Consumer Action INSIDER - October 2022


What people are saying

[The Affordable Connectivity Program webinar] was a great presentation overall. Both presenters are well-versed and articulate [on] the topic. I look forward to attending your other webinars in the future. —Gelli Malapit, HOPES CAP, Inc., Hoboken, NJ (view the webinar on Consumer Action’s YouTube channel)

Did you know?

The Department of Homeland Security has rescinded a Trump-era immigration policy targeting immigrants that it believed were likely to become reliant on government benefits in the future. The policy implemented by the Trump administration would have made it more difficult—if not impossible—for immigrants who had benefited from safety net programs like Medicaid, food and nutrition assistance, or housing vouchers to qualify for green cards, permanent residency or even admission to the United States on long-term student or tourist visas. The regulation has not been enforced by the current administration. Immigrant rights groups applauded the rollback. Learn more here.

Consumer Advocacy Week 2022 sees record participation

By Ruth Susswein

More consumer advocates registered for the recent 6th annual Consumer Advocacy Week than ever before. During the week of Sept. 19, state and national advocates from across the U.S. met virtually with their members of Congress to call for stronger federal consumer protections. They shared consumers’ firsthand experiences with the lawmakers to help them understand why improving conditions and correcting problems really matters. Because Congressional offices are not yet open to the public due to ongoing concerns about COVID, this year’s meetings were again held by phone and over Zoom.

This year, advocates focused on three key issues:

  • Payment fraud protections: There’s been much controversy over whether consumers are entitled to the same protections when they lose money through a payment app, such as Zelle or Venmo, as they are when they rely on debit and credit cards. Advocates urged lawmakers to clarify and ensure that the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) protects consumers who’ve been duped into transferring funds to a fraudster or who have made a simple typo when sending a P2P (person-to-person) payment. Advocates further asked Congress to require that funds be returned to victims who were defrauded when using a bank wire transfer or an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card (which holds SNAP dollars).
  • Overdraft fees: Advocates pressed House and Senate members to set commonsense limits on the amount banks can charge when a consumer’s account is overdrawn. The typical $34 overdraft fee is borne 80% of the time by only 9% of accountholders.
  • FTC refund authority: Advocates lobbied to restore the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) authority to return funds to fraud victims. The Supreme Court ruled, last year, that the FTC can no longer rely on the authority it has used for decades to refund consumers, stripping the agency of its right to hold fraudulent firms financially accountable to their victims.

Consumer Action has been one of nine organizations cosponsoring Consumer Advocacy Week for the last six years. Organizations plan what issues to lobby on, identify the key points to advocate for, and invite local and state advocates to participate. Consumer Federation of America scheduled lobby meetings with 160 Congressional offices representing 37 states.

Groups met in advance for a kickoff event, where Consumer Action and other national organizations helped prepare local groups for the week, explaining how to effectively make key points, and divvying up duties to encourage all advocates to play a role during the meetings with legislative staff (and sometimes directly with Congress members). As part of the training day, Consumer Action’s Ruth Susswein shared a personal account of being faced with steep medical bills she didn’t owe, to drive home the point that true stories of real-life experiences help connect lawmakers and their staff to consumers and the issues that need a legislative fix.

The organizations joining Consumer Action as national cosponsors of Consumer Advocacy Week were Consumer Federation of America, Americans for Financial Reform, Consumer Reports, National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Consumer Law Center, National Consumers League, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG.

Hotline Chronicles: Who needs renters insurance?

By Linda Sherry

While landlords can buy insurance policies that cover their property against various perils, tenants should seriously consider having a renters insurance policy to protect their belongings and shield them from liability for accidental injuries sustained by guests and other visitors.

Landlord insurance protects the rental property and provides liability coverage to protect the landlord from lawsuits or other liability claims, but a landlord policy does not include coverage for tenants.

Johnette* just graduated from college and moved into her first rental apartment. Her finances are tight, and she wondered if renters insurance was necessary. We told Johnette that if her lease doesn’t require it, the coverage is optional. However, we strongly advise tenants to purchase the coverage.

Many renters have a similar question, because there is a widespread misconception that a landlord’s home insurance policy also covers the tenant’s personal property. Your furniture, electronics and clothing are not covered by the landlord’s policy. If, for example, a fire in your rental damages your personal property, you will be out-of-pocket for these items unless you have renters insurance.

