Avoid Fake Check Scams: Five things you should know – National Consumers League

You’ve won millions in a lottery, or you’ve been offered a job as a “mystery shopper.” Great news, right? All you have to do is deposit the checks or money orders you’ll receive and send the money somewhere, minus your “pay.” Is this your lucky day? NO! It’s a fake check scam that will cost you thousands unless you know the danger signs.The letter says that you’ve won millions in a sweepstakes or lottery, and there is a check or money order enclosed as part of your winnings. All you need to do to get the rest is send money to pay the taxes. Or someone offers you a job working at home as a “mystery shopper” or accounts manager.  It’s easy – you deposit the checks or money orders you’ll receive and send the money somewhere, minus your “pay.” Is this your lucky day? NO! It’s a fake check scam that will cost you thousands unless you know the danger signs.

If someone gives you a check or money order and asks you to send money somewhere in return, it’s a scam. That is not how legitimate sweepstakes operators or other companies operate. If you have really won, you will pay taxes directly to the government. Legitimate mystery shopper or account manager jobs don’t involve using money transfer services to send money.

A familiar name doesn’t guarantee that it’s legitimate. Crooks often pretend to be from well-known companies to gain people’s trust. Find the company’s contact information independently, online or through directory assistance, and contact it yourself to verify the information.

The check or money order may be fake even if your bank or credit union lets you have the cash. You have the right to get the cash quickly, usually within 1-2 days, but your bank or credit union can’t tell if there is a problem with the check or money order until it has gone through the system to the person or company that supposedly issued it. That can take weeks. By the time the fraud is discovered, the crook has pocketed the cash.

When the check or money order bounces, you will have to pay the money back to your bank or credit union. You are responsible because you are in the best position to know if the person who gave it to you is trustworthy. If you don’t pay the money back, your account could be frozen or closed, and you could be sued. Some victims are even charged with fraud.

Sending money using a money transfer service is like sending cash – once the crook picks it up you can’t get it back from the service. It’s not like a check that you can stop after you’ve given it to someone or a credit card charge that you can dispute. But if the money has not been picked up yet, you may be able to stop the transaction. Contact the money transfer service immediately if you think you’ve been scammed.

Want to learn more? Go to www.consumerfed.org/fakecheckscams to read CFA’s Don’t Become a Target brochure, watch the funny videos about sweepstakes/lottery and work-at-home fake check scams, and check out the other materials on the Web site. Visit NCL’s www.fakechecks.org, where you can take a quiz to see how well you can spot this fraud, send an ecard to warn other people, and find information to help you and people you care about avoid losing money to fake check scams.

CFA, NCL team up to educate public on avoiding fake check scams – National Consumers League

June 14, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications (202) 835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC – Fake check scams, in which consumers are lured into accepting genuine-looking phony checks or money orders and sending cash somewhere in return, come in many forms, but experts at Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the National Consumers League (NCL) say that it’s easy to spot and avoid these scams – if you know what to look for. New tips, Five Things You Should Know to Avoid Fake Check Scams, have been released by the nonprofit consumer organizations today to help consumers identify the scam in its various forms and avoid losing their money. Along with the tips, CFA is releasing new videos about the most common fake check scams, the sweepstakes/lottery and work-at-home versions. “The videos use humor to make a serious point,” said Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection at Consumer Federation of America. “These scams can cost you thousands of dollars, and once you’ve sent cash to a crook, it’s likely gone for good.”

“Fake check scams are an equal-opportunity fraud,” said John Breyault, Director of the National Consumers League’s Fraud Center. “Scam artists are savvy, networked, and know every button to push to get consumers from all walks of life to fall for their schemes.” Fake check scams remain the top complaint to NCL’s Fraud Center, a clearinghouse for reports about telemarketing and Internet fraud. A statistical analysis of complaints from 2009, 2010, and January through May 2011 show that people between the ages of 18 and 30 are much more likely to be targeted for the work-at-home version of the scam than other age groups, while those who are 66 and older are far more likely to be targeted for the sweepstakes/lottery version. In the work-at-home scenarios, consumers are supposedly hired as “account managers” to process payments for a company or as “mystery shoppers.” The sweepstakes/lottery version hooks consumers with phony notices informing them that they have won millions and asking them to pay taxes or other fees from the “advance” that they receive in order to claim the rest of their money.

