The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unveiled an updated complaint database on Thursday, pushing forward with a controversial plan to allow disgruntled consumers to add their narratives to the official record.

Critics of the move argued that posting the database of detailed grievances wiil allow unverified details to circulate in public that could potentially smear a company's reputation or have other negative economic effects.

The complaint database contains 7,700 complaints filed online. They include details of woe faced in dealing with financial companies concerning credit cards, debt collection, mortgages, bank accounts and more. The CFPB also published a Request for Information on Thursday that seeks input on whether there are ways to allow the public to more easily understand and make comparisons of the complaint information.

The CFPB included a disclaimer that it does not investigate the substance of the complaints before posting them. Some postings come with spelling errors, some with gratuitous capitalization of words. The CFPB does, however, take steps to authenticate complaints and confirm a commercial relationship, officials said.

It also said it will provide more balance to businesses by withholding narratives until the company's in question give a public-facing response or after the company has had the complaint for 60 days. The company responses are included in the database for the first time. 

The database represents a fraction of the 627,000 total complaints the CFPB has received in the four years it's been operating. The CFPB began offering the option of allowing people to publicly share their complaints in March and, according to CFPB officials, more than half of the people who've filed complaints since then chose to make them public.

"The Bureau’s work improves as we hear directly from consumers," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "Every complaint tells us what people are facing in the financial marketplace. Publishing these consumer stories today is a historic milestone that we believe will lead to better outcomes for everyone.

"Consumer narratives provide a firsthand account of the consumer’s experience. The narratives provide context to complaints, are easily searchable and help spotlight specific trends. The narratives can also help consumers to make more informed decisions, as well as encourage companies to improve the overall quality of their products and services and more vigorously compete over good customer service,” CFPB officials said.

The database specifically will allow users to explore information, spotlight particular practices and problems and gain valuable insights, according to the CFPB. Specifically, users can:

  • Search for specific product names or features: Users can now search consumer narratives for product names or features such as the brand name of a credit card or a mortgage feature.
  • Highlight specific company practices and problems: Users can search for terms in consumer accounts of what happened such as "lost paperwork," "foreclosure scam," or "robo-signing."
  • Break down information by state: Users can sort complaints by state and zip code to spotlight local trends and information.

The CFPB began accepting complaints as soon as it opened its doors 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 CFPB launched the complaint database in June 2012 and it's now the nation’s largest public collection of consumer financial complaints.

Among those against the updated database, Experian, which has more than 21,000 complaints in the CFPB's overall database, argued that the complaints likely would contain inaccurate, misleading or "even derogatory or offensive statements."

The American Bankers Association also has opposed it, fearing it will be a "purveyor of at best unsubstantiated, and potentially false, information."


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