AdvoCare settlement highlights FTC’s importance in protecting consumers from pyramid schemes

October 2, 2019

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

Washington, DC—Today, the National Consumers League, the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization applauded the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for its successful investigation and settlement with multi-level marketing (MLM) company AdvoCare. The settlement, in addition to providing $150 million in relief to victims, implements a lifetime ban preventing AdvoCare from ever rejoining the MLM business.

The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League:

Today’s settlement once again highlights the central role that the FTC plays in protecting Americans from illegal pyramid schemes. The FTC has a 45-year track record of winning favorable settlements and court judgements against pyramid schemes. In spite of this, many leading members of the direct selling industry continue to push a discredited bill that would dramatically undermine the Commission’s ability to protect consumers against companies like AdvoCare. 

Under the Orwellian name of the “Anti-Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act,” the bill would create a series of carve outs and safe harbors that would prevent the FTC from protecting consumers and entrepreneurs from all but the most blatant pyramid schemes.

Today’s actions by the FTC demonstrate the need for  continued  consumer protection under its existing authority. NCL opposes pyramid scheme legalization bills like the Anti-Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act, which is even now being peddled by industry lobbyists. We hope this bill will once again be stopped from gaining momentum by members of Congress.

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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.

DOT inaction leaves kids at risk, NCL tells Congress

September 26, 2019

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), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today called on the House Aviation Subcommittee to compel the Department of Transportation (DOT) to follow through on its Congressionally-mandated passenger protection rulemakings.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently warned that in-flight sexual assaults have increased by 66 percent and that children as young as 8 have been victims of such crimes in the air. New data uncovered by Consumer Reports found that children as young as two years old and kids who have autism or who suffer from seizures have been separated from their parents on airplanes. Airlines have pressured parents to pay expensive seat reservation fees or buy priority board passes so that they can be sure to sit with their small children. Incredibly, the DOT earlier this year decided that creating a consumer education website would be sufficient to fulfill Congress’ intent that it act to ensure that families can sit with their young children.

“How many children will have to be assaulted on aircraft before the DOT acts?” asked John Breyault, NCL’s vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing today. “The DOT’s inaction on this issue has put children at greater risk. Congress should demand answers from the DOT on the process it used to determine that it should do nothing substantive on this important children’s safety issue and mandate that the agency follow through on Congress’ clear intent.”

Read Breyault’s full testimony here.

The consumer group also highlighted the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) inaction on setting minimum seat size standards despite a looming deadline to do so. The FAA has actively. The FAA is required to issue regulations no later than October 2019, yet consumer groups have seen no indication that the agency is prepared to initiate such a rulemaking. Instead, the FAA has actively resisted judicial efforts by consumer advocates pressing it to take action on the important safety issue.

“Congress must not allow the FAA to simply adopt whatever inhumane seat size standard the airline industry favors,” said Breyault.

Breyault also testified about the impact of a lack of action by the DOT on Congressional mandates related to fee refunds, denied boarding (“bumping”), and the availability of fare, fee, and schedule data.

“The DOT’s actions and inactions on important rulemakings paint a picture of an agency that places consumer protection and consumer safety at the bottom of its list of priorities,” said Breyault. “It is imperative that Congress act to ensure that its mandates are not unduly delayed, or worse, ignored completely.”

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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.

Groups’ letter to Congress in support of Taxpayer Service Standards legislation

September 23, 2019

The Honorable Chuck Grassley
Chairman
Committee on Finance
United States Senate
219 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-6200

The Honorable Richard Neal
Chairman
Ways & Means Committee
United States House of Representatives
1102 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Ron Wyden
Ranking Member
Committee on Finance
United States Senate
219 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-6200

The Honorable Kevin Brady
Ranking Member
Ways & Means Committee
United States House of Representatives
1102 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Wyden, Chairman Neal, and Ranking Member Brady:

We are writing to express our support for much-needed Taxpayer Service Standards legislation to protect Americans from tax return preparers who do not meet basic standards of competency, training or ethics. In 2014, the GAO found widespread and significant errors during a “secret shopper” test on paid preparers, with only about 10 percent of preparers calculating the correct refund amount. The Federal Trade Commission ranked tax preparer fraud in the top 30 most common types of fraud in 2017. And yet, the IRS has had little authority to prevent bad actors from becoming tax preparers or remove them once they’re in the system.

