Consumer group responds to introduction of asbestos legislation, HR 526 – National Consumers League

January 29, 2015

Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League,, (202) 835-3323

Washington, DC—Upon the reintroduction of the Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 526, which purports to reduce fraud in the asbestos bankruptcy trust system through increased transparency, National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg has issued the following statement:

“The FACT Act of 2015 is a misguided attempt to derail the important work of the asbestos bankruptcy fund. This bill, if passed, would put the burden on some of the most vulnerable Americans—victims of asbestos-related illnesses—in their quest to achieve fair settlements for harms made against them. The FACT Act would unfairly give insurers the upper hand regarding asbestos claims and that is wrong. We urge Congress to stop this bill in its tracks.” 


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

NCL partners with Intuit Tax & Financial Center, Technology Policy Institute, and The Atlantic to examine consumer impact of tax identity theft – National Consumers League

January 29, 2015

Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League,, (202) 835-3323

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, in partnership with The Atlantic, Intuit Tax & Financial Center, and the Technology Policy Institute will today convene a gathering of leading experts in Washington to discuss the harm that tax identity fraud wreaks on consumers nationwide every year.

The event, “The Fight Against Fraud: Solving a $5 Billion Tax Challenge,” comes on the heels of a Federal Trade Commission report that tax-related identity theft was the most common form of identity theft reported to Commission in 2014. It also follows an earlier NCL analysis of FTC complaint data that found government documents or benefits fraud is by far the largest and fastest-growing category of identity theft complaints, increasing from 19.2% of identity theft complaints in 2010 to 46.4% in 2012. Tax or wage-related fraud complaints made up 93.5% of this category, up from 81.3% in 2010.

“Tax identity fraud is a particularly pernicious scam, since its victims often don’t realize that they’ve fallen prey to the scammers until well after the fraud is committed,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “While consumers can take steps to better protect their personal information, it is critical that the IRS, industry, and consumers work together to reduce the startling increase in this type of fraud.”

The event is open to the public. Speakers include Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator Mike Enzi (R-WV), Mary Louise Kelly, Contributing Editor of The Atlantic, Diana Leyden, Clinical Professor of Law and Director, Tax Clinic, University of Connecticut School of Law, Dean Silverman, Senior Advisor to the Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service, and Paul Weinstein, Director of the Graduate Program in Public Management, The Johns Hopkins University

For more information about the event, click here or contact Jessica Spiegel at

Where: The Newseum – Knight Broadcast Center
555 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC, 20001
When: Thursday, January 29, 2015
Guest Registration: 8:30 a.m.
Program: 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.


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

NCL applauds introduction of paid parental leave, a ‘common-sense’ worker protection – National Consumers League

January 27, 2015

Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League,, (202) 835-3323

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, applauds the introduction of the Federal Employee Paid Parental Leave Act, which would provide six weeks of paid parental leave to federal workers. The current federal government policy gives workers 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave and workers can choose to substitute paid sick or annual leave if they want.

“The United States is the only developed nation that does not provide its labor force paid parental leave, and that’s an embarrassment,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL executive director. “Following the birth of a child, workers should not be forced to choose between a paycheck and caring for their newborn. The federal government, as the nation’s largest employer, can lead the way and set an example for private companies that mandatory paid parental leave is a common-sense worker protection.”

In his 2015 State of the Union address on January 20, President Obama said, “Today, we’re the only advanced nation on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or maternity leave to our workers.”

Seizing on the momentum from the State of the Union address, a group of Democratic representatives, led by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), introduced the Federal Employee Paid Parental Leave Act. This legislation was twice passed in the House in 2008 and 2009, receiving bi-partisan support. In 2008, 50 Republicans supported the measure, and 24 did so in 2009.

Currently, only 13 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


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

Wage stagnation may threaten democracy itself – National Consumers League

Why have wages stagnated so badly in the US compared to Australia and Canada? The report notes that while US wages have stagnated and not gone up, since 2000, Canadian wages have risen 10 percent and wages in Australia by 30 percent. A group of eminent economists has taken on that question and developed a detailed analysis—to be issued imminently—of this vexing problem in a project underwritten by the Center for American Progress. 

Their report includes this statement: “Today, the ability of free market democracies to deliver widely shared increases in prosperity is in question as never before. This is an economic problem that threatens to become a problem for the political systems of these nations and for the idea of democracy itself.”

