CFPB launches searchable credit card complaint database today

Joining agencies that regulate cars, toys and other consumer products, medical devices and airline service, today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rolls out a searchable online complaint database. The CFPB's new tool, for credit cards to start,  comes in the nick of time to help consumers who the LA Times warns may be tricked into automatically signing up for an over-priced junky Citibank add-on monitoring service.

Joining agencies including those that regulate cars (NHTSA’s, toys and other consumer products (CPSC’s, medical devices (FDA’s Maude) and airline service (DOT’s sorta clunky Air Travel Consumer Protection Report), today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rolls out a searchable online complaint database (goes live 8am EST). The CFPB’s new tool will be limited to credit cards to start, but other financial products will be added. More from Ylan Q. Mui at the Washington Post, including a tired “complaint” from industry lobbyist Richard Hunt:

“It’s an unlevel playing field,” said Richard Hunt, president of the Consumer Bankers Association, a trade group. “It appears to be a gotcha mentality when it didn’t have to be that way.”

We heard the same bleating from toy and crib and household product manufacturers about the Saferproducts database but the CPSC finally got it up and running in 2011 (more from Kids in Danger) after its enactment in 2008, followed by delays and attacks in the Appropriations process. It works, as did before it.

In a marketplace already tilted in favor of manufacturers and sellers, they all seem to think that transparency and disclosure of either the quality of their service or the safety of their products is unfair and leaves them running uphill. Only in Washington can a flack for a powerful special interest assert that the playing field is tilted against them and in favor of consumers!

The CFPB credit card complaint database comes in the nick of time to help some consumers. Just today, David Lazarus of the LA Times warns that “Citibank has you checked off for security service.”

Some Citibank credit card customers have received a sales pitch for a security service with their latest credit card bill. The box for signing up for the $5.95-a-month service is already checked.

Lazarus goes on to point out that it gets worse. Citibank’s identity theft/credit monitoring/fraud service is from a so-called membership club products company, Trilegiant, that has been the focus of government investigations, and both state attorney general (Iowa, large pdf) and private legal settlements. If its products were any good, people would buy them. Instead, banks bill you for them, even if you didn’t order them, didn’t intend to pay for them, and didn’t actually pay for them. They bill you for them automatically anyway as professor Prentiss Cox, a former Minnesota assistant attorney general, and other experts explained to Senator Jay Rockefeller (WV) and his Commerce Committee in 2009. While Congress, led by Rockefeller, has taken action against Internet sales (using deceptive popups and special offer clicks) of these tawdry club products, banks and their mailings of offers and account statements are still the go-to market partners for Affinion and its ilk. More on the changing nature of transactions (tilting the playing field further against consumers) in a law journal article by Professor Cox.

Identity theft monitoring and anti-fraud add-on products (payment protection, debt cancellation products, too) simply are not worth the money. If they were, they’d sell themselves, don’t you think? So, watch for all sorts of unfair practices by credit card companies and let the CFPB know. They’ve got your back.


Ed Mierzwinski

Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program, PIRG

Ed oversees U.S. PIRG’s federal consumer program, helping to lead national efforts to improve consumer credit reporting laws, identity theft protections, product safety regulations and more. Ed is co-founder and continuing leader of the coalition, Americans For Financial Reform, which fought for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, including as its centerpiece the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He was awarded the Consumer Federation of America's Esther Peterson Consumer Service Award in 2006, Privacy International's Brandeis Award in 2003, and numerous annual "Top Lobbyist" awards from The Hill and other outlets. Ed lives in Virginia, and on weekends he enjoys biking with friends on the many local bicycle trails.

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