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 | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection

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Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) announced on Tuesday in its 24th annual Trouble in Toyland report.  The group also highlighted the need for state action to protect children from bisphenol-A (BPA), a toxic chemical linked to cancer, diabetes, early onset puberty, obesity and hyperactivity that is commonly found in baby bottles and sippy cups.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

New Report Details Economic Stimulus Potential of Green Buildings and Energy Efficiency

Aggressive energy saving policies would provide for ongoing economic stimulus, saving consumers money, creating jobs and driving Wisconsin’s economy, according to a new report released today by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG).

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Retailers Misleading Consumers on the Digital Television (DTV) Transition

In one year, 22 million Americans who rely on free over-the-air analog broadcasting – including many elderly and other vulnerable populations – will be at risk of losing access to TV, which for many is a primary source of news and emergency information as well as entertainment.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Mixed Signals

WISPIRG has conducted “secret shopper” surveys at 132 electronics stores in ten states – including Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin – to determine if America’s big electronics retailers are properly preparing their customers for the digital transition. The results were released in WISPIRG’s new report: “Mixed Signals: How Retailers Mislead Consumers on the Digital Television (DTV) Transition.”

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Can You Hear Us Now?

Consumers increasingly rely on cell phone service to meet their basic communication needs. The use of wireless communications has skyrocketed over the past few years, jumping from approximately 24 million subscribers in 1994 to an estimated 170 million today. Along with the growth in the industry has come an increase in consumer complaints.

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