These statements were not written by followers of Karl Marx or Frederick Engels (Engels, by the way, was a socialist whose work was translated first by Florence Kelley, NCL’s indomitable first leader). The report’s authors include Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin and former White House economic adviser Larry Summers.

What does the report recommend? Among other things, helping to ensure that more people attend and finish college, more intervention in the free market on behalf of the poor and working class. For example, Canada and Australia have more generous childcare and family leave, they impose higher taxes on the affluent, and they impose stronger regulations on banks and financial institutions. But of greatest impact is that workers have more power and there is higher union concentration.

Some believe this report will be an important document for Democratic and Republican candidates as we go into the 2016 presidential campaign. Its premise is that democracy and freedom are threatened when not everyone shares in prosperity and when income disparities get so out of whack that the top 5 percent earn as much as the bottom 95 percent. If Australian and Canadian citizens can enjoy a 10-30 percent increase in wages, certainly the richest country in the world can afford to share our affluence across the economic spectrum. The health of our democracy depends on it.



Move to ban youth work in Virginia tobacco fields welcome by advocates – National Consumers League

January 21, 2015

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

Washington, DC—Last week’s introduction of a bill in the Virginia state legislature to prohibit children under the age of 18 from working in direct contact with tobacco is a hopeful sign in the continued fight to eradicate the practice of youth work in American tobacco fields.

The bill, HB1906, was introduced by Delegate Alfonso Lopez (Democrat-Arlington) and would include an exemption for family farms. If passed, HB1906 would be the first legislation of its kind in a state that harvests tobacco. In Virginia, it would preempt some of the outdated Fair Labor Standards Act provisions that allow children as young as 12 to work unlimited hours on farms performing the dangerous work.

“Children picking tobacco regularly suffer nicotine poisoning, toxic pesticide exposure, and work at dangerous heights,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League (NCL) and co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which NCL co-founded 25 years ago. “We are encouraged by Delegate Lopez’ introduction of HB1906, and we hope this is a sign of things to come. We urge Virginia lawmakers to support this bill, and other tobacco-producing states to follow suit to protect America’s most vulnerable workers—children in tobacco fields.”

In the last year, advocates from NCL, the CLC, and its member organizations, have sought to raise public awareness on youth harvesting tobacco. More than 50 groups have signed onto a series of letters to Congress, industry, and the Obama Administration. In September, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) circulated a sign-on letter to House members asking the Department of Labor to take narrowly-focused regulatory action to protect children from dangerous tobacco fields. In December, Phillip Morris USA’s parent company Altria, the largest U.S. tobacco manufacturer, announced that it would require its suppliers to prohibit children under 16 years of age from working in their tobacco fields. NCL praised the company for taking a leadership role on this important issue and called on others to follow. 

“Because our laws are not currently protecting them from this dangerous work, children who harvest tobacco have no choice but to try to protect themselves, wearing garbage bags to minimize skin contact with harmful residues,” said Reid Maki, NCL’s director of child labor advocacy and the coordinator of the CLC. “We applaud Delegate Lopez for taking this first step in Virginia to protect these vulnerable child workers. We encourage his colleagues to stand with him, against the pressure of big agriculture and some in the tobacco industry, for the sake of these young workers.” 


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

Coalition of consumer organizations request release of data on FINRA arbitration system – National Consumers League

January 21, 2015

The National Consumers League joined with a coalition or organizations including: Americans for Financial Reform, Alliance for Justice, Center for Justice and Democracy, Consumers Union, National Association of Consumer Advocates, Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association (PIABA), Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG to request that FINRA Dispute Resolution Task Force release the research and data that addresses the resolution of disputes in the FINRA arbitration system between investors and brokerage firms or investment advisers.

Read the letter here.

MLK Day tribute – National Consumers League

This week marks our nation’s annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. day. As we honor a truly great American icon we keep in mind two parallel and pertinent events that are occurring in America. One is the increasing awareness of the epidemic of police killings of black men (and black women too, though not as frequently). “The Root” enumerates 20 unarmed African Americans and the stories surrounding their killings by police.

