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 | 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.”

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

Lead In Fidget Spinners

While lead in toys has become less prevalent in recent years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested several models of one of today’s hottest toys, fidget spinners, for the toxic heavy metal. Laboratory results indicated that two fidget spinners purchased at Target and distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C. contained extremely high levels of lead. U.S. PIRG Education Fund calls on Target and Bulls i Toy to immediately recall these two fidget spinners and investigate how such high levels of lead were found in these toys. Also, we call on the U.S.

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News Release | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG CONSUMER ADVOCATE MIKE LITT TESTIFIES AT CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON EQUIFAX

Our Consumer Advocate, Mike Litt, was invited by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to testify this week at a Congressional hearing on the Equifax data breach. This was a continuation of the committee's previously held hearing on October 5th entitled "Examining the Equifax Data Breach."

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Older Consumers in the Financial Marketplace

Older Americans are at risk of harm from predatory financial behavior. An analysis of more than 72,000 financial complaints submitted by older Americans (those 62 years of age and older) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and contained in its Consumer Complaint Database suggests that mistreatment of older Americans by financial companies is widespread.

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Statement on Walmart’s Decision to Strengthen Chemical Footprint Policy

Illinois PIRG Education Fund applauds retail giant Walmart for updating its sustainability policy to restrict toxic chemicals in 90,000 products including cosmetics and skincare items, infant products, and household cleaners.

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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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News Release | Consumer Protection

Unilever: Go Toxic-Free

On Valentine’s Day, consumer groups thank Unilever for great first step in disclosing fragrance ingredients and call on personal care giant to go toxic-free.

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Statement on Procter & Gamble’s New Preservative Tracker in Personal Care Products

Personal care product giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) recently unveiled a new preservative tracker, which lets consumers know which preservatives are included in various categories of P&G’s products, such as baby wipes, skin care, and hair care products. Consumers can search the tracker by ingredient or by product type.

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News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

31st Annual Survey Finds Recalled Toys in Online Stores

Some toys that have been recalled for lead, powerful magnets, or other hazards may still be available for sale in online stores, according to Illinois Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s 31st annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that consumers should be wary when shopping this holiday season.

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News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Statement on Record $100 Million CFPB Penalty Order Against Wells Fargo Bank For Illegal Sales Practices

On September 8 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a record $100 million civil penalty plus consumer restitution against Wells Fargo, among the  nation’s largest banks, for a series of unfair and abusive sales practices by thousands of employees that included opening secret accounts for hundreds of thousands of existing customers, solely to meet sales goals to receive financial incentives.

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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.

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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 | 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. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Newly-revealed details by the New York Times about of the crash of two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes may stun even the most hardened observer. The planes lacked a safety feature that may have warned pilots about problems because it was not required and Boeing charged airlines extra to include it. Adam Garber, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog issued the following statement.

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

A year-end report filed Friday provides additional evidence that the troubled Peoples Gas pipe replacement program is a bad deal for Chicago gas customers. The gas utility’s System Modernization Program (SMP) is delivering less value for more money, making it so increasing numbers of customers can’t afford their gas bills. Furthermore, Peoples Gas is failing to adequately track or report on its program as ordered by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC).

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

This morning, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed and remanded an appellate court decision in Rosenbach v. Six Flags, affirming citizens’ ability to enforce the unique Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) when entities collect individuals’ biometric information without first acquiring informed consent. Illinois PIRG Education Fund filed an amicus brief in the case arguing for reversal and remand, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Illinois, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Lucy Parsons Labs.

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

The Circuit Court of Cook County granted a preliminary injunction on Monday preventing the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) and its chairman Brien Sheahan from releasing the controversial NextGrid study on the future of electric utility regulations in Illinois. The court blocked the report until the conclusion of an ongoing lawsuit that alleges the study process violated Illinois law.

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