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

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy, Financial Reform

Citi shareholders gathered in NY demand lobbying disclosure

 

NEW YORK, NY - Citigroup shareholders gathered today in New York City for their annual meeting and outrage over Citi’s role in the financial crisis was still palpable in the room.  A major topic of interest was a shareholder proposal that would require the company to disclose its lobbying expenditures to its investors, one of over 100 resolutions on political activity filed this season.

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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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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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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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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Banks, debt collectors lead backdoor effort to robocall your cell phone! | Ed Mierzwinski

Banks and debt collectors are leading a phalanx of powerful special interests seeking backdoor action to weaken the consumer protection law that prevent robocalls to your cell phone without your consent. We've joined other consumer and privacy leaders, and senators led by Ed Markey (MA), to stop them.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

House Floor Vote on Budget Delayed over Special Interest "Riders" From Wall Street, Other Powerful Interests | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED: Opposition to a controversial provision authored by Citibank forced House leaders to delay consideration of the "CRomnibus" appropriations package just hours before funding for the federal government expired at midnight Thursday. Eventually the bill passed narrowly with the Wall Street provision intact. Action now shifts to the Senate, which has a 48-hour window to pass the bill, but any one Senator can block it under Senate rules. The provision would again allow Wall Street banks to place risky bets with taxpayer-backed funds, and require taxpayers to bail them out if the bets fail, repealing a key protection added in the 2010 Wall Street reform law. 

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB Faces A "Death of a Thousand Cuts" Today | Ed Mierzwinski

(UPDATED Again on 6/11) Today, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee considers a package of over a dozen anti-consumer, anti-investor, anti-taxpayer bills. The worst of the 9 bills targeted at the CFPB eliminates its ability to compensate victims of so-called "last-dollar" financial fraudsters.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

On Memorial Day, Thank Servicemembers and Veterans and Thank the CFPB for Protecting Them | Ed Mierzwinski

On this Memorial Day, celebrate servicemembers and veterans. It's important that the CFPB has their backs, since predatory lenders are after their wallets.  As I often say, the idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB complaints help recover $90 million for servicemembers | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education and the FDIC slammed student loan company Sallie Mae and a spinoff, ordering over $6 million in penalties and $90 million in compensation to servicemembers and veterans. Complaints to the CFPB's public database helped build the case. As the CFPB's director said in an important speech last week: "Each consumer’s voice counts and the chorus of many voices can change practices at these large financial companies."

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