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

Statement on Walmart’s Decision to Strengthen Chemical Footprint Policy

Maryland PIRG Foundation applauds retail giant Walmart for updating its sustainability policy to restrict toxic chemicals in 90,000 products including cosmetics and skincare items, infant products, and household cleaners.

> Keep Reading

Agency votes to begin rulemaking process to protect American children, firefighters from hazardous flame retardant chemicals

Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals (known as “organohalogens”). The CPSC directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain these chemicals. Once again, the CPSC has made an important action for consumers.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading

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

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of over 145 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

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L'Oréal: Pledge to Be Toxic-Free

Today, Maryland PIRG Foundation, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP)), and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures calling on the multinational cosmetic giant L’Oréal USA to eliminate cancer causing chemicals and to disclose its secret “fragrance” chemicals. 

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

New report from leading consumer group shows millions are victims of aggressive tactics from medical debt collectors

Washington, DC - A leading consumer group, Maryland PIRG, 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.

> Keep Reading

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 | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Big Banks Make Billions on Overdraft Fees

“Banks that relied most heavily on overdraft revenue had more complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the complaint category “account funds being low,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily scarr. “It’s clear that we need to protect a strong CFPB to make sure banks are following the law.”

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Private Loans, Public Complaints

This report is the second of several that will review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints in the private student loan sector with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with their student loans.

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Big Banks, Big Complaints

This report is the first of several that will review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state basis. In this report we explore consumer complaints about bank accounts and services with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with their banks.

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Prescription for Danger

Prescriptions are regularly compounded at pharmacies, after a doctor writes a prescription for a compounded drug. However, compounding pharmacies are increasingly behaving like pharmaceutical companies by producing drugs in bulk, despite the fact that they are not inspected or regulated like the pharmaceutical industry. Due to this lack of oversight, many compounding pharmacies have not adhered to safe manufacturing practices, and shown little regard for consumer safety.

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

TROUBLE IN TOYLAND

The enactment of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008 made great strides in toy safety and strengthened the ability of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to protect consumers, including the littlest consumers—children. Although policymakers delayed implementation of its most stringent lead standard rules and enacted some narrow exceptions in 2011, on the whole the law has been protected from attempts to undermine it.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

BIG BANKS, BIGGER FEES

Over the last six months, state PIRG staff conducted inquiries at 250 bank and 116 credit union branches in 17 states and the District of Columbia and reviewed bank fees online in these and 7 other states. This report, “Big Banks, Bigger Fees: A National Survey of Fees and Disclosure Compliance,” examines the following questions:

 How easy is it for consumers to shop around? Are banks complying with the Truth In Savings Act, which requires disclosure of a schedule of account fees to prospective customers?

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Food

POULTRY INDUSTRY AND USDA WANTS TO PUT DANGEROUS CHICKEN ON YOUR PLATES. | Jenny Levin

The new USDA proposed poultry inspection rule is being hailed as a commonsense, cost-saving rule by OIRA and of course the poultry industry.  It will purportedly streamline antiquated poultry inspection requirements, allowing companies to choose a more flexible approach with five-year savings apparently in excess of $1 billion. But in reality the proposed rule might actually put more dangerous chicken on your plate. 

> Keep Reading

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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. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

While we are glad that Fiat Chrysler is paying something for damaging the health of Americans and deceiving customers, this settlement does not go far enough. It neither ensures these violations of the public trust won’t happen again nor makes consumers whole.

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