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

Volcker Rule Finally Out, Will Require Vigilant Enforcement and Tough Judges

Regulators today released the final so-called Volcker rule designed to prevent Wall Street banks from placing the kinds of risky bets that helped magnify the 2008 mortgage market collapse into a spectacular failure of the financial system leading to trillions of dollars in lost retirement income and the loss of millions of jobs and millions of homes. [...] The final rule is stronger than the proposed rule and stronger than the rule that the banks wanted, reflecting the outpouring of support from citizens across the country, in favor of a robust Volcker rule. [...]

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

CFPB Report Confirms 2009 Credit CARD Act Works to Protect Consumers

“Today’s CFPB report on the Credit CARD Act of 2009 confirms that the law has cleaned up the worst tricks and traps that riddled the credit card marketplace. Those traps saddled consumers with unfair penalty fees and high penalty interest rates, ultimately leading to massive and unsustainable credit card debt and even bankruptcies."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Senate Moves Toward Confirmation of CFPB Director Cordray

Today’s expected confirmation of Richard Cordray to head the CFPB for a full term is good news for consumers, and for firms that want to play fair in the financial marketplace.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

CFPB Ends Kickbacks by Mortgage Insurers

U.S. PIRG applauds CFPB’s enforcement action, including over $15 million in total penalties, against four mortgage insurers to end the practice of giving kickbacks to mortgage companies to get their business.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG and NCLC | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

New FTC Study Points to Much-Needed Reforms for Credit Reporting Industry

Advocates from the National Consumer Law Center and U.S. PIRG lauded the findings of a Federal Trade Commission study made public today that confirms their own findings that credit reports are riddled with errors. The groups also urged the Senate to confirm a full-term director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to eliminate any uncertainty over the CFPB’s supervisory authority to examine credit bureau operations and order reforms.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Bailout Report Card

U.S. PIRG released a report card on how the bailout had been handled by the administration in terms of transparency and accountability.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Failing the Bailout

This report first establishes that what is known about how the TARP recipients’ behavior before, during and after the bailout paints a dire picture of how the TARP funds were spent. It then presents a clear opportunity for lawmakers to regain some of the withering faith of the American people through widely supported execution tactics and simple communication practices with respect to TARP.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Halfway to the CFPB

The CFPB Implementation Team staff are making significant progress in their efforts to both build an effective agency and be ready to perform required functions by the transfer date (July 21, 2011).

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

New book on the fight for the CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

Two academics have published a book chronicling the PIRG-backed fight to establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as a centerpiece of the Wall Street reforms enacted in 2010. Their history of the largely successful efforts of the coalition Americans for Financial Reform and its work alongside Professor Elizabeth Warren has lessons for all advocates seeking to fight city hall or evil empires.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Do better Facebook friends mean a better credit score? | Ed Mierzwinski

"Big Data" has created a new front in the war on privacy. Should a prospective employer be able to "friend" you or use your Facebook password to vet you?  When, if ever, should colleges, employers and lenders be able to look at your Facebook or other social network pages to see if your friends make you a better bet to enroll, hire or grant a loan to than someone with loser friends?

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Free Cookies-Strings Attached | Ed Mierzwinski

The price consumers pay to access most online content is the tracking of their every click on the World Wide Web by data miners and ad networks. Consumer and privacy advocates are seeking to address such online tracking through Do-Not-Track regulation, which could be considered in the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee soon.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Court rejects First Amendment attack on credit bureau regulation and other financial follies | Ed Mierzwinski

In an important case joined by the government, a U.S. district judge has rejected the latest misguided industry attack on the constitutionality of regulation of credit bureaus. Meanwhile, the CFPB has released its first annual report on credit card deals with colleges. Here's a weekly summary of the latest financial follies.

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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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Priority Action

Send your senators a message right now, urging them to stand with consumers and support Richard Cordray and a strong Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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