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Monopoly Man photobombs Equifax Senate hearing to protest proposed forced arbitration changes

Everyone knows the Monopoly Man, even if we don't know his name. His classy duds, compete with top hat, and bushy mustache make him immediately recognizable.

For many of us, he and his board game were our introduction to high finance.

Now, however, he's branched out. He made a real-life appearance this week at a Congressional hearing.

Equifax visual protest: OK, it was someone dressed up like Rich Uncle Pennybags, which is the Monopoly Man's name.

And the impersonator stole the show from former Equifax CEO Richard Smith, who continued to make the Washington, D.C, rounds to take heat for the credit reporting bureau's data hack.

The fictional character photobombed Smith's Oct. 4 testimony before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Pennybags' antics, from exaggerated shocked expressions to stroking of the fake handlebar 'stache to periodically peering through a monocle, came when Smith did, or more so when he didn't, answer Senators' questions.

It was just what a pair of consumer rights and financial reform advocacy groups wanted.

Americans for Financial Reform and Public Citizen sent the Monopoly-styled imitator to the Senate twice this week to protest forced arbitration clauses. These provisions are commonly used in the financial industry and limit consumers' ability to take disputes to court.

Consumer advocacy groups are fighting Republican efforts to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule adopted this year that weakens a company's ability to make arbitration mandatory.

Doubling down on forced arbitration: First, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, the faux wealthy relative uncle delivered Monopoly-inspired “Get out of jail” cards to all 100 Senate offices.

That's how consumer advocacy groups view efforts that restrict customers' options in holding banks and financial firms accountable.

Rich Uncle Pennybags protests at Equifax CEO Senate hearing
Rich Uncle Pennybags, aka the Monopoly Man, visited Senate offices on behalf of Public Citizen and Americans for Financial Reform to defend limits on forced arbitration. Consumer activists say that requiring consumers to surrender their rights to sue is essentially a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for the financial industry.

Then on Wednesday, the Monopoly Man, who actually was portrayed by a woman, sat through Smith's Senate testimony and provided nonverbal background commentary.

Smith's Senate appearance basically echoed an earlier one before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He apologized for the company's security failure that allowed 145 million customer accounts to be hacked by identity thieves.

The Monopoly-inspired activism at the Upper Chamber's hearing, however, was a reminder that in its immediate response to the cyber breach, Equifax offered affected individuals the option to enroll in the company's free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection program, but only if they waived the right to take future legal action against the company.

After a public outcry, Equifax walked back its arbitration-only requirement.

Comical guise for serious message: Amanda Werner, a campaign manager for Americans for Financial Reform and Public Citizen, told The Washington Post that based on her viewing of "a lot of these hearings" she was able to determine which seat behind the witness table would be most visible.

"Once I got it, I went full in and just did as many visual gags as I could," Werner said.

It's not clear how many Senators noticed Werner or will take her groups' arguments into account when considering any changes to the current financial arbitration rules.

But for a while on Wednesday, some much-needed levity made an all-too-infrequent appearance on Capitol Hill.

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