The killing of Tamir Rice, is particularly troubling. Tamir, 12, was killed by a Cleveland cop as he waved a toy gun around in a park – this very officer had been fired from a suburban Cleveland police force for being too impulsive and lacking in good judgment. The Cleveland police department hired him without doing a background check.

As protests have sprung up across the country, with proclamations like “Black Lives Matter,” surely King would have led the marchers across America to protest these terrible killings and seek solutions.

The second event revolves around the movie “Selma.” The film, currently in theaters and directed by a black woman, stars a black actor and focuses on MLK’s campaign for voting rights in America.

While the reviews are positive, neither the director – an African American woman – nor the actor who vividly portrays Dr. King’s struggle to achieve the right to vote for African Americans – have received an Oscar nomination.

In the movie, King’s political skills are in sharp relief: he refused to be cowed by President Lyndon Johnson. He led his followers through a phalanx of dangerously racist cops and locals wielding nightsticks nail studded clubs, whips and guns. These scenes are depicted so graphically I could hardly watch.

The tense phone conversations between King and LBJ have viewers on pins and needles. LBJ capitulates and eventually passes the Voting Rights Act, because he has to. He accuses King of reckless opportunism, but the civil rights leader triumphs because he makes the case that without voting rights, blacks are denied power to throw out white office holders who deny them the right to vote, the right to march, the right to be free of harassment and discrimination.  Martin Luther King, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, wins the day,

There’s something else – something troubling – being played out on another totally different stage: neither the African American female director nor the actor playing King were nominated for Academy Awards.

So how important is an Oscar nomination anyway? Very important, and for a variety of reasons. Over the weekend CNN featured two men debating whether the Academy was racist. The white commentator said no, absolutely not, The Help and 12 Years A Slave, the first about black maids in the South as the civil rights movement unfolded and the latter, about a free black man in the 1850s kidnapped and sold into slavery, both won major awards in the last few years . The African American commentator laughed. “I thought you were kidding. The Academy is only comfortable acknowledging black actors playing servants or slaves. But in a film like Selma, black actors and directors don’t get any recognition.”

The director of “Selma,” Ava DuVernay, is a black woman who for years sought studio backing to make the movie. And, as David Carr wrote in the New York Times this week, “No club in the United States — over the last several years, the academy has been around 93 percent white, 76 percent male and an average of 63 years old — is in more need of new blood than Hollywood.”

Carr further argues for the importance of Oscar recognition. He says the Oscars, “convey recognition at the highest level of a craft that is seen by millions.”

These two seemingly vastly different issues are not so different after all. They are both focused on the value of African American life in America and African American contributions, social, political, and cultural. Yes, we have an African American president and that is a milestone, but America still suffers from the ugly legacy of slavery and I fear that we continue to minimize the value of African American life and African American achievement in America.

2015 is a historic year  – it marks the 50th anniversary of both the Selma marches and the Voting Rights Act. We could recognize these events by acknowledging the risk black men face every day at the hands of the police – and that police officers have a hard job – and supporting campaigns like “Black Lives Matter.” We need also to recognize the talent and achievement of black directors, actors and producers at the Oscars. Martin Luther King would have been very proud, I think, of Selma, and especially its directors, actors, and producers. Happy MLK celebration to all.

Top ten scams report finds rising rate of ‘phantom debt’ scams – National Consumers League

January 20, 2015

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

Washington, DC — The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization, today released its annual compilation of the top ten scams reported to, NCL’s flagship project for reporting and tracking scams. Based on an analysis of more than 10,000 consumer complaints submitted in 2014, NCL is warning consumers to be on the lookout for so-called “refund and recovery” scams, also known as “phantom debt” scams.

The predominant version of the “refund and recovery” scams involved a fraudster contacting consumers claiming to be collecting unpaid debts. If consumers questioned the debt, they reported frequently being threatened with jail time, legal action, or other consequences. In 2013, this was the fastest-growing type of telemarketing scam reported to NCL’s campaign. This trend continued in 2014, as the “refund and recovery” scams jumped by 6.23 percentage points, rising to #4 on the overall complaint list.

Fake check scams, which were at the top of the Top Ten Scams list in 2013, dropped to the #3 spot in 2014, down more than 7 percentage points. Topping the list in 2014 were two other perennially frequent frauds—Internet merchandise scams and bogus prizes/sweepstakes scams, ranked #1 and #2 respectively. 

