It’s that time when many of us vow to do better in the new year. Maybe you’re making a written or mental list of resolutions. If you are, here are some suggestions to keep your wallet fatter and personal information safer. This list is from our consumer protection team: Ed Mierzwinski, Mike Litt, Patricia Kelmar, R.J. Cross and Teresa Murray.
- If you want to contact a company’s customer service department, remember to never just do an online search and click on a link or call a phone number without verifying you’re on a legit website. Scammers increasingly are setting up imposter websites with copycat logos.
- Sign up for text or email alerts with your bank and credit cards to notify you of larger or unexpected transactions.
- Use your bank’s bill pay service to send checks to pay your bills. It’s free. Check theft and forgery have been a problem this year. Checks sent directly from your bank are more difficult to forge and, better yet, the payments may be sent electronically.
- Minimize your out-of-pocket health care costs. First, double check with your insurance plan that your favorite doctors and hospitals are still part of your health insurance network. If not, find new in-network providers.
- Know about your rights under the No Surprises Act which prohibits certain out-of-network doctors, labs, hospitals, etc., from sending you a surprise medical bill. Patient Guide: Surprise medical billing protections you can use now.
- Talk to your kids about money.
- Review utility bills for junk fees.
- Urge your loved ones to watch out for scams and tell them they can call you anytime they get an odd call or text or email and are asked to send money, buy gift cards or provide personal information.
- Stop accepting cookies every time you visit a website without looking more closely at what you’re agreeing to.
- Set all your devices to the strongest privacy-protecting settings to stop companies from harvesting and monetizing you and your device’s data.
- Check credit or debit cards carefully for auto-payments for unwanted subscriptions, streaming services, etc.
- Remember, and remind your loved ones, that gift cards are for gifts, not to pay bills, taxes or legal fees, or to get discounts on other purchases.
- Simplify your life with a password manager. It’s more secure, helps you keep track of passwords and also helps keep online accounts organized for the executor of your will.
- If you’re paying for identity theft protection or credit monitoring, cancel it.
- Instead, get credit freezes and check your credit reports for any unauthorized activities. There are also free credit monitoring services you can sign up for instead of paying for them.
- As you check your credit report, make sure any paid-off medical bills don’t appear on your report.
- Sign up for two-factor authentication for online financial accounts and primary email accounts. The code sent to your phone or email each time an attempted sign-in occurs from an unknown device protects you from hackers.
- Get a secondary checking account without much money in it to write checks to individuals, to link to PayPal, Venmo, etc. and to use for a debit card, if you have one. Many major banks offer free, no strings checking accounts. So do a lot of community banks and credit unions.
- Get your finances – your debts, your bills, your investments, etc. – in order. Here’s an overview of things you can do.
- Start your estate and end-of-life planning.
- Buy a shredder.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.