National Wear Red Day puts spotlight on important health issues – National Consumers League

While the unseasonably warm weather we are experiencing in may parts of the country is bound to have many Americans checking their calendars to be sure what season we’re in, it bears mentioning that tomorrow, February 3rd, is National Wear Red Day in support of women’s heart health!

National Wear Red Day, coordinated by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and others, is designed to draw attention to the fact that heart disease is the number one killer of women. Wear Red Day calls on heart health advocates and patients to wear a favorite red dress, red shirt, red tie, or Red Dress Pin to lend support to the cause and offer women “a personal and urgent wakeup” call about their risk of heart disease.

Wear Red Day is part of the Heart Truth campaign, which is this year celebrating its decade-long commitment to women’s heart health. The campaign reminds Americans that heart disease is preventable. Americans can lower their risk of heart disease by as much as 82 percent just by living a healthy lifestyle: eating right, staying physical active, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking.

We here at NCL are also very concerned about heart health and the many other chronic conditions facing Americans. To encourage the health of all Americans and to help patients have regular conversations with their health care practitioner and take all medications as directed, NCL launched a campaign of its own called Script Your Future. Script Your Future is designed to raise awareness among consumers and their family caregivers about the importance of taking medication as prescribed as a vital first step toward better health outcomes. The campaign website offers free tools such as free text message medication reminders, sample questions to ask health care professionals, lists and charts to keep track of medicines, fact sheets on targeted common conditions, and more.

So visit for more information and don’t forget to show your support of women’s heart health by wearing your favorite red gear tomorrow!

NCL testimony before the House on Social Security ‘death records’ – National Consumers League

February 2, 2012

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323,

Good morning Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Becerra and members of the subcommittee. My name is John Breyault and I am the Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud for the National Consumers League (NCL).

Founded in 1899, NCL is the nation’s oldest consumer organization. Our non-profit mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL’s connection to the Social Security Administration runs deep. Frances Perkins, who was elected Secretary of the League in 1910, was the nation’s first female Cabinet member and was one of the architects of the Social Security Act of 1935.

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss the issue of Social Security’s death records and the impact the misuse of these records has on consumers. As the Director of NCL’s Fraud Center, I hear on a daily basis about the personal and financial toll that identity theft and other fraud takes on consumers and their families. In 2011, we received nearly 9,000 complaints from victims of a variety of fraud. Consumers reporting fraud to NCL lost, on average, $990.[1] In many cases, these unscrupulous con artists financially ruined their victims. NCL’s statistics represent only a small fraction of the fraud problem. For example, in 2012, the Federal Trade Commission received over 1.3 million complaints, of which more than 250,000 involved identity theft.[2] And that represents only those who knew enough to complain to the FTC. According to research firm Javelin Strategy, 8.1 million adults were victims of identity theft in 2010, with each incident costing $631 to resolve.[3]

Despite these sobering statistics, it never ceases to amaze me the extent to which scam artists will go to defraud consumers. As a father of two young daughters, the reports I have seen of the misuse of dead children’s personal information to commit identity theft sickens me.

The vulnerability of children to identity theft is well established. According to recent estimates, 140,000 identity frauds are perpetrated on minors each year.[4] According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, 10.2% of children have had their Social Security Number used by someone else – 51 times higher than the 0.2% rate for adults.[5] While it is unknown how many deceased children’s identities scam artists have misappropriated, the volume of news articles about this scam and anecdotal evidence from parents of the deceased children suggest it is not limited to a few isolated cases.[6]

The role that the public availability of the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF) plays in these scams requires additional study. However, it is clear that identity thieves can quickly and cheaply gain access online to the so-called “holy trinity” of identifying information of recently deceased children – full name, date of birth and full Social Security Number – using websites that access DMF data. On its face, the public availability of a remarkably complete set of personally identifiable information of 83 million deceased Americans for as little as $995 is extremely troubling.

Additional consumer harm arises when individuals are mistakenly listed as deceased on the DMF. Due to “inadvertent keying errors” by federal workers entering death information, the Social Security Administration has stated that approximately 14,000 living Americans are listed as deceased in the DMF annually.[7] Such mistakes can lead to frozen bank accounts, cancelled cell phone service, loan denials and refused job interviews.[8] Due to the DMF’s public availability, these individuals are also put at increased risk of identity theft. It may require months for the SSA to correct these errors and even then, living individuals’ personally identifiable information may still be exposed.[9]

The public availability of the Social Security Administration’s DMF data is certainly not the sole driver of identity theft. Indeed, its wide availability has clearly benefitted security firms that use it to deter fraud.[10] In addition, pension funds, insurance organizations, and medical researchers use DMF data for completely legitimate reasons.[11] That said, it is clear that reform is needed to address the likelihood that identity thieves will continue to make use of the DMF to harm consumers. We also believe that more should also be done to alert consumers who are falsely listed as deceased on the DMF so that they can take action to protect their identities.

