NCL on Upcoming Congressional Hearings with UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty

April 30, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – Tomorrow, the Senate Finance Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee will hear from UnitedHealth Group CEO on the insurance company’s cyberattack that put millions of medical records and patient privacy at risk.

The cyberattack is, of course, cause for concern, but there are also several other ways major insurance companies like UnitedHealth Group are hurting consumers. These companies have taken over the prescription drug marketplace – they are integrated with the pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) who gatekeep our prescriptions, limiting access and increasing out-of-pocket costs.

Here are the top questions American consumers deserve answers to:

  • How will your company work to not only protect patient data going forward, but also protect patient choice and power in their healthcare decision-making?
  • Can you explain the relationships and makeup of UHG, Optum Rx, and Optum Health? How does this vertical integration give consumers a fair choice when it comes to their health when there is a clear incentive to keep patients – and thus profit – in the UHG family?
  • UnitedHealth Group’s PBM Optum Rx claims to benefit consumers by negotiating rebates with drug manufacturers – why, then, aren’t consumers experiencing lower costs at the pharmacy counter?
  • How much does Optum Rx collect each year in rebates from drug manufacturers? How much profit does the UHG corporation rake in from prescription drug purchases?
  • Is UHG aware of the significant health and financial challenges that prior authorization requirements impose on consumers and their families?

The insurance industry is riddled with poor incentives that ultimately hurt consumers. Lawmakers have an opportunity this week to shine a light on these problems. We need bipartisan reforms to give consumers more power when it comes to their prescriptions, and ultimately, their health.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 nclnet.org.

Consumer groups welcome protections in FAA reauthorization agreement, urge continued improvements

April 29, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. House and Senate negotiators released their bipartisan and bicameral compromise bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As consumer and public interest advocates, we are grateful to members of Congress who are utilizing this opportunity to implement meaningful safeguards to the flying experience. However, as the last few years have demonstrated, there is a need for even more protections to address the extreme hardships that passengers have been forced to endure. Given the limited opportunity to enact reforms in the five-year cycle of the FAA reauthorization, we strongly urge Congress to enact amendments to further strengthen the bill before its final passage. 

“Consumers are notching significant wins in this package, but there is still work to be done to fix a broken airline industry,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Tripling civil penalties, codifying DOT’s authority to issue important consumer protection rules, prohibiting family seating fees, and creating an Assistant Secretary position charged with protecting airline passengers will all have meaningful impacts on the flying experience. There is more that can be done as this bill heads to the floor, including requiring airlines to maintain 24/7 customer service telephone lines, protecting against the devaluation of frequent flier benefits, and codifying DOT’s ability to protect consumers from unrealistic airline scheduling practices. We look forward to working with leaders in Congress on this important issues.”

“Considering this bill was expected eight-plus months ago, you might have thought House and Senate negotiators would have taken the extra time to include all of the meaningful protections airline passengers deserve,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog Director with U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “We’re particularly concerned with the absence of some provisions that would make air travel less burdensome, such as fee transparency.”

“Airline passengers will achieve some real gains in this bill and we look forward to seeing continued progress to strengthening the bill to include compensation for consumers,” said Ruth Susswein, Consumer Action’s Director of Consumer Protection.

“This legislative package includes some important steps forward for air travel consumers and ensures that some existing protections are not weakened,” said Erin Witte, director of consumer protection for Consumer Federation of America. “As this bill moves toward passage, we urge Congress to take full advantage of the opportunity to make it as strong as possible.”

Importantly, there are several boons for consumers in this version of the reauthorization, including:

  • Establishing a permanent office of consumer protection at the Department of Transportation, headed by a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary;
  • Requiring airline vouchers to be valid for at least five years;
  • Tripling the amount DOT can fine airlines for law violations;
  • Requiring air carriers to allow families to sit together with no extra charge;
  • Commissioning a Government Accountability Office study on competition and consolidation within the industry.

As it heads to the Senate floor, passenger advocates are urging senators to protect those provisions while supporting additional amendments that were included in previous versions of the House and Senate reauthorization bills, including: 

  • Requiring airlines to provide cash refunds for cancellations and significant delays automatically, without the need for consumers to navigate often-complicated refund processes; 
  • Eliminate a loophole that would allow FAA to avoid creating safe and humane seat size dimensions; 
  • Provide DOT with clear authority to regulate unrealistic and deceptive flight schedules; 
  • Codifying DOT’s authority to mandate ancillary fee transparency; 
  • Directing FAA to study the impact of shrinking seats sizes on the safety of airplane evacuations and passengers with disabilities.

