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 | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

Seven months after news of Volkswagen’s emission scandal broke, we're glad to hear that there is a 'framework' for a settlement in the cases related to VW's 567,000 fraudulently marketed, illegally polluting cars. This framework appears to include all of the elements that a deal should include, but the devil will be in the details. 

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading

Pages

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.

> Keep Reading

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.

> Keep Reading
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. 

> Keep Reading

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.

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Report: Spirit is Most Complained-About Airline

SACRAMENTO — Spirit Airlines passengers are most likely to complain about their experience, according to a report released today by the CALPIRG Education Fund. Among major airlines, Spirit generates the most complaints for its size and generates an increasing number of complaints each year. Other most-complained about firms include Frontier Airlines, United Airlines, and American Airlines.

> Keep Reading

Pages

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.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Banks, Big Complaints

In this report we explore consumer complaints to the CFPB about bank accounts and services with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with their banks.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The Future is Calling

CALPIRG Education Fund releases a new report titled explaining how mobile payment systems work while providing consumers with the information they need to best utilize mobile payment systems in a safe and secure way.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Comments on the Blue Shield of California Proposal to Increase Small Employer Health Insurance Rates, Effective July 1, 2013.

After analysis of the complete filing – inclusive of the three subsequent submissions – it appears that for the most part, Blue Shield provided sufficient background data for the requested rate increase. However, we note that it took repeated requests for Blue Shield to provide the information necessary to justify the rate increase.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

CalHEERS: Protecting Consumer Data by Developing and Implementing Strong Physical, Technical and Administrative Security Safeguards

CALPIRG Education Fund is pleased to provide recommendations on best practices and standards for the development and implementation of strong physical, technical and administrative security safeguards for the CalHEERS data ecosystem.

> Keep Reading

Pages

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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

On the Internet, Everyone Knows If You're A Big Dog, Or Just A Dog | Ed Mierzwinski

A Wall Street Journal story today has everyone talking about how Internet sites use profiles and cookies to offer different customers different offers, or the same product for different prices. On the Internet today, everybody knows whether you're a big dog, or just a dog.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

As Wireless Plans Change, Consumers Are Priced Out

Verizon announced earlier this week that they would no longer be offering customers cheaper options for limited voice and text plans, shifting to unlimited voice and text minutes instead. While this change may benefit families or business on shared accounts, it will lead to price hikes for most individual smart-phone users.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

IPv6 Day - The Most Important Day You Never Heard Of | Jon Fox

Today marks the beginning of one of the greatest technological overhauls since mankind adopted paper money, with grave implications towards online privacy.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Health Care

The Almighty Dollar before Health and Safety of Americans | Jon Fox

A recent op-ed is completely correct in its assumptions that anti-regulations rhetoric from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is incessantly talking about regulations killing jobs and the economy.

> Keep Reading

Pages

View AllRSS Feed

Support us

Your tax-deductible donation supports CALPIRG Education Fund’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support CALPIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.