Consumer Justice

Oregonians discuss their experiences as consumers, and ask for more education about consumer rights and protections.

From March 24—April 3, 2023, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center conducted a survey of Oregonians’ values and beliefs on the topics of bicycle and e-bike use, a few questions about legislation in Oregon, and consumer protections. A description of the methodology used for the research is provided below. 

This report focuses on the questions relating to consumer justice, and was produced as preliminary research to assist Oregon Consumer Justice in their mission to advance consumer justice, shape an equitable and inclusive marketplace, and improve Oregonians’ rights as consumers.  

The question numbers in this document correspond with the accompanying annotated questionnaire. Due to rounding, the percentages reported below may not add to 100% or compare exactly to the percentages for the same question in the annotated questionnaire or tabs. 

Included below for selected questions are noteworthy subgroups variations for BIPOC/white, age, urban/rural, education, gender, and households with and without children. The accompanying set of tabs notes subgroup variations for all the questions. Subgroup comparisons in this report are somewhat limited due to a smaller sample size than is possible when conducting statewide research. 

OVBC surveys currently use aggregated data to analyze the opinions of BIPOC residents in comparison to the opinions of residents who identify as white and not another race. BIPOC residents are not a monolith; the grouping represents a wide diversity of races and ethnicities. The findings included in this memo should not be construed such that all people of color are believed to share the same opinions. Disaggregated race data will be provided when sample sizes permit reliability. 

For survey full question wording, all statistically significant subgroup findings, and respondent quotes, readers are encouraged to refer to the accompanying three documents: (1) annotated questionnaire, (2) crosstabulations document, and (3) verbatim written responses spreadsheet (upon request). 

Oregon Consumer Justice: Oregon Consumer Justice is committed to advancing consumer justice, shaping an equitable and inclusive marketplace, and improving Oregonians’ rights as consumers through advocacy, legal support, community engagement, and consumer outreach. 

Oregon Values and Beliefs Center (OVBC): This research was completed as a community service by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. OVBC is an independent and non-partisan organization and an Oregon charitable nonprofit corporation. Representative OVBC projects include opinion research about race-based crimes for the Asian Health and Service Center, as well as research about early childhood education and the cost of childcare for the Children’s Institute. 

Key Findings:

  • Oregonians have similar perceptions regarding both “consumer protections” and “consumer justice,” but using the term “justice” may be more effective for messaging and communications due to its association with the justice system, fairness, and protection of marginalized groups. While “protections” can evoke positive feelings about government regulations and rules, it may also bring up negative feelings about excessive governmental involvement. 
  • Oregonians report unfair or illegal treatment across a variety of consumer experiences during the past twelve months, the most common being scams or fraud. Nearly as common, but perhaps more worrying because of its impact on people’s everyday life and survival, is consumer mistreatment related to grocery, food, and beverage. 
  • People with school-aged children in their household and those aged 30-44, two demographic groups with significant overlap, tend to experience higher rates of unfair and illegal treatment as consumers, and are also more likely to have used a high-interest loan or line of credit. 
  • There is a strong desire for more public education around consumer rights and protections. 
  • Various forms of public education were frequently mentioned when Oregonians were asked what could be done to improve consumer justice or consumer protections. 
  • Know your rights online education or training and in-person education or training were the second- and third-most popular consumer resources to help resolve or avoid unfair treatment. 
  • Oregonians want more legal help, and for individuals as well as government agencies to be able to hold companies accountable, but they are not confident that current legal processes are fair or effective. Only one in four people who have experienced mistreatment say they think legal representation would have helped them resolve or avoid unfair treatment, and fewer than half of Oregonians say class-action lawsuits help consumers hold companies accountable. 
  • Understanding and reading terms and conditions for account registrations, utilizing services, or making purchases stands out as a topic that would benefit from further research. Oregonians are nearly evenly split between reading and understanding these agreements often or always; sometimes; or not often or rarely.
    • Future research might differentiate between those who do not understand the agreements and those who simply do not read them, and, among those who do not read them, any particular reasons they choose not to. For example, might this be an extension of low confidence in fairness and enforcement of consumer protections? 

