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

APS Rate Case: Not over until ACC Votes | Diane E. Brown

The Commissioners, not APS, will ultimately determine whether the monthly basic service charge and the rates of APS customers’ increase; if new customers, not APS, get to choose their initial rate plan; and if residential and small business ratepayers will have more or less ability to control their energy use and therefore save money.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Guidance for Utilities Commissions on Time of Use Rates

As rapidly evolving renewable and energy efficiency technologies and economics drive ongoing transformation of America’s power sector, advocates from consumer, clean energy and environmental organizations are working together to provide guidance for utilities commissions and other stakeholders grappling with issues of electricity rate design.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Tucson electricity ratepayers raise alarm about service rollbacks

Tucson Electric Power (TEP) ratepayers are raising the alarm about plans to suspend energy efficiency programs that save ratepayers money. Over three dozen community groups, businesses, trade associations and more than 300 residents signed onto letters to the chair of the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates TEP. In the letters, ratepayers urged regulators to help moderate electricity costs by ramping up energy efficiency investments.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Protecting those who Serve

The CFPB provides an invaluable service to America’s men and women in uniform. Attempts to weaken or eliminate the CFPB could put those who protect our country in harm’s way, both while serving abroad and here at home, and even threaten national security. The Pentagon has found that financial abuses and credit reporting mistakes can cause service members to lose security clearances, resulting in lower unit preparedness.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

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L'Oréal: Pledge to Be Toxic-Free

Today, Arizona PIRG Education Fund, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP)), and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures calling on the multinational cosmetic giant L’Oréal USA to eliminate cancer causing chemicals and to disclose its secret “fragrance” chemicals. 

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New Report Highlights Consumer Complaints about Medical Debt

A new report by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group explores consumer complaints about medical debt, a major source of problems for consumers, since medical debt items on credit reports are often wrong or about the wrong consumer. 

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News Release | Consumer Protection

Unilever: Go Toxic-Free

On Valentine’s Day, consumer groups thank Unilever for great first step in disclosing fragrance ingredients and call on personal care giant to go toxic-free.

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Statement on Procter & Gamble’s New Preservative Tracker in Personal Care Products

Personal care product giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) recently unveiled a new preservative tracker, which lets consumers know which preservatives are included in various categories of P&G’s products, such as baby wipes, skin care, and hair care products. Consumers can search the tracker by ingredient or by product type.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Analysis of Predatory Lending Complaints Reveals Need for Stronger Federal Protections

Consumer complaints about predatory lending to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) show a critical need for strengthening the agency’s proposed rule to rein in payday loans and other high-cost lending, according to a report by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Mortgages and Mortgage Complaints

Our sixth report analyzing complaints in the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database evaluates mortgage complaints, the number one source of complaints to the CFPB, totaling 38% of nearly 500,000 complaints posted since 2011.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2014

Among the toys surveyed this year, we found numerous choking hazards and five toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards. In addition to reporting on potentially hazardous products found in stores in 2014, this installment of the report describes the potential hazards in toys and children’s products.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The Unfriendly Skies: Five Years of Airline Passenger Complaints to the DOT

Consolidation in the airline industry, along with pressures created by new security rules and the recent high cost of aviation gasoline, has changed the way we fly. It seems as if every consumer has an airline travel story—how they were trapped on the tarmac, tricked by fees, missed their connection, or lost their bag. What many consumers don’t know is that they do have a number of new rights as well as a right to complain, both to the airline and to the government.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Fixing the Broken Textbook Market

The cost of college textbooks has skyrocketed in recent years. To students and families already struggling to afford high tuition and fees, an additional $1,200 per year on books and supplies can be the breaking point.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

30 Years of "Trouble in Toyland," 30 Years of Safety Improvements | Diane E. Brown

Every year, Arizona PIRG Education Fund releases Trouble in Toyland, a report on toy safety which examines toys bought at major national retailers, looking for safety hazards including toxic toys, choking hazards, labeling violations, powerful magnets, and excessibely loud toys. We continue to find these hazards on store shelves, which indicates the need for continued vigilance and adequate enforcement of safety regulations. But despite lingering dangers, in the last 30 years, we've come a long way in terms of both policy and compliance with standards.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

What’s up with the ‘DARK Act’? | Anya Vanecek

The House just passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. This will have major implications for GMO labeling and consumer information about the foods they eat.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

The CFPB is 4 years old and has a lot to show for it! | Ed Mierzwinski

Tuesday, July 21, marks four years to the day since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened its doors to protect consumers and make financial markets work. We've summarized some of the ways CFPB works for you on a new web page.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How the CFPB’s Data Keeps Getting Better and Better | Mike Litt

As the CFPB turns 4 years old on July 21, here is some information on how it works for you and how we at PIRG use its data to produce reports, such as our new report on mortgage complaints to the CFPB. We've also got some photos from the Americans for Financial Reform "CFPB at 4" event.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

“What you don’t have can’t leak:” A political play in three acts | Carli Jensen

The scene: Washington, D.C. The cast of characters: the President, Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy, the chemical industry, communities, and advocacy groups across the nation.

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