Consumer Action INSIDER - November 2022


What people are saying

“Consumer Action has its communities' well-being in mind, bringing greatly needed information in one platform to be distributed to the masses! I have benefited greatly from these weekly webinars, info sessions and resources!”--Fresi Bonilla, Housing Counselor, Centro de Apoyo Familiar (view the “Homeownership: The wealth creation connection” webinar on Consumer Action’s YouTube channel)

You’re invited to Consumer Action’s 51st anniversary events!

As Consumer Action's 51st anniversary approaches, we prepare to mark the occasion with our annual Consumer Excellence Awards ceremony and cocktail reception. It’s the one opportunity we take each year to raise funds for our work to empower low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers nationwide, and, at the same time, honor worthy consumer champions.

Please join us on Wednesday, Nov. 16, from 6-8 p.m. (Eastern), at the AT&T Forum for Technology, Entertainment & Policy, in Washington, D.C. Register now for your free event tickets.

With our Consumer Excellence Awards, Consumer Action recognizes a legislator or policymaker, a media outlet and a nonprofit organization for their significant contributions to consumer protection. For their leadership in financially empowering and protecting consumers in 2022, we are honoring:

  • Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), for his 40+ years representing consumers in Congress and passing laws to protect the environment, improve sustainable energy, ensure telecommunications access and safeguard the privacy of our personal information;
  • Student Borrower Protection Center, for its success in helping to reform the student loan market, investigate industry abuses, hold for-profit colleges accountable and secure debt relief for student loan borrowers; and
  •, for its commitment to monitoring and reporting on the factual accuracy of what political figures say or espouse in TV ads, debates, speeches and other forms of media.

We will also give special recognition to three individuals for their tireless efforts as champions of consumer rights. These 2022 honorees are:

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

Earlier in the day (10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern), Consumer Action will host a virtual convening: “Restoring Trust: Working to eradicate housing insecurity and expand access to credit.” The convening will feature national experts who will speak about overcoming barriers to safe, affordable housing and removing the impediments to affordable credit and essential financial services. (AFC professionals can earn 1.5 CEUs for participation in this free, 90-minute virtual convening.) Register here.

Staffers amped up to teach about energy-related savings programs

By Nelson Santiago

During September, Consumer Action's outreach team—Jamie Woo, Linda Williams and Nelson Santiago—went into overdrive to educate consumers in Central and Northern California about PG&E programs that can offer substantial financial and energy savings. PG&E is California’s largest provider of gas and electricity. Consumer Action has partnered with the company on a campaign to address energy poverty and bring attention to the various assistance programs PG&E offers.

The Consumer Action team took to the streets—at outdoor markets, transportation hubs, community fairs, etc.—on multiple days, to reach consumers in the greater Bay and Sacramento areas, Sonoma County and Fresno.

The first round of outreach events began over Labor Day weekend at the De Anza Flea Market, in Cupertino. There, Woo was able to provide several Chinese-speaking families with information about the energy discount programs and the Medical Baseline program, which provides consumers an extra allotment of energy at the lowest rates available to them. Click here to learn more.

The rest of the holiday weekend and the following weeks saw the outreach team walking through a community fair in San Francisco and staffing tables at the Berkeley Flea Market, two local BART stations and the Oakland Coliseum flea market.

At two events in Fresno, early and late in the month, attendees learned about and completed applications for enrollment in several utility discount programs. The second event, promoted as a bill clinic, also provided attendees an opportunity to meet with PG&E representatives to discuss their bills and, in many cases, enroll in the Arrearage Management Plan (AMP), which enables customers who make timely payments on their current bills for 12 months to secure forgiveness of past-due debt of up to $8,000. Many customers also filled out applications for the Medical Baseline Program, as well as for the Energy Savings Assistance Program, which provides free energy efficiency upgrades—even a replacement energy-efficient refrigerator—to those who qualify. During the event, Santiago was interviewed by a reporter from the local (Spanish-language) Univision affiliate. The story was reported on the nightly news, and live event footage was shared on social media, leading many viewers to head over to the evening-long bill clinic.

In addition to their work in the Central Valley and the Bay Area, Santiago and Williams presented to low-income residents at an apartment complex in Davis (near Sacramento), where they collected several applications for the energy discount programs and Medical Baseline. And, on the last Sunday of the month, they made a pre-dawn drive from the Bay Area to Midgley's Country Flea Market, in Sonoma County, to staff an exhibit table from sunrise to afternoon, reaching many immigrant families.

We encourage our readers in California's PG&E service area to visit Consumer Action's energy savings project page, where you can download applications for the programs mentioned in this article. (Note that these applications display Consumer Action's community contractor code, which helps us track the effectiveness of our outreach.) For readers outside of PG&E's service area, we recommend that you ask your utility company about assistance programs, or that you get in touch with your state's utility regulator to learn about local energy assistance and energy discount programs.

