Don’t Let the Economy Make You Sick – National Consumers League

by Mimi Johnson, Health Policy Associate

An article in last week’s NY Times outlines just how dangerous the poor economy can be on our health. A study, conducted nationally via telephone, reported that one in seven Americans under the age of 65 went without prescribed medication because they couldn’t afford it. What’s more alarming is that this number has likely grown since the survey was conducted in 2007 due to the current economic slump.

Among those surveyed, uninsured, working adults with at least one chronic condition were the most unlikely to fill a prescription.It is most important for this group of people to take their medications as directed, or their health will deteriorate and the cost of treatment will only increase.

It’s not only the uninsured who are affected by the rising costs of health care. The NY Times article states that “nearly one in four adults on Medicaid or state insurance programs said they’d had difficulty affording drugs.” And American veterans are among those most likely to forgo treatment as their co-pays rise.

Growing medical costs and diminishing medical coverage affect a majority of this nation; the National Consumers League is optimistic that a new Congress and Administration will address this serious problem. NCL is a member of Health Care for America Now, which calls for Congress to cover everyone with adequate insurance.

If you are among those who CAN afford to fill your prescription, it is important not only that you fill it, but that you also take the medicines as directed. It may seem like a good idea to conserve the meds in order to stretch the prescription between refills. But the costs – both to your health and your pocketbook – associated with NOT taking your prescribed medications are far greater than the costs of filling your prescription and taking your medications at the onset.

If you have questions, talk with your doctor. A study by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that doctors are often not very good at communicating the importance of taking your medicines as directed. As a consumer, it is your right and duty to ask the questions, prepare a medication list, and to work with your health care providers to understand how to incorporate the medication into your life. (You can learn more about this at the National Council on Patient Information and Education’s site here.)

The appropriate use of medication has long been an important issue to the League.In fact, we are currently in the planning phase of a national medication adherence campaign.If you would like to learn more about this campaign and our work on adherence, please contact NCL at (202) 835-3323, and ask to speak with our health policy department.

Spot foreclosure rescue scams – National Consumers League

If you’re at risk of losing your home, check out anyone offering to help because they might really be offering new problems.Lease-Back or Repurchase Scams begin with a con artist’s promise to pay your mortgage and lease it back to you, if you sign over the deed – and all of your rights. This gives them the power to evict you, raise your rent, sell the house, or steal the equity you have in your home.

Refinance Fraud may happen if a con artist tricks you into signing over the ownership of your home by saying that you are signing documents for a new loan to lower your payments.

Bankruptcy Schemes abuse the laws meant to protect you and can actually prevent you from getting help with your problems. A con artist claiming to stop foreclosure and file bankruptcy for you may be getting you into deeper trouble.

Protect yourself:

  • Check credentials, reputation and experience of people or businesses offering foreclosure rescue services, such as the ones above.
  • Know what you’re signing, get promises in writing, and don’t accidentally sign over the deed to your home!
  • Make payments directly to your lender or mortgage servicer.
  • Report suspicious activity to the Federal Trade Commission and to your state and local consumer protection agencies.
  • If you fall behind on your mortgage payments, contact your lender – or a legitimate financial counselor – as soon as possible to help you find options for avoiding foreclosure.
  • Learn more about foreclosure scams, at

Protect your privacy, safety, and security online – National Consumers League

Computers and the Internet have changed our lives in many ways: how we keep in touch, learn, work, shop, pay bills, and even keep track of our accounts. But with the advantages come risks; your computer contains sensitive information, and it’s up to you to protect it!

  • Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software to protect against malicious programs that may be planted in emails, documents, or Web sites – programs that can damage your computer, capture information such as your passwords, or cause other harm. Set them to run automatically and update them regularly.
  • Use a strong firewall to keep intruders out of your computer.
  • Patch it up! Keep your software current with the free patches offered by manufacturers to fix flaws. If your system automatically notifies you about new patches or security upgrades, don’t delay — download them immediately.
  • Keep a lid on your personal information. Only provide your passwords, account numbers, or answers to security questions when you are sure who you’re dealing with and why they need the info. Talk to your kids about privacy and monitor their online activities. Take advantage of parental controls that software manufacturers and Internet service providers may offer.
  • Don’t click on links in emails asking for your personal information. They may lead you to fake versions of legitimate Web sites, where criminals hope you’ll hand over your personal information.
  • Never enter your information in a pop-up screen. They may be planted on legitimate Web sites by identity thieves.

