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

We Join FTC Event on Big Data E-Scores | Ed Mierzwinski

Companies on the Internet are tracking you with vastly powerful Big Data algorithms to determine what to sell you and for how much and what financial opportunities to offer you. Today at 10am, I join an FTC workshop on Alternative Scoring Products to debate the transparency and fairness of the system with privacy and technology experts from industry, academia and the public interest. You can attend or watch online.

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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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Blog Post | Financial Reform

While CFPB Takes Action To Aid Consumers, U.S. House Acts Against CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, the CFPB sued ITT, a for-profit school, for a variety of alleged violations, including pressuring students into high-cost predatory loans with little promise of a future job. This morning, I join CFPB leaders for a panel on how it can help fix the credit reporting system. Yet, this afternoon, the House will probably vote to hobble the CFPB in several ways. Go figure.

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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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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

New Survey Shows Free Checking Widely Available At Small Banks But Banks Still Hiding Fees from Consumers

A survey of hundreds of banks and credit unions in 24 states and the District of Columbia found that free checking remains available at more than 6 out of 10 small banks and credit unions but was only found at one-quarter of surveyed big banks (those with over $10 billion in deposits). The survey released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group also revealed that fewer than half of branches surveyed obeyed their legal duty to fully disclose fees to prospective customers on the first request, while 12% provided no fee information at all.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

Washington Post: Can’t fix error in your credit report? Call Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

"A much-cited study by the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups found that almost 79 percent of all credit reports had some type of error."

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

JPMorgan Chase is sued in 2008 Bear Stearns mortgage case

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Senate Rolls Back Investor Protections

Statement of Edmund Mierzwinski, U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director on Senate Passage of the JOBS Act (Excerpt) "Today, the Senate joined the House in passing the so-called JOBS Act, legislation that will roll back investor protections, leaving senior citizens and other small investors at the mercy of the next Enron collapse, the next Gordon Gecko and the next-generation boiler room operators using social media to pitch toxic investments."

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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."

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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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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Tips for fixing credit report errors yourself (don't ever use a credit repair doctor) | Ed Mierzwinski

Fox Business reporter Kelly Dilworth has a detailed "how-to" called "10 surefire steps to get errors off your credit reports." Don't go to a credit repair doctor, don't read a bunch of wacky advice on self-help websites, don't do any of that, Do what she says.

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