Protecting Consumers

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 THE PUBLIC

WISPIRG’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 26 years, WISPIRG’s Trouble In Toyland report has surveyed store shelves and identified choking hazards, noise hazards and other dangers. One year, our research led to the recall of a cloth children’s book that we found contained lead.

BIGGER BANKS BIGGER FEES

In April, WISPIRG 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.

Issue updates

News Release | WisPIRG | Consumer Protection

Volkswagen’s $1000 Gift Cards Fall Short

Statement by Peter Skopec, WisPIRG Director, on Volkswagen’s offer of $1,000 in gift cards to customers affected by its emission scandal.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

New Report: Consumers Should Get Security Freezes Before Next Data Breach

A report and consumer fact sheet released today by the WISPIRG Foundation aim to increase the awareness and use of the security freeze, also known as a credit freeze. The report explains that the freeze is the only security measure that can prevent new account identity theft.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

The Security Freeze

The first defense against any kind of identity theft is to be vigilant about protecting your personal information by taking steps like creating secure passwords, installing anti-virus and anti-malware software, and shredding personal documents. (See Appendix A for more tips on protecting your personal information.) However, if and when someone does steal enough of your information to commit identity theft, there is really only one type that you can stop before it happens: New account identity theft, where someone opens a new account in your name.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRGs, Others Ask CFPB & FTC To Investigate Experian/T-Mobile Data Breach

In a letter sent today, a number of state PIRGs and other leading privacy and consumer groups urged the CFPB and FTC to fully investigate the recent breach of an Experian subsidary that exposed 15 million T-Mobile customer and applicant records to the threat of new account identity theft. The letter asked whether the regulators could require Experian and the other two nationwide credit bureaus -- TransUnion and Equifax -- to give victims free security freezes to protect their credit reports.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

As CFPB Advances Consumer Protection, Attacks on CFPB Escalate | Ed Mierzwinski

This week, the CFPB took a major step toward establishing a regulation restricting the use of forced arbitration clauses in consumer financial contracts, which give companies what the CFPB's director said was a "free pass from being held accountable by their customers." Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, powerful bank interests escalated their campaign to defund and defang the bureau, because it works for consumers, not them.

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News Release | WISPIRG | Budget, Consumer Protection, Transportation

Gov. Walker Vetoes Payday Lending Grab-Bag, Misses the Mark on WisDOT Audit

MADISON - Governor Walker today signed Wisconsin’s 2015-17 biennial budget, announcing a list of line-item vetoes. Following widespread opposition, the Governor struck provisions that would have dramatically expanded payday lenders’ authority to sell predatory financial products to Wisconsin consumers. Governor Walker also vetoed a request that the Legislative Audit Committee conduct a performance evaluation of WisDOT’s State Highway Program, including a review of the Department’s questionable highway projections.

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News Release | WISPIRG | Budget, Consumer Protection

30 Groups Urge Assembly to Remove, Gov. Walker to Veto Payday Lender Grab-Bag in State Budget

coalition of 30 faith groups, low-income advocates and public interest lawyers and organizations is urging the Assembly to remove and, in the case of the chamber's inaction, Governor Walker to veto a set of sweeping budget provisions that would significantly expand the power of predatory payday lenders in Wisconsin. The final decision on the anti-consumer provisions will likely fall to the Governor, who is looking to sign the final budget document before announcing his run for President on Monday.

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News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection

Faith Leaders, Low-Income Advocates, Consumer Groups Call Out Rent-to-Own Exemptions in State Budget

At a Monday press conference, a broad coalition of faith groups, low-income advocates and public interest organizations warned against 11th-hour additions to the state budget that would exempt the rent-to-own industry from Wisconsin’s consumer protection laws.

