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

News Release | Maryland PIRG | Consumer Protection

‘Getting Personal with Chemicals’

 

Baltimore, MD – A survey released today by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) found toxic chemicals in shampoos, baby wipes, moisturizers, soaps, and other hygiene and beauty products, calling into question the safety screening mechanisms for chemical ingredients. The new guide covers chemical hazards in ten commonly used personal care products by major brands like Unilever and Proctor and Gamble.

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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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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Manufacturers report toxics in wide range of household products | Juliana Bilowich

A national report issued this week titled What Stinks? Toxic Phthalates in Your Home reveals that a group of toxic chemicals are used in a broader range of household products than previously known, including products by Hallmark Cards, The Gap, True Value, and more.

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News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

“Seven months after news of Volkswagen’s emission scandal broke, we're glad to hear that there is a 'framework' for a settlement in the cases related to VW's 567,000 fraudulently marketed, illegally polluting cars. This framework appears to include all of the elements that a deal should include, but the devil will be in the details. 

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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 | Maryland PIRG | Consumer Protection, Safe Energy

Regional Opposition to Exelon’s Takeover of Pepco Is Strong

Maryland PIRG joined organization from DC, MD, and DE today to oppose the Exelon Pepco merger. Read Emily Scarr's statement.

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

Survey Finds Dangerous and Toxic Toys on Store Shelves

On Tuesday, December2nd, we're releasing Maryland PIRG’s 29h annual Trouble in Toyland report and list of dangerous toys. The report finds that despite improvements from recent product reforms, there are still dangerous toys on store shelves that pose a safety hazard. This year our report highlights potentially hazardous toys like toxic toys and choking hazards.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

We urge CFPB to issue safeguards for mobile financial services and privacy

We urge (along with the Center for Digital Democracy) the CFPB to issue rules so consumers can use mobile financial services without placing their privacy at risk or exposing themselves to new forms of predatory lending and other unfair practices. We filed a joint comment in response to a CFPB information request.

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News Release | Maryland PIRG | Consumer Protection

SHAREHOLDER RESOLUTION ASKS SAFEWAY TO LABEL ITS FOOD FOR GMOs

At its annual meeting this Friday, shareholders and advocacy groups will urge Safeway to label store brand products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Green Century Capital Management filed a shareholder proposal with Safeway, citing unprecedented public demand for GMO labeling as a reason for Safeway to voluntarily provide this information.

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News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Maryland PIRG Foundation Announces New Resource: Top Ten Ways the CFPB Can Help You CFPB Has Already Returned $1.5 Billion To Consumers

Since its formation in 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has proven itself a worthy cop on the financial beat: It has already returned more than $1.5 billion in unfair bank and credit card fees to consumers. Yet too many people may still be unsure how to get the most out of this new federal agency.

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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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