Consumer Action INSIDER - April 2024


What people are saying

“Consumer Action always has timely and pertinent information to share with our clients, colleagues and family! Thanks so much for all you do.” —“Helping Diverse and Multilingual Communities Avoid Consumer Fraud” webinar attendee Sherry Pace, Bucks County Housing Group, Warminster, PA (view our webinars on our YouTube channel)

Consumer Action marks 2024 National Consumer Protection Week   

By Monica Steinisch

Consumer Action is one of more than a hundred federal, state and local partner organizations nationwide that participated in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) 2024 National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), an annual effort held the first week of March to share information to help consumers understand their rights and recognize, avoid and report scams and fraud. Over the course of the week, the FTC and partner organizations host and participate in dozens of in-person and virtual educational events. 

This year, Consumer Action presented a webinar on helping diverse and multilingual communities avoid consumer fraud, a topic reflective of our decades-long commitment to providing consumer and personal finance education that protects and empowers limited-English-speaking and underserved communities. The 90-minute webinar addressed the need of community-based organizations (CBOs) to be able to effectively enable their clients to stay safe from scammers, and shared tools and resources to help CBOs carry out their educational efforts. 

Among our distinguished panel of presenters were Shanell Blunt, impact specialist with the Office for Older Americans at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB); Larissa L. Bungo, senior attorney, and Cristina Miranda, senior project manager, both with the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education; Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention with the Fraud Watch Network at AARP; and David Chiu, city attorney for San Francisco.

While the fraud statistics—who is most frequently targeted, by which scams, resulting in what level of losses—were enlightening, the wealth of multilingual, culturally relevant tools and resources offered were invaluable. Among the educational resources shared were:

  • The CFPB’s translated glossaries of financial terms, and its Money Smart for Older Adults program, developed in collaboration with the FDIC, which offers downloadable instructor and bulk resource guides, in English and Spanish, to help consumers identify scams, fraud and other forms of exploitation
  • The FTC’s popular fotonovelas—Spanish-language graphic novels that present lessons about scammer tactics in a culturally relevant format; the agency’s scam education materials in a dozen languages; and its multilingual scam and identity theft reporting services
  • AARP’s Fraud Watch Network Helpline, providing a place to report a scam, ask if something is legitimate, and get help if you’ve experienced fraud (free to everyone) ( or 877-908-3360), and the organization’s Online Victim Support Program, offering free one-hour virtual sessions and a safe space to talk
  • The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office’s Consumer Complaint Portal, where city residents can submit a complaint in Chinese, Spanish, Tagalog or English (City Attorney Chiu also offered webinar participants outside of San Francisco tips on engaging with their county council or the offices of their city attorney and/or district attorney to go after scammers.)  

The webinar was made possible by a consumer education grant from Amazon. This is the second year we’ve partnered with Amazon to thwart scammers through consumer education. If you weren’t able to attend, you can watch the recording of “Helping Diverse and Multilingual Communities Avoid Consumer Fraud” on Consumer Action’s YouTube channel.

The day after the webinar, on March 7, Consumer Action joined fellow NCPW partners Project GOAL (Get Older Adults onLine), National Consumers League (NCL), BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, and Safe Kids Worldwide as co-hosts of a National Consumer Protection Week reception sponsored by Amazon and held at the company’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters to recognize and celebrate the power of collaboration and partnership in the ongoing effort to protect consumers.

Consumer Action’s executive director, Anna Flores, attended the reception, accompanied by Ruth Susswein, our director of consumer protection. In her remarks, Flores thanked Amazon and the event co-sponsors for, once again, combining forces to bring attention to consumer fraud issues.

Consumer Action Executive Director Anna Flores, in foreground, and Project GOAL Executive Director Debra Berlyn, in background

Though National Consumer Protection Week 2024 is over, it’s crucial to keep scam education a priority throughout the year. One way to do that is to subscribe to—and share—Consumer Action’s monthly SCAM GRAM e-newsletter, which alerts readers to the latest schemes and reinforces safe consumer practices. To have the newsletter go directly to your inbox each month, subscribe to our mailing list.   

Reaching out to farmworkers about PG&E assistance programs

By Monica Steinisch

Consumer Action outreach staff members Nelson Santiago and Jamie Woo spent a Tuesday evening in late February sharing information about PG&E’s money- and energy-saving programs with farmworkers in Half Moon Bay, a small coastal town about 40 miles south of San Francisco. 

While the event, organized by Ethnic Media Services and Peninsula 360 Press, was focused on addressing the issue of improving access to critical safety and health care information for the local farmworker community, it was the perfect venue for also getting the word out about the many Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) assistance programs that can help community members reduce their energy usage, lower their energy bill, deal with a past-due utility bill balance, make monthly energy bills more predictable, or get special assistance if they depend on an energy-using medical device. 