Debit cards: Know how to use them – National Consumers League

Debit cards are convenient and safer to carry than cash, and they’re more widely accepted by merchants these days than personal checks. But just because they look and feel like a credit card doesn’t mean they work exactly like one, and not understanding the differences could cost you.

Follow this advice, and read NCL’s brochure, Debit cards: Beyond cash and checks

  • Know your balance, and know what overdraft fees you’ll face if your bank lets you withdraw more than you have. When making a purchase with a debit card, make sure there’s enough money in your account to cover it. Deduct debits from the balance in your check register promptly.
  • Don’t forget about checks you’ve already written. Even if they haven’t cleared yet, consider that money gone.
  • Know if there’s a cost for using the card. Some card issuers charge monthly or even per-transaction fees that are automatically deducted from your account.
  • Notify the issuer immediately if the cost is lost or stolen. Under federal law, the amount you could lose if someone uses your debit card depends on how quickly you report the loss once you discover it. Your card issuer may have “zero” liability policies that give you extra protections.

Going once, going twice … scammed! – National Consumers League

For more than a decade, online auctions have been one of the top-reported frauds to NCL’s Fraud Center. Both buyers and sellers can benefit from online auctions; many people make their living selling items online, and millions of consumers have had positive experiences making purchases. But there are many risks as well, and both buyers and sellers can take steps to avoid becoming a Fraud Center statistic.

  • Understand how the auction works. Many online auctions simply list items that people want to sell. They don’t verify that the merchandise actually exists or that it is described accurately, and they can’t guaranty that the sellers will keep their promises.
  • Check out the seller before you bid. Some auction sites have feedback forums with comments about the sellers based on other people’s experiences. Be aware that positive reports may have been “planted” by the seller and negative comments could be from a competitor. Other sources of information are state or local consumer protection agencies and the Better Business Bureau. Negative information is a good warning sign, but a clean complaint record doesn’t guarantee that your transaction will go smoothly.
  • Be careful if the seller is a private individual. Many consumer protection laws don’t apply to private sales, though government agencies may take action if there are many complaints the same individual or criminal fraud is involved.
  • Be especially cautious when dealing with sellers in other countries. If you have a problem, the physical distance, difference in legal systems, and other factors could make resolving it very difficult.
  • Beware of “shills.” The seller may try to raise the price artificially by making bids under fictitious names or recruiting other people to make bids. Using bogus bidders is illegal and a violation of online auction policies.
  • Get the name and contact information of the seller. The name, physical street address, email address, and phone number are helpful to have for checking the seller out and following up later if there is a problem. Don’t do business with anyone who refuses to provide that information.
  • Be wary of claims about collectibles and other expensive items. Since you can’t examine the merchandise or have it appraised until after the sale, don’t assume that claims about its condition or value are true, or that photographs are accurate. Print out and save the description and any photos to document the claims that were made.
  • Ask about delivery, returns, warranties and service before you pay. Get a definite delivery time and insist that the shipment is insured. Ask about the return policy. If you’re buying electronic goods or appliances, find out if there is a warranty and how to get service.
  • Look for information on the auction site about insurance. Some auction sites provide insurance that covers buyers up to a certain amount if something goes wrong. Others may have links to third-party programs that offer insurance for a fee. Read the terms of the insurance carefully. There is often a deductible, and there be other limitations or requirements that apply. For example, you may not be covered if the seller had a negative feedback rating on the auction site at the time of the transaction.
  • Pay by credit card. Under federal law, you can dispute the charges if you paid the seller with a credit card and the goods were never delivered or if they were misrepresented. If you are paying through an intermediary service, ask what happens in the case of disputes.
  • Look for bonded sellers. Some sellers are bonded through programs that have investigated their business backgrounds and credit histories and guaranty your money back if they don’t fulfill their promises. Click on the program symbol to learn how the bonding program works and verify that the seller is a member in good standing.
  • Consider using an escrow service for expensive purchases that aren’t covered by insurance or bonding. For a small fee, an escrow service takes your payment and forwards it to the seller once you confirm satisfactory delivery.  If there is a dispute, the escrow service may act as a referee.  Ask if the service is licensed and bonded, and how you can confirm that with the appropriate agency.
  • Try mediation to resolve disputes. Not all problems are due to fraud. Sometimes people simply fail to hold up their side of the bargain in a timely manner or there may be a misunderstanding about something. Some auction sites provide links to third-party mediation services that help people resolve disputes. There may be a small fee that is usually paid by the party who requests the mediation.
  • Inform auction sites about suspected fraud. They may have policies to remove sellers from their sites if they use “shills” or don’t live up to their obligations.

