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

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.

> Keep Reading

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.

> Keep Reading

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

> 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

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.

> Keep Reading

Pages

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.

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

Analysis of Payday Complaints Reveals Need for Stronger Federal Protections

Consumer complaints about payday loans to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) show a critical need for strengthening the agency’s proposed rule to rein in payday loans and other high-cost lending, according to a report released today by the Illinois PIRG Education Fund.

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

Report: As solar explodes nationwide, Illinois lags behind

With one solar panel in the state for every 49 people, Illinois remained near the bottom of an annual ranking of solar power capacity, and Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) would just as soon keep it that way, regarding rooftop solar as a threat to their bottom line and business model.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay, Transportation

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Program Advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on todays announced VW settlement. For more details on what a strong settlement agreement ought to look like, please see the open letter that we released earlier this week with other consumer and environmental groups.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Leading Groups Send Criteria for Evaluating VW Settlement

Four leading consumer, environmental, and public health organizations wrote an open letter in advance of the April 21st deadline set by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer for a proposal that deals with Volkswagen’s emission scandal.

> Keep Reading

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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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,"

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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.  

> Keep Reading

Pages

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.