Cramming fraudsters take notice: AT&T to end wireline third-party billing – National Consumers League

March 30, 2012

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

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer organization, today welcomed AT&T’s announcement that it will end most third-party billing on wireline telephone accounts by August of this year. AT&T joins Verizon, which last week announced that they would cease providing third-party billing services on wireline phone bills for so-called “enhanced” services – a major component of cramming fraud.

“AT&T and Verizon’s actions to protect consumers should put fraudsters on notice. Their days of profiting off consumers’ phone bills are numbered,” said John Breyault, the League’s Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “We urge CenturyLink and other phone companies to follow AT&T and Verizon’s lead and put crammers out of business once and for all.”

NCL also reiterated its support for comprehensive federal legislation to prohibit third-party billing for non-telecommunications services on wireline telephone bills. “While we’re glad to see two major telecommunications companies take this important step voluntarily, it is important that there be a clear protections be put in place to protect all consumers,” said Breyault. NCL has also again called on the Federal Communications Commission to act on its pending rulemaking on this issue to ensure that the cramming problem is fixed permanently and consumers, businesses, non-profit organizations and government agencies are protected.

With regards to cramming on wireless telephone bills, NCL urged regulators and legislators to remain vigilant. “We cannot allow the crammers to simply migrate from landline phones to wireless phones,” said Breyault. “With millions of consumers ‘cutting the cord’ and using cell phones exclusively, we cannot take our eye off the ball and let cramming fraud proliferate on wireless bills.”


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

Following ‘pink slime’ hysteria? – National Consumers League

You may want to read this recent blog post to clarify the concerns and uproar over so-called “pink slime” and how this unfolded. NCL also recently issued a statement, joined by several other food safety groups, including STOP and CFA, on the unfortunate loss of jobs as a result. Thanks to all consumers who read this with an eye to the science and whether this is a safe and nutritious product and not judge the product by how it looks in the production.

Statement of Sally Greenberg, NCL ED, on Lean Finely Textured Beef – National Consumers League

March 28, 2012

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

Washington,DC–NCL believes that the announcement by Beef Products Inc. that the company will suspend operations at three plants is unfortunate. BPI and its CEO, Eldon Roth, have been forced to close the plants because of business the company has lost to very serious misinformation, widely disseminated by the media, about its product, lean finely textured beef (LFTB). The misinformation has unduly harmed a company—and its employees– that is recognized as an industry leader in food safety.

Food scientists and consumer organizations agree that LFTB is safe:  BPI pioneered food safety interventions to significantly reduce the risk of pathogens  inthe meat  they produced. Their use of ammonia in small amounts was used to reduce the risk of pathogenic E. coli in their product, and these levels never have posed a health risk to consumers.

BPI also pioneered “test and hold” which ensures that nothing leaves the plant until it has passed rigorous safety testing. BPI was one of the first companies to voluntarily test for six additional deadly strains of pathogenic E. coli. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has now adopted test and hold for products the agency tests, and last year FSIS announced that it would consider the six additional strains of E. coli as adulterants in ground beef.

BPI employs  around 3,000 employees,  whose jobs either have been or will be lost with the suspension of operations.  Seven hundred employees have already lost their jobs. This is tragic, as they have been harmed by a completely unfounded conclusion that their product is not safe.  The beef that will replace BPI’s product will most likely come from overseas and thus the closing of the plants will ship jobs overseas∙

NCL, whose mission is to protect consumers and workers, believes that both have been seriously harmed by the assault against its integrity that BPI has suffered.  NCL is in agreement with the Consumer Federation of America that manufacturers of hamburger patties may replace LFTB with something that has not been processed to assure the same level of safety. CFA also expressed concerns that NCL shares about the potential effect this recent controversy may have on companies who seek to apply innovative solutions and new technologies to enhance food safety.

From NCL’s standpoint, the record must be corrected.  The public has been ill-served by faulty information about this product that was based on conclusions of those who are not experts in food safety. An estimated 3,000 people could lose jobs as a result of BPI going out of business. The company has suspended the jobs of 650 workers to date.


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

DOL considering giving 2 million home care workers basic labor protections – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft

It’s amazing. It’s amazing that — during last week’s House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on the proposed Department of Labor’s rules narrowing the definition of “companionship” that would give more than 2 million home care workers basic labor protections — a witness had the audacity to claim that he was opposing the rules as a way to protect his workers. The congressional hearing centered around the home care industry and the workers who perform the invaluable job of taking care of our fast-growing elderly and disabled populations.

