Reining in Wall Street

STANDING UP AGAINST THE BIG BANKS AND WALL STREET—For more than 20 years, Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski has helped us stand up against big banks and credit card companies.

A PRO-CONSUMER FISCAL FUTURE

Consumers shouldn't have to worry that their financial institutions are ripping them off, or using tricks and schemes to squeeze money out of them.

Yet for years, federal bank regulators ignored numerous warnings of increasingly predatory mortgage practices, credit card tricks, and unfair overdraft policies used by the big Wall Street banks. They also ignored warnings of risky securities being packaged and sold to investors. In the wake of the resulting financial crisis, U.S. PIRG fought for and successfully urged passage of a strong 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Since winning federal Wall Street reform, we've worked to defend those reforms from the industry's attempts to defang, defund or delay them. In particular, since it began work in July 2011, we've had to defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the first federal financial agency with just one job: protecting consumers. However, it took another two-year fight against the opponents of the CFPB to convince the Senate to confirm Bureau's director, Richard Cordray, to a full five-year term. The Senate finally confirmed Cordray in July 2012, eliminating any uncertainty over the CFPB's authority over credit bureaus, payday lenders and other non-bank firms.

The CFPB - in many ways the centerpiece of the broader 2010 Wall Street reforms - has already succeeded in protecting consumers, from students and soldiers to seniors and homeowners. Among the CFPB's successes have been its new regulation of the mortgage markets, its creation of a publicly-available consumer complaint database, and its investigations of the big credit bureaus. The CFPB has also made banks and credit card companies return nearly half a billion dollars to consumers who were treated unfairly.

Yet consumers, taxpayers and investors still face big risks in the financial marketplace. Big banks are allowed to make risky bets with our money, many financial institutions are still finding ways to unfairly squeeze money out of their customers, and financial industry practices still pose risks to the financial system. So in addition to defending the CFPB, we are working to protect investors, taxpayers and the financial system itself:

  • We're supporting a requirement called the Volcker Rule which would prevent big banks from using their “own” money, which includes depositor funds, to place risky bets.
  • We're urging the Commodity Futures Trading Commission not to allow the big banks to hide their reckless financial bets offshore the way that AIG and JP Morgan's London Whale did.
  • We're backing Securities and Exchange Commission rules to require that all public companies, including banks, publish the ratio of compensation between their CEO and their middle-level employees.

In short, we're building a financial regulatory system that guarantees that consumers and taxpayers are protected from predatory practices. And we're fighting to give consumers a seat at the table when it comes to oversight of the nation's financial system.

Issue updates

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Center for Digital Democracy | Financial Reform

Big Data Means Big Opportunities and Big Challenges

This report examines the growing use of "Big Data" in financial decision-making, especially in a digital marketplace characterized more and more by the use of mobile phones. It explains the opportunities to use Big Data to promote financial opportunity and the threat of financial exclusion, discrimination or higher prices for some consumers if Big Data is not used properly. The report makes recommendations to advocates, industry and regulators.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

We Join FTC Event on Big Data E-Scores | Ed Mierzwinski

Companies on the Internet are tracking you with vastly powerful Big Data algorithms to determine what to sell you and for how much and what financial opportunities to offer you. Today at 10am, I join an FTC workshop on Alternative Scoring Products to debate the transparency and fairness of the system with privacy and technology experts from industry, academia and the public interest. You can attend or watch online.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

National data-theft law still a hard sell

The data breach at Target Corp., which exposed millions of credit card numbers, has focused attention on the patchwork of state consumer notification laws and renewed a push for a single national standard. [...] ‘‘From industry’s perspective, whether you’re a bank or a merchant, you don’t want to have to notify consumers,’’ said Ed Mierzwinski, at the US Public Interest Research Group. ‘‘They want to preempt, or override, the best state laws.’’

