Consumer Action INSIDER - May 2023


What people are saying

"Today's webinar, Women and Money, was enlightening, full of valuable information, and kept my attention throughout. It has given me the necessary information to take that step I had been fearful of. If this course was offered for a corporation, it would be worth over $1,000. I am thankful for this opportunity."

—Veda Vazquez, Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Coatesville, PA (view the “Empowering Financial Wellness: Women and money” webinar on our YouTube channel)

Consumer Action represented at AAPI scams briefing

By Monica Steinisch

Consumer Action was one of a group of federal and local agencies, community activists, legal experts, ethnic media outlets and victims hosted by the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Western Regional Office at a roundtable discussion on scams—particularly schemes targeting Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. The goal of the March 30 forum, held at San Francisco’s World Affairs Center, was to raise public awareness about the long and growing list of scams and schemes that consumers need to look out for and to encourage those targeted by scammers to report them. Consumers lost a record $8 billion to scams last year.

The event was part of a series of convenings across the country to hear directly about the types of scams targeting particular communities. San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu, who spoke at the event, said his office has fielded a flood of reports about scams targeting largely immigrant and minority populations.

Jamie Woo represented Consumer Action at the event. Fluent in Mandarin and three Chinese dialects (Cantonese, Taisan and Taiwanese), Woo is our lead Chinese-language outreach team member, responsible for translating consumer education materials, responding to in-language media requests, working with CBOs serving Asian consumers, giving community presentations, and directly assisting Chinese-speaking consumers who contact us. She provided attendees with information about Consumer Action’s work and relayed some of the scam reports we’ve received. She also shared our efforts to help consumers protect themselves, including the publication of our monthly SCAM GRAM newsletter.

Following the presentations and discussion, Woo was approached for interviews by various media outlets in attendance, including KTSF/Channel 26 (pictured), the largest Chinese-language broadcast station in Northern California (her interview aired that evening on the channel’s 7:00 and 10:00 broadcasts); Sky Link TV, a Chinese satellite TV network in the U.S.; and World Journal, the largest Chinese-language newspaper in the country.

Consumer Action promotes money-saving PG&E programs at Stockton ‘Eggstravaganza’

By Audrey Perrott

Last month, Consumer Action attended Stockton’s “Eggstravaganza”—a day of family fun, including an Easter egg hunt, at community centers around the city (located in California’s Central Valley). Our staff members were on location at the Stribley Community Center in south Stockton to educate migrant, immigrant, minority, senior and other disadvantaged communities about money- and energy-saving programs offered by PG&E, California’s largest gas and electricity provider. In addition to providing information, the Consumer Action team helped visitors complete program applications, in both English and Spanish, and distributed Easter-themed goodies and PG&E swag. The outreach effort was part of the work we’ve been doing since last year under a grant from PG&E to address energy poverty and increase enrollment in a variety of PG&E programs that make it easier for low-income households to maintain utility service. 

“People are suffering in silence. Our team has met with consumers who have astronomical utility bills because of arrearages from the pandemic. We are moving swiftly to assist them with completing applications to lower their bills, and are also reporting what we see and hear on the ground to PG&E,” said Audrey Perrott, who staffed the Consumer Action table (pictured) along with coworker Nelson Santiago.

Our staff are collaborating with community-based organizations (CBOs) in our nationwide network and various government agencies to disseminate information about PG&Es many money- and energy-saving programs, including: California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE), which provides a discount of at least 20% on gas and electricity; Family Electric Rate Assistance (FERA), which provides a discount of 18% on electricity; Medical Baseline, which provides a discount to customers with qualifying medical conditions or devices (e.g., asthma, sleep apnea, a motorized wheelchair/scooter); the Arrearage Management Plan (AMP), which forgives up to $8,000 of a past-due balance if the customer is enrolled in CARE or FERA, owes at least $500 in gas and electricity or $250 in gas only, and has bills at least 90 days delinquent; and Energy Savings Assistance (ESA), which offers free energy-efficient improvements for consumers whose home (rented or purchased) is five years or older. 

