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

Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Medical Debt Malpractice

Millions of Americans are contacted by debt collectors every year over debt related to medical expenses. "Medical Debt Malpractice" is the latest in our series based on analysis of complaints in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's public complaint database. The report demonstrates that the CFPB is a critical agency protecting consumers against unfair financial practices and needs to be defended against special interest attacks.

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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 | WISPIRG Foundation | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2016

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 examined toys recalled by the CPSC between January 2015 and October 2016 and looked at whether they appeared to still be available for sale online. 

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Stop Payday Loan Sharks: Submit Your Comment Here | Peter Skopec

This opportunity doesn’t come around very often: we have a chance to stop the payday loan debt trap. Submit a public comment in favor of a strong payday loan rule here.

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News Release | WISPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

30th Annual Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on Wisconsin store shelves, according WISPIRG Foundation’s 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys concludes that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

New Report: Consumers Should Get Security Freezes Before Next Data Breach

A report and consumer fact sheet released today by the WISPIRG Foundation aim to increase the awareness and use of the security freeze, also known as a credit freeze. The report explains that the freeze is the only security measure that can prevent new account identity theft.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group’s (WISPIRG’s) 28th annual Trouble in Toyland report.  The survey of hazardous toys found that despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Report: Equifax/Experian/TransUnion Get Big Complaints

A new report by WISPIRG Foundation found that the most complained-about credit reporting agency in Wisconsin is Experian.  Millions of Americans have errors on their credit reports, which can affect the ability to get a loan, buy a house, rent an apartment, or even get a job.

> Keep Reading

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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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