Matched savings program concludes with significant successes

By Audrey Perrott

A matched savings program launched by Consumer Action in late 2021, and implemented with financial support from Wells Fargo, concluded with notable successes in September. The program, which focused on helping underrepresented consumers increase their financial capability, included mini-grants for five nonprofit partners to provide financial coaching or counseling, distribute Consumer Action’s FinTech guide, measure changes in financial health, and distribute FinTech tools that help individuals to address a specific financial health need (e.g., saving, planning, spending or borrowing).

The grant recipients were Baltimore Bon Secours Community Works (BBSCW); Housing Options & Planning Enterprises, Inc. (H.O.P.E.) (in Maryland); Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC); Easter Seals of Greater Houston (ESGH); and Catholic Charities Dallas (CCD).

The project served more than 200 clients and nonprofit staff, in English, Spanish and Chinese. By the end of the program, 75 participants had saved an average of $1,460, 44 participants had reduced their debt by an average of $3,770, and 41 participants had increased their credit scores by an average of 20 points. Participants who saved at least $300 received a match of $300. This is the second matched savings program Consumer Action has implemented. (Read about the first one here.) Participants in both came away with a stronger savings habit, reduced debt, increased credit scores, and better financial management systems to help them to reduce monthly spending and track expenses. We are grateful to our network partners for their commitment to improving financial health, and to our sponsor, Wells Fargo, for being a champion of financial health.

If you are interested in collaborating with Consumer Action on a FinTech innovation, financial capability and/or other consumer education project, please contact Consumer Action’s executive director, Ken McEldowney (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)), or me, Audrey Perrott (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)), director of strategic partnerships.

Coalition Efforts: Advocates seek CFPB action on a range of issues

By Monica Steinisch

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

It’s time to (again) limit forced arbitration clauses. Consumer Action and allies sent a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) director, Rohit Chopra, urging him to exercise the agency’s authority to limit the use of forced arbitration clauses by banks and financial institutions to strip Americans of their right to seek justice after being victimized by banking abuses or fraud. The groups contend that these fine-print obligations buried in consumer financial contracts prevent harmed consumers from exercising their rights to seek accountability when scammed, cheated or defrauded by big banks. The agency’s final rule limiting use of forced arbitration clauses, issued in 2017, was struck down by the Congressional Review Act when then-Vice President Mike Pence made the tie-breaking vote against the rule. Read the letter here.

Handling of ‘zombie’ second mortgages calls for CFPB action. Consumer Action was among nearly three dozen advocacy groups that urged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take swift action against loan holders, servicers and debt collectors for their handling of “zombie” second mortgages. These loans—many with predatory terms—taken out before the Great Recession (2007-2009), have laid dormant for years, with many borrowers believing they had been forgiven, modified with their first mortgages, or discharged in bankruptcy. Other borrowers had been unable to make payments because they didn’t know where to send them. Now, with the increase in home values, the lenders (or the debt buyers who bought the loans) are collecting on the loans—plus the fees and interest accrued over a decade or more—using the threat of foreclosure to coerce payment. Their practices—such as failing for years to provide communications about the debt, failing to verify the debt, and collecting on debt past the statute of limitations in some states—violate several consumer laws. The issue of “zombie” second mortgages particularly affects lower-income borrowers, older borrowers, and homeowners in communities of color. Read the letter here.

Agencies must rein in fraudulent review brokers to protect consumers and honest businesses. Every day, millions of consumers make buying decisions based on online reviews of products and services. However, the rapid rise in fraudulent reviews is eroding consumer trust. Consumer Action joined allies in asking the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice to use the agencies’ authority to crack down on “review brokers”—companies that facilitate buying and selling fake reviews. The letter sent by the group of advocates points out that fraudulent reviews cost consumers an estimated $152 billion globally in 2021, with $28 billion in losses from the U.S. economy alone. Fake reviews also result in consumers purchasing lower quality and potentially unsafe products. And they harm honest businesses, since sellers and service providers that do not use fake reviews are likely to appear lower in online marketplace listings and search engine results. Read the letter here.

Medical debts don’t belong on credit reports. Nearly 100 consumer, civil rights, healthcare and advocacy organizations, including Consumer Action, signed on to a letter urging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to begin the process of issuing a rule that would prohibit medical debts from appearing on credit reports if the debts arose from medically necessary services. Since CFPB Director Rohit Chopra’s confirmation a year ago, the agency has made significant progress on the issue of medical debt collection and reporting. However, while the nationwide credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) have adopted policies that will result in the removal of the majority of medical debt from credit reports, the debts that remain are held by the most vulnerable consumers, including those who may have larger medical bills due to catastrophic or chronic medical issues, and low- and moderate-income consumers who cannot afford to pay off the debts. The inclusion of these debts in credit reports is, arguably, not necessary for the purposes of assessing creditworthiness, but instead can result in adverse actions—for example, the denial of employment based on indications that the consumer has a chronic health issue. Read the letter here.

