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 | Maryland PIRG Foundation and Ecology Center | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Hidden Hazards

The Ecology Center's has released test results and product ratings in their 2018 report, Hidden Hazards: Flame Retardants & PFAS in Children's Car Seats. 

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

For over 30 years, Maryland PIRG Foundation has conducted an annual survey of toys to look for safety problems. This research has led to more than 150 toy recalls and other regulatory actions over the years. Our work has also helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and well-being of children. 

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News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Public Health, Consumer Protection

33rd annual Trouble in Toyland

his holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. Maryland PIRG Foundation’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron in slime products and a failure by Amazon to appropriately label choking hazards. Boron can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG response to reports of Facebook security breach

Facebook announced today that earlier this week, "attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted “View As”, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else. This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts."

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News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Maryland PIRG Recommends Credit Freezes, Now Free for All By Law

A new federal law  will eliminate fees for credit freezes and thaws in Maryland and across the country at the three nationwide credit bureaus on Friday, September 21st. The consumer advocacy group Maryland PIRG recommends getting credit freezes, not the similar locks offered by the bureaus, to prevent new account identity theft. 

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News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Maryland PIRG Recommends Credit Freezes, Now Free for All By Law

A new federal law  will eliminate fees for credit freezes and thaws in Maryland and across the country at the three nationwide credit bureaus on Friday, September 21st. The consumer advocacy group Maryland PIRG recommends getting credit freezes, not the similar locks offered by the bureaus, to prevent new account identity theft. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

How to Protect Consumers 1 Year After Equifax Breach

A year ago, Equifax announced that hackers had breached its system and accessed the data of nearly 150 million U.S. consumers.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Health Care

Second recall of King Bio’s homeopathic drugs in the past month

King Bio Inc. issued the second significant voluntary recall since late July of their homeopathic drugs on Wednesday. Safety concerns over homeopathic drugs extend beyond King Bio as over the past several years, the FDA has issued recalls to several companies for a variety of health products from zinc-containing intranasal medicine to asthma drugs with toxic ingredients. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

32nd Annual “Trouble in Toyland” Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Stores nationwide are still offering dangerous and toxic toys this holiday season and, in some cases, ignoring explicit government safety regulations in the process, according to U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund’s 32nd annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping for children’s gifts.

 

 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Target Removes Lead-Laden Fidget Spinner From Website, But Still Available For Sale In-Store

Since late yesterday afternoon, Target appears to have made the 33,000 ppm-lead containing Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass unavailable for sale on its website. U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff went to a Target store today and found the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass was still available for sale in-store, despite the website saying it was unavailable there. Also yesterday, one of the CPSC’s Commissioners, Elliot F. Kaye, re-stated his opposition to the CPSC’s guidance and the acting chairman's statement when he tweeted, “Seems obvious fidget spinners are toys and should comply with all applicable federal safety standards.”

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Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Getting Personal With Chemicals

We should be able to trust that the products we buy are safe — especially the ones our families use every day, directly on our bodies. However, we looked into common ingredients in popular personal care products, and found that when we use these products, like shampoo, baby wipes, deodorant, shaving gel, or perfume, we are often dosing our bodies with chemicals that can disrupt our hormones, cause developmental problems, cause cancer, and more.  Check out our consumer product guide here!

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Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Why You Should Get Security Freezes Before Your Information is Stolen

A never ending stream of news reports about data breaches – including T-Mobile, Target Corporation, the IRS, numerous Blue Cross Blue Shield and other health plans, the University of Maryland, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) - is a constant reminder that we're at risk of a data breach and therefore, identity theft.

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Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | 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 | Maryland PIRG 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 | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

We Urge CFPB To Provide Mobile Financial Protections

Along with the Center for Digital Democracy, our co-investigator on a series of projects related to "big data" and financial opportunity, we've filed detailed comments to the CFPB regarding the need for strong consumer protections as more and more consumers use mobile financial services. We argue that "mobile technologies and services pose both opportunities and risks to consumers, their privacy, and to the kinds and price of services they are offered."

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Begins Payday Regulation Push In Richmond | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined the CFPB in Richmond Thursday for a field hearing on a proposed rule to regulate payday lending and similar high-cost short-term loans. The CFPB's draft rule is comprehensive, covering a variety of loans, but it contains potential loopholes that we and other advocates will urge the bureau to close before it finalizes this important effort. Here's a short blog with some photos from Richmond.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Adds Consumer Stories to Public Complaint Database | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, 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

We oppose merger between giants Comcast & Time Warner Cable | Ed Mierzwinski

Along with a number of state PIRGs, we have joined the Consumer Federation of America in a petition to deny the merger of cable/Internet giants Comcast & Time Warner Cable. The petition argues that the FCC must deny the merger, which would perpetuate unrestrained cable price increases, allow terrible service to deteriorate further and stifle innovation.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How to protect yourself from the security bug Heartbleed | Emily Scarr

DO NOT rush to change your passwords on all of your favorite websites. You shouldn’t change your password on a site until the site has fixed the Heartbleed bug, or else you risk having your new password compromised. Watch for a notice on the site, but don’t click any links in emails claiming to be from the website.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Target says "Oops, 70-110 million consumers hacked." | Ed Mierzwinski

Target is now saying 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. Even worse, Target is admitting that the database stolen included email addresses and phone numbers, which leaves consumers vulnerable to phishing attacks that could lead to identity theft, as if fraud on existing accounts wasn't enough. Here are some tips.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Fisher-Price recalled 4.7 million Rock n’Play baby sleepers on Friday. U.S. PIRG Consumer Watchdog Adam Garber issued a response: "“While we’re pleased that Fisher-Price is finally recalling these dangerous sleepers, 30 deaths in 10 years is 30 deaths too many and 10 years too late."

News Release

Read U.S. PIRG's statement on Wells Fargo eliminating some fees for student on debit cards.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Just seven weeks after Tyson Foods recalled chicken nuggets that could contain rubber, the poultry giant is recalling chicken strips that might contain metal. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Newly-revealed details by the New York Times about of the crash of two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes may stun even the most hardened observer. The planes lacked a safety feature that may have warned pilots about problems because it was not required and Boeing charged airlines extra to include it. Adam Garber, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog issued the following statement.

News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation

The amount of money Americans owe on their cars is now at an all-time high -- up 75 percent since the end of 2009. Americans’ rising indebtedness for cars raises concerns about the financial future of millions of households as lenders extend credit to more and more Americans without the ability to repay, according to a new Maryland PIRG report[1] .

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