And, if your actions caused the damage, you might owe your landlord money for repairs unless you have a renters policy, which typically includes liability coverage to pay for certain types of damage or harm you cause, as well as legal expenses if you are sued. Typically, renters insurance will pay for medical bills (up to the policy limit) for non-tenants (such as a guest or contractor) hurt while at your rental.

Renters insurance also provides coverage for temporary living arrangements (at a hotel or another rental) if damage has made your rental unlivable for a time.

Valuables such as jewelry, artwork and other unusually high-priced items are not covered by basic rental policies—you would need to purchase an extension (“rider”) to your renters policy.

The good news is that rental insurance is an affordable coverage. According to ValuePenguin, depending on the state you live in, the average cost of renters insurance ranges from $12 to $37 per month (or $139 to $442 per year). Learn more about the importance of renters insurance at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website.

Consumer Action offers several publications about shopping for insurance and why insurance is crucial for protecting your assets. (Find them all here.) Our “Homeowners and renters insurance” fact sheet explains how insurance can protect you in the event of a natural disaster.

*Not this consumer’s real name

Coalition Efforts: Agencies called on to go further for employees, consumers and student borrowers

By Monica Steinisch

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

Clearer guidance needed from California Privacy Protection Agency. Consumer Action joined the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) Education Fund, the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Ranking Digital Rights, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) in a response to the California Privacy Protection Agency’s (CPPA) invitation for public input concerning the agency’s development of regulations under the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 (CPRA) and the California Consumer Protection Act of 2018 (CCPA). The groups commended the agency for its work to establish data privacy protections for Californians and urged the agency to include more detail in the regulations to provide consumers and businesses clear guidance with respect to their rights and obligations. Among the recommendations was to include an illustrative example to the definition of “request to opt-in to sale/sharing” to make clear what type of action sufficiently demonstrates “that the consumer has consented to the business” sale or sharing of personal information, and to make clear whether written permission, when required for data use requests, is something that must be given on paper or whether it may be electronic. Read the letter here.

Department of Education should extend Public Service Loan Forgiveness waiver. Consumer Action was among 74 advocacy groups that supported the 110 legislators who urged U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to extend the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) waiver deadline until at least July 1, 2023, when the Department’s proposed rules to improve and expand federal student debt relief programs, including PSLF, are currently on track to take effect. The PSLF program was designed to offer student loan debt relief for teachers, servicemembers and others in exchange for their service in jobs that benefit the public, many of which pay a lower wage or salary in comparison to private sector jobs. However, sloppy loan servicing, including misleading information about PSLF eligibility, has kept many from getting the relief they were promised. The “limited PSLF waiver” refers to the time-limited changes to program rules that allow borrowers to receive credit for past periods of repayment that would otherwise not qualify for PSLF. Signers noted that an extension of the waiver deadline would ensure more public servants are able to benefit from the waiver, including military service members, who face troubling administrative hurdles in certifying their employment for the PSLF program. Read the letter and learn more here.

CFPB should use its authority to curb job training programs that leave employees indebted to employers. In June, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) launched a federal inquiry into employers’ growing use of debt as a predatory tool to trap people in abusive jobs and poor working conditions. Specifically, Training Repayment Agreement Provisions (TRAPs)—employment contract provisions that allow an employer to demand repayment of the cost (plus interest and fees) of on-the-job training (often of dubious quality or necessity) if the employee tries to leave his or her job—are serving as a way of holding employees hostage in substandard jobs because they don’t earn enough to cover the cost of quitting. If they do quit, the debt they incur can hang over their heads for years. Consumer Action joined nearly two dozen allies in a letter to the CFPB supporting its inquiry into employer-driven debt and offering suggestions for how the agency can protect workers using its existing authority. Read the letter and learn more here.

FTC urged to better protect consumers who buy, finance or lease motor vehicles through dealers. Cars are essential for most U.S. households. Yet, because of misrepresentations and unfair or deceptive practices, many consumers are paying far more for vehicles than they should. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed a rule to ban junk fees and bait-and-switch advertising tactics that can plague consumers throughout the car-buying experience. Consumer Action and more than 100 other advocacy organizations sent a letter to the agency applauding its efforts and urging it to strengthen the rule to incentivize fairness, encourage competition, address additional unfair and deceptive dealer practices, and give consumers meaningful relief when they have been defrauded. Advocates asked the FTC to, among other things, make the true cost of add-ons transparent and give consumers 30 days to request a refund for add-ons they’ve purchased; require a simplified, uniform, comprehensive and legally enforceable “Offering Price” by dealers; extend the period for which dealers must retain transactions records to a minimum of seven years; prohibit “yo-yo sales” (coercing the buyer into a new, more costly, financing contract after the buyer has left the dealership); and require translation of essential disclosures for LEP buyers. Read the letter and learn more here.

