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FINANCIAL CRISIS ASSISTANCE

Need help? Start here: call 211 Call 2-1-1 when you need to find state or local resources to address urgent needs or everyday concerns, including health & mental health services, food banks, shelter, rental or utility assistance, adult day care, Meals on Wheels, transportation, childcare, crisis intervention services, job training, education, and more. 2-1-1 is free, confidential, multi-lingual, confidential, TTY accessible, and available 24/7 2-1-1 resource specialists will guide callers to the most helpful available resources. Visit the website for more information. NOTE: 2-1-1 calls are generally toll-free; however, if you are calling 2-1-1 from your cell phone, please check with your cell phone service provider first to find out whether you will be charged for the call. You can also reach 2-1-1 by dialing 877-652-1148. (United Way, in partnership with the State of New Jersey)

General Consumer Resources

consumer.gov logo Consumer.gov - This U.S. government website provides basic, easy-to-understand information that can help you manage & use your money wisely, use credit & loans carefully, protect your personal information, and protect your money from people who try to take it (Federal Trade Commission). For additional consumer information from the federal government, see Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information, Consumer Action Handbook, and USA.gov, below.

Attorneys General - Links and other contact information for offices of Attorneys General in every U.S. state. 'As chief legal officers of the states, commonwealths, and territories of the United States, the Attorneys General serve as counselors to state government agencies and legislatures, and as representatives of the public interest.' (National Association of Attorneys General)

Bank Accounts & Services - Banking basics Q & A, plus key terms, common issues, your rights, and how-to guides. You can also file a complaint from this page (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). See also Electronic Banking, below. The FDIC offers a variety of bank- and finance-related consumer information (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation). See also FDIC Consumer News and FDIC Consumer Protection Topics. To learn about credit unions and how they differ from banks, or to locate a credit union near you, see My Credit Union (which also includes basic financial education resources) or Credit Unions: A Smarter Choice. For additional advice on bank accounts & services, consumer credit, mortgages, and more, see HelpWithMyBank.gov (U.S. Department of the Treasury), and Financial Q & A and related links, below.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) - Before dealing with an unfamiliar company, you may want to search this site to find out whether the BBB has a report on them. The site also offers informative and timely BBB Consumer News, Scam Alerts, an online complaint form, and more.

Consumer Action NEW! - Publications on dozens of consumer topics, available in English and other languages. Also offers a monthly Scam Gram email newsletter 'alerting you to the dirtiest players in the world of tech fraud, credit card scams, ID theft and general con-artistry.' (Non-profit organization)

Consumer Action Handbook - This annual U.S. government publication offers information on various consumer issues, explains how to file complaints (includes a sample complaint letter), and provides contact information for corporations, consumer organizations, and relevant government agencies. You can read the handbook online (browse by topic), download a PDF of the complete handbook (or specific sections), or order a free printed copy to be mailed to you. (U.S. Federal Citizen Information Center)

Consumer Reports - See Consumer Reports Online, below.

Credit Reports UPDATED! - Federal law gives you the right to obtain free copies of your credit reports every year. This 2021 FTC page explains how, why, and when to order copies of your free annual credit reports. You also have the right to free Credit Freezes and Fraud Alerts NEW! (2021, Federal Trade Commission). For more on managing credit cards, credit scoring, loans, and other consumer debt, visit the FTC pages on Credit & Loans. See also Gift Cards & Scams; scroll down to see advice on Giving and receiving gift cards (2021, Federal Trade Commission). To understand the pros and cons of different ways to pay for goods & services - cash, check, credit card, or debit card - see Privacy When You Pay: Credit, Debit, Cash and More (2019, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse). See also Specialty Reports below.

Customer Service: How to Talk to a Human when Calling a Business - Some suggestions that might help you cut through the automated messages and get a response from an actual person more quickly (2020, WikiHow). See also Best Customer Service Companies, below. Because so many online companies make it difficult to find out how to delete your account, Just Delete Me provides direct links to the account deletion pages for numerous websites & services including Amazon.com, eBay, Groupon, iTunes, Netflix, Paypal, Yelp, and dozens of others. The site also rates the difficulty of account deletion for each service as Easy, Medium, Hard, or Impossible - making it a useful place to check BEFORE you sign up for a new service, as well as when you are trying to delete an existing account (Backgroundchecks.org; date unknown).

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Consumer Help Center - Visit this website to file a complaint about a telecom service provider, or to get consumer information about TV, phone, internet, radio, access for people with disabilities, and emergency communications. See also FCC Consumer Guides.