In nearly all of the cases in which consumers reported to NCL that they had sent the money to the fake check scammers, they did so by using a money transfer service. “Con artists want the funds to be sent to them via a money transfer service because it’s quick, it’s cash, and it’s hard to trace,” said Grant. “You should only use these services to send money to people that you’ve met in person and known for a long time.”

”In difficult economic times, many consumers are on the lookout for creative ways to make ends meet, such as home-based business opportunities. Others may be desperate enough to let their guard down and be tempted by offers they wouldn’t otherwise consider,” said Breyault. “Scam artists take advantage of this to rob consumers blind. Educating consumers about this crime is the first step in taking on the fraudsters.”

CFA and NCL warn that:

  • If someone gives you a check or money order and asks you to send money somewhere in return, it’s a scam.
  • A familiar company name doesn’t guarantee that it’s legitimate.
  • The check or money may be fake even if your bank or credit union lets you have the cash.
  • When the check or money order bounces, you will have to pay the money back to your bank or credit union.
  • Sending money using a money transfer service is like sending cash – once the crook picks it up you can’t get it back from the service.

The full tips and the new videos are on www.consumerfed.org/fakecheckscams and www.nclnet.org. The videos were produced with support from Western Union. Visitors to the www.consumerfed.org/fakecheckscams Web site will also find CFA’s brochure about fake check scams, Don’t Become a Target, in English and Spanish, and other materials from CFA and other sources. In addition to NCL’s www.fraud.org, NCL operates a Web site specifically about fake check scams, www.fakechecks.org. There consumers can take a quiz to see how well they can spot these frauds, send an ecard to warn others, and find other helpful information.


About CFA and NCL

The Consumer Federation of America is a nonprofit association of nearly 300 consumer groups that, since 1968, has sought to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL lauds CPSC action to develop national table saw safety standards – National Consumers League

June 14, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC—The nation’s oldest consumer organization, the National Consumers League (NCL), today lauded a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) vote to move the agenda forward on achieving a national safety standard for table saws.

According to CPSC’s own data, consumers suffer 40,000 table saw injuries each year, 4,000 of which are finger amputations. That translates into 10 finger amputations every day for those using table saws. In November of 2010, NCL sent a letter to the Chairman and each of the other four CPSC Commissioners, stating that: “NCL strongly urges the Commission to take action toward a performance standard for table saw safety.” The letter and accompanying press release are highlighted below.

NCL letter to CPSC

NCL press release

NCL’s letter noted that there is technology currently available from a company called SawStop that provides nearly complete protection from injuries from table saws. That technology uses sensors to detect the electrical impulse in a finger or other body part—distinguishing flesh from a piece of wood, for example—and drops the blade down in a fraction of a second below the saw to keep it from injuring the user. SawStop has more than 30,000 of these safely-designed saws in the market today—many in high school shop classes—and the company has testimonials from customers of more than 1,000 known “saves”—consumers who have written and sent pictures showing that they have been spared serious injury because of the safety design.

“What SawStop’s table saw design proves is that it is possible to make table saws safe,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director. NCL’s November 2010 letter urged the CPSC to move forward with a technology-neutral performance standard that simply provides a safe result —i.e., no injuries to users of table saws—while not favoring one technology over another. This CPSC vote accomplishes that crucial first step.

“We are greatly encouraged by the CPSC’s 4-1 vote in favor of its 2011 Operating Plan, which includes the goal of having the CPSC staff prepare a briefing package with an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding table saw safety,” said Greenberg. “With table saws, clearly we have a pattern of injury, we have technology to prevent the injuries, and we can do so for a reasonable cost. The CPSC is greatly advancing the cause of protecting the 40,000 consumers each year who are injured unnecessarily by table saws. We applaud the Chairman for her leadership and look forward to working with her and the Commission in the months to come,” Greenberg said.

The CPSC documents and statement can be found below:

The 2011 Operating Plan is now available on the CPSC Web site – it can be found here. Table saws are mentioned on page 31, as follows:

Table Saws In 2006, the CPSC granted a petition to proceed with a rulemaking process that could result in a mandatory safety standard for table saws to reduce the risk of blade contact injury, and directed staff to draft an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR). The Commission did not vote on the ANPR before it lost its quorum. However, the Commission directed staff to initiate a project to collect additional information on emerging injury-reduction technology to prevent and reduce blade-contact njuries, which has been ongoing. In 2011, the CPSC released an updated study based on data from CPSC’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) that estimated there were 66,900 emergency department treated injuries related to table/bench saw operator blade contact in the United States during the calendar years 2007–2008.

