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 | Consumer Protection

Statement on Wells Fargo’s response to “Debit Cards on Campus” report

Read U.S. PIRG's statement on Wells Fargo eliminating some fees for student on debit cards.

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

Tyson chicken strips recalled, may contain pieces of metal

Just seven weeks after Tyson Foods recalled chicken nuggets that could contain rubber, the poultry giant is recalling chicken strips that might contain metal. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Boeing Max planes have ‘optional’ safety mechanisms

Newly-revealed details by the New York Times about of the crash of two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes may stun even the most hardened observer. The planes lacked a safety feature that may have warned pilots about problems because it was not required and Boeing charged airlines extra to include it. Adam Garber, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog issued the following statement.

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG | Consumer Protection

New report: Hazardous Meat & Poultry Recalls Nearly Double

From E. coli-infected romaine lettuce to Salmonella-tainted beef, contaminated foods lead to illnesses that sicken as many as 1 in 6 Americans annually. In 2018, this epidemic helped spur major recalls, which caused stores and restaurants to toss millions of pounds of meat and produce.  MASSPIRG Education Fund’s new report How Safe is Our Food?, released today, reveals how fundamental flaws in our current food safety system have led to a jump in these recalls since 2013.

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

Fiat Chrysler Settlement Fails to Protect Consumers

While we are glad that Fiat Chrysler is paying something for damaging the health of Americans and deceiving customers, this settlement does not go far enough. It neither ensures these violations of the public trust won’t happen again nor makes consumers whole.

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Pages

News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Target Removes Lead-Laden Fidget Spinner from Website, But Still Available for Sale In-Store

Target Removes Lead-Laden Fidget Spinner from Website, But Still Available for Sale In-Store

CPSC Commissioner states that it is obvious that fidget spinners are toys

 

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

High Levels of Lead Found in Fidget Spinners

Boston– The MASSPIRG Education Fund found fidget spinners with high levels of lead for sale at Target stores across the country. Parents and consumers need to know about these lead-laden toys, especially because we alerted Target and the toy’s distributor, Bulls i Toy, to our findings, but they refused to address the problem. The toxic fidget spinners are still available both in toy aisles at Target stores and on its website. Incredibly, Target and Bulls i Toy defend their inaction by pointing to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) declaration that fidget spinners are NOT technically “children’s products” subject to legal limits for lead. 

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News Release | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG CONSUMER ADVOCATE MIKE LITT TESTIFIES AT CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON EQUIFAX

Our Consumer Advocate, Mike Litt, was invited by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to testify this week at a Congressional hearing on the Equifax data breach. This was a continuation of the committee's previously held hearing on October 5th entitled "Examining the Equifax Data Breach."

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Statement on Walmart’s Decision to Strengthen Chemical Footprint Policy

MASSPIRG Education Fund applauds retail giant Walmart for updating its sustainability policy to restrict toxic chemicals in 90,000 products including cosmetics and skincare items, infant products, and household cleaners.

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG | Consumer Protection

CarMax Survey Finds 27% of Vehicles for Sale with Dangerous Unrepaired Safety Recalls

The nation’s largest retailer of used cars, CarMax, has more than doubled the percentage of dangerous, defective unrepaired recalled used cars for sale to consumers, according to Used Car Roulette, a new report released today by the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation, MASSPIRG Education Fund, and the Center for Auto Safety. 

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Pages

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.

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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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Pages

Blog Post

Advance directives are legal instructions that include a living will (different from a regular will) and a health care proxy. In them, you state what treatments you do or don’t want at the end of your life and who you want making health care decisions for you if you can’t. 

Blog Post

Before listening to In Case You Get Hit By a Bus, I didn’t know about insurance that covers the costs of long-term care, such as home health care or nursing home care, for people who need assistance with daily living activities. 

Blog Post

Getting my finances in order has been a work in progress over several years, starting with tackling credit card debt, paying off my car loan and then building an emergency fund. 

After clearing those hurdles, I set more defined financial goals and plans in motion this year, including automatic deposits into new investment accounts.

News Release | US PIRG

During this time of year, families are thinking about the children going back to school, and for parents who are sending their kids to college, it can be a bit overwhelming. A key to addressing those concerns is making sure their teens are prepared for “adulting” -- in other words, taking care of their own lives.

Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) turns 10 years old, a new report from MASSPIRG Education Fund recaps how the agency has helped consumers over the past decade and the steps under way to refocus the CFPB on its mission after three years of retrograde decisions under the Trump Administration. The report also provides recommendations for CFPB action moving forward, especially on credit reporting.

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