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

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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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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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.

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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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News Release | CALPIRG | Consumer Protection

GOOD NEWS FOR CONSUMERS & FIRMS THAT WANT TO PLAY FAIR

Statement of Jon Fox, CALPIRG Consumer Advocate, on the Senate Confirmation of Richard Cordray to Full Term as Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director

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News Release | CALPIRG education Fund | Consumer Protection

New Attorney General Report Finds that 2.5 Million Californians Put at Risk by Electronic Data Breaches

Attorney General  releases new report detailing 131 electronic data breaches that put 2.5 million Californians at risk by exposing their personal information.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

CALPIRG Releases New Report on Mobile Payment Systems

CALPIRG Education Fund) releases a new report titled, “The Future is Calling: A Consumer Guide to Mobile Payment Systems.” The report explains how this new technology works and provides consumers with the information they need to best utilize mobile payment systems in a safe and secure way.

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News Release | CALPIRG | Public Health, Consumer Protection

New Report Documents a Decade of Safety Violations by Compounding Pharmacies

New CALPIRG report finds recent meningitis outbreak was simply the latest and deadliest in a long line of errors and risky practices by compounding pharmacies.

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Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

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Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since bank deregulation began in the early 1980s, the PIRGs and other consumer groups have conducted numerous studies documenting skyrocketing consumer banking fees. Our studies have helped to focus national attention on the problem of skyrocketing bank fees. Our results are substantiated by the results of the Federal Reserve Board's annual fee reports to Congress.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Safe Energy

The Campus Credit Card Trap:

College students are among the most prominent targets for this marketing.   They are young and understand that they need credit to get ahead in the world. Some need credit because of the rising cost of a college education. Finally, most of them are clumped together on campuses that they either commute to or live at. This makes them easy to target.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Locked In a Cell:

A high level of concentration in a major industry can be accompanied by excessive market power, which in turn can reduce competition to the detriment of consumers.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Mistakes Do Happen:

The most common reflection of our reputation as a trustworthy consumer is our credit report. Unfortunately, the information contained in our credit reports, which are bought and sold daily to nearly anyone who requests and pays for them, does not always tell a true story.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

WH urges privacy rights, industry promises "Do Not Track Sometimes" while states investigate Google | Ed Mierzwinski

As web giants amass more and more information about consumers for behavioral targeting and even "social discrimination" -- which can include differential pricing for the same product or the use of web tracking data and falsely-flagged websites to promote certain brandname drug use -- the White House has called for a privacy bill of rights. Companies and powerful industry lobbies seeking to keep those rights weak simultaneously rolled out their own "Do Not Track Us Sometimes" button.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Today, CFPB to announce overdraft fee investigation, unveil "penalty box" disclosure, possibly end $39 lattes. | Ed Mierzwinski

At a news conference in NYC today, Director Richard Cordray of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will announce a major investigation of bank overdraft fee practices and propose a model "penalty box" disclosure to appear on bank statements. The investigation could end the $39 latte-- $4 bucks for the coffee, $35 for the debit card overdraft fee.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Audit Uncovers Extensive Flaws in Foreclosures | Jon Fox

An audit by San Francisco county officials of about 400 recent foreclosures there determined that almost all involved either legal violations or suspicious documentation.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer groups call on CPSC to take action on Bumbo Baby Seat | Jon Fox

CALPIRG urges CPSC to remove Bumbo International’s Baby Seat from the market and to allow the manufacturer to address the serious safety concerns in the future.  

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