Protecting consumers

Overdraft fees | All those hidden fees |
Private student loan practices | Credit reports | Know before you owe | Prepaid card fraud

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A cornerstone of the new law is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB is the first federal financial regulator with only one job, protecting consumers. It has authority over any firm – bank or non-bank – selling financial products. The new bureau exists to ensure that existing laws are enforced that protect you from deceptive and unfair banking practices. For years, many of those laws have gone unenforced because consumer protection was not a priority for the government. The CFPB is finally making consumer protection a priority.

Because the CFPB is brand new, it is currently asking the public for input into what consumer problems it ought to prioritize. Below are some common consumer problems that OSPIRG Foundation thinks the agency ought to focus on.  Learn more about the CFPB and about CFPB Director Richard Cordray.

Rein in overdraft fees

Problem: The good news is that banks may no longer automatically enroll you in so-called “standard overdraft protection” programs without your consent. Unfortunately, many banks still try to trick consumers into signing up for this overdraft protection without fully explaining the consequences, or the alternative less-expensive products. Worse, without your knowledge, banks can change the order in which your checks and debits are cleared in order to increase the chance that you overdraft (see how the sceme works with this interactive tool).

Solution: Require banks to be more up front with consumers about the potential negative consequences of overdraft protection; and ban check re-ordering schemes.

Learn more: Time Magazine, 1/3/12, We Paid Almost $30 Billion in Overdraft Fees in 2011.

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Disclose all those hidden fees

Problem: Banks are required by a 1991 law, the Truth In Savings Act, to disclose all of their fees to anyone who asks.  However, in a recent OSPIRG Foundation study conducted nationally, nearly one quarter of banks surveyed never complied with the law, even when asked several times. Only 38% easily complied; just over half eventually complied. Consumers cannot shop around if fees are hidden. Moreover, it is very difficult for consumers to make an apples-to-apples comparison of fees between different banks or to compare fees on the Internet because the law only applies to paper brochures at the bank.

Solutions: The CFPB should:

  • Enforce the Truth In Saving Act: Routinely audit bank fee disclosure practices from time to time and impose penalties for banks that violate the law.
  • Require banks to disclose their fees and account rules in a easy to read and consistent format (Similar protections were enacted for credit cards in 1988).
  • Extend the law to the Internet.
  • Require Internet fee disclosures to be available in a machine readable format so that online aggregators can automatically publish localized shopping guides for consumers.

Learn more: OSPIRG Foundation, 4/2/11, Big Banks, Bigger Fees

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Rein in unfair private student loan practices

Problem: Private student loan companies sometimes lead some parents and students into taking out expensive private loans even while they are eligible for less expensive federal loans and grants.

Solution: Before a private lender can make a student loan, the student must have the opportunity for a consultation by her college's financial aid officer. This would help ensure that students and parents maximize all of their less-expensive federal aid before turning to private loans.

Learn more: The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), 12/22/11, Risky Private Student Lending on the Rise Again. See also TICAS' letter to the CFPB on private student loans.

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Give consumers more control over their credit report

Problem: Even if you've never missed a bill or payment, an error on your credit report — including one caused by identity theft – can mean you're denied for a loan or pay higher interest rates.

There are thousands of banks, yet just three large credit bureaus control nearly all Americans' credit reports. A recent OSPIRG Foundation study found that nearly one-quarter of credit reports had serious errors, including false delinquencies.

Credit bureaus have never been fined for these errors; and have only been fined three times at all. Once, in 2000, the FTC fined all three of them for not having enough people to answer the phones. Twice since then, the credit bureau Experian has been fined for deceiving customers into thinking that its expensive credit monitoring products are actually “free credit reports.”

Solution: The CFPB should use their authority to routinely audit the internal practices of the credit bureaus and require them to improve the accuracy of their records. In addition, the CFPB should mandate that consumers get their credit scores for free, just like federal law allows them to get their credit reports for free. 

Learn more: OSPIRG Foundation, Mistakes Do Happen: A Look At Errors in Consumer Credit Reports

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Know before you owe

Problem: Credit card, student loan and mortgage contracts are mind-numbingly long and complex. It can be difficult for you to know what you are getting yourself into.

Solution: Credit and loan agreements ought to be simpler  – and help you be crystal clear what you are getting yourself into.

Take action: Tell the CFPB what you think about their ideas for better student loan disclosure, simpler credit card contracts or simpler home mortgage agreements.

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Protect prepaid and reloadable card users from fraud

 Problem: Many consumers think that all plastic carries the same protections from fraud. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Credit card customers have strong protections against fraud and identity theft. If your credit card is stolen, your maximum liability is $50 no matter when you discover the fraud, and you have numerous avenues to dispute billing errors. Debit cards linked to your checking account have slightly less protections; your liability is just $50 only if you report fraud within 2 days, goes up to $500 if you report within 60 days, and is unlimited if you report beyond that. All other forms of plastic, including reloadable and prepaid cards (including campus cards) have no liability limits.

Solution: Ideally, all forms of plastic money should have the same protections as credit cards. That, unfortunately, will require Congressional approval and is unlikely at the moment.

The next best thing would be to give all prepaid and reloadable cards the same protections from fraud as bank debit cards. Fortunately, the CFPB has the power to do this without Congressional approval. This would not only give prepaid card users liability protection, but would also allow those consumers to receive free balance and transaction information about their accounts in order to monitor unauthorized charges, unwanted fees and errors; have all fees clearly disclosed up front at the point of sale.

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Issue updates

News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

FTC settles first case against VoIP provider for allowing illegal robocalls

This FTC settlement must be a wake-up call to phone service providers so they do more to protect consumers. If not, the FTC must be vigilant in going after companies that enable the immoral practice of preying on consumers. And the FCC should require providers to block spoofed calls that we all know are scams.

> Keep Reading
News Release | OSPIRG | COVID-19, Consumer Protection, Higher Ed

Coalition calls for immediate action to protect Oregon’s most financially vulnerable amid pandemic

The Stop the Debt Trap Alliance, a coalition of organizations representing diverse constituents across Oregon delivered a letter to Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon legislative leadership urging them to take action to protect Oregonians from the economic impacts of COVID-19, especially those who are already economically vulnerable

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Americans need stronger consumer protections during COVID-19 crisis

U.S. PIRG Education Fund has released a report with the Student Borrower Protection Center and Consumer Action. The report makes recommendations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to upgrade its consumer complaint tool, including the public consumer complaint database, so COVID19-related complaints can be handled more quickly and tracked better.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

FTC settles first case against VoIP provider for allowing illegal robocalls

This FTC settlement must be a wake-up call to phone service providers so they do more to protect consumers. If not, the FTC must be vigilant in going after companies that enable the immoral practice of preying on consumers. And the FCC should require providers to block spoofed calls that we all know are scams.

> Keep Reading
News Release | OSPIRG | COVID-19, Consumer Protection, Higher Ed

Coalition calls for immediate action to protect Oregon’s most financially vulnerable amid pandemic

The Stop the Debt Trap Alliance, a coalition of organizations representing diverse constituents across Oregon delivered a letter to Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon legislative leadership urging them to take action to protect Oregonians from the economic impacts of COVID-19, especially those who are already economically vulnerable

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Americans need stronger consumer protections during COVID-19 crisis

U.S. PIRG Education Fund has released a report with the Student Borrower Protection Center and Consumer Action. The report makes recommendations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to upgrade its consumer complaint tool, including the public consumer complaint database, so COVID19-related complaints can be handled more quickly and tracked better.

