Consumer Action INSIDER - December 2023


What people are saying

"I love how your organization keeps consumers educated and aware of the many pitfalls/scams of today. Albeit, technology is great, the bad actors who are constantly trying to steal one’s hard earned money/savings are astronomical. Thank you for doing the hard work; informative and useful." —SCAM GRAM reader Ms. T, Delaware (subscribe to our mailing list to get the SCAM GRAM delivered directly to your inbox)

Consumer Action at 52 Years: a celebration of service

By Anna Flores

On Nov. 2, Consumer Action celebrated 52 years of educating and advocating for low-income, multilingual and underserved consumers with two special events: the annual virtual convening and an in-person awards presentation and reception. 

This year’s convening, “Serving Generation Z: Post-COVID challenges and practical solutions,” brought attention to the obstacles faced by Gen Z as they prepare for and strive to attain economic security in an increasingly complex world. The panelists outlined the challenges youth face in many areas, such as financial capability, mental health, digitization and privacy, and the societal consequences of failing to address their needs. The speakers offered practical solutions attendees could implement in their communities. For those who missed the live webinar, it’s available on our YouTube channel.

That evening, we were joined by friends and supporters at our in-person Consumer Excellence Awards ceremony and reception, which took place at the AT&T Forum for Technology, Entertainment & Policy, in Washington, D.C. This year’s theme was “A Celebration of Service.”

Special Recognition Awards were presented to two truly deserving individuals and a community-based organization: Linda Sherry, Consumer Action’s former director of national priorities; Angie Garcia Lathrop, community affairs executive with Bank of America; and the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF).

Sherry was honored for her 28 years of service to Consumer Action and the profound impact she has had on national public policy, consumer protection and the consumer advocacy community. She was instrumental in helping Consumer Action transition from a state-based education and advocacy organization to a nationally recognized authority on consumer issues.

Garcia Lathrop is well known within the consumer advocacy community as a staunch supporter. She was recognized for her ability to forge long-term productive working relationships with consumer advocates and for serving as an example of how advocates and industry leaders can come together to benefit consumers and customers.

From left to right: Linda Sherry, Angie Garcia Lathrop, Ken McEldowney, Anna Flores, Dr. Ciriaco Pinedo

The Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, founded in 1963, has grown to become one of the largest nonprofits in California, serving more than 120,000 consumers across seven California counties. While originally focused on the Mexican-American community, today MAOF serves people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Accepting the award on behalf of the organization was its executive director, Dr. Ciriaco Pinedo.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the 2023 Consumer Excellence Award to Consumer Action’s former executive director, Ken McEldowney. Earlier this year, McEldowney retired from his role as executive director after 45 years of service to the organization. Joining us to make special remarks in recognition of McEldowney’s many achievements were Susan Weinstock, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America; Brian Rothery, vice president of government and public affairs with Enterprise Holdings; and Sue Rogan, chair of Consumer Action’s board of directors.

We thank all those who helped make the 52nd convening and reception a great success, and we hope you’ll join us next year, as we celebrate 53 years of service.

The events would not have been possible without the generous support of the donors listed below. We are also grateful to AT&T for providing the location for the reception. 

Virtual Convening

Presenting Sponsor


Guardian Sponsor

JPMorgan Chase

Champion Sponsor

Wells Fargo

52nd Consumer Excellence Awards Ceremony and Reception

Presenting Sponsor


Leadership Circle Sponsors

Bank of America

Drumfire Public Affairs

Gurardian Sponsors


Enterprise Holdings, Inc.



JPMorgan Chase


Webinar prepares online shoppers for a scam-free holiday season

By Monica Steinisch

Consumer Action presented a webinar last month that offered insights and tips to help consumers avoid problems when shopping online.

The popularity of online shopping continues to grow for a variety of reasons—selection, home delivery, and 24/7 store hours, to name a few. But online shopping also presents some potential issues that brick-and-mortar shopping typically doesn’t, such as undelivered or unsatisfactory orders, breached payment information, imposter websites, and various forms of outright fraud. Fortunately, consumers can reduce the likelihood of hassles when they do things like vet sellers before purchasing, make wise choices about how they pay, and use tech tools that protect personal and payment information.

