FCC must hold industry accountable to ensure bill shock protections – National Consumers League

October 19, 2011

Washington, DC– Voluntary industry guidelines designed to protect hundreds of millions of American consumers from cell phone “bill shock” will only work if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is committed to holding the wireless industry accountable, according to the National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer organization.

The voluntary guidelines announced this week by the FCC, CTIA and Consumers Union reflect the fact that tens of millions of consumers are victims of wireless “bill shock” every year.  The combination of rapidly growing wireless data usage by consumers and the embrace of data caps by many carriers underscore the urgent need for greater consumer protections in this area. The public record is replete with horror stories of consumer bills in the thousands of dollars.  Independent data from the FCC and General Accountability Office and consumer groups indicate that millions more experience smaller “bill shocks.”

“The new ’bill shock’ guidelines will only protect consumers if the FCC holds the cell phone companies’ feet to the fire,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “We are pleased that the Commission has left its ‘bill shock’ proceeding open as a stick to ensure industry compliance.”

The new guidelines reflect many of the common-sense solutions that NCL and other consumer and public interest groups called for in comments at the FCC.  In particular, we are encouraged that the new alerts will be provided free of charge and without the need for consumes to opt–in to receive the notifications.  It remains to be seen how the new guidelines will be implemented and how consumers will be able to respond to the new notifications.

NCL’s comments on “bill shock” are available here.

NCL’s reply comments on “bill shock” are available here.


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.

Debunking the “fast food is cheaper” myth – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Cookbook author Mark Bittman’s enhanced presence on nutrition issues is a welcome addition to the discussion about healthy foods and the obesity epidemic in America. In a recent New York Times article, he dispels the myth that junk food is cheaper than real food.

He compares a $27.89 meal for a family of four at McDonalds – 2 Big Macs, 1 cheeseburger, 1 6 pc Chicken McNuggets, 2 medium and 2 small fries and 4 cokes – with what a comparable meal prepared at home would cost: a roast chicken, potatoes and salad for four would run $13.78; an even cheaper alternative – pinto beans and rice would run $9.26 for four. The at-home meals are healthier – have less carbohydrates and more protein than the McDonalds version.

Having debunked the “fast food is cheaper” argument, Bittman’s laments that Americans have gotten out of the habit of shopping and cooking at home; they are tired and hungry at the end of the day and go for the easiest alternative. “Somehow, no-nonsense cooking and eating – roasting a chicken, making a grilled cheese sandwich, scrambling an egg, tossing a salad – must become popular again,” he writes.

I’m with Bittman one hundred percent. The fact is that there is much joy in shopping and cooking and it can be done in relatively little time. It’s also a terrific learning opportunity for kids. They need to know how to shop for quality products; they need to know how to pick out ripe fruits and vegetables, quality meats and fish, bread that’s wholesome and fresh, and high quality dairy products. And kids like to help in the kitchen – they can wash lettuce, and other fruits and vegetables, help prepare a marinade for meat or fish, and I guarantee that they will like chopping things that aren’t too hard to prepare! They also keep you company!

Bittman’s simple research on cost of fast food vs. homemade meals reminds us of how far we’ve strayed from home cooked meals where the family enjoys dinner together. This is a good – no a great –tradition that we should try to reinvigorate for the next generation.

Sure, eating fast food from time to time is inevitable – even Julia Child admitted when she was on the road and had few other choices she enjoyed a Burger King Whopper! But fast food should not be a staple in our daily routines. It’s inevitably high sodium, high fat, expensive, and poor quality. Bittman’s recommendations for buying wholesome grocery store foods and cooking them simply and quickly, then eating together as a family, is a great place to start.

NCL announces major LifeSmarts grant from Visa Inc. during personal finance month – National Consumers League

October 18, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (2020 835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC—With this year’s national LifeSmarts competition in full swing, the National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer organization and coordinator of LifeSmarts, has announced that the program will be the recipient of a unique three-year educational grant from Visa Inc., making Visa a major underwriter for the 2011-2013 LifeSmarts program years.

The 2011-2012 LifeSmarts program year kicked off last month, and high school students across the country are forming teams to compete online for a shot at their state—and ultimately the national—competitions. In thousands of classrooms, teachers use LifeSmarts learning activities to spark lessons and engage students with meaningful consumer content, awareness of resources, and the ability and confidence to participate in today’s dynamic global marketplace.