We urge Congress to take action to provide some basic protections that will ensure the well-being of American taxpayers and equip the IRS with the tools it needs to do so. 

For many Americans, a tax return is their most significant financial transaction all year. According to the IRS, nearly 60 percent of taxpayers seek help with their taxes from paid preparers. As important as a tax return is, there are actually no basic standards in place to protect taxpayers from incompetent, unethical or sloppy tax preparation services. Yet the consequences of a mistaken tax return can be devastating. For these reasons, we are supporting legislation before the Senate and the House to set taxpayer service standards, allow the IRS to spot and remove habitually bad tax preparers from the system, and protect taxpayers from fraudulent, dishonest and incompetent tax preparers. Specifically, we support –

  • H.R. 3466, introduced by Congressman Estes (R-KS) and Congresswoman Sewell (D-AL). This bill would give the IRS the authority to revoke PTINs from fraudulent, incompetent and unethical preparers.
  • S. 1192 and H.R. 3330, the Taxpayer Protection and Preparer Proficiency Act. These Senate and House companion bills, introduced by Senators Wyden and Cardin and Congressmen Panetta (D-CA) and Yoho (R-FL), respectively, would establish minimum standards for tax return preparers.

Currently, the only requirement to become a paid tax preparer is to obtain a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) from the IRS. The agency identified nearly 20,000 registered preparers who were potentially non-compliant with their tax filing and payment obligations, with $375 million in taxes due from these preparers as of January 26, 2015.[1] As of May 2017, however, only about 1,700 of 1.3 million PTINs issued had been revoked – 0.001%. Even today, the IRS accepts returns from preparers with expired or invalid PTINs. What’s more, 58% of active PTIN holders have no professional credentials at all, unlike CPAs, attorneys and enrolled agents. This is unacceptable and exposes taxpayers to fraud, incompetence and fees and penalties through no fault of their own.

We thank you for your attention to this important issue and urge you and your colleagues to support S. 1192/H.R. 3330 and H.R. 3466 to protect American taxpayers who unknowingly may be using unqualified or dishonest tax preparers.

Sincerely,                                                                                                   

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Consumer Action
MANA – A National Latina Organization
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
National Consumers League
Prosperity Now
Virginia Citizens Consumer Council

[1] Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, August 27, 2015.

Consumer groups applaud congressional action to improve live event ticketing marketplace

September 20, 2019

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

Washington, DC—Today, the National Consumers League (NCL), along with seven other leading consumer and public interest groups, sent a letter to Congressmen Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to applaud the lawmakers’ leadership in fixing the opaque live event industry by reintroducing the Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing Act of 2019 (BOSS ACT). 

The following statement is attributable to Brian Young, public policy manager at the National Consumers League: 

Unchecked consolidation in the live event industry has led to an opaque ticket marketplace that is rigged against consumers. In addition to undisclosed holdbacks designed to create a false sense of ticket scarcityconsumers are forced to grapple with a litany of fake websites which pose as legitimate box offices, and ridiculous fees that increase the cost of a ticket by an average of 27-31 percent. These outrageous fees typically prevent comparison shopping as they are often not disclosed until near the end of the purchase process. Likewise, despite the passage of legislation in 2016 which banned the use of ticketbuying BOTS, consumers have witnessed an increase of illegal ticket-buying bot usage of nearly 17 percent.  Fortunately, Congressman Bill Pascrell, Congressman Frank Pallone, and Senator Richard Blumenthal are working to bring transparency and competition back into the live event ticket marketplace. Today’s letter from 8 leading consumer advocacy groups applauds their efforts.” 

To add transparency to the live event ticketing marketplace and empower consumers to make informed purchasing decisions, the BOSS ACT would: 

  • Prevent primary and secondary ticket marketplaces from slamming consumers with hidden fees during checkout process; 
  • Prohibit scalpers from impersonating venues’ and teams’ websites to charge higher prices for less-desirable seats; 
  • Require primary ticket sellers to be honest about the number of tickets they plan on selling; and
  • Require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to identify ways to improve enforcement against illegal ticket-buying bots. 

To read the full letter, and learn more about the BOSS ACT, click here. 

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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.