Consumer Action INSIDER - March 2024


What people are saying

“Consumer Action has been a valuable resource for community-based organizations for a very long time. The information and training they provide helps all housing counseling agencies increase their knowledge as well as their skillset.” —Andrea Britton, Abyssinian Development Corporation/Abyssinian Homeownership Program, New York City (view our webinars on our YouTube channel)

Register for Wednesday’s webinar on protecting consumers from fraud! 

By Monica Steinisch

There are just a few days left to register for Consumer Action’s March 6 virtual train-the-trainer: Helping Diverse and Multilingual Communities Avoid Consumer Fraud. This event, made possible by a consumer education grant from Amazon, is presented as part of National Consumer Protection Week, held annually the first week of March to bring attention to consumer fraud education and prevention. 

The webinar will provide information and tools that can help your organization educate and empower the growing number of culturally diverse and multilingual clients you may be serving, so that they can recognize and avoid fraud. Our distinguished panel of speakers will discuss the need their agencies found for culturally relevant and/or multilingual consumer education; the initiatives or resources their agencies created to reach diverse communities; and the advice they have for community educators and advocates for creating similar resources or for making use of the educational resources they offer.

Click here to register for Helping Diverse and Multilingual Communities Avoid Consumer Fraud.

Reaching consumers at Bay Area Lunar New Year celebrations

By Monica Steinisch

Consumer Action’s outreach staff, Jamie Woo and Nelson Santiago, spent the last weekend of January introducing consumers at the Oakland Chinatown 32nd Lunar New Year Bazaar to programs that can help them save money on home energy (gas and electricity) and broadband internet service. We’ve been spreading the word about these programs since receiving an education and outreach grant from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in 2022, and one from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2023.

From their booth at the lively event, organized by the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, the duo distributed information about PG&E’s various assistance programs to combat energy poverty: Relief for Energy Assistance through Community Help (REACH); California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE); Family Electric Rate Assistance (FERA) Program; Energy Savings Assistance (ESA) Program; Budget Billing; and the Medical Baseline Program. The programs offer a range of benefits, from savings on current energy use, forgiveness of past-due energy bills and surprise-free billing to no-cost energy efficient home upgrades and help for users of energy-dependent medical devices. PG&E customers can be enrolled in more than one program. Learn more about the discount and assistance programs here.

They also shared information about the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)—a federal program that provides a monthly discount of up $30 (up to $75 for residents of Tribal lands) on broadband internet service for eligible low- and moderate-income households, as well as a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from participating providers. Unfortunately, due to a lack of additional funding from Congress, the ACP put a freeze on new applications and enrollment shortly after the event. However, consumers who were approved and enrolled with an internet service provider by 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 7 will continue to receive the ACP benefit through April (an estimate that could change). (Consumer Action has voiced its support for the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act (HR 6929/S 3565)—a bill that would provide the funds to extend the program through 2024—and you can, too. Visit our Take Action Center to urge your representatives in D.C. to restore ACP funding.) 

Community Outreach Manager Jamie Woo talks to Chinese-speaking event-goers at Oakland's Lunar New Year celebration.

Woo, who is fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin, was able to explain the ACP and PG&E programs to the many booth visitors who speak primarily or only Chinese. Santiago helped English- and Spanish-speaking visitors. Some attendees stopped at our booth after recognizing the Consumer Action name, known in the Chinese-speaking community as one of the only resources offering in-language hotline assistance. A few visitors talked about a range of consumer concerns they were facing and, of course, learned about the ACP and PG&E programs. (One customer even came back on the second day of the event to show us her completed application for PG&E’s CARE program.) 

The China Press, a Chinese-language newspaper published in the U.S., posted an article about Consumer Action’s participation in the event.

In late February, Woo and Santiago headed south, to San Jose’s 3rd annual Lunar New Year celebration, to continue sharing PG&E’s programs that make essential utility services more affordable and efficient for qualifying households. More than 100 event visitors stopped by the Consumer Action table, picking up PG&E program brochures, applications and crowd-pleasing swag (mini-flashlights, children’s coloring books, etc.), which help pique attendees' interest in learning about the assistance programs.

PG&E had its own, separate booth nearby, which made it possible for Consumer Action staff to provide general information and program applications and, if necessary, walk visitors over to the PG&E booth to get answers to specific account questions.

“It’s gratifying to be working side-by-side with PG&E to offer consumers a one-stop source of energy cost solutions and account-related assistance,” said Santiago.

More PG&E education and outreach events are scheduled for the coming months, and they’ll be highlighted 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. (Note that eligibility for savings with the Medical Baseline program does not depend on income.)

If you have clients who did not get to enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program before the freeze, watch our ACP landing page for news about whether the program is reinstated by Congress.

Webinar addresses foreclosure process and prevention 

By Monica Steinisch

Consumer Action’s early-February train-the-trainer webinar on avoiding foreclosure drew particularly high attendance, perhaps reflective of the uptick in foreclosures in 2023 (over 2022). The three-person expert panel for the Helping Homeowners Avoid Foreclosure webinar gave attendees—many, if not most, of whom provide housing counseling, foreclosure prevention services or other types of assistance to homeowners—detailed information about the foreclosure process and players, the legal obligations of mortgage services, loss mitigation options, and various resources to help keep struggling homeowners in their homes or minimize the consequences of leaving the home.

