Consumer group issues alert to generous regarding disaster scams – National Consumers League

January 20, 2010

Haitian Earthquake Expected to Cause Uptick in Reports of Donations to Fraudulent Charity Schemes to National Consumers League’s Fraud Center

Contact: Carol McKay, (412) 408-3688,

WASHINGTON, DC—Over the years, opportunistic con artists have exploited both natural disasters and terrorist attacks to bilk generous consumers attempting to make financial contributions to rescue efforts, warns the National Consumers League. The recent devastating earthquake in Haiti will likely be no exception.

NCL, the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, collects consumers’ complaints of telemarketing and Internet fraud through NCL’s Fraud Center (, and anticipates it will soon receive reports of hurricane-related scams. “In the days following a natural disaster, we begin to hear from consumers about crooks’ attempt to take advantage of tragic events for their personal gain,” said John Breyault, Director of NCL’s Fraud Center.

After the September 11th terrorist attacks, as well after Hurricane Katrina, NCL’s Fraud Center received reports of a variety of scams tailored by con artists to capitalize on the rescue efforts. Scams typically involve con artists sending out emails purporting to come from a known and respected charity such as the Red Cross or Oxfam International.  Victims are then directed to a fake Web site made to look like a legitimate charity’s site, where they are asked to hand over personal information or to donate via wire transfer, PayPal, or a credit or bank account.  The scammer then makes off with the donation, and no funds are sent to support actual disaster relief.

“The continued tragedy of fraud perpetrated in the wake of such disasters is that charity scams not only rob the donors,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “They divert contributions from legitimate charities, who are in great need for money and goods to assist those who need it most.”

  • NCL warns consumers to be especially wary of emails from strangers. While many legitimate companies, organizations, and individuals are using the Internet to mobilize help for disaster victims and share information about the latest developments, crooks may use email or social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter to reach a wide audience of potential victims.

“Be cautious about any solicitation that mentions the disaster. Consumers interested in giving to the relief effort should give to charities they know and trust,” said Breyault. “If someone claims to be collecting money that will go to charities, ask which ones and check with them directly to make sure it’s true.”

The FBI has also issued warnings about unsolicited emails or messages from social networking sites asking for donations and claiming to represent a quake victim or a government or charity official and asks for donations. Also, the agency says, do not click on any links within those emails or on attached files labeled photos or video because they may contain viruses.

  • Consumers can confirm that charities are properly registered by contacting their state charities regulators, which are listed in the state government pages of their telephone books. Information about charities is also available from the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, 703-276-0100, Consumers can also check out charities at GuideStar (, and Charity Navigator (, both of which contain links to legitimate charities working on the relief effort.
  • Consumers can report disaster-related telemarketing or Internet fraud to NCL’s Fraud Center at the online complaint form on


About the National Consumers League

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit

Welcome to Washington, Dr. Benjamin – National Consumers League

NCL is pleased to welcome the newly confirmed Surgeon General to town.  Dr. Regina Benjamin was sworn into her role as the medical and public health spokesperson for the country, but not without controversy.

Dr. Benjamin brings with her years of experience working for low-income, rural populations, working to improve access to care for many underserved populations, and breaking down barriers along the way – as a woman, as a minority, but also as someone who struggles with her weight.  Dr. Benjamin’s response to the criticism, however, has been wonderful.

In a recent interview on Good Morning America, Dr. Benjamin offered that “health and being healthy and being fit is not about a dress size.”  She continued, “it’s about how fit you are at a moment in time.  I’m just like 67 percent of Americans.  I struggle with my weight just like they do, so I understand.  I want to have them help me and I will help them and we’ll work together to try and become a healthier nation.”

We look forward to working with Dr. Benjamin and her office as we work to become a healthier nation.

Consumers nationwide speak with one voice on Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger – National Consumers League

January 19, 2010

Nearly 25,000 Ask Department of Justice to Block the Deal

Contact: John Breyault, NCL (202) 207-2819, or
Shannon Flaherty, National Association of Ticket Brokers, (202) 347-6762,

Washington, DC — The members of the coalition today announced that nearly 25,000 consumers have directly contacted the Department of Justice (DOJ), urging the Antitrust Division to listen to their collective voice and block the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger.

