The CFPB posted several ads recently seeking undercover investigators to “establish and conduct surveillance activity.” These investigators would earn between $98,000 to $149,000 “develop[ing] both intelligence and evidence to further investigations.” The investigators would also “[u]tilize surveillance activities to identify subjects, their activities and their associates, corroborate source information and collect evidence.” The ads also suggest that investigators would be charged with finding “investigative problems for which there are few, if any, established criteria.”
Though refusing to discuss the specific techniques that these investigators would be authorized to use, CFPB spokeswomen Moira Vahey attempted to assuage concerns that activities would violate the civil liberties of the subjects by claiming that the “[i]nvestigative work conducted by our staff will be covered by the [CFPB] policies to ensure all practices comply with applicable laws and regulations and protect individuals’ privacy rights.” Ms. Vahey added that the “activities described in the postings are intended to inform our enforcement office about what consumers may experience with different financial products or services.”
The CFPB is not the first regulatory agency to use undercover investigators. The Department of Education recently acknowledged that it hired undercover contractors to pose as college students to investigate financial aid fraud. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission retained a mystery-shopper company to investigate whether certain retailers were selling R-rated movies and M-rated video games to teenagers. The Department of Health and Human Services abandoned a plan to use mystery shoppers to investigate Medicaid and Medicare patients’ access to primary care physicians after members of Congress complained that the plan amounted to spying.