Additional reading:

  • Full list of consumer and public interest advocates’ priorities for the FAA reauthorization
  • Consumer groups call for moratorium on smaller airplane seats pending FAA safety review

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 nclnet.org.

Consumer advocates support federal review of air industry’s data collection practices

April 29, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – Today, a coalition of seven consumer and public interest advocacy organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation supporting the agency’s review of airline and ticket agents’ data collection practices.

The coalition outlined several areas concerning passenger privacy that DOT should examine, including:

  • How airlines collect consumer data from their websites and mobile apps, including sensitive data like precise location information and web browsing activity
  • How airlines collect and use consumer data in relation to their mileage and rewards programs
  • How airlines collect and use consumer data in relation to the New Distribution Capability system

Additionally, the coalition urged DOT to explore permanent mechanisms for consumers to have better control over their own data, such as requiring aviation companies to follow data minimization principles, implementing transparency requirements around industry actors’ data practices, and creating tools for consumers to exclude themselves from those practices.

Airlines currently enjoy unique privileges that almost no other industry in the nation has. The U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and state governments are unable to hold air carriers accountable for violations of consumer protection and civil rights laws—only DOT has this authority.

The signatories to the letter are the American Economic Liberties Project, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Ed Perkins on Travel, FlyersRights, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and the National Consumers League. The full letter can be found here.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 nclnet.org.

Airline passenger advocates hail landmark junk fee rules

April 25, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – Airline passenger rights advocacy organizations today hailed new rules announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that will make it easier to obtain refunds for cancelled flights and ancillary services that aren’t provided. The groups also applauded the finalization of regulations that will make it easier for flyers to do apples-to-apples comparisons of flight costs. The groups, which supported passage of these new protections for more than four years, urged Congress to follow suit and include these protections in the forthcoming FAA reauthorization bill. 

“Too often, airlines promise one thing and fail to deliver it,” said National Consumers League CEO Sally Greenberg. “The law says that when this occurs, consumers should get a refund. Far too often, the airlines make the process of getting your money back unnecessarily difficult. Today’s rules promise to bring sanity to the refund process. In addition, the new rules on fee transparency will make it easier for consumers to get an accurate price for their flights upfront. This is a far better solution making consumers wait until the end of the ticket buying process to learn what their true cost will be.” 

“It has become painfully clear that the status quo is no longer working in air travel, and we are glad to see Secretary Buttigieg acknowledge that consumers deserve better,” said Erin Witte, director of consumer protection at Consumer Federation of America. “These rules will bring transparency to opaque ticket pricing, and they will put the responsibility for refunds where it belongs: on airlines, not consumers.” 

“It’s a shame that it takes actual rules to get airlines to do the right thing and take better care of their passengers,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog Director at U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “It’s important to remember that most Americans fly only once every 12 to 18 months. These rules will especially help those travelers who aren’t as familiar with their rights.” 

“We applaud the DOT’s move to require refunds for consumers —by default—when flights are cancelled or ‘significantly’ delayed,” said Ruth Susswein, Consumer Action’s Director of Consumer Protection. “This clear directive is sorely needed and a significant improvement for airline passengers.” 

“For years, domestic and foreign airlines both large and small have made it as hard as possible to give passengers well deserved refunds for disruptions they’ve caused or services they’ve failed to provide,” said William J. McGee, Senior Fellow for Aviation and Travel at the American Economic Liberties Project. “The DOT’s new rule is a watershed moment for passenger protection in the airline industry, making it easy and accessible for consumers to get relief when Too-Big-To-Care airlines run roughshod over them. This news follows a positive sea change in the DOT’s enforcement activity under the Biden administration, including supporting the DOJ’s successful JetBlue-Spirit merger challenge, a historic enforcement action against Southwest, and new efforts to empower state attorneys general to address consumer complaints. There’s more work to be done, but the DOT is showing that it’s getting serious about taking on corporate power across the airline industry—and we’re thrilled to see that.” 

The new rules come as Congress closes in on approval of legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. The passenger rights groups are calling on leaders in the House and Senate to ensure that additional protections are put in place to ensure that a future DOT does not roll back these hard-won consumer protections. 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 nclnet.org.

