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

Blog Post | Financial Reform

Debating trade and consumer protection in Brussels today | Ed Mierzwinski

I am in Brussels today debating consumer protection and the proposed US-European trade treaty known as the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP. Today's public event, and a second public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday with live webstream 9am-noon DC time) comparing the CFPB to its European counterparts, are sponsored by the PIRG-backed TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue.

> Keep Reading

U.S. PIRG Statement on State of the Union Address

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama came before Congress to give his seventh and final State of the Union address. In his speech, the President highlighted top national priorities and some of the greatest challenges faced by the American people.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

House Committee Launches Trojan Horse Assault On State Privacy Laws | Ed Mierzwinski

This afternoon (Tuesday, 8 December), the U.S. House Financial Services Committee launches a massive attack on state privacy laws. Hidden inside a seemingly modest proposal to establish federal data breach notice requirements is a Trojan Horse provision designed to to take state consumer cops off the privacy beat, completely and forever. That's wrong, because the states have always been key first responders and leaders on privacy threats that Congress has ignored, from credit report accuracy and identity theft to data breaches and do-not-call lists.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

Privacy, We've Got Tips and Ideas For You, Congress and Regulators, Too | Ed Mierzwinski

Problems with privacy and data security are all over the news these days. We've got you covered, from releasing a new report and consumer tips on the security freeze today to testifying to Congress (last week) on payment card security and speaking on a panel at the FTC tomorrow on Internet lead generation (what's that?). Oh, and we're waiting for answers to our questions to the CFPB about the credit bureau Experian joining the ranks of the breached. We've been busy as we explain in this "roundup" blog entry.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

The More I Hear About OPM Data Breach, The Less I Know, Except This: It's Bad | Ed Mierzwinski

Was it 4 million, 14 million or 18 million records breached (how many times) (likely) by Chinese hackers? Whose fault was it? The USOPM director says no one's. Really? Perhaps the worst data breach ever raises lots of questions, but I haven't heard any good answers. Federal employees, their families, their friends and their neighbors -- because all of them could be victims -- deserve better answers, just as they deserve better service than USOPM's credit monitoring provider is giving them.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Condemns Backdoor, Backroom Appropriations Proposal To Gut Wall Street Reform

We join others, including Americans for Financial Reform and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in condemning this backdoor, backroom appropriations "rider" to weaken the Wall Street reform law's protections for taxpayers and Main Street from the risky derivatives swaps that led to the 2008 financial collapse and recession.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

New Federal Bills Would Protect Students From High-Cost Campus Bank Accounts

Yesterday, House and Senate lawmakers introduced bills that would protect college students from being needlessly steered into campus bank accounts — accounts that often drive up students’ costs and deplete their financial aid. U.S. PIRG warned that if we the Department of Education can't protect students from high campus debit card fees, then we will "pursue this strong alternative approach put forth from the Hill.”

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

New Report Examines Promise and Potential Dangers of New Financial Marketplace

U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) released a comprehensive new report today focused on the realities of the new financial marketplace and the threats and opportunities its use poses to financial inclusion. The report examines the impact of digital technology, especially the unprecedented analytical and real-time actionable powers of “Big Data,” on consumer welfare. The groups immediately filed the report with the White House Big Data review headed by John Podesta, who serves as senior counselor to the President.

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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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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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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

Privacy, We've Got Tips and Ideas For You, Congress and Regulators, Too | Ed Mierzwinski

Problems with privacy and data security are all over the news these days. We've got you covered, from releasing a new report and consumer tips on the security freeze today to testifying to Congress (last week) on payment card security and speaking on a panel at the FTC tomorrow on Internet lead generation (what's that?). Oh, and we're waiting for answers to our questions to the CFPB about the credit bureau Experian joining the ranks of the breached. We've been busy as we explain in this "roundup" blog entry.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

The More I Hear About OPM Data Breach, The Less I Know, Except This: It's Bad | Ed Mierzwinski

Was it 4 million, 14 million or 18 million records breached (how many times) (likely) by Chinese hackers? Whose fault was it? The USOPM director says no one's. Really? Perhaps the worst data breach ever raises lots of questions, but I haven't heard any good answers. Federal employees, their families, their friends and their neighbors -- because all of them could be victims -- deserve better answers, just as they deserve better service than USOPM's credit monitoring provider is giving them.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Anthem Customers and Others: Some Advice On Steps To Take After Data Breach | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED (9 Feb.) Retail store data breaches make a mess, but an easy one to clean up and the few consumers who become fraud victims are quickly made whole. The Anthem hackers, on the other hand, reportedly obtained a mother lode of information that could be used to commit a variety of serious frauds, including obtaining your tax refund. Read our tips here. Here's the first: Don't click on any emails claiming to be from Anthem; some may be malicious.

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