Advocates call on DOT to mandate easier airfare cost comparison

January 25, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON DC. – Yesterday, the National Consumers League (NCL) and a coalition of six consumer and passenger rights organizations filed comments with the Department of Transportation (DOT) in support of proposed regulations requiring the earlier disclosure of common airline ticket add-on fees. DOT’s proposed rules would require airlines and ticket agents to display fees associated with checked baggage, ticket changes and cancellations, and family seating on the first page of airfare search results. 

“It is extremely difficult and time-consuming for consumers to do accurate apple-to-apples comparisons when shopping for airline tickets,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud. “DOT’s proposed rules would promote competition by making it harder for airlines and ticket agents to hide some of the most egregious add-on fees in the fine print at the end of the ticket-buying process.” 

“The airlines love to nickel-and-dime passengers with junk fees, and in far too many cases travelers are hit with sticker shock when they finally realize the true cost of flying,” said William J. McGee, Senior Fellow for Aviation & Travel at American Economic Liberties Project. “We urge the DOT to address transparency of fees, and to eliminate certain fees altogether. This applies especially to fees for families with young kids to sit together, an issue Congress directed the DOT to address in 2016.” 

“If airlines are going to continue to devise and impose all sorts of unreasonable fees, they must be required to reveal each fee when travelers first search for price and availability,” said Ruth Susswein, Consumer Action’s Director of Consumer Protection. 

“Airlines have come up with all sorts of extra fees over the years: baggage fees, change fees, seat selection fees and more. We believe airlines should be required to disclose these fees before someone begins the actual booking process, not at the end. And these fees should be disclosed up front in real time to ticket agents that provide fare information. This would encourage price competition and ultimately give consumers more transparency in pricing,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog for Public Interest Research Group. 

To view the coalition’s full comments to DOT, click 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 https://nclnet.org.

NCL applauds bipartisan interest in reining in ticketing monopoly 

January 24, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON DC. – The National Consumers League (NCL) today applauded the Senate Judiciary Committee for holding a landmark hearing examining how Ticketmaster-Live Nation’s monopoly harms fans and competition in the live event industry.  

“Just as we warned in 2009 when the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger was proposed, the company has become a behemoth that controls many aspects of the live event industry and wields its market power ruthlessly,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. Ticketmaster sells tickets for 80 out of the top 100 arenas. Their presence in nearly every aspect of the industry—from event promotion to venue operationsmakes it almost impossible for small, independent competitors to succeed. This is a monopoly. 

Consumers often have no choice but to deal with Ticketmaster when seeing their favorite artist or sports team. This makes some of the corporation’s business practices inescapable, such as adding 78% to the ticket price in hidden fees. 

Today’s hearing showed that there is a strong support for free markets—regardless of party,” said NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud John Breyault. Senators from both sides of the aisle centered the experiences of fans, artists, independent promoters and venue owners, recognizing the harms caused by Live Nation’s market consolidation. Witnesses repeatedly described a pervasive fear of retaliation if they and other live event industry stakeholders speak up about Live Nation’s monopolistic practices. It is our hope that their testimony gives more actors in the live event industry confidence that Ticketmaster-Live Nation is not above the law. 

Since 2009, NCL has opposed the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger. Most recently, NCL has been working as part of the Break Up Ticketmaster coalition to urge the Department of Justice to enforce existing federal antitrust laws and take action against Ticketmaster to increase competition in the marketplace. 

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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 https://nclnet.org.

NCL urges FTC to prohibit user review manipulation

January 10, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON DC. – The National Consumers League (NCL) this week filed comments in support of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulation to ensure the reliability of user reviews. In its comments, NCL urged the FTC to prohibit user reviews from individuals who did not purchase a product or service (or are misrepresenting their experiences with a product or service) and to prohibit sellers from manipulating consumer reviews. In addition, the League advocated for the Commission to require hosts of user reviews to implement measures to protect review integrity, such as requiring purchase verification.  

“Consumers frequently cite user reviews as a key factor when deciding what to buy,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “As a result, fake endorsements steer billions of dollars each year towards certain products and away from competitors. The impacts range from buyers receiving goods of poorer quality than expected to serious safety risks.” 

NCL also encouraged the FTC to prohibit the commercial exploitation of social media engagement metrics, such as buying and selling likes, comments, or shares. Such practices can be used to boost fraudulent product reviews and endorsements, allowing bad actors to manipulate social media platforms to broaden their reach. 

“Right now, it is extremely easy to spend a few dollars and receive hundreds of likes, followers, or other signals that a product or service is of high quality,” said Eden Iscil, NCL Public Policy Manager. “By jumpstarting a post with purchased engagement, the content has a greater chance of reaching a real audience—and being believed by them. Such practices not only affect consumers making purchasing decisions but can also be used to spread other types of misinformation.” 