Dallas High School team from Pennsylvania wins 2024 National LifeSmarts Championship

April 24, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – Pennsylvania’s Dallas High School students were crowned the 2024 National Varsity LifeSmarts Champion in San Diego, California, this past Sunday, April 21. Coached by Kevin West, the Pennsylvania team consisted of Captain Marie Popielarz, Artem Smagin, Kareem Almeky, Riley Dewey, and Mahi Dohl.

Joining them in the final match was the Selah Gold FCCLA team from Selah, Washington. Members of the Washington team were Captain Hannah Christianson, Macie Ladd, Indiana Hilmes, and Hannah Rees, with Jeff and Dania Cochran serving as their coaches.

Rounding out the final four teams were the Crosby High School Bulldogs from Connecticut and the Country Clovers 4-H team from Delaware 4-H.

This year’s competition marked the 30th anniversary of LifeSmarts, the youth consumer education program of the National Consumers League. Forty-seven student teams—consisting of 230 students—traveled from across the country to compete over four days at the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina in San Diego.

“This year’s Nationals was special because we are celebrating 30 years of the LifeSmarts program, with this year’s event being our largest competition to date,” said LifeSmarts Program Director Lisa Hertzberg. “I want to congratulate all the teams and their coaches who came to San Diego to compete, learn from each other, and have fun. Congratulations to this year’s winning team from Dallas High School in Dallas, Pennsylvania!”

LifeSmarts is an education and scholarship program run by the Washington, DC-based National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization. It competitively tests junior high / middle school, and high school student’s knowledge of five topic areas including consumer rights and responsibilities, personal finance, health & safety, technology & workforce preparation, and the environment in online and in-person competitions using a quiz bowl-style format. LifeSmarts is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and in partnership with student leadership programs such as 4-H BPA, FBLA, FCCLA, and SkillsUSA.

Each student on the first-place team received a $1,500.00 scholarship; second-place team members received $1,000.00 scholarships; and third-place team members received $750 scholarships. Team members who placed fourth received gift cards.

Teens from each of the 47 teams represented at Nationals also competed as individuals, and the top-scoring student in each LifeSmarts topic received a $500 scholarship from NCL. The 2024 winners are:

  • Consumer Rights and Responsibilities: Maria Huck, West Virginia
  • Environment: Artem Smagin, Pennsylvania
  • Health and Safety: Martaja Powell, Alabama
  • Personal Finance: Blake Sullivan, Missouri
  • Technology and Workforce Preparation: Jeremiah Hawley, Wyoming

Coleman Mangham from Varsity Wild Card 1 (Tift County 4-H, Georgia) and Shelby Brewer from Massaponax High School in Virginia were awarded co-LifeSmarts Students of the Year. They each received $100 Amazon gift cards.

Winning recognition as LifeSmarts Coaches of the Year were Ginger Walters from Massaponax High School and Sahvanna Mease from Calhan High School Colorado. Both coaches received $100 Amazon gift cards.

LifeSmarts State Coordinators of the Year were awarded to Mary Hillmann of Minnesota, and Kay Johnson and Tammie McCarthy, both from Wisconsin.

The Sarah Weinberg LifeSmarts Memorial Scholarship, given each year to a student who demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to community service, was awarded to Marie Popielarz from Pennsylvania.

Many LifeSmarts teams entered the anti-counterfeiting digital poster contest, sponsored by Amazon. Winners of the digital poster contest were: School Without Walls, District of Columbia; Buffalo High School FBLA, Wyoming; Calhan High School Varsity, Colorado; Sweepstakes Team 3, Blair Oaks High School, Missouri; West Chicago High School, Illinois; JCHS FCCLA, Kansas; Tift County 4-H, Georgia; Sweepstakes Team 2, West Feliciana High School, Louisiana; Sweepstakes Team 4, Larimer County 4-H, Colorado; and Riverside High School / Hi-Point Career Center BPA, Ohio. Each team received a $100 cash prize.

Winners in the identity theft essay contest were Kyle Bakhsh – Sweepstakes Team 1 (Cobb County 4-H, Georgia); Parker Bennett – Sweepstakes Team 4 – Louisiana; Allie Higgins – Idaho;  Maria Huck – West Virginia, and Kristina Plank – Riverside High School/ Ohio Hi-Point Career Center BPA . Each received a $1,000 scholarship, courtesy of Norton.

