Preying on the vulnerable – National Consumers League

cheniahd_92.jpgEarlier this November, NCL held a meeting with our Alliance Against Fraud coalition. We had presenters from the Federal Trade Commission (FCC) representing the government and AARP representing advocacy interests. If Frank Abagnale Jr. of Catch Me If You Can, and AARP’s newest spokesperson, taught us anything, it’s that scammers know their targets and their sights are almost always set on the most vulnerable consumers. Scammers also work together by distributing “sucker lists” amongst themselves that keep victims at the mercy of scammers.As AARP can attest, older Americans are frequent scam victims. Perhaps you’ve heard about the “grandparent scam.” In grandparent scam scenarios, fraudsters claim to be calling on behalf of a grandchild asking for funds to bail themselves or another loved one out of jail or out of some trouble. It was discussed that some scammers actually monitor obituaries of grandparents to find the information of a grandchild to use that name when making the call to the surviving grandparent.

They convince the grandparent that their loved one needs their money and direct the victim to a store to load money onto a gift card. Once the codes on that card are sent to the scammer, there is no turning back, the money is gone.

A new trend revealed at the meeting was that scammers are increasingly turning to iTunes, Target, and Amazon gift cards as payment methods. These cards, unlike credit or debit cards, don’t offer robust anti-fraud protection. Even wire transfer services like Western Union and MoneyGram–which have historically been a favored payment method amongst fraudsters–now have more protective anti-fraud protection protocols. But, as we’ve seen, as soon as one tactic starts to fail, scammers will undoubtedly find a new way to take advantage of victims.

In an interview with CBS News’ Carter Evans, a former scammer noted that elderly people are more “gullible, accessible, more likely to get emotionally invested and likely to do anything for their grandchildren.” It should also be noted that the strength of the bond between grandchild and grandparent will sometimes facilitate the willingness of the grandparent to not involve the child’s parents. We can keep older Americans and immigrants safe from scams that exploit them. NCL’s website and AARP’s Fraud Watch Network offer tips and resources for detecting and avoiding scams. For victims or family members of fraud victims, we suggest filing a complaint at or with the Federal Trade Commission at or by phone at 1-877-382-4357.

LifeSmarts consumer literacy program launches first-ever mobile app – National Consumers League

November 22, 2016

‘LifeSmarts Adventure’ offers fun alternative way to study, compete, win prizes on virtual cross-country tour of national parks

Contact: Cindy Hoang, NCL Communications,, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—LifeSmarts, a national consumer literacy program and scholarship competition for middle-school and high-school students, today announced the launch of its first mobile app, available for smart phones through Web browsers. The new app, “LifeSmarts Adventure,” offers LifeSmarts participants a unique, fun approach to study content, compete, and win prizes. Visit to view.

The first LifeSmarts Adventure is a virtual, cross-country road trip touring five U.S. national parks. The second version of LifeSmarts Adventure, with a new theme and content focus, will launch in the new year. To play, students answer a series of LifeSmarts curriculum questions at each stop. The app tracks progress and leaderboards show top-scoring travelers. The top three participants earn trophies that stay with them on future LifeSmarts Adventures, with new episodes released periodically throughout the LifeSmarts program year (which runs on a traditional academic calendar). Students who earn trophies will have the chance to win prizes.

LifeSmarts Adventure is a web-based app that is best rendered on a mobile device using a browser with an Internet connection, but the app may also be viewed using a computer at The app was made possible by a new partnership with LifeLock, Inc., (NYSE: LOCK), an industry leader in proactive identity theft protection.

“The app is an exciting extension of LifeSmarts,” said LifeSmarts Program Director Lisa Hertzberg. “Designed as a practice tool for LifeSmarts students to quiz themselves and see how they measure up against others across the country, it is also a fun and accessible way for all consumers to test their marketplace savvy.

The LifeSmarts Adventure app features:

  • Focus on LifeSmarts content: The first episode of LifeSmarts Adventure focuses entirely on personal finance topics, such as money management and investing
  • The ability for students to practice on their own mobile device
  • A leaderboard that students can follow to see how they score compared to their peers across the country
  • Opportunities for recognition, virtual completion badges and trophies, and prizes such as gift cards
  • Easy-to-use, attractive interface
  • Fun theme of a National Parks road trip

Beta testers from the LifeSmarts Student Advisory Board enjoyed their sneak peek of LifeSmarts Adventure, saying they cannot wait for the app to launch and be available to all students. In particular, they liked the variety of questions, the content covered, the fun graphics, and the leaderboards. Visit to get the app.