A number of commentators, including the SSA’s Office of Inspector General[12] and the Internal Revenue Service’s National Taxpayer Advocate[13] have recommended ways to better protect consumers from identity theft stemming from personally identifiable information made available via the DMF. Several reforms that the National Consumers League supports include:

  • Limiting the personally identifiable information included in the public DMF to the absolute minimum required and exploring alternatives to the inclusion of the full Social Security Number;
  • Notifying living consumers who have been mistakenly listed in the DMF that their personally identifiable information may have been compromised and recommending steps to safeguard their identities;
  • Restricting access to certain personally identifiable information in the DMF to organizations that can certify that have a legitimate need for the information for fraud prevention or benefits administration purposes;
  • Increasing penalties for failure of DMF recipients to keep DMF data up to date or the misuse or re-disclosure of DMF information; and
  • Requiring the SSA to undertake a study, in conjunction with DMF data recipients, of the usefulness of DMF data in preventing identity theft.

While NCL generally supports transparency of government data, in this case, we believe that the risk that publicly available DMF data could be used for nefarious purposes outweighs the benefit. However, in the interest of the timely provision of survivor benefits and the use of this data for fraud protection efforts, we would not support a total ban on the sale of DMF data. Instead, we believe that SSA and the Department of Commerce should take steps to ensure that DMF data is made available only to organizations that can demonstrate a legitimate need. DMF data recipients should likewise be held to a higher standard of accountability for maintaining the integrity and security of this sensitive data.

In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank the members of the subcommittee for inviting me to testify today on behalf of the National Consumers League and consumers nationwide.


[1] Source: NCL fraud complaint statistics, 2011.

[2] Federal Trade Commission. Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for January-December 2010. Pgs. 3, 5. March 2011. Available online:

[3] Saranow Schultz, Jennifer. “The Rising Cost of Identity Theft for Consumers,” New York Times. February 9, 2011. Online:

[4] I.D. Analytics. “More Than 140,000 Children Could Be Victims of Identity Fraud Each Year,” Press release. July 12, 2011. Online:

[5] Power, Richard. “Child Identity Theft: New Evidence Indicates Identity Thieves are Targeting Children for Unused Social Security Numbers,” Carnegie Mellon Cylab at 4. April 1, 2011. Online:

[6] See e.g. Goldberg, Eleanor. “Why Thieves Are Stealing Childhood Cancer Victims’ Identities,” Huffington Post. November 18, 2011. Online:

[7] Hargrove, Thomas. “Grave mistakes: SSA silent on private data breach,” Scripps Howard News Service. November 6, 2011. Online:

[8] Id.

[9] Social Security Administration. “Personally Identifiable Information Made Available to the General Public Via the Death Master File,” Office of the Inspector General Audit Report. Pgs. 4-5. June 2008. Online:

[10] See e.g. ID Analytics. “Keep the Death Master File alive,” Blog posting. December 21, 2011. Online: (stating that “We use this SSA Death Master File as an upfront defense to weed out such applications, and our process successfully stops these attempts.”).

[11] National Technical Information Service. “Social Security Administration’s Death Master File.” Online:

[12] See generally, Social Security Administration. “Personally Identifiable Information Made Available to the General Public Via the Death Master File,” Office of the Inspector General Audit Report. June 2008. Online:

[13] See Legislative Recommendation: Restrict Access to the Death Master File, infra. See also Identify Theft and Tax Fraud Prevention Act, S. 1534, 112th Cong. § 9 (1st Sess. 2011) Online:

Game day food safety – National Consumers League

With the Super Bowl coming up this Sunday, many of us are planning for large parties and get-togethers. An essential part of party planning is food safety. Here are a few tips to make sure that you and your friends can enjoy the game without having to worry about picking up a nasty foodborne illness.