Kenvue sponsored scholarships that were awarded to five students who excelled in educational and outreach efforts in OTC medicine safety. Winners were Alex Piscane, Florida; Chloe Doiron, Sweepstakes Team 2, West Feliciana High School Louisiana; Kyle Bakhsh, Sweepstakes Team 1, Cobb County 4-H, Georgia; Mahi Dohl, Dallas High School, Pennsylvania; and Natalie Rodriguez, Econoponax, Massaponax High School, Virginia.

The top teams in the TikTok/Instagram videos on OTC medicine safety garnered praise from the contest’s judges and were recognized with achievement certificates. The schools recognized were:

  • Sweepstakes 4- Colorado, Larimer County 4-H, Colorado
  • School Without Walls, Washington, DC
  • Gordon County 4-H Varsity, Georgia
  • Junction City High School FCCLA, Varsity WC 3, Kansas
  • John Marshall High LifeSmarts for Life, West Virginia
  • Minidoka County 4-H, Teal Taters 4-H Varsity, Idaho
  • Litchville-Marion High School, The Money Hounds, North Dakota
  • Dallas High School, Pennsylvania
  • Benton County 4-H, Norton WC 2, Arkansas
  • Pryor High School Tigers, Oklahoma
  • Blair Oaks High School Team Falcon, Sweepstakes Team 3, Missouri
  • Tift County 4-H, Varsity WC 1, Georgia

The LifeSmarts Team Spirit Award went to Odessa High School FBLA from Missouri. The team demonstrated outstanding camaraderie and great sportsmanship throughout the four-day championship.

Awards for best t-shirt design, Instagram contest, and meme and pin design were also announced. The best meme went to Francis Marion FBLA, Alabama. The People’s Choice t-shirt winner was JCHS FCCLA, Kansas and the LifeSmarts team t-shirt award went to West Virginia’s John Marshall High School. The Instagram contest winner was Odessa High School, Missouri. The inaugural LifeSmarts pin design contest was won by Gracie Erichsen of Junction City High School FCCLA, Kansas, and Landon Rourke and Layson Ferguson of West Feliciana High School, Louisiana.

“Students who come to Nationals are some of the most dedicated and competitive students in the country. Their knowledge of consumer topics is vast, which is commendable because that is the goal we set for the LifeSmarts program—to be well-informed consumers,” said NCL Chief Executive Officer Sally Greenberg. “The information they acquire through this program will help them become savvy and well-informed consumers.”

Sponsors of the 2024 National LifeSmarts Championship were Amazon, Kenvue, Norton, Discover, Tide, FICO, Comcast Universal, Melaleuca, AARP, Bayer, JP Morgan Chase, American Express, Washington State Employees Credit Union, and Zillow.

At Sunday’s closing ceremony, NCL announced that Chicago, Illinois will be hosting the 2025 National LifeSmarts Championship next year.

To learn more about NCL’s youth consumer education program, visit LifeSmarts.

Photos from the 2024 National LifeSmarts Championships can be found here.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 nclnet.org.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Watch the National LifeSmarts Championship live at 8:30 am PST on Sunday, April 21

April 20, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

San Diego, CA – Watch the 30th National LifeSmarts Championship from San Diego via livestream here on Sunday, April 21. The semifinal matches begin at 8:30 am PST, and the championship match begins at 10:15 am PST.

Kahoots will be offered by the LifeSmarts Engagement Advisory Panel for viewers to participate in.

Be sure to tune in to see who wins the 30th National LifeSmarts Championship and the Florence Kelley Cup!

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 nclnet.org.

Celebrating 30 years of educating youths on consumer topics, NCL’s LifeSmarts program heads to San Diego for its annual national competition

April 17, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – The 30th National LifeSmarts Championship, the youth consumer education program of the National Consumers League, kicks off tomorrow, Thursday, April 18, at Hyatt Mission Bay in sunny San Diego, California. The four-day annual event hosts students from across the United States competing for prizes while showcasing their knowledge of real-life consumer issues that focus on the five content areas: personal finance, consumer rights, technology and career readiness, health and safety, and the environment.

Each year, LifeSmarts competitors answer more than 3.5 million consumer questions about credit reports, recycling, nutrition, social media, state lemon laws, and everything in between. 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—as well as several wildcard teams—advance to the national championship held each year in a different American city.

This year’s competition in San Diego is set to be the largest event for the 30-year-old program—with 47 teams and 230 students from across the U.S. vying for prizes and the coveted championship title. Along with the students, 79 coaches and 80 volunteers will be joining the four-day event.

