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

How the CFPB’s Data Keeps Getting Better and Better | Mike Litt

As the CFPB turns 4 years old on July 21, here is some information on how it works for you and how we at PIRG use its data to produce reports, such as our new report on mortgage complaints to the CFPB. We've also got some photos from the Americans for Financial Reform "CFPB at 4" event.

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New Report: Mortgage Problems Rank #1 at CFPB for Consumer Complaints

Mortgage problems were the top source of complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), according to a report released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. The report also found that Bank of America was the most complained about company in 45 states and Washington, D.C. for mortgage problems.It's the sixth in a series of our reports analyzing nearly 500,000 complaints posted to the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database.

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Report | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Mortgages and Mortgage Complaints

Our sixth report analyzing complaints in the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database evaluates mortgage complaints, the number one source of complaints to the CFPB, totaling 38% of nearly 500,000 complaints posted since 2011.

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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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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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Atlanta Gets "F" for Spending Transparency

How transparent is Atlanta’s city government when it comes to spending? Not very, according to a report released by a consumer advocacy group today.

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Watchdog group: Atlanta flunks transparency test

The city of Atlanta got an “F” for spending transparency in a study of the 30 largest American cities by a Georgia watchdog group.

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News Release | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Atlanta Receives a Grade of “F” for Spending Transparency

ATLANTA –Atlanta received a grade of “F” for spending transparency, according to a new report released today by the Georgia PIRG Education Fund. The report reviews Atlanta’s progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility.

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My Fox Atlanta: Georgia PIRG: Unsafe Toys for 2011

Jessica Wilson, Georgia PIRG's Program Associate, on Good Morning Atlanta discussing toys to be wary of and tips for safe toy shopping this holiday season. 

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Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2012

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to the Georgia Public Interest Research Group’s 27th annual Trouble in Toyland report. It reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for lead, cadmium and phthalates, all of which have been proven to have serious adverse health impacts on the development of young children. The survey also found small toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that threaten children’s hearing, and toy magnets that can cause serious injury.

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Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Over the last six months, state PIRG staff conducted inquiries at 250 bank and 116 credit union branches in 17 states and the District of Columbia and reviewed bank fees online in these and 7 other states. They found that free checking remains available at more than 6 out of 10 small banks and credit unions but was only found at one-quarter of surveyed big banks (those with over $10 billion in deposits).

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Report | US PIRG | Consumer Protection, Food

Total Food Recall

ATLANTA, October 25 – Despite government commitments to address the problem, food recalls are on the rise and our food safety systems are broken, according to a new report by U.S. PIRG.

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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 | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Tax-Increment Financing

Local and state governments use various tools to encourage  development in economically challenged areas. Tax-increment financing (TIF) has been a leading tool used for this purpose. TIF allows cities and towns to borrow against an area’s future tax revenues in order to invest in immediate projects or encourage present development. When used properly, TIF can promote enduring growth and stronger communities.  When used improperly, however, TIF can waste taxpayer resources or channel money to politically favored special interests.

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