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

While CFPB Takes Action To Aid Consumers, U.S. House Acts Against CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, the CFPB sued ITT, a for-profit school, for a variety of alleged violations, including pressuring students into high-cost predatory loans with little promise of a future job. This morning, I join CFPB leaders for a panel on how it can help fix the credit reporting system. Yet, this afternoon, the House will probably vote to hobble the CFPB in several ways. Go figure.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

Why you should keep your debit card at home

[...]debit cards do not share the same consumer protections as credit cards. This week’s series of data security hearings on Capitol Hill, an outgrowth of the recent rash of retail data breaches, highlighted the unequal treatment. Not all of the 40 million Target customers who had their debit and credit card numbers stolen during the holidays can rest easy about their liability for fraudulent charges, Ed Mierzwinski of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group pointed out to lawmakers.[...]

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Applauds President For “Bold and Important” Recess Appointment of Richard Cordray To Head New Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

President Obama is taking a bold and important step to protect consumers from financial tricks and traps by announcing a recess appointment of his well-qualified nominee, Richard Cordray, to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

LA Times: Richard Cordray Appointment 'Turns Lights On' at Consumer Bureau

"Congress wanted the bureau to protect consumers no matter where they shopped for financial products," said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "With a director, the public can now have confidence the consumer bureau is ready, willing and able to investigate their financial problems."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

New Report Highlights Reasons for New Consumer Protections

The report outlines predatory financial practices that hurt consumers and led to the collapse the economy, costing us eight million jobs, millions of foreclosed homes and trillions of dollars in lost home and retirement values.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Disappointed Senate Blocks Confirmation of Rich Cordray To Head CFPB, Says “Constituents can ask opponents why.”

Today, despite strong support from diverse organizations and leaders seeking to protect consumers, veterans, students and older Americans from financial tricks and traps, the Senate failed to confirm the well-qualified nominee, Rich Cordray, to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Ratchets Up Support for Confirmation of Rich Cordray to Head CFPB

With a Senate vote on confirmation of former Ohio Attorney General Rich Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau expected tomorrow, U.S. PIRG ratcheted up its efforts to urge Senators to support confirmation. The group announced that it is urging its members in every state to contact Senators and running radio ads in several states.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Supreme Court hears case on textbook prices with implications for all secondary markets (Amazon, eBay) | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard an important case concerning whether publishers can restrict owners of books from reselling their used copies, raising massive implications not only for the prices of textbooks but also for the very existence of important secondary markets like Amazon and eBay.  U.S. PIRG joined others in urging the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court's view that consumers lose longstanding rights to resell copies of copyrighted books, if the books were made outside the US.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Tips for fixing credit report errors yourself (don't ever use a credit repair doctor) | Ed Mierzwinski

Fox Business reporter Kelly Dilworth has a detailed "how-to" called "10 surefire steps to get errors off your credit reports." Don't go to a credit repair doctor, don't read a bunch of wacky advice on self-help websites, don't do any of that, Do what she says.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Consumers want "Do not track" privacy right but powerful firms fight back | Ed Mierzwinski

A new study shows that web surfers want an easy-to-use Do-Not-Track right to stop online tracking and collection of information about their web choices. But a powerful coalition of web advertisers and web publishers is fighting back, here and abroad, and it claims that such targeted advertising is what makes the Internet "free."

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB, FDIC, Fed and OCC slap AmEx Credit Card for numerous violations | Ed Mierzwinski

(UPDATED) Four federal financial regulators have announced an order for at least $85 million in restitution and $27.5 million in penalties alleging a variety of violations of equal credit opportunity, debt collection and credit reporting laws by the American Express credit card. From the CFPB: "at every stage of the consumer experience, from marketing to enrollment to payment to debt collection, American Express violated consumer protection laws."

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Latest financial follies: "Bizarre" FHFA raising mortgage costs; CNBC Closing Bell overdraft debate | Ed Mierzwinski

Latest follies: Professor Alan White explains the latest antics of the "bizarre" Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)--its effort to punish states with successful foreclosure mediation programs by raising their mortgage costs. Meanwhile, I join Maria Bartiromo on CNBC's Closing Bell where I blame irresponsible bankers for an increase in overdraft fees.

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