Guest blog: A new venture for collaborative solutions – National Consumers League

lee_lynch.jpgThis guest post was originally published at Reservoir Communications Group’s blog.

What do you get when you put representatives from more than 30 of the nation’s leading patient-focused health organizations, companies and government agencies in a room, amidst a sea of sometimes-competing priorities that are specific to each of those organizations? Cacophony? Stalemate? Not at all, at least not during the National Consumers League’s (NCL) inaugural Health Advisory Council meeting.

I had the pleasure of being a part of this meeting last week and while I have worked with nearly all of these organizations — individually and through coalitions – at one time or another, it is somewhat of a rare thing to engage with all of them during a coming together that may lead to solutions to seemingly insurmountable issues.

NCL has a history of NOT shying away from tough issues. Whether the issue is protecting the rights of child workers, improving treatment adherence, tackling consumer fraud, or improving consumer literacy, I’ve always thought their motto should read, Bring It On.

Through NCL’s new Health Advisory Council, they are looking to leading consumer, patient, health care professional, industry and government voices to help them determine what major health-focused issues need to be better addressed and could be addressed collaboratively.

The Health Advisory Council is very much at the beginning, but at the start, members and participants advised that the following were major issue areas that aligned with their own organizations’ interests:

  1. Medications — both Rx and OTC — were top of mind:  Adherence, management and general safe use of medications, as well as safe use of antibiotics
  2. Coverage policies and impact on access to care and medications was also an area for collaborative opportunity
  3. Defining and optimizing the respective roles of health care providers especially those of nurses and pharmacists —was a shared area of interest
  4. Improving both patient and HCP communication skills was also of common interest

As a communicator, I found it interesting how virtually every one of these top issue areas has communications at the center. Whichever topics NCL and its Health Advisory Council members choose to collaboratively pursue  — whether it be safe use of medications, enhancing access to care and treatment for diverse populations or people suffering from chronic conditions, fully recognizing the potential role nurses and pharmacists could play to improve value across the system, or tackling the need to improve communications between patients and HCPs in order to raise the overall level of coordinated care — communications, if successfully applied, will be a major part of the solution.

Some of the problems discussed seem larger than life. But many of the organizations in the room have a history of trying to tackle that which seems impossible:

A number of state-based organizations — such as the North Carolina Alliance for Healthy Communities and Ohio Pharmacists Association and researchers from Duke University and the University of Minnesota — are also involved and can help ensure that any possible approach is also localized in nature.

It’s too early to tell in which direction the NCL Health Advisory Council will head, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. More to come as the Council shares perspectives and concerns with one another and advises the NCL on what areas are worth pursuing — and solving — on behalf of America’s consumers.

Lee Lynch is founding principal at Lynch Advocacy Solutions, LLC and strategic counselor at Reservoir Communications Group. Her experience extends across advocacy, public relations, public affairs, issues management, marketing, and journalism. For more than a decade, Lee led the Edelman Alliances group – a dedicated team she founded that engaged hundreds of influencers and third-party organizations to find unique ways to collaboratively link organizations, corporations and governments to achieve mutual goals. 

Bravo! FTC’s “Start With Security” initiative announces seminar on data security – National Consumers League

Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez this morning announced the next step in the FTC’s efforts to craft data security guidelines for businesses. As part of its “Start with Security” program, originally unveiled in March, the Commission will hold an initiative at the University of California on September 9. This follows on the heels of the February 13 Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection at Stanford University.NCL has long advocated for the FTC to take a leadership role in the federal government on data security and is very pleased about this announcement. We applaud the FTC for taking this step to improve data security and help businesses protect consumers.

While details of the September meeting aren’t yet fully known, we do know a few things about the Commission’s “Start with Security” program. At the IAPP summit in March, FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director said that the program’s goal is to provide businesses with resources, education and guidance on data security. Chairwoman Ramirez (who NCL will be honoring in October, incidentally) elaborated on this theme, stating that the initiative will be aimed at bringing together experts on data security to share best practices, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses.

The focus on data security at small-to-medium sized businesses is a logical choice for the agency. Its ongoing legal tussle with Atlanta-based LabMD illustrates challenges the Commission faces as it seeks to enforce data security obligations on small businesses. Such entities are often ill-equipped to adequately protect the growing amounts of sensitive personal information they are collecting.  This is an incredibly important issue. As NCL’s #DataInsecurity Report found, nearly 6 in 10 data breach victims indicated that their trust in retailers decreased following a breach. For a small business struggling to stay afloat, losing the confidence of customers due to a data breach can mean the difference between keeping the lights on and a “closed” sign on the front door.

So what can the Commission hope to accomplish at its September meeting? In the interests of promoting consumer data security, we propose that the meeting agenda cover some basic data security policy topics, such as:

  • Is there a sufficient flow of information and best practices on breach trends, emerging threats from hackers, etc. being shared by the FTC with business that are entrusted to store consumer data? If not, how can this improve?
  • The Online Trust Alliance estimated that 90% of data breaches in 2014 could have been prevented if basic security measures had been taken. With this in mind, how can businesses be incentivized to make sure they are taking the basic steps to protect their data?
  • Small and medium-sized businesses often lack the budget and/or expertise to craft robust data security protections, yet they are increasingly collecting large amounts of sensitive data about their customers. What requirements should be placed on a pizza parlor, for example, when it comes to data security?
  • We often hear that it’s not “if,” it’s “when” when it comes to data breaches at businesses. However, it seems that businesses, particularly small-to-medium sized businesses, aren’t prepared to protest against the data breach threat. Is this accurate? If so, what can the FTC do to change that mindset?
  • Government data security mandates can only do so much to create a climate where data security is taken seriously by business. What flexible, market-based incentives exist to promote data security? Is cyber-insurance the answer?
  • There is no shortage of cybersecurity firms offering high-priced solutions to small-to-medium sized businesses. Are there free or low-cost solutions that businesses can take today that will measurably reduce their data security risks (e.g. enable multi-factor authentication, create stronger passwords, encrypt sensitive data)?

