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

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Health Care

Second recall of King Bio’s homeopathic drugs in the past month

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. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

ID Theft & Privacy Checklists | Mike Litt

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

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

For over 30 years, the WISPIRG Foundation 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. This year, WISPIRG Foundation staff once again looked for potentially unsafe toys. We discovered that unsafe toys remain widely available.

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

Target Removes Lead-Laden Fidget Spinner From Website, But Still Available For Sale In-Store

Since late yesterday afternoon, Target appears to have made the 33,000 ppm-lead containing Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass unavailable for sale on its website. U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff went to a Target store today and found the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass was still available for sale in-store, despite the website saying it was unavailable there. Also yesterday, one of the CPSC’s Commissioners, Elliot F. Kaye, re-stated his opposition to the CPSC’s guidance and the acting chairman's statement when he tweeted, “Seems obvious fidget spinners are toys and should comply with all applicable federal safety standards.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

High Levels of Lead Found in Fidget Spinners

WISPIRG Foundation staff found fidget spinners with high levels of lead for sale at Target stores across the country. Parents and consumers need to know about these lead-laden toys, especially because we alerted Target and the toy’s distributor, Bulls i Toy, to our findings, but they refused to address the problem. The toxic fidget spinners are still available both in toy aisles at Target stores and on its website.

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

Target Removes Lead-Laden Fidget Spinner From Website, But Still Available For Sale In-Store

Since late yesterday afternoon, Target appears to have made the 33,000 ppm-lead containing Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass unavailable for sale on its website. U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff went to a Target store today and found the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass was still available for sale in-store, despite the website saying it was unavailable there. Also yesterday, one of the CPSC’s Commissioners, Elliot F. Kaye, re-stated his opposition to the CPSC’s guidance and the acting chairman's statement when he tweeted, “Seems obvious fidget spinners are toys and should comply with all applicable federal safety standards.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

High Levels of Lead Found in Fidget Spinners

WISPIRG Foundation staff found fidget spinners with high levels of lead for sale at Target stores across the country. Parents and consumers need to know about these lead-laden toys, especially because we alerted Target and the toy’s distributor, Bulls i Toy, to our findings, but they refused to address the problem. The toxic fidget spinners are still available both in toy aisles at Target stores and on its website.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG CONSUMER ADVOCATE MIKE LITT TESTIFIES AT CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON EQUIFAX

Our Consumer Advocate, Mike Litt, was invited by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to testify this week at a Congressional hearing on the Equifax data breach. This was a continuation of the committee's previously held hearing on October 5th entitled "Examining the Equifax Data Breach."

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Statement on Walmart’s Decision to Strengthen Chemical Footprint Policy

WISPIRG Foundation 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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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Stop Payday Predators

Payday loans are among the most predatory forms of credit on the market. Though they are marketed as having “reasonable” fees or charges, typical interest rates exceed 300 percent. And because the payday lenders’ bottom line actually depends on borrowers’ inability to repay — most payday fees come from borrowers who take out more than 10 loans a year — they target people with low incomes and no other options.

> Keep Reading
Report | WISPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2015

For 30 years, the WISPIRG Foundation 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.

> Keep Reading
Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

The Security Freeze

The first defense against any kind of identity theft is to be vigilant about protecting your personal information by taking steps like creating secure passwords, installing anti-virus and anti-malware software, and shredding personal documents. (See Appendix A for more tips on protecting your personal information.) However, if and when someone does steal enough of your information to commit identity theft, there is really only one type that you can stop before it happens: New account identity theft, where someone opens a new account in your name.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2014

Among the toys surveyed this year, we found numerous choking hazards and five toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards. In addition to reporting on potentially hazardous products found in stores in 2014, this installment of the report describes the potential hazards in toys and children’s products.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

The 2013 Trouble in Toyland report is the 28th annual Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, WISPIRG 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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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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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Event 5/11 re new book on black box decisionmaking & consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED TO CONFIRM CFPB Speaker. We are hosting an event Monday, 5/11, from 9am-noon ET to discuss a new book, The Black Box Society, with author Frank Pasquale. Click Keep Reading to RSVP to attend in person or to watch the livestream. While credit bureaus have long functioned as black box gatekeepers to opportunity, panelists will discuss the growing use of more and more, even less transparent black boxes to categorize consumers in the digital economy.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

On Veterans Day, How The CFPB Helps Veterans, and All of Us | Ed Mierzwinski

Columnist George Will recently (and not for the first time) urged Congress to “abolish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” His reasons may seem to come from his conservative philosophy, but merely pander to the powerful Wall Street interests that left our economy in ruins just a few years ago. As a counterbalance, let’s discuss some recent speeches and statements by CFPB Director Richard Cordray on his vision for the bureau and some of its current work, including – on this Veteran’s Day – its efforts to protect military families from financial predators.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

These are 10 of many reasons we need the CFPB! | Bruce Speight

For the first time, a federal financial agency has placed consumers at the center of its work. That agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), turns one year old on July 21, 2012.  Here are 10 of many reasons we need the CFPB.

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News Release | WISPIRG

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today released a proposal for gutting its own payday lending borrower protections, which were originally set to go into effect this August. “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, under Director Kathy Kraninger, has officially given payday debt traps its seal of approval," said WISPIRG Director Peter Skopec. "Today’s proposal is a reckless rubber-stamping of predatory lending."

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.

Report | WISPIRG Foundation

Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates, parents, the leadership of Congress, state legislatures, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Despite this progress, our survey of 40 toys this year found 15 toys with issues including toys with high concentrations of unsafe chemicals and with potential choking hazards. With hundreds of new toys hitting the market every year, our survey of only 40 toys suggests there may be other potentially dangerous toys slipping through existing protections or worthy of further investigation. This report not only lists the potentially dangerous toys that we found this year, but also describes why and how the toys could harm children.

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."

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