Consumer Action INSIDER - November 2013

 

Table of Contents

What people are saying

Thank you for your prompt shipment of Consumer Action education materials. As usual, they have been a big hit with our seniors. They really like the fact that they are available in Spanish and English and are easy to read and understand. We have also found that your brochures serve as a great learning tool for new volunteers. — Diana Leon, Legal Services for Seniors, Salinas, CA

Did you know?

Because of the 16-day federal government shutdown last month, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that individuals would have to wait up to two weeks to file their 2013 returns. The new tax season was scheduled to start on Jan. 21, 2014. Now the IRS says it will begin accepting and processing individual tax returns on a date no earlier than Jan. 28 and no later than Feb. 4. Read more...

New: Three short videos about online tracking

Consumer Action recently released three short videos with advice for consumers on how to protect their privacy online by enabling “Do Not Track” (DNT) settings and/or using free DNT tools. The videos can be viewed on Consumer Action website RespectMyDNT.org, which is aimed at giving consumers practical information about Do Not Track, a technical standard still being developed that aims to help consumers prevent or limit online tracking.

RespectMyDNT.org is part of Consumer Action’s Do Not Track public education campaign, funded by a general support grant from Microsoft.

When companies follow us around the Internet and capture our information and activities, this is called “online tracking.” Many people are surprised to learn that their activities online, including the websites they visit and services they use, are recorded, collected and shared by marketers.

Consumer Action’s Michelle De Mooy serves as spokesperson on the videos, produced with Knowlera/MonkeySee. The shorts can also be viewed on Consumer Action’s YouTube Channel.

The three videos are:

  • What’s Online Tracking? This video provides an introduction to online tracking and DNT and an explanation about why people should be concerned about being tracked online. (2:25)
  • Online Tracking Protections. This video provides an overview of various ways to avoid online tracking, including browser settings, anonymous browsing and cookie blocking. (3:18)
  • Practical Online Privacy Tips. This video provides specific advice for protecting your privacy online. (2:31)

Thank you! Our 2013 fundraiser is a succès fou

Consumer Action's 2013 Consumer Excellence Awards, held at the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, DC on Oct. 22, raised $215,000, topping last year’s total by $35,000. This year’s cocktail reception celebrated Consumer Action’s four decades of innovative multilingual consumer education.

Underwriters for the event were Capital One, Credit.com, eBay Inc., Google, Microsoft and TracFone. For a full listing of our 2013 supporters, click here to download a PDF of the 2013 event program.

“Early in its history, Consumer Action recognized that we needed to do more to reach the growing populations of underserved limited-English-proficient individuals,” said Ken McEldowney, executive director of Consumer Action. “Consumer Action translated its free, easy-to-read surveys, guides and fact sheets into a number of languages besides English. By the early 1990s, Consumer Action was distributing—at no charge—more than one million of our multilingual educational materials each year.”

Sponsorships of Consumer Action’s annual event provide crucial revenue for many of the organization’s core activities, such as its free consumer advice and referral hotline, the quarterly consumer education newspaper Consumer Action News, and Consumer Action INSIDER, this e-newsletter, now in its fourth year.

Media award
Luis Megid, National Correspondent, Noticiero Univision (Award presented by Robin Strongin, Amplify Public Affairs)

Luis Megid has been a correspondent with Univision National News in San Francisco since 1989. Through the years, he has covered the most important stories in the recent history of the United States—among them presidential elections, the consequences of the September 11 attacks, the immigration controversy, US-Mexico border violence and Hurricane Katrina. His distinguished career includes three Emmy nominations and a journalism award from the California Chicano News Media Association. This year, he was part of the team recognized with a Walter Cronkite Award for its coverage of the 2012 election.

Before becoming a network correspondent, Megid worked as a reporter for San Francisco’s KDTV Channel 14 and, with the station, won the first Peabody Award given to a Spanish-language TV station, for its coverage of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. In 1989, Megid received the Guillermo Martinez-Marquez Award, given by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, for his interview with a former Argentine general accused of over 5,000 deaths in his country.

Megid was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He studied communications at the Instituto Superior de Enseñanza Radiofónica and worked at several Argentine radio stations before coming to the United States in 1980. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two daughters.

