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

Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

For over 30 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toys to look for safety problems. This research has led to more than 150 toy recalls and other regulatory actions over the years. Our work has also helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and well-being of children. This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) passing, which strengthened protections against dangerous consumer products. 

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

Popular toys contain toxics and other hazards

This holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. U.S. PIRG’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron, which can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues, in slime products as well as fining that Amazon failed to appropriately label choking hazards.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG response to reports of Facebook security breach

Facebook announced today that earlier this week, "attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted “View As”, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else. This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Health Care

Second recall of King Bio’s homeopathic drugs in the past month

King Bio Inc. issued the second significant voluntary recall since late July of their homeopathic drugs on Wednesday. Safety concerns over homeopathic drugs extend beyond King Bio as over the past several years, the FDA has issued recalls to several companies for a variety of health products from zinc-containing intranasal medicine to asthma drugs with toxic ingredients. 

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

ID Theft & Privacy Checklists | Mike Litt

Today, we're releasing our revamped Identity Theft and Online Privacy resources.

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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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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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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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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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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. 

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