On Nov. 14, Consumer Action hosted “Safe and Savvy Online Shopping,” a free 90-minute webinar (which also offered 1.5 continuing education units for AFCPE professionals). The experts on our panel were Melissa Trumpower, executive director of the Better Business Bureau’s Institute for Marketplace Trust; John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud for National Consumers League; and Debra Berlyn, executive director of Project GOAL (Get Older Adults onLine). The webinar was presented with support from Amazon.

According to a Shopify-Gallup poll cited during the webinar, 93% of holiday shoppers plan to buy some or all of their gifts online this year. Yet online purchase scams constitute a significant portion of all scams, making the guidance of the panelists particularly timely. Among the caveats and advice offered during the presentations that holiday shoppers will want to keep in mind as they hunt for the perfect gift:

  • Scammers often attract targets by offering enticingly low prices. Buyers should beware of too-good-to-be-true deals, particularly on highly desirable, hard-to-get-products (like the hottest gadgets and must-have toys).
  • Most shoppers (77%, according to a BrightLocal study cited) regularly consider online reviews when making a purchase. But fake reviews are a growing problem, and the BBB has found that many, if not most, people are unable to tell the difference between a legitimate review and a fake one. When considering reviews, look for signs of fakes, such as unusual language or bad grammar and spelling, overly positive feedback, numerous reviews in a short period, and similar language across multiple reviews. It’s a good policy not to base a decision to buy entirely on reviews or social media comments.
  • Pay with a credit card, if possible—they offer the greatest consumer protections. Avoid using cash, Bitcoin, payment/money transfer apps, or gift cards; there’s little or no recourse if you get scammed.
  • It’s easy for scammers to set up a fake website. Take time to research a website you haven’t used before to find out if they have been around for a while and if there are complaints. Likewise, beware of offers made via social media, text or email—many consumers are scammed this way.  
  • To protect your payment and personal information, use strong, unique passwords for your various accounts, and activate two-factor authentication.

Said Sonia, an AFCPE (Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education) member and one of the 239 webinar attendees, in the post-webinar survey: 

“Safe and Savvy Online Shopping webinar was excellent! I learned specific ways to avoid scams and to protect my personal information while shopping online. I plan to share what I learned today with my family, friends, and community. Thank you Consumer Action for providing a relevant and useful webinar!”

If you weren’t able to attend the webinar live, you can view it on Consumer Action’s YouTube channel. (And please subscribe while you’re there.)

To make sure you don’t miss out on future webinars, new publications, and our monthly newsletters (INSIDER and SCAM GRAM), subscribe to our mailing list here and keep an eye on our Upcoming Events page, here.

Coalition Efforts

By Monica Steinisch

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

Fair credit reporting for disaster victims. Following the Maui wildfires and Hurricane Idalia, advocacy organizations again urged government agencies (CFPB, OCC, FHFA, FHA, FDIC, NCUA, VA, USDA, and FRB) to help protect the credit reports and scores of consumers impacted by natural disasters. As in their October 2022 letter, the signers, including Consumer Action, asked the agencies to encourage the lenders that they regulate or oversee to refrain from reporting negative information for disaster victims to the nationwide consumer reporting agencies (CRAs)—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. At a minimum, wrote the organizations, lenders should be encouraged to follow the credit reporting provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Specifically, if a consumer is able to obtain an accommodation from a lender (a forbearance, a payment deferral, a partial payment agreement or a loan modification), then the lender should report the same status for the account as it stood prior to the accommodation (assuming the consumer is in compliance with the terms of the accommodation). Consumers who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, most of their possessions, or, worse yet, family members and loved ones, should not also need to deal with damage to their credit reports and scores because of bills that they unavoidably missed, through no fault of their own. Read the letter here.

Rulemaking on forced arbitration. Consumer Action was one of more than a hundred organizations to sign on to a letter expressing strong support for a recent petition asking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to issue a rulemaking to address the trap posed by forced arbitration clauses. Forced arbitration clauses included in the take-it-or-leave-it fine print of financial products and services continue to undermine many of the consumer protection laws and regulations the Bureau is working hard to enforce. Forced arbitration is systematically biased against consumers. In such an unfair playing field, with no transparency and no ability to appeal decisions, financial services providers overwhelmingly prevail against consumers. Consumers must be given a meaningful opportunity to choose, after the harm has occurred, how to proceed when they have been harmed or defrauded by a financial institution, whether through arbitration or through the public courts. Read the letter here.

CFPB Watch

By Ruth Susswein

The CFPB has released a proposal to give consumers more control over their personal financial data and limit a company’s ability to share or sell that data to others.

