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COVID-19: Consumer protection, financial and higher education concerns

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For Immediate Release

As documented cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to increase across the United States, public health is a primary nationwide concern. On top of that, we’re seeing American consumers having to deal with pandemic-related scams, hazards and financial challenges, including fake products promising cures, price gouging preventing purchases of critical supplies, ongoing loan payments and travel cancellations.

U.S. PIRG, a federation of statewide public interest advocacy organizations, is sharing information to help people navigate these issues and others. In the coming days, we will add new guides to address consumer concerns on financial issues, product safety, food safety, scams and other threats that make it even harder for people to make it through this public health crisis. Our experts, listed below, are also available to answer questions about consumer issues related to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

 

Consumer tip guides

Dos and don’ts of coronavirus protection: There’s been a lot of misinformation circulating about how consumers can protect themselves from the COVID-19 outbreak, with some companies even taking advantage of the crisis to market public health and cleaning products that do not work. This guide separates fact from fiction to help consumers keep safe without falling victim to false claims. 

Avoiding price gouging during the coronavirus: Everybody should be able to get the critical supplies they need without being ripped off. This guide warns consumers about severe price gouging on online marketplaces, namely Amazon, and includes information about how to identify reasonably priced, effective supplies during the outbreak. 

Refunding your travel during COVID-19: Calls for social distancing and limiting travel amidst the growing crisis has many Americans wondering how to recoup the costs from cancelled plans. Our guide breaks down how top airlines and hotels have adjusted their policies, and provides instructions for how consumers can refund their bookings with each respective company.

Identifying coronavirus phishing scams: As this pandemic intensifies, scammers and spies have seized on people’s fear and confusion to steal their private and/or financial data. This guide lays out the known phishing scams related to the coronavirus and offers some tips for how consumers can identify new scams and protect themselves. 

Meeting students’ basic needs during COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting campuses nationwide. Over the extended spring break, instructors and support services will develop new systems to move classes online for the rest of the semester. Many students are wondering how this transition will affect their ability to put food on the table and pay bills. This guide offers a few of the ways that institutions are stepping up to meet students’ basic needs in this moment of uncertainty.

 

The following experts are available to interview, either over the phone or on camera

Consumer protection concerns

Adam Garber, adam@pirg.org, is U.S. PIRG’s Consumer Watchdog. He works to protect consumers from a wide array of dangers including contaminated food, hazardous products and fraud. His analysis of price gouging on Amazon as the coronavirus spread was covered on CBS News, in the Wall Street Journal and other major media outlets. Following Hurricane Florence, Adam was featured in CBS News and other major outlets discussing potential scams, price gouging and other consumer abuses to watch out for.

Product safety concerns

Grace Brombach, grace@pirg.org, is U.S. PIRG’s Consumer Watchdog associate. She focuses on product safety issues and promoting better recall effectiveness. Specifically, Grace has co-authored reports on toy safety, highlighted products that will not address COVID-19 infections, and has advocated for federal agencies to take action to remove all dangerous inclined infant sleepers from the market.

Financial concerns

Ed Mierzwinski, edm@pirg.org, is the senior director for U.S. PIRG’s Federal Consumer Programs, helping to lead national efforts to improve consumer credit reporting laws, identity theft protections, product safety regulations and more. Ed has won numerous annual "Top Lobbyist" awards from The Hill and other outlets, and is frequently interviewed by top media, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. During the COVID-19 outbreak, he is focused on making sure that consumers’ financial information, including credit reports, isn’t being adversely affected.

Higher education concerns 

Kaitlyn Vitez, kvitez@pirg.org, directs U.S. PIRG's campaign to make higher education affordable by advocating for increased student aid, solutions to the student debt crisis, and protections for students from predatory financial practices on campus. She recently released a major national report on automatic textbook billing, which was covered in top national outlets, including The New York Times, MONEY, and Washington Post. During this public health crisis, she’s making sure that students’ basic needs are met as colleges shift online and move students off campus, and that student loan borrowers are supported in the coming recession.

 

State impact

U.S. PIRG has state affiliates across the country. State directors are available to discuss these consumer-related issues and others during the COVID-19 outbreak with a local and state angle. States include:

California

Emily Rusch, erusch@calpirg.org, is the executive director of CALPIRG, and the interim director of U.S. PIRG’s state offices. Emily is a leading voice in California on protecting public health, consumer protections and defending our democracy. She regularly appears in prominent state media outlets.

Texas

Bay Scoggin, bscoggin@texpirg.org, is the director of TexPIRG, and focuses on democracy, transportation and consumer issues. Recently, he successfully defended utility consumers from a discriminatory rate increase in North Texas.

Illinois

Abe Scarr, abe@illinoispirg.org, is the director of Illinois PIRG. Abe is a lead advocate in the Capitol and in the media for stronger consumer protections, expanded public transportation, and smarter antibiotics policies for Illinois’ farms. In 2017, he led a coalition to pass legislation to implement automatic voter registration in the state. Abe has also been working to make sure Chicago’s natural gas utility, Peoples Gas, isn’t saddling customers with high energy bills -- both before the COVID-19 and during.

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