Many consumers never apply for the programs because they are either unaware of them or think they do not qualify. Our staff is participating in community events, hosting in-person enrollment events, doing zoom presentations, giving media interviews, and conducting workshops to help get the word out. We want to meet people where they are and connect them with viable resources to lower their energy bill, improve their financial health and increase energy efficiency. In addition to the Stockton event, Consumer Action’s team spread the word at sites in Berkeley, San Jose and San Francisco in April; more outreach events are scheduled for this month. 

If you are unsure whether you qualify for PG&E’s programs, or you know consumers who are in need of assistance, please have them reach out to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Out and About: Airline passenger rights coalition meets with Transportation Secretary Buttigieg

By Monica Steinisch

Consumer Action’s director of consumer protection, Ruth Susswein, joined fellow airline passenger rights advocates at a Washington, D.C., meeting with the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. While the coalition regularly meets with the Aviation Office to advance airline passenger rights, this session was a follow-up to a meeting with Secretary Buttigieg held nearly two years ago, in July 2021.

While advocates acknowledged the important headway the agency has made—for example, establishing the Airline Customer Service Dashboard—there is still much work to be done. Among advocates’ asks were significant fines for flight overbookings that result in denied boarding; compensation for travelers when flights are significantly delayed for reasons other than weather; and family seating with no extra fees (currently promised by only three of the 10 airlines on the Dashboard). With top Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) staff also at the meeting, the safety issues of airline seat size and aircraft maintenance were also broached. 

Susswein says Secretary Buttigieg was very supportive of advocates’ recommendations and called passenger rights “a top priority.”

Consumer Action has long advocated for the expansion and strengthening of airline passenger rights—we even dedicated a 2018 edition of Consumer Action News to the issue—and we actively support passage of an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights.


Ruth Susswein, front row, second from right

A strong, funded CFPB and FTC were focus of Consumer Advocacy Week 2023

By Ruth Susswein

Consumer Advocacy Week, an annual week-long lobbying push, kicked off on April 17 this year. Consumer Action has been one of 10 national organizations that cosponsors Consumer Advocacy Week, and assists with planning what issues to lobby on; helps train groups on how best to advocate; and encourages engagement by inviting Consumer Action’s national network of community-based organizations to participate.

Nearly 200 state and local advocates registered for this year’s Consumer Advocacy Week, meeting virtually with members of Congress and their staffs in April to voice their strong support for two federal watchdog agencies that put consumers first. Participants lobbied for:

  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) independence and stable funding. A case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall that calls into question the Bureau’s constitutionality because the CFPB is funded outside of Congressional appropriations—as are all of the federal financial regulators. The case threatens to put the CFPB’s rules and casework regarding debt collectors, payday lenders, and mortgage and student loan servicers at risk. Advocates are asking Congress for their unambiguous support of the CFPB’s stable funding structure and its robust consumer protection functions, which have returned more than $16 billion to 190 million consumers, and their opposition to the Taking Account of Bureaucrats’ Spending (TABS) Act, which would force all CFPB funding to come from Congress. The law that created the CFPB specifically did not rely on the Congressional funding model because it would threaten the Bureau’s ability to function if lawmakers chose to defund the agency for political reasons.
  • A strong and fully funded Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC has proposed an auto dealer rule that would ban add-on products that do not provide additional benefit (like rustproofing that does not actually prevent rust) and would require auto dealers to disclose a simple, uniform, understandable price when selling a car. Advocates are asking Congress to support the auto dealer rule and the FTC’s good work reining in fraudsters; fully fund the agency; and restore the Commission’s Section 13(b) refund authority, which would allow the FTC to once again give financial relief to consumers who’ve been defrauded.

In advance of the virtual lobby meetings, state and national advocates gathered to discuss the key issues they would feature this year, with national groups providing the ‘do’s and don’ts’ to local organizations on how to effectively communicate key points to Congressional members and their staffs. Advocates explained how important it is to be organized and prepared for each visit, with specific roles divvied up in advance of the legislative meetings.

Consumer Advocacy Week is produced and sponsored by Americans for Financial Reform, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Consumer Law Center, National Consumers League, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG.

Free multilingual publications empower new investors

By Monica Steinisch

In September, we wrote about a new investor education initiative we were launching with funding from the Nasdaq Foundation. Since then, we’ve been busy creating and translating educational materials about the importance of investing as an accessible avenue to build wealth and how consumers who have little or no experience investing can get started. 

