Consumer Action INSIDER- June 2022


What people are saying

Thank you for consistently providing quality training! —Shanel Morrow, Fleet and Family Support Centers (FFSC), Chula Vista, CA, about Consumer Action’s March 22 “COVID-19 and the Impact on Small Businesses” webinar

Did you know?

Google announced in late April that individuals can submit removal requests for Google Search results containing personal information about them that might put them in danger. In an article about the move, WIRED noted: “It can be frightening to have your email address, phone number, or home address pop up in a search result, and you need to take action to protect your privacy.” While Google says not every request will be honored, the company will consider requests to block specific search engine results if that information poses significant risk of identity theft, financial fraud, stalking, violence, etc. This includes information such as your street address, personal email or cell phone number posted by someone who wants to harm you (“doxxing”). Learn more about the requirement for removing personally identifiable info (PII) or doxxing content from Google Search.

PG&E funds Consumer Action to address energy poverty

By Audrey Perrott

Consumer Action was among a dozen or so nonprofits selected to receive a grant from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), California’s largest gas and electricity provider, to support an education and outreach project with the goal of increasing enrollment in a variety of PG&E programs that make it easier for low-income households to maintain utility service.

Energy poverty—the inability to pay household energy bills—can be the result of high energy costs, low income and poor energy efficiency. Millions of American households regularly struggle to pay their energy bill in full. And now, with the utility shutoff moratoriums that were put in place during the pandemic having ended, consumers also are struggling with overdue charges that accrued during the crisis. With this PG&E grant, Consumer Action aims to serve disadvantaged communities, seniors, minority, immigrant and migrant consumers by building awareness of, and enrollment in, relief programs.

Many eligible consumers never apply for assistance programs because they are unaware of them or (often mistakenly) think they do not qualify, yet the benefits can be significant and are worth pursuing. For example, the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) program provides a discount of at least 20% on gas and electricity, and the Family Electric Rate Assistance (FERA) program provides a discount of 18% on electricity only. (To see if you qualify for CARE or FERA in PG&E’s service area, visit this webpage. At the bottom of the application, it will ask if a community contractor is assisting with the application. Select “Yes” and enter Consumer Action’s COC code 2643. If you live outside of PG&E’s service area, contact your local utility provider about the utility assistance programs it offers.)

With the Arrearage Management Program (AMP), PG&E customers are able to get up to $8,000 of a past due balance forgiven if they are enrolled in CARE or FERA, owe at least $500 in gas and electricity or $250 in gas only, and their bills are at least 90 days delinquent. (Call 800-743-5000 to apply.)

The Medical Baseline Program provides an ongoing energy bill discount to customers with qualifying medical conditions or devices (e.g., asthma, sleep apnea, a motorized wheelchair/scooter). Participating customers also receive enhanced notification of a planned Public Safety Power Shutoff. (PG&E customers can apply online.)

These and other programs can help reduce energy bills, improve energy efficiency and keep families safe.

Throughout the project, Consumer Action will collaborate with community-based organizations (CBOs) to offer enrollment events, provide trainings, publish feature articles and conduct media interviews. The project and PG&E’s assistance programs will be promoted in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Consumer Action works to combat income vulnerability in the lives of low- and moderate-income (LMI), limited-English-speaking and other underrepresented consumers. We accomplish our mission through education, outreach and advocacy. If you or someone you know are living in PG&E’s service area and are unable to pay, or need assistance in reducing, your energy bill, visit’s PG&E’s website.

Hotline Chronicles: Avoiding ATM fees

By Linda Sherry

Carol* from South Carolina contacted Consumer Action’s hotline to complain about “double dipping” fees when she uses her Bank of America card at an ATM machine not affiliated with Bank of America. “Why should I be charged twice?” she asks.

Banks charge fees to non-customers who use their ATMs, and independently owned, non-bank ATMs charge all users. When you use an ATM not owned by your bank, you can get hit with two ATM fees—a “non-network” ATM fee from your own bank as well as one charged by the ATM you’re using. Most terminals warn you about these fees and allow you to stop the transaction, but, often, convenience wins out and customers accept the fee.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, in a 2019 report, determined that a large portion of banks’ revenue comes from noninterest income, like overdraft fees and ATM charges. It posited that banks’ greater reliance on noninterest income makes up for declines in interest income. Not the most convincing of explanations—appeasing shareholders sounds more like it!

However, with concerted effort, you can avoid ATM fees. Obviously, you can save on ATM fees by using your own bank or credit union's machines, but this is easier if you bank with an institution with a widespread ATM network. That leaves out many local banks and credit unions. Fortunately, many banks and credit unions offer to waive one or more monthly non-network ATM fees. Sometimes, but not always, you can get ATM fees waived if you keep large checking and/or savings account balances. Some institutions not only will waive the “non-network fee,” but will reimburse customers for the third-party fee. Ask your bank how you can qualify for these perks.

