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 | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Why You Should Get Security Freezes Before Your Information is Stolen

Here are tips for preventing ID theft and using a security freeze:

How To Avoid Identity Theft

How To Use a Security Freeze

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Over 7,000 Comments Submitted to Department of Labor

Every year, over $17 billion is lost from retirement savings to fees and charges, according to the Council of Economic Advisors. Today, we submitted over 7,000 PIRG member comments urging the U.S. Department of Labor to finalize a strong rule requiring retirement advisors to put the interests of their customers first. We also submitted a detailed expert comment of our own in the important "conflicted advice" rulemaking.

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Top 10 List: How the CFPB Works for Consumers

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) turns 4 on July 21st. To celebrate and increase public awareness of the agency, U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a new webpage, “Meet the CFPB: Just Ten of the Ways It Works for You.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

The CFPB is 4 years old and has a lot to show for it! | Ed Mierzwinski

Tuesday, July 21, marks four years to the day since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened its doors to protect consumers and make financial markets work. We've summarized some of the ways CFPB works for you on a new web page.

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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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State government ethics a work in (sort of) progress

As lawmakers continue debating ethics and transparency in Georgia government, with the hourglass emptying fast on the 2013 session, yet another independent nonprofit think tank has given the state a less than encouraging grade.

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News Release | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New Report: Georgia Receives a "C+" in Annual Report on Transparency of Government Spending

ATLANTA, March 26 – Georgia received a “C+” when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2013: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the fourth annual report of its kind by the Georgia PIRG Education Fund.

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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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Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Ten Reasons Why We Need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Now

For years leading up to the 2008 financial collapse, federal bank regulators ignored numerous warnings of increasingly predatory mortgage practices, credit card tricks and unfair overdraft policies used by banks. The banks were earning billions from “gotcha” practices. Incredibly, bank regulators actively encouraged this behavior, arguing it was profitable and kept banks safe. No regulator cared about its other (and, to them, secondary) job: enforcing consumer laws. Some regulators rejected the role and even actively worked to prevent states from carrying it out.

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Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees.

Over the last six months, PIRG staff conducted inquiries at 392 bank branches in 21 states and reviewed bank fees online in 12 others. 

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Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

> Keep Reading
Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Following the Money

The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence, and promotes fiscal responsibility.

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Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Halfway to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

CFPB Implementation Team staff are making significant progress in their efforts to both build an effective agency and be ready to perform required functions by the transfer date (July 21, 2011). Based on our analysis of several key metrics, on the date halfway between passage and startup, the CFPB Implementation Team is properly focusing on key goals and outcomes. Moreover, the high‐quality of its early hires will give it the CFPB the ability to significantly broaden and accelerate its activities over the next six months.

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