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 | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

For 30 years, PennPIRG 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.

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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.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Over 7,000 Comments Submitted to Department of Labor

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Top 10 List: How the CFPB Works for Consumers

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRG Commends Release of Labor Dept.'s Proposed Rule To End Conflicted Retirement Advice

PIRG today commended the public release of the Department of Labor’s proposed rule that would strengthen the ability for Americans to save for retirement by addressing conflicts of interest that arise when brokers and financial advisers give retirement advice. Wall Street will fight the rule hard, because it requires them to put consumers first.

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Safety Group’s Annual Report Lists Latest Unsafe Holiday Toys

CBS News Philadelphia covers PennPIRG's release of the 28th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

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News Release | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s 28th annual Trouble in Toyland report.  The survey of hazardous toys found that despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Private Loans, Public Complaints

This report is the second of several that will review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaint trends in the private student loan sector with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with their student loans.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Banks, Big Complaints

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was established in 2010 in the wake of the worst financial crisis in decades. Its mission is to identify dangerous and unfair financial practices, to educate consumers about these practices, and to regulate the financial institutions that perpetuate them. 

 

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Transparency in City Spending

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

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.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

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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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Today, CFPB to announce overdraft fee investigation, unveil "penalty box" disclosure, possibly end $39 lattes | Ed Mierzwinski

Would you knowingly agree to pay a $35 fee each time you used your debit card at point of sale, simply to allow you to purchase a $4 latte with only $2 in your account? Even the banks didn't think so, that's why they made “standard overdraft protection” a feature of your checking account that you didn't need to choose. Banks also changed the default switch on debit and ATM cards to allow overdrafts

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Despite toy safety progress, parents need to be aware | Alana Miller

We don't always know if the gifts will be a hit but the one thing we count on is that the toys we purchase are safe.  Thanks to the hard work of agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and consumer advocates like U.S. PIRG that's largely true.  But as our toy shopping researchers have found, that's not always the case.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

A fee too far | Alana Miller

We've posted about avoiding bank fees before, but the latest Bank of America shenanigan deserves another word of caution.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Avoid bank fees | Alana Miller

PennPIRG’s advice to consumers remains simple: shop around (see our banking guide). Big banks can charge increasingly bigger fees and make it harder for customers to avoid them because they know consumers don’t shop around.

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