Public Interest Reporting

NerdWallet launched an investigative reporting team in December 2016 to uncover and expose individuals, businesses and in some cases entire industries that prey on consumers. Here’s our coverage.

U.S. shoppers are cheated at the cash register and never even know it. Food fraudulently certified as organic — and priced up accordingly — can make its way to grocers’ shelves, thanks to a broken enforcement process at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Read the full report.

Rent-A-Center, the nation’s largest rent-to-own company, charges grossly inflated prices, badgers customers for the smallest lapse and wrongly wrecks their credit, government officials and consumer complaints say. Read the full report.

5 Things POTUS Wants to Tell College Students

Borrowers, beware of student loan scams. This Watch List names companies that charge for fraudulent or questionable debt relief services. Read the full report.

From Stone Age to Drone Age: Debt Collection Goes High-Tech

Behind on bills? Brace yourself. Debt collectors are adopting high-tech tactics to boost payments. Watch your smartphone for avatars that coo and voicemails that arrive without a sound. Read the story.


If you’re far behind on paying federal taxes, get ready to be muscled by private collection agencies. The IRS has hired four companies to go after long-delinquent taxpayers by using tactics forbidden to government employees. Read the story.

NerdWallet public interest reporting

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has saved Americans billions of dollars, but many businesses and congressional conservatives want to eliminate it. Read the story.

Meet the investigative team:

Drex Heikes, editor

Drex came to NerdWallet after 21 years at the Los Angeles Times, where he supervised foreign affairs coverage in Washington, ran the Sunday magazine and directed coverage in New York after 9/11. He left the Times in 2005 to help remake the Las Vegas Sun newspaper. In 2009, he won the Scripps Howard Public Service Reporting award and shared the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for stories and editorials about safety flaws that led to 12 construction deaths. Drex returned to the Times in 2011.

Contact: or 310-948-6910.

Rich Read, reporter

Rich is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who became the first foreign correspondent for a Pacific Northwest newspaper when he opened The Oregonian’s Tokyo bureau in 1989. He has reported in 60 countries, covering economic issues, natural disasters, war and repression. Rich won the 1999 Pulitzer for Explanatory Reporting for stories that explained Asia’s financial crisis by following french fries from a Northwest farm to Asia. He and three other reporters won the 2001 Pulitzer for Public Service for investigating abuses by U.S. immigration officials.

Contact: or 503-913-4189.

Alex Richards, reporter

Alex joined NerdWallet from Investigative Reporters and Editors, where as training director he taught journalists around the world about best practices in investigative and data reporting. Alex also worked at the Chicago Tribune, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Las Vegas Sun, where he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 and won the Goldsmith and Scripps Howard investigative reporting awards for co-authored work about shoddy medical care in Nevada. Alex also has shared IRE’s Freedom of Information medal.

Contact: or 702-606-4519.

Brad Wolverton, reporter

Brad worked at The Chronicle of Higher Eduction in Washington before coming to NerdWallet. He specialized in investigating business excesses and academic flaws in collegiate athletics. Brad is a four-time winner of Education Writers Association national awards, including for investigative reporting and data reporting. His examination of Christian influences in the Clemson University football program was listed in the 2014 volume of “The Best American Sports Writing.”

Contact: or 202-557-8691.

Karlene Goller, outside counsel

Karlene worked for more than 20 years as First Amendment counsel for the Los Angeles Times, where she never lost a libel, privacy or copyright case. She now advises online, print and broadcast newsrooms including: Kaiser Health News, The Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune and Southern California Public Radio. The recipient of numerous freedom of information awards, Karlene is the only non-journalist in Los Angeles Times history to win a Top of the Times Award for distinguished journalism. She teaches media law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.