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How Companies Turn Your Facebook Activity Into a Credit Score

This story in The Nation explains our work challenging the way data brokers use "black box," or secret, algorithms to make scoring decisions that may violate the law and deny credit opportunities. This work was also the subject of our recent livestream event featuring Professor Frank Pasquale and his new book, "The Black Box Society." We've now posted an archive of that event, in 3 chapters on our Youtube page.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

FCC NET NEUTRALITY ORDER PROTECTS THE OPEN INTERNET

Today the FCC took not one but two critical actions to make sure that the Internet works for everybody. First, it issued a "Net Neutrality" order guaranteeing a free and open Internet. This Internet freedom order will prevent the phone and cable companies from granting fast lanes or other preferences to already powerful firms. The FCC also acted to override state laws that prevented local governments from building out broadband networks to compete with the phone and cable companies.

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Stopping Identity Theft

A WISPIRG-backed bill to give consumers the ability to freeze their credit reports was signed into law in 2006. The law will allow consumers to lock out identity thieves, and further protect themselves from fraud.

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Report | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection

The Rent-to-Own Rip-off

The 2013-2015 biennial executive budget, proposed by Governor Walker, includes an exemption for the rent-to-own industry from Wisconsin’s consumer protection laws. Rent-to-own businesses are appliance and furniture retailers that arrange “lease agreements,” rather than typical installment or credit sales contracts. These leases are regulated as a form of credit because the consumer is buying a product over time and paying a very high premium over the product’s sale price.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2012

The 2012 Trouble in Toyland report is the 27th annual Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, WISPIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Big Banks, Bigger Fees 2012

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the state PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees.  Over the last six months, state PIRG staff conducted inquiries at 250 bank and 116 credit union branches in 17 states and the District of Columbia and reviewed bank fees online in these and 7 other states.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Poison in Paint, Toxics in Toys

For the first time more than 650 brand name household products that contain one of two toxic chemicals of high concern, NPEs (nonylphenol ethoxylates) and BPA (bisphenol A), have been publicly identified. Twenty-five manufacturers reported their use of NPEs and BPA in consumer products sold in Maine under a 2008 state law on chemical safety.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2010

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) announced in its 25th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

IRS Admits Data Breach Worse Than Thought, Will Congress Do Wrong Thing Anyway? | Ed Mierzwinski

This week, the IRS has admitted that thieves accessed the personal information -- enough to allow them to take your tax refund -- of an additional 220,000 taxpayers, on top of the 114,000 reported in May. Meanwhile, we remain  concerned that Congress will use continued publicity about the Target breach and other breaches as an excuse to pass dangerous data security legislation. Dangerous? Yes, because it would only protect against limited financial identity theft harms, but eliminate stronger state protections against the harms posed by the IRS breach, the health insurance breaches and the OPM breach.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

President Issues Privacy Platform | Ed Mierzwinski

Today the President announced support for a variety of privacy protections, most of which are laudable. However, it remains our view that Congressional consideration of a "uniform national breach notification standard" is unnecessary and, worse, will give powerful special interests an opportunity to use the proposal as a Trojan Horse to enact sweeping preemptive limits on state privacy protections.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

On Veterans Day, How The CFPB Helps Veterans, and All of Us | Ed Mierzwinski

Columnist George Will recently (and not for the first time) urged Congress to “abolish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” His reasons may seem to come from his conservative philosophy, but merely pander to the powerful Wall Street interests that left our economy in ruins just a few years ago. As a counterbalance, let’s discuss some recent speeches and statements by CFPB Director Richard Cordray on his vision for the bureau and some of its current work, including – on this Veteran’s Day – its efforts to protect military families from financial predators.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

The CFPB at Three: A Child Prodigy | Ed Mierzwinski

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) turned just three years old Monday, July 21st, but when you look at its massive and compelling body of work, you must wonder: Are watchdog years like plain old dog years? Is the CFPB now a full-sized, 21-year-old adult? The answer is no, not yet. The CFPB is still growing and developing and adding programs and projects. The CFPB is, however, at three years old, certainly a child prodigy. Despite overwhelming public support, however, powerful special interests continue to attack it. Yet, the idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

For its own first birthday, CFPB sends gifts to consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, Saturday, July 21, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns one year old. The CFPB already has achieved a record of significant accomplishments in its first year to protect veterans, students, seniors, military families and all consumers.

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