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

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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News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Consumer Groups: CarMax Endangers Lives in Massachusetts

CarMax, the nation's largest retailer of used cars, is endangering lives in Massachusetts by selling recalled vehicles with potentially lethal safety defects. According to a report released today by the MASSPIRG Education Fund and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation, research conducted on October 28, 2015, found that over 17 percent of cars offered for sale at the CarMax North Attleboro dealership – 42 out of 243  – were subject to a federal safety recall that had not been repaired, despite the fact that repairs for many of these safety defects were readily available – at no cost to CarMax. While some of the recalls may involve delays due to parts shortages or temporary non-availability of a remedy, CarMax could have simply waited until the repair was provided by the manufacturer before offering the cars for sale.

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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.

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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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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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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.

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Consumers Guide to Credit Cards

The credit card industry has stepped up marketing and changed the rules to trap consumers into a cycle of high fees, penlaty, interest charges and other unfair practices. The following are tricks and tips to know to avoid credit card debt.

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Toxic Pollution And Health

Industries across the United States pump billions of pounds of toxic chemicals into our air, land, and water each year, many of which can cause cancer and other severe health effects. The Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program provides Americans with the best information about toxic chemicals released in their communities.

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Report | Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation | Consumer Protection

The Massachusetts Automobile Insurance Study Group

The Commissioner of Insurance should examine alternatives to move towards competitive rating using flex-bands while maintaining affordability for all drivers, minimizing disruption to the market and maintaining consumer protections.

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Exposing the Textbook Industry

Today's college students are under enormous financial pressure. The gap between tuition and fees and financial aid leaves many students working long hours through college, struggling to make ends meet, and graduating with large debts. The high cost of textbooks is yet another financial burden. The cost of textbooks is not just a drop in the bucket of tuition and fees; the average student spends about $900 per year on textbooks, which is nearly 20% of tuition and fees at a four year public institution. Moreover, textbook prices are rising at about four times the rate of inflation.

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