Consumer Protection

PROTECTING CONSUMER SAFETY—Toys should not be toxic or dangerous for children to play with. Our food should not make us sick. The terms for banking and credit accounts should be clear and easy to understand.

LOOKING OUT FOR CONSUMERS

U.S. PIRG’s consumer program works to alert the public to hidden dangers and scams and to ban anti-consumer practices and unsafe products.

TROUBLE IN TOYLAND

For 27 years, U.S. PIRG’s "Trouble In Toyland" report has surveyed store shelves and identified choking hazards, noise hazards and other dangers. Our report has led to at least 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years.

Get our tips for buying safer toys.

BIGGER BANKS, BIGGER FEES

In April, U.S. PIRG released a report in which we surveyed more than 350 bank branches and revealed that fewer than half of branches obeyed their legal duty to fully disclose fees to prospective customers, while one in four provided no fee information at all. We also found that despite widespread stories about the “death” of free checking, free and low-cost checking choices are still widely available, if consumers shop around.

Find out how to beat high bank fees.

SEE ALL CONSUMER RESOURCES

Issue updates

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Fed Doubles Down On Bet To Raise Swipe Fees | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, the Federal Reserve Board told a U.S. judge it would appeal his decision that the Fed's 2012 rule raising the swipe fees merchants pay to accept debit cards blatantly ignored Congressional intent to lower them. The Fed's rule harms small businesses, who pay the highest swipe fees in the world, as well as their customers, who pay more at the store and more at the pump, even if they pay with cash. But it helps the Fed's big bank patrons.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Five Safety Breakthroughs in Five Years

On August 14, 2008, the CPSIA was signed into law after a deliberative process and overwhelming bipartisan support in both the U.S. House and Senate. The law includes strong product safety reforms that revitalized the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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An $18 Million Lesson in Handling Credit Report Errors

"Even after sending more than 13 letters to Equifax over the course of two years, Julie Miller could not get the big credit bureau to remove a host of errors that it inserted into her credit report. [...] So she tried suing. That worked. [...] “Big punitive penalties may help force the bureaus to upgrade their 20th-century algorithms and incompetent dispute reinvestigation processes,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the United States Public Interest Research Group. “But C.F.P.B.’s authority to supervise the big credit bureaus is one of the most significant powers Congress gave it.”

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Weird Big Bank Trick Raises Price of Beer and Soda | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED: August 8. Many of Enron's schemes involved sham transactions with itself that the SEC alleged had "no economic substance."  Taking a page from Enron's book, mega-bank Goldman Sachs is now moving tons of aluminum around and around its Detroit warehouses in similar transactions without apparent economic substance except to increase Goldman profits while raising costs of beer, soda and other goods relying on aluminum, delaying deliveries and disrupting aluminum markets. At a Senate hearing on the practice, Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) said: "This movie will not end well."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Food

Ag Subsidies Pay for 20 Twinkies per Taxpayer, But Only Half of an Apple Apiece

Federal subsidies for commodity crops are subsidizing junk food additives like high-fructose corn syrup at a rate that would buy 20 Twinkies for each taxpayer every year, according to U.S. PIRG's new report, "Apples to Twinkies 2013." Meanwhile, subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables would buy just one half of an apple per taxpayer per year. These subsidies are part of the Farm Bill that expires in September.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

House banking committee takes action to aid predatory rent-to-own firms today | Ed Mierzwinski

(Updated 1 June) This morning the House Financial Services Committee will likely approve HR 1588, legislation designed solely to allow the rent-to-own industry ("for only 104 weekly payments of $10.99, you can own this TV/computer/couch" for 3 or 4 times its total retail price) to preempt or override the laws of the several states that protect its consumers from predatory financial practices. Is that the role of the Congress?

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

NYTimes on growing tax fraud identity theft epidemic | Ed Mierzwinski

The New York Times has a story on the web "With Personal Data in Hand, Thieves File Early and Often" by reporter Lizette Alverez for Sunday's paper. It describes an "epidemic" of tax identity theft. Thieves file fraudulent tax returns and receive a legitimate taxpayer's refund before he or she does, often on a hard-to-trace prepaid card.  Losses are in the billions, losses are increasing and legitimate taxpayers are waiting a long time to get their refund. It's a very good story that explains how the crime works, how it disproportionately harms retirees and how, -- despite massive efforts by agencies from the IRS to the post office -- it's a growing mess. Unfortunately, the reform promoted by some policymakers quoted in the story -- increasing criminal penalties -- has never worked to stop identity theft. Bad guys don't have to carry guns and they rarely get caught, so the crime is booming. Sure, it doesn't hurt to increase penalties, but it is not enough. We need to protect personal data better. Relying on increasing penalties is a feel-good solution that won't work on its own. But the credit bureaus and other powerful special interests have resisted legislation to protect personal information better and spent heavily to convince policymakers that "blaming bad guys" is more important than fixing their own sloppy practices. The credit bureaus, of course, are wrong.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB holds field hearing on prepaid cards-- all the fees, none of the protections | Ed Mierzwinski

Several members of the PIRG-backed Americans for Financial Reform are among the witnesses at a field hearing on prepaid cards that the Consumer FInancial Protection Bureau holds at noon today in Durham, NC. While reloadable prepaid cards are growing fast as an option for convenience, for the unbanked and for distribution of government and student benefits, so-called general purpose reloadable prepaid cards sold under a variety of brands have fewer consumer protections than credit cards (gold standard), debit cards (fewer protections), and payroll, government benefit and gift cards (some protections).The CFPB will announce a advance notice of proposed rulemaking to improve the situation.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

NY Investigates Banks "Forcing" Consumers To Buy Overpriced Mortgage Insurance | Ed Mierzwinski

It's called force-placed insurance for a reason. Your mortgage lender buys it for you and you are forced to pay for it, even if it isn't the best deal for you. When lenders purchase a product to "benefit" consumers, they often have numerous incentives to make the more expensive, not less-expensive, choice due to what's called reverse competition. That's a bad deal for you and a bad deal for the economy, but a good deal for the kind of sordid crony capitalism that relies on kickbacks, not better products. Fortunately, the New York Department of Financial Services (both banking and insurance) and the CFPB are both taking a deep dive into the forced-place-insurance mess.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

JP Morgan Chase Losses Could Speed Volcker Rule, Slow Other Rollbacks | Ed Mierzwinski

The silver lining in the JP Morgan Chase gambling (they call it "hedging") losses now predicted to reach $3-5 billion, not just $2 billion, is that Congress has slowed misguided efforts to slow or repeal important reforms to derivatives trading. Also, you can "like" or comment on my recent debate position  over at US News and World Report urging the Federal Reserve to use this latest big bank mess to implement a strong Volcker rule against risky bank betting with other people's money.

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