“This unprecedented groundswell of consumer outrage should make it loud and clear to the DOJ that consumers nationwide want this merger to be blocked,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, a founding member of the coalition. “Consumers can spot a raw deal when they see one, and this merger is exactly that – a combination of two market behemoths that would result in higher prices, more outrageous fees, and less choice.”

Public interest groups, Members of Congress, concert promoters, talent agents, artists, managers, venue owners and operators, ticket brokers, and everyday Americans have all mobilized to oppose the proposed merger. This diverse coalition has raised its voice because they realize that if Ticketmaster and Live Nation are allowed to merge, they will dominate the live event industry, giving the new company unprecedented control over pricing and access. The ultimate result will be higher prices for tickets, less choice of venue for artists and fans alike, and a continuation of the years of poor customer service from the two companies.

In just a few short weeks, the member organizations of the coalition have mobilized tens of thousands of consumers via online petitions, e-mail outreach, online social networks, and word-of-mouth to take action. “This is just the beginning,” said Greenberg.  “In huge numbers, consumers who are already struggling to make ends meet in a difficult economy are telling the DOJ that ‘enough is enough,’ and that they do not want even more of their hard-earned entertainment dollars going to line the pockets of a huge new live event industry conglomerate.”

The coalition urged consumers who want to become active in the fight to block the merger to sign on to the coalition’s online petition and sign up for updates at In this way, they can let Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Christine Varney know that the right course of action is to block the merger.

For more information, visit


About is a coalition of public interest groups, ticket brokers, and independent venue owners and promoters united in opposition to the proposed Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger. Coalition members include the American Antitrust Institute, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, I.M.P. Productions Chairman Seth Hurwitz (representing independent venue owners), the National Association of Ticket Brokers, the National Consumers League and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG).

Consumer groups concerned about mechanically tenderized meat products – National Consumers League

Following a December 24, 2009 recall of 248,000 pounds of mechanically tenderized steaks that sickened 21 consumers in 16 states, nine of whom were hospitalized, consumer groups are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to require labeling identifying all mechanically tenderized meat products; to include these products in its sampling program; and to inform the public and restaurants about the need for adequate cooking of these products.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has linked the illnesses to mechanically tenderized steaks produced by National Steak and Poultry and distributed to restaurant chains.

Often used on less expensive cuts of meat to increase tenderness, mechanical tenderization is a process that inserts small needles or blades into a meat product, such as a steak or roast. These needles or blades can transfer any pathogens located on the surface of the product to the interior, increasing the risk to consumers if the product is not cooked to a high enough temperature to kill the pathogens.  FSIS estimates that over 50 million pounds of mechanically tenderized products are produced each month. Currently this product is unidentifiable to consumers or institutions.

Assuring adequate cooking temperatures for mechanically tenderized products is particularly important. USDA currently recommends that consumers cook beef steaks and roasts to 145°F while it recommends that consumers cook ground beef products to 160°F in order to kill any pathogens that may have been distributed throughout the product. The higher cooking temperature for ground beef products is warranted, given that ground products may have pathogens distributed throughout the product, not just on the surface.

Mechanically tenderized steaks and roasts present a similar risk to consumers because pathogens may not be just on the surface of the product. These products require higher cooking temperatures to ensure that all internal pathogens have been killed. This is especially important since many consumers prefer steaks cooked to rare or medium, which means the products are cooked to a temperature lower than 160°F.  Since mechanically tenderized products are not labeled, food preparers may be cooking these products to unsafe temperatures and putting themselves, their families and customers at risk of deadly foodborne illness.

In a June 2009 letter to USDA, consumer groups outlined concerns that mechanically tenderized products presented an unnecessary risk to consumers. The letter, signed by numerous consumer groups, urged USDA to issue labeling requirements for mechanically tenderized products and to develop educational materials for the restaurant industry and the public. To date, USDA has not responded to those requests.

These groups, along with NCL, Consumers Union, and S.T.O.P., Safe Tables Our Priority, recently urged USDA to take steps immediately to address this risk to the public. The groups specifically ask USDA to:

  • Require labeling that will allow all meat purchasersto clearly identify mechanically tenderized, non-intact meat products;
  • Develop an educational outreach campaign to inform the public and retail meat purchasers about the proper cooking and handling procedures necessary to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from mechanically tenderized meat products; and
  • Develop and implement a sampling program for the detection of E. coli O157:H7 in mechanically tenderized meat products.