Phishing scams: Don’t take the bait! – National Consumers League

“Phishing” is when identity thieves try to trick you into providing your personal information by pretending to be someone they’re not. A phishing scam involves sending spam or pop-up messages to lure credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords, or other sensitive information from Internet users.In phishing scams, ID thieves trick people into providing their Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, PINs, mothers’ maiden names, and other personal information by pretending to be someone they’re not. Follow this advice from NCL, and read our brochure about phishing, to avoid falling victim.

  • Watch out for “phishy” emails. The most common form of phishing is emails pretending to be from a legitimate retailer, bank, organization, or government agency. The sender asks to “confirm” your personal information for some made-up reason: your account is about to be closed, an order for something has been placed in your name, or your information has been lost because of a computer problem. Another tactic phishers use is to say they’re from the fraud departments of well-known companies and ask to verify your information because they suspect you may be a victim of identity theft! In one case, a phisher claimed to be from a state lottery commission and requested people’s banking information to deposit their “winnings” in their accounts.
  • Don’t click on links in emails asking for your personal information. They may lead you to fake versions of legitimate Web sites, where criminals hope you’ll hand over your personal information.
  • Never enter your information in pop-up screens. They may be planted on legitimate Web sites by identity thieves.
  • Beware of “pharming,” con artists secretly planting programs in your computer to hijack your browser and take you to phishing sites, even when you type in the Web address yourself!
  • Keep malicious messages and programs that could be used by phishers out of your computer with a spam filter, up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a strong firewall.

For more tips about phishing, go to

Think you’ve been a victim of ID theft? – National Consumers League

It’s frightening to lose your wallet or discover that someone has used information about you for a fraudulent purpose. Don’t panic — help is available. You will need to remain calm, cool, and collected as you go through the process of resolving the problem.Know that ID theft is a crime.

The federal government and many states have enacted specific laws against ID theft.

You can get detailed advice by calling the Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft Clearinghouse toll-free at 877-438-4338 or going to You can also provide information about your problem, which will help law enforcement agencies investigate and track ID theft. The FTC will send you a free booklet, “ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name,” or you can get it online. There are other steps that you might want to take right away.

If you believe that someone is using your identity illegally, report the crime to a law enforcement agency. It isn’t always possible for agencies to investigate every case, but making an official “identity theft report” can help you solve problems resulting from the ID theft. The “identity theft report” must be a document that subjects the person filing it to criminal penalties for providing false information. This is intended to discourage people from filing phony reports to try to avoid paying legitimate debts, not to prevent legitimate ID theft victims from reporting the crimes. You can report the crime to:

  • The police department where the theft occurred
  • Your local police
  • A state or federal agency, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (do not use a complaint to the FTC as an official identity theft report).

When a financial account is involved, contact the bank immediately. If your credit card, debit card, ATM card, or checks have been lost or stolen, or if you suspect that someone has obtained your account number for fraudulent purposes, inform the financial institution promptly and ask what you need to do to protect your money.

Know your payment rights. Under federal law, you are not responsible for more than $50 if someone uses your credit card without authorization, and most issuers will remove the charges completely if you report the problem as soon as you discover it. While your losses could be greater if someone uses your debit card, the card issuer may have a policy that offers you more protection than federal law provides. You can contest checks that have been used with your forged signature or unauthorized withdrawals from your bank account.

Respond quickly to debt collectors. If debt collectors contact you about accounts opened in your name or unauthorized charges made to your existing accounts, respond immediately in writing, keeping a copy of your letter. Explain why you don’t owe the money and enclose copies of any supporting documents, such as an official identity theft report. You have the right to ask the debt collector for the name of the business that is owed the debt and the amount owed. And you have the right to ask that business for copies of the credit applications or other documents relating to any transactions that you believe were made by the ID thief.

