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National Consumer Protection Week: Six Tips to Make You a Smarter Shopper

Sales pitches and financial advice come at you from every direction—by phone, by mail, and every time you read an ad, go online or turn on your TV. It can seem like a full time job just to sort it all out, but you don’t have to do it alone.

Government agencies, consumer organizations and advocacy groups join forces during National Consumer Protection Week, March 3-9 with shopping strategies and consumer tips to empower you to make better buying decisions and protect your rights in the marketplace.

Start learning now with these tips:

DID YOU KNOW:

  • A free mobile app can help you check any product or vehicle, new or used, to see if it’s been recalled or has safety complaints? Keep up with recent recalls of things you may have around the house or check on that great thrift shop bargain before you buy. Use the Recalls.gov app and mobile site to search by product type and brand name.
  • When your wallet is lost or stolen, there are eight steps you need to take right away (PDF)? A thief won’t waste time trying to cash in on your loss. Learn now so you’ll be ready to protect your identity and your credit as soon as your wallet goes missing.
  • A new federal agency is working to eliminate deceptive and unfair lending practices? Established in 2010, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) works to make sure providers of mortgages, credit cards, student loans and banking services market their products honestly, clearly and legally. Learn more about their work, and their simple tips for protecting yourself.
  • Scammers see tough economic times as an opportunity? Job scams are abundant, as swindlers “guarantee” you an unadvertised job, try to get you to pay for their placement services or tell you that you can get rich by working from home. Learn more about financial scams and saving money at the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer.gov.
  • There’s a formula for complaining effectively? If you’re not satisfied with a product or service, use the Consumer Action Handbook’s sample complaint letter to let the company know where they went wrong and how you want them to fix it. To get the free Handbook or its Spanish counterpart, la Guía del Consumidor, visit the consumer protection sections of USA.gov or GobiernoUSA.gov.

You can ask us your consumer questions during a special National Consumer Protection Week online Q&A session. In partnership with the Federal Trade Commission, we will connect you with government resources to answer your questions during the live event on Wednesday, March 6 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EST. Find out about the latest scams, how to protect your family from identity theft, and more. To participate, submit your questions during the event on Twitter using the hashtag #NCPW.

Participate in our National Consumer Protection Week Live Twitter Chat

We will host a National Consumer Protection Week Twitter chat on Wednesday, March 6 at 2 p.m. EST.

Experts from USA.gov, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be on hand to answer your consumer-related questions and and provide government resources that can help. So whether you have questions about how to file a complaint with a company or how to learn about the latest scams, now is your chance to get answers.

You can submit your questions on Twitter (@USAgov) using the hashtag #NCPW from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EST next Wednesday, when experts will be available to answer them live. As always, you can also ask questions on our Facebook page or here on the blog.

National Consumer Protection Week runs from March 3-9 and encourages you to take full advantage of your consumer rights and make well-informed decisions in the marketplace.

What consumer questions do you have?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau orders American Express to pay $85 million to consumers because of illegal practices. American Express will contact you if you’re owed money.

Top Consumer Complaints of 2011

What is the American consumer most upset about?

Identity theft. It accounted for 15 percent of the 1.8 million complaints registered with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2011.

Here’s the rest of top complaints FTC received in 2011:

  • Debt Collection Complaints
  • Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lotteries
  • Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales
  • Banks and Lenders
  • Internet Services
  • Auto-related Complaints
  • Impostor Scams
  • Telephone and Mobile Services
  • Advance-Fee Loans and Credit Protection/Repair

The data comes from complaints entered by Americans into the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant. The FTC shares the complaints with more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad, allowing them to track trends and target offenders.

Learn more about the FTC’s top complaints for 2011.

Download a PDF about what to do if your identity is stolen.

Green Guidelines for Consumers

On Twitter, @VJillAnnie asked us, “Could the Bureau of Consumer Protection assist w/ Transparency Strategies to Reduce Land Use Consumption 4 land owners?”

The Federal Trade Commission says land use is usually a matter for local groups. Clearly people are looking for accurate information about making choices that are good for the environment.

When companies make “green” claims, they need to back them up with solid science. The FTC is revising its Green Guides to help companies comply with the law and make sure you have access to accurate information. Find the latest at ftc.gov/green.