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

Statement on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

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

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of over 145 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Equifax Offers Incomplete Protection After Breach

Consumers should know the risks and limits of what Equifax is offering and consider getting credit freezes with all three national credit bureaus instead.

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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.

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Statement on P&G’s Consumer Product Fragrance Disclosure Announcement

CALPIRG Education Fund applauds consumer product giant Procter & Gamble, the maker of brands like Olay, Old Spice, and Pampers, for its announcement today that it will increase fragrance ingredient transparency in all of its consumer brands.

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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

31st Annual Survey Finds Recalled Toys in Online Stores

Los Angeles, CA – Some toys that have been recalled for lead, powerful magnets, or other hazards  can still be available for sale in online stores, according to California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund's 31st annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that consumers should be wary when shopping this holiday season.

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Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

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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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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

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

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

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.

News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund

Sacramento - Today, CALPIRG Education Fund released a new report, “What are Californians Trying to Fix?” which looks at what items people in California are trying to fix, and why that can be difficult to do. The report highlights the growing call for “Right to Repair” reforms, which would require manufacturers to make parts and service information available to consumers who want to reduce waste and save money by extending the life of the products they buy. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed today that the drug manufacturers Dr. Reddy’s and Perrigo have initiated a voluntary recall of all of their generic versions of Zantac (ranitidine) -- commonly used to treat heartburn -- due to carcinogen contamination.

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