On June 25, 2015, The CFPB announced that they are making consumers’ complaint narratives public. In their blog published that same day, they say they are doing it because (see the blog for more detail):
• Making these consumer narratives public amplifies the voice of the consumer.
• It gives us (CFPB) insight.
• It gives you (the consumer) insight.
• The consumer wants to be heard.
The CFPB has received more than 627,000 complaints since they opened in July 2011, but before the public can gain access to even one of them, the person making the complaint has to opt-in, giving consent to publish, after personal information has been removed. As of 6/25/15, 59 percent of consumers submitting complaints via the CFPB website have checked the box allowing their complaint to be shared. When the database went live, it included over 7,700 accounts of problems consumers are facing with financial companies. According to InsideARM, 2, 246 (29%) of them are about debt collection.
According to the CFPB, “All complaints play an important role in our supervision of companies, enforcement actions, rulemakings, and our engagement with service members, students, the economically vulnerable, and older Americans.” Users of the site can:
• Search for specific product names or features
• Highlight specific company practices and problems
• Break down information by state
The releasing of this information has raised some interesting questions:
Q. Why isn’t a narrative of the company’s explanation included?
A. Companies do have the option to provide their side of the story, but most choose not to do it publicly. The most common company response is “Company chooses not to provide a public response.” InsideARM reports, “Upon further thought, companies realized that having a wide range of employee[s] author individual responses might be a high risk recipe.” In response, the CFPB provided a list of optional responses for companies to select from. The list of 9 choices can be found here.
Q. Is there an attempt to verify a complaint to see if it has merit?
A. ”Complaints are listed in the database after the company responds or after they’ve had the complaint for 15 calendar days, whichever comes first. We don’t verify all the facts alleged in these complaints, but we take steps to confirm a commercial relationship. We may remove complaints if they don’t meet all of the publication criteria. Data is refreshed nightly.”
CUNA previously raised concerns about the release of complaint narratives last fall. In a letter CUNA stated, “We are very concerned that some consumer complaints will include inaccuracies, exaggerations, or even intentionally false information. It is our understanding that, other than verifying that the customer has a relationship with the institution that is the subject of the complaint, the CFPB will not attempt to verify the legitimacy and/or accuracy of a consumer’s narrative description of the complaint asserted against the institution.”
Q. How are members of the debt collection industry responding to complaints?
A. InsideARM reports, “Of all collection agencies informally polled, none was planning yet to use these new response options, although they had plans to discuss the matter among management to evaluate the risks vs. benefits of doing so. Of the data released today (6/25/15), 77% of the complaints with consumer narratives related to debt collection also contain a public company response.”
First Monthly Report Released July 16, 2015
In its 7/17 report on the first CFPB Monthly Report on Consumer Complaints released 7/16, InsideARM lists “Key findings within debt collection complaints” and “Key findings among all complaint categories.” Check out this interesting information. Author Stephanie Eidelman also writes, “Worth noting is the fact that the greatest number of collection complaints continues to be related to attempts to collect debt not owed, or an inaccurate accounting of the underlying debt — a factor typically driven by the owner of the debt rather than the 3rd party collection agency. This, among other factors, helps to explain why the most complained about firms tend to include creditors and debt buyers. It also helps to explain why the CFPB has signaled that its much anticipated Debt Collection Rulemaking will eliminate the separation of accountability between creditors collecting on their own behalf and their service providers.”
The CFPB recently posted a Request for Information Regarding the Consumer Complaint Database: Data Normalization. Interested parties were given sixty days to submit comments; the deadline is August 30, 2015.
If you have comments regarding the Consumer Complaint Database and the public release of Consumer Complaint Narratives, The National List would like to hear from you, as well. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.