All three publications are available for free download in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean.

We’ve also presented two of the three webinars being created as part of the initiative, and they are available for viewing on Consumer Action’s YouTube channel.

  • Empowering Financial Wellness: Women and money explores topics aimed at narrowing the financial literacy and confidence gap for women, such as how to establish healthy financial habits, how to manage investment risk, and what resources are available to begin—or continue—learning about personal finance and investing.
  • Empowering Financial Wellness: Investing in yourself covers actions that will enable consumers to increase their wealth over the long term, such as identifying tools, accounts and strategies that will help them to make investing a lifelong practice.

There’s one more webinar in the series, on Tuesday, May 23, and it’s not too late to sign up to join us. Click here to register for Empowering Financial Wellness: The ABCs of wealth-building

To be sure you don’t miss out on future announcements about upcoming webinars and new publications, join our mailing list.

Last month to register for June Credit Building Symposium!

In the April issue of Consumer Action INSIDER, we let you know about the upcoming 10th Annual Credit Building Symposium, organized by longtime Consumer Action education and advocacy partner Credit Builders Alliance (CBA). There’s still time to sign up for the June 7-9 event, being held in Washington, D.C., where you’ll learn about the latest innovations in the credit field and will have the opportunity to develop and deepen relationships with credit building peers.

To register for the symposium, click here.  

Coalition Efforts

By Monica Steinisch

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

Pell Grant increase needed. More than 100 groups, including Consumer Action, wrote to the U.S. Senate and House Appropriations Committees, urging lawmakers to increase the maximum Pell Grant from the current $7,395 to $13,000. Pell Grants allow more than 7 million low- and middle-income students, including nearly 60% of Black undergraduates and almost half of Latino undergraduates, to attend and complete college each year. Yet, the current maximum Pell award still covers the lowest share of costs in the program’s 50-year history. Pell Grant recipients today are more than twice as likely as other students to have student loans, and recipients who borrow graduate with over $4,500 more debt than their higher-income peers. The grant increase would be an effective way to make college more affordable for millions of students and reduce the debt burden they graduate with. Read the letter here.

FinWise Bank’s actions warrant CRA rating downgrade. Consumer Action is part of a coalition of consumer advocates that submitted a letter to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) urging the agency to downgrade FinWise Bank’s Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) rating. FinWise Bank helps several nonbank lenders make predatory loans at APRs of up to 160% that the lenders cannot legally make directly because the triple-digit interest rates are prohibited by many states. Utah, where FinWise Bank is headquartered, is one of seven states that don’t have caps on loan interest rates. The loans that FinWise facilitates are not only usurious, they also pose a host of other consumer protection problems and potential legal violations, including debt collection abuses and credit reporting errors. Along with the letter, the groups submitted a sampling of the hundreds, if not thousands, of complaints made to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) about the three nonbank partners that make predatory loans with the help of FinWise. Signers contend that FinWise’s activities are anathema to the CRA, which requires financial institutions to help meet the credit needs of the communities they serve. Read the letter here

Support for California right-to-repair legislation. Consumer Action and allies wrote to the California Senate Judiciary Committee expressing support for SB 244, the Right to Repair Act. The legislation would ensure that consumers have the choice to fix their own electronics-enabled products—either on their own or by a repair servicer of their choosing. Not only are today’s electronics, from smartphones to appliances, frequently designed in a way to intentionally prevent easy repair, but manufacturers often restrict access to the basic diagnostic information, repair tools and replacement parts needed to fix the products. Some manufacturers even put digital locks and disabling tripwires on devices to block third-party repair. These tactics force consumers to rely on the manufacturer, or the manufacturer’s handpicked servicer, to fix these products. The manufacturer is then free to charge whatever it wishes, or even to refuse to repair the product and force the consumer to throw it away and buy a new product. Repair restrictions hurt consumers, a fact recognized by President Biden, the Federal Trade Commission and state leaders. (New York’s governor, in December, signed the first Right to Repair Act covering consumer electronics in the nation.) Ensuring an effective right to repair will expand consumer choice in the marketplace, save consumers money and reduce waste. Read the letter here.   