  • Whether it’s hamburgers or chicken wings, meat is a central part of many people’s Super Bowl plans. Make sure you follow USDA’s recommendations and cook meat to an appropriate internal temperature. That means 165 degrees for chicken, 160 degrees for ground beef and 140 degrees (with a hold time of three minutes) for steaks. Always verify your meat has reached the correct temperature by using a meat thermometer.
  • Remember that cleanliness is one of the strongest weapons against foodborne illness. This means washing your hands before handling food and keeping cooking surfaces clean. It’s important to wash your hands if you are the big night’s chef, but hands should be clean even if you are just eating. Always wash with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before handling any food.
  • If you are preparing both raw meat and other foods, keep these foods apart from each other as cross contamination is a common cause of foodborne illness.  This means washing your hands between preparing a steak and a vegetable platter.  In addition, use separate cutting boards and knives for each food item to avoid cross contamination.
  • As Super Bowl parties can last several hours, it is especially important to make sure your food is not left out for a long period of time.  Remember, foods should only stay at room temperature for two hours so unless you have a way to heat or chill them, discard them if they have been out for more than two hours.

If you follow these tips you and your guests can focus on all the football action rather than the fear of coming down with a foodborne illness the next day.

Greenberg testimony on H.R. 2469, “End Discriminatory State Taxes for Automobile Renters Act of 2011” – National Consumers League

February 1, 2012

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323,

Testimony by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director:

Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Cohen and Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you in support of H.R. 2469, a bill entitled the “End Discriminatory State Taxes for Automobile Renters Act of 2011.”

My name is Sally Greenberg and I am Executive Director of the National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer organization, founded in 1899 with the mission of protecting the interests of workers and consumers and creating a more fair marketplace for both.

Mr. Chairman, consumers today feel that in many of their transactions they are nickel and dimed, whether it is their cell phone bill, late fees and finance charges on credit and debit cards, bogus convenience fees added onto tickets for live performances or extra charges for baggage, food or pillows on an air plane. Indeed, a good example is the survey from Consumer Reports, August 2010[1], which found that there are myriad fees that irk travelers: rental car fees, fees for hotel safes, minibars, hotel gym, ice in the drinks, fees for buying a gift card, fees for using that same card and the list goes on and on.

The National Consumers League feels consumers’ pain – and unfortunately most of the time consumers have little power to challenge these fees. Indeed, the Consumer Reports article contained this paragraph:

But our hearts really go out to the couple who rented a compact car in Boston last summer. They paid $444.37 for 15 days of driving. Then came the rental vehicle surcharge, customer facility charge, parking surcharge, energy recovery fee, fleet recovery surcharge, concession recovery fee and state tax.[2]

So today we are here to support legislation that says: Enough!

HR 2469 will prospectively bar many discriminatory car rental taxes – which are simply added fees – imposed by states and localities. These fees have been increasingly piled on consumers who rent cars in order to fund pet projects.  HR 2469 will grandfather in existing taxes and not affect the ability of states and localities to impose general taxes that are levied on all citizens or businesses. But NCL believes that these same states and localities should not impose fees on consumers who rent cars when the fees have little or nothing to do with improving the services they receive. Indeed, according to the New York Times, the most common use of these excises is to finance sports stadiums and convention centers.  In a 2006 article, the Times noted that at least 35 sports stadiums were expected to be financed partly with subsidies from car-rental taxes. Other research has shown that in the 1990’s, subsidies provided 94 percent of sports stadium financing. [3]

Legislators who adopt these fees operate under the misperception that taxes on car rentals, which we believe make the taxes hard to justify. My predecessor and former NCL President Linda Golodner discussed the issue of fees and their impact on consumers in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette[4] several years ago. Golodner noted how Congress has prohibited practices by state and local governments that unreasonably burden or discriminate against interstate commerce and transportation. Examples include the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act (1976), Airports and Airways Improvement Act (1978), Motor Carrier Act (1980) and Bus Regulatory Reform Act (1982).  So enacting HR 2469 would be following a long line of bills that prohibit discrimination in interstate commerce.

The Problem

As of this time, 43 states and the District of Columbia have imposed 118 excise taxes on car rentals. This is eight times the number of these taxes that existed in 1990. As noted above, rental car taxes tend to pay for entertainment items like stadiums, performing arts centers, or culinary institutes and not for vital services like schools, roads, libraries, hospitals or services to the elderly. Industry research indicates that rental car customers have spent more than $7.5 billion in taxes to fund the pet projects of elected officials.

A perfect example has been playing out for the past two years in my hometown of Minneapolis. The Minnesota Vikings already have the Metrodome, a beautiful indoor stadium right in the middle of downtown Minneapolis. But  Zygmunt Wilf, the Vikings’ billionaire owner, wants another one — with a retractable roof! – and state lawmakers were asking consumers who rent cars to help pay for it with a 2.5% tax on rental cars to finance a new billion-dollar stadium.  The state still hasn’t figured out a long-term funding source for the new digs, so we’ll have to wait and see if rental car customers will ultimately foot the bill.

