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

Public Utilities Need to Clearly Communicate COVID-19 Policies to their Customers | Eva Haraldsdottir

The Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) ordered all public gas, electricity, water and sewage utilities in the state of Illinois to cease disconnections and waive late fees until May 1, or until the state of emergency is lifted. Adopting these policies is an important step, but it's also important that utilities let customers know about these policies and how customers will be impacted by them.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Illinois Commerce Commission orders utility disconnection moratorium

Today, the Illinois Commerce Commission passed several emergency orders in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including placing temporary moratoriums on utility disconnections as well as on in-person solicitations by alternative retail electric and gas suppliers.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Utilities pause disconnections in response to pandemic | Eva Haraldsdottir

As more and more Illinoisans are forced to stay home from work by the COVID-19 outbreak, paying utility bills is a looming concern among many. Many will be faced with a combination of declining income and increased energy bills because of increased energy consumption while staying home.

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

Coronavirus worry triggers most surgical mask, sanitizer prices to spike at least 50% on Amazon

As the Coronvirus outbreak became more widespread, the price of most of the sanitizers and masks rose at least 50 percent higher than the 90-day average. Even one in six products sold directly by Amazon saw prices rise at least 50 percent higher in February

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Year-end report: Struggling Peoples Gas pipe program once again behind schedule, over budget 

Peoples Gas released its fourth quarter report Tuesday on its troubled pipe replacement program, which was the subject of a highly critical Illinois PIRG Education Fund report last June. Peoples Gas’ own data shows that for the eighth consecutive quarter --  a period that spans every quarterly report on the project -- the program is behind schedule and over budget. 

> Keep Reading

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News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Illinois Commerce Commission orders utility disconnection moratorium

Today, the Illinois Commerce Commission passed several emergency orders in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including placing temporary moratoriums on utility disconnections as well as on in-person solicitations by alternative retail electric and gas suppliers.

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

Coronavirus worry triggers most surgical mask, sanitizer prices to spike at least 50% on Amazon

As the Coronvirus outbreak became more widespread, the price of most of the sanitizers and masks rose at least 50 percent higher than the 90-day average. Even one in six products sold directly by Amazon saw prices rise at least 50 percent higher in February

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Year-end report: Struggling Peoples Gas pipe program once again behind schedule, over budget 

Peoples Gas released its fourth quarter report Tuesday on its troubled pipe replacement program, which was the subject of a highly critical Illinois PIRG Education Fund report last June. Peoples Gas’ own data shows that for the eighth consecutive quarter --  a period that spans every quarterly report on the project -- the program is behind schedule and over budget. 

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

Hack doesn’t absolve Equifax of being careless with consumers’ data

Congress must hold companies accountable for failing to protect condumers' confidential information.

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News Release | Illinois PIRG | Consumer Protection

Statement: Facebook settles for $550 million in case alleging privacy violations

 

Facebook announced Wednesday that it had reached a $550 million settlement with plaintiffs over alleged violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), although Facebook has denied any wrongdoing. BIPA, passed in 2008, requires private entities to acquire informed consent before collecting individuals’ biometric information, such as facial recognition scans, thumbprints, or voiceprints. 

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Medical Debt Malpractice

Millions of Americans are contacted by debt collectors every year over debt related to medical expenses. "Medical Debt Malpractice" is the latest (9th) in our series based on analysis of complaints in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's public complaint database. The report demonstrates that the CFPB is a critical agency protecting consumers against unfair financial practices and needs to be defended against special interest attacks.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2016

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.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Predatory Loans & Predatory Loan Complaints

This is the seventh in a series of reports that review complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In this report, we explore consumer complaints about predatory loans, categorized in the database as payday loans, installment loans, and auto title loans.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Lighting the Way

American solar energy is booming. Hundreds of thousands more Americans each year are experiencing the environmental and consumer benefits of clean energy from the sun, often generated right on the rooftops of their homes or places of business.Yet while strong policies have helped to grow solar energy in the U.S., some utilities and fossil fuel companies are now working to limit the growth of distributed solar energy.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble In Toyland

For 30 years, Illinois 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.

> Keep Reading

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

The most efficient policeman | Abe Scarr

This morning, Illinois PIRG Education Fund and Glidepath Development, a renewable energy and energy storage developer, filed a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against the Illinois Commerce Commission. The complaint alleges that the Commission has violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act in its management of the Next Grid study.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Update on Troubled Peoples Gas Pipe Replacement Program | Abe Scarr

This morning, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) approved a settlement regarding 2014 spending on its troubled pipe replacement program. The settlement itself is a good outcome for ratepayers, but a far cry from the necessary reforms to the pipe replacement program itself.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Public Comment on the Peoples Gas Accelerated Main Replacement Program | Abe Scarr

I prepared a public comment before the Illinois Commerce Commission, opposing their plan to approve an increase in spending on the troubled Peoples Gas pipe replacement program. The Commission denied my request to make an oral comment. They did not give me a reason why.

> 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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

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News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

The Chicago City Council today passed a resolution calling on Gov. J.B.  Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly to reform the troubled Peoples Gas pipe replacement program. The program has been beset by management missteps, cost overruns, and an inability to reduce pipeline failure rates. The program is increasingly unaffordable for many Chicago residents: in 2019, Chicagoans fell $60 million behind on their heating bills and Peoples Gas sent out more than 300,000 disconnection notices. 

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

The Illinois Commerce Commission has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Illinois PIRG Education Fund and GlidePath that alleged it deliberately excluded select consumer advocates and industry experts from participating in its NextGrid Study process, while allowing ComEd and Ameren to fund, shape, and approve a report designed to influence Illinois energy policy. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

U.S. PIRG Education Fund has released a report with the Student Borrower Protection Center and Consumer Action. The report makes recommendations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to upgrade its consumer complaint tool, including the public consumer complaint database, so COVID19-related complaints can be handled more quickly and tracked better.

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul is calling on the country’s top online marketplaces to crack down on price gouging amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Raoul joined a bipartisan group of 33 attorneys general, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro along with co-leading Attorneys General Hector Balderas (NM), William Tong (CT), and T.J. Donovan (VT), in sending a letter today urging the companies -- Amazon, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook and Walmart -- to quickly implement preventative measures on their platforms to ensure that consumers don’t get taken advantage of during this public health crisis.

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