In October, the LifeSmarts curriculum spotlight is on personal finance, with online competitions and activities aimed at helping program participants learn strategies for navigating today’s increasingly complex financial landscape. The Visa grant will be used, among other things, to add new personal finance lessons to LifeSmarts U, the program’s virtual classroom, from Visa’s award-winning Practical Money Skills for Life financial education program (www.practicalmoneyskills.com). LifeSmarts U provides interactive online learning for individual students and classrooms across the United States, allowing students to go in-depth on important consumer issues. New content includes lessons on living on your own, the influence of advertising, consumer privacy, and consumer awareness.

“LifeSmarts U lessons offer students learning materials in a variety of fun formats, from articles to scavenger hunts and vocabulary building games and presentations,” said Lisa Hertzberg, LifeSmarts Program Director. “We are grateful for Visa’s generous support in making these valuable resources available to students and educators.”

In addition, LifeSmarts has partnered with Visa and the Executive Office of the Mayor of Washington, DC for a District-wide financial literacy campaign. Today, DC Mayor Vincent Gray and Washington Redskins Linebacker Brian Orakpo will lead student teams in a fast-paced game of Financial Football, a free educational video game developed by Visa. Mayor Gray will then distribute the free game and accompanying classroom curriculum to every public middle and high-school in Washington, DC. Today’s launch is part of a national educational campaign with Visa, the NFL and NFL Players, now in its seventh season. Since 2006, Visa has partnered with 30 additional states to distribute Financial Football to every high school and middle school in those states.

“Visa is a proud supporter of the National Consumers League’s LifeSmarts program and is pleased to be able to underwrite new content that will help bolster its personal finance curriculum,” said Jason Alderman, Senior Director, Global Financial Education at Visa.

LifeSmarts—the ultimate consumer challenge—complements the curriculum already in place in middle schools and high schools, and is used by adult coaches and student participants as an activity for classes, groups, clubs, and community organizations. LifeSmarts, run as a game-show style competition, is free of charge and open to all teens in the U.S. in high school and middle school.

Visa’s three-year grant to LifeSmarts will help bolster the program’s personal finance focus – one of five LifeSmarts topic areas that make up the program. Expansions to the personal finance portion of the program include new quiz questions to be used in competitions online and at the state and national level; incorporation of Visa’s Practical Money Skills for Life and Financial Football as resources and study tools for coaches and students; and implementation of Visa materials at a training for educators to be held in early 2012 in the District of Columbia.

LifeSmarts topics have been chosen to encourage knowledge in the areas that matter most to consumers and workers: personal finance; health and safety; the environment; technology; and consumer rights and responsibilities.

Financial support from contributors such as Visa makes LifeSmarts possible. Community-minded businesses, associations, labor unions, government agencies, other organizations and individuals—partner with NCL to provide the benefits of meaningful consumer education for young adults.

To learn more about NCL’s LifeSmarts program, visit www.lifesmarts.org. Or, test your LifeSmarts by taking a sample quiz at https://start.lifesmarts.org/. From there, click on “Daily Quiz” to get started.


About the National Consumers League and LifeSmarts

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.

LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League. State coordinators run the programs on a volunteer basis. For more information, visit: www.lifesmarts.org, email lifesmarts@nclnet.org, or call the National Consumers League’s communications department at 202-835-3323.

NCL hails CA Gov. Brown for signing new law to combat employee misclassification, an illegal form of wage theft – National Consumers League

October 12, 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 California Governor Jerry Brown for signing into law Senate Bill 459, an employment bill addressing employee misclassification. NCL has been advocating for tougher wage theft penalties and sent Governor Brown a letter urging him to sign S.B. 459 in September of this year.

The harm caused by employee misclassification—where an employer knowingly classifies an employee as an independent contractor to avoid paying taxes and employee benefits—goes beyond workers and their families to victimize everyone from honest businesses to state treasuries and the federal government. Employees who are misclassified as ‘independent contractors’ are denied key worker rights, such as minimum wage protection, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and anti-discrimination protections.

Employers who illegally classify their workers as independent contractors shortchange the government by skirting payroll taxes and Social Security & Medicare, while also giving unscrupulous businesses a competitive advantage by enabling them to offer their services at a lower cost than honest employers; leaving lawful businesses paying higher rates of workers’ compensation and losing out on bids.

Between 2005 and 2007, audits conducted by the California Employment Development Department recovered a total of $111,956,556 in payroll tax assessments, $18,537,894 in labor code citations, and $40,348,667 in assessments on employment tax fraud cases.  With increases in employee misclassification, California is likely losing out on over $112 million in badly needed state revenue.

California Senate Bill 459 will establish monetary penalties for businesses that misclassify their workers. The new law imposes fines that range from $5,000 to $15,000 for each misclassification violation for first time offenders and $10,000 to $25,000 per violation for repeat offenders.

