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

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

The CFPB is 4 years old and has a lot to show for it! | Ed Mierzwinski

Tuesday, July 21, marks four years to the day since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened its doors to protect consumers and make financial markets work. We've summarized some of the ways CFPB works for you on a new web page.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How the CFPB’s Data Keeps Getting Better and Better | Mike Litt

As the CFPB turns 4 years old on July 21, here is some information on how it works for you and how we at PIRG use its data to produce reports, such as our new report on mortgage complaints to the CFPB. We've also got some photos from the Americans for Financial Reform "CFPB at 4" event.

> Keep Reading
News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | 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 U.S. PIRG Education Fund. The report also found that Bank of America was the most complained about company in 45 states and Washington, D.C. for mortgage problems.It's the sixth in a series of our reports analyzing nearly 500,000 complaints posted to the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database.

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

Mortgages and Mortgage Complaints

Our sixth report analyzing complaints in the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database evaluates mortgage complaints, the number one source of complaints to the CFPB, totaling 38% of nearly 500,000 complaints posted since 2011.

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

We Commend CFPB For Adding Consumer Stories To Public Complaint Database

Yesterday, the CFPB published the first batch (7,700) of consumer narratives or stories to the Public Consumer Complaint Database it began in 2011. We've used the database to publish five reports (so far) analyzing complaint trends in markets ranging from credit cards to student loans but we have also long urged the voluntary addition of stories to the data fields. Now, consumers can learn if what happened to them happened to anyone else. Now, researchers can track which banks are more responsive to particular problems and which ignore their customers. A good resource is now an excellent resource.

> Keep Reading

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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau helps with bank complaints

Since it started accepting complaints about banks 18 months ago, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has helped thousands of irate customers settle disputes over their accounts, with roughly 1 out of 4 complaints resulting in monetary relief, a just-released analysis by a consumer group shows.

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News Release | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

New Report Identifies Banks Consumers Complain About Most

Thousands of Americans are using the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s public Consumer Complaints Database to settle disputes with their banks, according to a new report from the PennPIRG Education Fund. The report highlights banks that generated the most complaints through their various banking services in each state.

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News Release | PennPIRG Education Fund and Demos | Consumer Protection

Report: “Pennsylvania Lives at Risk”

Philadelphia, PA – A new report by Demos and PennPIRG finds that Pennsylvanian’s lives, health and livelihoods would be at risk if so-called “regulatory reform” proposals were to become law, slowing or stopping the regulatory process.  

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Patriot-News: Report targets unsafe toys in time for holidays

Consumer watchdog the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group announced this morning it’s better if some toys are never purchased for under the Christmas tree.

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PA Matters: Despite Improvements, still “Trouble in Toyland”

The annual “Trouble in Toyland” report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group shows there are still toxic toys on the shelves, despite improvements.  

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble In Toyland

The 2010 Trouble in Toyland report is the 25th annual PennPIRG survey of toy safety.  In this report, PennPIRG 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.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

In 2008, Congress responded to an unprecedented wave of recalls of toys and other children’s products by passing the first major overhaul of the Consumer Product Safety Commission since it was established during the Nixon Administration.

By passing the landmark Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August 2008, Congress not only expanded the agency’s budget, it also gave the CPSC more tools to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable and speed recalls, moved toward banning toxic lead and phthalates except in trace amounts, and greatly improved import surveillance.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund and Media and Democracy Coalition | Consumer Protection

A Public Interest Internet Agenda

Connecting our entire nation via high-speed broadband will bring remarkable economic, social, cultural, personal, and other benefits. Robust economic development, job creation, improved health care at lower costs, enhanced educational opportunities, increased homeland security and public safety, reduced energy consumption and pollution, a reinvigorated democracy and more open government – these are just a few of the benefits that will flow from our nation linking its entire population to the Internet at broadband speed.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

PIRG’s Trouble In Toyland

The recall of 45 million toys and other children’s products in 2007 and continued recalls in 2008 reminded Americans that no government agency tests toys before they are put on the shelves. Specifically, the wave of recalls focused attention on the fact that the agency charged with protecting Americans from unsafe products—the Consumer Product Safety Commission—is a little agency with a very big job to do.

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