students are among the most prominent targets for this marketing.   They are young and understand that they need credit to get ahead in the world. Some need credit because of the rising cost of a college education. Finally, most of them are clumped together on campuses that they either commute to or live at. This makes them easy to target.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Locked In a Cell:

A high level of concentration in a major industry can be accompanied by excessive market power, which in turn can reduce competition to the detriment of consumers.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Mistakes Do Happen:

The most common reflection of our reputation as a trustworthy consumer is our credit report. Unfortunately, the information contained in our credit reports, which are bought and sold daily to nearly anyone who requests and pays for them, does not always tell a true story.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Policing Privacy:

This report summarizes interviews CALPIRG Education Fund held with law enforcement officers from California and other cities with high identity theft rates.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer groups call on CPSC to take action on Bumbo Baby Seat | Jon Fox

CALPIRG urges CPSC to remove Bumbo International’s Baby Seat from the market and to allow the manufacturer to address the serious safety concerns in the future.  

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

Everyone should assume that their social security number has been exposed between this breach and breaches of other major companies’ databases, such as Equifax’s. With that in mind, U.S. PIRG recommends all Americans should use their right by law to freeze their credit reports for free

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Our response to Equifax paying a $650 million penalty for exposing the social security numbers of 148 million Americans to identity theft.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Fisher-Price recalled 4.7 million Rock n’Play baby sleepers on Friday. U.S. PIRG Consumer Watchdog Adam Garber issued a response: "“While we’re pleased that Fisher-Price is finally recalling these dangerous sleepers, 30 deaths in 10 years is 30 deaths too many and 10 years too late."

News Release

Read U.S. PIRG's statement on Wells Fargo eliminating some fees for student on debit cards.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Henry Avocado Corporation is recalling avocados potentially contaminated with the deadly listeria bacteria. Adam Garber, U.S. PIRG said in a statement: “We are barely getting a chance to breath between recalls."

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