More than half of those who rent cars in Minnesota are residents of the state. To add insult to injury, Minnesota residents are already paying a special 6.2% excise tax on car rentals, a tax that was adopted to pay for the cost to the state of trying to attract the Super Bowl. That tax was supposed to expire in 2005, but it was extended, even though the revenue it raised has far exceeded its original purpose.   Talk about fleecing the consumer!

Tourists are also affected by these pervasive fees. They might be easier to tax as non-constituents, but tourist charges are also spiraling out of control. According to the New York Times, taxes and other costs such as vehicle licensing fees or high levels of excise taxes raise the average rental bill 28 percent at airport locations.

Excise taxes on car rentals hurt nonprofits

In addition, as head of a nonprofit organization overseeing a staff of 16, when my people travel – or even have meetings locally and need transportation- we often must rent cars. I see the bills come in, and the excise fees and sales taxes together represent a hefty percentage of the entire rental.

As an addendum to this testimony, I’ve provided exhibits that demonstrate that the taxes we all pay when we rent cars are similar to what the couple in the Consumer Reports article experienced –  in the form of receipts from my car rentals over the past year.  Here are a few highlights:

In September of last year I rented a car in Minneapolis; the base fee was $128.97, but the following taxes were added on: CFC@2 a day, $6.00, APCONRGFEE – $14.33, State Tax – $10.86, Vehicle Fee $7.47, Rental Tax – $9.26. Total:  $176.89 So 37.5% of the total cost in Minneapolis was fees and taxes.

In November of last year I rented a car in Chicago. The base amount was $123.11, but the following taxes were added on: MTRVEH Tax – $2.75, CFC@ $8.00 a day x 5 days, $40.00, Motor Vehicle Tax  – 5 days @ $1.20 $6.00, State Tax $25.82 Total: $197.68 So 37.7% of the total cost in Chicago was fees and taxes.

It is worth noting that I had no idea when I paid these fees what they were for – what is APCONGRFEE in Minnesota? What is MTRVEH in Chicago? What is VLF? What are CFC fees in both Minneapolis and Chicago? They lack transparency and they seem duplicative.  In Minneapolis, I paid a state tax, plus a vehicle fee, plus rental tax . In Chicago I paid a MTRVEH tax, a CFC, a Motor Vehicle Tax and a State Tax. Where does it end?

These added costs also hurt nonprofit organizations like mine that operate on modest budgets but are vitally important to civil society.

And these taxes hurt the many families who are tourists visiting cities and towns across the country and are being required to fund projects for which they are unlikely to derive any benefit and are not essential services.

We understand why local elected officials have increasingly turned to car rental transactions to raise fees for stadiums and impose fees. They undoubtedly want to escape the wrath of their own constituents who have the power to vote them out of office if taxes go up. So why not shift the tax burden onto someone else? Who better than out-of-towners who come to their cities and towns to do business or visit friends and family.

Misconceptions about who rents cars in America

Unfortunately, politicians who pass these laws taxing rental car transactions are operating on several false assumptions. First, that the vast majority of people who rent cars live outside of the state or locality. Second, that most consumers who rent cars are either businesses who won’t feel the extra charges or affluent consumers who won’t notice an extra $30 or $40 fee on a car rental.

Let me address each of these issues in turn:

First, the myth that most people who rent cars are from out of state. If local officials conducted research on who rents cars, they would learn that many people who don’t own a car because they can’t afford rent when they have a specific need – like taking an elderly relative to a doctor’s appointment, moving a relative from one residence to another, taking a child to a doctor’s appointment, visiting a relative in prison, or for a special occasion like a wedding or graduation.

Consumers who rent cars for these reasons are not the affluent out-of-town businesspeople that state and local legislators may assume rent most of the cars– far from it. And they need affordable car rental options without the multitude of indecipherable fees and charges.

A June 2010 study conducted by the Brattle Group (A study commissioned by the rental car industry), a Cambridge, MA based consulting group that looks at economic impacts, found that the estimated total revenue for rental cars in the US for 2004 was around $17.6 billion, with home city rentals accounting for $9.5 billion or 54% of the industry’s annual revenues. This conflicts with many legislators’ assumptions about who rents cars. The mayor of a suburb north of Atlanta is a case in point: “We’re not raising any tax. I didn’t think it would be a big deal as most rentals are visitors anyway.” The record is replete with such statements.

A second misconception is that affluent consumers and businesses rent most of the cars. The same Brattle Group study found that this is not the case. In fact, 19% of these car rental excise taxes are paid by working families that earn less than $50,000 a year and 7% of the total was paid by households earning less than $25,000. Enterprise Car Rentals estimates that 25% of its customers have incomes below $40,000.

