Your consumer rights are disappearing. Here’s how to protect yourself now.

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It’s not your imagination. Your consumer rights are vanishing.

Not a day seems to go by that you don’t see news of another consumer regulation being dismantled, a law coming undone, an anti-consumer executive order being signed.

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“From the very beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump made it clear that he intends to win the economy,” says Alex Geisinger, a law professor at Drexel University. “Touting a pro-growth agenda, the administration is taking steps to cut so-called government red tape, and, with that, a series of repeals on regulations across various industries.”

If you run a business, these may be the best of times. But if you’re a consumer? Not so much.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re a regular reader of this feature, you already know whom to call and what to say. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the executives who can help in my handy directory of executive contacts.

But which businesses are dismantling their regulations the quickest?

The airline industry has been pushing hard to chip away at pro-consumer federal regulations. A few weeks ago, it looked as if it had scored a victory when a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking — a precursor to creating a new federal regulation — was suspended.

The proposed rule, ordered in the waning days of the Obama administration, would have required airlines and ticket agents to clearly disclose to consumers all customer-specific fee information, including charges for a first and second checked bag and a carry-on bag, wherever fare and schedule information is provided to consumers. It also would have mandated that the baggage fee information be disclosed, adjacent to the fare, at the first point in a search process where a fare is listed in connection with a specific flight itinerary.

But the airline industry also has become its own worst enemy with a string of high-profile passenger confrontations, including the shocking expulsion of David Dao from a United Airlines flight in Chicago. They’ve slowed the momentum of deregulation and could, oddly enough, create more regulation in the long term.

Still, some frequent air travelers feel a sense of hopelessness.

“We have lost our rights as citizens,” says Jeni Farque, who often flies as a government contractor. She points to recent abuses not only by airlines but also by the Transportation Security Administration, which has taken a more vigilant approach to full-body searches.

Other industries are rapidly dismantling regulations, too. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) faces a dramatic overhaul that could render it impotent. And the Obama-era financial reforms, which protected consumers on many levels, face serious overhauls under the Trump administration.

“Almost anyone who has dealt with a bank, credit card company or other financial institution understands the power these groups have over the average person,” says Geisinger. “The average person doesn’t have the time, money or expertise to fight the banks.”

Geisinger notes that the CFPB is empowered to protect consumers against “unfair, deceptive and abusive” practices, serving as an important counterbalance to the financial industry. Weakening it would eliminate an important safeguard.

Unfortunately, the only real way to protect yourself from this reckless deregulation is to remain vigilant — and to vote the right way in the next election. Candidates who want to eliminate consumer protections are not on your side.

Another problem area: privacy.

The president recently signed a bill that would effectively allow your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to track your every move online and sell that information to the highest bidder.

Until now, says Eva Velasquez, president of the Identity Theft Resource Center, consumers have taken their privacy for granted. They shouldn’t.

“Privacy is one of the consumer rights going to the wayside and it is our responsibility to speak up for them,” she says. “Especially in the case of the recent overturn dealing with ISPs and consumer privacy, now more than ever we need to explore how to make these rules and frameworks better — not just get rid of them all together.”

Velasquez says most consumers don’t realize that they can change their settings to prevent their names, locations and other personal information from falling into the wrong hands. For example, on my favorite browser (Google Chrome) on a Mac, pressing Shift+command+N will open an “incognito” browser window that cloaks your identity. I also am fond of using a Virtual Private Network to further obscure my personal details.

You can’t be too safe.

Wherever you turn, consumer rights are eroding quickly. They’re not gone forever, and you can do things now to prevent yourself from becoming a victim. Take these steps today, and next November at the polling booth, and your rights will continue to be protected.

11 thoughts on “Your consumer rights are disappearing. Here’s how to protect yourself now.

  1. Let’s hope Americans do become more pro-active in the governing of their lives. Complaining is a USELESS pastime if you don’t become part of a solution!

  2. This administration, riddled as it is with incompetence, is very good at one thing: using doublespeak to make it appear that this wholesale destruction of consumer protections is actually GOOD for Americans. As if giving businesses free reign to exploit or even harm us in order to pad their bottom line will result in a “growing economy”.

    It’s not good for us. Anyone with a modicum of common sense realizes that it leaves us vulnerable to the worst forms of corporate abuse and/or fleecing. Sure, corporations might see increased profit, but at whose expense? Ours.

    The worst part is how many people believe that word-smithing. They won’t realize they’ve been snookered until they become the victims of corporate malfeasance – ever higher fees and scammy practices at banks, unsafe products, dangerous toys, toxic cosmetics, outright fraud…and no laws to protect us.

    History has proven that businesses will do whatever they can to increase their bottom line, no matter how unethical, regardless of any harm it might cause consumers, if they know they can get away with it. And with each rollback of consumer protections, they are able to get away with more and more.

      1. Its impossible in this day and age to advocate for consumers and not bring politics into it. Regardless of which side you are on, you cannot deny that changes to consumer protection laws, almost always adversely affect the consumer.

        LeeAnnClark made a very reasonable statement. It’s clear thats the direction where this administration is going. I’ll wait for the day that weakening consumer laws truly benefits me.

        1. The problem with making EVERY issue a NATIONAL political issue is that you make mountains out of molehills and in the long run no one wants to listen to you, thus you accomplish nothing except to vent at best or alienate your potential allies at worst.
          Stick to the problem at hand, help those you can with the issue they have. Speculating as to potential future problems potentially creates future problems.

          1. And what “problem at hand” are you suggesting we “stick to”? This wasn’t an article about one individual “problem at hand”. It was about the NATIONAL issue of the mass roll-back of consumer protection.

            This is a consumer advocacy site. Consumer protection laws are crucial to what they do, and this roll-back will likely leave them with fewer avenues to help wronged consumers, as the laws designed to prevent such wrongs will not be there anymore.

            They posted a column about this issue, addressing it from a wider perspective. My comment was completely appropriate and topical to the article.

            Your comments…well, being quite honest, I have no idea what your point is. Nobody is trying to make “EVERY issue a NATIONAL political issue”. This article was *about* a national political issue. If you can’t see that, you may find it helpful to go back and read it.

        1. But we can at least TRY to not make a federal case out of every consumer protection issue.
          A wise man once wrote, “so we tilt against the occasional windmill” with occasional being the key word.

          1. Sorry, but no. This is a comments forum, and this was an article about the erosion of consumer protections under the present administration. I commented my personal opinion about this issue. My comment was on topic, not inflammatory or inappropriate, and accurately expressed my views on the topic. Don’t agree with me? That’s fine, you don’t have to. But sorry, you don’t get to tell me that I can’t express my opinion.

            As for calling my comment a “federal case”, or “tilting at windmills”…HUH? I did neither. My comment wasn’t about any one specific consumer protection issue, it was about the erosion of protections in general that is currently underway.

            This is a serious issue, and one that will likely affect many of us. It’s our duty as Americans to be informed of these issues, and take whatever actions we can to advocate for our best interests, even if that only amounts to educating ourselves so we know who to vote for. That’s not “tilting at windmills”, that’s being an engaged citizen.

  3. It is, with the arcane electoral college system that makes rural votes more valuable than urban votes, what the American people voted for.

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