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SACRAMENTO -- Each month since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic swept the United States in March, a record number of American consumers have filed complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), according to an analysis released Friday by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.
“Ten years ago on July 21, after the Wall Street-induced financial crisis, the CFPB was created to protect consumers,” said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of federal consumer program for U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “Now, in a pandemic-fueled financial crisis, strapped consumers need the CFPB to take powerful action to rein in unscrupulous financial practices.”
While the CFPB is trumpeting consumer education by branding this week as National Consumer Financial Protection Week, last week it weakened protections against predatory payday lenders.
“The CFPB was off to a good start after the last economic crisis,” said Mike Litt, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s consumer campaign director. “But it's looked the other way during the current one.”
Key highlights from the complaint database analysis include the following:
Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, public consumer complaints have skyrocketed, setting a new monthly record each month (The CFPB began the database in 2011).
Complaint levels during the pandemic are up 50 percent over complaint levels during the same time frame last year -- from March-June 2019.
Since March 1, one out of every five complaint narratives concerning mortgages, student loans or vehicle financing has mentioned the coronavirus pandemic.
"The record level of consumer complaints is a blaring red light signaling the huge challenges consumers are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, the report’s co-author. “The Consumer Complaint Database has long been an early warning system for emerging problems in the financial marketplace, and it has never been more valuable than now -- when many Americans need more help than ever before."
This year, California has an opportunity to create its own consumer protection bureau. Gov. Newsom has proposed creating the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI), a new agency that would protect consumers from threats including aggressive debt collectors, loan sharks and scammers. The Governor’s proposal would overhaul and replace the state’s existing regulator, the Department of Business Oversight, which in many cases lacks the authority necessary to protect consumers from financial threats.
“Stronger consumer protections were needed in California before the COVID-19 pandemic, but this crisis has made this issue more urgent than ever,” said Claudia Deeg, CALPIRG Associate. “We urge the California Legislature to protect consumers by creating the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation now.”
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