The FTC initiated this regulatory process following NCL’s request for greater federal enforcement against organized user review fraud, which can be found here 

NCL’s full comments to the FTC 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 https://nclnet.org.

National Consumers League urges Southwest Airlines to invest in consumer protection

December 27, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON DC. – The poor performance of domestic airlines, namely Southwest Airlines, over the holiday season is yet another call to action for reform to the air travel industry. The National Consumers League (NCL) strongly urges Southwest Airlines to take all actions necessary to make both consumers and its employees whole, as well as to prevent similar incidents from reoccurring in the future. Additionally, the federal government should not delay in implementing the number of pending regulations that would strengthen consumer protections in air travel, including a proposed rule that would require refunds for stranded travelers. 

Air carriers should function to alleviate consumer and employee issues, not exacerbate them. Reports of passengers unable to contact Southwest Airlines representatives to rebook cancelled flights or find lost baggage are distressing and emblematic of longstanding issues within the industry. Moreover, complaints from airline employees of outdated operations systems further disrupting service also highlight the lack of action taken to mitigate the issues faced by both consumers and workers over the holidays. 

NCL urges Southwest Airlines to issue refunds to affected consumers without delay. Additionally, Southwest Airlines should invest significantly in improving customer service capacity and updating operations technology.

The travel meltdowns that are occurring this holiday season are another reminder that we must reform the governmental policies surrounding air travel. NCL is pleased that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is looking into Southwest Airlines’ performance, especially as it is the sole governmental agency with oversight of air carriers. 

The DOT should act quickly to promulgate regulations that require refunds to consumers in the event of a significant delay or cancellation, alongside other pending rules. Additionally, the DOT should implement recommendations from consumer advocates and state attorneys general, including a proposal to require airlines to provide travelers accommodations for meals and overnight lodging when necessary.

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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 https://nclnet.org.

DC Attorney General files consumer protection lawsuit against football team and its owners

November 9, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington D.C.— District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine announced today that he has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the Washington Commanders, their owner Daniel Snyder, the National Football League (NFL), and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for allegedly colluding to deceive DC residents about an NFL investigation into the team’s toxic workplace culture, which includes sexual harassment.

The National Consumers League is pleased that DC Attorney General Karl Racine can use the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (DC CPPA) to address broad ranging issues of public concern with respect to this lawsuit. NCL had a hand in the drafting and passage of this important consumer protection legislation, which was originally introduced by DC Councilmember Mary Cheh and adopted into law in 2012 and further strengthened with later amendments.

“We think that Attorney General Racine’s application of this consumer protection statute underscores the importance of broadly protective statutes that address fraud and deception,” says NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg.

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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 https://nclnet.org.

NCL applauds action to rein in deceptive marketing of contact lenses

February 3, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org or (412) 945-3242

Washington, DCThe National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization, welcomed the enforcement action undertaken by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to end the deceptive marketing of contact lenses by Vision Path, Inc.

Vision Path, a direct-to-consumer seller of Hubble contact lenses, will pay penalties and redress totaling $3.5 million to settle charges that it violated the FTC’s Contact Lens Rule and put consumers at risk by failing to obtain proper prescriptions, and neglecting to properly verify prescription information, and by substituting Hubble lenses for those actually prescribed to consumers.

“This action against Vision Path should serve as a warning to any company that disregards laws intended to protect consumers. NCL has been at the forefront of efforts to get Congress and federal regulators to crack down on companies that deceptively market to consumers and illegally substitute their contact lenses in place of those originally prescribed by a patient’s eye doctor,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that Vision Path engaged in other deceptive practices, such as failing to disclose that “independent” consumer reviews were actually solicited by the company. The FTC also alleges that Vision Path engaged in a deceptive negative-option billing model that encouraged consumers to sign up for 15 pairs of daily-wear contact lenses and then automatically enrolled them in a subscription plan. NCL has long supported legislation, such as the District of Columbia’s landmark Structured Settlements and Automatic Renewal Protections Act of 2018, that would require a consumer’s explicit affirmative consent before such automatically-renewing contracts could kick in.

“Consumers are best served when they work with their health care providers to ensure the most appropriate and safest use of FDA-regulated medical devices, like contact lenses,” said Greenberg. “We are grateful to the DOJ and the Consumer Protection Bureau at the FTC, which led this effort, for their rigorous enforcement of consumer protection laws. While this is an important development, violations of the Contact Lens Rule continue. We will continue to press Congress and federal agencies to ensure that the CLR is being implemented and enforced as Congress intended.”

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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 www.nclnet.org.