Araceli Jimenez, a HUD-certified housing counselor with Administration of Resources and Choices (ARC), set the stage with the poignant story of a family she worked with. The husband and father of two had been severely injured in a workplace accident. As the sole household earner, Jimenez explained, his sudden loss of income put the family’s home in jeopardy. 

At this point, Stacey Tutt, Homeowner Assistance Fund coordinator and senior staff attorney with the National Housing Law Project (NHLP), and Andrea Bopp Stark, senior attorney with the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), took the mic to give attendees an overview of the types of financing that can be subject to foreclosure (purchase money loans, refinance loans, HELOCs, etc.) and the reasons why homeowners may fall behind. Tutt noted that recent research shows that 94% of those who fall behind do so because of negative life events—things that increase their expenses or reduce the income available to them, such as a change in loan payment (due to an interest rate increase or balloon payment due, for example) or a job loss, illness, divorce or expensive home repairs.

Bopp Stark then explained the different types of loan owners/insurers (such as the VA, Fannie Mae, private investors, etc.), which is crucial to know because the owner of the loan determines what options are available when a homeowner falls behind. Servicers also play a key role in the delinquency and foreclosure process because, as the agent of the loan owner, they deal directly with the borrower. 

Tutt and Bopp Stark then went over the foreclosure process, including who has the right to foreclose (based on state law), the key differences between judicial and nonjudicial foreclosure, the foreclosure sale timeline, and legal obligations the lender must fulfill. 

The webinar continued with a presentation of the types of information homeowners might request from or provide to their loan servicer, and the legal requirements for servicer response; possible foreclosure prevention workouts (loan modification, forbearance, reinstatement, etc.) and “graceful exits” (deed-in-lieu, short sale, etc.); options to discuss with a lawyer, such as possible legal defenses and bankruptcy; and mortgage relief programs from non-lenders, such as the Homeowners Assistance Fund (HAF), state assistance programs, and local charitable relief programs. The presenters highlighted community-based organizations (CBOs) as an invaluable source of help to struggling homeowners, along with HUD-certified housing counselors, legal services, and foreclosure mediation programs.

Before the end of the webinar, we returned to Jimenez to learn how the story of her client ended. Ultimately, she was able to help the injured homeowner apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and get a loan forbearance from the servicer. Between the SSDI income and earnings from the wife’s new employment, a six-month break from having to make mortgage payments, and a low-interest FHA HAMP loan modification, the family was able to save their home from foreclosure—a testament to the value of housing counselors.

If you were unable to join us live, you can view the 90-minute webinar on Consumer Action’s YouTube channel. (And please subscribe while you’re there.) 

The Helping Homeowners Avoid Foreclosure webinar was made possible by an AHEAD economic development grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco and member institution Desert Financial Credit Union.The grant supports Consumer Action’s ongoing work to expand homeownership access and security. (We first wrote about the grant in the July 2023 issue of Consumer Action INSIDER.)

Also part of the project is Housing Help: Next steps and resources when you’re at risk of foreclosure, a reader-friendly guide for struggling homeowners. Download it for free, in English and Spanish, here.

Coalition Efforts

By Monica Steinisch

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

Updated new-home energy code requirements. Consumer Action was one of more than 75 organizations to call on the FHFA to require that all new homes purchased with mortgages backed by the Government Sponsored Enterprises—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—meet the updated energy codes currently proposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for their mortgage products. In addition to allowing FHFA to act in concert with other federal agencies, creating consistent energy requirements for nearly all federally-backed mortgage financing, the step would reduce risk to the Enterprises and protect homeowners while expanding access to affordable homeownership, addressing the racial home equity gap, and reducing home energy burdens. Absent the new energy code requirements, low-income households will continue to be saddled with decades of energy waste, high utility bills and poor resilience, making housing less affordable long-term. Read the letter here.

Mandatory arbitration agreements. Consumer Action joined its allies in a letter calling upon the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to adopt rules, pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, to ban the use of mandatory pre-dispute arbitration agreements in investment adviser and broker-dealer contracts. Pervasive in the financial services industry, and often a condition of obtaining services, the provisions of these agreements force investors who have suffered fraud or abuse by their advisers into arbitration forums that are often unfair, opaque and expensive. The SEC should prohibit the inclusion of mandatory pre-dispute arbitration provisions and allow investors with a grievance to choose, after a dispute arises, whether to opt for arbitration or settle their dispute in a courtroom. Read the letter here.

