Consumer Protection Week 2024: Advice for everyone trying to navigate today’s complex marketplaces

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Boston — Being a conscientious consumer is almost a full-time job. One day we deal with protecting our children’s data. Another day we’re trying to pay medical bills or deal with a canceled airline flight. Still another day we’re shopping for a laptop or cell phone because ours broke – again.

During National Consumer Protection Week 2024, which starts March 3, MASSPIRG is providing consumer tips and tools you can share with your readers and/or viewers to help Americans navigate everyday issues.

“There are so many moving parts in today’s marketplace. It’s difficult to remember everything we need to do and not do to protect ourselves and our wallets,” said Deirdre Cummings,  Consumer Program Director, MASSPIRG Education Fund. “MASSPIRG has 50 years of experience as consumer advocates. We can — and want to – help.”

MASSPIRG offers dozens of tip guides and step-by-step tools to help make life a little easier for American consumers. This consumer week, we will focus on a different example of 2024’s most pressing issues each day:

Sunday, March 3: Airline passenger protections

If you traveled by air last year, or talked with anyone who did, you know airplanes were packed, delays were common and trips were often stressful. Buckle up: 2024 is expected to be even busier. Experts at the International Air Transport Association predict a record 4.7 billion passengers will fly this year, following another record year for complaints against U.S. airlines for cancellations, delays, slow refunds and lost luggage. Now, the Department of Transportation is considering new rules to require airlines to reimburse travelers for hotels, meals and rebooking when the airline is responsible for a cancellation or significant delay that strands customers. We can walk through what rights travelers have now, and how to best handle disruptions in our helpful guide, “Airline travel tips you shouldn’t fly without,” at FlightTips.org.

Monday, March 4: Medical billing and credit reports

Many Americans face large medical bills they have difficulty paying on time, which can result in medical debt. Thanks in part to PIRG, the three major credit bureaus have changed the way they handle medical bills on credit reports. The CFPB is considering making this voluntary policy mandatory and is considering other ways to protect people with medical debt from the harmful effects of a negative credit report.

We guide you on what to do if you find any errors on your credit report: How to make sure your credit reports don’t include paid medical debt. And for other tips on fighting medical bills, check out our six-part guide: Medical Bills: Everything you need to know about your rights.

Tuesday, March 5: Robocalls/robotexts

Scam robocalls are as bad as they’ve ever been and spam robotexts increased by 34% over the last year. Don’t think a scam could never happen to you. In just the last two months, we’ve learned that three well-known people were defrauded through scam calls: TV host Andy Cohen said he was scammed by someone impersonating his bank. New York Times personal finance writer Charlotte Cowles was scammed out of $50,000 by someone posing as a government official, and tech-savvy author Cory Doctorow was scammed out of $8,000 by someone posing as his bank.

Check out our best advice about how to protect yourselves and your loved ones in our consumer guide, Is this text, or call, or email, a scam?

 Wednesday, March 6: Right to repair

For years, consumers have been spending more and more on electronics and appliances, while product lifespans have been shrinking. That’s given rise to the Right to Repair movement, which calls on manufacturers to remove barriers to fixing electronics so we don’t have to keep replacing them. For consumer week, we are highlighting our latest “Failing the Fix” scorecard, which uses data from a new repairability score program in Europe to help consumers identify which laptop and cell phone brands support repair, and which are failing the fix. We also look at the Right to Repair movement. Twenty-four state legislatures have active Right to Repair bills so far in 2024.

Thursday, March 7: NEW REPORT: Safe At Home?

Product recalls in 2023 hit the highest level in seven years, with 323 announcements about defective appliances, furniture, bike helmets, toys and other everyday products.

A new analysis by U.S. PIRG Education fund, “Safe At Home 2024,” also shows the Consumer Product Safety Commission bolstered enforcement in 2023 by issuing three times more public warnings than in 2022 when companies refused to cooperate with a recall. In addition, the CPSC reached more multi-million dollar settlements last year, including ones with Peloton Interactive Inc. and HSN Inc (formerly Home Shopping Network,) initiated when companies failed to report known hazards.

The Safe At Home report also offers tips for consumers to protect themselves from dangerous products before they shop and if something they own gets recalled.
Report releases March 7.

Friday, March 8: Data privacy protection

A 2023 Pew survey found that 81% of Americans are concerned about how companies use their data. Increasingly, Americans are concerned about their data in light of artificial intelligence. Now, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has launched an inquiry into the practices of data brokers that collect information about all of us, and the Federal Trade Commission is boosting enforcement actions against companies that illegally collect children’s data.

Last year, 29 states considered comprehensive data privacy bills, and five states passed them.
We’ve compiled our best advice, including “5 things you can do right now to protect your privacy”.

 

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