NCL, H&R Block partner to help consumers prepare for 2022 tax season

By Eden Iscil, Public Policy Associate

This week, NCL partnered with H&R Block to provide a free webinar on recent changes and other items to be aware of as we enter tax filing season. The event included a short presentation by Manuel Dominguez (Tax Agency Analyst at H&R Block) outlining the biggest changes tax filers should know, followed by a Q&A session with the panel of tax experts. Moderater NCL’s Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud, John Breyault, was joined by panelists Joanna Ain (Associate Director at Prosperity Now), Dominguez, and Garrett Watson (Senior Policy Analyst at the Tax Foundation). If you missed it, you can watch the event on NCL’s YouTube channel here. 

One of the biggest takeaways from the discussion is this: your tax return could look very different from what you may expect due to changes stemming from the 2021 American Rescue Plan (President Biden’s COVID relief bill). For example, parents who received advance Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments throughout 2021, could see a smaller refund than previous years since part of that credit was given in monthly payments throughout the year. Additionally, consumers who were eligible but did not receive an Economic Impact Payment (a.k.a stimulus checks) could see larger-than-expected refunds. 

Other credits that have seen changes include the Child and Dependent Care Credit, with allowable expenses increased to $8,000 for one dependent and $16,000 for two or more dependents. In addition, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) saw an increase in the credit amount and income thresholds for taxpayers with no qualifying children as well as a “loopback election” which allows filers to use either 2019 or 2021 income for the purposes of claiming the EITC (in order to get the highest credit value). 

Another change that could affect filings involves charitable contributions. Normally, filers who choose the standard deduction cannot claim a deduction for charitable contributions. But this year, single filers can claim a deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions to qualifying charitable entities ($600 for joint filers). 

Given the new assistance provided by the federal government, the IRS will be sending new tax documents that filers need to have available when filing. Letter 6419 relates to any advance CTC payments received in 2021. Letter 6475 relates to the third Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) which went out under President Biden. These documents are important to keep as they will ensure the information you input when filing taxes matches IRS data; if there are discrepancies, your tax return may be delayed.  

For consumers who do not receive a Letter 6419 regarding advance CTC payments, the CTC Update Portal can help. Filers who do not receive a Letter 6475 regarding the third stimulus check should check their eligibility for the Economic Impact Payment and its correlated tax credit here 

Confused? You’re not alone! 

Fortunately, there are government-sponsored tax preparation services available for free. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers help to people who make less than $57,000, filers with disabilities, and individuals with limited English language knowledge. Additionally, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program is aimed at people 60 and older, with specialization in pensions and other retirement-related issues.  

Lastly, taking the following steps can ensure that you receive your tax return as quickly as possible. First, filing your taxes online is much quicker than filing your taxes by physical mail. Because of backlogs in processing returns from 2021, returns mailed to the IRS will almost certainly result in slower-than-normal refunds being issued. Filing as early in tax season as possible is a great way to reduce the risk of tax identity fraud. Second, keeping those CTC and stimulus check letters (Letter 6419 and Letter 6475, respectively) as well as any previous notices given by the IRS will help avoid any errors and discrepancies which would otherwise cause a lag. Third, using direct deposit to receive refunds can save time by not relying on physical checks sent through the U.S. Mail. 

 If you would like to hear our panelists cover what you should know before filing your taxes in their own words, video of the full webinar can be found here 

National Consumers League launches FactsAboutRecycling.org to inform consumers about recyclability, sustainability of food and beverage packaging

November 15, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org or (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—Today, on America Recycles Day, National Consumers League (NCL) launched FactsAboutRecycling.org, an information hub where consumers can learn more about what actually happens to the food and beverage packaging they toss in the recycling bin. The new site houses an animated video to help explain the recycling system, correct misinformation proliferated through marketing, and educate and empower consumers to make environmentally sustainable purchases.

“Just because something can be put in the recycling bin doesn’t mean it will truly end up being recycled,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director. “Consumers deserve to know the truth about the sustainability of their purchases, so they can make the most informed decisions possible.”

Building upon NCL’s sustainability and honesty-in-marketing work over the past year, including infographics, podcasts, and a white paper entitled Examining Sustainability, Consumer Choice, and Confusion in Food and Beverage Packaging, FactsAboutRecycling.org gives consumers and environmental advocates fresh insight into the true sustainability of plastic, glass, metal, and cartons.

“Misleading marketing claims don’t just harm consumers; they can harm the environment and exacerbate the ongoing plastic pollution crisis. Better information will support smarter purchasing,” said Greenberg.

For more information, visit www.FactsAboutRecycling.org.

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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 www.nclnet.org.

Finally, Juneteenth is declared federal holiday

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Juneteenth, or June 19, is now a federal holiday, thanks to an overwhelming Congressional vote and President Biden’s signing it into law in the past two weeks. And it’s a long time coming. The day marks the emancipation of the last enslaved people in America in Galveston, Texas in 1865, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

I’ve heard Juneteenth called Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and the country’s second Independence Day. It surely is one of the most important anniversaries in our nation’s history.

