Coalition EffortsConsumer Action is working on these important issues along with other organizations. If you would like to know more about these issues, please see "More Information" at the end of each article.
Table of Contents
Desperate students need protection from debt “relief” scams
Advocates called on the White House to crackdown on private companies that charge fees for student debt assistance, loan discharge forgiveness and consolidation services that are otherwise free. Often, the scams are passing off the federal government’s income-based repayment programs as their own and billing borrowers for it. These companies, known for preying on desperate student borrowers, must be closely monitored and shut down to protect borrowers and prevent them from paying for unnecessary services, adding to their mounting financial problems.
Monitoring availability and affordability of auto insurance requires key data
Consumer advocates have long argued that low-income drivers are price-gouged when it comes to car insurance quotes. In response, the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) set a standard that recognizes auto insurance as “unaffordable” when the average premium in a community exceeds two percent of the community's median household income. The FIO is also preparing to publish its first report on auto insurance affordability with help from the insurance industry. Advocates are urging the FIO to require mandatory participation from some of the biggest insurance companies, instead of relying on the companies’ voluntary submission of data. The group also asks the office to evaluate premiums at the zip code level to ensure the affordability analysis accurately represents the cost of insurance around the nation.
A checklist for organizations dealing with data breaches
Consumer Federation of America (CFA) has released a new checklist to guide companies and organizations when considering using third-party identity theft monitoring services.
FCC’s proposed privacy rules provide important consumer protections
Broadband internet providers have access to massive amounts of browsing data, which can reveal sensitive personal information regarding the user’s lifestyle, health and and finances. Given the limited choice of internet providers, consumers looking to compare privacy standards are at a disadvantage. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering rules that would fill a critical gap in the patchwork of U.S. privacy laws by giving consumers meaningful control over the ways in which their data can be used and disclosed by broadband internet service providers. The FCC’s proposed rules would require customers to opt-in to most uses of their data that are not directly related to the services to which they have subscribed. These proposed regulations would be a big step in protecting consumers’ online privacy and should not be weakened by industry groups looking to make a profit at the expense of their customers.
Consumers have a right to their day in court
Forced arbitration clauses are agreements that large corporations often hide in the fine print of contracts that Americans sign every day. These clauses have big consequences: By restricting access to the court system, these clauses prevent consumers who have been wronged from seeking meaningful legal recourse. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has proposed a new rule that will prohibit financial services companies and big businesses from including provisions in their fine-print agreements that prevent class-action lawsuits. It's a good start toward unraveling the growing stranglehold that forced arbitration has on consumer rights.
Social media surveillance proposal would prove ineffective and violates privacy rights
The Department of Homeland Security's proposed policy to collect information on the social media profiles of foreign travelers violates the rights of travelers and their American friends, colleagues and family members. Coalition advocates wrote to the Department of Homeland Security opposing the Customs and Border Protection policy and argued that the rule change would do little to enhance national security and would open the door to greater spying on Americans.
Solar panel loans cast shadow on low-income families
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently drafted a list of nonbinding best practices for states and localities that adopt property assessed clean energy (PACE) programs. However, the guidelines don't adequately protect consumers, and PACE loans should be subject to the same rigorous federal disclosure and consumer protections as mortgages. In a letter to the DOE, advocates argue that the loans will put lower-income borrowers at a greater default and foreclosure risk. PACE loans tend to carry significantly higher interest rates than second mortgages and are structure as assessments that can cause issues.
A need for racial justice in student lending
For nearly a decade the Department of Education has failed to take sufficient steps to ameliorate the disproportionately negative impact on student-borrowers of color, or even to conduct further research to discover the causes or the extent of disparities. In a letter to the Secretary of Education, John B. King, advocates urged the Department to leverage its tremendous resources and ensure that student loan policies work for all borrowers.
Help for defrauded students and taxpayers
The U.S. Department of Education has proposed reforms to provide debt relief to students defrauded by unscrupulous colleges, like Corinthian Colleges, and to hold these colleges accountable so that they, not taxpayers, pay for their wrongdoing. The proposed new rules improve protections for students and taxpayers and will help curb bad behavior by predatory colleges. But the rules need to be strengthened. As written they also roll back eligibility for student loan relief, in some cases, and make it likely that many defrauded borrowers will get partial or no relief.
The FBI is watching you, but who is watching the FBI?
Forty-six privacy, civil liberties and immigrants' rights organizations sent a letter to Congress urging their Senate and House of Representative committees to hold oversight hearings to assess the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Next Generation Identification program and their use of citizen’s biometric data. There are several privacy, civil liberties, and human right issues raised by the biometric database and the FBI’s use of facial recognition technologies. To date, all of these biometric searches have been done without any judicial oversight or internal audits. Furthermore, unnecessarily retaining vast amounts of personal and biometric information exposes millions of Americans to a potential data breach.
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