Late last month, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund released its report on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Consumer Complaint Database, an aggregation of consumer complaints about various financial sectors, such as credit cards, mortgages, banks, and credit reporting. The Database is an important tool for the CFPB, as it enables the agency to learn about new threats to consumers, identify trends and potential unfair practices, and to use collected data to hold financial firms accountable.
Between July 2013 and January 2014, the CFPB received more than 11,000 debt collection complaints. The most frequent complaints were from consumers accused of owing debts they did not actually owe (25%), reporting frequent or repeated collection calls (13%), and not being provided enough information to verify the alleged debt (13%).
For the period covered by the report, the number of debt collection complaints processed by the CFPB is second only to mortgages. The picture is particularly dire in the District of Columbia, which had the highest number of debt collection complaints per capita.
The report includes suggestions on how make the CFPB’s Database more user-friendly and effective, some of which include:
• Allowing consumers to input more detailed information, such as complaint narratives, amounts, and more complaint categories.
• Displaying the subsidiaries of various companies, so consumers know which parent companies they are dealing with and can make informed future choices.
• Publicizing information about the CFPB complaints process in a wider set of forums, both on- and off-line, holding more educational events, and through partnerships with non-profit organization.
Finally, the report provides recommendations on how the CFPB can protect consumers from unfair debt collection practices, such as:
• Preventing debt collectors and debt buyers from collecting debts without proper information and documentation about the identity of the consumer, debts, and prior communications.
• Making it easier for consumers to demand a stop to unwelcome communications.
• Clarify that consumers can sue to stop unfair practices.