Consumer Resources

Our most-asked-for free consumer resources:

1. Consumer Reports

For online *free* access to complete articles, instead of using the Consumer Reports web site, use our subscription to the MasterFILE Complete database (you will need an SFPL library card number and a PIN if not using an in-house Library computer).

View or download how-to-access instructions with graphics here (PDF version).

  1. Start from SFPL’s home page at sfpl.org
  2. Hover over the eLibrary link and select Articles and Databases.
  3. Click M to jump to the names of databases that begin with this letter.
  4. Select MasterFILE Complete.
  5. After logging in with your library card number and PIN, on the search page, click the Advanced Search link under the search box.
  6. In the Publication box (under the “Limit your results” section), type Consumer Reports.
  7. In the search box(es) at the top of the page, type a keyword(s) for the product or topic you are looking for, such as laptops.
  8. Tip: On the results page, it may help to click the Relevance Sort link and select Date Descending to get the most recent articles listed first.
  9. If you already know the date of the Consumer Reports issue you want, after Step # 6, select the month and type the year in the Published Date boxes.

(Another database that has Consumer Reports is InfoTrac OneFile, though not the most recent issues.)

You may also call a nearby public library to see if they have the print version of the Consumer Reports issue you are looking for.

2. Bay Area Consumers’ Checkbook

This nonprofit resource has Bay Area ratings of local firms and services, including in-depth articles and advice about local auto repair shops, plumbers, veterinarians, banks, doctors, dentists, carpet cleaners, roofers, hospitals, and more.

For free access to the print version, call a nearby SFPL branch library to find out if an issue of Bay Area Consumers’ Checkbook has a service or product category you want.

*Please note – This publication does not have an index, so staff will need to browse issues for your topic.

3. Weiss and TheStreet.com Ratings

Though available in print only, these are worth knowing about - call or visit the Business, Science & Technology Center of the Main Library to access them:

Weiss Ratings' Consumer Guides for

  • long-term care insurance
  • elder care choices
  • homeowners insurance
  • Medicare prescription drug coverage
  • Medicare supplement insurance
  • auto insurance
  • variable annuities
  • term life insurance
  • health savings accounts

Weiss Ratings for

  • banks
  • credit unions
  • life and annuity insurers
  • health insurers
  • property and casualty insurers

TheStreet.com Ratings for

  • exchange-traded funds
  • common stocks
  • guided tour of stock investing
  • stock mutual funds
  • bond and money market mutual funds

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Other Resources

Of course, lots of consumer information is available on the Internet, both reliable and unreliable.
Since search engines don’t always help you find what you need, below is a selected list of online resources.

Local Resources

Michael Finney’s Consumer Blog
Bay Area’s ABC Channel 7 News On Your Side advocate – file problems; site includes reports, tips, and scams.

Consumer Protection Unit of the San Francisco District Attorney's Office
Services include mediation of consumer complaints, community outreach, and consumer educational programs as well as civil litigation and criminal prosecution.

Diamond Certified
"Our mission is to define excellence and identify for consumers the highest quality local companies."

Select the county you live in for local companies that are rated by the American Ratings Corporation to be "highest in quality."  Reseached and informative consumer articles are also available.

Bay Area Consumers' Checkbook -- (The Library only has print copies - see #2 above).

SFPL Databases with magazine and newspaper articles

Search the Library's databases listed below to find a wide variety of free, full-text articles on consumer issues from thousands of magazines and newspapers. You will need an SFPL library card number and pin to access these if you are outside the Library or are using the Library’s wifi network.

MasterFILE Complete (Ebsco)
Includes free access to current *Consumer Reports* articles, plus lots of other publications. Go to eLibrary-->Articles and Database-->Articles & News category to access.

Newspapers (Proquest)
Full-text newspaper articles.  Go to eLibrary-->Articles and Database-->Articles & News category to access.

Web sites with Evaluations, Ratings, and Comparisons

Consumersearch
Pulls together product and service reviews from a wide range of reputable sources. If you only go to one site, this is a good choice.

Consumer Reports
Instead of paying to use their web site, see the section above for free online access.

