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

30 Years of "Trouble in Toyland," 30 Years of Safety Improvements | Anna Low-Beer

Every year, U.S. PIRG Education Fund releases Trouble in Toyland, a report on toy safety which examines toys bought at major national retailers, looking for safety hazards including toxic toys, choking hazards, labeling violations, powerful magnets, and excessibely loud toys. We continue to find these hazards on store shelves, which indicates the need for continued vigilance and adequate enforcement of safety regulations. But despite lingering dangers, in the last 30 years, we've come a long way in terms of both policy and compliance with standards.

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

Why You Should Get a Security Freeze BEFORE Your Information is Stolen

The first defense against any kind of identity theft is to be vigilant about protecting your personal information by taking steps like creating secure passwords, installing anti-virus and
anti-malware software, and shredding personal documents. However, if and when someone does steal enough of your information to commit identity theft, there is really only one type that you can stopbefore it happens: New account identity theft, where someone opens a new account in your name. All other types of identity theft and fraud, at best, can only be detected after the fact.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Tips for T-Mobile/Experian Data Breach Victims | Abe Scarr

Reports indicate Experian lost data for 15 million customers and applicants of the wireless phone company T-Mobile, including names, addresses and birth dates and social security numbers, among other information breached from the consumer files

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG | Consumer Protection

Illinois PIRG Questions Experian/T-Mobile Giving Experian Breach Victims Credit Monitoring

In the wake of a massive data breach affecting Experian’s computers holding 15 million files of T-Mobile customers and applicants, we question why the firms are offering credit monitoring instead of paying to place credit, or security, freezes on all three of each victim’s credit reports. Only the security or credit freeze, available in any state, stops new account identity theft. Potential victims should freeze all of their “Big 3” credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

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

Over 7,000 Comments Submitted to Department of Labor

Every year, over $17 billion is lost from retirement savings to fees and charges, according to the Council of Economic Advisors. Today, we submitted over 7,000 PIRG member comments urging the U.S. Department of Labor to finalize a strong rule requiring retirement advisors to put the interests of their customers first. We also submitted a detailed expert comment of our own in the important "conflicted advice" rulemaking.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | Illinois PIRG | Consumer Protection

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to Illinois Public Interest Research Group’s 27th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG | Consumer Protection

New Survey Shows Free Checking Widely Available At Small Banks But Banks Still Hiding Fees from Consumers

A survey of hundreds of banks and credit unions in 24 states and the District of Columbia found that free checking remains available at more than 6 out of 10 small banks and credit unions but was only found at one-quarter of surveyed big banks (those with over $10 billion in deposits). The survey released today by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group also revealed that fewer than half of branches surveyed obeyed their legal duty to fully disclose fees to prospective customers on the first request, while 12% provided no fee information at all. 

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

Testing Finds 7 out of 10 Baby Products Contain Toxic Flame Retardants

In its new report, "Testing for Toxics," Illinois PIRG shows the results of testing of baby products from the Chicago area for chlorinated Tris, a flame retardant that is a proven mutagen and likely carcinogen.  Seven out of ten products found at popular chains contained  the chemical, and two of those had no label indicating its presence.  These products included diaper changing kits, car seats and cradle pads.   

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Illinois PIRG Education Fund has released a new report, Tragedy of Errors, detailing multiple critical failures of the Peoples Gas pipe replacement program, and the failure of state policy makers to hold the utility company accountable on behalf of Chicago gas customers.

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

As its long-troubled pipe replacement program comes under increased scrutiny from the Chicago City Council, Peoples Gas filed its first 2019 quarterly program report to the Illinois Commerce Commission Wednesday. It shows that the program is once again over budget and behind schedule. Adding insult to injury, at least 7 percent of the average March residential customer bill is going toward pipe replacement work.

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. 

View AllRSS Feed

Support us

Your tax-deductible donation supports Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.