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

Statement on P&G’s Consumer Product Fragrance Disclosure Announcement

CALPIRG Education Fund applauds consumer product giant Procter & Gamble, the maker of brands like Olay, Old Spice, and Pampers, for its announcement today that it will increase fragrance ingredient transparency in all of its consumer brands.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

California Moves to Study, Not Ban, Toxic Chlorpyrifos

The Brown administration should recognize that the science of the harmful effects of chlorpyrifos is well-established, and that it is time to eliminate its use in California.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Protecting Those Who Serve

The men and women who serve in America’s military are also active consumers in America’s financial marketplace, where tricks and traps can cause harm to their finances and their lives. An analysis of more than 44,000 complaints submitted by active duty servicemembers and military veterans to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and contained in its Consumer Complaint Database finds that mistreatment of servicemembers by financial companies is widespread.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

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L'Oréal: Pledge to Be Toxic-Free

Today, CALPIRG Education Fund, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP)), and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures calling on the multinational cosmetic giant L’Oréal USA to eliminate cancer causing chemicals and to disclose its secret “fragrance” chemicals. 

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

California Moves to Study, Not Ban, Toxic Chlorpyrifos

The Brown administration should recognize that the science of the harmful effects of chlorpyrifos is well-established, and that it is time to eliminate its use in California.

> Keep Reading

L'Oréal: Pledge to Be Toxic-Free

Today, CALPIRG Education Fund, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP)), and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures calling on the multinational cosmetic giant L’Oréal USA to eliminate cancer causing chemicals and to disclose its secret “fragrance” chemicals. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG | Consumer Protection

New report from leading consumer group shows millions are victims of aggressive tactics from medical debt collectors

The consumer group CALPIRG released the ninth in a series of reports that review complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  The latest report explores consumer complaints about medical debt, a major source of problems for consumers, since medical debt items on credit reports are often wrong or about the wrong consumer.  The report also demonstrates the need to defend the CFPB from partisan and 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 | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

For 30 years, CALPIRG Education Fund 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. Among the toys surveyed this year, we found potential choking and noise hazards, one toy that exceeded federal toxic standards, and three toys that preliminary testing showed may exceed federal toxic standards.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Mortgages and Mortgage Complaints

"Mortgages and Mortgage Complaints: The CFPB’s Consumer Complaint Database Gets Real Results for Victims of Mortgage Problems,” is the latest in a series of reports by the CALPIRG Education Fund that analyze the complaints in the CFPB’s public Consumer Complaints Database.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

CarMax’s Sales Practices Endanger Lives in California

This report finds that CarMax, the nation’s largest retailer of used cars, is selling many unsafe, unrepaired, recalled vehicles in California that are hazardous not only to the people who buy CarMax cars, but also to their families, other motorists, bike riders, and pedestrians.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2014

Among the toys surveyed this year, we found numerous choking hazards and five toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards. In addition to reporting on potentially hazardous products found in stores in 2014, this installment of the report describes the potential hazards in toys and children’s products.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The Unfriendly Skies

It seems as if every consumer has an airline problem story—how they were trapped on the tarmac, tricked by fees, missed their connection, or lost their bag. What many consumers don’t know is that they have a number of new rights as well as a right to complain, both to the airline and to the government. This report tracks five years of consumer complaints and highlights which airlines received the most complaints and what kinds of complaints were most common.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Advice for Consumers After the Anthem Data Breach | Emily Rusch

CALPIRG experts provide tips for consumers on what to watch out for and how to respond to last week's announcement that up to 80 million Anthem customers had their personal information stolen in a data breach. 

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

FTC Chairwoman Answers Privacy Questions on Reddit | Jon Fox

Maureen Ohlhausen, the newly appointed FTC Commissioner, took questions on a broad range of privacy issues on Reddit, a user-generated interactive news website.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Democracy

Coming together, pushing back | Jon Fox

 

Observations from the annual National Conference on Media Reform.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Free Cookies - Strings Attached | Jon Fox

The price consumers pay to access most online content is the tracking of their every click on the World Wide Web by data miners and ad networks. Consumer and privacy advocates are seeking to address such online tracking through Do-Not-Track regulation.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Food

Dangers on Our Dinner Tables | Ed Mierzwinski

Sequestration is one of the hottest topics in D.C. right now, but one consequence that has been largely overlooked is the impact that these budget cuts would have on our dinner tables and our health.

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