Older Americans’ complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

U.S. population 62 and older: 60.5 million

Complaints since 2011: 72,020

Complaints per 1,000 people: 1.19

Oregon population 62 and older: 852,176

Complaints since 2011: 1,024

Complaints per 1,000 people: 1.2

Source: OSPIRG Foundation, Frontier Group, “Older Consumers in the Financial Marketplace”

Oregon ranks 14th in the nation for the rate of consumer-finance complaints by people 62 and older, according to a new report by the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, or OSPIRG.

A consumer lobbying organization, OSPIRG, has created a series of reports drawn from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau database. “Older Consumers in the Financial Marketplace” shows that, like the rest of the U.S. population, the main source of complaints for older Americans is their mortgages, followed by inaccurate credit reports and aggressive debt-collection practices. OSPIRG and its research partner, the Frontier Group, based in Santa Barbara, California, decided to look at complaints by older Americans because their savings, home equity and guaranteed income make them tempting targets for scammers. At the same time, senior citizens might be experiencing cognitive decline, isolation or grief that makes them vulnerable.

Nationwide, senior citizens have filed 72,020 complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau since it began gathering data in 2011. That’s a rate of 1.19 complaints per 1,000 people age 62 and older. The bureau was created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.

Mortgages accounted for 31 percent of complaints, according to the report, while inaccurate credit reports, including medical debt, and debt-collection practices, each made up 17 percent of complaints.

Oregon’s rate of complaint is higher, 1.2 per 1,000 senior citizens. The state has generated a total of 1,024 complaints.

Out of the Oregon complaints, 78 were from Central and Eastern Oregon ZIP codes. The complaints covered the gamut of topics, including reverse mortgage, attempts to collect medical debt not owed, and failure to fix a credit card statement and inaccurate credit report.

OSPIRG is also promoting the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which would be diminished under the Financial Choice Act, House Resolution 10, a far-reaching proposal that calls for ending big-bank bailouts, easing regulation of community banks and reforming the CFPB. A GOP summary of the act says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s power exceeds other consumer-protection agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, and its paternalistic approach is limiting consumers’ access to credit.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, is the only Oregon member of Congress who voted for H.R. 10. His representatives could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

OSPIRG State Director Charlie Fisher said the federal bureau’s power is a good thing. In September, the CFPB fined Wells Fargo $100 million for secretly opening more than 2 million unauthorized accounts, he noted, so it has the “ability to make bad actors pay.”

The bureau also has surveillance and enforcement power that goes beyond that of state attorneys general, Fisher said. “That’s the right to examine or supervise certain firms at any time, not only after it begins an investigation,” he said. “It has this authority over any size payday lender, any nonbank mortgage company, any private student lender and any larger credit bureau, debt collector or student or mortgage loan servicer.”

Many of the complaints in CFPB’s public database are simply closed after the company provides an explanation and don’t end in enforcement action or a settlement. Fisher said they’re still valuable because they allow the bureau to see national trends and consumers to make decisions about dealing with companies that are the subject of many complaints.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com