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:
- Top Ten Ways the CFPB Can Help You With Financial Questions
- How to Choose a Bank
- How to Avoid Problems When Paying Taxes
- How to Choose a Credit Card
Credit Reports, Credit Scores, and Identity Theft:
- How to Access Your Credit Report and Avoid 'Free' Credit Report Scams
- How to Fix Mistakes on Your Credit Report
- How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Common Consumer Problems:
- How to Pick a Cell Phone Plan
- How Tenants Can Protect Themselves from Predatory Landlords
- How to Avoid Common Mistakes When Buying a Car
- How to Avoid Dangerous Toys
- Your Rights As an Air Traveler
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.
The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) and Arizona PIRG Education Fund praised Chairwoman Lea Marquez Peterson, Commissioner Sandra Kennedy, Commissioner Anna Tovar, and Commissioner Jim O’Connor - utility regulators at the Arizona Corporation Commission - for voting yesterday to expand programs and services to help Arizonans save energy and money on their electricity bills.
Arizona’s U.S. Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, our U.S. Representatives, and state and local officials need to lead efforts to significantly increase clean energy and clean transportation. Arizona PIRG Education Fund compiled 10 of numerous documents that illustrate from job creation and utility bill savings to reduced air pollution and decreased adverse health impacts, Arizonans and Arizona businesses clearly benefit from clean energy and clean transportation investments.
Consumer complaints about peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps such as PayPal, Venmo and Square have surged during the pandemic year. In April, there were 970 digital wallet complaints — almost double the previous monthly high from July 2020. Arizona PIRG Education Fund analyzed this growing problem for Virtual Wallets, Real Complaints, a new analysis of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) Consumer Complaint Database.
Consumers are increasingly using digital payment apps -- Venmo, Cash App and Zelle are a few -- for convenience. A 2020 Nerdwallet survey found that “[r]oughly 4 in 5 Americans (79%) use mobile payment apps.” The apps were originally marketed as a way for friends to split expenses. However, the ease of opening peer-to-peer (P2P) accounts, the ease of obtaining information about other users and a variety of ways to trick consumers have created new fraud risks to users.
Arizona PIRG Education Fund’s latest report “Getting Off The Hook of a Predatory Tow” highlights 14 common sense towing protections that the organization believes should be available to consumers in every state. The report outlines protections ranging from who is responsible for damages caused by careless towing, to the maximum rates and fees owed when towed, to whether an individual is guaranteed the option to pay by credit card.
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