Community award
Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Award presented by Frank Torres, Microsoft)

Asian Americans Advancing Justice is an affiliation of four leading civil rights groups with a combined 114 years of experience and hundreds of community-based partners in the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The four agencies collaborate effectively while continuing to focus on their own areas of expertise to build a stronger and more cohesive civil rights infrastructure locally and nationally. Together and individually, the group addresses the civil rights issues faced by AAPI and other vulnerable and underserved communities.

Through Advancing Justice’s range of programs, the organization provides legal services, conducts public policy research, engages in litigation, fosters leadership development, community capacity and coalition building, and more. Of particular note are the group’s achievements in advancing language access for limited-English-speaking consumers:

  • Advancing Justice advocated for the issuance of Executive Order 13166 in 2000, which mandated that federal agencies provide meaningful access to limited-English-proficient (LEP) individuals through their federally-funded programs.
  • Against the wave of English-only ordinances passed in local municipalities in the 1980s, Advancing Justice achieved language-rights victories that ultimately led to public libraries acquiring non-English materials in their collections, and pushed many counties to require voting materials in Asian languages. Demographic data compiled by Advancing Justice about AAPI ethnic groups has helped to educate the public, legislators and business about the need for in-language consumer information.
  • Advancing Justice-LA led the filing of a federal civil rights complaint against the Los Angeles County welfare department for its failure to provide adequate language assistance as required under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This led to a landmark agreement with the county that included the establishment of toll-free hotlines in threshold languages, a Community Advisory Board, and improvements in the welfare-to-work program to provide limited-English-speakers with meaningful access to employment and training programs.

Regulatory award
The U.S. Department of Justice Language Access Team (Award presented by Fernando Laguarda, Time Warner Cable)

Within the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is the staff of the small but mighty Federal Coordination and Compliance Section (FCS)—committed civil rights lawyers and professionals who work every day to prevent and address discrimination in federal programs and those that receive federal funds.

One of the FCS’s several goals is to ensure compliance with Executive Order 13166 and with Title VI regulations, which together seek to eliminate limited English proficiency as a barrier to participating in or benefiting from federal and federally-funded programs and activities. As such, the FCS leads committees such as the Federal Interagency Working Group on LEP, a network of federal agencies established by the DOJ in 2002 to help foster government-wide collaboration to better serve LEP communities. From ensuring that all U.S. residents have access to vital emergency preparedness information to guaranteeing that language does not prevent an individual from accessing the U.S. court system, the DOJ’s language access team has led the effort to make sure that language access is a consideration in the planning, budgeting and implementation process for all federally-supported programs and activities.

Through its website (http://www.lep.gov) supporting agencies’ efforts to remove language barriers, a wide spectrum of access planning tools and materials, participation in and leadership of language access working groups, enforcement actions and policy work, the Department of Justice’s language access team continues to make a crucial difference for the nation’s LEP communities.

Hotline Chronicles: Clarifying the CARD Act’s ‘right to reject’

The CARD Act of 2009 brought many benefits for credit card holders, including protection from unexpected interest rate increases and arbitrary penalty rate hikes. But the complex rules are challenging for consumers to understand.

Jocelyn* from Texas contacted our hotline to ask if it is legal for her credit card issuer to continue to charge a monthly maintenance fee on a closed account. She said that she had read on our website that the CARD Act (a 2009 law amending the Truth in Lending Act) did not allow issuers to “charge a monthly maintenance fee on closed accounts.”

However, in Jocelyn's case the credit card law does not protect her. Under the CARD Act’s “right to reject” certain “significant” changes in terms, consumers who disagree with such a change must be offered the option to close the account. In this case, they are given certain rights over the closed account. One of these provisions prohibits issuers from imposing a fee or charge solely as a result of the consumer's rejection of a significant change in terms.

Jocelyn closed the account because her interest rate went up, but she did so outside of the purview of the CARD Act, which does not give cardholders the right to reject changes in terms when the APR is increased on new transactions. The right to reject also is not offered when a rate increase is triggered by a late payment. These situations are exempt. The right-to-reject provision can be found in the Truth in Lending Act (Regulation Z), § 1026.9(h).

Even when cardholders close their accounts because of a significant change, fees that were in effect before closing—such as Jocelyn’s monthly fee—may remain in effect. So while it seems unfair to charge a monthly fee on a closed account, it is not prohibited by the CARD Act.