As a Jew who has observed Passover my whole life, the holiday based on the Book of Exodus celebrating the liberation of Jews from Egypt after 400 years of enslavement, I also celebrate Juneteenth.

As I listened to the radio during a road trip, I heard stories about the newly declared federal holiday. I think most importantly, it’s gotten people talking about a conversation America has never really had: truth and reconciliation about the despicable institution of slavery in the United States and its vestiges: a century and a half of Jim Crow segregation, violence, and rampant, entrenched discrimination against African Americans.

Sadly, this is a conversation too many Americans don’t want to have. Oklahoma passed a law outlawing the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” in state schools. In 2020, President Donald Trump issued an executive order excluding from federal contracts any diversity and inclusion training interpreted as containing “Divisive Concepts,” “Race or Sex Stereotyping,” and “Race or Sex Scapegoating.”

What even is Critical Race Theory? The textbook definition is that CRT acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.

Half a dozen other states are considering bills similar to Oklahoma’s. Fox News and other right wing media outlets have tried to use phony scare tactics to discourage discussion of slavery and its generations-long aftermath. The problem is that unless we have those discussions, we will never reckon with the reality that so much of our nation was built on the backs of enslaved people, including the White House. Refusing to discuss this our history of enslavement has a term too: “White Fragility,” defined as white Americans feeling discomfort and defensiveness when confronted with information about racial inequality and injustice. So despite Oklahoma’s law, Biden’s declaring Juneteenth as a federal holiday got people talking—and that’s a good thing.

I liked hearing about Civil Rights Activist Opal Lee, who long advocated for the celebration that started in Galveston to be made a federal holiday.

It was also interesting to learn that there’s a growing discontent within the African American community with symbolic gestures like declaring a federal holiday marking the end of slavery.

On that theme, NCL has endorsed HR 40, a U.S. House bill to set up a commission to study the history of enslavement and reparations to families whose relatives were enslaved. Consider these facts about the legacy of slavery:

We thank President Biden for recognizing that Juneteenth needs to be a federal holiday and was long overdue. Equally important is HR 40, which will provide a way forward for this country akin to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission body established by the South Africa in 1995 to help heal the country and bring about a reconciliation of its people by uncovering the truth in the aftermath of Apartheid.

Slavery is a legacy that all Americans, no matter your racial or ethnic background or when your family arrived in the United States, need to confront. We must not let anger, fragility, backlash, or denial prevent us as Americans from taking the time to really learn about and understand slavery, the Jim Crow laws that followed it, and practices, including lynching, that were used as a tool of terror and white supremacy, and the many lasting repercussions of that terrible history.

NCL joins advocates in applauding Senate for repealing the national banking regulator’s predatory lending rule, urging the House to act soon

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org(412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org(202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds the Senate for voting to overturn the OCC’s “fake lender” rule, which allows predatory lenders to evade state interest rate laws by putting a bank’s name on the paperwork. In a 52 – 47 bipartisan vote this week, the U.S. Senate voted to approve S.J. Res. 15, a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which was introduced by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Rep. “Chuy” García introduced a parallel resolution, H.J. Res. 35, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now that the Senate has approved the resolution, the House needs to take swift action to stop the ongoing harm.

“We applaud this bipartisan rejection of rent-a-bank schemes,” said Sarah Robinson, NCL’s Public Policy Manager. “As consumers and small businesses look to rebuild from the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, they must be protected from predatory lending. We now urge the House to move with urgency to prevent this rule from continuing to do harm.”

NCL was part of a broad coalition of more than 375 organizations representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia calling on Congress to overturn the “fake lender” rule, which threatens to harm consumers nationwide.

The rushed “fake lender” rule took effect in December and was issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). The rule protects “rent-a-bank” schemes whereby predatory lenders (the true lender) launder their loans through a few rogue banks (the fake lender), which are exempt from state interest rate caps. The rule overrides 200 years’ worth of case law allowing courts to see through usury law evasions to the truth and replaces it with a pro-evasion rule that looks only at the fine print on the loan agreement. Predatory lenders charging 100 percent to 200 percent APR are already starting to push high-cost installment loans across the country that exceed the rates permitted under states’ laws.

A broad, bipartisan cross-section of experts and officials have called on Congress to repeal the fake lender rule. They include a bipartisan group of 25 state attorneys general, concerned the rule would effectively gut their state usury laws. The Conference of State Bank Supervisors, National Association of Consumer Credit Administrators, National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions, and many other groups also support Congress overturning the rule.

According to national polling, two-thirds of voters (66 percent) are concerned about the ability of high-cost lenders to arrange loans through banks at rates higher than the state laws allowed.

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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 www.nclnet.org.