A good way to avoid ATM fees when you can’t use your bank’s own ATMs is to ask for “cash back” when you use your debit card at point-of-sale terminals in grocery stores and other merchants offering cash back.

If you find you can't avoid fees, take out larger sums less frequently. You’ll pay the same fee for $20 as for $100 or more, so you’ll pay less overall than you would by paying the fee on multiple smaller withdrawals.

To learn more about opening and managing a bank account, check out our ““Banking Basics” and “Checking/Savings Accounts” educational guides.

*Not this consumer’s real name

California Privacy Initiative webinar explains privacy rights

By Nelson Santiago

Consumer Action hosted a webinar last month about how Californians can exercise their rights under the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), a groundbreaking law that protects state residents against privacy violations by businesses with annual gross revenues of more than $25 million; that buy, receive or sell the personal information of 50,000 or more California residents per year; or that make at least half of their annual revenue from selling California residents' personal information. The webinar is part of the California Privacy Initiative, a joint project of Consumer Action and the Consumer Federation of America.

The webinar was designed as a train-the-trainer geared to community-based educators and advocates. The expert guest speakers were Hayley Tsukayama, senior legislative activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a national nonprofit defending digital privacy, free speech and innovation; Girard Kelly, senior counsel and director of the privacy program for Common Sense Media, a leading children's privacy group; and Stacey Schesser, supervising deputy attorney general for the privacy unit in the California Attorney General’s (AG) consumer protection office. Susan Grant, senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America, joined Consumer Action's Linda Williams in leading an interactive quiz based on Consumer Action and CFA's "Survey Report: Too Many Californians Are Still Unaware of Privacy Rights." (Click here to read the report.)

Tsukayama provided an overview of consumers’ key rights under the CCPA as well as some background information about what privacy law looked like before passage of the CCPA. She explained, for example, that prior to the CCPA, privacy laws protected data in specific situations that might be narrow in their scope, such as information a patient shared with a doctor. Yet, when a consumer shared the same information with a company like Google or Amazon, such as through a fitness app or web search, the information would not be covered by medical privacy laws. This is why laws like the CCPA are very important, Tsukayama explained: They take a much broader approach to protecting privacy. Tsukuyama discussed key CCPA rights, including the right to know what personal information companies have about you, the right to delete that information, and the right to tell companies not to sell your information. She also described new rights taking effect in 2023, when CCPA amendments under the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) will allow consumers to correct inaccurate personal information and to opt out of use and disclosure of "sensitive" personal information, a new category of data under the CPRA.

Common Sense's Kelly was on hand to provide details about how the CCPA and CPRA impact kids and families. He explained, for example, that a business cannot sell the data of children under the age of 16. However, a parent or guardian may opt in to the sale of data of their child under 13; and teens over the age of 13 but under the age of 16 can opt in on their own to the sale of their data. Kelly recommended resources for learning more and for help with exercising CCPA privacy rights. These included Common Sense Media's website, which consumers can use to request that companies not sell their personal data.

The webinar was rounded out by the California AG’s Schesser, who discussed how her office has been enforcing the CCPA, as well as how consumers can be more engaged as the new California Privacy Protection Agency moves forward with formal rulemaking. Schesser encouraged webinar participants to file complaints with the AG’s office if they believe a business is in violation of the CCPA. She also explained that consumers can use the attorney general’s privacy tool to generate their own notices to businesses about violations of the CCPA. These notices could later be used by the AG to show that the business had notice of the violation.

The webinar presented much more valuable information about Californians’ privacy rights—watch it here. You can help support our work by subscribing to Consumer Action's YouTube channel.

Consumer Action participates in virtual state resource fair

By Nelson Santiago

In April, during National Financial Capability Month, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) put on its annual resource fair. This year's fair was presented in webinar format and highlighted several exhibitors and resources promoting consumer financial empowerment and security. The webinar offered participants practical tools to better manage their money, tips for saving for the future, and—this is where Consumer Action came in—tips for safeguarding personal and financial information.

This writer participated in the cyber fraud roundtable discussion, moderated by Christina Tetreault, Deputy Commissioner of DFPI’s Office of Financial Technology and Innovation (OFTI). Other panelists included Michael Sohn, supervisory special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Kathy Stokes, fraud prevention programs director with AARP. The fraud panel focused on current cyber fraud trends, steps consumers should take if they become scam victims, and how to avoid becoming a target or a victim of a scam.

Sohn explained that one ongoing type of fraud the FBI is seeing is the business email compromise (BEC). In this scam, fraudsters target employees with access to company finances and trick them into making wire transfers to accounts controlled by criminals, as explained in this article. Sohn recommended that BEC scam victims file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). He further recommended that anyone getting an email asking to change where a payment should be sent pick up the phone and call the person requesting the change directly. Sohn also urged webinar viewers to use two-factor and multi-factor authentication to protect any account that requires them to log in.

