Consumer Action INSIDER - October 2013

 

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What people are saying

I teach several seminars for various groups regarding money management, bankruptcy and financial literacy. Your materials have been very helpful, especially the Spanish materials as they seem to connect very well with that group... “Your digital dollars: Banking online safely” has good fundamental information... My older students seem to have the most difficulty with these concepts. The materials are clear and [help them] connect. — Philip Green, United States Trustee

Did you know?

Between March 2012 and mid-July 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) received nearly 19,000 complaints by consumers about bank accounts. New analysis by the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) found that checking accounts were by a large margin (78%) the most common cause of consumer complaints. Just 25 U.S. banks account for more than 90% of all complaints to the CFPB. Read the report.

Hotline Chronicles: Sky-high fees annoy travelers

Sarabeth* from Wisconsin emailed Consumer Action’s hotline to complain about a flight she booked through an online travel website that promises to get consumers “cheap” airline tickets. After paying for the tickets, she called to confirm seating for her family. “I was informed that there would be an additional $14.95 per person charge for specific seat assignments.” Otherwise, she was told, seats would be assigned when she checked in on the day of the flight.

Sarabeth and her husband have three young children. “I felt obligated to pay the fee because the rep said there would be no guarantee that we would be seated together with our kids. I think enough is enough! Airlines get away with additional charges for everything. First we had to pay for checked baggage, then standing by, and now seating fees. What next? Are we going to be charged additional fees for our purses, our computers, our strollers, baby seats, etc.? These fees are just an added tax on families.”

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to recommend any specific course of action to Sarabeth and her family, but their experience may help others shop more carefully to avoid undue airline fees. For one thing, when planning travel, use online travel websites to look for flights, but go to the specific airline site to purchase tickets. With the exception of carriers like Southwest, with open seating policies, most major airlines allow you to choose seats during the booking process. Also, not every airline charges for seat assignments, so get to know in advance which fees you might encounter on various airlines. Kayak, a travel site, publishes a list of airline fees.

Recently, our colleagues at the National Consumers League (NCL) issued a report on airline fees. NCL’s new report, “$tuff Happens: Airlines Benefit Handsomely From the Unexpected…and Consumers’ Fears About It,” examines rising airline fees and calls for a series of reforms to make the travel industry friendlier to consumers.

As a hedge against rising cancellation/change fees and prohibitively expensive refundable tickets, it is logical for consumers to look to travel insurance. Unfortunately, NCL found that travel insurance policies contain significant limitations and exclusions hidden in the fine print.

Kate Hanni’s non-profit site FlyersRights.org offers opportunities to sign petitions and send emails and letters about pending passenger protections and other airline-related legislation. The organization also operates the FlyersRights.org hotline at 877-FLYERS6 (877-359-3776).

To file a complaint about an airline, contact the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT):

Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75 U.S. DOT 1200 New Jersey Ave, SE, Washington, DC 20590 202-366-2220

The DOT offers a consumer information publication, Fly-Rights: A Consumer Guide to Air Travel.

*Not this consumer’s real name.

Consumer Action releases Pre-purchase Resource Guide

Consumer Action has created a Pre-purchase Resource Guide to help consumers make wise purchasing choices, whether they are shopping for health insurance, buying a car or hiring a contractor. The new guide is offered as a PDF, which can be downloaded online. The September issue of Consumer Action News, the organization’s newsletter, is built around the guide, with articles and tips to help inform important purchase decisions. Articles include pointers for checking a professional’s credentials, tips on vetting the research tools you use, and information about consumer rights if problems arise.

The guide lists 41 helpful resources, mostly Web-based, and sorts them by category, including credit cards, wireless phone service, automotive, energy efficiency ratings, etc. Some sites are sleek and very user-friendly, while others offer a vast and potentially overwhelming array of financial information and analysis. Each site’s services, data sources and funding (non-profit, for-profit or government) are spelled out.

Examples of listed resources include Privacyscore, which rates websites’ privacy protections based on factors such as whether they track users while they browse, and HealthCare.gov, an excellent resource to help consumers compare healthcare coverage options under the new Affordable Care Act.

Consumer Action ranked one resource per category as a “standout site.” For example:

  • SaferCar.gov stands out for its side-by-side vehicle safety comparisons and tips on car maintenance and safety. Next year, used car buyers will be able to enter a vehicle’s identification number (VIN) into this database to learn if recall repairs have been made.
  • FairHealthConsumer.org shines with overviews of health insurance plans and costs, including alerts to warn of unusual charges that might be overlooked.
  • WSJ Wireless Savings Calculator is a nifty program that lets consumers quickly compare the cost of wireless plans from major carriers.

Consumer Action intern Krishna Hegde (a Columbia University student) and staff member Alegra Howard researched and compiled the new Pre-purchase Resource Guide.

Consumer Action unveils Do Not Track website

Last month Consumer Action launched a new educational website aimed at giving consumers practical information on Do Not Track (DNT), the still undefined tool that aims to help consumers limit online tracking. The site is designed to provide consumers with information about online tracking protections.

RespectMyDNT.org provides consumers with an overview of the issues around Do Not Track, such as how the online tracking ecosystem works and why advertisers and marketers have so far refused to honor DNT signals from users. It also encourages consumers to get involved in the issue by sending messages to Congress on key bills related to online tracking and DNT, and provides a blog with insight and commentary on the latest concerns.