Last year’s competition—held in Cincinnati, Ohio—was won by the Maryknoll Spartans from Maryknoll High School in Honolulu, Hawaii, a first win for the Aloha State.

Visit the 2024 National LifeSmarts Championship for more information.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 nclnet.org.

The Pain Project: Alternatives to Opioids

This episode of NCL’s “We Can Do This!” health podcast is focused on alternatives to opioids for pain control.

Consumers and music lovers beware: My piano-moving scams saga

By Sally Greenberg, Chief Executive Officer, National Consumers League

The National Consumers League fights scams. We manage Fraud.org and James Perry on our staff is a world expert on scams.

I often tell the staff that the only recent scam I almost fell for was the piano moving scam.

Here’s how the scam works. Someone posts that their uncle, friend, brother, or parent has a beloved, very expensive, and fancy piano that needs a good home. It’s always a grand piano or baby grand piano, always “in excellent condition,” often “just tuned,” a valuable instrument, and in demand. It needs “a good home, someone who will love it like my relative/friend always has.” That person is “giving away the piano for free, all that is required to pay to have it moved.” A picture of the piano is often posted, and it is indeed a baby grand piano. A very authentic photo will often be included. The payment options are nonrefundable options. Another red flag.

Here’s a classic scam email:

Hope your day is going great. The ” Wurlitzer 200A Electric Piano” used to be owned and played by my husband who is now deceased and it was last tuned in November last year before he passed, I’m almost done moving my properties and I don’t think my husband will be happy if I was to sell his piano, at the same time I’m not happy seeing it around because of less storage I have in my new house, so I’m hoping to give it out to someone who is a passionate lover of the instrument.

The first lady I thought would get it didn’t show up as she promised, and I wasn’t going to leave it alone in an empty house. It’s currently going to be with the movers I employed to move my properties from my place, which they’ve moved for onward delivery, if you really don’t mind making new arrangements with the movers, I can attempt to get in touch with them to reroute it, this should not attract many charges. I’m sorry for the inconvenience but do let me know if you wish that I get through to the movers. Just so you know I’m not giving out a scrap or a waste. It’s in good shape and condition.

Regards,

John Doe

Family Piano has some great tips for recognizing the scam, including that no one gives a valuable piano away to strangers.

A few years ago, I got such an email and thought, “Oh boy, finally a great piano I can play and for free as long as I pay to have it moved!” So I called and was told that the owner would put me in touch with the movers. However, the piano was in Oklahoma. Hmmm, I thought this email came from someone in my synagogue, just down the street. I smelled something fishy, so I googled “piano scams,” and up popped hundreds of stories about people attempting to take advantage of a wonderful piano given away for free, paying moving costs to get it, and finding out the cost of moving the piano is the scam.

The Better Business Bureau has a whole site devoted to piano-moving scams here.

Here’s one example from the BBB site:

One consumer reported this experience after contacting the so-called moving company: “The customer service rep sent me a picture of packaged piano and asked me to pay the moving fee. They sent me an invoice for $843 and instructions on how to send the money through PayPal. They asked me to send them the receipt via email so they could prepare for the shipment. Three days later, they gave me a ‘trucking number.’ But on the morning the item should’ve been delivered, they sent me an email saying there was an unexpected payment owed on the piano and I would need to pay an additional $1,424… If not, they said they would return it to their warehouse.”

So, of course, that was the end of that. In fact, the offer I received exactly replicated many other consumers had received. I didn’t go through with the transaction, thankfully.

Then, just last week, someone named “George Hooper,” from “East Chevy Chase” posted this note on Nextdoor app:

“A friend of mine, who lives in McLean, VA, can’t take her piano with her. (George Steck – Paris, London, New York – baby grand piano. It was a practice piano at the Kennedy Center. In excellent condition.) She’s willing to give it away for free providing the recipient pays for moving the piano. Let me know if you want a pic of the instrument and the owner’s contact info, but please don’t respond to this extraordinarily good deal unless you are very serious about acquiring it.”

I hadn’t realized, though in my line of work I should have, that Nextdoor has become rife with scams and people are more trusting because they think everyone is a bona fide neighbor. Repair scams are especially prevalent on Nextdoor, such as described here on BuzzFeed.

And Nextdoor itself is posting this warning to users.

