Already in the works for the CFPB
- User-friendly guides to help a range of financial advisers, from inexperienced appointed guardians and those with power-of-attorney authority to lawyers and Social Security and Department of Veterans Affairs personnel.
- Protocols for operators of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and senior housing to "spot and resolve problems at the earliest stage" — such as unpaid bills — before the person is evicted or threatened with eviction. Unpaid bills are often a signal that a person has been scammed or is losing mental acuity.
- A "Money Smart for Older Adults" program, in collaboration with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., to train people to recognize, prevent and report financial scams.
- Financial adviser certification and designations. Humphrey points to more than 140 different sets of abbreviations used on business cards, asking, "What do they mean?" His office is investigating qualifying criteria and enforcement capabilities so investors "can decide for themselves, is this a qualified person?"
Consumer advocates have taken note of Humphrey's work. "Under Humphrey, the CFPB has taken a broad approach to stopping the epidemic of elder financial abuse," says Ed Mierzwinski of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Humphrey's work builds on the agency's ambitious launch. In its first year, the bureau simplified credit card agreements and essential terms. It tackled crushing student-loan debt and investigated credit-reporting bureaus to ensure that consumer credit reports are accurate and that mistakes are fixed quickly.
The bureau's website invites people to register their complaints and lets them track their progress. In 2012, there were 74,100 complaints, nearly half of them related to mortgages. The bureau claims a 90 percent response rate from alleged corporate offenders.
Also last year, the CFPB forced three credit card companies to pay about $435 million in refunds over deceptive practices. The money was distributed among nearly 6 million customers. It also assessed penalties amounting to an additional $101.5 million paid to its own and other federal coffers.
In January, the bureau expanded its authority to debt collectors and announced new, simplified mortgage rules that protect both borrowers and lenders.
Such accomplishments show, Humphrey suggests, that government can work. He's even trying to mend broken fences, sharing ideas with leaders of financial services and other industries under the CFPB's microscope. And, surprisingly, there's more handshaking than finger-pointing.
"What I learned is that most organizations and businesses want to understand what the rules are. And they want to know that [the rules] will be fairly enforced … so they can compete effectively and succeed," says Humphrey, who as Minnesota attorney general led the first successful state litigation against Big Tobacco, winning billions for Minnesotans and others.
"But they need someone who says, 'We're watching. We're expecting. And if you don't follow those rules, you're going to get slapped — and slapped pretty hard.' "
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling. He writes the Scam Alert column for AARP.
Contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Mail: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
P.O. Box 4503, Iowa City, Iowa 52244
Phone: 855-411-2372 toll-free (weekdays 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST)
Fax: 855-237-2392 toll-free