Consumer Action INSIDER - December 2022


What people are saying

"This is extremely important work! I am so grateful [for] the continued advocacy you provide for those in our communities. There is much work yet to be done, but if we can spread the word to "open the eyes" of those who are participating in creating the barriers, perhaps change will occur. Thank you for the presentation today.” —Amy Longmore, AOWN, Scottsbluff, NE (see story below, and view the “Restoring Trust: Working to eradicate housing insecurity and expand access to credit” webinar on Consumer Action’s YouTube channel)

Heartfelt honors at Consumer Action’s 51st anniversary awards ceremony

By Ruth Susswein

Consumer Action’s annual awards reception last month brought together 100 or so advocates, community group staff and corporate supporters, who enthusiastically shared how much they enjoyed the special evening devoted to honoring some of the nation’s consumer champions who work diligently to better the everyday lives of individual Americans. Consumer Action’s 51st Consumer Excellence Awards reception was held Nov. 16 in Washington, D.C., hosted by AT&T at its spacious Forum for Technology, Entertainment & Policy.

Buoyed by awardee Senator Ed Markey’s good humor and disarming storytelling, this year’s awards reception was an opportunity to publicly honor the work done by consumer advocates to strengthen financial protections and improve the lives of low-income consumers, defend airline passenger rights, protect individual privacy, and hold public figures accountable.

Each November, as part of its anniversary celebration, Consumer Action recognizes a legislator or policymaker, a media outlet and a nonprofit community organization, chosen for their significant contributions to consumer protection.

This year, our Consumer Excellence Awards went to:

  • Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), for his 40-plus years representing consumers in Congress and passing laws to protect the environment, prioritize sustainable energy, improve telecommunications access, and protect the privacy of our personal information;
  • Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC), for its success and tenacity in helping to reform the student loan market, investigate industry abuses, hold for-profit colleges accountable, and help student loan borrowers receive debt relief; and
  •, for its commitment to monitoring and reporting on the factual accuracy of political and scientific claims in TV ads, debates, speeches, and through all forms of media.

Janet Domenitz, executive director of MASSPIRG, presented Senator Markey’s award. Mike Pierce and Persis Yu of SBPC accepted SBPC’s award, presented by Seth Frotman, general counsel at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a co-founder of SBPC with Pierce. Lori Robertson, managing editor of, accepted the organization's award, presented by Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post.

We also honored three individuals for their work to promote and improve individual consumer rights and protections. This year’s Special Recognition honorees were:

  • Rachel Mak, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC);
  • Brian Huseman, Amazon public policy; and
  • Cleo Stamatos, American National Standards Institute.

Consumer Action is grateful to the corporate sponsors who support our work educating and advocating for consumers. This year’s presenting sponsor was Amazon; leadership sponsors were BYJU’s, Google and Bank of America; and underwriting sponsors were Comcast/NBCUniversal, Capital One, Drumfire, JPMorgan Chase and Verizon. Other supporters were American Express, Association for Accessible Medicines, Enterprise, FICO, Square, AT&T, Achieve and Plaid. We also wish to thank donors David Balto, Neil Gendel, the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, Consumer Attorneys of California, Consumer Mom, CUNA Mutual Group, Cuneo, Gilbert & LaDuca, John Goodman, Stephen Brobeck, Arnie Berghoff, and an anonymous donor who contributed in memory of former Consumer Action Advocacy Director Cher McIntyre, who passed away earlier this year.

The event raised in excess of $300,000 for our unfunded programs, including our INSIDER and SCRAM GRAM newsletters, and call-handling for consumers speaking English, Chinese dialects and Spanish. Executive Director Ken McEldowney, who “Zoomed” in from California to welcome guests, heralded this year’s fundraiser as our most successful.

Our anniversary awards ceremony is Consumer Action’s only fundraiser of the year. To enable us to continue our education and advocacy work, please consider making a donation of any amount by clicking here. We appreciate your support!

To see photos of the event, click here.

Annual convening panel examines issue of housing insecurity

By Monica Steinisch

Last month, on the occasion of our 51st anniversary, Consumer Action hosted its annual virtual convening, which brings together a panel of experts to examine an issue of critical importance to the wellbeing of U.S. consumers. This year’s panel delved into the worsening problem of housing insecurity. Nearly 1,200 people from all across the U.S. (as well as a few from Guam, Puerto Rico and Canada) registered for the free webinar.

The United States is in the midst of a housing crisis. The inability to obtain—and maintain—affordable, safe and accessible housing is a problem for tens of millions of Americans. The contributing factors presented during the convening were wide-ranging, and included difficulty obtaining a mortgage for borrowers of color; a faulty, error-prone credit reporting and scoring system that does not paint an accurate picture of someone’s likelihood of paying the rent; credit invisibility; punitive screening policies; a lack of accessible homes for seniors and people with disabilities; low wages and inadequate government benefits (Social Security and Social Security Disability Income) in the face of high rents and increased energy costs; a lack of affordable housing for very low-income individuals and families; and rental housing being stockpiled by institutional investors or converted to other purposes (such as vacation or single-room rentals). While there have been slight improvements on some issues (rents have been decreasing a bit, and mortgage applications and closing rates for BIPOC homebuyers have ticked up), Consumer Action and other advocates say much more is needed to reverse course.