Stokes described online romance fraud as one of the worst types of scams—one that has not only a financial impact, but also a profound emotional impact. Scammers research their targets and do everything they can to charm them. Eventually, weeks or months later, the criminal asks for money. Stokes explained that they have also recently seen romance scammers claiming to be very good at investing in cryptocurrency and asking their targets to invest their money—initially through a legitimate cryptocurrency exchange, but later through a fake exchange, where the victim loses access to their funds. Stokes explained that research shows that if you know about a specific scam, you're 80% less likely to engage with it; and that if you do engage with it, you're 40% less likely to lose money or sensitive information. (To avoid being victimized, consumers can stay in the know about scams by subscribing to Consumer Action's SCAM GRAM newsletter and AARP's Fraud Watch Network alerts.)

Consumer Action believes it’s crucial to learn to recognize the signs of a scam. Red flags include unexpected communications; demands for money or information; a promise that the consumer will receive something desirable, or a threat of an impending harm; a sense of urgency; and a request for payment in a form that's difficult to trace, reverse or recover—gift card, wire transfer or peer-to-peer payment platform, for example. This writer related to the audience some of the complaints recently received on Consumer Action's hotline, all of which featured one or more of these red flags. It is important that victims of scams report them to any financial institution involved in the transaction, as well as to the FTC, the FBI, and local and state consumer protection offices.

Check out the recorded webinar for more tips on avoiding fraud and what steps victims can take, plus additional financial capability resources from the FDIC and several state agencies.

Coalition Efforts: Urging enhanced investor protections, fair reporting for trafficking victims, and restoration of monetary relief

By Monica Steinisch

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

Restore FTC’s power to obtain monetary relief for harmed consumers. Consumer Action joined its allies in urging Congress to ensure that harmed consumers receive just compensation by passing the Consumer Protection Remedies Act of 2022. For over 40 years, consumers received meaningful monetary relief from wrongdoers under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act. However, the Supreme Court’s decision in AMG Capital Management v. FTC, in 2021, changed the scope of the FTC’s enforcement authority to one in which the agency is limited to filing injunctions in federal court to stop companies from harming consumers. Congress must fix this. We support Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) bill, which would restore the FTC’s ability to obtain monetary relief for harmed consumers. Click here to read the coalition letter.

New rules needed to ensure investors in private funds have adequate information. Consumer Action joined Americans for Financial Reform and more than two dozen other consumer protection organizations in urging the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to implement new rules that would provide crucial information to investors in private funds (such as hedge funds and private equity firms) so that they can make informed decisions. The growth in private funds has greatly outpaced the rules governing those funds, putting investors at risk. Among other things, the proposed updated rules would require: a detailing of all the different fees and expenses charged by the fund; disclosure of how the fund’s return (performance) figures are calculated; mandatory annual fund audits; and a prohibition on certain hidden conflicts and fees that unduly enrich the fund adviser at the expense of investors. Click here to read the coalition letter.

Excessive care warranted for retirement plan cryptocurrency offerings. Consumer Action and a dozen other advocacy organizations representing consumers, workers and retirees signed on to a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) expressing support for the agency’s Compliance Assistance Release cautioning those who select investment options for employee retirement plans to exercise excessive care when considering including cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies can exhibit extreme price volatility; can be extraordinarily difficult to evaluate; are at a heightened risk of fraud, theft and loss; and may not be subject to existing regulatory frameworks. Given these risks, it is appropriate at this stage in the market's evolution—and entirely consistent with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA)—that the DOL caution plan fiduciaries to be extremely careful when considering exposing plan participants to cryptocurrency assets. Click here to read the coalition letter.

Enable trafficking victims to get a fresh start through limits on consumer reporting. Consumer Action, along with more than a dozen survivor advocacy and consumer groups, joined the National Consumer Law Center in submitting comments supporting the CFPB’s proposed rulemaking regarding the inclusion of adverse information in the consumer reports of trafficking victims. Human trafficking affects hundreds of thousands of victims and families nationwide. Many victims suffer from financial abuse at the hands of their traffickers, who realize that by destroying their victims’ credit history and accumulating debt in their names, their victims will be unable to break free because they won’t be able to rent a home, purchase a car or get a job. The CFPB’s proposed rule would, among other things, make it easier for survivors to report their trafficked status to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs); require CRAs to block adverse information in consumer reports; and make the rules applicable to all CRAs, including the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) as well as specialty agencies focused on areas such as tenant screening, employment screening, bank account screening, insurance, utility service, etc. Click here to read the coalition letter.

