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 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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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.

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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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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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WI State Journal: Some toys can pose hidden or potential dangers

The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group's 26th annual Trouble in Toyland report, released Tuesday, encouraged parents not to buy balloons for children under 8 because they present a potential choking hazard.

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WI Radio Network: Still trouble in toyland

An advocacy group says parents should not buy balloons for kids under eight, as they can be a serious choking hazard if they’re popped. That was just one of the warnings for holiday shoppers put out by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG). The group held a news conference to unveil its 26th annual danger list called “Trouble in Toyland.”

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | 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 a Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group’s (WISPIRG) 26th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Parents Beware - Many Toys Still Toxic, Hazardous

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) announced today in its 25th annual Trouble in Toyland report. 

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News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection

Parents Beware - Many Toys Still Toxic, Hazardous

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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