Federal "Right to Repair." Consumer Action joined consumer advocacy allies in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) calling for the agency to end device manufacturers’ restrictions on how and where consumers can repair their smartphones, tablets and computers. While states have made progress on “Right to Repair” over the last few years, there is no federal ban on barriers to repair. Consumer protection groups, lawmakers, businesses and individual consumers are seeking the FTC’s support and assistance in ensuring access to the parts, tools and information needed to repair their devices and in creating better transparency for prospective customers seeking to understand the repairability of products at the point of sale. Easier repair will not only make it simpler and cheaper for consumers to fix their phones, laptops and tablets, it also helps the environment because more repair means less electronic waste. Read the letter here.

Rampant junk fees. Consumer Action was one of 52 advocacy groups to submit a joint comment to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in support of the agency’s proposed rulemaking to address unfair and deceptive practices related to fees. “Junk fees”—bogus, hidden charges—are now commonplace in everything from auto loans and airfares to concert tickets and hotel stays. Because they are often hidden until the tail end of a transaction, it is difficult or impossible to compare the true cost of a purchase. Hidden fees harm all consumers, but they can be particularly financially damaging to vulnerable consumers. The FTC’s proposal to ban hidden and misleading fees would create a fair, transparent marketplace for honest businesses, stimulate competition, and save consumers time and money. Read the letter here.

CFPB Watch

By Ruth Susswein

Consumers harmed by foreclosure relief schemes will finally receive nearly $11 million in financial compensation.

The Consumer First Legal Group and the Mortgage Law Group took illegal, upfront fees for mortgage modifications that were never agreed to by the lender, according to the CFPB. The law firms were also charged with directing consumers to not contact their lenders, failing to provide required disclosures, and making deceptive statements about mortgage relief.

After a lengthy lawsuit and multiple appeals spanning the last 10 years, consumers will receive $10.9 million in financial relief. The defendants will also pay a $1.1million penalty to the CFPB’s victims relief fund and be banned from the mortgage assistance industry for the next five to eight years.

Don't fall for the scam; it's not the taxman

A growing number of consumers have been receiving phone calls and emails from people posing as government officials from the CFPB and other agencies. These scammers have been lying to consumers, saying that they are entitled to money from a lawsuit, but before they can receive the funds, they must first pay money to the government in taxes or fees. 

The CFPB wants you to know that they will “NEVER contact you and ask you for sensitive information or to pay money.” 

You can report imposter scams here.

Bigger isn't always better

The largest credit card issuers charge the highest interest rates in the market—even if you have a good credit score—according to the latest data gathered by the CFPB. The 25 largest card issuers are charging 8-10 points more than smaller banks and credit unions. That amounts to an extra $400 to $500 a year in interest on a $5,000 balance.

Large issuers are charging more than 28% interest for cardholders with poor credit and nearly 23% for those with great credit (a credit score of 720 and higher). Small lenders are charging 20.62% for those with poor credit and 15.24% for those with great credit. Nearly half of the largest card issuers have credit cards that carry more than a 30% APR. The biggest players were also more likely to charge an annual fee, which was $157 a year on average. 

According to CFPB analysis, these excessively high rates are not just due to inflation; they are also based on the amount card issuers choose to charge above the prime rate, called the margin.

Consumer Bureau looks to hold payment apps and Big Tech accountable

The CFPB proposed a rule late last year to oversee digital payment apps, like Venmo, Zelle and Cash App, as well as Big Tech (Google, Apple) digital wallets. The regulation would require these companies to follow the same rules as banks and credit unions, and would allow the Bureau to monitor large nonbanks to ensure that they are following laws that protect us from unfair practices, money transfer abuses and privacy violations. 

CFPB oversight could also give the Bureau the authority to address consumers’ refund rights involving peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps (e.g., Venmo, Zelle, PayPal).

Consumers have often been left without a refund when they’ve been fooled into sending money to scammers and fraudsters through P2P apps.

The New York Attorney General recently sued Citi for allegedly failing to protect consumers from fraudsters who stole money from their accounts. 

Under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, financial institutions are held responsible for “unauthorized” transfers of funds and must typically reimburse consumers for fraud (and errors) when consumers quickly report the problem. However, Zelle, Venmo and other payment apps argue that they generally are not responsible for reimbursing people for these frauds because the transfer of funds was authorized by the customer.

We’ll keep you posted.

Class Action Database: Streamers to get payment and free service in AMC settlement

By Monica Steinisch

Among recent settlements added to the Consumer Action Class Action Database is the $35 million Apple agreed to pay to settle allegations of defective audio chips in the company’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. If you owned this model of phone between Sept. 16, 2016, and Jan. 3, 2023, and you complained to Apple of audio issues or paid Apple to repair the device, you may be eligible for payment. The deadline for claims is June 3, 2024. 

Of note is the $8.3 million settlement movie theater giant AMC will pay to settle allegations that the company disclosed the personally identifiable information of registered users of AMC+, Shudder, Acorn TV, ALLBLK, SundanceNow, and HIDIVE to third-party tracking companies without their consent, in violation of the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA). If you were a registered user of AMC Services and requested or obtained video content on at least one of the six AMC streaming services listed above from Jan. 18, 2021, through Jan. 10, 2024, you may be eligible for payment and one week of free streaming service. The deadline for claims is April 9, 2024.

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.

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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