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 | Consumer Protection

Volkswagen’s $1000 Gift Cards Fall Short

VW gift not a good deal for consumers if string attached. VW must buy back defective cars at their original prices.  

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News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New Report: Consumers Should Get Security Freezes Before Next Data Breach

Credit monitoring and other services that are usually offered to data breach victims and other concerned consumers do nothing to prevent identity theft; they only detect certain types of fraud after it has occurred. A report and consumer fact sheet released today by the MASSPIRG Education Fund aim to increase the awareness and use of the security freeze, also known as a credit freeze. The report explains that the freeze is the only security measure that can prevent new account identity theft.

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Why You Should Get Security Freezes BEFORE Your Information is Stolen

A never ending stream of news reports about data breaches – including T-Mobile, Target Corporation, the IRS, numerous Blue Cross Blue Shield and other health plans, the University of Maryland, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) - is a constant reminder that you’re at risk of a data breach and therefore, identity theft.

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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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News Release | MASSPIRG | Consumer Protection

STATEMENT ON EXPERIAN BREACH OF T-MOBILE CUSTOMER DATA

Massive data breach affecting Experian’s computers holding 15 million files of T-Mobile customers. T-Mobile and Experian response inadequate. 

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News Release | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

Report: Capital One Most-Complained-About Credit Card Company in Massachusetts

Massachusetts consumers getting relief through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's public consumer complaints division. 

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News Release | MASSPIRG EDUCATION FUND | Consumer Protection

GROUPS OFFER CONSUMER TIPS AFTER TARGET DATA BREACH

 CONSUMERS AT RISK: TIPS WHEN EXPERIENCING A DATA SECURITY BREACH

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Hazard toys highlighted in MASSPIRG report

Unsafe toys displayed at release of 28th anual toy safety report, "Trouble in Toyland."

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Consumer group draws attention to dangerous toys

MASSPIRG Education Fund displays dangerous toys while releasing 28th anual report "Trouble in Toyland". 

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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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Trouble In Toyland

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). Nevertheless, as parents venture into crowded malls this holiday season, they should remain vigilant about often hidden hazards posed by toys on store shelves.

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