Sample questions from LifeSmarts Adventure include:

A credit card is an example of _____ credit, a mortgage loan is not.

  1. Revolving (correct)
  2. Closed-end
  3. Single-payment
  4. Installment

Financial planners help people with more than just investing.

  1. True (correct)
  2. False

A _____ is a diversified investment, a single stock is not.

  1. Bond
  2. Certificate of Deposit
  3. Mutual fund (correct)
  4. Checking account

The FDIC protects consumers if:

  1. The stock market crashes
  2. Banks fail (correct)
  3. Treasury bonds bottom out
  4. Inflation hits double digits


About the National Consumers League and LifeSmarts

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League. LifeSmarts focuses on five main content areas: consumer rights and responsibilities, personal finance, technology, health and safety, and the environment. Students are quizzed on their knowledge of these subject areas during online competition. Top-performing teams then advance to statewide competitions, and state champion teams advance to the national championship held each year in a different American city. The 2017 National LifeSmarts Championship will take place April 21-24, in Pittsburgh, PA. Winning teams receive scholarships and other prizes.

LifeSmarts offers American students the chance to get a head start on the responsibilities of adulthood before being thrown in to the marketplace through educational curriculum and scholarship / prize opportunities. Pre- and post-testing on related consumer issues show LifeSmarts participants, on average, see their scores increase from a C to a B+/A-. Last year, students answered more than 3 million competition questions about credit reports, recycling, nutrition, social media, state lemon laws, and everything in between. To learn more, visit

Remembering a beloved consumer advocate

I made the trip to Detroit yesterday on behalf of NCL to attend the memorial service for long-serving board member, Esther Shapiro. In Detroit for just a few hours to pay homage to a woman I respected and held dear, I reflect on her legacy and what that means.

While I don’t know the breadth of Esther Shapiro’s life story, I will say the bits and pieces she shared with me throughout the years were intriguing and impactful. For example, we talked about love and losing loved ones (she having lost her son and her husband), and she helped me appreciate all the wonderful and challenging experiences I’ve had. As if the stories of how women were treated and expected “to know their place” were not inspiring enough, it was her tenacity to push forward despite all odds. I listened to one after another at the memorial service sharing stories of what a courageous woman Esther was. It all made sense how she was able to have such a great impact on consumers and the consumer movement.

Having met Esther Shapiro as a National Consumers League board member, I had the opportunity to visit with her throughout the years. Ms. Shapiro’s home included pictures of many notable politicians, artists, and consumer advocates. Her impact is remarkable. As I chatted with many of her friends, family, and former colleagues, I was transported back in time as each person reminisced about the time when his or her path crossed with Shapiro’s path: campaigning with her on behalf of workers’ rights, working to fight pyramid schemes or watching her “push the right buttons. She always knew what buttons to push, according to Jack Chase, who was hired by Esther to help run the state’s first consumer affairs department in Michigan when it opened its doors in 1974. Chase closed with one of the many Esther sayings from when they talked about the “good ole days.” She was famous for saying “We had a good run; we had fun, didn’t we?”

John R. Eddings, who also officiated the memorial service, told me that he and Esther were appointees of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young in the 1980’s. A long-time colleague of Shapiro’s and a dear family friend, Eddings described Esther well. In his words, “[Esther Shapiro] was a true believer. She believed that things could change for the better. She was a trailblazer in consumer protection and so far ahead of her time. Her work in consumer protection spilled over into civil rights.”

So, here is where I became even more intrigued, because I focused on the consumer protection. What I learned about Shapiro was so much more. She and her husband, Harold, were very active in the civil rights movement, working tirelessly to get African Americans elected. I learned from the Shapiro’s daughter, Andrea Shapiro, that Esther founded Michigan Friends of the South.  They raised funds for attorney fees to support civil rights activists caught up in the court system. Sometimes she just passed the hat around the room to collect whatever she could to help.

Eddings was right…Esther was a believer. Today was truly a celebration of her life.

In these times of uncertainty or anxiety about the future, I end this with one of Esther Shapiro’s mantras, “Pessimism is a killer. We don’t have time for that. There is work to be done.”

Esther Shapiro passed away at 98 years old, and what a legacy she left behind!

NCL mourns the passing of auto safety icon Clarence Ditlow – National Consumers League

November 11, 2016

Contact: Cindy Hoang, National Consumers League,, (202) 207-2832 

The National Consumers League (NCL) mourns the passing of a great auto safety advocate, Clarence Ditlow. Clarence had served as the founder and Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety since 1976. He died at the age of 72 after a long struggle with colon cancer. This statement is attributed to NCL’s Executive Director Sally Greenberg.

