Consumer Action INSIDER - July 2012


41st Anniversary Announcement

Table of Contents

What people are saying

Consumer Action’s Digital Dollars program demystified everything you need to know about mobile banking. — Melinda Opperman, Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management, Riverside, CA

Did you know?

The vast majority of cars are designed to run fine on regular gas. Premium won’t improve performance or fuel economy for those cars, so why pay 20 cents more per gallon, says a new story, just one of many helpful and informative articles featured recently in Consumer Action’s free daily News Headlines digest. Tune in daily!

Virtual internship yields tangible results

New research on alternative lending, including peer-to-peer loan websites and community credit-builder loan programs, was the result of Consumer Action’s second year of participation in Columbia University’s “Virtual Internship Program.”

Consumer Action has just published the summer issue of Consumer Action News, our quarterly consumer newsletter featuring special surveys, in-depth reports and timely stories on a variety of the consumer protection issues we work on. This most recent issue is devoted to alternative loan and funding sources, from formalized loans between individuals to non-profit credit-builder loans and “crowdfunding.” Much of the publication’s content is based on research conducted by editorial intern Shaynah Jones between January and May.

Jones is a second-year undergraduate majoring in Political Science/Economics at Columbia University in New York City. The university’s Virtual Internship Program gives students like Jones an opportunity to gain valuable, real-world work experience in their field of interest even though the ideal sponsoring company or organization might be hundreds or thousands of miles away. This is the second year Consumer Action has participated in the virtual intern program at Columbia. In Jones’ application letter, she expressed a desire to work in consumer education, particularly to help those consumers who “have already been counted out” by traditional lenders. Jones previously held an internship with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, conducting research on predatory equity schemes.

Our assignment for Jones was to research and report back on Internet-based P2P lending—also known as person-to-person, peer-to-peer and social lending. During the course of the internship, Jones compiled rates, terms and other information for the three major P2P lending sites serving U.S. consumers. The data gave us a clear picture of both the advantages and the shortcomings of online P2P loans as well as how the three lending sites compare—crucial information for consumers who might be considering this alternative loan source.

We also asked Jones to research lending circles, a different form of P2P lending in which small groups work on establishing or improving their credit together through a communal loan fund.

This research led to credit-builder loans, community-based loan programs designed specifically to help people with credit problems, or who are new to the U.S. credit system. Participants take out a small, short-term loan that is reported to at least one of the major credit bureaus. For the most part, the programs do not require any collateral or credit score, and they often charge low—or no—interest or fees. But such programs can be hard to find. Jones took on the task of creating a downloadable state-by-state directory that will make it much easier for consumers with few, if any, borrowing opportunities to find credit-builder programs.

“Traditional lenders don’t always come through for consumers, so we really wanted to provide useful information about some alternatives that could meet the needs of a wide range of consumers, along the entire credit spectrum,” said Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action. “We appreciate our intern’s enthusiasm and dedication to this important project.”

Jones finished the school year in May, but she’ll be back to the books come fall and plans to continue her work on behalf of consumers. "Working with Consumer Action has not only afforded me the opportunity of gaining valuable, transferable skills but also reinforced my desire to work towards educating consumers about opportunities that could make maneuvering through life so much easier,” she said. “On top of that, the staff of Consumer Action…proved to me that there is such a thing as a perfect work environment and it is because of the latter discovery that I especially thank them for the awesome experience."

Why adults learn: Connecting to your audience

A central part of Consumer Action’s mission is achieved through nationwide train-the-trainer events, where community-based consumer educators are taught the concepts and best practices they need to effectively use our free consumer education materials to help people in their communities prosper financially. Our approach focuses on reaching adult learners.

When you flip through one of Consumer Action’s lesson plans, you’re likely to run across a link to our “Why Adults Learn” slides, providing tips on training adults and diverse audiences. Why? Because we believe that ultimate success in effectively delivering consumer education depends a great deal on understanding and incorporating key principles of how adults learn into your training. Linda Williams, one of Consumer Action’s community outreach managers, developed the training.

“There are many principles of adult learning,” says Williams. “But one basic principle that is absolutely crucial to an adult education trainer's success is respect.”

Principle 1: Why is the information important?
Trainer Robert Pike noted in his “Creative Training Techniques Handbook” that all participants come to a training session tuned to the radio station WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). He stressed trainers must, in preparing their presentations, continually reinforce the payoff for participants in order to achieve the ultimate goal—changing behavior. Adult learners need to know how the information being presented relates to their immediate lives and how it can help them reach personal or professional goals.

Principle 2: Respect different learning styles
Awareness of different adult learning styles will help you meet the needs of all learners and make you more effective as a trainer, says Williams.

According to the “VAK” learning styles model, or “inventory,” there are three general learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Visual learners need to see a picture, graphic, text or numbers in order to process information. For these learners, trainers must move away from heavy use of text in PowerPoint slides and insert more colored pictures or graphics. When using text, trainers can stick to the rule of three (only three text items per slide) and save the heavy text for the notes section of the slides.

