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 | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

30th Annual Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Boston – Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to MASSPIRG 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 | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2015

For 30 years, MASSPIRG 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.

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FDA OK’s genetically modified salmon

For the first time, Americans will be able to dine on a genetically altered animal, after federal regulators on Thursday approved a Massachusetts biotechnology company’s bid to modify salmon for human consumption.

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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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Cummings: A victory for all but the bacteria

Subway announcement is a big win for public health and represents a huge step toward preserving the effectiveness of life-saving antibiotics.

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News Release | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

MASSPIRG Education Fund Announces New Resource: Top Ten Ways the CFPB Can Help You CFPB Has Already Returned $1.5 Billion To Consumers

MASSPIRG releases a new list of 10 resources available to consumers from the CFPB. 

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News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Report: Spirit is Most Complained-About Airline

A look at five years of consumer complaints into the department of transportation about airline travel. We analyzed tens of thousands of complaints to find out which airlines are coming up short and what travellers want to see improve.

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Students to Stop and Shop: Label GMO Food

Consumers call on Stop and Shop to label GMO food.

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News Release | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection, Food

Consumers Call on Stop and Shop to Label GMOs, On Anniversary of Whole Foods Labeling Commitment

Consumer and health and food safety advocates launched a campaign calling on Stop and Shop to label its store-brand products for ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), on the one year anniversary of Whole Foods’ announcement that it will adopt labeling for all products in its stores.

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News Release | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

Mistaken Identity Tops Debt Collection Complaints

Massachusetts Consumers Getting Relief through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Public Consumer Complaints Database

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Total Recall

Already more toys and children's products have been recalled in the first half of this year than in the first half of last year, a supposed "100-year-flood" period. Yet the remedial CPSC reform legislation passed overwhelmingly by both the House and Senate in response to that 2007 recall wave has yet to become law. It is stalled in conference committee, where both the toy and chemical industries seek to block, weaken or delay some of its most critical reforms.

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The Campus Credit Card Trap

Credit card lending is enormously profitable. According to annual Federal Reserve Board of Governors’ (FRB) Reports to Congress, it is the most profitable form of banking. But the credit card industry is saturated.

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'How You Drive' Takes a Backseat to 'Who You Are'

Under the new “managed competition” rating system, “who you are” has become more important than “how you drive.” Starting in April, factors relating to “who you are” – income, marital status, homeownership, education, age, race, and other factors supposedly prohibited for use by the Division of Insurance – will take center stage in the Massachusetts auto insurance market. Driving record is no longer the primary rating factor and is now a diluted factor.

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Mixed Signals

MASSPRG conducts survey of national TV retails stores and finds that consumers are getting Mixed Signals.

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Trouble in Toyland

For several years, we have reported that toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates and parents and the leadership of Congress, state legislatures and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Yet, as many have noted, 2007 has been described as the “year of the recall.” Millions of toys, including famous playthings like Thomas the Tank Engine and Barbie, have been recalled in 2007. Many of these toys have been from leading manufacturers like Mattel, and most were imported from China.

> Keep Reading

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