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

Fisher-Price recalls nearly 5 million potentially deadly Rock n’Play sleepers

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."

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

Statement on Wells Fargo’s response to “Debit Cards on Campus” report

Read U.S. PIRG's statement on Wells Fargo eliminating some fees for student on debit cards.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Tyson chicken strips recalled, may contain pieces of metal

Just seven weeks after Tyson Foods recalled chicken nuggets that could contain rubber, the poultry giant is recalling chicken strips that might contain metal. 

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

Boeing Max planes have ‘optional’ safety mechanisms

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.

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

Year-end report demonstrates ongoing problems with Peoples Gas pipe replacement program

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).

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Illinois Supreme Court decision maintains critical enforcement power of Illinois’ unique biometric privacy law

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.

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

Court Blocks Release of Controversial Illinois Electric Market Study

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.

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

Fiat Chrysler Settlement Fails to Protect Consumers

While we are glad that Fiat Chrysler is paying something for damaging the health of Americans and deceiving customers, this settlement does not go far enough. It neither ensures these violations of the public trust won’t happen again nor makes consumers whole.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG | Consumer Protection

New Guide Helps Consumers Get Great Deals on Refurbished Electronics

Illinois PIRG releases holiday guide to buying repaired or refurbished electronics with confidence they will last

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

Popular toys contain toxics and other hazards

This holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron in slime products and a failure by Amazon to appropriately label choking hazards. Boron can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

> Keep Reading

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

> 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

Blog Post

Every quarter, the Chicago gas delivery utility releases a report on its pipe replacement program. Unfortunately, the first quarter report shows the program continues to struggle: not prioritizing public safety and risk reduction, behind schedule and over budget, and increasingly unaffordable.

Blog Post

Johnson & Johnson will end the sale of talc-based baby powders--which can be contaminated with asbestos--in the United States and Canada. That’s a big win for consumers, but it’s not enough.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

U.S. PIRG Education Fund has released a report with the Student Borrower Protection Center and Consumer Action. The report makes recommendations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to upgrade its consumer complaint tool, including the public consumer complaint database, so COVID19-related complaints can be handled more quickly and tracked better.

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

The Chicago City Council today passed a resolution calling on Gov. J.B.  Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly to reform the troubled Peoples Gas pipe replacement program. The program has been beset by management missteps, cost overruns, and an inability to reduce pipeline failure rates. The program is increasingly unaffordable for many Chicago residents: in 2019, Chicagoans fell $60 million behind on their heating bills and Peoples Gas sent out more than 300,000 disconnection notices. 

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

The Illinois Commerce Commission has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Illinois PIRG Education Fund and GlidePath that alleged it deliberately excluded select consumer advocates and industry experts from participating in its NextGrid Study process, while allowing ComEd and Ameren to fund, shape, and approve a report designed to influence Illinois energy policy. 

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. 




Illinois PIRG Education Fund is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to getting things done.