The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has made additional information collected in its controversial complaint database—consumers’ complaint narratives—publically available.
In March, after a public comment process, the CFPB formalized its policy for accepting and disclosing the compliant narratives. On Thursday afternoon, more than 7,700 of them were made public. The Bureau also published a Request for Information, seeking input on “whether there are ways to enable the public to more easily understand and make comparisons of the complaint information.”
The CFPB began accepting complaints in July 2011. It currently accepts complaints on many consumer financial products, including credit cards, mortgages, bank accounts, private student loans, vehicle and other consumer loans, credit reporting, money transfers, debt collection, and payday loans. The database also includes information about the actions taken on a complaint by a company, whether the response was timely, and whether the consumer disputed the company's response. A consumer's identity and other personal information is not included among the data.
Complaints are listed in the database only after the company responds to the complaint or after they have had the complaint for 15 days, whichever comes first. While the allegations in the complaint are not verified, a commercial relationship between the consumer and the company is substantiated before a complaint is added to the database. In March 2013, database data was made public, allowing users to track, sort, search, and download information. To date, the database has amassed more than 627,000 complaints.
There are restrictions the CFPB will place on the public release of narratives. It will not publish a complaint narrative unless the consumer provides informed consent by affirmatively check a consent box. At least initially, only narratives submitted online would be available for the opt-in. Complaints will be scrubbed of information such as names, telephone numbers, account numbers, Social Security numbers, and other direct identifiers. Companies will have the opportunity to post a written response that appears next to the consumer's story. Personal information will also be redacted from the response. Since the Bureau began accepting narratives, more than half of consumers submitting complaints have opted in to share their accounts of what happened. Narratives that have been scrubbed of personal information will be added to the complaint database on a daily basis.