Federal Citizen Information Center is now Publications.USA.gov, part of USA.gov, below.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Consumer Information - Online consumer guides and multimedia library VIDEO INTERACTIVE offering useful advice on a variety of topics, including automobiles, credit, investment, privacy, health, jobs, and others. You can also file an online complaint and sign up for e-mail updates. If you don't see the topic you're looking for, enter a topic in the search box, or go to Shopping & Saving to browse more topics.

Financial Q & A: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) - Answers to common questions about credit cards, mortgages, loans (including student loans), debt collection, and more, plus information about credit discrimination, foreclosure help, and an online complaint form. Includes resources in multiple languages. Federal Reserve Consumer Help offers selected links to advice on bank accounts and services, credit cards, identity theft, leasing, mortgages, and personal finance. See also Bank Accounts & Services and related links.

Food & Food Safety - See our Dieting, Nutrition, & Food Safety links.

Fraud Schemes - Describes some of the most common scams that the FBI investigates and what you can do to avoid them; a related page, Be Crime Smart, gives additional advice to help you protect your kids and avoid becoming a victim of crime or fraud, online or off, as well as information on how to report crimes and frauds (Federal Bureau of Investigation). Pass It On also offers brief tips on avoiding many different types of common scams (2014 - 2021, Federal Trade Commission). See also Common Scams and Frauds NEW! (2021, USA.gov), Consumer Action's Scam Gram, Online Auction Tips, Privacy, Identity Theft, & Junk Mail, below, and COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Protecting Yourself & Your Family. Save & Invest: Protect Your Money VIDEO INTERACTIVE provides information, advice, and tools to help you avoid financial fraud (FINRA Investor Education Foundation; non-profit organization). The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office offers a printable Fraud Prevention brochure UPDATED LINK! [Link opens a PDF] with brief tips for protecting yourself from frauds & scams (2016). Shimming is the New Skimming (2018, BBB) alerts you about a new method con artists may use to steal your payment information from an ATM, gas pump, or credit card reader. If you have a dispute about an online or related transaction with a company LOCATED OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can file a complaint at eConsumer.gov.

local resource Housing Law - Explains your rights and responsibilities under state and federal law, covering topics such as Housing Discrimination, Landlord-Tenant, Public Housing and more (Legal Services of New Jersey). See also Fair Housing - Rights & Responsibilities UPDATED LINK! (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), New Jersey Law Against Discrimination: Housing Rights (N.J. Division on Civil Rights), and Tenant Screening Reports, below.

Insurance Basics VIDEO - Advice from an insurance industry association on choosing and using different kinds of insurance, including auto, home, and life insurance, plus articles & videos on related financial planning topics such as annuities, disability income, long-term care, and more (Insurance Information Institute). See also Liability Insurance NEW! (2021, Consumer Action). CLUE: How Insurers Size You Up explains how claims you file and even inquiries about your coverage can appear in the insurance 'score' you receive, and may affect how much you pay for homeowner's or automobile insurance. Includes useful links (2018, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse).

local resource Middlesex County Consumer Affairs Department UPDATED LINK! - Have a complaint against a business in Middlesex County? You can download a printed form or perform a Business Complaint History Search here. You can also perform a Business Complaint History Search.

local resource New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs - Provides an online complaint form, and consumer information on topics such as NJ's Lemon Law, home contractors, identity theft, and cyber fraud. If you can't find the information you need, check the A to Z Consumer Briefs section.

local resource New Jersey Legal Information: LSNJ Law - Information for non-lawyers on a variety of legal issues and problems such as family law, landlord-tenant law, employment, immigration, and many others. (Legal Services of NJ). For more on your legal rights, see the South Plainfield Public Library's Government & Law links.

local resource N.J. Professional Licensing Boards - Information about professional licensing in New Jersey. Search the License Verification [NOTE: To search for doctors, podiatrists, or other medical professionals not listed separately, choose 'MEDICAL EXAMINERS' from the dropdown list of Professions on the License Verification search page.] to find out the current status of the professional license (active, inactive, suspended, or expired) for practitioners of dozens of professions and occupations in the state of NJ, including lawyers, dentists, accountants, acupuncturists, social workers, veterinarians, barbers, funeral directors, locksmiths, and many more. See also New Jersey Professional and Occupational Boards and Committees (New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs). Use the NJ Attorney Search to find attorneys who have been admitted to practice in New Jersey (New Jersey Courts). See also N.J. Health Care Profile and related links to search for medical doctors (including osteopathic physicians), podiatrists and optometrists. The South Plainfield Public Library's Doctors, Hospitals & Health Plans links offer more health-related consumer resources.

