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

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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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Why You Should Get Security Freezes Before Your Information is Stolen

Here are tips for preventing ID theft and using a security freeze:

How To Avoid Identity Theft

How To Use a Security Freeze

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Over 7,000 Comments Submitted to Department of Labor

Every year, over $17 billion is lost from retirement savings to fees and charges, according to the Council of Economic Advisors. Today, we submitted over 7,000 PIRG member comments urging the U.S. Department of Labor to finalize a strong rule requiring retirement advisors to put the interests of their customers first. We also submitted a detailed expert comment of our own in the important "conflicted advice" rulemaking.

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Top 10 List: How the CFPB Works for Consumers

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) turns 4 on July 21st. To celebrate and increase public awareness of the agency, U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a new webpage, “Meet the CFPB: Just Ten of the Ways It Works for You.

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Pages

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.

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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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Toy safety report finds several holiday dangers

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News Release | NCPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Survey Finds Toxic or Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to North Carolina Public Interest Research Group’s 26th annual Trouble in Toyland report.This morning U.S.PIRG, joined by Commissioner Robert Adler from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Ivan Frishberg, a parent, released the report. It reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for lead and phthalates, both of which have been proven to have serious adverse health impacts on the development of young children. The survey also found toys that pose either choking or noise hazards.

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News Release | NCPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Consumer Group Alerts Shoppers to Hidden Toy Hazards

Hazardous toys are still sold in stores across the country, despite a new law overhauling the nation’s product safety watchdog agency, according to the 23rd annual toy safety survey released today by the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group (NCPIRG). This survey was released today during a press conference at WakeMed Hospital.  Guest speakers included Ashley Chase, Public Interest Advocate for NCPIRG, Dr. Courtney Mann, Medical Director of WakeMed’s Children Emergency Department, and Jennifer Slusser, a concerned parent.  The group also warned that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is taking actions to delay one of the new law’s toxic toy protections indefinitely.

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Report | NCPIRG 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 | NCPIRG | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland: The 25th Annual Survey of Toy Safety

The 2010 Trouble in Toyland report is the 25th annual 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 | NCPIRG | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland, 23rd Annual Toy Safety Report

The 2008 Trouble in Toyland report is the 23rd annual Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. This report provides safety guidelines for parents when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards. We visited numerous toy stores and other retailers to find potentially dangerous toys and identify trends in toy safety. This year, we focused specifically on toys that contain lead and phthalates in our research. 

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Mixed Signals: How TV Retailers Mislead Consumers on the Digital Television (DTV) Transition

One year from now 22 million Americans who rely on free over-the-air analog broadcasting will be at risk of losing access to TV. On February 17, 2009, analog televisions that receive over-the-air signals will go dark, unless they are retrofitted with digital converter boxes. For many Americans who are hearing about the transition for the first time, information about the change comes from electronic store retailers, where consumers ask what is necessary to maintain TV reception-- a primary source for news, information and entertainment.

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