Annual Fraud.org report shows link between COVID-19, recession, and scammers preying on Americans

Watchdog group’s annual report tracking trends out today 

For immediate release: February 1, 2021

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

Washington, DC—An analysis of the scams most frequently reported by consumers in 2020 tells the story of economic downturn, social isolation, pandemic fears, and opportunistic criminals, according to a new report released today by the National Consumers League’s (NCL) Fraud.org campaign. Through the Fraud.org website, NCL collects complaints from consumers about suspected and confirmed fraud incidents, tracks trends, and shares the data with law enforcement. 

The report’s findings note the pandemic’s impact on fraud trends, including increases in “get rich quick” schemes and predatory scams of the heart. The number of complaints received at Fraud.org regarding bogus prizes, sweepstakes, and free gifts nearly doubled year-over-year. Another pandemic scam trend: a notable increase (30 percent) in romance scams, which experts at Fraud.org are linking to the social isolation brought on by the COVID pandemic and Americans turning to online communication for companionship. 

“The COVID recession has fueled a rise in get-rich-quick schemes and romance scams,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud and the new report’s author. “The pandemic created a perfect storm for criminals: millions out of work and struggling with new financial hardship; people forced to isolate and seek companionship online; and incredible uncertainty about the future. Last year was a good year to be a con artist.” 

With many of the conditions from 2020 still in place, the consumer watchdog is cautioning consumers against the most common scams that plagued Americans last year.  

“While the exact pitch differs from scam to scam, there are red flags that consumers should consider,” said Breyault. “A request to send money to someone you’ve never met in person is almost always a scam. Another tried-and-true tactice scammers use is to create a false sense of urgency to get victims to send money before they stop and think. The best advice we can give to consumers is to stop, think, and talk to a friend or loved one before you send money.” 

In 2020, consumers submitted more than 5,700 complaints to Fraud.org. Forty-three percent of complaints reported a monetary loss, with the median loss of $1,628.  

Top Ten Scams of 2020 

  1. Internet: Gen Merchandise 
  2. Phishing/Spoofing 
  3. Fake Check Scams 
  4. Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles 
  5. Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts 
  6. Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers 
  7. Computers: Equipment/Software 
  8. Internet: Auctions 
  9. Investments: Other (note in comments) 
  10. Internet: Extortion 

Other topline findings from the report include:  

New fraud entered top ten: extortion scams. 

 “As the pandemic and the recession continue to grind on in 2021, we are paying special attention to so-called ‘Internet extortion’ scams, which entered the top ten scams for the first time last year,” said Breyault. Such scams fall in to two broad sub-categories. The first category are “sextortion” scams, where consumers receive a message where the scammer threatens to release embarrassing photos, videos, or other personal information to the victims’ friends and family. The second sub-category involves “psychic” services, where the scammer claims to had discovered that a “curse” or other tragic event is about to befall the victim. Only by paying a significant fee can the victim have the “curse” lifted.  

Younger consumers and seniors are being targeted more frequently.  

The percentage of complaints received from consumers aged 26-65 decreased by an average of 8.76% in 2020.  By comparison, complaints from consumers aged 25 and below and those 65 and older increased by an average of 30.60% and 15.82%, respectively versus 2019. For consumers aged 25 and under, the top three most reported fraud categories were Internet merchandise scams, fake check scams, and romance scams. For those 65 and older, the top complaint categories were prize/sweepstakes scams, phishing/spoofing, and Internet merchandise scams.  

The Web and the telephone remain scammers’ preferred contact methods. 

With email spam filters growing increasingly successful at blocking out scam emails, fraudsters continued to turn to the Web and the telephone to find victims. Those two contact methods were mentioned in more than 81% of the complaints. “This highlights the need for consumers to be wary when responding to messages from unknown senders, particularly those encountered on social media,” said Breyault. “Consumers should also continue to be on guard for unknown callers seeking to offer them prizes or other inducements to send money.”  

Read the full 2020 Top Scams report from NCL.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

For patients’ safety, it’s time Congress updated rules governing the $10 billion contact lens industry

Contact lenses have come a long way since they were first introduced around 70 years ago.  Today, roughly 45 million Americans rely on them for safe, affordable vision correction each year.  But along the way, federal regulation of the contact lens market has not kept pace with the changing way Americans purchase and rely on these medical devices.  The result is that thousands of American consumers are at risk each year of adverse eye health outcomes including keratitis, corneal scarring, corneal ulcers, and infection.