Public Citizen - Research and advocacy on consumer issues such as health & safety, energy, financial reform, trade issues, and government reform.

Records & documents, how long to keep - See Recordkeeping links.

Social Media Influencers - See Online Reviews and related links.

Unclaimed Money (bank accounts, security deposits, stocks, dividends, wages, insurance, etc.) - See Unclaimed Property Search.

USA.gov: Consumer Information - Official consumer information and services from the U.S. government. Includes advice & resources for resolving consumer problems (including complaints against federal or local government and its agencies), such as a sample complaint letter and Complaint Letter Wizard. For free U.S. government brochures and pamphlets on cars, computers, education, employment, family, food, health, housing, money, small business, travel, and more, see Pueblo.GPO.gov (formerly Publications.USA.gov). You can read the publications online or order printed copies (there is a charge for some printed documents).

Buying Online

See also:
Fraud Schemes & related links
Junk Mail, Privacy, & Identity Theft
Product Review Sites
Shopping, Coupons, and Price Comparisons
BUSINESS RESOURCES: Computers, Technology, & E-Business
COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Protecting Yourself & Your Family
PARENTING & FAMILY: Media & Entertainment

Onguard Online logo OnGuard Online VIDEO - Practical tips to help you be on guard against Internet fraud, secure your computer, and protect your personal information (Federal Trade Commission et al.). The date of each article is provided at the bottom of the page, so you know how up-to-date the information is. For many additional resources on internet fraud, online privacy, computer viruses, cell phone/portable device safety, and other electronic security threats, please visit COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Protect Yourself & Your Family

Closing online accounts - See Just Delete Me, above.

Electronic Banking - Explains online & mobile banking, Electronic Fund Transfers (EFTs), and what rights you have when using electronic financial services (My Credit Union). See also Online Banking Tips [NOTE: Enter electronic banking in search box] (2011 - 2021, FDIC), Online and mobile banking tips for beginners (2020, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), What Is Online Banking? (2021, The Balance; part of Dotdash.com), Mobile Wallet Services Protection (2020, FCC), Using Peer-to-Peer Payments More Safely (2019, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse), and Bank Accounts & Services & related links, above.

Mobile Banking & Payments - See Electronic Banking and related links.

Online Marketplace Tips for Buyers UPDATED! - General advice for consumers on buying goods through online marketplaces selling new and used goods, with tips on avoiding scams (2021, Federal Trade Commission).

Online Banking & Payments - See Electronic Banking and related links.

Online Reviews: Why You Should Not Trust Online Reviews - Alerts you to the ways different kinds of fakes and frauds can make online reviews and recommendations untrustworthy (2018, Forbes). Social Media Influencers explains who/what/where social media influencers & content creators are, how they're changing the marketplace, and some potentially fraudulent practices you should watch out for (2021, Better Business Bureau). See also Are Consumer Reviews Trustworthy and Reliable? (2020, Lawyers.com), How to Spot Fake Reviews on Amazon NEW! (2021, Lifehacker), and How to Spot a Fake Review on Amazon NEW! (2021, PC Magazine).

Shopping Tips - Tips that can help you save money, whether you're shopping online, by phone, by mail, in the store, or elsewhere (Federal Trade Commission). See also Safe Shopping, Buying and Paying: How to Protect Your Money (2014, FDIC).

Privacy, Identity Theft, & Junk Mail

See also:
Buying Online
Fraud Schemes & related links

To find out more about internet fraud, online privacy, computer viruses,
cell phone/portable device safety, and other electronic security threats, please visit
COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Protect Yourself & Your Family

IdentityTheft.gov logo IdentityTheft.gov - The federal government's one-stop resource for victims of identity theft. The site provides streamlined checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process (Federal Trade Commission). See also Protect Your Child From Identity Theft NEW! (2021, Federal Trade Commission), Credit Freezes and Fraud Alerts, and Identity Theft Resource Center (non-profit organization). For tax-related identity theft, see IRS.gov: Identity Theft Central and our Tax resources page.

Behavioral Advertising Opt-Out - See COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Cookies & Online Tracking links.

Customer Loyalty Cards: Pros and Cons of Supermarket Loyalty Programs - Explains how grocery stores (and others) track your buying habits and how they use the data they collect - whether you use a 'loyalty card' or not (2019, TheBalance.com; part of the IAC family of websites). See also Privacy When Shopping (2018, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse), and Coupon Codes, below.

