Financial Reform

You may not remember any pre-2008 scandals -- dot.com bubble?; Enron scandal? --  since they are so yesterday's news. Don't worry. The House and Senate don't remember, either. If the Senate has its way with quick passage of the misnamed already-House-passed Jobs Act, -- better named by the New York Times columnist Gail Collins as the "Just Open Bucket Shops Act" -- conflicted analysts will make stuff up again, government watchdogs like the SEC and PCAOB will be chained, and small and novice investors will be looking at "crowd-funded websites" from good guys and bad guys, too, including often-fraudulent Chinese IPOs. Things are so bad that the Senate's leading investor champions aren't even sure they can get enough votes to modify the proposal -- let alone block it -- even with a compromise alternative (letter from PIRG-backed AFR/CFA). Only in Washington.

A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff report confirms what we've known all along: The big credit bureaus pressure identity theft victims into buying overpriced, underperforming credit monitoring subscription packages.

Consumer fraud summit today will be webcast

By | Ed Mierzwinski
Consumer Program Director

UPDATE: LINK TO C-SPAN WEBCAST ARCHIVE (My PANEL here and entire event here.)

In times of financial calamity, fraudsters come out to take your last dollar. This afternoon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will host a consumer financial fraud summit (agenda) at Georgetown Law School near Union Station bringing together enforcers from the DOJ, FTC, state agencies and consumer groups. I'll be on a panel discussing business opportunity frauds. Other panels will be on elder fraud and tax scams. The event is free and open to the public and will be webcast.

As web giants amass more and more information about consumers for behavioral targeting and even "social discrimination" -- which can include differential pricing for the same product or the use of web tracking data and falsely-flagged websites to promote certain brandname drug use -- the White House has called for a privacy bill of rights. Companies and powerful industry lobbies seeking to keep those rights weak have rolled out their own "Do Not Track Sometimes" button. Meanwhile bi-partisan groups of Congressional privacy hawks and, now, state attorneys general have demanded information from Google about its slippery, ever-changing privacy policies and whether Googleis in compliance with settlements it has already agreed to.

At a news conference in NYC today, Director Richard Cordray of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will announce a major investigation of bank overdraft fee practices and propose a model "penalty box" disclosure to appear on bank statements. The investigation could end the $39 latte-- $4 bucks for the coffee, $35 for the debit card overdraft fee.

Consumer news update, some stories I've been following

By | Ed Mierzwinski
Consumer Program Director

Just a summary of some of what I think are the important consumer news stories of the last week or so, in case you missed any of them.

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Applauds CFPB Proposal To Regulate Biggest Credit Bureaus

“Last summer over 10,000 PIRG members submitted comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) urging strict regulation of credit bureaus and credit scoring firms. We applaud the CFPB for its proposal today to subject the nation’s largest credit bureaus and credit scoring firms to full scrutiny as “larger participants” (CFPB pdf) in the financial marketplace."

Last night, U.S. PIRG and the AFL-CIO joined Americans for Financial Reform in a detailed comment letter urging issuance of a strong Volcker rule. It's a 72-page pdf comment letter that basically comes down to this: We tell the financial regulators: don’t let big banks make taxpayer-backed bets.

CFPB To Visit NYC and More Consumer News of the Week, In Case You Missed It

By | Ed Mierzwinski
Consumer Program Director

Just a few of the interesting consumer stories I am following this week: CFPB heads to New York to talk about checking accounts (Feb. 22)... Meanwhile, Citibank charged some consumers twice to pay bills only once (NYTimes)...Consumer groups call for a real recall of Bumbo baby seat (Boston Globe)...Mortgage settlement is a good first step (PIRG statement)...House opponents ratchet up attacks on new CFPB (WashPost)...Over-priced "Who will pay your credit card if you die, get sick or get laid off?" products pay out only 21 cents on the dollar (American Banker)...More on the CFPB's latest semi-annual report (St. Louis American)...PIRG, Demos document rise of the Super-PACS (MS-NBC)...And finally, "Enron" -- a musical theater production about corporate crime, re-opens in Washington State (The Olympian).

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Robo-Signing Settlement With Big Banks Is Important Step

Today's settlement by the U.S. and 49 state attorneys general with the 5 biggest mortgage servicers - the big banks Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase, along with Ally Financial - is an important and enforceable first step toward holding the big banks accountable for not only wrecking the economy but using a variety of unfair foreclosure practices to ruin the lives of millions of Americans and, in many cases, taking their homes illegally.

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