The “Start With Security” initiative is a good opportunity for the FTC to promote solutions that businesses can take to reduce their data security risk. However, absent reforms in Congress to tackle tough issues like data breach notification and a comprehensive data security standard, education can only do so much. We hope that the Commission will use the September 9 forum to highlight the impact that breaches continue to have on consumers and businesses and to push Congress to pass real data security reforms.

NCL statement on settlement with Doctor’s Associates Inc. – National Consumers League

May 11, 2015

Contact: NCL Communications, Carol McKay (412) 945-3242,

Washington, DC-The National Consumers League (“NCL”) and Doctor’s Associates Inc. (“DAI”) are pleased to announce that they have resolved consumer-related litigation pending in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, NCL v. DAI, Case No. 2013-CA-006549 B. NCL and DAI recognize the importance of a focus on nutritional content in restaurant menu offerings and ensuring that customers have healthful menu options.


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

Beware: Online pet adoption scams – National Consumers League

92_puppy_sale.jpgBringing a new puppy or kitten home is right at the top of many consumers’ wish lists. Unfortunately, scammers know all too well how emotionally connected we can get to idea of adopting a cuddly ball of fuzz. Since the beginning of 2015, NCL’s has received a surge of consumer complaints about pet adoption scams. Learn how the scam works.First, a consumer searching for a pet sees a desirable animal listed for sale online, often on a classifieds website like or Next, the consumer reaches out to the prospective seller and expresses interest in acquiring the animal. After a consumer sends money to the alleged owner to pay for the pet, she is told that additional funds are needed to cover the cost of things like “a ventilated shipping crate,” “insurance,” or other reasons. Regardless of how much money is sent, the alleged seller will find new reasons to ask for additional payment. This continues until the victim, now often out hundreds or thousands of dollars catches on and stops sending money.

In reality, the entire act is a farce. The cute pet pictures that prompted the initial outreach by the consumer are usually simply pulled off the Internet and used to create attractive (but fake) listings. The alleged sellers don’t own any actual pets and are just out to milk victims of all the cash they can.

A Massachusetts woman we’ll call “Sue” (not her real name) recently sent us a complaint that is typical of this scam. Sue writes:

“I was looking to purchase a Yorkshire terrier puppy for my 2 little kids. I found one that I was really interested in. It was a 9-week-old female Yorkie. I emailed ‘the owner’ … The puppy was $500 and he told me that was already included with shipping and everything. He told me to put the $500 on a Reloadit card, which I did, and I gave him that. He sent me an email of a flight ticket, which I now know that it was not real because I called American Airlines and the flight ticket was a fake.

An agency started emailing me stating that I had to send them $970.00 for a ‘crate’ for the puppy to arrive to me safe while on flight due to the weather. I was told it was refundable when my puppy would arrive. I was told to send it by Western Union, which I did. Once that happened … I was asked to send $1,500 now for the pets insurance to get sent to me, which was also supposed to be refunded to me. I sent that money through MoneyGram. I was supposed to receive my puppy on March 7, 2015 in the morning and I never received the puppy.

Then I received another email stating I had to send ANOTHER payment of $760.00 to update her shots before she takes off. It was already sounding a little bit too good to be true to me but that’s when I finally realized that this was a scam.” has received more than a dozen complaints about these scams so far this year. Consumers can see additional examples of these scams at the ASPCA’s Pet-Related Scams website.

It’s easy to get emotionally attached to the idea of acquiring an adorable new pet. Consumers in the market for a new furry friend, can protect themselves by following these safe pet-buying tips:

  1. Never send money for a pet purchase unless you have seen the animal in person (as opposed to simply online).
  2. Beware of any seller who says she’s located out-of-town (or worse, overseas). Dealing with local sellers is usually the smart move.
  3. Requests for payment via wire transfer (Western Union or MoneyGram) or prepaid debit card (Green Dot MoneyPak, Reloadit, or similar cards) are often a red flag for potential fraud. Payment sent via these methods is practically the same as sending cash.
  4. Consider adopting from a local shelter instead of a private seller. There’s likely to be a lower cost to obtain the pet, and you’ll be dealing with a reputable non-profit organization.
  5. Do your due diligence on the seller BEFORE sending money. Ask for detailed information on the seller, including full name, phone number and mailing address. Search online for information on the seller. If no information comes up in the search, or you see negative reviews, it could be a scammer instead of a legitimate seller.
  6. Watch out for offers of “free” pets. While it may seem like a good deal, scammers have been known to use these to lure unwary consumers in to paying for “shipping” and other costs for nonexistent pets.

If you’ve been a victim of one of these scams or been approached by someone you suspect of being a scammer, file a complaint at so that we can share your information with our network of law enforcement and consumer protection agencies.