Congress provided the Bureau with four important tools to carry out its mission of protecting consumers: rulemaking, supervision, enforcement, and education. The Office of Enforcement is responsible for conducting investigations of potential unlawful conduct and taking public enforcement actions against entities and individuals that break the law. Enforcement actions are resolved publicly in court or through an administrative adjudication proceeding.
The Bureau has the authority to conduct investigations before instituting judicial or administrative proceedings. We use investigations to gather facts and identify violations of federal consumer financial law to determine whether a public enforcement action is necessary. We rely on a number of sources of information to identify potential issues that may warrant opening an investigation, including consumer complaints, the Bureau’s whistleblower hotline, referrals from state and federal regulators, and findings from the Bureau’s supervisory work.
When warranted by an investigation, we may seek authority from the Director to take a public enforcement action or we may close the investigation. When the Bureau enforces the law, compensating harmed consumers is a top priority. This compensation may take many forms including checks, account credits, or debt cancelation. In addition, we have obtained a wide range of injunctive relief designed to stop unlawful conduct and prevent future violations—such as banning individuals and companies from participating in the marketplace. We may also obtain fines, or civil money penalties, against entities that violate the law. These penalties go into our Civil Penalty Fund.
In some cases, we may find that the companies or individuals at issue are unable to pay the full amount required to compensate consumers. In reaching this determination, we rely on fully sworn financial statements, supporting documentation, and additional investigation, if needed. The Civil Penalty Fund can be used to compensate victims of unlawful activities who are not otherwise expected to get full compensation, but only when a civil money penalty was actually imposed for those activities. When the company or individual at issue cannot pay the full amount of consumer redress, we will seek to obtain the greatest amount of redress possible based on their ability to pay as well as appropriate injunctive relief to stop ongoing consumer harm and prevent future harm. We may also couple that redress with a nominal $1 civil money penalty—although nominal, this $1 penalty makes it possible for the Bureau to then compensate harmed consumers from the Civil Penalty Fund, making up for the entity’s or individual’s inability to pay.
Today the Bureau is launching on its website a new “enforcement database,” which provides detailed information on ordered consumer relief for each Bureau public enforcement action. This will increase transparency of our enforcement actions. The Bureau will update the database as new public enforcement actions are filed and resolved. The database identifies each public enforcement action by its initial filing date and provides the specific consumer relief associated with each resolution. Future iterations of the database will provide additional information on each public enforcement action.
Finally, the new webpage provides cumulative information on consumer relief ordered, the estimated number of consumers or consumer accounts eligible to receive relief, and the total amount of civil money penalties ordered. Of note, all information in the database reflects publicly available information available on ordered amounts for each public enforcement action. These data do not include non-public information about consumer relief and penalties. Information may be non-public when it is not included in the public filings, such as when specific amounts are unknown at the time of filing. The monetary amounts actually paid—as opposed to ordered to be paid—and whether those funds are paid to consumers or disgorged are also non-public confidential investigatory or supervisory information. Historically, the Bureau has reported non-public information in the aggregate, thereby protecting confidential information. Because these reported data are based only on publicly available data, totals of these data will differ from historic aggregated totals that included non-publicly available information.