CFPB Watch: Illegal auto repossessions, debt relief fees, and your right to know why credit account was closed

By Ruth Susswein

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reports that car loan servicers often illegally repossess cars due to poor information or sloppy servicing. Access to one’s car is so vital to maintaining employment that wrongful repossessions are extraordinarily harmful to consumers. In today’s hot car market, the CFPB notes, auto lenders and investors might be tempted to use illegal tactics to seize vehicles for resale.

As part of its oversight of the auto loan market, the Bureau has discovered that some loan servicers are seizing cars from borrowers who have arranged for a special repayment plan.

Poor recordkeeping and repossessions that went ahead despite cancellations are the causes of other unlawful repossessions. Still others are due to inaccurate loan information that leads borrowers to pay less than required on their car loan.

The Bureau warns that these practices are illegal and that they are carefully monitoring the auto lending market for violators.

Holding lenders and servicers accountable

The CFPB is helping to hold mortgage servicers accountable to borrowers, even though servicers view their customers as the mortgage holders, who pay their fees, not the consumers who take out the loans. The Bureau has weighed in with a friend of the court (amicus) brief explaining how revisions to Regulation X (Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act) in 2013 imposed new requirements on mortgage servicers to respond to consumers’ requests for information.

According to the CFPB, servicers formerly had only to respond to questions about receiving mortgage payments. Now borrowers have the right under Regulation X to receive a reply to just about any written question they submit about their home loans.

What’s more, the consumer watchdog is advising lenders that, under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), they have an obligation to consumers before and after a loan application. In a recently published opinion, the Bureau spelled out that the fair lending law designed to prevent discrimination protects borrowers both before and after they receive credit. In practice, that means that if a credit line is reduced or closed, the lender must provide notice (called an “adverse action notice”) so borrowers know the reasons for lenders’ unfavorable decisions.

Refunds for illegal student loan debt relief fees

Nearly $9 million will be returned to consumers who had cancelled their enrollment in a student loan debt relief plan but never received a refund. The CFPB had sued debt relief payment processors RAM Payment LLC and Account Management Systems (AMS) and their founders for collecting and disbursing debt relief fees before borrowers’ student loan debts had been renegotiated. The Bureau also charged the firms with lying to consumers about when the fees would be paid out and for failing to return funds after a plan was cancelled.

In addition to ordering the Tennessee firm to repay $8.7 million to borrowers who had not received refunds, the Bureau has banned the owners of RAM Payment and AMS from the debt relief payment processing industry. The owners must also pay a $3 million penalty to the CFPB victims relief fund.

In a separate suit, debt relief and debt settlement companies Performance SLC and Performance Settlement LLC were accused of illegally collecting $1,000 to $1,450 in upfront fees for student loan debt relief, and for “tricking” consumers into enrolling in loan consolidation and loan forgiveness programs.

According to the CFPB, Performance sales reps lured borrowers in with tales of “qualifying” for personal loans. Then borrowers would be declined for a loan and allegedly steered into signing up for debt resolution services. Here, too, the California companies’ owners are banned from working in the debt relief and debt settlement industries. Performance SLC will pay a $30,000 penalty, and consumers will receive financial relief from the Bureau’s victims relief fund.

Class Action Database: StubHub returns hidden fees

By Rose Chan

A class action settlement involving finger scans without consumers’ consent on Compass Group vending machines was among nine new settlements added to the Consumer Action Class Action Database during May.

Of note this month is the settlement in Susan Wang, et al. v. StubHub, Inc., which gives an account credit or cash back to those who bought tickets in California using the StubHub website.

The plaintiffs filed a class action against StubHub claiming that the advertising of ticket prices on the company’s website was deceptive and misleading.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued guidance in 2013 for online advertising and sales in which it stated that disclosures must be made in a clear and conspicuous manner before the consumer adds a product to the shopping cart. However, when searching for tickets on StubHub’s website, buyers would see only the initial ticket price, without the fees. When the buyer proceeded to checkout, he or she would need to click on a separate link to see how much the fees were. Even then, plaintiffs say, these costs were not broken down and were not based on a standard amount, but varied from 24% to 29% of the initial ticket price for tickets delivered by digital download. Consumers were led to believe fees were based on StubHub’s actual cost to process and deliver tickets. Attorneys for the plaintiffs charge that the fees generated profit for StubHub, and this should have been disclosed.

StubHub denied the allegations but agreed to a settlement to end the lawsuit.

The settlement provides $2.5 million in cash payments and $20 million in StubHub credits. Class members who submit a valid claim form may be eligible for either a StubHub credit estimated to be between $80 and $133 or a cash payment of up to $20.

You are part of the class if you purchased at least one ticket on StubHub’s website or mobile website, while in California, between Sept. 1, 2015, and Sept. 1, 2019.

Excluded from the settlement are consumers who bought tickets on StubHub’s mobile app.

The claims deadline is June 25, 2022.

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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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