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Feds seek to air consumer finance complaints

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By JEFF HORWITZ
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has heard from hundreds of thousands of consumers who feel wronged by banks and finance companies. Now the agency wants the public to hear from those consumers too.

On Wednesday, the bureau proposed allowing consumers to publish online the details of their complaints against lenders and financial service providers. Those narratives would augment the bureau's consumer complaint database, which lists complaints about checking accounts, credit cards, student loans and other financial products. If consumers choose to make their complaints public, the companies involved would then be given a chance to write a public response.

"By proposing to share people's stories, we are giving consumers an opportunity to be heard by the entire world and not simply by a government agency and its officials," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in remarks prepared for a Thursday event in El Paso, Texas.

The consumer bureau's current database simply lists the company being complained about, a general subject matter like "deposits and withdrawals," and whether the complaint has been resolved. By adding the narratives, the bureau believes it will help consumers determine where to take their business and identify systemic problems. A similar complaint reporting system is already in place at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which seeks to identify dangerous products from appliances to toys.

Consumer groups were elated by the bureau's proposal, which Ruth Susswein, a deputy director at Consumer Action, called "essential for consumers to protect themselves." Banks have complained bitterly about the CFPB's existing database, however, so plans to add to it are unlikely to be popular with the industry.

"I don't think it's the role of the government to get into an Internet gripe site business," said Alan Kaplinksy, an attorney with Ballard Spahr LLP, which defends banks from consumer litigation. "My clients are already very concerned about consumer complaints."

Though the CFPB will verify that consumers have a relationship with the entities they complain about before posting the complaints, "the allegations are unverified," Kaplinsky said. "And we can all acknowledge that consumers are sometimes right, but many times they're wrong."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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