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What consumers can expect in 2013

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I am in contact with a lot of experts in consumer protection, marketing and fraud prevention. Based on information provided by these trusted sources, here are some predictions about what you can expect in 2013.

Anticipated price hikes
The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts grocery bills will rise 3 to 4 percent in 2013. Higher feed costs will continue to push up prices for animal-based products, especially dairy. In its Food Price Outlook Report, USDA noted that inflation should be “above the historical average” for cereals and bakery products.

Banks will keep looking for ways to raise revenue without inciting customer backlash. This could mean higher overdraft fees and charges for using an out-of-network ATM. It could also mean higher minimum balances to avoid a monthly service charge.

 “We’ll continue to see banks emphasize customer relationships, rewarding those customers that have more accounts, bigger balances, or other products and services by waiving checking account fees,” said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

Good news for home buyers and home builders: Bankrate expects mortgage rates to remain low.

“The Fed is aggressively buying bonds with the goal of keeping mortgage rates low,” McBride explained. “Because of this, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate should stay below 4 percent for much of the year – even if the economy continues to improve.”

The editors at dealnews.com predict a number of things will be more expensive in 2013. These include: smartphones and some other electronics, cars and many luxury goods.

Dealnews also expects higher shipping costs. It predicts a jump of 4.5 to 4.9 percent from both UPS and FedEx. This could seriously hurt small businesses and people who sell things on the Internet. It might also affect which orders qualify for “free shipping” at some online stores.

And here’s a surprising one: Dealnews says copper prices could rise. That would have a ripple effect, because copper is used in all sorts of consumer products: wire, pots and residential water pipes. It’s also needed for industrial equipment that brews beer, distills liquor and makes candy.

On the bright side: Gasoline prices should continue their slow decline, barring unforeseen circumstances. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects retail prices for regular-grade gasoline to average $3.43 a gallon in 2013. That would be down from this year’s average of $3.63.

More consumer-friendly regulations
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) went after unfair practices in the financial marketplace with gusto in 2012. That is sure to continue in the New Year.

My best guess is that we’ll see new regulations proposed for payday loans, prepaid cards and credit reporting agencies. The CFPB is already investigating complaints about errors in credit reports and the difficulty or sometimes inability to have them corrected.

As of Jan. 2, the agency will regulate the country’s large debt collectors, an industry that has been widely criticized for harassment, deception and other illegal tactics to get people to pay – whether they owe the debt or not, in some cases.

“Millions of consumers are affected by debt collection, and we want to make sure they are treated fairly,” CFPB director Richard Cordray said in a statement.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see some civil penalties levied and new rules proposed to prevent abusive collection tactics.

New and changing digital threats
Cybercriminals are sure to step-up their game again in 2013. In a new report, Sophos (the giant digital security company), predicts businesses will be hit with more malware attacks that give the intruders “long-term, high impact access” to those companies.

Digital extortion should increase with more ransomware malware attacks.  (See ConsumerMan: Latest ‘ransomware’ attacks are scarily sophisticated.) This new generation of malicious software can encrypt the data on your hard drive and hold it for ransom. It’s often exceptionally hard or impossible to reverse the damage. This makes it critical to back-up your data on a daily basis.

Mobile devices, with GPS location, social media apps and new technology (such as near field communication) will give cybercriminals new opportunities to compromise your security and privacy.

“This trend is identifiable not just for mobile devices, but computing in general,” the Sophos report warns. “In the coming year, watch for new examples of attacks built on these technologies.”

Men, millennials in the grocery store
Men have become more comfortable in the kitchen and more active in planning meals and food shopping. A survey by Cone Communications found that more dads than moms (52 percent compared to 46 percent) plan meals for the week ahead.

Industry analyst Phil Lempert, who runs the website SupermarketGuru, predicts grocery stores will focus more on the male shopper this year and in the future.

“Some supermarkets are experimenting with ‘man aisles’ – locations in the store that feature male-oriented foods and other products to make shopping and impulse buying more targeted,” he said.

Lempert also expects supermarkets and food companies to go after the millennial shoppers (those born between 1982 and 2001) who want flavorful and ethnically diverse food that is also affordable. By 2020, millennials will represent about 20 percent of the population and compared to the general population, they’re expected to have twice the buying power for food they eat at home.

“Millennials are deal seekers,” Lempert pointed out. “They are much more focused on finding the lowest price over brand loyalty.”

Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter or visit The ConsumerMan website.