CFPB Watch: Refunds for credit repair, debt collection and financial aid abuses

By Ruth Susswein

More than $3 billion will be headed back into consumers’ pockets if a Utah judge grants the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) request that and Lexington Law return a record-setting $3.1 billion to consumers in fees and fines.

The CFPB says that the credit repair companies charged more than 4 million consumers illegal upfront fees “when no payment was due,” thus violating the advance-fee provision of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). Federal law requires that credit repair firms achieve some results before imposing any fees.

From 2016 through March 2023, consumers were charged a $15 initiation fee plus recurring monthly service fees. The Bureau is requesting that the companies, both owned by Progrexion, refund consumers, cease their illegal billing, and pay a $53 million penalty for their offenses. 

The CFPB is also insisting that any future contracts clearly state what services the credit repair companies will provide, in what specific time frame, and what result will trigger the customer’s obligation to pay what amount if that result is achieved and maintained for at least six months. 

Victims of debt collection abuse to see financial relief from repeat offender  

One of the nation’s largest debt collectors, Portfolio Recovery Associates, may be forced to pay $12 million to consumers for “illegal debt collection” and another $12 million in penalties into the CFPB Civil Penalty Fund (victims relief fund) for being a repeat offender.

“After getting caught red-handed in 2015, Portfolio Recovery Associates continued violating the law through intimidation, deception, and illegal debt collection tactics and lawsuits,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. 

The Bureau’s 2015 order required the debt collector to stop:

  • Collecting debts without a reasonable basis;
  • Filing false or misleading debt collection actions; and
  • Threatening or filing lawsuits without any plans to prove the debt.

If the court approves the Bureau’s plan, Portfolio Recovery also will be banned from collecting debts unless it has documents to verify that it is collecting on debts that consumers actually owe. The company will also have to conduct reasonable investigations into consumer disputes in a timely manner. 

Close to $5 million in refunds for bogus financial aid services

More than 78,000 people who paid the Student Financial Resource Center or the College Financial Advisory should see a check in their mailbox this month to compensate them for sham student financial aid services.

The CFPB sued parent company Global Financial Support, Inc. and its owner, Armond Aria, in 2015 for deceiving students and their families into paying a fee for an “illusory student financial aid program.” The company claimed to match prospective students with financial aid programs, and misled students and families into thinking they would lose their chance at financial aid unless they paid the company its fee by a deadline. The Student Financial Resource Center and College Financial Advisory were permanently banned from marketing, promoting or selling financial advisory services to consumers.

The CFPB has contracted with the company Epiq Global to return $4.7 million in ill-gotten funds to consumers. If you are entitled to a refund and have not received one, call 855-535-1825 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The funds are coming from the Bureau’s victims relief fund.

Class Action Database: Juul and Facebook agree to massive settlements  

By Monica Steinisch

Among recent settlements added to the Consumer Action Class Action Database is the $255 million settlement in a class action case against Juul Labs alleging that the e-cigarette manufacturer concealed the addictiveness of its products. Plaintiffs also claimed that Juul intentionally advertised its products to minors. Just three weeks later, Juul agreed to a $462 million settlement with six states (California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico and New York) and Washington, D.C., regarding claims that the vaping company marketed its addictive e-cigarettes to underage teens. With this settlement, the company has agreed to pay more than $1 billion in suits with 45 states.

Another case of note is the class action against Meta Platforms, owner of Facebook and other social media platforms, alleging that the company allowed third parties (including Cambridge Analytica) to access user (and friend) data without users’ permission and, further, did not properly monitor third-party use of the data. Several lawsuits were combined into one umbrella lawsuit—Facebook, Inc. Consumer Privacy User Profile Litigation—resulting in a $725 million settlement—the single largest data privacy class action in U.S. history. U.S. Facebook users between May 24, 2007, and Dec. 22, 2022, may be eligible for payment. (The dollar amount of individual payments is unknown at this point; it’s dependent on the number of eligible claims filed.)

The claims deadline is Aug. 25, 2023. 

About Consumer Action

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. At, visitors have instant access to important consumer news, downloadable materials, an online “help desk,” the Take Action advocacy database, and more. 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 dissemination 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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