Under federal law, online contact lens retailers do not require patients to provide their prescriptions before ordering contact lenses.  Patients can simply tell the retailer the lenses the doctor prescribed for them and the retailer then must verify the prescription with the prescribing doctor.  As required by the Federal Trade Commission’s Contact Lens Rule (“Rule”), contact lens-prescribing doctors have eight hours to respond to an online sellers’ verification communication before the contact lenses are sent to patients. If they don’t respond, the online contact lens seller can ship the products, regardless of the fact that prescription accuracy hasn’t yet been verified. Since the Rule was implemented in the mid-1990s, before the adoption of email, many sellers used automated telephone calls, or so-called “robocalls,” to fulfill the verification requirement of the Rule.

These automated robocalls use computer-generated voices.  They are often inaudible.  They frequently contain incomplete patient information, and, in practice, these robocalls are sent via computer at all hours of the day and night without noting any call back number to correct errors. This cumbersome process makes it nearly impossible for eye doctors to properly verify contact lens prescriptions.  In fact, this prescription verification system can lead to the shipment of incorrect contact lenses to patients with potentially dangerous consequences for patient vision health and safety.

As many consumers can attest from being bombarded with marketing robocalls, making sense of them is a nightmare. Using robocalls to verify important patient information, for the reasons previously outlined, is unsafe.

Current technology is capable of far better than this robocall system, especially due to the various forms of electronic communication we use today. These technologies can produce receipts, notify consumers of product shipments, and share product alerts and updates. Electronic communication is far more reliable and effective because it’s inexpensive, easy to understand, accessible.  It also creates a verifiable paper trail.  Therefore, we believe sellers of contact lenses should be required to use email or other forms of electronic communication, not automated robocalls, to keep consumers safe.

The FTC’s revised Contact Lens Rule also adds a cumbersome paperwork requirement that consumers and eye doctors need to complete at the end of a contact lens exam and fitting. Under this rule, prescribers must collect and store a so-called signed acknowledgment form in which a patient verifies that they received a copy of their prescription, as is already required under federal law.

That’s all well and good, but we believe a far better system to inform contact lens patients of their rights would be to require prescribers to post a sign in their offices, which is clear and conspicuous, noting that patients have a right to a copy of their contact lens prescription at the completion of their contact lens fitting. This type of posted signage is already mandatory in California, seems to be working well there, and we think it should be emulated on the federal level.

That’s a better solution because like many other forms consumers and patients are asked to sign, consumers probably won’t take time to read the form and thus won’t understand what they are signing; this is an ineffective exercise, in our view, and will result in more paperwork without necessarily ensuring patients have access to their prescriptions as the law intends.

In short, it’s time for Congress to update the rules governing this important, $10 billion industry.  It should start by requiring the use of the latest technologies—not robocalls—to get consumers the information they need about their eye prescriptions and that those prescriptions are verified as accurate by their eye professionals.

National Consumers League statement of support for Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund

May 12, 2020

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

Washington, DC–Leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives today unveiled a new COVID-19 stimulus bill, the HEROES Act, that includes a new $50 per month subsidy ($75 per month for Tribal lands) to support access for low-income Americans to broadband. At time when the effects of the Digital Divide have never been more apparent, NCL is proud to support this effort.

The following statement is attributable to National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

“We have long known that affordability is a significant barrier to millions of American families who lack access to broadband. The COVID-19 pandemic, has highlighted as never before the societal costs of cutting off millions of families from the Internet. The inability to connect to distance learning, support networks and online government resources will make recovering from this pandemic even tougher for consumers who lack affordable access to broadband. It is for this reason that NCL strongly supports the proposed Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund subsidy.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

Protecting consumers from COVID-19 Scams: A virtual panel event with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and fraud experts

May 8, 2020

Watch recording here


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

Washington, DC –Washington, DC / Harrisburg, PA—Next Monday, May 11, the National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, will host a virtual fireside chat with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and a panel of consumer protection experts on the growing threat of scams linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The consumer watchdog organization aims to raise awareness in Pennsylvania about the risk of COVID-19 related fraud and arm consumers with information they can use to spot and avoid these scams.

