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

Consumers Count: Five years of the CFPB standing up for consumers | Kathryn Lee

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns five years old! As part of our efforts to tell more people about the CFPB, we're cross-posting this video blog and comments written by Zixta Q. Martinez of the CFPB (check out the infographic at the end, too!).

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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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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

For 30 years, WashPIRG Foundation has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

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News Release | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

30th Annual Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to the Washington Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG) Foundation 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season.

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News Release | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

New Report: Mortgage Problems Rank #1 at CFPB for Consumer Complaints

Mortgage problems were the top source of complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), according to a report released by the WashPIRG Foundation. The report also found that Bank of America was the most complained about company in Washington for mortgage problems. 

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News Release | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Report: Spirit Is Most Complained-About Airline; Alaska Airlines Gets High Marks

SEATTLE – Spirit Airlines passengers are most likely to complain about their experience, according to a report released today by the WashPIRG Foundation. Among major airlines, Spirit generates the most complaints for its size and generates an increasing number of complaints each year. Other most-complained about firms include Frontier Airlines, United Airlines, and American Airlines.

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News Release | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Report: Mistaken Identity Tops Debt Collection Complaints

SEATTLE – Debt collectors trying to collect debt from the wrong person were the top source of complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), according to a report released today by the WashPIRG Foundation. The report also found that Washington consumers are in the top-third highest percentage of states most likely to file complaints to the CFPB about debt collection, and that debt collection is a top source of complaints.

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News Release | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

‘Capital One’ Most-Complained-About Credit Card Company in Washington

SEATTLE – Washington consumers file more complaints about Capital One than any other credit card company, according to a report released today by the WashPIRG Foundation. The report, which looked at data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) public Consumer Complaints Database, also found that nearly 40 percent of consumers had their complaints closed with monetary or non-monetary relief; 60 percent of cases were resolved with explanation.

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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | 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 | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Your Rights as an Air Traveler

Here’s a quick roundup of your rights concerning flight delays, cancellations, and what to do if the airline loses your bag.

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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

The Unfriendly Skies

It seems as if every consumer has an airline problem 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 have a number of new rights as well as a right to complain, both to the airline and to the government. This report tracks five years of consumer complaints and highlights which airlines received the most complaints and what kinds of complaints were most common.

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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Debt Collectors, Debt Complaints

This is the fifth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about debt collection, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with debt collectors and documenting the role of the CFPB in helping consumers successfully resolve their complaints.

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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Credit Cards, Consumer Compliants

This is the fourth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about credit cards with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with their credit cards and documenting the role of the CFPB in helping consumers successfully resolve their complaints. Despite the benefits to consumers brought by enactment of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (Credit CARD) Act of 2009, consumer complaints about credit cards remain common. 

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