Consumer Action INSIDER - July 2023


What people are saying

"If it were not for Consumer Action, I would be less likely to be privy to important information that adds value to the work I do for my clients. I feel better equipped and empowered knowing that I have credible and relevant information that can help the people I serve leave my office better than they came."

"Student Loans: Beyond borrowing” webinar attendee Katrina Vizinau, Community Housing Development Corp., Richmond, CA (view the webinar on Consumer Action’s YouTube channel) 

FCC grant enables expanded outreach on Affordable Connectivity Program

By Monica Steinisch

Consumer Action has received a grant from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau that will enable us to continue, and expand, our education and outreach work around the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The federal government’s ACP program provides eligible low- and moderate-income households an internet service discount of up to $30 per month (up to $75 for residents of Tribal lands) and a one-time discount of as much as $100 for a computer or tablet. 

Broadband internet service is essential for conducting the necessary tasks of daily life, including learning and doing homework, telecommuting, looking for a job, banking, and accessing remote health services, yet many consumers have trouble affording it and are not taking advantage of ACP assistance. One survey, in January, found that over 50% of eligible low-income households said they had never heard of the program. Some 37% of eligible households that knew little about the program say they would be likely to apply with more information and 31% said they would be likely to apply if they knew whether they qualified.  

With this grant, Consumer Action will increase ACP awareness and enrollment nationwide, through enrollment events, webinars, fact sheet distribution, and digital and paid media campaigns. In-person enrollment events will take place in six California counties, and in Arizona, Texas and North Carolina—states chosen for their concentration of Tribal communities. Training webinars (for community-based organization staff), fact sheet distribution and media work will have a nationwide reach.

Consumer Action has a long history of working to keep low-income consumers connected. We’ve been publishing our “Connect to California LifeLine and Save!” guide since 2011, informing the state’s residents about the discounted phone service program. In 2016, we created “Getting Up to Speed,” a guide to the low-cost broadband plans being offered to eligible households by various carriers and nonprofits. When the federal Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) was introduced in 2021, we updated the guide to reflect this additional option, and also created a new resource, “Lifeline and the Emergency Broadband Benefit,” which was updated last year, when the EBB ended and the ACP began. A companion publication was added, specifically about the enhanced program benefits for residents of Tribal lands. At that time, Consumer Action’s outreach staff also conducted a webinar training for our CBO network partners, to explain the ACP’s benefits, eligibility requirements and enrollment process, and prepare these groups to promote ACP participation in their own communities. (All publications are available for free download from Consumer Action’s website.)

Look for future email messages inviting you to participate in ACP-related educational webinars and enrollment events.

AHEAD grant funds new "Housing Help” foreclosure prevention guide 

By Monica Steinisch

As part of our continuous work to further housing access and security, Consumer Action has just published a new guide for homeowners who are, or may soon become, at risk of foreclosure. Production of the guide is part of a housing education project funded by an Access to Housing and Economic Assistance for Development (AHEAD) grant, provided by Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco and member institution Desert Federal Credit Union.

Housing Help: Next steps and resources when you’re at risk of foreclosure” lays out homeowners’ options, based on their goals (whether they want to keep the home or not), when they can see that missing a mortgage payment is inevitable or when they have already missed one or more payments. It also explains the default and foreclosure timeline, the various government loan foreclosure prevention programs, the professionals homeowners can turn to for guidance and legal help, and what questions to ask of lenders and advisors/counselors when trying to identify options and make the best choices. Numerous resources are included so that homeowners can find personal assistance as well as additional information.

“Housing Help” is available for free download, in both English and Spanish, on Consumer Action’s website.

The project also includes a related webinar for later this year. Keep your eyes open for an email announcing the topic, date and registration information.

Coalition Efforts

By Monica Steinisch

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

Accountability for rental car overbooking. Consumer Action joined Consumer Reports, Public Citizen, American Economic Liberties Project, and former FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in endorsing proposed legislation that would hold rental car companies accountable for overbooking. The Vehicle Rental Order Obligation Mandate (VROOM) Act, introduced by Congressman Robert Garcia (CA-42), would require rental car companies that cannot fulfill a confirmed reservation to compensate the customer. Currently, rental car companies are under no obligation to compensate consumers when they fail to fulfill a confirmed reservation—unlike when an airline overbooks. Under the bill, consumers would have the choice of receiving double the daily confirmed rate (up to $500/day), an upgrade at no additional charge, or a downgrade with a refund for the price difference. Read the press release here.

