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

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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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Target says "Oops, 70-110 million consumers hacked." | Ed Mierzwinski

Target is now saying that "a range of 70 million to 110 million people," not the original 40 million customers, had their credit or debit card numbers hacked in December. Even worse, Target is admitting that the database stolen included email addresses and phone numbers, which leaves consumers vulnerable to phishing attacks that could lead to identity theft, as if fraud on existing accounts wasn't enough. Here are some tips.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB Gets Results for Consumers In December | Ed Mierzwinski

It's been a good month for consumers and a bad month for corporate crime, as the CFPB continued to hold financial firms accountable for unfair marketplace practices. Let's hope that in the New Year, banks and other financial companies get the message that cheating their customers is a bad business model.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

Target Says 40 million credit, debt cards may have been compromised...

Hackers gained access to as many as 40 million credit and debit cards used by customers of Target during the height of the holiday shopping season, the company reported Thursday, in one of the biggest data breaches in history. [ALSO SEE LINK AT END OF CLIP TO U.S. PIRG NEWS RELEASE WITH CONSUMER TIPS.]

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Groups Offer Consumer Tips After Target Data Breach

We joined other leading groups to issue consumer tips after the big retailer Target had 40 million credit and debit card numbers stolen. Our main message: Don't panic. Don't pay for over-priced credit monitoring. Do check your checking and credit card accounts regularly and get your free credit reports provided by law.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Two Years After Passing the Credit CARD Act, Congress Steps Up Attacks on Consumer Cop Designed to Enforce It

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 has eliminated numerous credit card tricks and traps without causing skyrocketing interest rates or any of the other horrible side-effects that the banks once warned about.  Now the banks and their Congressional allies are seeking to eliminate the CFPB, the new consumer cop created to enforce the CARD Act and protect consumers from other tricks of the trade, like unfair mortgage and overdraft practices.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Congress Should Reject Attempts to Put "Knife in the Ribs" of CFPB

U.S. PIRG and other members of Americans for Financial Reform are urging the House of Representatives to reject three proposed bills designed to defang and delay the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB hearing today in House, expect more attacks | Ed Mierzwinski

As Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, prepares to testify this morning in the House, committee leaders have released statements showing they're not so much interested in oversight. They;ve already made up their minds that an agency with only one job, protecting consumers, is a bad idea.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

It happened 4 years ago this weekend, and Congress has already forgotten | Ed Mierzwinski

Four years ago, on September 14-15, 2008, the Lehman Brothers investment bank declared bankruptcy while Bank of America acquired another foundering investment bank, Merrill Lynch -- major events that froze the financial markets and led in a few days to a $700 billion bailout of the financial system. Just four years later, some in the Congress have forgotten that real people and the economy are still suffering from the financial collapse, as it steps up Wall Street-backed efforts to prevent regulators from protecting the public.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Bank lobby launches dark money group to kill reform and other Friday Follies | Ed Mierzwinski

(UPDATED) The American Bankers Association's latest effort to kill financial reform is to raise millions of dollars through a new dark money group (like a secret SuperPAC) disguised as a social welfare organization but designed to elect Senators who agree with their Bizarro-World narrative that the financial collapse of 2008 was not their fault.  Meanwhile, read more Friday Financial Follies, because in Washington, we don't have to make this stuff up.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

SEC mostly ignores us, proposal weakens investor protections | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a proposed rule implementing the controversial JOBS Act that fails to protect small investors from a likely onslaught of sales pitches online and on the phone -- including from private equity and hedge funds. Positively, it's only a proposed rule, at least nominally subject to amendment, not an interim final rule.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

More credit card banks quit evil ways | Ed Mierzwinski

In July, the CFPB slammed Capital One for tricking consumers into buying over-priced, under-performing credit monitoring and debt-cancellation subscription products. More good news: the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Bank of America has stopped selling debt cancellation products and that Citibank is in some sort of timeout.

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