“DNT represents a unique tool for educating consumers about online privacy because it’s an easy-to-remember acronym that echoes a protection we currently have in the Do Not Call Registry,“ says Michelle De Mooy of Consumer Action, content expert for the site. “We felt it was the right time to launch a project that taps into this public awareness and encourages consumers to learn about and get involved in the issues around DNT. After all, they’ve told us repeatedly that they want the ability to control tracking, and this is one way to do it.”

De Mooy added that although the process to develop a standard DNT mechanism is stalled in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), there is hope that other standards bodies or legislation in Congress might aid in the adoption of DNT or other tracking protections.

Last summer Consumer Action conducted a survey on online tracking that found widespread confusion as to the extent of online tracking and the existence of consumer privacy protections. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed said they should have the right to control the collection of their personal information. Most of the people surveyed (90%) said they were seeking tools that allow them to make a choice about tracking. And just over 90% strongly stated that their chosen “Do not track” preference should be respected. (Click here for more about this survey.)

Consumer Action also held a Do Not Track forum at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on June 27. Currently the staff is working on an educational module and a series of three short online videos about DNT and online privacy that will be available in the next few months.

RespectMyDNT.org is a joint consumer education project created by Consumer Action with a general support grant from Microsoft.

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. We are working on 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. (The defendants deny all legal claims in this case.)

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

  • Alexia frozen potato products. Consumers who bought certain Alexia frozen potato products between December 6, 2007 and July 10, 2013 may be eligible for up to $35 in cash or a $75 Alexia product voucher. The company reached a settlement over allegations of falsely advertising the products as "all natural" when some of the ingredients were artificial. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Nov. 27, 2013.
  • Macmillan/Penguin e-books. Consumers who purchased e-books from these publishers between April 1, 2010 and May 21, 2012 may be eligible for a share of a $95 million settlement, pending a Dec. 6 final fairness hearing at which the court will review the proposed settlement. The companies reached a settlement over allegations of price-fixing. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Oct. 21, 2013.
  • Horizon Organic/Silk Milk beverages. Consumers who purchased certain products containing evaporated cane juice between January 1, 2005 and April 19, 2013 may be eligible for up to $50. The company reached a settlement over allegations of falsely advertising the evaporated cane juice as “juice” instead of sugar. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Oct. 26, 2013.
  • Auto-Price-Finder.com. Consumers who received unsolicited text messages that contained Web addresses or links leading to Auto-Price-Finder.com may be eligible for up to $100, pending a final fairness hearing. Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Nov. 11, 2013.
  • BP gasoline. Residents of certain states who purchased gasoline at certain retail outlets in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin (and at one outlet in Ohio) between Aug. 13 and Sept. 7, 2012, and experienced engine or drivability issues may be eligible for reimbursement of gasoline purchase price, cost of repairs and additional expenses associated with repairs. Click here for details and claim form. Claim forms may be filed now. The deadline for filing a claim form is pending, but will be 30 days after the settlement is approved. A fairness hearing at which the court will review the settlement is scheduled for Nov. 26, 2013.
  • Naked Juice. Consumers who purchased certain Naked Juice products between September 27, 2007 and August 19, 2013 may be eligible for up to $75, pending a final fairness hearing on December 2. The company reached a settlement over allegations of falsely advertising the products as "all natural." Click here for details and claim form. Deadline for claim forms is Dec. 12, 2013.

If you know of a class action you’d like to suggest be added to the listing, email our editor at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

New resource offers tips for managing finances post-recession

Our country’s most recent recession had far-reaching consequences, and many Americans are still feeling the effects of the economic crisis today. Others were better able to weather the storm, and some even came through with better financial habits and stronger money management skills than they had before.

In late summer, Consumer Action educational partner Chase Blueprint released the results of a survey of 1,242 U.S. consumers it commissioned from the Aite Group. The survey findings, outlined in a report titled “How Have Americans’ Financial Lives Rebounded From the Recession?,” help shed light on how consumers emerged from a serious financial crisis and how they can meet future challenges. (Click here to download the full report from Chase Blueprint’s Mindful Spending Resource Center.)

Drawing on the survey’s detailed picture of how different demographic groups have fared, Consumer Action created a practical tip sheet consumers can use to maintain or improve their personal finances. The four-pager, “On the Rebound: Post-recession Tips for Fostering Your Personal Economic Recovery,” can be downloaded from the Consumer Action website. In addition to tips ranging from how to cut costs to how to deal with unaffordable debt payments, the resource includes a section that addresses specifically the segment (21%) of consumers who are still reeling from the recession.

“Despite an overarching message that the nation’s economy is again humming along, we know that many consumers are still struggling,” said Linda Sherry, Consumer Action’s director of national priorities. “While consumers now are generally more optimistic about their personal finances, it is important they not lose focus on maintaining mindful spending and borrowing habits as economic conditions continue to improve.”

A Google Hangout on Air originally scheduled for Sept. 26 to discuss the survey results and steps consumers can take to improve their own financial lives has been postponed. The panel event, to be hosted by Consumer Action and sponsored by Chase Blueprint, is tentatively planned for Thursday, Oct. 24 at 4 p.m. Eastern. Watch your email for our invitation and RSVP link.

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.

Tags/Keywords

consumer action, consumer rights, do not track, class actions, flyers rights, airline fees


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