The threats facing consumers seem to be increasing every year. We’re still burdened by identity theft risks, robocall scams and the difficulty of navigating our credit reports. Now, we’re seeing surges in counterfeit products, dark apps that compromise our privacy, erroneous medical bills and financing traps with gotcha clauses. And then there are products we pay good money for that are difficult, if not impossible, to fix when something small goes wrong.
In recognition of Consumer Protection Week 2022, PIRG is providing consumer protection tips and tools to help Americans address some of the most common consumer issues:
Monday, March 7, 2022
Digging into the top consumer complaints
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created in 2011 after the Great Recession to protect consumers from financial problems. Since then, it has handled more than 2.3 million consumer complaints.
In a series of fact sheets releasing today, PIRG analyzes complaint volume for 2021, a year after the number of complaints set new records. Because complaints involving credit reports always top the list, we offer:
- Your credit report is a long document, and confusing to many. Here’s a guide on where to look to quickly find mistakes or information most likely to hurt your credit score.
- Easy-to-understand tips to walk you through freezing and thawing your credit files.
- 22 ways to protect yourself from identity theft, fraud and headaches
Tuesday, March 8, 2022
Failing the fix
Nobody walks into an electronics store and thinks, “I’m going to buy something unfixable.” But how do you know which products you’ll be able to repair to last? We’ve compiled repairability rankings for 186 phones and laptops, grading manufacturers on whether they are Failing the Fix. This resource guide will help consumers who want to purchase easily repairable products – from companies who do not fight to prevent your Right to Repair.
Wednesday, March 9, 2022
Apps, especially social media apps, collect an incredible amount of information about us without us realizing it. We’ve compiled step-by-step instructions on how to change your settings on leading apps to protect your privacy on both iPhones and Androids. We walk you through everything with screenshots. We also look at different privacy efforts around the country.
Thursday, March 10, 2022
The ‘buy now, pay later’ phenomenon
Complaints are soaring about this new financing scheme. Consumers making purchases as small as $50 online are offered payment plans, which can turn into debt traps. The bills have been coming due for those who did their holiday shopping this way. BNPL targets college students and young adults just starting to build a credit history.
- Our report looks at this issue indepth and offers recommendations. U.S. PIRG Education Fund is concerned that the general BNPL business model is non-transparent and may be an effort to evade existing consumer protection laws. In addition, increasing the size of the “basket” leads to consumers buying more stuff that they don’t need and can’t afford.
- Our tips guide explains the potential traps of Buy Now Pay Later and how to avoid the interest and fees that often come with these “deals.”
Friday, March 11, 2022
We often associate counterfeits with luxury items such as bags or shoes. But the variety of counterfeit products is much broader. Some of the most concerning: medicines, hygiene products and COVID-19 tests. With e-commerce, counterfeit products can show up directly at your door. Our tip guides walk you through the best practices to avoid counterfeits when shopping online or evaluating reviews.
- Tips to help you avoid buying counterfeit products
- Counterfeit products related to COVID-19
- Fake online reviews is a growing problem; here are 7 tips to help you sort through the dishonesty
Saturday, March 12, 2022
Illegal surprise medical bills
Beyond illness or injury, being a patient isn’t easy financially. Medical bills from recent hospital treatments are arriving in patients’ mailboxes. Since the No Surprises Act went into effect on Jan. 1, Americans need to know their new consumer protections against unexpected and unavoidable out-of-network medical charges.
We have an easy tips guide to help consumers identify any illegal bills and understand how to assert their rights under the new law. This hard-won consumer law can save millions of insured Americans from paying hundreds to thousands of dollars in surprise medical bills.
- This patient guide is an easy way to understand your new patient protections. It includes tips to avoid problems, important phone numbers and links to the federal complaint form.
Consumer Watchdog, PIRG
Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers' health, safety and financial security. Prior to her current role, she worked as a journalist and columnist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio's largest daily newspaper. She is the recipient of dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, Best Business Writer in Ohio, and National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Among the accomplishments she’s most proud of is receiving a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected at least 15 million customers nationwide. Her work caused Verizon to reach an $80 million settlement with the FCC, the largest ever imposed at that time. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons and a dog. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.