“Fraud remains one of the most pernicious threats facing consumers today,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “We are particularly concerned about scammers increasingly relying on the ‘old-fashioned’ telephone as a way to reach millions of potentially vulnerable consumers.”

The telephone was reported by 42.85% of complainants as the way that they were first contacted by a scammer, ahead of the Web (30.97%), email (15.71%) and postal mail (6.92%). The telephone was the top method of first contact in 2013 and increased even more in 2014 (6.49 percentage point increase).

A positive trend in the 2014 report is the shift in how victims reported sending money to con artists. Previously, wire transfer had been the most popular payment method reported to In 2014, nearly half (48%) of all victims reported paying by credit card when they lost money to a scam—continuing a trend first noted in 2013 (35%). Victims who pay with credit cards can more easily recover lost funds than those who pay via wire transfer service when they promptly report the suspicious charges to their banks or credit card companies.

“Credit card transactions are a safer way for consumers to pay for products since they can dispute fraudulent charges with their credit card company,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Unfortunately, when a fraud victim sends money via wire transfer or prepaid debit card, the chances of getting their money back are much lower.”

Read the full 2014 top ten scams report 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

Guide to good med smartphone apps – National Consumers League

92_med_apps.jpgThree out of four Americans struggle to take their medications as directed, and this costs our healthcare system $300 billion every year! New smartphone apps can help consumers — especially those with chronic conditions or multiple medications — take their medication as directed and become healthier. These apps can be a great tool to help you keep track of your meds, but not all medication apps are alike and some are more useful than others.

Today’s health apps range from helping users eat healthier, to looking up symptoms, providing daily motivation tips, or helping you take your medications as directed (or adherence). 

The purpose of medication management apps is to help you take your medication(s) as directed. Once you download a medication management app, you are often asked to input information about all the meds you are taking, including the dose (how much), how often, and when you take them. The apps usually offer an alert or reminder when you are supposed to take each medication.

Before picking a medication management app check to make sure it has the following features:

  • Good Security – Apps often store your private, personal information so be sure to pick an app that has safeguards in place to protect you. The app should have a log-in that requires a password and a disclaimer that guarantees that your information will not be shared with third parties without your knowledge. The app should not ask you to provide sensitive, identifying information, such as your social security number.
  • Reminders – Reminders, often sent as alerts, remind you when to take your medications according to the times you have set. The best systems let you indicate that you have taken the medication, need to delay taking the medication, or have stopped taking the medication altogether. Make sure the reminder is in a format that works for you.
  • Personalizing Information You should be able to input medication in the form of pills, inhalers, injections, liquids, or other forms. Some medication management apps only allow a certain number of medications, which is not helpful if you are taking many medications or if you are managing medications for more than one family member.
  • “Notes” Field You should be able to add in additional information about who prescribed the medication, directions about taking the medication, or any additional information in a “notes” field.
  • Functionality (or usability) Make sure the app is available for your particular type of smart phone or tablet, and you feel comfortable using it. 

These additional features are helpful in a medication management app, but might require additional fees:

  • Tracking missed doses Apps that let you record whether you have taken or missed doses and use visual reports to track your progress can help you identify areas of weakness to improve overall adherence.
  • Sharing information with health care providers and family caregivers Apps that let you email, print, or export your prescriptions and habits can help make it easier to share this information with health care providers and family caregivers. Some apps allow your health care providers (with your permission) to update your medication regimen on your app and send you information automatically, which can be helpful when you need to make changes.
  • Dose limits Some medications have strict dose limits. For example, for pain medications with acetaminophen, it is important to not take more than directed. Apps that monitor the dose limits you input can be helpful to make sure you don’t take too much. These apps can adjust next dose reminders according to when you indicate you took your last dose, rather than on a strict “every X hours” type schedule, which could be harmful if you ended up taking your last dose late.
  • Options for caregivers If you manage the medications of one or more family members, some apps allow you to organize medication information and schedules for multiple family members.
  • Other reminders Some apps incorporate medication reminders that involve more than just an alert when it’s time to take your next medicine. This includes when you need to refill your prescription or when your prescription is about to expire.
  • Reminders for more complicated medication schedules – If you have a complicated medication schedule, make sure your app fit your needs. Does that app let you mark a medication “as needed” but with strict dose limits? Does it let you mark a medication “every X days rather than every day? Can you group your meds?
  • Medication database These apps access a database of medications that allow you to enter, search, and select medications. This feature can save time and improve accuracy when entering your medication’s name and schedule.
  • Accessing the app online Some apps have a companion website that allows you to input information from a computer and sync it to your smart phone or tablet.