Speaking on these issues were Gabe del Rio, president and CEO of Homeownership Council of America; attorney Kevin Rabin, director of litigation at Three Rivers Legal Services; Mike Koprowski, national campaign director for National Low Income Housing Coalition; Mia Ives-Rublee, director of the Disability Justice Initiative for Center for American Progress; and Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney with National Consumer Law Center.

"The information provided by the excellent presenters was invaluable,” said attendee Leisette Rodriguez, with Bet Tzedek Legal Services, in Los Angeles. “In this current market, it is imperative to know the bases and data available demonstrating the barriers BIPOC and disabled communities face in accessing credit and home ownership. I feel better prepared to understand the complexities my clients face and how to support them.”

The presentation was made possible through financial support from our presenting sponsor, Walmart, and from Capital One, Amazon, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

To view the three-part recording of the “Restoring Trust: Working to eradicate housing insecurity and expand access to credit” webinar, including the speakers’ recommendations for combatting housing insecurity—among them, tax credits to individuals, and a ban on the use of credit reports and scores for non-credit purposes—visit Consumer Action’s YouTube channel.

Coalition Efforts: Supporting broader complaint data and safe airplane seat size

By Monica Steinisch

Consumer Action and its allies recently called on policymakers and regulators about these important issues:

Strong support for expanding data gathered as part of CFPB complaint process. Consumer Action led allies in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget supporting the collection of additional consumer data in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) online complaint form. The groups believe that including language preference, sex and race will help the CFPB better monitor, analyze and report on access to fair and affordable credit for underserved communities. The signing organizations pointed out that that these optional questions should also be asked of consumers who complain by phone, as the availability of voice translation services means limited-English-speakers are more likely to complain by phone. At the same time, the CFPB complaint system should be expanded to enable in-language (particularly Spanish) complaints online. The groups further recommended that the data the Bureau collects on language preference, sex and race be shared with the public on a regular basis—at a minimum, in each year’s Consumer Response Annual Report, and in the CFPB’s publicly available Complaint Database. Finally, the signers encouraged the Bureau to not request household income (to avoid the risk that it could have a chilling effect on consumer participation in the complaint process); recommended that only partial Social Security Numbers (SSN) be requested for complaints, and only when absolutely necessary; suggested that consumers be given a way to encrypt a complaint containing sensitive information; and proposed that an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) be accepted for those without an SSN. Read the letter here.

Effort to ensure safe airplane seat size continues in comments to the FAA. Consumer Action joined National Consumers League, American Economic Liberties Project, Consumer Federation of America, Ed Perkins on Travel, and U.S. PIRG in comments submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding airplane seat size. The groups pointed out that inadequate and outdated emergency evacuation testing procedures will allow air carriers to cram increasing numbers of passengers into unsafe seating arrangements, and that data the FAA relies on in its decision-making process is not representative of the flying public. To avoid further reductions in seat size, the coalition members recommended that: the FAA place an immediate moratorium on air carriers installing smaller seats on planes; before determining minimum seat dimensions, the FAA update its emergency evacuation testing standards and retest emergency evacuations for current air carrier seating arrangements; and, the FAA establish a minimum seat size of 32 inches in pitch (essentially, legroom) and 20 inches in width (or larger, should the FAA or health experts determine more space is necessary for the health and safety of passengers). Read the letter here.

Protect hurricane victims from negative credit reporting in aftermath of disaster. Tens of thousands of Americans were severely impacted by Hurricanes Fiona and Ian, both physically and financially. Consumers have lost their homes, had their jobs interrupted, suffered other unexpected expenses, and/or face dislocation for many months. The last thing these beleaguered consumers need is damage to their credit reports and scores from bills that they unavoidably missed due to the fallout of these hurricanes, through no fault of their own. Consumer Action and 25 other advocacy organizations wrote to the CFPB, OCC, FHFA, FHA, FDIC, NCUA and FRB, urging the agencies to encourage the lenders that they regulate or oversee to refrain from reporting negative information for hurricane victims to the nationwide consumer reporting agencies (CRAs)—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. At a minimum, wrote the organizations, lenders should be encouraged to follow the credit reporting provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Specifically, if a consumer is able to obtain an accommodation from a lender (a forbearance, a payment deferral, a partial payment agreement, or a loan modification), then the lender should report the same status for the account as it stood prior to the accommodation (assuming the consumer is in compliance with the terms of the accommodation). Read the letter here.

