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 | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Leading Groups Send Criteria for Evaluating VW Settlement

Four leading consumer, environmental, and public health organizations wrote an open letter in advance of the April 21st deadline set by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer for a proposal that deals with Volkswagen’s emission scandal.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

30th Annual Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season. The report reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for toxic chemicals, including chromium and phthalates, both of which can have serious, adverse health impacts on a child’s development. The survey also found examples of toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that can threaten children’s hearing, and powerful toy magnets that can cause serious injury if swallowed.

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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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Keeping Children Safe From Dangerous Toys

Every year, as consumers begin purchasing toys for the holiday season, CALPIRG Education Fund visits numerous toy stores, malls and dollar stores to find potentially dangerous toys sitting on store shelves. In November 2015, we released our 30th annual report, "Trouble in Toyland 2015." Over the years, our reports have led to more than 150 recalls and other regulatory actions, helping to remove dangerous products from store shelves and keep children safe.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

CARMAX IS ENDANGERING LIVES IN CALIFORNIA

CALPIRG Education Fund and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation today released results of research into CarMax’s sales of unsafe, defective recalled cars in California, and called upon California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the California Department of Motor Vehicles to protect the public from CarMax’s sales of unrepaired, defective vehicles that are subject to federal safety recalls.

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Los Angeles Times: Consumer groups seek probe into CarMax sales of unrepaired recalled cars

Two consumer groups have asked California’s attorney general and the Department of Motor Vehicles to investigate the sales practices of used car giant CarMax. The California Public Interest Research Group and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation said the auto retailer regularly sells used vehicles that have been recalled but not repaired -- despite advertising that its autos undergo rigorous “quality” inspections.

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The Press Enterprise: Consumer rights group wants cheaper textbooks

“One thing is clear: the current textbook market does not deliver the educational opportunity it can and should,” stated Daniel Kelley, a CALPIRG student member at UC Riverside.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

For 29 years, the CALPIRG Trouble in Toyland report has offered safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children, and provided examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards. 

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See which airlines get the most and least complaints

Spirit Airlines generated the most complaints per 100,000 passengers and Southwest the least, according to a study released Thursday. The study, by the CALPIRG Education Fund, analyzed complaint data for 13 large domestic airlines lodged with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division from 2009 through 2013. It found that most complaints are about delayed or canceled flights.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Credit Cards, Consumer Complaints

California consumers file more complaints about Capital One than any other credit card company, according to a report released today by CALPIRG Education Fund. The report, which looked at data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) public Consumer Complaints Database, also found that California consumers filed the most credit card complaints.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Net Neutrality: What’s At Stake & How to Protect It

CALPIRG releases briefing paper on net neutrality, explains its relevance, outlines appropriate regulatory responses, and concludes with a Question & Answer section on net neutrality.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

CALPIRG releases 2013 Trouble in Toyland report, our 28th annual toy safety survey. In this report, CALPIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Credit Bureaus, Big Mistakes

Third CALPIRG Education Fund report that review complaints to the CFPB. In this report, we explore consumer complaints about credit bureaus with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with credit reporting.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Higher Ed

Private Loans, Public Complaints

New report, “Private Loans, Public Complaints” is the second in a CALPIRG Education Fund series that analyzes the data in the CFPB’s Consumer Complaints Database, which accepts complaints relating to a variety of financial products and services.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Citing Safety Concerns, Buckyballs maker to stop selling magnetic toys | Jon Fox

Maker magnetic Buckyballs announces that it will stop selling dangerous product.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB says 1 in 5 credit scores sold to consumers have "meaningful" differences from scores lenders use | Ed Mierzwinski

CFPB has confirmed what consumer advocates have been saying all along - credit scores heavily marketed to consumers aren't the same as those used by lenders.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Parties Take a Stand for an Open Internet In 2012 | Jon Fox

There is at least one issue that both parties seem to agree on during this election cycle – that the Internet should remain free and open.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

California AG Launches New Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit | Jon Fox

CALPIRG applauds the creation of the Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit in the Department of Justice.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

FTC Offers Consumers Tips on Unwanted Robocalls | Jon Fox

FTC Offers Consumers Tips on How to Respond to Unwanted Robocalls + Helpful Video.

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