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.

How 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 $30 billion in overdraft fees in 2011, 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 than 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.

Find more information about...

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 | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

WITH UTILITY DISCONNECTION MORATORIUM TO END OCT. 15, CUSTOMERS ARE URGED TO GET ON PAYMENT PLANS

With about a month before a moratorium on utility disconnections ends, two consumer advocacy organizations are reminding customers that they will still be responsible for paying all outstanding bills even if they’ve not been keeping up with payments during the summer.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

In the wake of the Capital One data breach, Ed Mierzwinski and Adam Garber explain how to protect your credit

Were you affected by the Capital One breach, one of the largest thefts of data from any bank to date?

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Largest bank hack ever, of Capital One, exposes 100 million to identity theft

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

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

Equifax penalty is a “sweetheart deal” that leaves consumers at risk

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

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

State PIRGs go to Washington for Consumer Lobby Day

Members of Congress hear repeatedly from lobbyists for corporate special interests in their offices and at fundraisers. How can consumer advocates balance the scales?

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Fisher-Price recalls nearly 5 million potentially deadly Rock n’Play sleepers

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."

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News Release | Consumer Protection

Statement on Wells Fargo’s response to “Debit Cards on Campus” report

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

> Keep Reading
News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Arizona Corporation Commission Approves TEP Energy Efficiency Program Restoration

The Arizona Corporation Commission voted at its February 6th, 2019 meeting to approve Tucson Electric Power’s (TEP) proposed energy efficiency programming budget of $22.9 million dollars. This approval will allow the Pima County utility to restore programs that have been on hold since their plan was initially released.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

ARIZONA PIRG EDUCATION FUND PRAISES ARIZONA CORPORATION COMMISSION’S UNANIMOUS DECISION TO EXTEND GAS MORATORIUM

The Arizona PIRG Education Fund applauded state utility regulators for today’s important decision to protect ratepayers and consumers by extending a moratorium on new gas generation exceeding 150 megawatts.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Fiat Chrysler Settlement Fails to Protect Consumers

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.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Banks, Big Complaints

The CFPB’s searchable complaint database is the newest of a set of federal government consumer complaint databases that help consumers make better economic and safety choices by reviewing other’s experiences and searching for problems or product recalls. The transparency also helps firms improve their products and services. In short, transparency improves the way markets work.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble In Toyland

The 2012 Trouble in Toyland report is the 27th annual PIRG survey of toy safety. In this report, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund 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 | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Banks Bigger Fees 2012

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the state 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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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The Campus Debit Card Trap

Banks and other financial firms are taking advantage of a variety of opportunities to form partnerships with colleges and universities to produce campus student ID cards and to offer student aid disbursements on debit or prepaid cards. In addition to on-campus services, such as student ID functions offered on the card, some cards offer traditional debit card services linked to bank accounts; other cards provide additional reloadable prepaid card functions. The disbursement of financial aid and university refunds is the most significant partnership identified.

> Keep Reading
Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2011

The 2011 Trouble in Toyland report is our 26th annual survey of toy safety. In this report, we provide safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for young children and provide examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

> Keep Reading

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

This New Year, Celebrate the CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

This month, we published our 8th report based on analyzing consumer complaints collected in the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database. The release of "Big Banks, Big Overdraft Fees" provides a good year-end opportunity to summarize a few of the reasons to be thankful for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which took over in July 2011 as the first federal regulator with just one job: protecting consumers from unfair financial practices. The idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: By the numbers | Kathryn Lee

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a breakdown of their successes they’ve had in the short five-year period they’ve been established. We're very proud to have been a part of building it and defending it; we're also very proud of the many achievements the youthful CFPB has made to make the financial marketplace fairer for consumers.

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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
Video Blog | Consumer Protection

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: The retirement industry is a minefield -- but here’s the answer

In this week’s episode of “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver called out three main problems hurting consumers when it comes to retirement: First, financial advisers aren’t currently required to work in their clients’ best interest. Second, high fees compound over time. Third, actively managed investment funds aren’t the answer. 

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

You might not know this about overdraft fees | Kathryn Lee

Did your bank sell you on the idea that it’s embarrassing for you to have your debit card declined for a $3 cup of coffee, and that you should pay them $35 each time for “overdraft protection”? Those big fees are what’s embarrassing. Unless you say yes to allow fees, you cannot be charged for over-drafting your debit card.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund

A huge opportunity was missed today by utility regulators at the Arizona Corporation Commission to extend and expand Arizona’s successful Energy Efficiency Standard, which was adopted with bipartisan support in 2010. The policy has delivered more than $1.4 billion in net economic benefits for utility customers of Arizona Public Service (APS), Tucson Electric Power (TEP), and UNS Electric.

Blog Post

Ever hear of Nancy Beck? Chances are you haven’t, but you should. Congress is expected to soon determine whether to approve the nomination of Nancy Beck to head the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund

Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) said a vote last night by the Arizona Corporation Commission, the state’s utility regulators, failed to provide the short-term relief many ratepayers need now and the long-term relief many ratepayers will need for months to come.

Blog Post

Let’s face it. If you are an APS customer, you are likely not pleased with the utility’s last rate hike or that it is now seeking an additional rate hike totaling $184 million. Relief from high utility bills was needed before COVID-19, and the number of households needing financial assistance now is even higher.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

The Small Business Administration (SBA) announced Tuesday that the personal information of nearly 8,000 business owners applying for federal disaster loans had been exposed. The breach affects applicants to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program (EIDL), and may have included names, Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, email addresses, phone numbers, citizenship statuses and insurance information.

Consumer Protection

CFPB green-lights predatory payday loans amid COVID-19 pandemic

The CFPB has finalized a rule pulling back on payday lending protections that were set to go into effect in 2019. The protections would have required lenders to check if their customers were able to repay high interest rates before borrowing.

 

Consumer Protection

As the pandemic goes on, consumer complaints continue at a record pace

A U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis has found that since March 2020, public consumer complaints at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have skyrocketed, setting a new monthly record each month. During this period, one in five complaints concerning mortgages, student loans or vehicle financing has mentioned the coronavirus crisis.

 

Consumer Protection

Auto loan complaints skyrocket with COVID-19 crisis

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the number of complaints from consumers facing challenges in getting relief on their auto loans has increased sharply — nearly 2.5 times more complaints in March through May 2020 as compared to the same period last year.

 

Consumer Protection

PIRG joins litigation challenging the CFPB's Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law

Created to "harmonize and modernize federal consumer financial laws," the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's task force has failed to provide adequate transparency, and is comprised of industry-aligned members to the exclusion of consumer advocates.

 
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