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

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Yahoo Data Breach: Another Reason for Free Credit Freeze | Deirdre Cummings

Yahoo data breach affects more than 1 billion consumers. We must have better solutions. 

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News Release | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

31st Annual Survey Finds Recalled Toys in Online Stores

Some toys that have been recalled for lead, powerful magnets, or other hazards can still be available for sale in online stores, according to Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s 31st annual Trouble in Toyland report.

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Report | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

MASSPIRG's 31st Annual Survey Finds Recalled Toys in Online Stores

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News Release | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

Yahoo Data Breach Presents Opportunity for Strong Response

Yahoo data breach affecting at least 500 million accounts. 

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News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Common Personal Care Products Contain Chemicals of Concern

We should be able to trust that the products we buy are safe — especially ones our families use every day, directly on our bodies. However, chemicals of concern are routinely found in many of our day-to-day personal care products, ranging from Dial bar soap to Suave kids’ shampoo, according to Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group Education Fund's investigation of common consumer products. 

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News Release | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

Statement by Deirdre Cummings, Consumer Program Director at MASSPIRG Education Fund, on today’s announced VW settlement.

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.  

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

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Program Advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on todays announced VW settlement. For more details on what a strong settlement agreement ought to look like, please see the open letter that we released earlier this week with other consumer and environmental groups.

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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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Report | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

Debt Collectors, Debt Complaints: The CFPB's Consumer Complaint Database Gets Real Results for Consumers

Debt collectors trying to collect debt from the wrong person were the top source of complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), according to a report released today by the MASSPIRG Education Fund. 

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Report | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

Credit Cards, Consumer Complaints

Massachusetts consumers file more complaints about Capital One  than any other credit card company, according to a report released today by MASSPIRG Education Fund.  Complaints included billing errors, id theft and fraud, and credit reporting among others.  

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Report | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2013

In our 28th annual toy safety report, we look at toxic toys, choke hazards, very strong magnets, and excessively loud toys. Parents and caregivers should read the report to avoid common hazards when shopping for toys.

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Report | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

Big Credit Bureaus, Big Mistakes: The CFPB’s Consumer Complaint Database Gets Real Results for Victims of Credit Reporting Errors

New report finds that the most complained-about credit reporting agency in Massachusetts is Experian.

The report used data collected by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s public Consumer Complaints Database, which was created to help consumers resolve problems with their credit reports. The report compared complaints against the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), commonly referred to as credit bureaus, who were together responsible for 96% of all complaints about credit reporting.

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Report | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

Private Loans, Public Complaints

A new report analyzing complaints about lenders of private student loans.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

20 groups call on FTC to protect consumers and prohibit the sale of certified used cars with unrepaired safety recalls | Deirdre Cummings

MASSPIRG Education Fund joined more than 20 consumer organizations in calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prohibit the practice of selling “certified” used cars with unrepaired safety recalls. The formal comments were in response to the FTC's proposed settlements with General Motors, Jim Koons Management, and Lithia Motors. 

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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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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Don’t get spooked by phantom debt collectors | Jeanne Foy

The phone rings and a scary voice on the other end tells you that you owe them money and need to pay up… or else. The caller leads you to believe that a recent loan you took out has come due and that its time to pay or face legal action. Frightening, right?

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

DATA BREACH HERE, DATA BREACH THERE, DATA BREACH EVERYWHERE! | Deirdre Cummings

If you shop with plastic, have health insurance, pay taxes, work for the federal government, or (fill in blank) you’re at risk of a data breach. And with so much information about you already available on the Internet, it’s best not to select easy-search security questions like “Where were you born?” or answers like “Pizza.” What’s your best defense against identity theft? No, it isn’t credit monitoring, it’s a security freeze

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