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A look at the consumer protection agency's powers


The government's new consumer protection cop has sent out more than 100 subpoenas to financial companies springing from dozens of separate probes.

That's just one part of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's head-on push to clamp down on financial practices that it believes harm consumers.

Here's a look at some of the agency's tools and how it's using them:

— Civil Investigative Demands. Officials use these information requests, similar to subpoenas, to gather information for open investigations that may result in civil charges. Companies must respond, though they may appeal and have the demands modified or thrown out.

— Information demands. The agency keeps a closer watch on a subset of consumer finance companies: Big banks, private student lenders, credit bureaus and mortgage companies. In the course of routine audits and examinations, officials can require companies to turn over all kinds of information and data.

— Information requests. The agency's Research, Markets & Regulation team is using broad, voluntary information requests to learn more about at entire industries, such as the prepaid money card industry.

— Rules. The agency can write new, legally binding rules governing all kinds of financial products and services used by consumers. Some are required under the 2010 financial overhaul.

— Official guidance. The agency can issue guidance to inform companies about what they must do to comply with federal consumer finance laws.

— Bully pulpit. The agency promotes better disclosure and tries to head off bad practices through informal, public communication.


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