The home care industry has enjoyed the loophole in labor law that was originally carved out to exclude occasional babysitters and “elder sitters” (companions) from minimum wage and overtime laws. This loophole allowed them to skirt the basic protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act. These employers do not have to pay their employees minimum wage nor overtime – allowing an employer to legally pay their workers $2 an hour with no legal recourse for the employee. Due to this loophole the home care industry has enjoyed record profits, for example in 2009 the industry made $84.1 billion in profits, and is one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors in today’s economy. Yet the industry has cried ‘foul’ and ‘poor house’ when faced with the possibility of having to pay their workers the basic rights and protections of minimum wage and overtime.

Almost all home care workers are female, and the vast majority are minorities. These women are often the sole breadwinner for their families and are struggling at poverty level wages. In order to survive, a large percentage of home care workers have to depend on social safety-net programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. With the home care workforce projected to grow by nearly 50 percent again by 2018 and be the major source of growth and jobs in the U.S. economy by adding 1.3 million jobs by 2020, something needs to be done to cover these workers under the most basic labor protections.

Yet this witness claimed that having to pay his employees minimum wage and overtime, would adversely affect the workers’ pay. If an employee is already working 50-hour-weeks with no minimum wage and overtime, how would earning an increased wage plus time and a half overtime hurt them? Even at the median wage of $9.34 an hour, with no overtime, a worker would only make $19,427 a year – far below a basic self-sufficiency income for a single adult, let alone someone supporting a family.

Ted Kennedy once said, “No one who works for a living should live in poverty.” It’s time to value the incredible work home care workers do and respect them enough to cover them under the very basic protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act and give them the right to get paid the minimum wage and overtime.

Child Labor Coalition: U.S. should implement proposed farm safety rules for children – National Consumers League

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

March 27, 2012

Washington, DC–Legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress in March 2012 to block proposed safety rules for child farmworkers will endanger children who work on farms, said advocates from the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), representing more than two dozen organizations concerned with protecting working youth. The group called on the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to implement immediately its proposed updates to safety rules listing dangerous agricultural tasks that are off limits to hired child farmworkers.

“The Department of Labor’s proposed safety rules are rooted in expert research and designed to protect child farmworkers,” said Sally Greenberg, the executive director of the National Consumers League and the co-chair of the CLC. “Agriculture has long been exempt from many child labor and occupational safety protections granted to all other industries. As new farm equipment is developed and our knowledge of pesticides and other risks to children evolve, it only makes sense to update the list of tasks that employers should not be allowed to hire children to do.”

The 15 proposed rules—known as “hazardous occupation orders”—would, for the first time in decades, update the list of farm tasks considered too dangerous for children under age 16 working for hire. New restrictions would include operating certain heavy machinery, working in silos and grain storage facilities, and handling pesticides.

Bill S. 2221, introduced on March 21 by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), would stop the Labor Department from issuing the occupational child safety rules. A version was introduced March 7 in the House (H.R. 4157) by Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), with the misleading title, “Preserving America’s Family Farms Act.”

The Department of Labor has long held responsibility for restricting employers from hiring children to do tasks that are considered hazardous. In agriculture, those restrictions lift at age 16; while in all other jobs, hazardous work cannot be done until age 18. The rules do not apply to children working on farms owned or operated by their parents, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said at a House hearing recently that she intends to expand the “parental exemption” to allow children to work without safety restriction on farms owned by other relatives.

Agricultural exemptions to U.S. child labor law allow children to work for hire at age 12 on any farm with their parents’ consent. There is no minimum age for children to work on small farms.

Agriculture is the most dangerous industry open to children. Three quarters of working children under age 16 who died from work-related injuries in 2010 worked in agriculture. Thousands more are injured each year. Agricultural injuries tend to be much more severe than other youth injuries according to a new study in the April 2012 edition of the journal Pediatrics, resulting in a hospitalization rate that is 10 times as high as that in all other industries.

“As a former child farm worker, I know how dangerous the fields can be,” said Norma Flores Lopez, the Children in the Fields Campaign Director for the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs. “Pesticides, razor-sharp tools, and farm machinery were ever-present dangers. Last summer two 17-year-olds in Oklahoma lost their legs in a grain augur accident. Banning grain facility work, which killed 26 workers in 2010, would prevent those tragedies from happening to others.”

The proposed legislation inaccurately suggests that the proposed safety rules would make it difficult for children to work or get hands-on training on farms. Instead the Department of Labor’s proposed rules merely require more rigorous training for some hazardous work and remove training exemptions for other tasks.

