The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau could be doing more to "enhance the accuracy and completeness" of entries into its consumer complaint database, according to the agency's Inspector General.
In a Sept. 10 report, the Federal Reserve Office of the Inspector General — which also oversees the CFPB — said that it found a number of ways in which the agency could better screen and manage entries to its online database to limit unsubstantiated or inaccurate complaints.
The database launched in June 2011, and the bureau first began accepting mortgage-related complaints that December. Mortgages are among the most-complained-about financial product, though the CFPB's most recent monthly report showed a 4% decline in complaints against mortgage firms.
While the CFPB has developed controls to check for accuracy of complaints in its internal investigation system, it has not developed appropriate controls to ensure that the data that can be viewed by the public accurately represents whether the dispute is founded or whether the financial companies involved have responded or resolved the dispute, the report said.
"We found several noticeable inaccuracies in our analysis of the 254,835 complaints in the Consumer Complaint Database" as of last June, the report said. "Although the number of complaints with inaccuracies that we identified was relatively small, enhancing existing controls would help ensure that as the number and types of complaints published increase, overall reliability of the data is maintained."
As part of the CFPB's mandate, the agency provides a public portal for allowing consumers to lodge complaints against a variety of financial companies for allegations of fraud or abuse. The CFPB made the controversial decision to make narratives from those complaints public — a decision that financial institutions strongly oppose, arguing, that the database only gives consumers "one side of the story," according to Tim Pawlenty, the head of the Financial Services Roundtable. The CFPB portal allows companies to respond to complaints and also allows consumers to respond to those responses.
The report included a number of recommendations for the CFPB, including establishing controls to determine whether information about the consumer and their complaint are accurate and entered properly; controls to ensure that company responses to complaints are appropriately coded and are published even if they are received after the closing window; and to notify the public when the database is down or otherwise unavailable.
The CFPB agreed with all of the report's findings and said that it has already begun taking actions to improve its systems and processes. With respect to the data validation recommendations, the agency said that it is working on revamping its procedures to address the shortcomings in the complaint validation process.
"The specific details of the data validation process will be included in the accompanying procedures that are under development," the bureau said.