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

Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Medical Debt Malpractice

Medical debt collectors often employ aggressive tactics and attempt to collect debt from the wrong customers – putting consumers' credit records at risk. 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.

> Keep Reading
News Release | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

New Report Shows Millions are Victims of Aggressive Tactics from Medical Debt Collectors

A leading consumer group, WashPIRG, released the ninth in a series of reports that review complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  The latest report 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.  The report also demonstrates the need to defend the CFPB from partisan and special interest attacks.

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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.

> Keep Reading
News Release | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

31st Annual Survey Finds Recalled Toys in Online Stores

Some toys that have been recalled for lead, powerful magnets, or other hazards  can still be available for sale in online stores, according to WashPIRG Public Interest Research Group Foundation’s 31st annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that consumers should be wary when shopping this holiday season.

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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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News Release | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Report: In Washington, Credit Bureau ‘Experian’ Gets Big Complaints

SEATTLE— A new report by WashPIRG Foundation found that the most complained-about credit reporting agency in Washington is Experian, and that Washington ranks 23rd nationally in credit report complaints per 100,000 residents.

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News Release | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Higher Ed

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 WashPIRG Education Fund.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced today that discount stores T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods sold 19 different recalled products to consumers between 2014 and 2019. In the case of five products, the stores’ parent company TJX initiated the recall. The products included the Rock ‘N Play and Kids II inclined infant sleepers, which are responsible for a number of fatalities, rattles that can break and pose a choking hazard, and electronics that overheat or explode.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed today that the drug manufacturers Dr. Reddy’s and Perrigo have initiated a voluntary recall of all of their generic versions of Zantac (ranitidine) -- commonly used to treat heartburn -- due to carcinogen contamination.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Despite more than 50 infant deaths from inclined sleepers, including the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and the Kids II Rocking Sleeper, many versions of this type of product remain for sale and in homes. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is proposing a new rule that would virtually end the sale of inclined sleepers. 

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Consumers for Auto Reliability And Safety (CARS) Foundation

AutoNation, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Auto Retailer,” is selling recalled used vehicles that contain dangerous safety defects. In a survey of over 2,400 used vehicles for sale at 28 AutoNation locations, 1 in 9 were found to have unrepaired safety recalls.

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