Goal: In 2011, staff will prepare for Commission consideration, a briefing package with an ANPR regarding a performance standard for table saws.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

By pyramid or by dishware, is one-size-fits-all the right approach? – National Consumers League

By Alex Schneider, NCL Public Policy Intern

The two-decades old food pyramid is gone, replaced by a plate, bowl, and fork, with spoon and knife conspicuously absent.  Few will mourn the passing of the food pyramid, a relic of the days when no state had an obesity rate of more than 15 percent. Today, according to McClatchy, that rate is over 20 percent for every state except Colorado and Washington, D.C.

A 20-year history

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced the food pyramid in the early 1990s and then revamped it in 2005. The concept of the original pyramid was that foods at the top of the structure – fatty and oily foods – should be eaten less than foods occupying more space at the bottom of the structure, such as grains, fruits, and vegetables. That concept was abandoned when the Bush administration unveiled its 2005 pyramid, which adhered to the old structure but, in hindsight, no longer made sense in the context of a pyramid.  The new model included adjacent triangles representing food groups, proportionally filling the front face of the pyramid just as food groups now fill the new food plate.

Critics pointed to various flaws, as described in a history of the pyramid published by the Washington Post. Unhealthy snacks were equated with good fats and oils, bacon and beef were equated with lean poultry, and white bread was equated with whole wheat. Plus, as the Post humorously notes, “the wide bottom layer of bread products contributed to the wide bottoms of bread-scarfing Americans.”

Let’s Move Campaign

The move toward the plate model is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign called “Let’s Move.”  The campaign focuses on stemming the rise in obesity in the US by empowering consumers with facts about what to eat and what to avoid. The plate highlights a shift in dietary recommendations favoring fruits and vegetables, as Obama explained, “As long as [plates are] half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden. That’s how easy it is.”

Along with the plate, the USDA released guidelines on making healthy choices, guidelines that are key to educating consumers, giving concrete ideas on how to improve their diets.

–       Enjoy your food, but eat less

–       Avoid oversized portions

–       Make half your plate fruits and vegetables

–       Drink water instead of sugary drinks

–       Make at least half your grains whole grains

–       Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk

–       Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals

Nutrition isn’t simple

For all the benefits of new USDA guidelines, one fact remains: nutrition isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula.  No two consumers have the same needs and tastes, and certainly, no two want the exact same foods on their plates all the time.

As a teaching tool, the new food plate is useful.  But it may be just too simple, generalizing that all food, regardless of nutrition facts, would be acceptable.  As an example, as highlighted in The Boston Globe, some dairy products are fattening and should not be consumed daily, while proteins vary widely in type and nutritional value and should not be grouped together.  And with no mention of beneficial dietary fats, such as olive oils, or dessert in general, the new model may just be unrealistic.

That’s why the guidelines that accompany the chart are even more important.  Consumers should take time to visit the USDA’s new website, https://www.choosemyplate.gov/, where they can learn about healthy choices.

Education is key

The National Consumers League led the fight for the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, a law that created the Food and Drug Administration and, as a result, led to a number of new safety and nutrition requirements. The FDA’s work includes ensuring that nutrition facts are accurate and clear, that food will not harm consumers, and that consumers know about what they are eating.  That important work continues today, work that must continue to hold food producers accountable for the safety of their products before they even get to our plates.

Perhaps the best kind of graphic, then, is one that emphasizes the FDA mandated nutrition facts label, the true indicator of what we should or should not eat.

Thankfully, the government’s already done that.  Now it’s time to stop reinventing the one-size-fits-all food groups model and instead focus on helping Americans distinguish good foods from bad ones in the supermarket aisle.

CLC Press Release: More progress needed to reduce child labor; Urgent action required on Uzbekistan, Domestic Workers Convention, and U.S. farmworker children – National Consumers League

June 10, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC—As World Day Against Child Labor on June 12 approaches, the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) is alerting the public that more than 200 million children still toil around the world, often in dangerous jobs that threaten their health, safety, and education.

Here in the United States, the CLC is applauding the anticipated re-introduction of the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), which Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) plans to sponsor once again next week. The legislation would close loopholes that permit the children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers to work for wages when they are only 12 and 13 years old, often in harsh conditions—10- to 12-hour days of bending over and performing repetitive tasks in 90- to 100-degree heat.