Galt Buying Guides
Reviews, guides and tips for a wide variety of topics, including Internet, tech, household, finance, health, sports, and travel.

Better Business Bureau
Use the Check Out a Business or Charity search to find out if any complaints have been lodged with the Better Business Bureau against a business.

Consumer-generated Reviews

A number of web sites focus on product and service evaluations written by consumers themselves. Examples are Viewpoints.com, Epinions.com, and the site most people are familiar with, Yelp. You will find many such sites by typing "consumer reviews" in a search engine.

Of course, reviews and ratings by individuals on e-commerce sites such as Amazon.com can also be helpful.

Specialized Evaluations, Ratings, and Comparisons,

Some products may be covered best in publications or Web sites specific to one area, such as automotive, audio/video, sports, electronics, etc. Examples of specialized consumer web sites are:

Cnet
Find ratings for all kinds of home electronics: computers, telephones, internet services, etc. Both professional reviews and customer reviews are available.

About.com
This web site, owned by the New York Times, specializes in using experts on particular topics to create web guides that include ratings and reviews. Try typing your topic with “about.com” in a search engine (such as Google) to find an About.com site with information and advice on specific consumer topics.
Example.: Typing “computers about.com” in Google brought up an About.com guide on PC Hardware and Reviews.

Checking Professional Licenses

California Department of Consumer Affairs
Check here to see if your contractor, dentist, acupuncturist, roof repairer, etc., has a license.

California Department of Business Oversight
This is a new agency that regulates many licensees and industries.
Effective July 1, 2013, the Department of Corporations and the Department of Financial Institutions merged to form the Department of Business Oversight in accordance with the Governor’s reorganization of state departments and agencies to provide services more efficiently and effectively.
Ask a question or file a complaint here.

Crowdfunding - California Department of Business Oversight Provides Update Regarding Crowdfunding Activities.

Contractors State License Board (California)
Check a contractor’s license and read publications about hiring contractors.

American Medical Association
A national directory of licensed physicians and medical personnel.

Filing Official Complaints & Reporting Problems

Better Business Bureau
Under the “File a complaint” section, you can find out how to lodge certain kinds of complaints against businesses.

Bureau of Automotive Repair (California)
File a complaint about an auto repair facility or smog check station.

California Department of Consumer Affairs
This site allows you to file complaints on businesses regulated by the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

California Department of Corporations
File complaints about securities brokers and agents, investment advisers, financial planners, and various mortgage, lending, and financial servicers (see web site for details).

Federal Trade Commission
Collects complaints about companies, business practices, identity theft, and episodes of violence in the media.

Medical Board of California
File a complaint about a physician or other allied professional who has broken the law.

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Report privacy abuses and request information on ways to protect privacy from this California nonprofit consumer advocacy group.

Department of Transportation’s Airline Complaint Program
DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division monitors compliance with and investigates violations of aviation economic, consumer protection, and civil rights requirements.

Miscellaneous Resources

Consumer Action
A San Francisco based organization that distributes free consumer education materials in several languages.

Consumerist.com
This “shoppers bite back” publication is by Consumer Media LLC, a not-for-profit subsidiary of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. Includes “the latest scams, rip-offs, hot deals and freebies.”

ConsumerWorld
This site can be overwhelming, but it’s a rich source of consumer information, assembled by a consumer advocate.

Environmental Working Group
EWG's mission "is to serve as a watchdog to see that Americans get straight facts, unfiltered and unspun, so they can make healthier choices and enjoy a cleaner environment."  Try their unique Skin Deep Cosmetics Database , Sunscreen Guide  , and Consumer Guide, plus many articles about consumer products and issues.

GoodGuide
Search for green and safety ratings of products.

Green America (formerly known as Coop America)
A national organization that offers "practical steps for using your consumer and investor power for social change." Includes company ratings and a national "Green Pages" business directory.

HowMuchIsIt.org
This unique site was created to help people find current price ranges for just about anything - more than 4,500 cost-gauging guides (including tips on how to save money).  Try it - the variety of topics available will surprise you!

USA.gov for Consumers
From the U.S. government -- official information, guides, and services for consumers.

Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information
Practical Information on a number of consumer topics via the Bureau of Consumer Protection.

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