Since the pandemic began, NCL, which operates the website Fraud.org, has seen an uptick in complaints about a variety of scams preying on increasingly vulnerable, financially strapped, and fearful consumers. Scammers running phishing schemes, stimulus check fraud, and even pet adoption scams have all been working overtime to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to defraud consumers. The experts at NCL forecast these scams will continue to increase and evolve and are eager to work with AG Shapiro to get the word out about how Pennsylvanians can protect themselves.

WHAT
Virtual “fireside chat” featuring Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro and NCL, followed by a panel discussion on resources and tips to avoid COVID-19 fraud and scams

WHEN
Monday, May 11, 2020
11:00 AM – 11:45 AM EDT

WHO
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro
John Breyault, Vice President, National Consumers League

Lorrie Cranor, Professor, Carnegie Mellon University
Mary Bach, Chair, AARP Pennsylvania Consumer Issues Task Force
Andrew Goode, Esq., Vice President, Metro Philadelphia Better Business Bureau

HOW TO WATCH
YouTube Live Link will be provided following registration via Eventbrite

*** Members of the media are welcome to attend but must RSVP to Carol McKay, National Consumers League, carolm@nclnet.org. If you are unable to attend, a recording of the interview and panel can be provided upon request after the event concludes ***

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

Lessons from pandemic life: we all need the option of paper notice

Jim Haigh leads education and development efforts at Keep Me Posted North America, an advocacy organization focused on the mission of consumer choice in essential communications.

It was only last year that a whopping 86 percent of U.S. consumers expressed the desire of having a choice for how they receive important information from the companies they do business with. For critical correspondence such as bills and statements, the overwhelming majority want the option of paper or electronic delivery, and the ability to control their preferences.

But as consumers trapped in the digital divide have pleaded for communications choices and relief from punishing paper fees, more and more companies have prioritized digital-first approaches to conducting business including how they send legal notice of account, tacking on new charges along the way. It might have been easy for some demographics and geographic regions to overlook this important issue, having taken for granted the luxury, convenience and complacency of a digital world where everything always just works amazing in a click. 

But the calamities we are all seeing and experiencing—as new realities unfold have changed all of that. With government and company websites crashing, servers overloading, networks slowing, transactions halted, records quarantined, Americans—and the world—are waking up daily to a new appreciation of the need to have paper options. Failsafe analog backups, like physical bank records or medical histories, become a necessity as untold millions try to apply for emergency aid and assistance, complete their tax filings or take care of their health. Or cast their vote and complete the Census.

The digital divide has always been here, but too often hiding in plain sight. As schools across the country attempted to roll out remote learning, the widespread lack of access to affordable connectivity spanned from rural to urban to everywhere in between. The same widespread gaps true of home computers, tablets, and devices able to run the latest applications or function across important websites. The nation watched as people stood unsafely in lines to get paper forms because digital options foreclosed. With stores closed or stay-at-home ordered to populations, suddenly even basic supplies overlooked like ink, toner, batteries for devices and broken devices waiting for repair, all combine to give everyone an unwelcome taste of the great digital divide we all share.

Now that so many of us are on the same page, it’s a perfect time to highlight the efforts of the Keep Me Posted North America campaign to restore and sustain consumers’ choice in how they receive important information—on paper or electronically—from their service providers. National Consumers League is an active member of the non-profit KMP coalition of consumer groups, charities and businesses, and champions their mission and efforts to ensure that every consumer in North America has the option of both paper and digital communications—free of charge—from the companies they routinely do business with.

KMP’s advocacy, resources, and tools are crucial for all consumers to have the facts and a strong, united voice. It is up to all of us to build grassroots support and influence service providers directly. Together, we are making a difference.

Please join with KMP in urging banks, utilities, telecommunications, and all recurring service providers to take action proactively to benefit customers now during the pandemic and beyond by adopting the Keep Me Posted Best Practices for communications choice in essential customer communications. Together we ask that they fully treat bills and statements as true notice of account. In so doing, they will transparently provide a range of paper and digital options, honor preferences, seek consent for changes, and pose no barriers for customers needing to switch back or forth from digital to paper notice—without any additional fees charged for either form of delivery. 

