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

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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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Medical Debt Malpractice

Medical debt accounts for more than half of all collection items that appear on consumer credit reports. A review of 17,701 medical debt collection complaints submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) shows that problems with medical debt collection are widespread and harm Americans across the country.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Commissioners: Say No to Proposed APS Bill Increases | Diane E. Brown

As the Arizona Corporation Commission hosts public comment sessions across the state and prepares to vote on the APS rate case, we encourage APS ratepayers to urge the Commission to reject the unjustified rate increase and say no to unfair utility charges.

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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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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Consumer Groups Outraged by Utility Rate Increase

Consumer groups are severely concerned about the impact on UniSource Electric residential electric customers, particularly low- and fixed-income customers, from an Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC)-approved rate increase and a 50 percent increase in the mandatory monthly fee or “basic service charge.”

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News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay, Transportation

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Program Advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on todays announced VW settlement. For more details on what a strong settlement agreement ought to look like, please see the open letter that we released earlier this week with other consumer and environmental groups.

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News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Leading Groups Send Criteria for Evaluating VW Settlement

Four leading consumer, environmental, and public health organizations wrote an open letter in advance of the April 21st deadline set by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer for a proposal that deals with Volkswagen’s emission scandal.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

30th Annual Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

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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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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

The 2013 Trouble in Toyland report is the 28th annual PIRG survey of toy safety. In this report, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund 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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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Credit Bureaus, Big Mistakes

In this report, we explore consumer complaints about credit bureaus with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with credit reporting.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Food Safety Scares 2013

This report offers a snapshot look, from October 2012 to October 2013, at multistate foodborne illness outbreaks identified by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The economic cost of just the multistate outbreaks caused by food products recalled over the past 12 months comes to more than $22 million.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Private Loans, Public Complaints

In this report we explore consumer complaints in the private student loan sector with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with their student loans.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Adds Consumer Stories to Public Complaint Database | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, 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.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

FTC Sues Alleged Corporate Wrongdoers Amazon & T-Mobile | Diane E. Brown

In the last few days, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed lawsuits against the wireless company T-Mobile over cramming of "hundreds of millions of dollars" in junk charges on phone bills and the web seller Amazon over "millions of dollars in unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children." What's interesting is not that the companies are alleged to have broken the law, it's that they've refused to settle and forced the FTC into court.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

The End of Net Neutrality As We Know It? | Diane E. Brown

On Thursday, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) meets to propose new rules "to protect and promote the open Internet." It has no choice because a U.S. appellate court threw out parts of its current rules in a January decision favoring the telephone company Verizon. The decision did not eliminate FCC authority to regulate the Internet, but it did make it more complicated.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How to protect yourself from the security bug Heartbleed | Diane E. Brown

Heartbleed is a recently discovered hole in the security software used by most major websites – everyone from Amazon to Yahoo to eBay – that may have allowed hackers to access consumers’ passwords or credit card information. Here are our recommendations for protecting yourself.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Target says "Oops, 70-110 million consumers hacked." | Diane E. Brown

Target is now saying, reports the New York Times, that "a range of 70 million to 110 million people," not the original 40 million customers, had their credit or debit card numbers hacked in December (or possibly at other times). Even worse, Target is admitting that the database stolen from the big-box retailer included a lot more than credit or debit card numbers and their associated security codes and expiration dates.

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