“The Department of Labor’s proposed safety rules would be a huge leap forward in keeping children safer while they’re at work and while they’re learning to be farmers,” said Zama Coursen-Neff, deputy children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Job training for farmworker youth is important, but it shouldn’t involve the few tasks that experts find are most likely to kill and maim them.”

The proposed legislation also inaccurately implies that occupational child safety rules would be an attack on the family farm.

“The proposed rules represent long-overdue protections for children working for hire in farm communities,” said Reid Maki, the CLC coordinator. “They will save lives and preserve the health of farm children so they can grow up to be farmers. The department should implement them as soon as possible.”

“We must push back against the attacks against safety protections for children,” said Lorretta Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers and a co-chair of the CLC. “It is our task to protect the most vulnerable in our society and all over the world. All children should be afforded the opportunity to go to school and thrive and not be placed in harm’s way by working in the fields or in other dangerous occupations.”


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 [].

Health care in America on trial this week – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

This is a very big week for health care in America. The constitutionality of Affordable Care Act is being argued in the Supreme Court. This landmark legislation that provides near universal health care in America after many decades of failed attempts – and that groups like NCL have been working for throughout our history- is in hot dispute. Despite the fact that the United States remains the only Western country that doesn’t provide universal health care for its citizens, this one issue has generated more noise – on the right in particular – than practically anything else.

This highly unusual argument is going to be spread over three days. Tuesday the court will hear from proponents and opponents on the individual mandate’s constitutionality.

The law’s opponents include 26 states that are arguing that Congress has no power under the Constitution to order people to buy anything-and that if the law stands, Congress will have sweeping new authority to dictate our behavior. Also on the table is whether – if the individual mandate is struck, and I hope it isn’t because the law really doesn’t work without it – whether the rest of the law falls down.

One lower court has ruled that individual mandate is unconstitutional, but several others said it could remain. The thing is, the public wants people to be covered even if they have a pre-existing condition and parents want their kids covered til 26, especially since many young people don’t have jobs. Both are guarantees in the ACA.

The Court will also review requirements that poor people be covered by the states, and imposes new requirements on the states to ensure that this coverage is available. I agree with those who believe that this case may be the most important set of rulings since FDR’s New Deal legislation was challenged at the Supreme Court.

Florence Kelley, NCL’s first leader, was stymied in many of her initiatives – minimum wage, maximum hours and child labor laws when the Court struck such laws she worked so hard to get enacted. (though she – and Justice Brandeis won the right for women to be covered by maximum hours laws in Muller v. Oregon) But ultimately, justice won out and all are laws and protections we cherish today. I can only hope that the Affordable Healthcare Act withstands the challenges and survives intact.

But if we lose this round, and I don’t think we will, I expect that justice will ultimately win out and Americans will enjoy universal health care at long last.

NCL urges AG Holder to do more to protect consumers from fraud – National Consumers League

By John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud

Earlier this month Executive Director Sally Greenberg and I, along with representatives from several national consumer groups, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  The meetings, part of the task force’s Consumer Protection Summit, were an opportunity for NCL to discuss emerging fraud trends and recommend solutions to the country’s highest law enforcement officer.

Greenberg called on Attorney General Holder and the members of the task force to do more to protect consumers from fraud on a number of fronts.

First, she urged the task force to bring Internet scammers to justice, particularly those fraudsters operating overseas.  NCL’s Fraud Center staff routinely hears from fraud victims who are as frustrated by international fraudsters’ seeming immunity from justice as they are by the crime itself.  Greenberg called on the task force to publicize high-profile extraditions and prosecutions of overseas scam artists to serve as a warning to those who would victimize American consumers.

Second, Greenberg called for revisiting consumer education initiatives to measure the effectiveness of different strategies for getting consumers to change their behavior.  Too often, she said, there appears to be a diminishing return on the consumer education dollar and rarely do consumer protection agencies have good visibility into what works and what doesn’t.  She urged the task force to consider making more government-owned complaint data available to the general public so that emerging fraud trends can be identified earlier.

Finally, she highlighted the frustration that advocates feel at the seeming ubiquity of advertisements for dubious or outright fraudulent products and services on television and radio. She called on the task force to work with broadcasters and cable channels to ensure that they are doing their due diligence when vetting potential advertisers so as to keep fraudulent ads off the airwaves.