Santiago and Woo provided in-language information and answers to the farmworkers, the majority of whom speak Spanish and Chinese as their primary languages. During the event, the duo provided several attendees applications for the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) program (for discounts of 20% or more on gas and electricity); the Family Electric Rate Assistance (FERA) program (for a discount of 18% on electricity); the Energy Savings Assistance (ESA) program (for appliance upgrades and home repairs); and the Medical Baseline program (offering additional energy at the lowest available price for those who depend on power for certain medical needs).

As the event sponsor, PG&E was on-site to welcome attendees, express the company’s commitment to supporting local communities, and stress that the safety of the farmworkers, whether working in the field near utility infrastructures or using gas or electric appliances at home, is a PG&E priority. Attendees were riveted by a retired PG&E lineman’s presentation using an electrified model of the town’s Main Street to demonstrate the risks posed by power lines and how to stay safe around electrical hazards. 

Left to right: Half Moon Bay Mayor Joaquin Jimenez, Ethnic Media Services Executive Director Sandy Close, and Consumer Action’s Nelson Santiago

The evening closed with a lion dance in celebration of the Lunar New Year and in recognition of the Chinese farm-working community, followed by a traditional dance troupe performing dances from Guatemala.

The Half Moon Bay event followed similar PG&E assistance program outreach efforts by Santiago and Woo. In late January, the two distributed information from a booth at the Oakland Chinatown 32nd Lunar New Year Bazaar, and in late February, they headed south, to San Jose’s 3rd annual Lunar New Year celebration. Read about those events here

We’ve been spreading the word about PG&E assistance programs since receiving an education and outreach grant from the company in 2022. More of these outreach events are scheduled for the coming months; read about them in future issues of the INSIDER.

If you have clients in PG&E's footprint who can benefit from energy discount programs, direct them to this page on our website for applications. If you live outside of PG&E’s service area, contact your local utility provider about the utility assistance programs it offers, or visit the National Energy & Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC) webpage and click on your state to find available resources.

Presentation helps Chinese newcomers get a footing

By Monica Steinisch

Last month, at the Asian Women’s Resource Center in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Consumer Action’s Jamie Woo spoke to a group of young, Chinese-speaking parents on the topics of renters’ rights and identity theft. 

Navigating the U.S. rental housing, financial services and credit reporting systems is challenging for anyone. For recent immigrants who speak little or no English, it can be daunting at best, and, in many cases, fraught with risks. For example, one presentation attendee had dropped her rent check in a sidewalk mailbox that was later broken into. Her check was altered by the thief and cashed. She now had to deal with a past-due-rent issue and a fraud report with her bank. (In addition to addressing how to deal with the main issues, Woo advised the group to drop sensitive mail, such as bill payments, in slots located inside post offices, which are less vulnerable to theft than street mailboxes. Being new to the U.S., the attendees were not aware that was an option.)

Woo’s presentation covered the basic rights of San Francisco renters; tips for overcoming language barriers when communicating with landlords; an overview of the U.S. credit reporting system; and how to obtain your credit reports and correct any inaccuracies. 

She took the opportunity to also distribute packets containing information and applications for PG&E assistance programs that can help low-income households reduce their energy bills. Because this was a young parents group (the Center provides preschool/daycare services), Woo gave out coloring books, crayons and mini-flashlights—all provided by PG&E—for the children.

Toward the end of the presentation, Woo introduced the group to the Chinese-language version of Consumer Action’s website, encouraging them to use the resource to continue learning, and instructed them on how to access Consumer Action’s Chinese hotline, one of the only sources of one-on-one Chinese-language consumer help. 

As a member of Consumer Action’s outreach team since 2006, Woo, who is fluent in the Cantonese, Mandarin and Taiwanese dialects, has worked to help monolingual and limited-English-speaking Chinese immigrants learn their rights as consumers. She leads frequent educational workshops in the Chinese-American community on a range of consumer topics, including how to navigate the U.S. financial services marketplace and how to recognize and avoid fraud.

Woo will return to the Center later this month to speak on different topics. 

Coalition Efforts

By Monica Steinisch

Consumer Action and its allies recently called on policymakers and regulators about this important issue:

Sale of homebuyer information to data brokers. Consumer Action joined a diverse group of housing and financial services stakeholders and advocates in a letter to Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tim Scott (R-SC) and Representatives Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) expressing strong support for the Homebuyers Privacy Protection Act of 2024 (S 3502 and HR 7297), bicameral and bipartisan legislation that would curb the use of mortgage credit “trigger leads” in all but limited circumstances. Trigger leads occur when a consumer applies for a purchase mortgage or refinance loan and the requisite inquiry to a credit reporting agency (CRA) by a lender notifies the CRA that the consumer is interested in home financing. This trigger lead is then sold to data brokers (including other lenders) without the consumer's knowledge or approval. Entities that have no relationship with the consumer buy trigger leads as soon as a customer applies for a mortgage and then bombard the applicant with hundreds of confusing calls that seek to lure them away from their chosen lenders. Under the Homebuyers Privacy Protection Act, a CRA would not be able to furnish a trigger lead to a third party unless the third party has certified to the CRA that it has “originated the current residential mortgage loan of the consumer,” “is the servicer of the current residential mortgage loan of the consumer,” “or is an insured depository institution or insured credit union and holds a current account for the consumer” (or the consumer explicitly consents to such solicitations from other lenders). Read the letter here.