“It’s time to level the playing field by closing these loopholes, which go all the way back to 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was introduced,” said CLC Co-Chair Sally Greenberg, the Executive Director of the National Consumers League, a consumer advocacy organization that has worked to eliminate abusive child labor since its founding in 1899. “We must offer these children the same protections that all other American kids enjoy.”

“Working migrant children pay a heavy price educationally for their labor,” said Antonia Cortese, a Co-Chair of the CLC  and the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.5 million public service employees. “Many farmworker children leave school before the school year ends and return after it begins. The constant travel and work wears many children out. They struggle to catch up academically, but for many it’s a losing battle—and more than half never graduate high school.”


The CLC also joins its member organization, Human Rights Watch, and other advocacy groups in urging the adoption of the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers  to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable child workers—the estimated 15 to 30 million children who perform domestic duties in homes around the world. Many domestic workers are girls and begin work as early as age 6 and work up to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. Many are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse.

On June 16th, members of the International Labor Organization (ILO) will vote on the convention, which will establish the first global standards for domestic workers. “Instead of being in school, millions of girls work for extremely long hours and little pay, at risk of abuse and invisible to the outside world,” said Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocate at Human Rights Watch in a statement issued today. “This Convention would require governments to include these child domestic workers under their child labor laws and to step in to prevent them from being exploited.”

The proposed ILO Convention would require governments to protect domestic workers from violence and abuse, and provide equal treatment with other workers in working hours, overtime compensation, and daily and weekly rest periods. It would oblige governments to set a minimum age for domestic workers and to ensure that work by child domestic workers above that age does not interfere with their education. An accompanying recommendation urges governments to limit strictly the working hours of child domestic workers and to prohibit domestic work that would harm their health, safety, or morals. The CLC also joins its member organization, the International Labor Rights Forum, as well as Anti-Slavery International and other groups in calling for an international investigation to expose the use of forced child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry. According to Human Rights Watch, a high-level ILO monitoring mission would be the necessary first step in providing an independent credible assessment of child labor in the Uzbekistan. Human rights groups have called for such an investigation numerous times in the past and recently made the request again at the ILO’s annual conference currently taking place in Geneva.

Each autumn in Uzbekistan, schools are closed down and hundreds of thousands of children are forced out of their classrooms and into the fields to pick the cotton. Uzbekistan, the world’s third largest exporter of cotton, officially denies the use of forced child labor in its country, and has so far failed to invite an ILO monitoring mission. Uzbek officials did pledge on June 6 to have a government controlled trade union act as an official monitor. The ILO’s Committee on Application of Standards, in a decision issued on Wednesday 8 June after an earlier hearing, questioned the credibility of Uzbekistan’s proposal and also called for the government to accept a high level ILO monitoring mission.

Speaking in Geneva, Brian Campbell, Policy Director at International Labor Rights Forum, and the Chair of the CLC International Committee said: “Uzbekistan’s intention to monitor its own harvest for a problem it denies is ludicrous. Such monitoring cannot be considered credible in a country where independent civil society is controlled and critical media muzzled. If the government has nothing to hide then it should allow the ILO access during the harvest.” The European Union, a major destination for Uzbek cotton, currently grants preferential trading access to exports from Uzbekistan under a program to support developing economies. However, advocates argue this should be suspended in cases of serious human rights violations. “It’s time for Uzbekistan to let independent monitors in or face trade consequences,” said CLC co-chair Sally Greenberg.

About the Child Labor Coalition

The Child Labor Coalition is comprised of 28 organizations, representing consumers, labor unions, educators, human rights and labor rights groups, child advocacy groups, and religious and women’s groups. It was established in 1989, and is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers. Its mission is to protect working youth and to promote legislation, programs, and initiatives to end child labor exploitation in the United States and abroad. For more information, please call CLC Coordinator Reid Maki at (202) 207-2820 [reidm@nclnet.org].


Why raising the minimum wage is a good policy, even in times of economic downturn – National Consumers League

By Benjamin Judge, NCL Public Policy Intern

Benjamin Judge, a public policy intern at NCL this summer, is a rising sophomore at the University of North Carolina- Asheville, where he is majoring in Political Science and minoring in Economics. At UNCA, Benjamin is a Student Senator and Academic Affairs Chair in Student Government, a Student Ambassador, and a member of the Sigma Nu Fraternity.