My immediate response to the offering was to warn users that this is a piano moving scam and not to fall for it. This George Hooper, whoever he is, became irate and said I had “poisoned” his benign email. He then listed the name of the woman with the piano and phone her number was a Northern Virginia area code. I called her and she confirmed she had the piano and I could come and look at it, but she would have to get me through security. Then I asked whether I could get my own movers and her response was, “Yes, well I have to get it tuned and I have a moving company that has moved it twice and it has legs so it’s complicated.”

It all sounded so believable, but I was still suspicious.

It occurred to me that if you’re giving away a piano for free and it is going to be moved, why would you get it tuned?

A few people said they wanted the piano and George said, “It’s gone. I’ll send a photo of the person who bought it who can play a concert for you once it has been delivered.” That’s the last we heard.

So I went online and read the thousands of piano moving scams, such as this story. The lengths they will go to!

This article points out all the red flags for piano moving scams. Be wary of them and be wary of people like “George Hooper”!

Stopping the epidemic of catalytic converter theft

By Sally Greenberg, Chief Executive Officer, National Consumers League

For many years, I drove a 2007 Toyota Prius. I loved my little fuel-efficient and quiet machine, getting 45 mph and putting almost 189,000+ miles on it. All went well until one night a few years ago when—being an insomniac, I was up reading at 3 am—outside my window I heard what sounded like someone taking bolts off a tire, a loud buzzing or whirring sound. It lasted about 5 minutes. I thought some kindly father or uncle was putting air in a kid’s tire or changing a flat.

The next morning when I headed out for work, I started up my Prius, and to my shock, it sounded like a jet engine driving down the street! It dawned on me that the sound I heard last night was guys cutting the catalytic converter (CC) off my Prius! To borrow a phrase my mother used to say, I was mad as a wet hen!

 So I called my insurance company.

And, sure enough, they confirmed that 2005-2009 Priuses are a prime target because their CCs have precious metals that can be melted down and sold by unscrupulous actors. The CC is used to filter out harmful byproducts from the car’s exhaust, using precious metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium to accomplish this. These metals can sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars per ounce.

While my auto insurer, State Farm, thankfully covered most of the replacement cost, I had to cancel going to work. I couldn’t drive the car so I had to have it towed to my garage seven miles away. I ended up paying for a shield to be placed on the CC to prevent it from happening in the future. In total, I was out of pocket $1,000 while the repair cost more than $3,500.

According to State Farm, the average cost of a repair comes in at around $2,900. As of October 2023, $41.7 million had been paid out to State Farm customers to repair and replace the part. In addition to the cost of replacement, customers report that repairs can take weeks to months, depending on the vehicle and due to a shortage of available replacement parts. Used vehicle lots are bearing a large brunt of this wholescale theft and insurance companies are also paying needless costs.

Ever since my catalytic converter incident, I’ve taken a closer look at this issue and learned that there is no legitimate use for a sawed-off CC because it cannot be used in another vehicle. The only thing it’s good for is its melted-down metals. Thus, the business model is illegal. In other words, there are bad guys on both sides—the theft rings and those who accept and pay for the scrap metal for melting down.

The good news is that in the first half of 2023, claims are down. There were around 14,500 claims filed then, compared to the 23,000 claims made during the same timeframe in 2022.

Carfax, however, issued a warning that the nation might be underestimating how widespread the problem is because many car owners don’t file insurance claims. Some drivers don’t have full coverage on older vehicles and some don’t have insurance at all.

That is why we welcome efforts by Congress to pass laws to deter catalytic converter theft. The bills introduced so far in the House and Senate include marking the part with a unique number and requiring the identity of those selling and buying the CC. NCL supports both!

H.R. 621, the PART Act,  was introduced by Reps. Jim Baird (R-Ind.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Angie Craig (D-Minn.), Randy Feenstra (R-Iowa), and Michael Guest (R-Miss.). S. 154 was introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and J.D. Vance (R-Ohio).

We are working with the National Auto Dealers Association and 20 other organizations who all sent a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate Commerce Committees in support of the PART Act in May. NCL urges members to cosponsor H.R. 621/S. 154.

As for me, I replaced my 2007 Prius last summer with a new Prius Prime, whose CC is relatively worthless in terms of precious metals. I love my new car and am so relieved to know it won’t be a target for thieves in the night.

NCL looks forward to working with Congress to pass the PART Act, which will protect consumers and insurance companies from the hassle and expense of catalytic converter theft.

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Resources:

Issue Brief

Request to Cosponsor

Current Cosponsors

Coalition Letter to Commerce Committees