“The CARD Act brought many new consumer protection benefits for credit card holders,” said Consumer Action’s Linda Sherry. “But this is a complex regulation that was phased in over two years and was subject to numerous Federal Reserve staff interpretations of the original act of Congress that passed in 2009. Consumer Action is here to help cardholders understand their rights.”

While the CARD Act prohibits some fees (such as inactivity and closed account fees) and limits multiple fees stemming from the same transaction, it does nothing to limit other fees, such as annual, monthly maintenance, cash advance and balance transfer fees. (Late and over-the-limit fees are regulated under the CARD Act.)

Consumer Action’s Know Your Card website is a great resource for learning about credit card terms and conditions (as well as those on debit, prepaid and gift cards).

*Not this consumer’s real name.

Using technology to reduce debt

Dozens of community consumer advocates met last month in Washington, DC for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) National Savings Forum. Partner organizations, including Consumer Action, discussed strategies to promote the use of savings accounts among low- and moderate-income communities to encourage personal financial success.

America Saves (and its sibling Military Saves) is a support system to help community-based advocates motivate people in their communities to save and build wealth with free resources and tools. Participants can sign up for weekly text messages with reminders and tips to help them meet short- and long-term savings goals. America Saves staff said these small reminders seem to work: More than half (58 percent) of text recipients said the reminders are very helpful and 40 percent said they’d like to receive the tips more often.

Prepaid cards, popular in low-income communities as an alternative to a checking account, can turn one’s mobile phone into a money management tool. According to the FDIC, 91 percent of underbanked consumers have a mobile phone and 53 percent use a smartphone. Banking Up’s mobile app enables prepaid card users to receive free direct deposit and to pay bills and send money with its virtual checkbook feature. An automatic savings feature allows users to set money aside daily, monthly or weekly. Patrice Peyret, Banking Up’s CEO, told the gathered advocates that all consumers, not just prepaid card users, regardless of income and bankability, could use Banking Up’s smartphone app to help them manage their finances.

Despite advances in banking technology, access to low-cost, face-to-face financial education still makes an important impact in local communities. Savings Forum attendee Jennifer Abel of the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) has provided in-person financial education in the Arlington and Alexandria communities since 2000. With a lean team of 1.5 full-time employees and more than 100 highly trained volunteers, the VCE provides free financial education classes in schools, libraries, homeless shelters and public housing complexes around Northern Virginia. Abel said that budgeting, creative savings strategies, credit and debt are some of the most popular courses. She stretches VCE’s limited budget by using Consumer Action’s Credit Cards: What You Need to Know and Good Credit: Build it and keep it training modules.

“We have found there to be so much confusion and misinformation when it comes to credit, credit reports and how to improve bad credit. Consumer Action’s materials have been very helpful in providing clear and easy-to-read facts and tips to our community,” Abel said. “With 15 percent of VCE class attendees being Hispanic and Latino, Consumer Action’s Spanish manuals have also proved to be valuable course materials.”

Whether you’re comfortable with new banking technologies or prefer in-person financial advice, the resources below are a good start to improve your community’s financial wellbeing.

Consumer Action publications:

MoneyWi$e educates young adults and shelter residents

Audrey Perrott, Consumer Action’s associate director of outreach and training, in October shared financial literacy know-how at an emergency homeless shelter and a youth job-readiness program using Consumer Action’s MoneyWi$e financial education materials.

Sharing the Basics, and much more
Visiting Ruby’s Place, Inc., Perrott presented banking basics and tips for avoiding and repairing identity theft to shelter residents and case management staff. Ruby’s Place is a 42-bed shelter offering housing, support and services to women and children who are victims of domestic violence, homelessness or human trafficking.

Perrott presented excerpts from the MoneyWi$e Banking Basics and Identity and Account Fraud modules and engaged the shelter’s Life Skills group in interactive activities. She discussed the difference between a bank and a credit union, how to select a financial institution, what specialty reports are and how to obtain them, how to open an account and how to keep account costs down. She encouraged participants to review the sample ChexSystems report and savings account application contained in the lesson plan. (ChexSystems provides account verification services to financial institutions to aid them in identifying account applicants who may have a history of account mishandling. Many banks won’t open new accounts for consumers listed in ChexSystems’ database.)

Perrott also provided the case managers with a directory of financial institutions that participate in the Bank On initiative. Bank On is a nationwide program designed to help unbanked and underbanked Americans—even some with a negative history in ChexSystems—find low-cost, no-cost, and “second-chance” bank accounts. Bank On is a collaborative effort between state governments, financial institutions and community organizations.