“Laws like the one recently passed in California are an important step towards ensuring that American workers receive what they are lawfully owed,” said Michell K. McIntyre, Project Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft.  “Wage theft occurs in industries across the board and the only way to fight back is to hit unlawful businesses where it hurts the most- the pocket book.”

To read NCL’s letter to Governor Brown, click here.


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.

NCL statement on government guidelines on food marketing to children – National Consumers League

October 12, 2011

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

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) has issued the following statement regarding the voluntary guidelines issued by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketing to Children:

“NCL, the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, commends the Interagency Working Group for its thoughtful, science based recommendations.

The Interagency Working Group, made up of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention and the Federal Trade Commission, issued voluntary guidelines earlier this year.  These recommendations to the industry are based on sound science and established certain nutrition thresholds for the marketing of food to children.  These thresholds would promote the marketing of healthy foods and discourage the marketing of foods low in nutritional content or high in fat, sugar or sodium.

The food industry has reacted negatively to these guidelines without justification.  One of the major criticisms is that these recommendations are “backdoor” regulation, despite the fact that the Interagency Working Group’s recommendations are completely voluntary.

NCL urges the Interagency Working Group to maintain strong guidelines and to continue to base their recommendations on sound science.  With nearly one-third of our children overweight or obese, concrete steps must be taken.  The Interagency Working Group’s science based recommendations are a first step and NCL strongly supports them.”


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.

Augh! My New Phone Hates Me – National Consumers League

By Lisa Hertzberg, LifeSmarts Program Director

I just renewed my cell phone plan and “upgraded” to a smartphone. Waaaah! I miss my old phone! Friends assure me I won’t miss it by tomorrow or the next day, but for now I think my new phone hates me and it might be mutual.

Here is a sampling of the challenges I encountered on the first day:

  • Help, my phone went to sleep. Dropping it apparently does not wake it up.
  • I can take a picture, oops—that was video. Now how do I send it?
  • How do I answer a call – wait, people still make calls on these things?
  • How do I type on this keyboard since my fingers are thicker than toothpicks?
  • What are you talking about when you say, “drag the ring?”

I’m guessing the typical LifeSmarts participant could give me a 10-minute tutorial that would move me miles ahead in getting acquainted with my new phone. Cell phone penetration in the US is 96%, and while it’s hard to come up with numbers specifically for teen users, surveys report that at least 75% of American youth ages 10-17 have cell phones, and fully 45% of this group have smartphones which they use to text, go online, and even make the occasional phone call.

As I fight to type in recognizable English on my new keyboard, I see a statistic online that nearly half of teens report they can text with their eyes closed. Wow, in my current state I find that very impressive. Less cool – 34% of teens who text admit to texting while driving, 26% of teens with phones have been bullied by texts or phone calls, and 15% of teens have received “sexting” messages containing nude or nearly nude images of someone they know.

Like all things, there are pluses and minuses to cell phone technology and it’s important to understand what they are. Here’s hoping I get the hang of my new phone, so that in a couple of years I can go kicking and screaming to the next technological advancement.

NCL hails CPSC decision to move forward with developing national table saw safety standards – National Consumers League

October 5, 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 on an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to move 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.

NCL has been advocating for table saw safety standards since November of 2010, when NCL a 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.” In May of 2011, NCL brought table saw victims from across the country to CPSC headquarters to share their debilitating injuries with CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. The letter and victim profiles are highlighted below.

NCL Letter to CPSC

Victim Profiles

“We are greatly encouraged by the CPSC’s unanimous 5-0 vote in favor of moving forward with the Advance 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.


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.

2011 Trumpeter Awards: NCL to honor FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg and AFT President Randi Weingarten for careers in service – National Consumers League

October 4, 2011

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

Washington, D.C.—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, Thursday, October 6, in Washington DC. The event will bring together a diverse group of labor unions, consumer advocates, organizations, and industries.

“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 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

What: National Consumers League’s 2011 Trumpeter Awards Dinner

When: Thursday, October 6, 2011 | 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


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.

Listeria outbreak highlights importance of a strong food safety system – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green,  Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

An ongoing outbreak of listeria, a rare but potentially lethal foodborne pathogen, has sickened at least 100 people and claimed 18 lives. This current crisis is the most deadly outbreak of foodborne illness this country has seen in a decade. Rocky Ford cantaloupes from Jensen Farms have been linked to the illnesses. As the number of those impacted rises, food safety experts and members of the public are rightfully concerned and are asking themselves how such a widespread outbreak could occur.

What went wrong?