Make sure the app you pick works for you and makes it easier to manage your medications. Always ask your health care provider if you have questions about when and how to take your medication. Medication management apps can help you take care of your health by helping you take your mediation as directed.

Chicago conference explores Multi-Level Marketing in minority communities – National Consumers League

This week, I participated in a town meeting held at a local Methodist church on Damen Street, in the heart of Chicago’s Hispanic community.  I was invited by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to discuss frauds and pyramid schemes that prey on members of minority communities. 

NCL has a longstanding history of opposition to pyramid schemes and other fraudulent business opportunities. We are the only consumer group with a Fraud Center. In 2009, we published a guide to help consumers distinguish between legitimate sales opportunities (Multi-Level Marketing) and pyramid schemes, with the support of the Direct Selling Association, the industry group that represents MLMs.   

Last night’s town meeting began when I walked through a wall of pro-Herbalife demonstrators, who waited outside for an hour on a very cold Chicago night, wearing t-shirts bearing the words “Yo Soy Herbalife.” Inside we started the evening with prayers, the Pledge of Alliance, and the Star Spangled Banner.

Brent Wilkes, executive director of LULAC, opened the forum by describing the problem of Hispanics falling victim to fraud. He discussed notarios, who pose as lawyers—as well as actual lawyers, who promise to help clients obtain legal status, but then take large sums of money, lie to them, and do no work on their behalf.

It was this work fighting fraud perpetrated against Hispanics that led to his interest in pyramid schemes and phony business scams. He described meeting with officials at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about Herbalife, a company with $3.2 billion in revenues that has aggressively pursued Hispanics to distribute their products. Indeed, 60-83 percent of Herbalife distributors are Latino. The chances of making any money at all—after expenses—as a distributor of Herbalife are tiny, estimated at less than one percent, according to the company’s own filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

My part of the evening’s agenda focused on what consumers should ask to avoid falling victim to pyramid schemes that are posing as legitimate MLMs.

I noted that NCL wrote to the FTC in March of 2013, asking the agency to sort out the truth. Herbalife claims it’s a legitimate business, hedge fund manager and Herbalife critic Bill Ackman and Pershing Square argue that it’s an illegal pyramid scheme. NCL asked the FTC to use its resources to clear the company’s name if these allegations aren’t true or to determine that the allegations against Herbalife are accurate and take steps to put a stop to illegal practices. The FTC agreed to investigate, but alas, the wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly and we have yet to hear the results of their probe.

The most powerful part of the evening for me—and I think for everyone in the room—were the voices of the community telling their stories. At least five people described paying lawyers and notarios their last dollar to get a husband or wife into the U.S. or to get them papers, only to find out they’d been duped by an unscrupulous actor. Many people spoke about investing thousands of dollars in Herbalife, their life savings, and having nothing to show for it. Several said they were encouraged to buy more and more products they couldn’t sell, to attend conferences, and to exaggerate Herbalife’s ability to treat cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure in order to make sales. They also spoke of being ashamed to come forward until now.

We hope that the FTC’s investigation will lead to a reexamination of practices that may be widespread throughout MLM industry. For example, our review of the income disclosure statements of several other MLM’s showed that the vast majority of MLM participants have little profit to show for the large amounts of time and money they are often asked to devote to these businesses.

Data aside, it is the personal stories I heard last night that reinforced for me how important NCL’s work is. No one there last night could avoid feeling the pain flowing from these individuals. Single fathers, out-of-work carpenters, and struggling musicians all shared their Herbalife woes.

My life’s work is fighting fraud and championing consumer protection. The stories I heard in Chicago last night galvanized me to stand with these communities and to demand that regulators and bar associations crack down on the illegal, criminal practices that steal money from the poor. Depriving those who only want to pursue the American Dream of their opportunities and hopes is intolerable. What last night told me is that I—and NCL—must redouble our efforts to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.