Auto insurer discrimination. Consumer Action and 18 other advocacy organizations wrote a letter to members of the House Financial Services Committee expressing support for the Prohibit Auto Insurance Discrimination (PAID) Act (HR 3880). The legislation would prevent auto insurance companies from using socioeconomic factors to determine consumers’ eligibility for auto insurance or as a basis for determining the premium they pay for coverage. Because virtually every state mandates the purchase of auto insurance, the PAID Act provides a necessary national baseline requirement that will help ensure that lower-income consumers and people of color are not disproportionately denied the opportunity to drive legally. Although states generally forbid the use of income and race as a rating factor, most states do not explicitly prevent the use of factors that strongly correlate with race, ethnicity or income—for example, credit reports/scores, education, employment, homeownership status, and home ZIP code. The Federal Trade Commission would be responsible for enforcing this law, and violations would be considered unfair and deceptive acts. Read the letter here

Malintent of REINS Act. The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards (CSS), an alliance of over 150 labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental and public interest groups, of which Consumer Action is a member, wrote a letter urging U.S. Senate members to oppose the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2023 (HR 277). The bill’s clear aim is to halt the implementation of critical new public health and safety safeguards, financial reforms and worker protections, making industry even less accountable to the public. Under the REINS Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and our other protector agencies could not enforce a “major” rule—a rule with a large economic impact—unless both houses of Congress affirmatively approved it, with no alterations, within a 70-day window. The most commonsense, non-controversial rules could be blocked for any reason, or no reason at all. Congress should be searching for ways to ensure that federal agencies are able to enforce laws designed to protect our food supply, water, air quality, financial security, etc., not putting up roadblocks to sensible safeguards that protect the American people. Read the letter here.

Far-reaching benefits of Tax on Wall Street Speculation Act. Consumer Action was one of 52 organizations to sign on to a letter urging lawmakers to co-sponsor the “Tax on Wall Street Speculation Act of 2023,” sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). This legislation would raise significant revenue—nearly $220 billion per year—for important public services and benefits. As of April 2023, the Forbes list of U.S. billionaires includes 186 individuals who’ve acquired their massive fortunes through the financial industry—often through high-frequency, hyper-fast computer program trading that has no real economic or social value. While the American public must pay taxes on every paycheck, Wall Street high rollers can manipulate capital gains taxes and use careful financial maneuvering to decide if and when they pay taxes on their holdings. This legislation would impose a tax of 0.5% on each trade of stocks, 0.1% on bonds, and 0.005% on the underlying value of derivatives. (Taxpayers of modest means who own assets that would be taxed under this proposal would receive an income tax credit in order to offset the tax.) While the tax per transaction is very small, cumulatively, the tax revenue would enable the U.S. to begin to address income inequality and ensure that Wall Street and the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share. Read the letter here.

CFPB Watch: Misleading add-ons, missing insurance, and mandating an affordability check

By Ruth Susswein

Customers of OneMain Financial, a nonbank installment lender with a nationwide network of 1,400 branches in 44 states, will be receiving the refunds they were entitled to for cancelled purchases. 

The CFPB found that OneMain deceived borrowers into believing they had to purchase add-on products to receive a loan. Some of the lender’s employees were found to have simply tacked the add-ons onto the loan, called “pre-packing.” OneMain upsold add-ons for roadside assistance, credit life and disability insurance, and identity theft coverage. 

OneMain told borrowers they would receive a full refund if they cancelled the add-on products within 30 days, but, the Bureau says, the lender “unfairly failed to refund interest charges” that amounted to $10 million and should have been returned. 

In addition to refunding what’s owed to borrowers, OneMain will also pay a $10 million penalty into the Bureau’s victims relief fund. 

Warning regarding P2P payment app balances

The CFPB recently posted a warning to consumers that billions of dollars stored in nonbank peer-to-peer (P2P) payment accounts, like Venmo, Cash App and PayPal, may not be protected by FDIC or NCUA insurance. So, if the payment app company were to fail, your funds could be lost. 

According to the CFPB, payments received in digital accounts are “not usually swept automatically” into the user’s linked bank or credit union account. Instead, the funds often sit in the app company’s account, which may or may not be held at an insured financial institution. Those funds might also be invested by the payment app company for its own financial gain, putting the company at risk from investment losses. 

Information about whether your dollars are invested, where your money is held, whether the funds are insured, and what happens to your money if the app company fails may be murky or missing in user agreements. Some apps may provide what’s called pass-through insurance, which would protect your funds if the bank or credit union where the app holds your money goes under, but it doesn’t insure you against the failure of the app company. 