CFPB Watch: Eyeing credit report disputes and deceptive auto loan fees

By Ruth Susswein

More than 121,000 consumers who were enrolled in US Equity Advantage’s (USEA) automated loan payment accelerator program should keep their eyes peeled for a refund.

Nine million dollars is being returned to consumers who were misled by USEA’s AutoPayPlus program. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the company charged $399 enrollment fees, which were higher than any amount consumers could have saved through its payment plan. The Florida firm claimed in ads to have “helped hundreds of thousands of customers save $29 million or more in interest” on auto loans. The CFPB found that there was “no basis” for this claim.

Under Director Rohit Chopra, the CFPB has made it a priority to hold companies accountable when they harm or mislead consumers. When feasible, the Bureau requires companies to provide financial relief to individual consumers.

In this case, the order to return $9.3 million to harmed consumers could not be fulfilled by USEA (based on sworn financial statements), so the Consumer Bureau turned to its Civil Penalty Fund for consumer restitution.

Checks began to hit the mail last month. Consumers should look for a check from RUST Consulting. Any questions should be sent to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or call 833-630-1414.

But, beware of imposters bearing bogus refunds

Thieves have been disguising themselves as CFPB employees recently, tricking (often older) consumers into forking over thousands of dollars to fake representatives of the Consumer Bureau (or another government agency).

Scammers are fooling people by saying they’ve won money in a class action lawsuit or a sweepstakes, but they’ll have to pay taxes on the money before being eligible for the windfall.

While there are cases where the Bureau does provide financial relief directly to consumers (see above), there is no charge for the refund. The Bureau says plainly, “We will never require you to pay money to receive money.”

If you want to verify if a government payment is legitimate, you can call the CFPB at 855-411-2372. You can also report scams to the Federal Trade Commission.

Holding furnishers responsible in credit report disputes

Errors—intentional or not—on your credit report can mean the difference between getting a job, apartment or loan and not getting it, which is why it’s essential that consumers be able to correct mistakes and inaccuracies that end up on their credit reports.

When a consumer spots erroneous information in their credit file, they have the legal right (under the Fair Credit Reporting Act) to dispute that information with the Big Three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). The companies that supply payment information to the credit bureaus—called furnishers—are required to investigate the dispute and report back. If the disputed information is wrong, it must be corrected or removed.

The CFPB reports that some furnishers have been arguing that certain consumer disputes are “frivolous,” therefore they do not have to investigate and correct the bogus information. But the Bureau has said quite clearly that furnishers are legally obligated to investigate consumers’ disputes. The Bureau points out that where Congress wanted to make an exception in the law for “frivolous” cases, it did, by allowing the bureaus to filter out frivolous disputes before forwarding them to furnishers.

What’s more, consumers are entitled to be told both the outcome of the dispute and their further options. The CFPB advocates for consumers’ dispute rights in the courts, most recently in a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals (Ingram v. Waypoint Resource Group). The Bureau also has filed friend-of-the-court (amicus) briefs to ensure that individuals’ right to repair their credit records is not diminished.

Class Action Database: Toothpaste maker Hello Products has brush with the law

By Monica Steinisch

A class action settlement involving Anheuser-Busch and allegations that the company violated false advertising laws by marketing its Bud Light Ritas as containing certain types of distilled spirits, such as tequila, and/or wine when they do not was among the new settlements added to the Consumer Action Class Action Database during September.

Of note this month is a class action against Hello Products, LLC, a unit of Colgate-Palmolive and the manufacturer of oral and personal care products the company claims are made with natural and sustainable ingredients. The suit alleged that the company engaged in false advertising and unfair and deceptive marketing practices when it touted the safe, effective tooth-whitening and detoxifying benefits of its line of oral care products containing activated charcoal. Plaintiffs alleged that the charcoal in the toothpaste may actually abrade the tooth enamel, leaving teeth more vulnerable to stains, cavities and gum disease, and that it has none of the detoxifying benefits the company claims.

If you purchased Hello's oral care products containing activated charcoal, you may be eligible for a cash payment under the $1.5 million settlement. Consumers without proof of purchase can receive a payment of approximately $6 for each product purchased, up to a maximum of five products. With proof of purchase, you can file a claim for up to 10 Hello activated-charcoal toothpaste products. (Only one claim may be submitted per household.)

The claims deadline is Oct. 11, 2022.

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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