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 Tips, Consumer Protection

Tips to file your tax return while avoiding fees, scams | Jacob van Cleef

You have six weeks to file your income tax return for 2020. Every year, it seems there are more issues to watch out for. 

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Blog Post | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

The worst consumer problem: Fraud/identity theft | Teresa Murray

One in 20 people was a victim in 2019. Account takeovers, which involve a criminal gaining access to an existing account, soared by 72 percent in 2019.

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A week's worth of help and tips during Consumer Protection Week

Being a consumer is a tough job. Really tough. During National Consumer Protection Week, which runs through March 6, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff is offering a daily dose of tips and advice to help you navigate life’s biggest consumer challenges.

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Report | MASSPIRG | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2020

It’s that time of year again when parents, grandparents, caregivers and others feeling generous begin shopping for toys for the kids in their lives. Toy safety has come a long way, thanks to years of work from consumer advocates, public health experts, elected officials and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). These days, examples of dangerous toys contaminated with lead or toys with small parts that pose a choking hazard to young children are more difficult to find in the United States.

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News Release | MASSPIRG | Consumer Protection

35th annual Trouble in Toyland report uncovers mislabeled and dangerous toys

MASSPIRG Education Fund’s Trouble in Toyland report has helped identify dangerous toys for 35 years. But 2020 is unique, and as Americans have worked, learned and played from home to protect themselves from COVID-19, children could be more susceptible to certain toy-related hazards.

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Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Proposed rule would remove unsafe, inclined infant sleepers from market

Despite more than 50 infant deaths from inclined sleepers, including the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and the Kids II Rocking Sleeper, many versions of this type of product remain for sale and in homes. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is proposing a new rule that would virtually end the sale of inclined sleepers. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

New analysis uncovers unsafe blood pressure medication distributed in US

A new analysis of publicly available information from the FDA by U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund finds only 26 percent of a class of recalled blood pressure medications have been assessed for carcinogen contamiantion -- and the majority had some lots with higher levels than the FDA considers safe.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Largest bank hack ever, of Capital One, exposes 100 million to identity theft

Everyone should assume that their social security number has been exposed between this breach and breaches of other major companies’ databases, such as Equifax’s. With that in mind, U.S. PIRG recommends all Americans should use their right by law to freeze their credit reports for free

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Equifax penalty is a “sweetheart deal” that leaves consumers at risk

Our response to Equifax paying a $650 million penalty for exposing the social security numbers of 148 million Americans to identity theft.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Fisher-Price recalls nearly 5 million potentially deadly Rock n’Play sleepers

Fisher-Price recalled 4.7 million Rock n’Play baby sleepers on Friday. U.S. PIRG Consumer Watchdog Adam Garber issued a response: "“While we’re pleased that Fisher-Price is finally recalling these dangerous sleepers, 30 deaths in 10 years is 30 deaths too many and 10 years too late."

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Pages

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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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Big Banks, Big Complaints

New report by MASSPIRG Education Fund highlights banks that generated the most complaints through their various banking services in each state. Data from new CFPB consumer complaint data base.

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

The 2012 Trouble in Toyland report is the 27th annual Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, MASSPIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

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Pages

Blog Post

In response to a tidal wave of unfair marketplace practices, the CFPB asked the public to submit comments on the impact of junk fees on their lives. Some 2,500 comments later, consumers have described the pain points caused by unfair junk fees.

Cover graphic courtesy Student Borrower Protection Center, used by permission

Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund

Analysis of more than 200,000 complaints shows which airlines and airports do best and worst.

Blog Post

Even with the knowledge I’ve gained working as a consumer advocate for several years, getting my finances in order has been a work in progress. 

Blog Post

Until recently, I did not have estate and end-of-life planning in mind, but it was the natural next step in my quest to be a responsible adult, with a nudge from the existential threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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