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 | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

We Commend CFPB For Adding Consumer Stories To Public Complaint Database

Yesterday, the CFPB published the first batch (7,700) of consumer narratives or stories to the Public Consumer Complaint Database it began in 2011. We've used the database to publish five reports (so far) analyzing complaint trends in markets ranging from credit cards to student loans but we have also long urged the voluntary addition of stories to the data fields. Now, consumers can learn if what happened to them happened to anyone else. Now, researchers can track which banks are more responsive to particular problems and which ignore their customers. A good resource is now an excellent resource.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Event 5/11 re new book on black box decisionmaking & consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED TO CONFIRM CFPB Speaker. We are hosting an event Monday, 5/11, from 9am-noon ET to discuss a new book, The Black Box Society, with author Frank Pasquale. Click Keep Reading to RSVP to attend in person or to watch the livestream. While credit bureaus have long functioned as black box gatekeepers to opportunity, panelists will discuss the growing use of more and more, even less transparent black boxes to categorize consumers in the digital economy.

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

PIRG Commends Release of Labor Dept.'s Proposed Rule To End Conflicted Retirement Advice

PIRG today commended the public release of the Department of Labor’s proposed rule that would strengthen the ability for Americans to save for retirement by addressing conflicts of interest that arise when brokers and financial advisers give retirement advice. Wall Street will fight the rule hard, because it requires them to put consumers first.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Begins Payday Regulation Push In Richmond | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined the CFPB in Richmond Thursday for a field hearing on a proposed rule to regulate payday lending and similar high-cost short-term loans. The CFPB's draft rule is comprehensive, covering a variety of loans, but it contains potential loopholes that we and other advocates will urge the bureau to close before it finalizes this important effort. Here's a short blog with some photos from Richmond.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Adds Consumer Stories to Public Complaint Database | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, the CFPB took a step to make its excellent public database of consumer complaints even better, by adding complaint narratives (stories), but only with the consumer's consent. It's a step we've long urged. It will enrich our research into the marketplace, help consumers make choices and help good-actor firms avoid bad practices by others.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | NJPIRG Law & Policy Center | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

New Report Identifies Most Troublesome Private Lenders to Students

Thousands of American students are using the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) public Consumer Complaints Database to settle disputes about private student loans, according to a new report from the NJPIRG Law & Policy Center.

> Keep Reading
News Release | NJPIRG | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

New Report Identifies Banks Consumers Complain About Most

Thousands of Americans are using the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s public Consumer Complaints Database to settle disputes with their banks, according to a new report from the NJPIRG Law and Policy Center. The report highlights banks that generated the most complaints through their various banking services in each state.

> Keep Reading
News Release | NJPIRG Law & Policy Center | Consumer Protection, Food

FDA Protects Public by Releasing Two Long-Delayed Food Safety Rules

Statement of Jennifer Kim, NJPIRG State Director, on the FDA’s proposed new rules for food safety.

> Keep Reading
News Release | NJPIRG Law & Policy Center | Consumer Protection

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to New Jersey Public Interest Research Group’s 27th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

> Keep Reading
News Release | NJPIRG Law & Policy Center | Consumer Protection

New Survey Shows Free Checking Widely Available At Small Banks

A survey of hundreds of banks and credit unions in 24 states and the District of Columbia found that free checking remains available at more than 6 of 10 small banks and credit unions, but was only found at one-quarter of surveyed big banks. The survey released today by the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group also revealed that fewer than half of branches surveyed obeyed their legal duty to fully disclose fees to prospective customers on the first request, while 12% provided no fee information at all.

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Report | NJPIRG Law & Policy Center | Consumer Protection, Food

Total Food Recall

This report is a snapshot look, from January 2011 to September 2012, at recalls that were directly linked to identified incidents of foodborne illness.  Failures in the rules and processes that protect our food supply have led to numerous high-volume recalls over the past two years that left many New Jerseyans sickened, and at least 37 Americans dead.  And the economic costs of the illnesses caused by food products recalled over the past 21 months come to over $5.1 million in our state.

> Keep Reading
Report | NJPIRG Law and Policy Center | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

The 2011 Trouble in Toyland report is our 26th annual survey of toy safety. In this report, we provide safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for young children and provide examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

> Keep Reading
Report | NJPIRG Law and Policy Center | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

PIRG staff conducted inquiries at 392 bank branches in 21 states and reviewed bank fees online in 12 others. This report, “Big Banks, Bigger Fees: A National Survey of Bank Fees and Fee Disclosure Policies,” examines the following questions: 
- How easy is it for consumers to shop around? 
- Can consumers still find free or low-cost checking accounts or has free checking ended? 

> Keep Reading
Report | NJPIRG Law and Policy Center | Consumer Protection

Growing Up Toxic

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that the widespread use of chemicals in our society harms our health and the health of our children. The incidence of many serious health problems – including premature birth, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, asthma and allergies, early puberty, obesity, diabetes, reduced fertility, and some types of cancer – shows links with exposure to chemicals that can interfere with the process of growth and development.

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