From California to Maine, legislation is being introduced to increase the minimum wage at that state level, while the federal minimum wage remains stagnant. New research shows that an increase in the federal minimum wage would not only improve the livelihood of the average worker, but would also stimulate the economy, increase productivity in an economic downturn, and draw massive public support.

The benefits

The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 and, according to the Huffington Post, an increase of one dollar (to $8.25) would improve the lives of 10 million workers and “could ultimately pump as much as $9 billion into the economy.” This would greatly improve the economic situation of our country while also helping the workers who provide us with the goods and services we enjoy. It is very hard to make an argument against a measure that does so much good.

Why hasn’t it already been raised?

Many businesses are hesitant to raise wages during an economic downturn because they want to preserve their profits, however there is a productivity phenomenon that the Center for American Progress acknowledges. Whenever there is an economic downturn, the average worker becomes more productive to preserve their job, and this increase in productivity should be rewarded with a payment increase. Sadly, this increase in productivity goes unrewarded in most instances.

Public Support

The last major benefit to increasing the federal minimum wage, is that the general public is largely in support of raising the minimum wage. The Huffington Post article quotes Celinda Lake, president of polling firm Lake Research Partners, who says, “When we’ve done public polls anywhere from 86 to 67 percent say they will support an increase in the minimum wage.”  With all of the before mentioned benefits, combined with a new study that shows that an increase in the minimum wage does not decrease employment, the need to increase the federal minimum wage remains clear.

Protecting yourself from E. coli and other foodborne illness – National Consumers League

By Alex Schneider, NCL Public Policy Intern

Alex Schneider, a public policy intern at NCL this summer, is a rising senior at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he is studying politics, economics, and journalism.  At Brandeis, Alex is the Editor-in-Chief of the weekly campus newspaper, The Brandeis Hoot, and an active participant in the Mock Trial program.  His internship is made possible by the Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice at Brandeis.

With the cause still unknown of the recent E. coli outbreak in Germany that has claimed 24 lives, U.S. travelers to Europe should be cautious and follow guidelines currently set by the CDC and German authorities regarding what food items to avoid. At the same time, the outbreak serves as a reminder to the U.S. food industry and consumers that basic guidelines can help prevent a similar epidemic this side of the Atlantic.

U.S. travelers in Europe

As advised by the Robert Koch Institute in Germany, travelers and locals should refrain from eating raw cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, and lettuce, especially when they are from Northern Germany.  While thoroughly washed and cooked vegetables, pre-cooked vegetables, and canned vegetables are generally safer than raw vegetables, travelers should still avoid at-risk produce as the source of the outbreak is still unknown.  Importantly, travelers who have symptoms consistent with E. coli poisoning, including bloody diarrhea or severe cramps, should see a doctor.

Risks revealed

As reported by Reuters, women aged 20-50 have been particularly affected by the recent E. coli outbreak, owing in no small measure to their typical diet that includes raw vegetables popularly considered healthy, such as bean sprouts, which German officials now believe to be contaminated.

The CDC highlighted bean sprouts in 1999 for their potential harm, likened by one professor of bacteriology cited in Britain’s The Guardian as “in the same category as oysters.”  Professor Hugh Pennington explained: “People like them and you eat them raw, but you should know that you’re running a bit of a risk.”

The reason?  Bean sprouts are grown in warm water where bacteria can thrive.  Experts say young children and the elderly should not consume raw bean sprouts at all times due to these risks, and for everyone else, avoiding raw sprouts altogether is the best way to avoid possible contamination.

Industry practices

Germany’s E. coli outbreak has highlighted the importance of adhering to widely agreed best practices in dealing with potential food hazards.  E. coli bacteria may grow when produce comes into contact with feces at some stage of gardening; for this reason, livestock should be positioned away from areas where vegetables are grown.  Water used should be potable, should not be surface water (which can be contaminated) and should be tested regularly.

Also, produce labeling should be clear to consumers, in keeping with guidelines set out by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  This way, when recalls are announced, consumers can check product batch numbers to be clear about the safety of the goods they have purchased.

Not all bad news

The failure of German authorities to discover the source of the outbreak may appear alarming, but U.S. consumers should know that procedures currently in place make prolonged investigations, such as the one taking place now, less likely.  The CDC runs a national registry that logs suspicious gastrointestinal infections ensuring the government is ready in cases of an outbreak.  This system keeps officials on alert, which is necessary in today’s world when prompt responses can prevent deaths.  Consumers should follow CDC alerts when they become available to best protect themselves.