Others are auditory learners, assimilating information best by hearing or listening to it. Consider facilitating a small group discussion or teach-back activities to meet the needs of auditory learners.

Kinesthetic, or tactile (“whole body”), learners need to be physically engaged to understand the material. They learn best when they can feel, touch or perform a task. A good approach for these learners is: tell me, show me, let me practice and let me show you.

Principle 3: Use training methods that require active participation
Williams notes that training activities keep participants energized, especially if they involve getting up and moving around.

She points to an article by Sina Rajabi and Abbas Rezazadeh, “Important Principles in Teaching of Adults,” which emphasizes the importance of getting participants involved and thereby making the learning “experiential.” Active trainings can include small-group discussions, teach-backs, problem-solving activities, writing and drawing. The authors also note that honoring the life experiences participants bring to the training is key to success, and tapping into this wealth of knowledge can only enrich adult trainings.

Principle 4: Create a respectful and supportive environment
Williams believes it’s crucial to a trainer’s success to foster a nurturing training environment that is respectful of your learners. Adults want to be respected as mature, capable individuals. Adults resent being “talked down to,” and will engage more fully with the training when they feel comfortable and at ease. “Always remember, you are training adults, not schoolchildren,” says Williams.

Consumer Action survey finds a need for fair housing education

More than two-thirds of the community groups surveyed see housing discrimination as a serious problem for minority and underrepresented consumers. Currently, the consumers most vulnerable to abuses when renting and buying are said to be immigrants, the disabled and families with children.

Community-based organizations (CBOs) dealing with the disabled, immigrants, families with children, and other underserved consumers are reporting that housing discrimination remains a widespread problem in the United States, with the most vulnerable consumers unsure of their rights and how to protect themselves.

“The ever-shifting focus of housing discrimination makes it doubly hard to root out,” said Ken McEldowney, executive director of Consumer Action. “This means that community groups and other agencies concerned with the problem must constantly educate different segments of the population.”

Consumer Action has created an educational module to help community groups inform their clients and constituents about their fair housing rights. Click here to see it.

In early May, Consumer Action released the findings of its housing discrimination survey of 549 community-based groups engaged in housing-related activities:

  • Seven out of 10 groups say that housing discrimination is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem for the people they serve. Significantly, roughly half of the groups (48%) agree that housing discrimination is a “very serious” problem today.
  • Four times more groups have “seen housing discrimination go up in the last two years” than those reporting a drop in the same period, by a margin of 40% to 11%.
  • About two-thirds of groups (65%) say the level of awareness about housing discrimination rights among the individuals they serve is “somewhat low” or “very low.”
  • Among the top problems seen by groups as discouraging “the people you serve from pursuing housing discrimination complaints” are factors that reflect immigrant concerns, including: “cultural issues, such as the fear of authorities” (59%); “language barriers” (54%); and “legal status in the U.S.” (56%).
  • Disability (77%), race (62%) and family status (60%) are the top three distinguishing features of individuals seeking help from groups on housing discrimination problems.

The Consumer Action survey was conducted online from April 9-20, 2012 by Consumer Action staff. More than 5,000 community-based organizations nationwide were contacted by email to participate in the survey and more than 10% (549) took the survey. All regions of the U.S. were reflected in the survey responses. The full details of the Consumer Action survey on housing discrimination are available online at Consumer Action. Click here to view the survey results.

Consumer Action’s work with the Chinese media

The core of Consumer Action's educational mission is to improve financial literacy at the community level. Our close relationships with the in-language media help expand our presence in hard-to-reach communities.

Consumer Action is unique among national consumer groups in its use of media to reach Chinese-American communities nationwide.

Our Community Outreach Manager Jamie Woo offers consumer advice on a community radio show, provides expert analysis and commentary to Chinese-American journalists and gives frequent interviews in the Chinese language media. Woo speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Taishan and English.

“At Consumer Action, our staff is available to help the working press get the word out to consumers about crucial consumer protections and advice,” says Ken McEldowney, executive director. “Media advocacy and outreach to the in-language media is an important tool in our consumer assistance kit and there are not a lot of other national consumer groups that have the ability to conduct interviews in Chinese.”

In the past couple of years, Woo conducted close to 75 interviews with press organizations including Sing Tao Daily, World Journal, China Press, Sing Tao Mandarin Radio FM 96.1, DC China Press, Texas Chinese Times, SF Sing Tao, Boston Sing Tao, Boston World Journal, Boston Chinese News, Sing Tao Southern California, Sing Tao Cantonese Radio AM 1400, Southern California World Journal, World Journal Mandarin Radio FM 92.3, Sing Tao Chinese Radio FM 96.1, TVB Cable Television, Sing Tao Daily Southern California and Sing Tao Cantonese Radio AM 1400.

