Being a consumer is a tough job. Really tough. It’s not just about reading a document completely before you sign it or shopping around for the best prices. It’s about being able to discern whether that incoming phone call is from your bank or from a scammer, no matter what the Caller ID says. It’s about learning how to freeze your credit files so bad guys don’t open accounts in your name or steal your income tax return. It’s about shopping for the best cell phone plan or streaming service. It’s about understanding that auto loan paperwork. It’s all of this and much more.
A consumer advocate I know once said people should think of their world as “You, Inc.” You are your own individual enterprise, taking care of your own affairs. Piggybacking on that, I always say that you need to be an informed, engaged consumer because no one will look out for you as well as you.
While that’s often true, we want to help you look out for you too.
During National Consumer Protection Week, Feb. 28 through March 6, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund is offering a daily dose of tips and advice to help you navigate life’s biggest consumer challenges. We’ve chosen our daily themes based in part on the Top 10 consumer complaints tallied by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The Top 10 list is part of our report we’re releasing tomorrow on the CFPB, which protects consumers from financial issues and has returned more than $12 billion to 30 million consumers wronged by companies since 2011. The CFPB has handled more than 2.3 million consumer complaints during its existence. The report shows that national complaints in 2020 set new records, led by credit reporting complaints, as the pandemic ruined family finances. The report makes recommendations to policymakers and the new CFPB leadership.
The CFPB says more than 5,000 financial companies have provided timely responses to 97 percent of the more than 1.6 million complaints sent to them for response. We look at the top complaints to the CFPB from Arizonans and show you how to file a complaint against a company.
Here’s a guide to the rest of the week:
Wednesday, March 3 — Filing taxes:
How to file taxes online and not end up on an illegitimate site.
How to use free tax software and avoid costly, unnecessary add-ons.
What to do if you didn’t get one or both COVID-19 relief/ stimulus payments.
What to know about refund anticipation loans.
The importance of filing early to avoid someone else fraudulently grabbing your refund.
Thursday, March 4 — Robocalls:
Illegal robocalls cost consumers $3 billion a year in wasted time. Fraud from unwanted calls adds $10 billion a year.
We offer tips to avoid scam calls.
What to do: State-by-state list on how to report bad actors, including illegal robocalls or violations of the Do-Not-Call list.
Friday, March 5 — Auto loans:
How to avoid an unfair auto loan and a look back at the most common complaints.
Saturday, March 6 — Price gouging:
It’s been more difficult during the pandemic for consumers to shop around to compare prices. We give some tips and link to our investigative report from January 2021 on price hikes at Amazon on products popular during the COVID-19 era.
Throughout National Consumer Protection Week (and year-round), we will also be posting to Facebook.com/ArizonaPIRG and Twitter.com/ArizonaPIRG.
Please feel free to send any consumer areas to investigate to us at [email protected].
Consumer Watchdog, PIRG
Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers’ health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She received dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, a National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis, and a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected 15 million customers nationwide. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.