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

ID Theft & Privacy Checklists | Mike Litt

Today, we're releasing our revamped Identity Theft and Online Privacy resources.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2017

For over 30 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund 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.

Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates, parents, the leadership of Congress, state legislatures, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 

> Keep Reading
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.

 

 

> Keep Reading
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 | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Lead In Fidget Spinners

While lead in toys has become less prevalent in recent years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested several models of one of today’s hottest toys, fidget spinners, for the toxic heavy metal. Laboratory results indicated that two fidget spinners purchased at Target and distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C. contained extremely high levels of lead. U.S. PIRG Education Fund calls on Target and Bulls i Toy to immediately recall these two fidget spinners and investigate how such high levels of lead were found in these toys. Also, we call on the U.S.

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News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Today’s Equifax News Beyond Troubling

The Equifax breach was already so bad for so many reasons. Reports today that Equifax failed to install Apache Struts security updates it was told about two months before its breach are beyond troubling.

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Statement on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

Statement from Maryland PIRG Foundation Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

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News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

EQUIFAX OFFERS INCOMPLETE PROTECTION AFTER BREACH: ADVOCATES SUGGEST WHAT ELSE CONSUMERS CAN DO

Consumers should know the risks and limits of what Equifax is offering and consider getting credit freezes with all three national credit bureaus instead.

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

Equifax Breach Puts Millions at Risk of New ID Theft

The Equifax breach affecting over 140 million Americans appears to be the largest of its kind and is beyond troubling. The types of stolen information, including social security numbers and dates of birth, can be used to commit new account identity theft against all of these people. Additionally, stolen credit cards affecting over 200,000 people in this breach can also be used to commit existing account identity theft. 

> Keep Reading

Texas Chemical Explosions: More Safety Needed Now

Two small explosions last night at a Texas chemical facility highlight that comprehensive emergency regulations need to be enforced more strictly at chemical plants.

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Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

The Unfriendly Skies

Consolidation in the airline industry, along with pressures created by new security rules and the recent high cost of aviation gasoline, has changed the way we fly. It seems as if every consumer has an airline travel story—how they were trapped on the tarmac, tricked by fees, missed their connection, or lost their bag.

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Fixing the Broken Textbook Market

This study demonstrates that despite recent steps forward in the marketplace, high textbook costs will continue to be a problem for students unless the cost of high-priced, new editions of college textbooks comes down.

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Credit Cards, Consumer Complaints

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.

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Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2013

The 2013 Trouble in Toyland report is the 28th annual Maryland Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, Maryland PIRG 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 | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Safe Energy

Stepping Up to Bigger Savings

Energy efficiency is one of the best investments Maryland can make in its electricity system. Energy efficiency saves money on energy, increases the reliability of the state’s electricity supply, and reduces harmful pollution from power plants. Recognizing these benefits, the state passed the EmPOWER Maryland Act in 2007, which directs utilities to cut per-capita energy use 15 percent below 2007 levels by 2015.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Toy Safety Tips | Emily Scarr

For 28 years, Maryland PIRG Foundation has worked to identify unsafe toys. Below are our top tips to help you choose the safest toys for the children in your life.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Celebrating the mandatory toy safety standard—An important provision of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

These days, we can mostly expect that toys sold on store shelves are tested to meet adequately strict safety standards — but that hasn’t always been the case. In 2007, toys with beloved childhood icons like Thomas the Tank Engine and Elmo were recalled because they contained excessive levels of lead. Another toy, when swallowed, created a toxic drug; yet another posed serious hazards due to strong magnets that could tear a child’s stomach lining if two or more pieces were swallowed.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

FDA’s BPA Ban: A Small, Late Step in the Right Direction | Jenny Levin

Last week, the FDA announced a ban on the toxic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from infant formula packaging. The rule change should provide some comfort to parents — however, it also showcased the FDA’s sluggish pace of action, and demonstrates to states that they shouldn’t wait for federal action to move forward with public health rules on their own.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Higher Ed

SUPREME COURT HEARS CASE ON TEXTBOOK PRICES WITH IMPLICATIONS FOR ALL SECONDARY MARKETS (AMAZON, EBAY) | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, in one of the few government buildings open for business during Hurricane Sandy, the Supreme Court heard an important case,Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc, concerning whether publishers can restrict owners of books from reselling their used legally-purchased copies. 

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Health Care

Here’s that Rx refill you didn’t order | Jenny Levin

Is your pharmacy refilling your prescription without your knowledge or approval, and billing your insurance company for the cost?

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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] .

Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation

In much of America, access to a car is all but required to hold a job or lead a full and vibrant life. Generations of car-centric transportation policies — including lavish spending on roads, sprawl-inducing land use policies and meager support for other modes of transportation — have left millions of Americans fully dependent on cars for daily living.

News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation

Baltimore: From E. coli-infected romaine lettuce to Salmonella-tainted beef, contaminated foods lead to illnesses that sicken as many as 1 in 6 Americans annually. In 2018, this epidemic helped spur major recalls, which caused stores and restaurants to toss millions of pounds of meat and produce.  Maryland PIRG Foundation’s new report How Safe is Our Food?, released today, reveals how fundamental flaws in our current food safety system have led to a jump in these recalls since 2013.

Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation

While our food safety system has improved significantly over the last 100 years, when toxics, fake foodstuffs and bacteria regularly infiltrated the supply, it is clear there is more work to do. A modern society relies on ensuring that the daily act of eating does not undermine the health of the population. 

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