Topics of the interviews ranged from wireless phone service, telephone low-income subsidy programs and financial services to scams and fraud, prepaid cards, housing discrimination and other consumer-focused issues.

You can find new articles featuring Woo in the Chinese section of the Consumer Action website. Reporters interested in using Woo as a source can contact her by email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or by phone at 415-777-9648.

Click here to learn more about Consumer Action’s community education efforts.

Hotline Chronicles: 'Work at home' is no telecommuting gig

Many people dream of working from home and many companies are finding it cost effective to hire staff that “telecommute” via computer and phone. Unfortunately, the vast majority of “work at home” ads are just a guise to steal your money.

Sarabeth* called Consumer Action’s complaint hotline about a postcard she received from an unknown “doctor” offering a “work at home” opportunity stuffing envelopes.

“Earn $500 to $1,000 a week stuffing letters, searching the Internet, transcribing medical bills…” Most people have seen, and even been tempted by, similar ads promoting work-at-home opportunities.

While there are legitimate opportunities to work at home, such ads exist mainly to get you to pay for useless information, equipment and supplies, stocks of products that you must sell or bogus lists of companies and professionals looking for work-at-home help. Don’t pay even a tiny fee in response to one of these ads, because promoters can use the bank or credit card information you provide to keep charging you.

While the postcard approach may be slightly different, Sarabeth’s card said she’d have to pay $5 to get started on a work-at-home career. This $5 fee is a warning that the offer is probably a scam.

Consumer Action’s counselors advised Sarabeth to report the mailing to:

  • the Federal Trade Commission at or 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357);
  • the Attorney General’s office in her state or the state where the company is located (visit to find specific state offices);
  • her local postmaster (the U.S. Postal Service investigates fraudulent mail practices; visit; and
  • her city, county or state consumer protection agency. Click here to locate these agencies.

For more information about work-at-home scams, see the Federal Trade Commission bulletin Work-at-Home Schemes.

If you are interested in working at home, search free, major job sites such as,, and using the term “telecommuting.” Know that most companies want telecommuters to be highly qualified in their fields and few, if any, opportunities exist off-site for untrained labor or clerical work. Before using a site, and especially before paying for any services, check out the company’s privacy policy, and make sure your account settings are customized the way you want them to be.

*not this consumer’s real name

CFPB opens searchable cardholder complaint database

Anyone who wants general data about credit card complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can have it via a public, searchable cardholder complaint database online. (Click here to visit the database. The system is a little confusing, so we recommend you watch the how-to videos under "Need Help?".)

Despite strong opposition by banks, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) decided to open its credit card complaint database to the public. Consumers and researchers can now search general data by complaint type or credit card issuer to learn how various credit card companies responded to cardholder complaints. Consumer advocates greeted the move with universal acclaim.

Consumer Action’s Ruth Susswein of our DC Office serves as chair of Americans for Financial Reform’s CFPB Complaint Process committee. The committee advocated for an open, searchable database but had hoped it would include individual consumer complaints, or “narratives.” Consumer groups will continue to press for access to complaint narratives and greater detail in complaint categories.

“We’re pleased that the CFPB took this strong first step. Since the Bureau opened its doors and began accepting credit card complaints in July 2011, Consumer Action has pressed for public access to the complaints people file and their outcomes,” said Susswein.

For now, the public can find information about individual complaints, including the general type of complaint, card issuer, date filed and the ZIP code of the complainant. A general sense of how the issuer responded to a cardholder’s concerns, whether there was monetary or non-monetary relief and the current status of the dispute are also listed. No personal consumer information or exact details about the complaint are shared. Complaint data is refreshed daily.

The CFPB has asked for consumer input into whether the complaint database should be expanded to include other financial products and services, such as mortgages, bank accounts, etc.

Consumer Action has urged the bureau to make more complaint details available. To add your voice to the debate, visit and comment under the Tell Your Story section. Deadline for comments is July 19, 2012.

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 literacy and advocating for consumer rights in both 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.

Financial Education. To empower consumers to assert their rights in the marketplace, Consumer Action provides a range of education resources. The organization’s extensive library of free publications offers in-depth financial information, while its hotline provides non-legal advice and referrals. Consumer Action also publishes unbiased surveys of consumer services to expose excessive prices and anti-consumer practices and help consumers make informed buying choices and elicit change from big business.

Community Outreach. With a special focus on serving low- to moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers, Consumer Action maintains strong ties to a national network of more than 8,000 community-based organizations. Outreach services include training and free mailings of financial education materials in many languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Consumer Action’s rapidly expanding 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, regulations and legislation by taking positions on dozens of bills per legislative session and testifying at least three times per year. Additionally, its diverse staff provides the media with expert commentary on key consumer issues supported by solid data and victim testimony.

Click here to learn more about our staff.



Quick Menu

Facebook FTwitter T