Consumer Advocacy Week: 200 consumer advocates from more than 35 states give voice to consumers

U.S. PIRG and state PIRG advocates have joined nearly 200 other consumer advocates across more than 35 states, DC, and the Virgin Islands for Consumer Advocacy Week to give a voice to consumers in Congress.

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Consumer Advocacy Week
Consumer Federation of America | Used by permission

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U.S. PIRG and state PIRG advocates have joined nearly 200 other consumer advocates across more than 35 states, DC, and the Virgin Islands for Consumer Advocacy Week to give a voice to consumers in Congress. 

U.S. PIRG is a co-organizer of Consumer Advocacy Week with other leading national consumer organizations, including Consumer Federation of America, Americans for Financial Reform, Consumer Action, Consumer Reports, National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Consumer Law Center, National Consumers League, and Public Citizen. 

Throughout this week national and state advocates have been meeting virtually with Congressional offices to discuss three consumer protection priorities in particular: 

Payment fraud and theft

A top priority for advocates is ensuring consumers are protected from fraud, theft, and errors in older payment forms, like wire transfers and EBT cards, as well as newer, faster payment forms, like peer-to-peer (p2p) payment apps. 

As we wrote with other advocacy organizations in a joint statement for the record for the House Financial Service Committee’s hearing on recent trends in mobile banking and payments:

“Fraud losses are directly linked to the rapid growth of P2P services, which are used by tens of millions of people, allow payments to be sent at very low or no cost between consumers or from consumers to businesses. An astounding 79% of Americans use mobile payment apps. But as the usage has climbed in recent years, so have the complaints.”

PIRG’s own report on virtual wallet complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) showed an increase in complaints about peer-to-peer payment apps, with problems about scams or fraud receiving the second most complaints involving digital wallets.

Advocates have been calling on Congress and the CFPB to take action. There is currently a discussion draft of the Protecting Consumers From Payment Scams Act that would address many gaps in federal law governing payment systems that leave consumers unprotected.

The CFPB has indicated that it too is paying attention. Last year it asked BigTech giants, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, PayPal, and Square, to answer questions about their payment system practices. The CFPB has also asked consumers, small businesses and others for comments. U.S. PIRG and 64 other groups obliged and sent the CFPB a comment letter urging the agency to clarify responsibilities for payment app companies to address fraud and errors committed on their systems. 

Last week CFPB Director Rohit Chopra called the uptick in p2p fraud “frightening” and indicated that the CFPB is exploring ways to fight it. 

Overdraft and nonsufficient fund fees

PIRG and other advocates have long been calling for instituting common-sense limits on overdraft and nonsufficient fund (NSF) fees. 

Some banks made changes to their overdraft practices after the CFPB published research showing that the financial sector overrelies on overdraft fees. 

However, many banks have still made it common practice to charge about $35 for overdraft fees, sometimes 3-6 times in a single day. That can add up to more than $100 in just one day. And as a result financial institutions continue to rake in billions of dollars a year 

If you read the stories in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s public complaint database like we have, you’ll find a lot of people trying to get by whose finances have been made worse by these fees. 

So called “overdraft protection” is a misnomer. Consumers need overdraft fee protection. They need limits on the number of overdraft fees that can be charged per month and per year. That’s why we have stood alongside Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney for more than 12 years in support of her Overdraft Protection Act

Overdrafts press conference

Mike Litt, PIRG’s consumer campaign director, joins Rep. Maloney and Sens. Booker and Warren for a press conference urging protections from predatory overdraft fees in July 2022.Photo by Rep. Maloney's office | Used by permission

After years of pressure, it finally passed out of the House Financial Services Committee this summer. 

It’s time for Congress to pass this bill, along with the similar Stop Overdraft Profiteering Act in the Senate, and make sure all Americans in every district and state across the country are protected from abusive overdraft fees.

Restoring the Federal Trade Commission’s Authority

It is critical that our federal watchdogs have the tools they need to protect consumers from scams and fraud in the marketplace. Regrettably, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does not have the authority it has been using for decades to go through the courts to fight scams, refund billions of dollars to victims, and deter wrongdoers. 

Advocates have been calling on the Senate to take legislative action to restore the FTC’s tools to stop violations and return funds to consumers. This week we have been educating Senate offices about and urging cosponsorship of Senator Maria Cantwell’s Consumer Protection Remedies Act, which would do just that.

In a bipartisan vote last year the U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar bill, the Consumer Protection and Recovery Act. It’s time for the Senate to follow suit. 

Consumer Advocacy Week training and kick-off
Screenshot | Used by permission
Mike Litt, PIRG's consumer campaign director, helps lead a training for Consumer Advocacy Week 2022.
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Mike Litt

Director, Consumer Campaign, PIRG

Mike directs U.S. PIRG’s national campaign to protect consumers on Wall Street and in the financial marketplace by defending the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and works for stronger privacy protections and corporate accountability in the wake of the Equifax data breach. Mike lives in Washington, D.C.

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