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

Illinois Commerce Commission OK's Budget Busting Peoples Gas Pipe Program

The Illinois Commerce Commission voted Wednesday to approve a plan from Peoples Gas to increase spending on its troubled pipe replacement program. The vote concludes a two year investigation initiated after a 2015 audit found widespread program mismanagement.

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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
News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

32nd Annual “Trouble in Toyland” Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Stores nationwide are still offering dangerous and toxic toys this holiday season and, in some cases, ignoring explicit government safety regulations in the process, according to Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund’s 32nd annualTrouble in Toyland report

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2017

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.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Target Removes Lead-Laden Fidget Spinner From Website, But Still Available For Sale In-Store

Since late yesterday afternoon, Target appears to have made the 33,000 ppm-lead containing Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass unavailable for sale on its website. U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff went to a Target store today and found the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass was still available for sale in-store, despite the website saying it was unavailable there. Also yesterday, one of the CPSC’s Commissioners, Elliot F. Kaye, re-stated his opposition to the CPSC’s guidance and the acting chairman's statement when he tweeted, “Seems obvious fidget spinners are toys and should comply with all applicable federal safety standards.”

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Pages

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.

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Statement on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

Statement from Illinois PIRG Education Fund Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

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Texas Chemical Explosions: More Safety Needed Now

Two small explosions last night at a Texas chemical facility highlight that comprehensive emergency regulations need to be enforced more strictly at chemical plants.

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Statement on P&G’s Consumer Product Fragrance Disclosure Announcement

Illinois PIRG Education Fund applauds consumer product giant Procter & Gamble, the maker of brands like Olay, Old Spice, and Pampers, for its announcement today that it will increase fragrance ingredient transparency in all of its consumer brands.

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L'Oréal: Pledge to Be Toxic-Free

Today, Illinois PIRG Education Fund, 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. 

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Pages

Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Prescription for Danger

The fungal meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated steroid injections that killed 55 people to date and sickened more than 740 is one of the worst public health disasters the nation has seen in recent history. The tainted injections came from a drug manufacturer doing business as a “compounding pharmacy,” a classification which allowed them to evade the system of safety rules, inspections, and oversight that keep our drug supply safe.

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Report | Illinois PIRG | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

The 2012 Trouble in Toyland report is the 27th annual Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, Illinois PIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

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Report | Illinois PIRG | Consumer Protection

Big Banks Bigger Fees 2012

Over the last dozen years or more, bank efforts to raise fee income have been bolstered by pliant regulators, who looked the other way while banks piled new fees onto deposit accounts and engaged in deceptive practices to earn more in fees. Regulators encouraged tens of billions of dollars in overdraft fee income by classifying “overdraft protection” products as “account features,” not loans.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Testing for Toxics

In an effort to better understand the prevalence of toxic chemicals that pose a risk to children’s health, Illinois PIRG Education Fund purchased ten common baby products and tested these products for chlorinated Tris, or TDCPP, a chemical that has been linked to cancer, mutagenicity, hormone disruption, neurological damage, and infertility.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

The 2011 Trouble in Toyland report is our 26th annual survey of toy safety. In this report, we provide safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for young children and provide examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB, FTC Take Separate Actions Against Two Illegal Online Payday "Cash-Grab"Schemes | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday the CFPB and FTC announced separate actions against two online payday lenders running essentially the same alleged scam. Both "lenders" collected detailed consumer information from lead generation websites or data brokers, including bank account numbers, then deposited purported payday loans of $200-300 into those accounts electronically, and then collected biweekly finance charges "indefinitely,"

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

We oppose merger between giants Comcast & Time Warner Cable | Ed Mierzwinski

Along with a number of state PIRGs, we have joined the Consumer Federation of America in a petition to deny the merger of cable/Internet giants Comcast & Time Warner Cable. The petition argues that the FCC must deny the merger, which would perpetuate unrestrained cable price increases, allow terrible service to deteriorate further and stifle innovation.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Illinois PIRG Education Fund Announces New Resource: Top Ten Ways the CFPB Can Help You | Dev Gowda

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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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

What you can do to avoid the CTA's new hidden fees

Ventra is the new payment system for Chicago transit that will eventually allow customers to use a single fare card for regional transit throughout the Chicago area.  The new "Ventra Card" will include  the option of registering for a prepaid debit card - but you need to be careful.  This prepaid debit card can leave you on the hook for hidden fees and unpredictable charges.  

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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. 

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