Tips to prevent illness

Outbreaks shouldn’t be the only time consumers act to protect themselves against food borne illness.  Thoroughly cooking your food, especially meat and vegetable products, is the best way to protect against E. coli and other infections.  Meat should be cooked to at least 160 degrees according to the CDC.  Washing and scrubbing vegetables also helps rid them of remnants of contaminants.  To prevent cross-contamination of meat and other products, clean dishes and utensils during food preparation.

And of course, don’t forget to wash your hands before preparing food, after using the bathroom, and when coming into contact with animals.  Simple hygiene can go a long way in keeping you safe.

Planning a vacation? Avoid travel scams – National Consumers League

As temperatures are heating up, consumers’ thoughts are increasingly turning to making vacation plans. Unfortunately, scammers will be on the lookout as well … for unwary victims.Travel has always been an area where consumers should have their anti-fraud antennae perked. Here are some of the types of travel scams NCL’s Fraud.org staff have been hearing about recently:

Vacation Rental Scams – These scams typically crop up on online classified sites like Craigslist.com. The victim will search for an apartment or home for rent in a desirable destination and find an attractive rental at a very low price. The victim contacts the “renter” (who is in reality a scam artist) who then requests a “deposit” on the rental. Typically it is requested that the deposit be sent via wire transfer. When the victim arrives at the property she finds that it either does not exist, that the condition has been misrepresented, or that it was never available for rent. Efforts to get back the deposit fail. Scammers typically use images from a real property (often taken from real estate sites) to make their scams seem legitimate.

Timeshare Purchase Scams – Victims are lured to a high-pressure sales pitch (sometimes at the timeshare resort itself) with promises of a high-value “free” gift, such as a car, RV, or cruise package. To obtain the gift advertised, the victim must pay a “fee” for delivery or processing. When the gift arrives (if it ever does), it is typically of much lesser value than waht was originally presented to the victim.

Fraudulent Timeshares – The victim receives a package in the mail or via email detailing a timeshare for sale. If the victim invest, they later find that the timeshare does not exist, the timeshare company has “gone out of business,” or otherwise is unable to return the deposit paid.

Fraudulent Vacation Packages – Victims see an advertisements for a deeply discounted vacation package at a luxurious resort or cruise. After the deposit is paid, the victim finds that the quality of the package has been grossly misrepresented and/or there are significant additional fees that must be paid at the destination to take advantage of the “great deal.” Efforts to recover deposits are generally unsuccessful.

Airfare Scams – Victims are lured in by promises of steeply discounted airfares. Once the purchase is made, the victim receives no confirmation or a counterfeit confirmation e-mail or paper ticket. A variant of this scam occurs when the victim purchases the ticket and is then told that their credit card purchase has been declined. A wire transfer is requested which results in no ticket and no way to recover the funds.

Tips for Avoiding Travel Scams

So, before you head out on your dream vacation, bone up on these tips for avoiding travel-related scams:

  • Watch out for unsolicited e-mails, phone calls and faxes offering hard-to-believe deals on travel to desirable locations. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If you are working with a travel agency or vacation planning service, make sure to get all details about the trip in writing. Watch out for vague promises that you’ll be staying at “five-star” resorts or riding on “luxury” cruise ships at cut-rate prices. Get as much information as you can including the total cost, any restrictions that may apply, and the exact names of the promised airlines and hotels.
  • Free is usually not free. Think again before you believe promises that you’ve won a “free” vacation. Often, these are just thinly-veiled ploys to get your credit card information to “verify” your eligibility or to pay a “processing fee.” You should never have to pay to collect a prize.
  • Check out the travel company BEFORE giving them any money. Call the company service yourself to see if the prices match or simply if they legitimately exist. A Better Business Bureau search is a good first step. Also make sure that they company is registered with the American Society of Travel Agents.
  • Watch out for “travel clubs” that offer “free” memberships. Often these services do little except charge your credit card every month and provide few, if any, benefits.
  • Use your credit card when purchasing a trip. If you feel that you’ve been swindled, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company.
  • Beware of any offers that involve high-pressure sales pitches that urge you to commit right away because the offer will “expire” otherwise. For example, Timeshare seminars are often thinly-veiled ways to get consumers to sign up for timeshare often featuring a come-on like “free” lunch or “free” vacation that are full of hidden fees and traps.
  • If you’ll be traveling overseas, call your credit card company and bank to let them know what countries you’ll be visiting and when you plan to return. This way they can be on the alert for any suspicious charges from a scammer that gets your credit card information while you’re on the road or after your get back home.
  • Ask questions and be cautious.Read all of the fine print carefully. Companies need to tell you how your trip will operate. Even if they make their policies difficult to read, look them over before sending any money. If you can’t get answers to your questions, avoid using that company.
  • Read your invoice. Confirm that it includes every cost, including fees. Take the time to understand the purpose and amount of each fee. Some common hidden fees to watch out for: International Departure and Arrival Taxes, Processing Fees, Peak Week Surcharges, Late Booking Fees, Departure City Surcharges, Travel Insurance, Fuel Surcharges.
  • Be aware of cancellation policies. Before sending any money, you should know how much you will lose if you need to cancel.
  • Avoid any company that mandates arbitration for disputes. Don’t give up your legal rights.