Put a fraud alert in your credit files. This will oblige creditors to take extra precautions if someone applies for credit in your name to verify that it’s really you. There are two kinds of fraud alerts. An “initial fraud alert” does not require you to provide a copy of an official “identity theft report” and stays on your credit records for at least 90 days. This is the kind of alert to use if you think you might be a victim but you’re not sure – for instance, if you lost your wallet or you find out that someone has gotten access to the customer records at a place you do business. An “extended fraud alert” should be placed when you have reason to believe that someone has illegally used your identity. You must provide a copy of an official “identity theft report” to request an extended fraud alert, which will stay on your credit records for 7 years. If you put an initial fraud alert on your files, you can always request an extended alert later if the situation warrants it. Just contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place the fraud alert; it will be shared automatically with the other two: Equifax, 800-525-6285, TDD 800-255-0056,; Experian, 888-397-3742, TDD 800-972-0322,; TransUnion, 800-680-7289, TDD 877-553-7803,

Get free copies of your credit reports. When you file a fraud alert, the credit bureaus will contact you with information about how to get free copies of your credit reports. If you filed an initial fraud alert, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the bureaus. If you filed an extended alert, you will be able to get two copies from each of the bureaus, one right away and the other within 12 months. This will help you monitor your account for problems. Since the information at the credit bureaus may be different, be sure to get your reports from all three.

Follow the instructions to dispute any accounts you didn’t open, charges you didn’t make, or other information that isn’t accurate. Be specific about any information that you believe is the result of the ID theft. You can permanently block that information from your credit files; you will be asked for a copy of your official identity theft report to do so. As with fraud alerts, you only need to report problems with your credit reports to one of the bureaus, and it will share that information with the other two (see contact information above).

Keep checking your credit report regularly. A new federal law entitles all consumers to ask each of the three major credit bureaus for free copies of their reports once in every 12-month period. This free annual report program started in late 2004 and is being phased in gradually across the country, from West to East. Go to or call 877-382-4357 for more details and to see when you can make your requests. You don’t have to ask all three credit bureaus for your reports at the same time; you can stagger your requests if you prefer. Do not contact the credit bureaus directly for these free annual reports. They are only available by calling 877-322-8228 or going to You can make your requests by phone or online, or download a form to mail your requests.

Your state law may also entitle you to free credit reports. Ask your local consumer protection or state attorney general’s office. Any rights your state law gives you are in addition to your rights under federal law.

Be cautious about offers for credit monitoring services. Why pay extra for them when you can get your credit reports for free or very cheap? Read the description of the services carefully. Unless you’re a victim of serious and ongoing identity theft, buying a service that alerts you to certain activities in your credit files probably isn’t worthwhile, especially if it costs hundreds of dollars a year. You can purchase copies of your credit reports anytime for about $9 through the bureaus’ Web sites or by phone: Equifax, 800-685-111; Experian, 800-311-4769; TransUnion, 800-888-4213.

Protect your identity – National Consumers League

How would you feel if you were stopped for a traffic violation and suddenly found yourself being handcuffed and taken to jail for a crime you never committed? Or if you got a nasty call from a collection agency for a car loan you never had? Or if your application for a home mortgage was turned down because of information in your credit report about overdue bills on accounts you never opened?These are situations you could face as a victim of identity theft. While ID theft can take many complex forms, the essence of this crime is simple—someone steals personal information about you to use for fraudulent purposes.

ID theft can happen to anyone. By guarding your personal information carefully, you can reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim. But you may not be able to avoid ID theft entirely; it can happen in ways beyond your control. Businesses, government agencies, and organizations that obtain personal information also have a responsibility to handle it carefully and keep it secure.

If you do become a victim of ID theft, there is help available to guide you step-by-step through the procedures that you will need to take to resolve the problem.

