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National Consumer Protection Week

President Clinton declared the first week of February as the first annual Consumer Protection Week. The week of special education activities is aimed at a variety of unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent practices. This year, emphasis was placed on several credit fraud activities, including credit card fraud, advance fee loan scams, fraudulent credit repair clinics, home equity loan scams, and identity theft.

The Federal Trade Commission is the lead government agency participating in the week. FTC is supported by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and several private organizations including AARP and the National Consumer's League. What this means for banks is that other agencies, such as the FTC will be preparing and distributing some very good information about consumer credit problems. It also calls attention to the "bad actors" of the business, thereby making banks look better and better by comparison.

Information for consumers is also available to banks. Check the FTC site at for lots of free information for consumers. This is a government freebie so you can simply download the information and produce it with your bank's name or logo. Most of the information is targeted at avoiding or resolving credit problems. It therefore makes excellent material for CRA service purposes.

For example, there are pieces on how to prepare personal finances for Y2K including questions to ask your financial service provider. There is information on how to avoid credit card fraud, including basic steps the consumer should always take to protect their credit cards.

Several of the pieces prepared for Consumer Protection Week provide valuable information on credit scams such as illegal repair clinics, identity theft, and home equity loans that exceed the consumer's ability to make payments.

There are also consumer information pieces on topics such as credit scoring. The FTC's credit scoring paper explains what scoring is, why it is used, its advantages, and the information that the customer should receive if denied. It also discusses credit history information, such as paying bills promptly and maintaining lower balances on accounts, that will improve the consumer's credit score.

Easy Links.
The FTC web site also provides links to sites that provide useful information, ideas, and even some good ideas for your CRA program. For example, the FTC site has links to AARP, the organization that serves people age 50 and older. This can be an excellent source of information for banking service needs to the over-50 population. Remember that Regulation B designates age 62 as the measurement for age discrimination. Don't equate age discrimination with AARP membership.

The FTC site also connects to the National Association of Attorney's General, whose acronym is NAAG. State Attorneys General are often the source of consumer protection litigation based on either state or federal law. The Attorneys General may bring actions that consumers cannot afford to bring. This association brings the Attorneys General together to share ideas and resources. It might be a good idea to check on what they are working on.

Another state-related site link is the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators ("NACAA"), a non-profit association for government consumer protection agencies.

The FTC site also has links to several consumer associations. The National Consumers League (NCL) is a 100-year-old consumer organization dedicated to research, education, and advocacy. NCL maintains a national fraud information center for advice on fraud related to the Internet and telemarketing.

Consumer Action, another link offered by FTC, is a non-profit advocacy and education organization offering information on many topics including banking, credit, and related topics.

A site that could be useful to the bank itself is Debt Counselors of America ("DCA"). Not only is this an important site for many consumers, it could be a resource for the bank in identifying organizations for borrower help and for ideas on credit or service needs. Organizations such as these can be a valuable source of information for the bank and the bank's customers.

Free education on credit reporting can be had through two other sites. The Associated Credit Bureaus' site and a site maintained by Experian. The Experian site maintains a variety of consumer information and education sites. Some are specifically related to the fraud topics of National Consumer Protection Week and others relate more generally to credit and credit histories.

All of these sites are sources of information that your bank can use in a variety of ways to support your credit programs and consumer education efforts. Browse through the sites and look for ways to increase your CRA Service Test rating!

ACTION STEPS

  • Log on to the Internet and visit the FTC site. Check the free consumer information and the related sites - www.ftc.gov
  • Go to the GSA's consumer information site in Pueblo and scroll through the many, many freebies there. Download or order.
  • While you are on Pueblo's site, check their privacy policy. Copy it and study it.
  • Take the free consumer information to your CRA manager and your marketing manager. Suggest ways that they can use the free information for CRA and promotional purposes such as seminars and statement stuffers.

Copyright © 1999 Compliance Action. Originally appeared in Compliance Action, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2/99

First published on 02/01/1999

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