File a complaint if you have a dispute. In most states, you can do this through the Attorney General’s office. This calls attention to the company so that future travelers will not repeat your experience. Also, the attorney general may mediate your dispute to help resolve it.

Scammers and fraudsters continue to bully the elderly – National Consumers League

Like most bullies, scammers are cowards, targeting and picking on those who seem especially vulnerable. Sadly, the elderly have long been a demographic that scammers view as easy targets. Often isolated and living on a fixed income, NCL’s annual Top Scams Report consistently lists the elderly as the age group most likely to be the victim of a fraud.

Over the past year, NCL’s Fraud Center has seen an increase in complaints from consumers over the age of 65, but a study released earlier this month shows just how severe the problem has grown. The study, conducted by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, found that financial abuse of older Americans has increased by 12 percent over the last three years, causing about $3 billion dollars in loses annually.

The study also revealed that:

  • The majority of victims were between the ages of 80 and 89, lived alone, and required help with health care or home maintenance.
  • Almost 60 percent of the perpetrators were male
  • Women were targeted twice as often as men.
  • Victims were particularly vulnerable during the holidays.

Crimes in which the perpetrators were strangers to the victim accounted for the majority of cases (51 percent), but family members or friends committed a whopping 34 percent of crimes against the elderly. Twelve percent of crimes were from the business sector, and four percent were from Medicare or Medicaid fraud.

If you are concerned that a senior might be falling victim to financial abuse, contact the National Center on Elder Abuse or report it to NCL’s Fraud Center at www.fraud.org.

NCL to honor Hamburg, Weingarten with Trumpeter Award – National Consumers League

This week in Washington, DC, the National Consumers League will honor Federal Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, with its highest honor, the Trumpeter Award. The Thursday, October 6 event will bring together a diverse group of representatives from labor unions, consumer advocates, government, and industry.

“The Trumpeter Award is NCL’s highest honor, given to leaders who are not afraid to speak out for social justice and for the rights of consumers. No one fits that description better than and Dr. Peggy Hamburg and Randi Weingarten,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Their dedication to improving the quality of life for workers and consumers in the United States has earned them this year’s Trumpeter Award.”

NCL will also be honoring Paheadra Robinson, Director of Consumer Protection at the Mississippi Center for Justice, with the Florence Kelley Consumer Leadership Award, named for NCL’s early leader and awarded to grassroots consumer advocates.

The event will feature a reception, dinner, and speaking appearances by the three honorees, as well as:

  • Ann F. Lewis, President, No Limits Foundation

  • Jennifer Donelan, Reporter, ABC7 / WJLA-TV

  • Martha Bergmark, Founding President and CEO, Mississippi Center for Justice

  • Neal Gregory, Patient Advocate, Mended Hearts

Event info

What: National Consumers League’s 2011 Trumpeter Awards Dinner

When: Thursday, October 6, 2010 | 6 p.m. Reception | 7 p.m. Dinner and Presentation of Awards

Where: Capital Hilton, 1001 16th Street NW, Washington, DC

Questions or to RSVP: Larry Bostian, National Consumers League 202-835-3323

For more information about sponsorship options or to RSVP, please contact NCL’s Vice President of Development, Larry Bostian at (202) 835-3323 or larryb@nclnet.org.