The Personal Financial Data Rights rule would accelerate a shift toward “open banking” by giving consumers the right to tell their bank to grant a third party—a nonbank or FinTech app, for example—access to their checking, credit card, prepaid card and digital wallet account data. 

However, companies’ access to a consumer’s data would only be available for a specific purpose that was pre-approved by the consumer. The data could not be used in other ways or sold to others, and could not be applied to artificial intelligence, to train algorithms for target marketing, or other purposes.

“When a consumer permits their private data to be used by a company for a specific purpose, it is not a free pass for that company to exploit the data for other uses,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra in a recent blog post.

One of the Bureau’s goals is to provide portability of consumers’ financial data to make it easier to bank elsewhere if you choose to. Just as you retain your phone number today, even when you switch mobile carriers, the same concept would apply to your bank data. Data portability is expected to improve customer service and competition. Director Chopra also envisions consumers being able to transfer their bank transaction history, which could make it easier for some to be eligible for credit elsewhere.

The proposed rule would also require that when consumers end their relationship with a financial firm, data collection by that company would stop, and the account data would be deleted.

To weigh in on the open banking proposal, click here. Comments are due by Dec. 29.

Citi fined for discriminating against Armenian Americans

Last month, the CFPB fined Citibank $25.9 million for illegally denying Armenian Americans credit cards based on their last names. Yes, you read that right.

From 2015 to 2021, the CFPB says, Citi “intentionally” denied credit to people of Armenian descent, with surnames ending in “-ian” and “-yan,” presuming they were “likely to be engaged in fraud.” The Bureau says consumers were given fake reasons for the credit denials.

According to the CFPB, Citi supervisors taught employees to discriminate against those of Armenian origin by applying more stringent criteria to their applications. Citi employees were then told to avoid discussing the discrimination on recorded phone lines or in writing. 

Citi is the third largest card issuer in the U.S. and also issues credit cards for Home Depot and Best Buy.

The CFPB order requires Citi to stop its illegal discrimination and to pay $1.4 million in financial relief to applicants. Consumers will receive a direct deposit or paper check from Citi if they are entitled to some of the funds. Citi will also pay $24.5 million into the Bureau’s victims relief fund.

Additionally, the CFPB and the Department of Justice have accused some lenders of applying blanket denials of credit based exclusively on applicants’ immigration status. Consumers have complained to the Bureau that they are being rejected for credit cards and for auto, student and personal loans even when they have strong credit histories.

The agencies have warned that denying credit because of a person’s immigration status, rather than because they lack the ability to repay the loan, violates the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. While someone’s immigration status can be considered to ascertain the creditor’s right to repayment, applicants cannot be denied credit solely on that basis.

“Fair access to credit is crucially important for building wealth and strengthening household financial stability,” said CFPB Director Chopra. “The CFPB will not allow companies to use immigration status as an excuse for illegal discrimination.”

Class Action Database: settles over reporting violations

By Monica Steinisch

Among recent settlements added to the Consumer Action Class Action Database are two cases alleging the same violations. Both Ashley Furniture and Shutterfly agreed to settlements to resolve allegations that the companies engaged in deceptive advertising when they advertised products for sale at a discount but based those discounted price tags on fabricated, inflated regular prices. The claims deadline for Ashley Furniture is Dec. 23, 2023; for Shutterfly, it is Feb. 5, 2024.

Of note is the settlement reached with for just under $900,000. Plaintiffs alleged that the consumer reporting agency, which provides consumer background reports on prospective tenants to landlords, included in the reports outdated criminal non-conviction information. It is a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to report non-convictions for more than seven years. You may be eligible for a payment if you were the subject of a background report prepared by between April 8, 2020, and April 9, 2023, that included information on at least one criminal non-conviction that predated the report by at least seven years. Class attorneys predict that each class member will receive around $75, though the actual amount depends on the number of valid claims submitted. Claims are due by Dec. 5, 2023.   

This settlement comes on the heels of the $15 million settlement obtained by the FTC and the CFPB in a case alleging that credit reporting agency TransUnion and a subsidiary violated the FCRA by failing to remove inaccurate or incomplete eviction records from consumer reports, hampering the ability of those consumers to obtain housing. (We covered the settlement in the CFPB Watch section of the November issue of the INSIDER.)

Learn about your rights under the FCRA—including the right to know what is in your files and the right to not have outdated negative information included—here.

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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