Blog Posts By:

Ed Mierzwinski,
Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program

PIRG "Big Banks, Bigger Fees" reports have documented the many so-called "switching costs" problems consumers face when trying to move their money to a new bank (or credit union). Account number portability, which has worked well for phone company switching, could be a part of the solution.

The CFPB wants your views on general purpose reloadable prepaid cards. Some of the campus cards featured in U.S. PIRG Education Fund's new report, the Campus Debit Card Trap, are prepaid cards, others are debit cards, and there is a difference.

Several members of the PIRG-backed Americans for Financial Reform are among the witnesses at a field hearing on prepaid cards that the Consumer FInancial Protection Bureau holds at noon today in Durham, NC. While reloadable prepaid cards are growing fast as an option for convenience, for the unbanked and for distribution of government and student benefits, so-called general purpose reloadable prepaid cards sold under a variety of brands have fewer consumer protections than credit cards (gold standard), debit cards (fewer protections), and payroll, government benefit and gift cards (some protections).The CFPB will announce a advance notice of proposed rulemaking to improve the situation.

It's called force-placed insurance for a reason. Your mortgage lender buys it for you and you are forced to pay for it, even if it isn't the best deal for you. When lenders purchase a product to "benefit" consumers, they often have numerous incentives to make the more expensive, not less-expensive, choice due to what's called reverse competition. That's a bad deal for you and a bad deal for the economy, but a good deal for the kind of sordid crony capitalism that relies on kickbacks, not better products. Fortunately, the New York Department of Financial Services (both banking and insurance) and the CFPB are both taking a deep dive into the forced-place-insurance mess.

Over at the New York Times, you can join a debate on bank fees. Meanwhile, the CFPB has extended its comment period seeking your views on overdraft fees until June 29.

Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took an important first step toward protecting consumers from mandatory arbitration clauses, which are boilerplate sentences in bank account and other contracts that crush consumer legal rights. ... Meanwhile, the New York Times follows up on a lawsuit by the Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson against a medical debt collector that blocks and tackles consumers trying to get through hospital emergency room doors. But it gets better. That debt collector just happens to be owned by the same hedge fund that owned a supposedly neutral (not) forced arbitration mill known as NAF and favored by the big credit card companies.   ...  Also today, the World Privacy Forum announced updates to its helpful pages on medical identity theft.

Today, the U.S. Attorney General and the Attorney Generals of Connecticut and Texas announced settlements with several publishers -- Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins --over an alleged conspiracy with Apple and other publishers to attack Amazon's pricing model, secretly set e-book prices and thereby harm consumers. However, Apple and the publishers Macmillan and Penguin Group USA have refused to settle and are being sued by the agencies.

The industry trade paper American Banker is reporting  that "Bank of America Sold Card Debts to Collectors Despite Faulty Records" in 2009 and 2010. Good to know. It confirms previous consumer group studies that had documented that big banks were forcing consumers to arbitrate and pay "debts" that may not have been owed (some were due to identity theft or sloppy records). However, in the latest fallout from a U.S. Senate Commerce committee investigation of unauthorized third-party billing on phone bills (cramming), Chairman Jay Rockefeller has announced that ATT has joined other big telcos in finally promising to drop the tawdry practice of "cramming," which is a technical term meaning "making big bucks by allowing fly-by-night firms selling useless junky products consumers don't want and didn't buy to use phone bills as cash registers."

Today, in his column "Government's Not Dead Yet," Joe Nocera of the New York Times pays a visit to the PIRG-backed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he finds vision, idealism and people working to show that "government can make a difference in people’s lives."

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.