Perrott said the ChexSystems report generated a lot of discussion on past experience with attempting to open an account and questions about using debit cards. She also distributed the MoneyWi$e Banking Basics: You can bank on it brochure, as well as Consumer Action’s Specialty Consumer Reports: What’s on file about you? and Understanding Debit Cards: Plastic with a difference.

Perrott covered the various forms of identity theft, ways that information is compromised, prevention tips, Internet safety and ID theft cleanup. Some participants indicated that they had never requested a copy of their credit reports. Perrott explained that it was easy to get free copies by phone at 877-322-8228 or online at www.annualcreditreport.com.

Ruby’s Place bilingual case manager Brenda Landeros said, “The women at the shelter were so grateful for the information that was presented, they now have knowledge on Identity theft and so much more. We all appreciate your time and effort in making this happen for the women at the shelter.”

At the end of the training, Perrott hosted a drawing for a paper shredder to reinforce the message to shred or thoroughly destroy papers containing personal information before they are discarded.

Ramping up for success
At RAMP-SF’s site at Fort Mason in San Francisco, Perrott shared information about building, or rebuilding, good credit with participants and case managers. RAMP-SF, run by the San Francisco Conservation Corps (SFCC), is a job readiness program that helps San Francisco young adults (18-24 years old) connect with career opportunities that match their individual goals and needs.

Perrott combined a mix of lecture and interactive activities from the MoneyWi$e Good Credit and Rebuilding Good Credit lesson plans. “I love the way the workshop was run and I know the class was very beneficial for the students,” said Emma Hyatt, RAMP program coordinator.

Perrott discussed the difference between good and bad credit, what’s in a credit report, how to obtain a copy of one’s credit report, consumer rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and how to file a dispute about inaccurate information in one’s credit report. The Consumer Action trainer asked participants to evaluate sample credit profiles from the lesson plans, which generated a lot of questions and discussion. To encourage participation, she gave out financial education games and prizes to participants who answered questions.

From the Rebuilding Good Credit module, Perrott covered how a consumer finds out that they have poor credit, collection agencies, how to handle collection calls, credit repair companies, loan consolidation, credit counseling agencies, steps to rebuilding credit and ways to protect one’s credit. Using the sample ads in the “Classified Ad” classroom activity from the module, she sought feedback on whether the ads were legitimate or fraudulent.

Later, the class participated in Consumer Action’s “Secured Credit Cards” classroom activity. Perrott said it was important for the class to do this exercise because some participants may be in the market for a secured credit card and the exercise could help them evaluate card offers and identify unfavorable terms and conditions.

Consumer Action provides trainings for community groups to help them better educate their clients on how to assert their rights in the marketplace. In addition, Consumer Action provides free multilingual educational materials to community groups for their education programs. To learn more about our outreach and training activities, visit our Outreach & Training page.

The psychology of scarcity, and other insights

Ruth Susswein of Consumer Action attended the Consumer Research Symposium held by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) last month. The two-day event discussed research into consumers’ capabilities, knowledge, preferences and experiences in the financial services market, as well as the effects of public policy interventions and new regulations.

Susswein said she found particularly striking Princeton University Professor Eldar Shafir’s metaphor for the mindset of those in poverty. Equating poverty with a suitcase, Shafir noted that people with extra space in their suitcase don’t worry about whether everything will fit. But the more full the suitcase, the more complex the decision-making process becomes. Poor people, he said, must spend more time and attention avoiding financial mistakes than the rest of us because they have no room in the suitcase—no room for error. They are often overwhelmed by the decisions involved in allocating scarce resources.

Because a state of scarcity is debilitating, Shafir suggests that ways must be found to increase the “bandwidth” of low-income individuals by streamlining financial decision-making. This could be accomplished by setting up automatic monthly payments for recurring bills on payday or creating retirement accounts that are opt-out, not opt in.

Takeaways
Billions of dollars intended to helps homeowners avoid foreclosure have gone unspent. Just $1.3 billion of $7.6 billion in “Hardest Hit” funds, set aside for mortgage modifications, foreclosure rescue payments and housing transition assistance in the 18 most financially affected states, has been disbursed.