“Clarence Ditlow’s name is synonymous with auto safety. Anyone in the industry who has spent a day working in this area knows Clarence and the Center for Auto Safety. In my years at Consumers Union (CU), I had many occasions to work with Clarence, who served on CU’s Board of Directors, and see him in action. His research and advocacy exposing auto defects–including ignition switches, roof crush, and sudden acceleration–were invaluable and helped to vastly improve the safety and reliability of today’s vehicles. Consumers owe him a debt of gratitude for continuously keeping industry’s feet to the fire and demanding that automakers deliver far safer and more fuel efficient vehicles. The remarkable progress we’ve seen in reduced deaths and injuries since the Center was founded is a testament to Clarence’s work. Since 1970, the death rate on America’s roads has dropped dramatically, from 5.2 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 1969 to 1.1 per 100 million vehicle miles in 2010.”

The Center for Auto Safety helped to expose faulty airbag inflators, defective tires, dangerously designed ignition switches, defective engine mounts, roofs on vehicles that collapsed on impact and crushed occupants, exploding gas tanks and child seats with defective latches, and many other auto safety issues.  

Saluting his work, Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-VCT) said in a statement in the Congressional Record of Sept. 29, 2016:

“Through a lifetime of work improving automotive and safety laws, Mr. Ditlow has helped save thousands of lives and prevented many more injuries than would otherwise have occurred. A tireless champion for consumers, his work has resulted in better government oversight of automakers, the installation of key safety features, and the exposure of safety defects in millions of cars, SUVs and other trucks….Mr. Ditlow’s discovery of numerous automotive defects, combined with his persistent pressure on safety agencies and automakers alike, led to the removal of many unsafe vehicles from the road.”

The National Consumers League mourns the loss of Clarence Ditlow, fellow safety advocate and crusader, who did so much to advance the cause of safer and more fuel efficient automotive vehicles. 


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

Victory for hourly workers in four states despite the nation’s turn to the right – National Consumers League

SG_HEADSHOT.jpgWhile American voters elected a president who campaigned against all things liberal on Tuesday, four states supported minimum wage increases in the same election. These add a measure of hope that progressive agenda issues can succeed, even in a year when progressives are not elected to the highest office.The winning tallies will raise hourly wages in Colorado, Arizona, Maine, and Washington. In Washington State, the wage will rise to $13.50 by 2020 and to $12 per hour in others, in the same time frame.

According to the Wall Street Journal, that would put them on the level of what is deemed the current statewide living wage by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living-wage calculator, which uses location-specific expenditure data to estimate the wage needed to support an individual or family in a given area.

The nonprofit Ballot Initiative Strategy Center helped to get these measures passed and by the look of things, they are very good at it. The group describes itself as “the only progressive organization that works across the many policy, organizing and political organizations, with local, state and national players to analyze and support the ballot measure landscape.”

In the one state, Arizona, that supported an increased minimum wage and also supported Donald Trump for president, education groups and about 200 local small businesses supported the measure, saying it would be better for their employees and the community as a whole. They won by a whopping 59 to 41 percent! The current minimum wage equates to about $17,000 a year. Both local and national groups put about $1.6 million into the campaign to support Prop. 206. Apparently, the restaurants and other businesses that opposed it didn’t put any money behind their campaign, which might explain the lopsided win.

The Washington state measure was backed by labor unions and worker advocates and appears to have won by a wide margin. Supporters argued that the state’s current minimum wage isn’t enough to live on, and a boost would mean workers have more to spend. They also argued that many workers don’t have access to paid sick leave, posing a public-health problem.

Business groups opposed the initiative, saying that while Seattle’s booming economy can support a high minimum wage, the rest of the state isn’t faring so well. Boosting the minimum wage in those areas could lead to higher prices and cuts in jobs and work hours, they say.

The Maine provision had a 56 percent lead when The Associated Press called the measure yesterday, while the effort in Colorado garnered around 55 percent of counted votes, compared with 44.9 percent against.

These resounding votes in support of minimum wage hikes are certainly an interesting development. They seem to show that the public largely supports fair wages for hourly workers, even in states that lean right. That’s an important message for progressives in an election year when not much went their way.

Updated November 10, 2016: Voters chose health in California and Boulder, Colorado, where measures were passed on November 8, 2016 to tax sugary beverages in hopes to decrease high rates of chronic disease and fund more public health programs.

Fighting penny soda tax gets pricey – National Consumers League

Sally GreenbergEditor’s note: The measures discussed in this piece were approved on Election Day, 2016.