Protect consumers from widescale nuisance and fraudulent text messages. In response to a notice of proposed rulemaking, Consumer Action and seven other advocacy organizations submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), urging the agency to take steps to protect consumers from widescale nuisance and fraud facilitated through unwanted and illegal text messages placed through the U.S. telephone network. The groups recommended that the FCC: 1) protect consumers from illegal telemarketing texts by clarifying its own regulations in a way that that would dramatically reduce the number of texts that violate these rules; 2) ensure that the voluntary efforts employed by CTIA and its industry partners to place meaningful limits on unwanted texts sent by law-abiding groups for fundraising, political, survey or other purposes remain effective; 3) prioritize the development of ways to eliminate scam texts, especially those that include URLs (which often lead to imposter websites that solicit personal information to be used for theft of funds from accounts, identity theft and other scams); and 4) consider how it might protect consumers from non-SMS text messaging, such as iMessage, and scams perpetrated over other messaging apps. Read the letter here.

CFPB Watch: ‘Shoddy’ background checks and dispute investigations

By Ruth Susswein

Too often, tenant background reports are filled with falsehoods and unvalidated information, leaving renters to bear the consequences, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which recently released a report on the tenant screening industry.

The mistakes that some tenant reports are riddled with can make or break a tenant’s chance of renting (or can cost them significantly more in rent). Tenant screening reports typically contain one’s credit history, criminal records, judgments, liens, eviction filings (even if, ultimately, the renter was never actually evicted), credit scores, and often the screening company’s own “risk score,” which landlords frequently rely on to decide whether or not to rent to someone.

Oddly, the Bureau found that:

  • Rental payment history is “overwhelmingly not reflected” in tenant background reports;
  • The automated systems that corporate landlords rely on substitute an algorithmic risk score for a more human and holistic renter evaluation used by most small landlords; and
  • Tenant screening companies seem inclined to include negative information “even if that information might be inaccurate.”

What’s more, renters often must pay for their own screening reports, but do not see them prior to the rental decision, and, when information is wrong, old or misleading, they have a very difficult time getting the errors resolved.

The CFPB analyzed 26,700 consumer complaints about tenant background checks and conducted focus groups with 44 renters. The vast majority of complaints were related to inaccurate information in the report. Others complained about problems correcting errors, difficulty removing outdated or expunged records, and misuse of these background checks.

The Bureau found that many landlords do not consistently provide prospective tenants with an adverse action notice, which alerts consumers to their legal right to a free copy of the report and to dispute any false information in their credit—and tenant—reports.

“These background reports are heavily used by corporate landlords that own an increasing share of rental housing in our country, so we are taking steps to ensure these reports do not contain false information,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. The CFPB is working closely with the FTC to investigate tenant screening companies.

For a detailed look at the problems with tenant screening reports, and potential solutions, see Consumer Action News.

CFPB informs and warns of credit bureau and company responsibility

What consumers complain about most to the CFPB continues to be incorrect information on their credit reports and the failure of companies to investigate or correct those errors. Inaccurate data on a credit report can ruin a consumer’s chances of obtaining credit, loans, a mortgage or employment, and those errors can haunt the consumer for years.

The Bureau recently issued a notice reminding both credit bureaus and data furnishers (companies that report consumer data to the bureaus) that they have a legal duty to investigate when consumers dispute information on their credit record. Credit bureaus have five business days to report a consumer’s dispute to the furnisher and to supply whatever proof the consumer has provided to solve the error. They are prohibited from requiring consumers to submit specific information before opening an investigation.

The message was clear: Even without documentation, credit bureaus and companies are required to investigate consumers’ disputes. Consumers have the right to have disputed information corrected.

In early 2022, the CFPB released a report detailing that the Big Three bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) relied heavily on template responses to consumers’ disputes rather than providing a meaningful, targeted reply, and failed to send dispute outcomes to consumers.

Consumers who have unresolved credit or tenant report disputes can report them to the CFPB for assistance, online or by phone (855-411-CFPB [2372]).

Class Action Database: American Airlines to refund groundless baggage fees

By Monica Steinisch

A class action settlement alleging that LeafFilter North’s gutter screens allowed debris to build up, preventing rainwater from passing through to the gutters, was among the new settlements added to the Consumer Action Class Action Database during November.

Of note this month is a class action settlement in a case against American Airlines. The suit alleged that the airline failed to honor its promise to waive checked bag fees for holders of affiliated credit cards and frequent or first-class flyers. American Airlines has agreed to pay out at least $7.5 million to settle the suit. You are part of the settlement class if you were charged by American Airlines to check a bag on or after Feb. 24, 2017, for tickets purchased before April 9, 2020, and: (1) you received an email stating you could check one or more bags for that ticketed trip at no charge; and/or (2) you were an American Citi or Barclay’s credit card holder traveling within the U.S. and were charged to check your bag, or you were traveling internationally and charged to check your first bag for the domestic portion of the itinerary.

The company will provide full refunds of improperly-charged baggage fees, ranging from $25.00 to $200.00 for each checked bag, for customers who file valid claims by the due date.

The claims deadline is Feb. 22, 2023.

About Consumer Action

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Consumer Action is a nonprofit 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 both in 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, visitors have instant access to important consumer news, downloadable materials, an online “help desk,” the Take Action advocacy database, and more. 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. Our in-language media outreach allows us to share scam alerts and other timely consumer news with a wide non-English-speaking audience.

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 more than 6,500 community-based organizations. Outreach services include in-person and web-based training and bulk 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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