CFPB Watch: Refunds for illegal overdraft fees; warnings about denied student loan relief

By Ruth Susswein

Student loan servicers have been wrongly denying borrowers’ applications for loan forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and the Teacher Loan Forgiveness programs, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The agency determined servicers had illegally excluded borrowers from debt relief by misrepresenting the number of payments needed and the eligibility dates to qualify for forgiveness.

Additionally, some for-profit schools that do their own direct lending have been withholding students’ college transcripts to force them to pay overdue bills. The Consumer Bureau considers the practice “abusive,” meaning the school took “unreasonable advantage” of consumers. Withholding a transcript can prevent a student from applying for a job or transferring schools, which can cause long-term damage to career opportunities.

The agency discovered the practice of “blanket withholding” of college transcripts during its examination of loan servicers and for-profit schools, and released its findings in a special edition of its Supervisory Highlights.The Bureau directed the schools to stop withholding official transcripts for students with outstanding balances.

The CFPB regularly conducts examinations of lenders and loan servicers as part of its oversight duties. The agency does not publicly name the companies and colleges it has found fault with during supervisory exams; rather, it draws attention to the problems and expects lenders to correct the errors and misrepresentations before the next exam, avoiding the need to pursue a lawsuit.

Refunds for those stung by surprise overdraft fees

Regions Bank will return $141 million in overdraft fees—plus pay a $50 million penalty—for continuing to charge customers overdraft fees on certain ATM withdrawals and debit card purchases, even after being fined by the CFPB in 2015 for failing to ask consumers if they wanted overdraft service before charging them fees.

According to the CFPB, the bank charged overdraft fees “even after telling customers they had sufficient funds” to cover the transaction. These unlawful fees were charged from August 2018 through July 2021.

The Bureau said, “Regions employed complex and counter-intuitive overdraft practices and manipulations such that its customers could not avoid the fees. Even Regions Bank’s own employees could not explain to customers why they incurred the overdraft fees”.

The CFPB also found that Regions Bank waited years to eliminate the surprise overdraft fees, until they developed new fee revenue to replace the money that would be lost on overdrafts.

CFPB Director Rohit Chopra has used his bully pulpit in the last year to rail against “excessive junk fees,” including overdraft fees, which often hit hardest those who can least afford it. Some banks, such as Capital One and Citibank, have reacted to the CFPB’s efforts by eliminating overdraft fees. Others have reduced them.

Regions Bank is on the CFPB’s list of repeat offenders. The bank had to return $49 million to customers (and pay a $7.5 million fine) in 2015, for charging overdraft fees to customers who hadn’t opted in to overdraft protection and for delaying a fix for almost a year. Thwarting repeat offenders has been one of Chopra’s top priorities.

Regions Bank’s $50 million fine will go directly into the CFPB Civil Penalty Fund to compensate other victims.

CFPB funding targeted in lawsuit

As we prepared this latest issue of CFPB Watch, news broke that a three-judge appellate court panel has ruled that the CFPB’s funding structure is unconstitutional, even though other federal financial regulators (such as the Federal Reserve and the FDIC) also are funded outside of Congress’s purse strings.

The judges on the panel were all appointed by President Trump. During the Trump years, the consumer protection activities of the CFPB were severely curtailed. Brought by a payday lending group, the goal of the lawsuit is to restrain the consumer watchdog’s authority to protect consumers by stripping its funding. So far, there are no signs that the Bureau is letting up on its obligations to protect consumers. We expect the CFPB to appeal. We’ll keep you posted.

Class Action Database: Subaru settles case alleging car batteries don’t hold a charge

By Monica Steinisch

A class action settlement involving Red Robin restaurants and allegations that the company violated false advertising laws by serving “small” Stella Artois beers that didn’t contain the advertised number of ounces was among the new settlements added to the Consumer Action Class Action Database during October.

Of note this month is a class action against automaker Subaru. The suit alleged that the batteries in certain Subaru vehicles drain prematurely, and that the company was aware of the defect for years but failed to warn consumers. The automaker agreed to settle the case. Consumers who owned or leased a 2015-2020 Outback, Forester, Legacy or WRX, as well as owners and lessees of the 2019-2020 Ascent (except in Alaska or Hawaii), will automatically have the warranty on their batteries extended. Consumers who have already paid money to resolve a qualifying battery issue can request reimbursement for battery replacements, testing and related costs, such as towing.

The claims deadline is March 9, 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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