It’s hard to believe that corporate America would throw so much money fighting a penny-per-ounce tax on sodas, but that is exactly what’s happening in San Francisco and Oakland. The soft drink industry has thrown $50 million in efforts to fight this tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

Sweetened beverages have been tied to diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay. Public health experts see measures to raise prices as a way to drive down consumption, which is the last thing Big Soda would want to promote.

These soda tax measures are proliferating. In June, Philadelphia adopted a soda tax, beating back a $10 million industry campaign petitioning it. Berkeley, CA passed its own tax two years ago. Boulder, CO is voting on a 2 cent tax today, and three California cities (San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany) will also have a sugary drink tax on the ballot. This is all happening as consumption of soda is slipping nationally.

These measures are similar: they would impose a tax of a penny per ounce on any drink with added sweetener, including soft drinks, iced teas, and smoothies. The taxes would be imposed on beverage distributors, not at checkout. Evidence from current soda taxes suggests price increases will be passed through to retailers, and, according to the New York Times, the price of a 2-liter bottle might increase 67 cents and a 12-pack of sodas would go up $1.44.

If the soda tax can achieve its dual goal: reducing consumption of sweetened drinks and using the proceeds for community and health initiatives, then this will be a success. NCL supports these efforts, and we wait eagerly to see whether both of these laudable goals will be achieved.

How a small financial transaction tax might allow us to end child slavery and the worst forms of child labor in the next nine years – National Consumers League

This post was first published at on Nov. 2, 2016.

The UN has set a very ambitious goal—one of the sustainable development goals adopted last year—of eliminating child labor, child slavery, forced child labor, and the use of child soldiers in the next nine years. It’s daunting to think about. Nearly 170 million children remain in child labor despite a one-third reduction in the number of children trapped in child labor over the last 15 years. Eighty-five million children remain in hazardous child labor, working in brothels, mines, and places no child should be sent. Nearly six million children remain in child slavery.

How is the world to achieve this laudable, essential goal? The answer is it cannot—not without a significant infusion of resources. More than 120 million children who should be in school are not. A billion children are illiterate. Functioning schools are a critical element in the battle against child labor and child slavery. In West Africa, where two million plus children toil on cocoa plantations to harvest the main ingredient in chocolate, more than 3,000 schools are needed to provide children with educational alternatives to hazardous work.

Clearly, hundreds of billions of dollars are needed over the next nine years. Is the global community likely to provide this funding? Probably not, unless there are new revenue sources from which they can draw the money from.

Fortunately, the European Community and the US Congress is working on a new revenue source: a financial transaction tax that would be applied to all financial transactions like stock or derivative trades and bond purchases. Because there are trillions of such trades each year in US markets alone, even a tiny tax ranging from one-tenth of one percent to a half percent could raise tens of billions of dollars up to $300 billion a year. The Inclusive Prosperity Act in Congress by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Senator Barry Sanders (I-VT) hopes to do just that, and the Child Labor Coalition, which NCL co-chairs, helped organize a congressional briefing in September to help promote the concept.

The European community is in various stages of implementing an FTT in over 10 countries. The idea is not new. The US had an FTT in the past and continues to pay for the Securities and Exchange Commission with a very tiny FTT. Japan successfully raised billions with an FTT in the 1990s before conservative forces led them to abandon the tax.

An FTT would make our tax system more equitable.

Financial trades are conducted by or on behalf of wealthier Americans and these should be taxed unless we are prepared to ask the poorest working Americans to pay an unfair share of the tax burden. Many of the richest Americans have the money to set up tax shelters that allow them to pay proportionately little taxes. Warren Buffet, one of the richest Americans has called on the richest Americans to pay a fairer share of taxes.

But what about the millions of average Americans who have their pension funds in the stock market? Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Opportunities believes that an FTT would provide some incentive to reduce the number and frequency of trades and that pension funds may actually experience no, or almost no, reduced returns while still generating substantial revenues. Baker notes that computers have allowed the costs of financial trades to drop precipitously over the last two decades and a slight increase in the cost of trading could easily be absorbed and trading would still be much cheaper than it was 20 years ago.

Senator Sanders hopes to use the FTT to provide free college tuition for all young Americans. Rep. Ellison would fix America’s failing infrastructure but reserve some funds to attack the global health needs of children. 

At the CLC, we ask that should these legislative initiatives be enacted, lawmakers reserve a portion of the FTT revenues—say 20 to 25 percent—to provide basic needs like food, medicine, and access to education for children around the world. If other nations followed the US’s lead, we might have the resources to end child slavery and child labor and allow every child in the world to become educated in the next nine years.