President Obama created the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis.  Its goal is to bring financial scammers to justice, get restitution for victims and address financial discrimination on Wall Street.  More than two-dozen federal law enforcement agencies participate in the task force.  The task force maintains a website at with news on recent law enforcement actions, tips on avoiding scams and information for victims of financial fraud.

Verizon decision to end third-party billing a victory for consumers – National Consumers League

March 12, 2012

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

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League today applauded Verizon for its pro-consumer decision to protect its customers from cramming fraud by ceasing to provide third-party billing for most non-telecommunications services. NCL, along with a coalition of allies in the public interest community, has long urged the industry to end wireline third-party billing for so-called “enhanced” services.

“We commend Verizon for taking an important step to protect its subscribers from cramming fraud that affects millions of consumers annually,” said John Breyault, the League’s Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Third-party billing is the tool that allows cramming to flourish.  We would urge other telephone companies to follow Verizon’s lead, heed the advice of consumer groups, the FTC and state attorneys general and end wireline third-party billing once and for all.”

In late 2011, NCL led a coalition of consumer groups in filing comments calling on the Federal Communications Commission to adopt common-sense rules that prohibit third-party billing for “enhanced” services.  This system allows unscrupulous scam artists to use consumers’ telephone bills like a credit card, charging them for anything from directory listings to “enhanced fax” and even online diet services.

As the Senate Commerce Committee found in a July 2011 report, industry self-regulatory efforts since the late 1990’s have failed to control an epidemic of cramming fraud.  Indeed, the telecommunications industry was found to have profited handsomely from a third-party billing system that enabled fraud to proliferate.  In response to the Committee’s findings, NCL called on Congress to enact legislation, based on successful Vermont state law that prohibits wireline third-party billing for services not overseen by the FCC.

While Verizon’s announcement does not apply to third-party billing on wireless devices, NCL would urge the company as well as regulators and legislators to keep a close eye on this platform to ensure that crammers do not simply migrate from wireline to wireless billing systems.


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

Considering raw milk? This might spoil it for you – National Consumers League

A recent outbreak of foodborne illness caused by raw milk has made headlines lately, sickening at least 80, and drawing more attention to a pretty controversial issue.

Raw milk advocates claim it has increased health benefits that commercially pasteurized milk doesn’t. Here’s one raw milk enthusiast’s blog. But experts like those at the FDA say not so fast. With all the rhetoric surrounding the topic, it can be difficult for consumers to get a straight answer about raw milk. NCL has recently published a Q and A for consumers considering switching to what fans call “real milk.” Check it out.

Business lobby seeking the repeal or end of anti-wage theft laws – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft

Incredible! The old adage “one step forward, two steps back” may soon apply to the groundbreaking New York Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2010 and the Miami-Dade County (Florida) Wage Theft Ordinance. These laws were designed to give workers stronger protections against employers who commit wage theft violations, usually in the form of unpaid wages.

New York

In the New York legislature, some state Republican senators are calling the Wage Theft Prevention Act “a burdensome, costly mandate on every employer in the state” and a “misguided job-killing regulation”. Unfortunately, these same state senators have been able to pass their bill, repealing the law, in the State Senate and are working to have the State Assembly pass a similar bill. The component that state senators seem to have the biggest problem with is the requirement that employers provide employees annually with a written notice on their wages in the primary language of the employee. How is a written notice that explains a person’s wages, in their primary language, be a job killer? The National Consumers League urges the New York Assembly to recognize this thinly veiled attempt by business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Business Council to repeal a law that protects workers from an illegal action used by employers to help pad their bottom line and not support this GOP-sponsored bill.


In the Florida legislature, the Florida Retail Federation has joined forces with some state Republican House Members to pass a bill prohibiting all local governments from passing anti-wage theft ordinances. The bill is aimed at stopping counties and cities from following the lead of Miami-Dade County, which passed an ordinance in 2010 protecting workers from wage theft and set up procedures for workers to recover their unpaid wages.

Since the implementation of the anti-wage theft ordinance, the Miami-Dade County Small Business agency has recovered nearly $400,000 in unpaid wages for 313 workers who unlawfully had their wages withheld from them. According to the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy, the US Department of Labor recovered just under $16 million for more than 24,000 workers in Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Broward, Palm Beach, and Orange counties. With all the rampant wage theft violations, especially in Florida’s key industries of tourism, retail trades, and construction, why would state legislators seek to prohibit the strengthening of protections for its workers?

In both states the business lobby seeks an end to the crack down on wage theft violations and the strengthening of worker protections. Do they care more about their bottom line than their employees? The answer seems clear.