Consumer Protection: State Offices and Best Consumer Protection Websites

If you're the victim of a consumer scam, get help from a federal, state, or local consumer protection agency. You can also learn about consumer rights online.

Every state has a consumer protection agency, and many cities and counties have similar agencies. These consumer protection agencies, as well as your attorney general’s office, might provide publications at little or no cost that explain state laws on debt, credit, and general consumer matters. You can also get valuable informationlike how to avoid fraud and make wise consumer decisionsfrom various consumer-friendly websites.

Also, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a government agency that helps consumers resolve disputes with large financial institutions, debt collectors, credit reporting agencies, credit repair services, mortgage companies, credit card companies, auto loan and leasing companies, student loan lenders, payday loan lenders, and more. The CFPB also provides information on consumer matters.

How Can a State Consumer Protection Agency Help Me?

Consumer protection agencies are a valuable resource to consumers. They perform all kinds of functions, including:

  • educating consumers about their rights
  • publishing pamphlets explaining state consumer protection laws
  • publishing tip sheets with advice on how to avoid scams
  • maintaining consumer complaint phone lines
  • conducting investigations into consumer and financial scams
  • enforcing consumer protection laws
  • bringing civil lawsuits to stop scammers
  • prosecuting scammers under criminal laws, and
  • licensing and regulating various professions, like real estate brokers or insurance agents.

To find the consumer protection offices in your state, county or city, visit the USA.gov State Consumer Protection Offices website.

How Can the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Help Me?

Again, the CFPB is a government agency that helps consumers resolve disputes with large financial institutions, debt collectors, credit reporting agencies, credit repair services, mortgage companies, credit card companies, auto loan and leasing companies, student loan lenders, payday loan lenders, and more.

Born out of a necessity to combat the abuses of the 2008 recession, the CFPB “…makes sure banks, lenders, and other financial companies treat you fairly…” by instituting rules prohibiting unfair lending and collection practices and maintaining a complaint filing system that is accessible to all.

Congress Created the CFPB to Protect Consumers

The job losses, foreclosures, and bankruptcies brought about by the 2008 recession devastated the economy and financially hobbled many citizens. Adding insult to injury, taxpayers were forced to bail out the banking industry—a task suffering citizens found particularly distasteful given that by all accounts, the financial sector's unethical and fiscally unsound decisions were the root cause of the crisis.

Congress, recognizing the need to protect people from another collapse, passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the Act) in 2010. As part of its reforms, the Act established the CFPB to give citizens a voice against the banking and finance industry. It also protects individuals and families from unfair, deceptive, and abusive financial practices.

How Does the CFPB Protect Consumers?

The CFPB oversees and regulates consumer financial products and provides individuals a place to lodge complaints. You’ll find examples of significant consumer benefits below.

CFPB Rules Help Homeowners Stay in Their Homes

The Act mandated the CFPB to take strong action to protect homeowners. The CFPB complied. Not only did the CFPB institute rules requiring transparency in lending, but it took steps to slow down the foreclosure process, as well.

Under rules put in place in 2014, in most cases, a lender or servicer can't start a foreclosure proceeding until a homeowner is at least 120 days in default (behind) on a mortgage. During the waiting period, the bank must consider a homeowner’s request for a foreclosure alternative, such as a loan modification. The filing of a completed application stays (stops) the foreclosure until the bank completes the evaluation.

The waiting period is a lifesaver for many owners. It provides time to recover financially after suffering from an illness, job loss, or similar downturn. The law is especially critical in states that allow nonjudicial foreclosures, particularly in a few states where a lender may sell a home at auction as soon as 30 days after a default. (To find out about the foreclosure process in your state, see Key Aspects of State Foreclosure Law: 50-State Chart.)

The CFPB’s Online Complaint Program

Anyone who has tried to solve a problem with a large company knows how frustrating it can be—especially if you’re unable to come to a reasonable resolution.

Now, a consumer can file a complaint on the CFPB website. The CFPB will work as an intermediary on behalf of the consumer by submitting the complaint to the company and following up to resolve the problem. You'll receive email updates and can log in to track the status of your complaint. If the CFPB thinks that another government agency would be better able to assist, it will forward your complaint to them and let you know.

Once the company responds, you’ll be able to review that response and you'll have 60 days to provide feedback about the company's response.

Getting Help: Where to Find Consumer Protection Websites

Whether you're buying a car, traveling abroad, or worried about Internet scams, arm yourself with valuable information from these websites.

Nolo's Consumer Protection Section
Check out Nolo's Consumer Protection section to learn how to avoid consumer scams, protect yourself when shopping on or using the Internet, and learn about warranty rights.

National Consumer League's Fraud Center
The nonprofit National Consumer League’s Fraud Center can help if you’ve been defrauded by a telemarketer or online. It sends copies of your complaint to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. You can call, write, or fill out an online complaint form.

AnnualCreditReport.com
Visit this site to order your annual free credit report from all three credit bureaus. The site also has information about reporting credit fraud, placing a credit freeze or fraud alert on your account, disputing information on your credit report, and ordering reports more than once per year.

myFICO
For a small fee, you can obtain your FICO score, understand the factors affecting your credit score, and learn how to improve and protect your score.

Better Business Bureau (BBB)
On the BBB's website, you can file a complaint against a local business, as well as find out the complaint history and BBB standing of a certain business. The BBB also mediates some disputes between consumers and member businesses.

Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports has been a leader in product reviews for many years, providing information about the quality and reliability of large and small electronics, appliances, home and garden products, baby and toddler equipment, and more. Its annual Car Buying issue has been a consumer favorite for many years. Its money section provides information about banking and credit, personal investing, travel, and retirement products.

Kelly Blue Book (KBB)
Find the value of your used car by checking the Kelly Blue Book online. Or find out what your dealer paid for the new car you plan to buy. You can also read car reviews and compare cars.

Edmunds
This site has lots of information about buying and selling cars, spotting car sales scams, how to get a good deal on car insurance, financing a vehicle purchase, and more. Also, check out the car reviews and videos.

The Center for Auto Safety
Learn about automobile manufacturer warranty programs, discover typical defects for various car makes and models, and file and view complaints about car warranty issues. This website also provides links to each state's auto lemon laws.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
This government website has information about the latest vehicle and equipment recalls, as well as consumer guides on safe driving and vehicle safety.

Bankrate.com
This website has loads of online calculators for mortgages, auto loans, credit card payments and interest, investment, retirement savings, college financing, and more. You can also shop for credit cards, mortgages, and other financial products, while comparing rates and terms.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC's consumer protection center has information about identity theft, buying a car, consumer credit and loans, and telemarketing. You can also submit a complaint about fraud, scams, phishing, identity theft, unwanted telemarketing, credit or debt issues, or other unfair business practices.

Identitytheft.gov
Identitytheft.gov is a one-stop resource for people to report identity theft and get a recovery plan.

U.S. Department of State, Travel Information
Here you can get information about obtaining passports and visas, what to do if your passport is stolen, travel warnings in foreign countries, and tips for traveling abroad.

National Consumer Law Center (NCLC)
NCLC's "For Consumers" section has consumer education brochures, links to consumer information and resources, and a center devoted to surviving debt.

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