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

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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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

30 Years of "Trouble in Toyland," 30 Years of Safety Improvements | Anna Low-Beer

Every year, U.S. PIRG Education Fund releases Trouble in Toyland, a report on toy safety which examines toys bought at major national retailers, looking for safety hazards including toxic toys, choking hazards, labeling violations, powerful magnets, and excessibely loud toys. We continue to find these hazards on store shelves, which indicates the need for continued vigilance and adequate enforcement of safety regulations. But despite lingering dangers, in the last 30 years, we've come a long way in terms of both policy and compliance with standards.

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Los Angeles Times: Consumer Bureau Chalks Up Victories

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News Release | Consumer Protection

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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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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Report: Capital One Most-Complained-About Credit Card Company in California

Sacramento, CA - 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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CALPIRG’s Top Tips for Online Shopping

CALPIRG releases holiday online shopping guide to help California consumers save money and stay safe online as they shop.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

CALPIRG Releases Q&A on Net Neutrality & How to Protect the Web

CALPIRG Ed Fund releases new report titled, “Net Neutrality: What’s At Stake & How to Protect It,” defining net neutrality, explaining its relevance, outlining appropriate regulatory responses, and concluding with a Question & Answer on net neutrality.

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Trouble in Toyland? Expert Talks Holiday Toy Safety for Children

Sabrina Rodriguez tackles toy safety with CALPIRG’S Garo Manjikian.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Health Care

CALPIRG joint letter on Consumer protection for “California Covered”

CALPIRG joins a coalition of consumer advocates in preventing risks to consumers using the new health benefits exchange known as “California Covered.”

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Health Care

Comments on the Aetna Life Insurance Company Proposal to Increase Rates

Nearly 70,000 Californians in small group insurance plans will see rate hikes averaging 8%, with some as high as 22%, if the premium rate hike proposed by Aetna Life Insurance Company go forward. After careful analysis of Aetna’s filing, CALPIRG is concerned that Aetna has not provided sufficient information to justify this rate increase.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2012

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves. CALPIRG Provides Shopping Tips & Mobile Website To Help Parents Shop Safe.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Health Care

Your Price May Vary

New report finds that the price charged for common surgeries varies dramatically from one region to another within California.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Still @ Risk

New Report on technology & identity theft shows that California victims lost more money in identity theft cases Investigated in 2011 than in previous year.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Food

STATMENT: US Senate Approves FDA Safety and Innovation Act | Jon Fox

The US Senate Passage of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) not Strong Enough to Ensure Sufficient Consumer Safety from Drugs and Medical devices.

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FTC tells congress of need for meaningful Do Not Track policies.

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FCC announces new rules to stop “Cramming” on land lines, ignores wireless phone lines.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

LA Times highlights failure to provide cheap broadband Internet | Jon Fox

LA Times columnist David Lazarus highlights the fact that the USA is falling behind the rest of the world in providing access to low coast quality Internet service.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Release new tools to help students manage debt | Jon Fox

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) launches a beta version of the Financial Aid Comparison Shopper - an interactive online tool designed to help students plan for the costs of higher education.

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