In Ohio alone, only 5,000 homeowners out of an expected 63,000 actually received mortgage relief funds. Ohio State researchers believe the program failed because:

  • Borrowers perceived a stigma to accepting mortgage relief funds,
  • There was a lack of information available about the mortgage assistance program, and
  • Cost–benefit calculations resulted in costs that were too high (in time and paperwork) for people to complete applications, even when it would result in huge financial benefits.

Another study found first-time homebuyers with a history of defaulting on previous loans (credit cards, etc.) could become successful in managing their finances with a little “financial monitoring” assistance. Quarterly check-ins by phone or text, combined with automated mortgage payments, resulted in a 50 percent reduction in defaults among those who had previously missed loan payments.

In another study, surprising statistics about prepaid card use were reported:

  • Unless direct deposit is used, the lifespan of a typical prepaid card account is only a few months.
  • ATM surcharges account for 15 percent to 40 percent of prepaid cardholders’ costs.
  • The average payroll card costs cardholders $7.38 a month.
  • The average general-purpose prepaid card costs $10.78 a month, while the average checking account costs $21.50 a month.

The FDIC’s Division of Depositor and Consumer Protection sponsored the two-day event.

Business opportunity or pyramid scheme?

Visitors to Consumer Action's websites know that we regularly post links to consumer headline news in English, Spanish and Chinese. One of the topics that garnered much coverage over the past year—particularly in the U.S. Spanish-language press—relates to Herbalife, a multi-level marketing nutritional supplement company. Critics call Herbalife a “pyramid scheme,” while others view it as a legitimate business opportunity that employs a multilevel marketing strategy.

In multilevel marketing, individuals sell products to the public by word of mouth, direct marketing and house parties. Typically, distributors earn commissions not only for their own sales, but also for sales made by the people they recruit to sell. Amway and Avon are two examples of companies that employ multilevel marketing.

Earlier this year, Consumer Action joined the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Hispanic Federation, the National Consumers League (NCL) and Consumers Union in calling on the FTC to investigate Herbalife’s multi-level marketing program, which is particularly popular in the Latino communities. NCL's letter to the FTC provides some background on the issues. Hispanic media have paid close attention to the matter, in part because it is reported that at least 60 percent of Herbalife's 500,000 U.S. distributors are Latino.

The FTC has not confirmed whether it is investigating Herbalife. But you don’t need to wait for FTC action to educate yourself and make informed choices about business and investment opportunities.

Both the FTC and NCL have excellent resources on avoiding pyramid schemes. And for those consumers looking for the ideal business opportunity, Consumer Action's MoneyWi$e Micro Business module is replete with resources and tips to help consumers get on the right track to starting a business.

The FTC's Multilevel Marketing fact sheet points out that not all multilevel marketing plans are legitimate. Consumers are advised to ask about the compensation structure, potential expenses, support for any claims of profits and other questions. Avoid any plan where the reward for recruiting new distributors exceeds the money to be made on sales of products. For those individuals who decide to buy into a multilevel marketing program, the FTC requires that the business’s marketing materials must be truthful and that claims must be backed by solid evidence.

NCL’s brochure, Pyramid Schemes: Don't Let One Collapse on You, covers different types of schemes, including gifting clubs, chain letters and online pyramids. It also explains that legitimate multilevel marketing plans are not pyramid schemes, and describes the difference.

Some consumers may get involved in questionable business opportunity schemes simply because they have not explored all their business start-up options. One of the best things to do is contact local sources of free, legitimate start-up advice. As described in Consumer Action's Micro Business module, trustworthy sources of this advice are the Small Business Administration (SBA) and SCORE.

Through the SBA, prospective business owners can find their local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). These centers offer workshops and one-on-one, long-term professional business advice and more—for free or at a low cost. SCORE offers free or low-cost mentoring, advice, workshops and webinars.

Finally, for those who are aren't looking to start a business but simply want to grow their money, avail yourself of basic investment education. Pyramid schemes have robbed individual investors of billions of dollars: Be wary of any get-rich quick claims.

Consumer Action's Money Management 1-2-3 series guides consumers to the Securities and Exchange Commission's investor website for an overview of the basics of investing. Money Management 1-2-3 also recommends consulting a fee-only financial advisor (rather than one who earns money from commissions) for investment advice. Two sources of fee-only advisors include the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors and the Garrett Planning Network.