CFPB Watch

By Ruth Susswein

Credit card companies will no longer be able to gouge cardholders with hefty late fees, if the CFPB has its way. The Consumer Bureau has capped credit card late fees at $8, unless the card issuer can prove that its costs justify a higher fee.

According to the Bureau, the late fee cap was designed to rein in excessive fees that were averaging $32 per late or missed payment (and $41 for a second late payment). The CFPB said that steep late fees do not comply with the CARD (Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure) Act, which requires that fees be “reasonable and proportional” to their costs. The Bureau believes the late fee limit closes a legal loophole that the Federal Reserve had allowed. The new rule also eliminates card issuers’ ability to use inflation as a reason to hike fees.

“The credit card industry hauls in more than $14 billion in late fee revenue each year, which our research shows is more than five times the companies’ associated costs,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra.

The CFPB has found that since 2010, card issuers have continued to charge consumers more in credit card late fees each year. Estimates are that the new cap could slash late fee revenue by $10 billion. The new late fee limits apply only to large card issuers, such as Capital One, Bank of America, Chase and Citi, which, the CFPB says, account for more than 95% of credit card balances.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of card issuers, has sued the CFPB over this late fee limit, arguing that the Bureau is exceeding its authority with a price cap.

Comparison site kickbacks

The CFPB cautions consumers to beware of online comparison-shopping websites and tools that may be misleading people into thinking they are receiving objective advice about financial products and services. The Bureau’s advisory opinion explains how these shopping tools for loans, credit cards and mortgages can break the law if they steer customers to a particular company based on the compensation the comparison platform or app receives.

Consumers may be led to believe that they are reviewing an unbiased list of lenders when, in fact, the list may consist exclusively of companies that have paid a referral fee or have paid more to receive preferential placement. Some comparison sites let lenders bid against each other for best placement, according to the Bureau. Preferential treatment can also include “featuring” certain loan products or presenting a loan as a “match” to the consumer’s preferences when it is not.

The CFPB cautions that comparison site operators—sometimes called lead generators—must be careful not to drive consumers toward a product based on how the company will financially benefit rather than what is in the consumer’s best interests. The Bureau did not target any specific comparison sites.

“Consumer interests are not served when they are steered toward more expensive or less favorable products because those products are offered by the [comparison] tool operator or its affiliates or because those products generate more revenue for the tool operator,” says the CFPB circular.

To help consumers reliably compare their credit card options, the Bureau is working on improving its semi-annual survey of credit card issuers by requiring helpful information, such as what the median interest rate is that each card issuer actually offers, broken down by credit score tier.

Class Action Database: Lyft, Uber pay $328 million for taking New York drivers for a ride

By Monica Steinisch

Among recent settlements added to the Consumer Action Class Action Database is the $45 million Walmart agreed to pay to settle a case alleging that the superstore overcharged for certain “weighted goods” (sold-by-weight meat, poultry, pork and seafood) and bagged citrus. If you purchased any of these grocery items between Oct. 19, 2018, and Jan. 19, 2024, you may be eligible for payment. The deadline for claims is June 5, 2024.

Of note is the $38 million Lyft will pay and the $290 million Uber will pay to settle a case brought by the New York Attorney General’s office as the result of an investigation that found that the companies unlawfully withheld pay from drivers for sales tax and Black Car Fund fees, and also failed to provide worker benefits available under New York labor laws.

“The settlements…will return $328 million in back pay to drivers and institute a minimum driver ‘earnings floor,’ paid sick leave, proper hiring and earnings notices, and other improvements in drivers’ working conditions,” the AG office’s press release announced. The driver benefits are effective as of Feb. 29, 2024.

If you used the Lyft Driver app between Oct. 11, 2015, and July 31, 2017, or the Uber Driver app between Nov. 10, 2014, and May 22, 2017, to provide rides in New York, and money was withheld for sales tax and Black Car Fund fees, you may be eligible for payment. The deadline for claims is July 29, 2024. (Beginning on March 7, notices were being sent out to affected drivers.)

Click here to file a Lyft settlement claim.

Click here to file an Uber settlement claim.

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. 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.

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