Avoid falling victim to identity theft by following this routine:

  • Check credit reports annually and before major purchases.
  • Check bank and credit card statements regularly and report unauthorized transactions immediately.
  • Carry only the credit cards, checks and identification you need.
  • Safeguard your Social Security Number.
  • Don’t give out personal information unless you know the recipient.
  • Pick up receipts from ATMs, restaurants, and stores.
  • Protect your Personal Identification Numbers and never carry them with you.
  • Use strong passwords to protect sensitive information. Don’t use information like birthdays or pets’ names.
  • Shred important documents before discarding them.
  • Destroy expired or unneeded cards.
  • Keep firewall, anti-virus, anti-spam and anti-spyware software current on your computer. Don’t respond to requests for personal information from unsolicited email or pop-ups.

Tread carefully with money transfer services – National Consumers League

Money transfer services make it easy to wire cash quickly and conveniently to friends and relatives — but crooks may take advantage of these services to get money from their victims!

  • Scammers may ask for payment through money transfer services because it’s fast. Unlike checks and credit card payments, the money is often available within minutes. That means that a fraud victim may not be able to stop the payment before it’s received. Because the money is usually picked up in cash and in person, it can be difficult to recover.
  • Common scams to watch for are bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, false promises of credit cards and loans, fraudulent online auction sales, work-at-home and other money-making schemes, and offers to transfer foreigners’ “fortunes” to victims’ bank accounts.
  • Crooks also befriend people on dating service sites and in online chat rooms. They ask to “borrow” money for medical problems or other emergencies, or to come to the U.S. from another country. Once they get it, the “friendship” ends. People who lost a pet or other valuable item are sometimes contacted by criminals who, posing as good Samaritans, ask for money to ship it back.
  • One of the fastest growing frauds is the fake check scam. If you receive payment and are asked to send part of it to someone through a money transfer service, don’t do it.
  • New frauds emerge every day, but no matter what the pitch is, if someone you don’t know asks for payment through a money transfer service, don’t do it.

Stop calling me! Remove your name from marketing lists – National Consumers League

Are you inundated with junk mail? There are ways consumers can remove their names from marketing lists – and avoid getting on them in the first place.

Are you inundated with junk mail? There are ways consumers can remove their names from marketing lists – and avoid getting on them in the first place.

  • Don’t provide information that isn’t necessary for the transaction. Don’t just fill in the blanks without thinking about whether you want to limit the information you supply.
  • Be anonymous. Consider using online tools and fictitious names in situations where your real identity isn’t needed and there is no other option to avoid getting on marketing lists.
  • Think twice before entering contests. Entry forms are often used to build marketing lists.
  • Know the privacy policy. If you don’t see anything about what personal information companies collect and how they use it, ask.
  • Understand your privacy choices. If there is no privacy policy or it doesn’t allow you to avoid unwanted marketing, take your business elsewhere.
  • Know when your personal information is being collected. Be aware of Automatic Number Identification and other ways that your information may be collected and tell the company if you don’t want to be put on a marketing list.
  • Understand that unlisted and unpublished phone numbers don’t guaranty privacy. Marketers may get your number if you’ve given it to others or they may simply dial you randomly.
  • Know your telemarketing rights. Federal law allows you to tell marketers not to call you again. Check with your state attorney general’s office to find out if you also have “Do Not Call” rights under state law.
  • Know your financial privacy rights. Federal law requires financial institutions to tell you what information they collect and how they use it, and allows you to request that your personal information not be shared with unrelated companies. Check with your state attorney general’s office to find out if you also have financial privacy rights under state law.
  • Know your medical privacy rights. Federal regulations limit how your health information can be used and shared with others for marketing purposes. Check with your state attorney general’s office to find out if you also have medical privacy rights under state law.
  • Your state may protect you against “spam.” Some states have enacted laws about unsolicited emails. Check with your state attorney general’s office.

Get off the lists!

Contact the major credit Bureaus. Call (888) 567-8688 to get off marketing lists for preapproved credit and insurance offers with all of the major credit bureaus (this does not affect your ability to apply for credit or insurance).

Contact the Direct Marketing Association. Get off the mailing, telemarketing and/or email lists of many major marketers:

Removal from mailing lists – write to: Mail Preference Service P.O. Box 9008 Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008 Or visit:

Removal from phone lists – write to:
Telephone Preference Service
P.O. Box 9014
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014
(include your phone number)

Or visit:

Removal from email lists – visit: