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 | 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
News Release | OSPIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Oregon attorney general demands online marketplaces end coronavirus price gouging

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is calling on the country’s top online marketplaces to crack down on price gouging amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Rosenblum joined a bipartisan group of 33 attorneys general, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro along with co-leading Attorneys General Hector Balderas (NM), William Tong (CT), and T.J. Donovan (VT), in sending a letter today urging the companies -- 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.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Price gouging on Amazon during the Coronavirus outbreak

Empty store shelves and out of stock signs are becoming more common in America as the Coronavirus reaches the nation’s shores. While many regions have yet to declare a state of emergency, a new analysis by U.S. PIRG Education Fund revealed the 30-day average price of surgical masks and hand sanitizer 18.5 percent higher than the three month average. High prices during February were at times more than double the average cost of the same product over a 90-day time period.

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

Hack doesn’t absolve Equifax of being careless with consumers’ data

Congress must hold companies accountable for failing to protect condumers' confidential information.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | OSPIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Oregon attorney general demands online marketplaces end coronavirus price gouging

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is calling on the country’s top online marketplaces to crack down on price gouging amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Rosenblum joined a bipartisan group of 33 attorneys general, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro along with co-leading Attorneys General Hector Balderas (NM), William Tong (CT), and T.J. Donovan (VT), in sending a letter today urging the companies -- 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.

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

Hack doesn’t absolve Equifax of being careless with consumers’ data

Congress must hold companies accountable for failing to protect condumers' confidential information.

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

Deadly infant products sold after recalls at T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced today that discount stores T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods sold 19 different recalled products to consumers between 2014 and 2019. In the case of five products, the stores’ parent company TJX initiated the recall. The products included the Rock ‘N Play and Kids II inclined infant sleepers, which are responsible for a number of fatalities, rattles that can break and pose a choking hazard, and electronics that overheat or explode.

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

Heartburn medication recalls continue due to carcinogen concerns

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed today that the drug manufacturers Dr. Reddy’s and Perrigo have initiated a voluntary recall of all of their generic versions of Zantac (ranitidine) -- commonly used to treat heartburn -- due to carcinogen contamination.

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Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Debt Collectors, Debt Complaints

This is the fifth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about debt collection, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with debt collectors and documenting the role of the CFPB in helping consumers successfully resolve their complaints.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Financial Reform

Credit Cards, Consumer Complaints

This is the fourth in a series of OSPIRG Foundation reports that review complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about credit cards with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with their credit cards and documenting the role of the CFPB in helping consumers successfully resolve their complaints.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Big Credit Bureaus, Big Mistakes

This report is the third of several that review complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In this report, we explore the consumer complaints about credit bureaus with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with credit reporting.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Financial Reform

Private Loans, Public Complaints

This report is the second of several that will review complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints in the private student loan sector with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with their student loans.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Big Banks, Big Complaints

This report reviews consumer complaints made to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state basis. We explore consumer complaints about bank accounts and services with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with their banks.

> Keep Reading

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

The CFPB is now taking your credit bureau complaints | Ed Mierzwinski

Excellent news! The CFPB is now taking complaints about credit bureaus and credit reports. And unlike the FTC, the CFPB has been given tools so that it will be able to "help consumers with individual-level complaint assistance on issues with their credit report."

> 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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