Consumer class action roundup

Consumer Action maintains a listing of consumer class actions we learn about so that interested consumers can join the action, make a claim or just learn more about a certain lawsuit. By the end of the year we will unveil a new design for this resource that will make it even more useful and accessible to consumers.

In a class action settlement, the court does not decide in favor of one side or the other. Instead, both sides agree to settle the case instead of going to trial. The proposed settlements do not necessarily mean that any law was broken or that the defendants did anything wrong. (Often, as part of a settlmement, defendants deny all legal claims.)

Some of the notable class actions we’ve learned of include:

Organix hair care. Consumers who bought certain Organix hair care and skin care products between Oct. 25, 2008 and Oct. 10, 2013 may be eligible for up to $28. The company reached a settlement over allegations of falsely advertising "all natural" or "all organic" when some of the ingredients were artificial. Click here for more info. Deadline for claim forms is March 17, 2014.

Ford Navistar diesel engines. The lawsuit alleges that the 6.0-liter PowerStroke diesel engines of certain 2003-2007 Ford vehicles are defective. Consumers who purchased or leased those models may be eligible for cash reimbursement for repair expenses. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Dec. 31, 2013.

Pacific Bell late fees. Current and former AT&T California landline customers who were billed for late payment charges between July 15, 2009 and April 24, 2013 may be eligible for a share of a $15 million settlement fund, pending a final fairness hearing. The company reached a settlement over allegations that the late payment charges were unlawful contractual penalties under California law. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Dec. 31, 2013.

BJ’s Wholesale Club. Consumers who, between Oct. 1, 2000 and June 30, 2013, renewed their membership at least 16 days after their prior membership expired and whose renewal membership expired less than one year from the date it was purchased may be eligible for an in-store voucher or one-month membership pass. The company reached a settlement over allegations that the membership renewal practice gave consumers less than a full year’s membership. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Nov. 4, 2013.

Glucosamine supplements. Consumers who purchased certain joint health dietary supplements containing glucosamine that were manufactured or sold by Rexall Sundown, Inc. or NBTY, Inc. may be eligible for up to $50. The companies reached a settlement over allegations of false and deceptive labeling claims. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Dec. 3, 2013.

Vioxx pain medication. Consumers who purchased Vioxx before Oct. 1, 2004 may be eligible for up to $50 cash or reimbursement of actual out-of-pocket costs. The company reached a settlement over allegations of falsely advertising the greater benefits of Vioxx in comparison to less expensive pain medicines. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is May 6, 2014.

Audi and Volkswagen headlights. The lawsuit alleges defects in high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights of certain 2004-2007 Volkswagen Touareg models and 2005-2006 Audi A4 models. Consumers who purchased or leased those models may be eligible for cash reimbursement for out-of-pocket repair costs and warranty extension for the headlights. Click here for details. Deadline for claim forms is Dec. 3, 2013.

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action is a non-profit organization that has championed the rights of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. Throughout its history, the organization has dedicated its resources to promoting financial and consumer literacy and advocating for consumer rights in both the media and before lawmakers to promote economic justice for all. With the resources and infrastructure to reach millions of consumers, Consumer Action is one of the most recognized, effective and trusted consumer organizations in the nation.

Consumer education. To empower consumers to assert their rights in the marketplace, Consumer Action provides a range of educational resources. The organization’s extensive library of free publications offers in-depth information on many topics related to personal money management, housing, insurance and privacy, while its hotline provides non-legal advice and referrals. At Consumer-Action.org, visitors have instant access to important consumer news, downloadable materials, an online “help desk,” the Take Action advocacy database and nine topic-specific subsites. Consumer Action also publishes unbiased surveys of financial and consumer services that expose excessive prices and anti-consumer practices to help consumers make informed buying choices and elicit change from big business.

Community outreach. With a special focus on serving low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers, Consumer Action maintains strong ties to a national network of nearly 7,500 community-based organizations. Outreach services include training and free mailings of financial and consumer education materials in many languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Consumer Action’s network is the largest and most diverse of its kind.

Advocacy. Consumer Action is deeply committed to ensuring that underrepresented consumers are represented in the national media and in front of lawmakers. The organization promotes pro-consumer policy, regulation and legislation by taking positions on dozens of bills at the state and national levels and submitting comments and testimony on a host of consumer protection issues. Additionally, its diverse staff provides the media with expert commentary on key consumer issues supported by solid data and victim testimony.

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