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

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.

> Keep Reading

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
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Event 5/11 re new book on black box decisionmaking & consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED TO CONFIRM CFPB Speaker. We are hosting an event Monday, 5/11, from 9am-noon ET to discuss a new book, The Black Box Society, with author Frank Pasquale. Click Keep Reading to RSVP to attend in person or to watch the livestream. While credit bureaus have long functioned as black box gatekeepers to opportunity, panelists will discuss the growing use of more and more, even less transparent black boxes to categorize consumers in the digital economy.

> 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
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. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

Calpirg Releases Annual Hazardous Toy Report

The report says small kids are still at risk from toys containing lead, phthalates (thal-ates) and other chemicals. Researchers also found toys for toddlers with parts small enough to cause choking.

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

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

CALPIRG releases 28th annual Trouble in Toyland report, which finds dangerous and toxic toys still on America’s store shelves hazardous toys despite recent progress.

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

Report: In California, Experian Gets Big Complaints

A new CALPIRG Education Fund report finds that California had the highest number of credit report complaints (1,526) while it ranked in 5th place nationally in credit report complaints per 100,000 residents.

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Higher Ed

New Report Identifies Most Troublesome Private Lenders to Students

A new CALPIRG Education Fund report, “Private Loans, Public Complaints, is the second in a series that analyzes the data in the CFPB’s Consumer Complaints Database. This report focuses on complaints about private student loans, which are the riskiest and most expensive way to pay for a college education.

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

New Report Identifies Banks Consumers Complain About Most

Thousands of Americans are using the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s public Consumer Complaints Database to settle disputes with their banks.

> Keep Reading

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Higher Ed

The Campus Debit Card Trap

Banks and other financial firms take advantage of partnerships with colleges and universities, harming students.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Making the Right Call

CALPIRG Education Fund releases new cell phone shoppers’ guide offering simple tips consumers can take to save money when buying a new cell phone.

> Keep Reading

Trouble in Toyland

The 2011 Trouble in Toyland report is our 26th annual survey of toy safety. In this report, we provide safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for young children and provide examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

> Keep Reading

10 Reasons We Need The CFPB Now

This report outlines predatory financial practices that hurt consumers and helped collapse the economy, costing us eight million jobs, millions of foreclosed homes and trillions of dollars in lost home and retirement values. It explains these and other emerging problems as “10 Reasons We Need The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Now.”

> Keep Reading
Report | Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) & University of Massachusetts, Amherst | Consumer Protection

How Wall Street Speculation is Driving Up Gasoline Prices Today

> Keep Reading

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Tax

FTC Supports Do Not Track, Meekly

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released today a new report calling on Internet companies to put in place a "Do Not Track" system that would give consumers more control over their personal data online by the end of the year . The FTC also called on Congress to pass privacy legislation that would allow consumers to see how their online data is collected, used and sold, and give consumers the ability to stop such practices. 
 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Tax

CFPB launches new consumer Q&A resource page | Jon Fox

The CFPB launches a new interactive online tool that helps consumers find answers to their basic financial questions.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Tax

Paying Taxes, Safe and Sound | Jon Fox

With less than a month left to “Tax Day”, that special time of year when taxes are due, CALPIRG releases a new Questions & Answer guide to paying taxes.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

50 Years Ago This Week, JFK Ushered in Modern Consumer Protection Era | Ed Mierzwinski

I've got a new column at Huffington Post, "50 Years Ago This Week, JFK Ushered in Modern Consumer Protection Era." I discuss President Kennedy's visionary "Special Message to the Congress on Protecting the Consumer Interest" announced on March 15, 1962. He declared that consumers have rights and government should protect them. Read the full column after the jump.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

FTC Releases Top Complaints for 2011, Identity Theft Tops the List | Jon Fox

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its list of top consumer complaints received by the agency in 2011. Unsurprisingly, identity theft complaints topped the list.

> Keep Reading

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