One issue that concerns consumer advocates is that there are currently no regulations for the safe handling of produce. While FDA and the industry have both released recommendations, these guidance documents do not establish legally enforceable responsibilities and thus the industry is not held to one standard of safety.

The second issue is how to react once contamination has occurred.  Historically, the responsibility of dealing with an outbreak has rested on the industry. When a product made people sick, the company would issue a voluntary recall, as was the case with Jensen Farms’ cantaloupes. However, the recall was not announced until September 14, nearly a month an a half after the first person fell ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What is the solution?

As essential part of food safety is clear, concise regulations.  As part of the recently enacted FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the FDA will have to establish “mandatory, science-based, minimum standards” for the production of fruits and vegetables.  FDA plans to issue a proposed rule governing produce safety by the spring of 2012.  In light of the recent outbreak, the need for such regulations is clear and consumer groups such as NCL have led the charge in urging the FDA to begin rulemaking as quickly as possible.

Even with improved regulations, our food supply will never be completely safe from foodborne pathogens.  This means that we need a mechanism for rapidly responding to a foodborne outbreak. Recognition of this fact led the writers of FSMA to grant FDA mandatory recall authority.  Instead of waiting for the manufacturer to take action, FDA can now force a recall when it has reason to believe a product has become adulterated and could cause harm if consumed.

To avoid future recalls, FDA must be willing to act.  The agency must establish clear standards for produce safety and it must be willing to act decisively when those standards are not enough to protect American consumers. Hopefully, this combination of clear standards and quick action can help avoid future outbreaks of this scale.

NCL’s Fraud Center tracking spike in mystery shopper scam – National Consumers League

With a still sluggish economy and steady unemployment figures, many Americans are looking for work opportunities, only to be unwittingly scammed in the process. Mystery shopping scams have become an increasingly popular swindle, with complaints to NCL’s Fraud Center regarding fake check scams involving fraudulent mystery shopper and work-at-home schemes up nearly 9 percent in the last six months.Last week, NCL’s Fraud Center was contacted by a woman we’ll call “Gloria.” Gloria has two young children who just returned to school, and with some extra time on her hands, Gloria began cruising online job boards for part time work. Gloria soon came across a mystery shopping position that looked promising—the assignment was to visit a local wire transferring service and send money back to the mystery shopping company, using funds from a check the shopping company would provide. After that, all she had to do was write a brief report about her experience at the wiring service location. She immediately contacted the company and was told she was the “perfect candidate” for the job. Within a few days, she was sent a realistic looking check for $5,700 and was instructed to deposit the money in her personal bank account, keep $200 as payment for her work, and wire the remaining balance back to the mystery shopping company. Gloria gladly did as she was told, only to learn that—instead of a quick payday—the fake check bounced, and she is now on the hook for $5,700 she doesn’t have. To add insult to injury, Gloria even wrote a report about the money wiring service she used—robbing Gloria of not only her money, but her time as well.

Mystery shopping scams work by first luring the consumer with the promise of easy money; in Gloria’s case it was 200 bucks for only a couple hours of work. Victims are then instructed to deposit a fake check, keep the amount that has been designated as their “payment,” and wire the money back to the scammer. Many consumers are unaware that, by law, banks must make the funds from deposited checks available within days, although uncovering a fake check can take weeks. Consumers are responsible for the checks they deposit, so if a check turns out to be a fake, they are responsible for paying the bank back.

The experts at NCL’s Fraud Center are tracking scams like Gloria’s and are reminding consumers of the most common red flags and tips for spotting these fraudulent mystery shopper opportunities, such as:

  • A legitimate company will never ask you to use a money transfer to send cash to them or anywhere else, for any purpose.
  • Remember that it’s never a good idea never to deposit a check from someone you don’t know—especially if the stranger is asking you to wire money.
  • Never pay a fee to become a mystery shopper. Legitimate companies don’t charge people to work for them—they pay people to work for them.
  • Be suspicious of any company that hires you on the basis of an email or phone call, without any interview or background checks.
  • If you are considering becoming a mystery shopper, do your research first. Spend some time online searching for reviews and comments about mystery shopping companies that are accepting applications.
  • Any company that promises you that can make a lot of money as a mystery shopper is almost certainly a scam.
  • If mystery shoppers are asked to make purchases, it’s usually for very small amounts for which they will be reimbursed.
  • Mystery shoppers are paid after completing their assignments and returning the questionnaires to the companies that hired them. Shoppers never receive checks upfront.
  • Businesses often arrange for mystery shoppers through independent companies, many of which are members of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). For more information go to www.mysteryshop.org.

If you think you have encountered a mystery shopping scam, please visit NCL’s Fraud Center and file a complaint.