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 | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Volkswagen Customers Drive Cross-Country to Return Defective Diesel Car

A Boulder, Colorado couple, Marcus Moench and Elisabeth Caspari, made a stop in Chicago on their cross-country drive to Volkswagen headquarters in Herndon, Virginia. The couple is seeking to return their 2011 Jetta SportWagen TDI and drop off over 20,000 petitions calling on the company to fully compensate consumers and the environment for the emission scandal affecting over half a million cars marketed as “clean diesel” in the United States.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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.

Blog Post

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.

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

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.

Blog Post

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.

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