Free Association Semantics and Imagery

Consumer Protections

Oregonians commonly associate consumer protections (Q13) with justice and fairness in transactions, the ability to hold companies accountable, and protection from harm such as theft, fraud, and identity theft. Oregonians also associate consumer protection with Environmental protection. Some Oregonians feel frustrated with what they perceive as a lack of regulations and enforcement regarding consumer protections, while other Oregonians have concerns about government overreach in this area. 

“En una institución que vele por mis derechos como consumidor.” 

Woman, age 45-54, Deschutes County, Hispanic/Latina/x  

“Consumers should have more power than corporations.”  

Man, age 30-44, Hood River County, White  

“Attorneys advertising financial compensation for damages from using products– basically being able to sue companies for substandard products and practices.”

Man, age 45-54, Multnomah County, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander

“Making sure that consumers are receiving accurate information about the products and services they are purchasing, and protection from companies that engage in deceptive practices.”  

Woman, age 30-44, Washington County, Black or African American

“Making sure everyone is equally safe and protected.” 

Woman, age 18-29, Baker County, Hispanic/Latina/x 

“Environmental protection is becoming more urgent.”  

Woman, age 30-44, Benton County, Hispanic/Latina/x and White 

Oregonians have put forth several suggestions to improve consumer protections in the state (Q14). These include promoting public education on available consumer-protection services, increasing the number of consumer protection services such as improved reporting channels, free legal aid, and data privacy. Furthermore, there is a call for the government to hold large corporations more accountable and prioritize everyday people over big businesses. Additionally, Oregonians advocate for environmental protections and establishing consumer rights, such as right-to-repair legislation and product transparency.  

  • Many people mention increasing public education: 

“I think there should be a simple way to find and locate these different protections. If there is a website that exists it should be promoted through the other government websites so that it will be easier for consumers to find.” 

Man, age 30-44, Washington County, Hispanic/Latino/x  

“Well, for starters there should be more information and advertising about this subject.”  

Man, age 30-44, Lane County, White  

  • Oregonians would like more consumer protection service options: 

“We could have a better platform to report/address consumer protection issues. It would be great for low-income people to have access to legal representation when there is a harmful wrongdoing by a larger, wealthier entity.”   

Woman, age 30-44, Jackson County, White  

  • Many Oregonians express a strong desire for greater accountability, enforcement, and protection of consumer rights: 
     

“We need to get corporations and big business out of the government.”  

Non-binary or gender non-conforming, age 18-29, Washington County, White 

“There should be a write-up on every product that explains how things are being made and transported so people know what they are buying and what goes into it to guarantee safety.”

Woman, age 18-29, Lane County, White

“Legislation needs to be enacted that can hold faulty businesses legally accountable for their actions. Currently there is no such legislation on the books that is enforceable or consistently enforced.” 

Man, age 65-74, Linn County, Native American, American Indian, or Alaska Native

“We have more than enough regulations. We need much better enforcement.”

Man, age 65-74, Jackson County, White 

“Right-to-repair bills to allow customers easy access to repair their consumer electronics would not only benefit customers. It would so lessen e-waste.”  

Man, age 30-44, Multnomah County, Hispanic/Latino/x 

Consumer Justice

When Oregonians are asked about consumer justice (Q15), they often mention themes similar to those brought up when asked about consumer protections. Keywords and concepts at the top of Oregonians’ minds include accountability; compensation; class-action lawsuits; product integrity; legal and governmental protection from exploitative pricing or sales strategies; fairness; rights; good customer service; freedom from fraud; environmental protection; feeling safe; and the right to know product content and production processes.  

“Privacy, access to redress for fraud and abuse, realistic and feasible protection from ID theft, right to representation for damages in cases of harm.” 

Woman, age 65-74, Hood River County, Hispanic/Latina/x 

“To ensure there is a process for consumers to be treated fairly and that there is oversight regarding complaints of injustice.”  

Man, 30-44, Multnomah County, Black or African American 

  • While Oregonians tend to have similar ideas about what “consumer protections” and “consumer justice” mean to them, the inclusion of the word “justice can elicit some differences in response. For example, when the term “consumer justice” was used, more references were made to class-action lawsuits and protected classes, while there was less mention of concerns about government overreach. 

“Protection of consumers (especially those in middle and lower classes) from harm from products and ruthless companies, big and small.”  

