Consumer bureau may ask citizens to be whistleblowers

A teenager uses the Internet on a computer

TEXT OF STORY

JEREMY HOBSON: The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now being organized, and there's word that consumers will eventually be able to go online to blow the whistle on defective financial products.

Economy 4.0 special correspondent David Brancaccio reports.


DAVID BRANCACCIO: The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered up by the financial reform law is still under construction. What we now know is that online technology is going to be a big part of the strategy so that information percolates up from the real world.

Elizabeth Warren is the Harvard professor who is building the agency.

ELIZABETH WARREN: People can tell us their experiences. We can aggregate that information into usable data and begin to analyze where problems are emerging, where the hot spots are.

Some call it "crowd-sourcing" -- using Internet tools so that consumers can serve as sentries in the field.

WARREN: Let's also talk about crowd-sourcing solutions. When people decide that there's a problem and they want to identify a lender, whom they believe has misbehaved, or a particular new trick that has emerged, it's not only about telling the agency, it's about telling each other.

BRANCACCIO: You will have to establish trust, though, with real people out there on Main Street. You are the government after all.

WARREN: Yes, and one has to be careful in the handling of any data. We also have to pause to remember there will be a great deal of useful information without finding out people's Social Security numbers or knowing exactly how much money was in their latest paycheck.

Tim Duncan of Business Leaders for Financial Reform wants to see the new bureau push for online access to your credit card or mortgage agreements, in case there's a dispute.

TIM DUNCAN: It's just a great opportunity for somebody to be able to have in one place, hopefully a couple of clicks away, access to every agreement they have and what their obligations are so they can understand it fully when they need to.

Duncan says he once found himself rooting through old file boxes looking for his documents when he went to pay off his mortgage and his lender erroneously -- if not fraudulently -- tried to hit him with a fee.

In Washington, I'm David Brancaccio for Marketplace.

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