Avoiding scams, incorrect medical bills, privacy invasions and more

Protecting your information and finances is important every day. But we focus on the biggest threats during National Consumer Protection Week 2023.

Alexander Mils via Pexels | Used by permission

It’s not getting any easier. The threats facing consumers seem to be growing. Meanwhile, millions of people every year still report problems with long-standing issues, including scam robocalls, credit report errors, inaccurate medical bills, fraud and more.

In recognition of Consumer Protection Week 2023, PIRG’s consumer team is providing consumer protection tips and tools to help Americans address some of the most common issues.

FOCUS FOR SUNDAY, MARCH 5: YOU INC.

A consumer advocate we admire once said everyone should think of themselves as their own individual little enterprise, taking care of your own affairs. Consider it like this: You, Inc. We agree: You need to be an informed, engaged consumer because no one will take care of you as well as you.

Here are some best practices to navigate the challenges facing consumers, and a look at the top fraud complaints reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and how not to become one of the statistics.

FOCUS FOR MONDAY, MARCH 6: PROTECTING YOUR PRIVACY

From retailers and marketers to con artists, it seems everyone is trying to get our data — our personal information, our buying habits, our location, even our conversations. As the threats snowball, protecting our data is like playing whack-a-mole. And our kids are easy targets through addictive apps.

Not surprisingly, identity theft is a huge problem in the United States, with more than 1.1 million cases reported to the FTC last year.

We walk you through steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.

FOCUS FOR TUESDAY, MARCH 7: AIRLINE WOES

The airline industry has been a mess for nearly three years. First, in 2020, airlines pushed back on refunds, which are required by law. Then there are the ongoing cancelations and delays that have turned many holidays and some routine travel into nightmares for passengers.

Regulators are planning to crack down on some issues. For now, we have advice to help you get that refund and tips to protect yourself before you book that next flight.

FOCUS FOR WEDNESDAY, MARCH 8: MEDICAL BILLS

Dealing with medical bills and insurance networks can be confusing and stressful. The good news is new laws provide you with new consumer protections.

We explain surprise medical billing protections you can use now, what medical debt should no longer appear on your credit report and how self-payers can get a written estimate for planned procedures.

FOCUS FOR THURSDAY, MARCH 9: CFPB 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 3.2 million consumer complaints.

In a report releasing today, PIRG analyzes the complaints from 2022, two years after the number of complaints set new records. Our report found that consumer complaints about credit reports nearly doubled from 2021 to 2022.

Because credit reporting complaints always top the list, we offer tips on freezing your files, requesting your credit reports, finding mistakes and other steps you can take to protect yourself.

FOCUS FOR FRIDAY, MARCH 10: THOSE DREADED SCAM TEXTS AND ROBOCALLS

The government crackdown on robocalls has pushed con artists to resort to robotexts. Regulators only recently proposed new rules. The number of robotexts has risen from 1 billion a month in mid-2021, to 12 billion a month in mid-2022, to 15 billion a month in January 2023.

We have advice on how to deal with this bombardment of calls and texts, which is both a nuisance and a threat.

Topics
Authors

Teresa Murray

Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

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.

Ed Mierzwinski

Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Ed oversees U.S. PIRG’s federal consumer program, helping to lead national efforts to improve consumer credit reporting laws, identity theft protections, product safety regulations and more. Ed is co-founder and continuing leader of the coalition, Americans For Financial Reform, which fought for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, including as its centerpiece the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He was awarded the Consumer Federation of America's Esther Peterson Consumer Service Award in 2006, Privacy International's Brandeis Award in 2003, and numerous annual "Top Lobbyist" awards from The Hill and other outlets. Ed lives in Virginia, and on weekends he enjoys biking with friends on the many local bicycle trails.

R.J. Cross

Director, Don't Sell My Data Campaign, U.S. PIRG Education Fund; Policy Analyst, Frontier Group

R.J. focuses on data privacy issues and the commercialization of personal data in the digital age. Her work ranges from consumer harms like scams and data breaches, to manipulative targeted advertising, to keeping kids safe online. In her work at Frontier Group, she has authored research reports on government transparency, predatory auto lending and consumer debt. Her work has appeared in WIRED magazine, CBS Mornings and USA Today, among other outlets. When she’s not protecting the public interest, she is an avid reader, fiction writer and birder.

Patricia Kelmar

Senior Director, Health Care Campaigns, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Patricia directs the health care campaign work for U.S. PIRG and provides support to our state offices for state-based health initiatives. Her prior roles include senior policy advisor at NJ Health Care Quality Institute, associate state director at AARP New Jersey and consumer advocate at NJPIRG. She was appointed to the Ground Ambulance and Patient Billing Advisory Committee in 2022 and works with patient advocates across the U.S. Patricia enjoys walking along the Potomac River and sharing her love of books with friends and family around the world.

Mike Litt

Director, Consumer Campaign, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Mike directs U.S. PIRG’s national campaign to protect consumers on Wall Street and in the financial marketplace by defending the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and works for stronger privacy protections and corporate accountability in the wake of the Equifax data breach. Mike lives in Washington, D.C.

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