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 Walmart’s Decision to Strengthen Chemical Footprint Policy

PennPIRG Education Fund applauds retail giant Walmart for updating its sustainability policy to restrict toxic chemicals in 90,000 products including cosmetics and skincare items, infant products, and household cleaners.

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Agency votes to begin rulemaking process to protect American children, firefighters from hazardous flame retardant chemicals

Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals (known as “organohalogens”). The CPSC directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain these chemicals. Once again, the CPSC has made an important action for consumers.

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Statement on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

Statement from PennPIRG 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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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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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.

> Keep Reading

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

PennPIRG 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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L'Oréal: Pledge to Be Toxic-Free

Today, PennPIRG Education Fund, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP)), and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures calling on the multinational cosmetic giant L’Oréal USA to eliminate cancer causing chemicals and to disclose its secret “fragrance” chemicals. 

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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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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2013

The 2013 Trouble in Toyland report is the 28th annual U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, U.S. PIRG 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

Big Credit Bureas, Big Complaints

This report is the third of several that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report, we explore consumer complaints about credit bureaus with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with credit reporting.

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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

Following our earlier studies of government spending at the state level, this report evaluates the progress of America’s 30 largest cities toward “Transparency 2.0” – a standard of encompassing, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

DON’T FREEZE OUR PUBLIC HEALTH AND CONSUMER SAFETY PROTECTIONS

Last year, in the 175 days that the U.S. House of Representatives was in session, it passed more than 190 anti-regulatory bills. Putting profits over public safety and they are still at it. Next up is H.R. 4078, the “Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act of 2012,” a bill that wrongly calls for a halt on all public health and consumer safety protections until the unemployment rate reaches six percent. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to mark up the bill today, Tuesday, March 20.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

50 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK, JFK USHERED IN MODERN CONSUMER PROTECTION ERAEd Mierzwinski

People of almost any age know a lot about the Kennedy administration with its optimistic beginnings and its sudden, tragic end. Yet many have probably never heard of one of JFK's important legacies -- his declaration that consumers have rights that deserve protection.

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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

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.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

This holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. U.S. PIRG’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron, which can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues, in slime products as well as fining that Amazon failed to appropriately label choking hazards.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

Facebook announced today that earlier this week, "attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted “View As”, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else. This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts."

News Release | U.S. PIRG

King Bio Inc. issued the second significant voluntary recall since late July of their homeopathic drugs on Wednesday. Safety concerns over homeopathic drugs extend beyond King Bio as over the past several years, the FDA has issued recalls to several companies for a variety of health products from zinc-containing intranasal medicine to asthma drugs with toxic ingredients. 

Blog Post

Today, we're releasing our revamped Identity Theft and Online Privacy resources.

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