The CFPB recommends setting yourself a reminder to transfer your P2P balance into your linked FDIC-insured bank account or NCUA-insured credit union account. 

Proposed new PACE loan rule

The CFPB has proposed a new rule that would require companies that offer Property Assessed Clean Energy (“PACE”) loans to evaluate a consumer’s ability to repay the loan—similar to qualifying for a mortgage.

PACE loans are used to finance energy-efficient home improvements through a property tax assessment. Typically, the borrower’s home is used as security for the loan, and, most unusually, repayment of this tax lien takes precedence over the homeowner’s outstanding mortgage balance in the case of a foreclosure. This arrangement all but eliminates risk for the PACE lender, meaning that even consumers with a limited or poor credit history can still qualify for a PACE loan. There is, however, a significant risk to the homeowner—foreclosure—if the loan’s high interest rate makes the payments unaffordable. 

The CFPB has proposed to officially consider PACE loans a form of credit (under Regulation Z), which would trigger the requirement to assess if a homeowner can afford to repay the loan. The Bureau is proposing to institute these rules to help homeowners avoid foreclosure when they unintentionally enter into unaffordable loans secured by their home. 

If you’ve had an experience with a PACE loan or have an opinion you’d like to share with the Consumer Bureau before it finalizes its PACE rule, email your comments to the CFPB (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) before July 26. Please include Docket No. CFPB-2023-0029 in the subject line.

Last call for input about data broker violations

As we’ve reported, the CFPB plans to crack down on data brokers—companies that compile details of your life and sell them to others without your permission. Some of the data they gather can be quite personal, from the income you earn and loans you owe to the medications you take. What’s more, these data profiles (sometimes based on background reports and tenant screening reports) can be downright wrong. Nevertheless, the erroneous information may ruin your chances of getting a loan, an apartment or a job. 

If you’ve tried to correct or delete your personal information from a data broker’s database, you can email your stories to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)—the deadline has been extended to July 15. Please include Docket Number CFPB-2023-0020 in the subject line. 

CFPB seeks applications for advisory committees

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now accepting applications for membership on all four of its advisory committees: the Consumer Advisory Board, the Community Bank Advisory Council, the Credit Union Advisory Council, and the Academic Research Council. These committees provide the agency with expertise and diverse viewpoints.

Advisory committee members typically are:

  • Experts in consumer protection, community development, consumer finance, fair lending and civil rights
  • Experts in consumer financial products or services, including consumer reporting, student lending, small dollar lending, credit cards, debt collection, small business lending and debt relief
  • Experts in consumer finance education
  • Representatives of banks and credit unions that serve underserved communities
  • Representatives of communities that have been significantly impacted by higher priced mortgage loans
  • Current employees of credit unions and community banks
  • Academics with a strong research and publishing or practitioner background, and a record of involvement in research and public policy, including public or academic service

Click here to learn more about the committees, the qualifications, and how to apply. Applications must be submitted by July 16.

Class Action Database: Manipulated reviews cost online retailer

By Monica Steinisch

Among recent settlements added to the Consumer Action Class Action Database is the $37.5 million settlement in a case against Meta Platforms alleging that the company inferred the location of U.S. Facebook users through their IP addresses even after they had turned off location services for the Facebook app on their Android or iPhone. If you used Facebook in the U.S. between Jan. 30, 2015, and April 18, 2018, and had your location services setting for the Facebook app turned off, yet your location was inferred by your IP address, you may be eligible for payment. The deadline for claims is Aug. 11, 2023.

Of note is the $4.2 million that online retailer Fashion Nova paid to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that the company misled consumers by failing to post hundreds of thousands of negative product reviews. If you purchased products at before Nov. 21, 2019, based on customer ratings and reviews, and you were dissatisfied with your purchase but have not already received a refund for the product(s), you may be eligible for payment. The deadline for claims is Aug. 15, 2023. 

While in the Fashion Nova case the issue was negative reviews deliberately hidden from prospective customers by the retailer, another problem is fake reviews. These are bad for consumers as well as for businesses. Many platforms are working hard to try to keep the fakes off their sites; Amazon says it proactively blocked over 200 million suspected fake reviews from its stores in 2022. And recently, the company launched its “Blueprint for stopping fake reviews,” an initiative aimed squarely at fake review brokers—fraudsters who make a business of selling phony reviews intended to deceive customers and provide unfair competitive advantages over honest sellers in Amazon’s store. 

Ultimately, consumers should always read reviews with a critical eye. Tips from FindLaw and ReviewTrackers can help you spot the fakes. 

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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