Data Brokers - See COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Data Brokers and 'People Search' Sites.

Data Security Breaches - See COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Security Breaches.

Electronic Privacy - See COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Privacy.

Junk Mail: Stopping Unsolicited Mail - Advice on some steps you can take to cut down on unsolicited mailings, calls, and emails (2021, Federal Trade Commission). You can register online with the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service UPDATED LINK! (includes Email Opt Out Service) and the consumer credit reporting industry's OptOutPrescreen.com website to get off a variety of junk mail lists. These sites also offer some tips and answers about junk mail (industry associations). Catalog Choice is a free service that will send merchants your catalog opt-out request; registration required (non-profit organization, managed by The Story of Stuff Project). Go to Yellow Pages Opt-Out to customize or stop delivery of printed phone books; registration required.

National Do Not Call Registry [NOTE: The FTC does NOT investigate individual complaints against do-not-call offenders. Click here for details] - Tired of telemarketers interrupting your dinner? If you put your number on the national 'do not call' list, it will be illegal for most telemarketers to call you (2021, Federal Trade Commission). Caller ID Spoofing explains how telemarketers and scammers are increasingly disguising their real identities and phone numbers - often to trick you into giving away valuable personal information - and what you can do to protect yourself from this fraud (2021, Federal Communications Commission). If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it's a Robocall; this article offers tips on dealing with them (2021, Federal Trade Commission). See Blocking Unwanted Calls for more advice on dealing with robocalls (2021, Federal Trade Commission). See also Stop Unwanted Calls and Texts (2021, Federal Communications Commission) and the very detailed Telemarketing page from Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (2016).

Online Information Brokers - See COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Data Brokers and 'People Search' Sites and related links.

Online Privacy - See COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Privacy.

Prescreened Credit and Insurance Offers - Companies sending 'prescreened' solicitations of credit or insurance to consumers must now provide easy-to-understand notices that explain consumers' right to opt out of receiving future offers (2021, Federal Trade Commission). This page explains prescreening and how you can opt-out by phone or online. See related resources at Junk Mail: Stopping Unsolicited Mail, above.

Privacy, Identity, and Online Security - Tips on protecting your privacy and your children's, avoiding identity theft, what to do if your identity is stolen, and related information (Federal Trade Commission). Privacy Rights Clearinghouse offers info & advice safeguarding your personal privacy and identity on the Internet and elsewhere (non-profit organization). See also Identity Theft links, above, and COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Privacy.

Robocalls - See National Do Not Call Registry and related links, above.

Security Breaches - See COMPUTERS & TECHNOLOGY: Security Breaches.

Social Security Numbers: Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number UPDATED! [Link opens a PDF] - Brief advice on steps you can take to protect your Social Security number from theft, and what to do if you suspect someone has stolen your SSN (2021, Social Security Administration). For more detailed advice on using and protecting your Social Security Number, see My Social Security Number - How Secure Is It? (2018, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse; non-profit organization). For information about a scam where callers say your SSN was suspended, see Your Social Security Number isn't suspended. Ever (2018, Federal Trade Commission). See also Identity Theft links, above.

'Specialty' Reports: What Have They Got On Me? - The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) covers a lot more than simply credit reports. 'Nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies' may also have records of your medical history, residential or tenant history & evictions, check writing history, employment background checks, and homeowner & auto insurance claims. Read this online publication to learn more about the kinds of information these companies collect about you, and your rights to obtain that information (2019, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse; non-profit organization). See also Specialty reports: The consumer reports you've never heard of (2020, Consumer Action) and Tenant Screening Reports NEW! (2021, Consumer Action; non-profit organization). Consumer Reporting Companies NEW! explains how you can check and/or dispute the accuracy of information about you in a variety of consumer reports (2021, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).

Telemarketing - See National Do Not Call Registry and related links, above.

Product Review Sites

See also:
Shopping, Coupons, and Price Comparisons

Consumer Reports Online [NOTE: Product links to Amazon and other online stores provide revenue for this website.] - A wealth of consumer news and product information. Covers cars, electronics, appliances, home & garden, babies & kids, money, health, and more. Includes short videos NEW! VIDEO. [NOTE: Only paid subscribers have online access to ratings and repair records for specific products, but you can access them through our EBSCOHost Masterfile Elite database. You can also read them in person at the library!]