Man, age 65-74, Deschutes County, White 

Equitable rules and regulations that are accessible to average people so they can be protected from corporate and other businesses taking advantage of them.”  

Man, Woman, age 55-64, Linn County, White 

  • Oregonians propose similar suggestions to improve consumer justice (Q16) as they do for enhancing consumer protections. 

“We should try treating consumers with more fairness and respect.”  

Transgender Man, age 18-29, Lincoln County, Hispanic/Latino/x 

“Through community engagement, and consumer outreach, take steps to help Oregon families be financially secure.”   

Man, age 30-44, Multnomah County, White  

Experience With Unfair or Illegal Treatment

  • When asked about experiencing unfair and/or illegal treatment as consumers within the past 12 months (Q17), Oregonians reported scams or fraud (24%), grocery, food, and beverage pricing (23%), and telecommunications (17%) as the most common areas where they felt they had been treated unjustly. 

Scams/Fraud

  • Among various forms of unfair or illegal consumer treatment, scams or fraud appear to be the most commonly experienced by Oregonians. Specifically, approximately one-quarter (24%) of the state’s residents reported experiencing such fraudulent practices within the past 12 months, regardless of their demographic identity.  

Grocery, Food, and Beverage (e.g. false pricing)

  • Nearly as many Oregonians (23%) report they have experienced unfair or illegal treatment connected to the grocery, food, and beverage industries in the past 12 months. This treatment is more common among those ages 30-44 and those with school-aged children in the household. 

Telecommunications (phone, internet plans)

  • In the past 12 months, nearly one in five (17%) Oregonians reported experiencing unjust consumer treatment related to the telecommunications industry. This was particularly common among those who have school-aged children, individuals between 30-44 years of age, college graduates, and urban residents. 

Debt Collection (e.g. late payments go straight to collections, hospital billing practices)

  • About one in ten Oregonians (12%) have faced unjust treatment connected to debt collection. This treatment is more common among those ages 30-54, those with less educational attainment, BIPOC residents, and those with school-aged children in the household. 

Insurance (e.g. companies not paying claims) 

  • A similar amount of Oregonians (11%) note unfair or illegal treatment related to insurance. This is experience is, once again, most common among those 30-44 years old and those with school-aged children in the household. 

Auto Repairs 

  • When it comes to auto repairs, 8% of Oregonians report experiencing poor treatment as consumers within the past year. This impacts those with school-aged children in the household more often than other demographic groups. 

Auto Purchasing, Loans, and Interest Rates 

  • Almost one in ten Oregon residents faced challenges related to auto purchasing, loans, and interest rates. Individuals between 30-44 years of age reported having experienced such issues slightly more than other groups.  

Construction Companies/Contractors 

  • Taking into consideration that many Oregonians do not own property, 5% of Oregonians have experienced unfair or illegal treatment connected to construction companies or contractors. There is little variation between demographic distinctions. 

Student Loans 

  • Similarly, 5% of Oregonians report experiencing unfair treatment related to student loans. 

Towing 

  • Likewise, 5% of Oregonians have experienced unfair or illegal treatment connected to towing. This treatment is more common among those with school-aged children in the household compared to other groups. 

Other 

  • 6% of respondents provided additional open-ended examples of times they’ve experienced unfair or illegal treatment beyond the examples listed. Older residents are slightly more likely to mention other kinds of poor treatment. Common mentions include rental services and landlords; utility services; financial services (e.g., banking and credit cards); telemarketers and spam calls; employers; health care; cable or satellite TV; airlines; car rentals; identity theft; Amazon and other internet sales; government organizations (e.g., IRS, DHS, SSDI, federal housing, law enforcement); and companies with poor or non-existent customer service. 
  • Those who have experienced unfair and/or illegal consumer treatment are broadly unsure if access to legal representation or legal counsel would have helped resolve or avoid the situation (Q18). While 25% say it would have helped, 37% say maybe, 27% say no, and 10% say they don’t know. 
  • Men, those ages 18-44, urban residents, BIPOC Oregonians, and those with school-aged children in the household are the most likely to believe legal counsel would have helped. 
  • Some 15% of Oregonians say that they have used high-interest installment loans or lines of credit while living in the state (Q23). Common companies used include Ace Cash Express, Cash & Go, CashNetUSA, Check n’ Go, Check Into Cash, OneMain Financial, OppLoans, Rapid Cash, and United Finance (Q24). Additionally, some respondents mention utilizing their regular financial institutions or taking out payday loans, in general. 
  • Oregonians who are between 30 and 44 years of age, have school-aged children in their households, have less than a four-year college degree, or identify as BIPOC are more likely to have utilized these high-interest loans or lines of credit than other demographic groups. 