Ensuring Toy Safety an International Effort – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Last week I arrived in the United States, back from a trip to Hong Kong, which became a whirlwind tour of airports and hotels that – because of a tight schedule – I had to fit into 3.5 days. Why would I travel so far for such a short time? Because the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, together with the Toy Industry of America (TIA), was holding a conference on toy safety, and TIA wanted very much to have an American consumer organization present at the meeting. Several of my former Consumers Union (CU) colleagues, who couldn’t make the trip, suggested to TIA that they invite me because of my past work on product safety and toy safety at CU.

As intense as the itinerary was, the trip turned out to be very worthwhile for several reasons. First, this is a time of enormous tumult in the toy industry world. It was only two years ago that a crisis erupted as lead levels in toys imported from China were found to be far beyond legal limits. One 4-year-old boy in Minnesota actually died from lead poisoning when he swallowed a lead-laden charm from a bracelet attached to a Reebok shoe. I was able to reflect on the role consumer groups had played in bringing to public attention the dangers of lead and other heavy metals in children’s toys.

Secondly, I was able to discuss the important role consumer groups can and should play in the setting of safety standards. We also tipped our hat to the TIA because it sought active consumer participation in reforming the way toys are tested by third-party companies before being allowed to be imported into the United States. The rules are complicated and took months to develop— with consumer input throughout the process—but TIA’s Toy Safety Certification Program was adopted as a result.

Lastly, I had the chance to interact with a number of leaders in the toy industry, including CEO of Toys“R”Us, Gerald Storch, who gave an inspiring and important speech, underscoring that he and Toys“R”Us, as retailers, represent the interests of consumers. He insists on ensuring, through independent testing, that toys imported into the hundreds of his company’s retail stores in the United States and abroad meet the highest standards for safety.

The enactment of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2009 (CPSIA) is a watershed event for the safety of all consumer products and has changed the way the whole world looks at the regulation of lead and other heavy metals in toys. As I participated in this conference, I began to appreciate how important it was to have an American consumer perspective, especially given the passage of this landmark legislation last year.

Cadillac-driven Health Reform – National Consumers League

Health reform is – hopefully – in its final stages.  It’s cleared the House and the Senate, and we’re now faced with the “easy” task of conferencing the content of the two bills into one.  This bill will eventually be signed by the President; he hopes to have it on his desk and signed in advance of his State of the Union address in early February.

Because the two bills differ a good deal, especially in how they aim to finance the coverage expansion, many ‘supporters’ have been at odds in recent months over how (and from whom) to obtain this money.

One term that’s been tossed around – largely as a scare tactic from both sides of the aisle – is the “Cadillac Tax”.  The “Cadillac Tax” refers to a tax on expensive health insurance plans.  While some estimate this tax could generate as much as $150 billion over the next ten years, others fear that many will avoid paying the tax by switching to lower quality (and lower cost) health plans.

The new deal being worked on by party leaders, the White House, and leaders from some of the tax’s biggest opponents – unions – would provide some exemptions to the tax, in addition to raising the income and health plan levels at which the taxes are imposed.  NCL is hopeful that as the deals continue to be made and the bill is finalized, that reform can be made without decreasing access to care or the quality of care delivered to Americans.

Got the Vaccine? – National Consumers League

It’s officially National Influenza Vaccination Week, a national observance established to highlight the importance of getting vaccinated against influenza into January and beyond. There was a lot of buzz last fall, leading into the holiday season, urging consumers to get vaccinated – especially those with chronic health conditions that put them at high risk of serious influenza-related complications.

One of the many goals for NIVW, which is sponsored by the federal government ( and being supported by many other health groups, including the National Consumers League, is to engage at-risk audiences who haven’t yet received the vaccine, who may be hesitant about it, or unsure about where to get vaccinated.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, “Getting a flu shot is the single best way to protect against the flu.” Yet many consumers — including pregnant women — are either hesitant to get a flu shot or have been unable to get vaccinated due to limited supplies. Last fall, NCL created a Q&A to make sure expectant moms have the information they need to make good decisions about protecting their health—and the health of their babies—and know where to go to get the care they need.

If you haven’t yet been vaccinated, or aren’t sure whether you should, check out the resources at to learn more about the vaccine, read a proclamation from the President, or send an e-card to a loved one.