Consumer Search [NOTE: Product links to Amazon and other online stores provide revenue for this website.] - 'ConsumerSearch product-review editors pick the best electronics, appliances and services by comparing professional product reviews (like the ones you'd find at Consumer Reports or CNET) with consumer reviews (like those at Amazon.com and Epinions) to separate the top-rated from the duds.' Click on 'Full Report' tab for an in-depth report and list of sources. (IAC Publishing, LLC)

Consumers' Checkbook - Offers useful advice on a variety of services, including home repair, automotive, financial, personal, health care, and more. Ratings for specific services are only available to paid subscribers, and only in a handful of cities. (Center for the Study of Services; nonprofit organization)

Wirecutter [NOTE: Product links to Amazon and other online stores provide revenue for this website.] - 'A list of the best gear and gadgets for people who want to save the time and stress of figuring out what to buy. Whatever sort of thing you need - tableware or TV or air purifier - we make shopping for it easy by telling you the best one to get. (A New York Times Company)

Product Safety

See also:
Green Living Webfinders

Children's Toys & Baby Products - See Baby Products and related links.

Consumer Product Safety Commission - Information on unsafe products and product recalls. You can search product reports & recalls, and file complaints online at SaferProducts.gov. The CPSC's Safety Guides and Safety Education sections provide free safety alerts, resources, posters, brochures, handbooks and other materials on a variety of products and topics, including cribs, drywall, recreation & safety, carbon monoxide, TV & furniture tip-overs, and more. Recalls.gov is a 'one-stop shop' for government recalls on food, drugs, autos, and other consumer products. You can sign up for email alerts for any and all categories. (All from U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission)

Environmental Working Group - Consumer guides on the health and environmental hazards of common products.

FDA Recalls, Market Withdrawals and Safety Alerts - Information on unsafe food and medical products. See also FoodSafety.gov, and our Dieting, Nutrition, & Food Safety links.

Healthy Stuff - Provides test results for toxic chemicals such as lead, cadmium, chlorine, arsenic, and mercury found in everyday products. Items tested include toys & other children's products, pet products, apparel & accessories, and automobiles (Ecology Center; non-profit organization). See related links at PARENTING: Healthy Stuff.

Shopping, Coupons, and Price Comparisons

See also:
Buying Online
Product Review Sites
MONEY Webfinders

Our MONEY Webfinders offer selected links to helpful resources on money management, green shopping & green living, charitable giving, investment, home heating & energy conservation and more! (South Plainfield Public Library)

Best Customer Service Companies 2021 UPDATED LINK! - Ranks 480 companies in 160 retail categories that provide the best customer service: 'They expect to accommodate you - not the other way around' (Newsweek). See also Customer Service: How to Talk to a Human when Calling a Business, above.

Best Time to Buy Anything - Use this month-by-month information to see when you can typically find the best prices on a variety of products. (2019, LiveAbout.com; part of Dotdash.com). See also The Best Time to Buy Anything During the Year (2017, Lifehacker; part of Gizmodo Media Group).

Catalogs from A to Z - Search the web for Catalogs from A to Z to find many directories of mail order catalogs, such as Catalogs Plus, Catalog Delight and Catalog Monster.

Consumer Fraud - See Fraud Schemes and related links, above.

Coupon Codes: Retail-Me-Not - Enter a store's name, web address, or keyword to find coupons for thousands of stores. You can also contribute publicly-available coupon codes to share with other users. LiveAbout: Coupons and Bargains NEW! offers blog posts on how to find deals and make the most of coupons, including grocery coupons UPDATED LINK!, restaurant coupons, and online and mobile coupons (LiveAbout.com; part of Dotdash.com). See also Customer Loyalty Cards and related links, above.

Customer Service - See Customer Service links, above.

Government Sales - Searchable listings of government assets for sale to the public, including land, houses, jewelry, cars, trucks, tools, computers and much more. Items are sold via online auctions, or live auctions in various locations around the country. Updated daily. (U.S. General Services Administration)

Mail Order Catalogs - See Catalogs from A to Z.

Online Shopping - See Buying Online, above.

Outlet Shopping: Ways to Save While Shopping at Outlet Malls (2018) - Helpful tips from Consumer Reports on how to get the best stuff at the best prices (2018, Consumer Reports). See also Outlet Shopping: Insider Tricks (2010) and A Savvy Shopper's Guide to Outlet Shopping (2014) (Consumer Reports).

Supermarket Buying Guide - Smart shopping tactics you can use to save money and avoid traps & tricks at the grocery store (2019, Consumer Reports). See also grocery coupons, above.

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