Consumer Resources Needs Assessment

  • Oregonians are split when it comes to reading and understanding agreements or terms and conditions in order to sign up for accounts, use services, or make purchases (Q22). Of those surveyed, 31% report reading and understanding agreements at least often, while 30% do so sometimes, and 37% do so not often or never.  
  • Generally speaking, those ages 30-44, those with some college experience, BIPOC Oregonians, and those with school-aged children say they read and understand these agreements at a higher rate than other Oregonians. 
  • When asked what kinds of consumer resources they would find most helpful to resolve or avoid unfair and/or illegal consumer treatment (Q19), Oregonians report cost-free legal services (54%), online know your rights trainings (53%), and a mobile app (42%) as their top picks. 

Cost-free Legal Counsel or Services 

  • More than half of Oregonians (54%) say that cost-free legal counsel or services in their preferred language would be help mitigate unfair or illegal consumer treatment. Among the different demographic groups, women, individuals aged 30 to 44, and those with some college education show a greater desire for these types of services. 

Know Your Rights Online Education or Training 

  • Nearly as many Oregonians (53%) say that online know your rights trainings would be helpful. This type of help is especially popular among women; those 30-44 and 55-64 years of age; and those with a 4-yr. college degree. 

Mobile App (to access consumer rights information and resources) 

  • When asked about a mobile app, 42% say this would be helpful. Those 30-44 years of age, and those with school-aged children in the household are more likely to say this would be helpful, compared to other groups. 

Know Your Rights In-person Education and Training (local and regionally) 

  • About a third (32%) say that in-person know your rights trainings would be helpful. Those who express the strongest desire for in-person trainings are individuals aged 30-44 years of age and parents with school-aged children in the household. 

Advocacy Opportunities to Change/Create Laws 

  • Around 30% of Oregonians believe that advocacy opportunities would be useful, with slightly greater interest from 4-year college graduates compared to other groups. 

Consumer Town Halls on Particular Topic Areas (e.g., car purchasing, data privacy) 

  • One in five Oregonians (19%) say that consumer town halls would be helpful, with those aged 30-44 and college graduates showing particular interest. 

Holding Companies Accountable

  • A clear majority of Oregonians (76%) believe that individuals who have been harmed, as well as state or federal agencies, should be able to hold companies accountable for violating the law (Q20). An additional 17% say maybe, while very few say no (3%) or are unsure (4%). 
  • Oregonians 55 and older, those with some college experience, and those with no school-aged children in the household are even more likely to believe individuals and government agencies should be able to take action. No group is meaningfully more likely to say that they should not be able to do so. 
  • Oregonians are not entirely convinced that class-action lawsuits help consumers to hold companies accountable: 44% believe they do and 43% say only sometimes (Q21). Again, few say no (7%) or are unsure (6%). 
  • Those ages 30-44, urban residents, BIPOC Oregonians, and those with school-aged children in the household are the most confident in the efficacy class-action lawsuits. 
  • On the other hand, individuals aged 55-74 and college graduates are the most likely to believe class-action lawsuits only hold companies accountable sometimes. Residents 55-64 years of age are the most skeptical that class-action lawsuits ever help. 

Methodology: The online survey consisted of 2,514 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Respondents were contacted by using professionally maintained online panels. In gathering responses, a variety of quality control measures were employed, including questionnaire pre-testing, validation, and real-time monitoring of responses. To ensure a representative sample, demographic quotas were set, and data is weighted by area of the state, gender, age, and education. 

Statement of Limitations: Based on a 95% confidence interval, this survey’s margin of error for the full sample is ±1.95%. Due to rounding or multiple-answer questions, response percentages may not add up to 100%.

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