Mary Gardiner Jones (1921-2010) – National Consumers League

Last week, consumer advocates paid tribute to Mary Gardiner Jones, who served over many decades as a consummate consumer protection advocate and passed away at the age of 89. She was appointed as the first female commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission by President Johnson in 1964 and and served as president of the NCL Board of Directors in the 70s. NCL conferred on her the Florence Kelly award in 2003. NCL Board Secretary Sam Simon worked with her on the Alliance for Public Technology, and says that “her perspectives on technology were incredibly deep and accurate, way ahead of her time. She wrote and often said that no technology would work for people (we use the word ‘applications’ today) unless it made their daily life tasks better/simpler than other choices. I’m not sure ‘we’ get it even yet.  And on the other side of her, she was the type of person who made progress like a porcupine — poking things that got in her way.”

We owe a debt of gratitude for her pioneering leadership at the FTC and her distinguished career.

Death Highlights the Dangers of Teen Work with Machinery – National Consumers League

By Reid Maki, Coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition

It’s almost too painful to talk about: a few days before Thanksgiving in a small Virginia town called Poquoson, Frank Gornik, 14, was removing storm debris for his uncle’s company. The boy, a freshman in high school, fed branches into a wood chipper. He used a shovel to help force the branches and that shovel was grabbed by the machine and—in an instant—swallowed the boy and killed him.

Each year, 35-40 teens die similarly unimaginable deaths in workplace accidents—tractor rollovers, work-related car accidents, drownings in grain silos. Here at the National Consumers League, we try to monitor these deaths to prevent them from occurring. A decade ago, the number of working teens who died on the job was about double what it is today. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, federal and state departments of labor, nonprofit organizations and employers worked together to help bring the number of deaths down, but we must keep working to reduce that number even further.

Sadly, although it was a freak accident, Gornik’s death was preventable. The boy was much too young to work with such deadly equipment. Over the years, state and federal officials have realized that teens lack the judgment and experience to operate some hazardous machinery and require workers to be 18 to use them (although some exemptions are made for agriculture). Because of their ability to inflict massive and instantaneous damage, wood chippers are among the proscribed machines. Under the Bush administration, the U.S. Department of Labor refused to enact NIOSH-recommended changes to the “hazardous orders” regulations that would have improved teen worker safety protections. It is our understanding that under Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis’ leadership, the department is working to update those regulations and close some current exemptions that allow teens to perform dangerous work.

Although Gornik had his share of sadness— according to local newspaper reports, he lost both parents in a two-year stretch between 2005 and 2007—he was remembered by many fellow students for his ready smile and helpfulness. He was a very popular student who played sports and made the honor roll, and the Poquoson community continues to grieve his loss.

It’s hard to make any sense of an unspeakable tragedy like this, but the lessons learned from the accident that took Frank Gornik’s life might prevent similar deaths. Each year, NCL publishes a report—“The Five Worst Teen Jobs”—about dangerous job for teens, hoping that parents, employers, and young workers will carefully consider which jobs they take and what tasks they perform at work. It’s vital that employers learn state and federal child labor and safety laws, and it’s vital that young workers think about their own safety and know that they are able to say “no” to any job task that is dangerous or against the law.

Don’t waste your money-or your health-on counterfeit drugs – National Consumers League

When shopping around for prescription medications, watch out for fakes! You could throw your money away on drugs that don’t work, or — even worse — get sick by taking counterfeits that aren’t what they pretend to be.

  • Counterfeit drugs may not have the same active ingredients as the real thing. They may also be produced in unsanitary conditions. Counterfeits could actually make you MORE ill.
  • Only buy prescription drugs from safe, reputable sources. Check unfamiliar sellers with your state board of pharmacy or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Go to, click on “Who We Are,” then “Boards of Pharmacy” for a list, or call 847- 391-4406. When buying online, look for Web sites displaying the NABP’s VIPPS seal, indicating that the pharmacy meets state and federal requirements.
  • Don’t be fooled by the packaging. Know the size, shape, color, taste, and side effects of the drugs you take, and examine new packages to make sure everything is right. If you notice anything different about the packaging or the actual medicine, alert the pharmacist and your doctor immediately.
  • Also report your suspicions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you bought the drug by mail, telephone, or in person, contact the FDA Medwatch program, 800-332-1088. To report counterfeit drugs purchased on the Internet, use the form at or call the Medwatch number.
  • For more information from the National Consumers League about counterfeit drugs, visit