The Brattle study also found that African-Americans generate 26% of the rental car revenues and pay 27% of the excise taxes, despite accounting for only 12% of the US population. Members of other minority groups pay 13% of the total car rental excise taxes, despite being only 7% of the population, while high-income households –defined as households earning over $100,000 pay only half of these excise taxes, which means the rental car excise taxes are a very regressive tax.

In a similar study, two leading tax policy experts, William Gale of the Brookings Institution and Kim Rueben of the Urban Institute, analyzed the impact of a $4-per-day rental car tax in Kansas City, MO.[5]

Gale and Rueben found that piling taxes onto car rental customers is both inefficient, because it can distort choices about modes of transportation and send people across state borders to avoid even a modest tax, and that the taxes are also inequitable. Communities that already are taxing car rental customers might want to take another look at their working assumptions and long- term strategy.


With an eight-fold increase in taxes on rental cars since 1990, it seems clear that the multitude of fees, taxes, and charges that have so dramatically inflated the cost of renting a car has gotten out of hand. NCL understands the importance of citizens paying their share of taxes to provide critical services that we all rely on – for our schools, hospitals, libraries, roadways, and for clean water and safe roadways. But when rental car customers are asked to pay for sports stadiums and the taxes imposed seem to have no limit, with consumers having no idea what the tax is, let alone what it is being used for, its time to say, enough is enough! Consumers are tired of taxes and fees without having any understanding of where that funding is going or why they are being asked to pay them.

For the reasons stated above, NCL is pleased to offer our support for H.R. 2469, which will help put the brakes on discriminatory taxes on consumers who rent cars. We thank you for inviting the National Consumers League to share our views with you today and urge you to support this important legislation. 

[1] Fees That Irk Consumers, Consumer Reports, August 2010

[2] Ibid.

[3] How Far Would You Drive to Avoid a Rental Car Tax? NYTimes, David Cay Johnston, July 17, 2006.

[4]Private Sector: Pain, No  Gain. Car rental excise taxes are discriminatory and bad policy,

[5] How Far Would You Drive to Avoid a Rental Car Tax?

Scammers targeting their victims by age group, says National Consumers League’s Fraud Center – National Consumers League

February 2, 2012


Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) has released its annual compilation of the top scams reported to its national Fraud Center, finding that the most frequently reported scam to NCL’s Fraud Center in 2011 involved bogus prizes and sweepstakes, with fake check scams and emotion-based pitches involving scammers posing as loved ones appearing in the top ten.

Another significant finding is that scammers appear to have targeted their scams at particular age groups more than ever in 2011. For example, complaints involving bogus prizes, sweepstakes, and free gifts made up 26.98 percent of complaints overall. However, among consumers ages 56-65 and above 65, these types of complaints made up 40.96 percent and 60.12 percent of the total, respectively. Similarly, fake check scams made up 26.65 percent of complaints overall. Among consumers age 18-25, fake check scam complaints made up 45.74 percent of the total.

New to the Top Ten Scams list this year is the Family/Friend Imposter Scam, the 9th-most frequently reporter type of fraud. In response to a rash of complaints, NCL’s Fraud Center began tracking this fraud (also known as the “Grandparent Scam”) in 2011. In these scams, a con artist typically poses as a relative in distress or someone claiming to represent the relative (such as a lawyer or law enforcement agent). The scammer frantically describes an emergency situation in which they have found themselves (such as being arrested, in an auto accident, in need of a lawyer, etc.) and asks the victim to send money for bail, lawyer’s fees, hospital bills, or other expenses. The victim is urged not to tell anyone, such as the parent of the “grandchild” because they do not want them to find out about the trouble they’ve gotten themselves into.

“Scam artists will stop at nothing to defraud consumers,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “The scary part about these scams is that they prey on our natural inclination to want to help a loved one who is in distress.”

According to the consumer group, the majority of money lost was sent via wire transfer, a popular payment method among scammers because of the difficulty to track – and particularly devastating to consumers because of the improbability of recovering lost funds. Consumers should be wary of any offer that requires wiring of money, said NCL.

The report, which is compiled from consumer complaints submitted to NCL’s Fraud Center, examined trends in Internet and telemarketing fraud in 2011.

“Fraudulent telemarketers and Web-based scammers are hardened criminals out to take their victims’ life savings,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “The best way for consumers to fight back is to get educated and not be afraid to report such fraud to law enforcement. Scammers know all too well that their victims are often embarrassed and count on this to continue to perpetrate their crimes.”

For more information on NCL’s 2011 Top Ten Scams report, click here. Consumers who wish to report a fraud or potential fraud can do so via the online complaint form at NCL’s Web site.


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