> Keep Reading
News Release | OSPIRG Foundation | Consumer Tips, COVID-19, Consumer Protection

18 Oregon legislators demand Amazon, other online marketplaces end coronavirus price gouging

18 Oregon state legislators are calling on the country’s top online marketplaces to crack down on price gouging amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Together, 347 legislators representing 45 states, joined OSPIRG Foundation in sending a letter urging Amazon, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook and Walmart to quickly implement preventative measures on their platforms to ensure that consumers don’t get taken advantage of during this public health crisis. Less than two weeks ago, 33 attorneys general, including Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum sent a similar letter to the same companies.

> Keep Reading

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Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Medical Debt Malpractice

Millions of Americans are contacted by debt collectors every year over debt related to medical expenses.

Medical debt collectors often employ aggressive tactics and attempt to collect debt from the wrong customers – putting consumers’ credit records at risk. Medical debt accounts for more than half of all collection items that appear on consumer credit reports. A review of 17,701 medical debt collection complaints submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) shows that problems with medical debt collection are widespread and harm Americans across the country.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Predatory Loans & Predatory Loan Complaints

This is the seventh in a series of reports that review complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In this report, we explore consumer complaints about predatory loans, categorized in the database as payday loans, installment loans, and auto title loans.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Getting Personal with Chemicals

We should be able to trust that the products we buy are safe — especially the ones our families use every day, directly on our bodies. However, we looked into common ingredients in popular personal care products, and found that when we use these products, like shampoo, baby wipes, deodorant, shaving gel, or perfume, we are often dosing our bodies with chemicals that can disrupt our hormones, cause developmental problems, cause cancer, and more.

This consumer guide describes the results of our investigation of 10 popular personal care products that contain chemicals of concern.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

TROUBLE IN TOYLAND 2015

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to OSPIRG Foundation’s 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season.

> Keep Reading

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumers Count: Five years of the CFPB standing up for consumers | Kathryn Lee

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns five years old! As part of our efforts to tell more people about the CFPB, we're cross-posting this video blog and comments written by Zixta Q. Martinez of the CFPB (check out the infographic at the end, too!).

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

NYT Points Out Overdraft Fees Still A Problem | Ed Mierzwinski

A major article in today's New York Times, "Overdraft Practices Continue to Gut Bank Accounts and Haunt Customers," points out that while 2010 reforms put in place by the pre-CFPB regulators have helped, there's still work to be done to protect consumers from unfair overdraft practices. While years ago banks used "bounced check" fees to deter what was then seen as a negative behavior, more recently they have encouraged overdrafts by offering "standard overdraft protection" as if it is a feature, not a bug. They've made billions.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

30 Years of "Trouble in Toyland," 30 Years of Safety Improvements | Anna Low-Beer

Every year, U.S. PIRG Education Fund releases Trouble in Toyland, a report on toy safety which examines toys bought at major national retailers, looking for safety hazards including toxic toys, choking hazards, labeling violations, powerful magnets, and excessibely loud toys. We continue to find these hazards on store shelves, which indicates the need for continued vigilance and adequate enforcement of safety regulations. But despite lingering dangers, in the last 30 years, we've come a long way in terms of both policy and compliance with standards.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Top Ten Ways the CFPB Can Help You

See our new resource about the top ten ways the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is helping consumers.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | US PIRG

Beech-Nut will stop selling all single grain rice cereal after Alaska state officials discovered high arsenic levels during routing sampling, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) said in a statement released Tuesday.

News Release | US PIRG

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission approved tough new standards Wednesday to regulate several infant sleep products for the first time.

News Release

Being a consumer is a tough job. Really tough. During National Consumer Protection Week, which runs through March 6, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff is offering a daily dose of tips and advice to help you navigate life’s biggest consumer challenges.

News Release | OSPIRG Foundation

PORTLAND --  OSPIRG Foundation's Trouble in Toyland report has helped identify dangerous toys for 35 years. But 2020 is unique, and as Americans have worked, learned and played from home to protect themselves from COVID-19, children could be more susceptible to certain toy-related hazards. 

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Priority Action

Use the form below to share with CFPB Director Richard Cordray what you think their priorities ought to be.

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