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Blog Post | Financial Reform

As NY Brings Credit Bureaus To Heel, CFPB Arbitration Study Paves Way Toward New Protections | Ed Mierzwinski

Two big consumer stories so far this week offer hope to consumers victimized by credit bureau errors and, more generally, by an inability to take credit bureaus, credit card companies, banks or payday lenders to court when harmed. On Monday, New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman signed a groundbreaking agreement with the Big Three credit bureaus, Equifax, Trans Union and Experian. Then today, the CFPB released a report finding that consumer legal rights are infringed by small-print forced arbitration clauses in credit card and other contracts.  The CFPB will hold a webcast public hearing at 11am Eastern time today (Tuesday) to discuss the report's findings and next steps.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

Credit Bureaus’ Deal to Improve Accuracy ‘Huge’ for Consumers

(Bloomberg) -- Buying homes, getting jobs and borrowing money will be easier after an agreement by the three biggest U.S. consumer credit reporting services with New York.[...] “It’s a sea change in the way the credit bureaus treat complaints,” said [U.S. PIRG's Ed] Mierzwinski. “The credit bureaus have been run by computers for years now. They’re going to have to hire more people and actually verify that what a creditor said is true.”

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Is Anyone Protecting Your Privacy Or Wallet? Turbotax? Anthem? Apple? The Government? | Ed Mierzwinski

As if recent privacy breaches at the online tax preparer Turbotax and the health insurer Anthem weren't enough, it turns out that low-tech hacks can trick the vaunted Apple Pay system into giving up cash to thieves, too. Meanwhile, while the administration's blueprint for a Privacy Bill of Rights in 2012 was excellent, its new legislative draft from the Department of Commerce could have been written by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There is some good news on privacy, though.

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News Release | US PIRG | Tax

Achtung Baby! German Bank Settlement Could Include $490 Million Loophole

As the German-based Commerzbank approaches a settlement agreement to resolve allegations surrounding the bank’s role in illegal money laundering with sanctioned states, the Justice Department will need to forbid tax deductions for this corporate wrongdoing or the bank will likely deduct the payments as an ordinary cost of doing business. In that case, ordinary taxpayers would ultimately shoulder up to $490 million of the deal.

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News Release | Public Health

McDonald’s announces plan to cut overuse of antibiotics in chicken

McDonald’s announced a new policy today to curb the overuse of antibiotics in raising the chickens that ultimately become McNuggets or other McDonald’s products, within 2 years.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to our 29th annual Trouble in Toyland report. The report reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for toxic chemicals, including lead, chromium and phthalates, all of which can have serious, adverse health impacts on a child’s development. The survey also found examples of small toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that threaten children’s hearing, and powerful toy magnets that can cause serious injury if swallowed.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Tax

Forex settlements prevent banks from writing off multi-billion dollar payments as tax deductions

The six banks that today announced out-of-court settlements with federal agencies to atone for manipulating foreign exchange markets won't be able to write off those payments as a tax-deductible business expense. Why isn't that always the case?

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Tax

US regulators to strike forex settlement, but will they strike out tax deductions from the deal?

Federal agencies are preparing to settle with several big banks to resolve charges that they manipulated foreign currency exchange rates. Will those banks be allowed to write off the settlement payments as a tax deduction? If so, much of the costs of the payment will be shifted back onto taxpayers.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Tax

Statement from U.S. PIRG about agency attempts to toughen up bank settlements

Statement regarding indications some federal agencies may reopen old banking settlements, as reported in yesterday’s New York Times. The SEC is similarly reportedly delaying the final execution of August’s announced $16.65 billion settlement with Bank of America while deliberating about issuing waivers that would soften regulatory repercussions of the deal.

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Media Hit | Tax

Too Big to Tax: Settlements Are Tax Write-Offs for Banks

“When people hear that this stuff is deductible, it just feels like adding insult to injury,” says Phineas Baxandall, a senior policy analyst and tax specialist at U.S. PIRG, a left-leaning consumer protection research group that has written reports on the tax deductions. “And when it’s not transparent, it’s shady.”

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Report | Food

Apples to Twinkies

America is facing an obesity epidemic – one that’s hitting children especially hard. Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last three decades, with one in five kids aged 6 to 11 now obese.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Budget

Toward Common Ground

To break through the ideological divide that has dominated Washington this past year and offer a pathway to address the nation’s fiscal problems, the National Taxpayers Union and U.S. PIRG joined together to identify mutually acceptable deficit reduction measures.

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Report | Illinois PIRG | Budget, Tax

Shining a Light on Tax Increment Financing in Chicago

This report gives an initial snapshot of how well the Mayor’s office is doing in introducing transparency to tax increment financing (TIF) by examining how well critical information has been made available on the TIF transparency website. Specifically, we looked at whether or not the City of Chicago is complying with the “TIF Sunshine Ordinance,” which was passed in April of 2009.

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

Ten Reasons Why We Need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Now

This report outlines predatory financial practices that hurt consumers and helped collapse the economy, costing us eight million jobs, millions of foreclosed homes and trillions of dollars in lost home and retirement values. It explains these and other emerging problems as “10 Reasons We Need The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Now.”

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

High-Speed Rail: Public, Private or Both?

Private sector companies are likely to play a major role in the construction of high-speed rail lines in the United States. Public-private partnerships – or “PPPs” – have come to play an important role in the construction of high-speed rail lines around the world. The experience with high-speed rail PPPs, however, has been mixed. While PPP arrangements have brought private capital and expertise to the task of building high-speed rail, PPPs have also resulted in cost overruns, government bailouts, and other serious problems for the public.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Senators Support Improving Debit Card Fraud Rights | Ed Mierzwinski

At a hearing Monday on Target and other data breaches, Senators endorsed our longtime platform that all plastic -- debit or credit -- should have the same consumer protections. Right now, Debit card users have "zero liability" promises from their banks, but credit card users have strong protections by law.

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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 | Consumer Protection

new CFPB mortgage rules and tools available | Ed Mierzwinski

CFPB Director Rich Cordray appears on The Daily Show tonight Wednesday to talk about CFPB's new mortgage lending and servicing rules that take effect Friday, 10 January. Read on to find out more about the rules and also about the many self-help tools the CFPB has created to help homebuyers and homeowners protect themselves.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Retailers appeal swipe fee settlement with Visa/Mastercard | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, big retailers filed an appeal of last month's announced final settlement order in an antitrust case involving price-fixing by Visa and Mastercard. PIRG backs the merchants because non-negotiable swipe fees force all consumers, including cash customers, to pay more at the store and more at the pump.

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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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The overuse of antibiotics on factory farms is threatening these lifesaving medicines. Call on big restaurants to do their part and stop buying meat raised with critical antibiotics.

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