Let’s all help companies understand the bargain: for less than seventy cents per account per month, customers will have the unfettered access to all the account information they need, how they need it, in whatever form they need it at their moment in this crisis we all share in together. And furthermore, empowering consumers with that flexibility of seamless access and delivery of paper and electronic account information will probably pay dividends as a sound investment—in customer retention, and measurable savings in customer service down the road.

About Keep Me Posted North America

Keep Me Posted advocates for the right of every consumer in North America to choose, free of charge, how they receive important information—on paper or electronically—from their service providers. KMP is a coalition of consumer groups, charities, and businesses that are committed to protecting consumer access to paper-based communications at no extra charge. These consumers include older adults, the disabled, low-income households without computers, printers or broadband service, and people in rural areas where unreliable internet access is common.

For more information on how to support KMP or to become a member, visit our website at keepmepostedna.org, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

 

NCL urges Administration to take action to combat COVID-themed fraud, patient harms online

April 10, 2020

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

Washington, DC – April 10, 2020 – The National Consumers League (NCL), in partnership with 42 patient and provider advocacy, public health, industry, and research groups, has issued joint letters to Vice President Mike Pence, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other state and federal leaders calling for swift action to protect consumers against COVID-19 misinformation, scams, and fraud online.

“NCL commends the White House Coronavirus Task Force and other officials for their dedication in responding to the coronavirus crisis,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “The COVID-19 pandemic makes your work against healthcare and financial fraud more important now than ever. However to further flatten the curve and save lives, we urge the Administration to quickly implement increased evidence-based actions and to help protect consumers from predatory attempts to take advantage of our new economy.”

Since the start of the pandemic, criminals launched thousands of COVID-specific global scams and phishing attacks, using the coronavirus crisis to profit at patients’ expense. “Criminals have exploited the fear and confusion caused by the coronavirus for their own personal profits. More must be done to mitigate the health and financial harms experienced by consumers nationwide,” said Greenberg. In the past few weeks alone, more than 100,000 website domain names have been registered containing terms like “covid,” and “corona,” most of which have been found to be outright dangerous. The Federal Trade Commission indicated receipt of nearly 14,000 coronavirus-related complaints totaling fraudulent losses nearly $10 million.

NCL has long called for increased regulation and enforcement against illegal online acts that result in public health and economic harm. The joint letter encourages the Administration to move swiftly to enact and enforce existing no-cost solutions to better protect consumers. Additionally, it calls on the Administration to  ground their efforts in science, address systemic internet policy problems and prepare for an ongoing wave of COVID-19 related scams during the economic downturn.

Co-signers of the letters include Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, BIO, Coalition for a Safe and Transparent Internet, Consumer Brands Association, Kroll, Lilly, LegitScript, and USP. The full letter can be read here.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

Imposter scams drive big increases in phishing and spoofing complaints in annual top ten scam report

February 27, 2020

At the start of National Consumer Protection Week 2020 (March 1-7), watchdog group issues warning about most common scams plaguing Americans 

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

Washington, DC—Consumers on the receiving end of scary calls and emails claiming that the government is coming after them drove a big increase in phishing and spoofing complaints to the National Consumers League’s Fraud.org campaign in 2019, according to the organization’s annual Top Ten Scams report issued today. With National Consumer Protection Week 2020 kicking off this weekend and being observed next week (March 1-7), the national consumer watchdog org is cautioning consumers against imposter frauds and the other most common scams that plagued Americans in 2019. 

In 2019, consumers submitted 5,647 complaints to Fraud.org. Fifty-three percent of complaints reported a monetary loss; the median loss reported was $749. 

In 2019, the percentage of complaints Fraud.org received about scams involving phishing or spoofing nearly tripled versus the previous year. NCL attributes the increase to the high number of imposter scam calls that consumers reported receiving. Scammers reportedly impersonated government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, and USCIS, and some of these criminals even claimed to be representatives of the National Consumers League.  

“Scammers know all too well that impersonating a government agency and threatening consumers is one of the best ways to get victims to pay up, and they depend on authentic-looking emails or spoofing Caller ID to get victims to pay attention to their threats,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud and the new report’s author. “The best advice for consumers is to remember that a government agency will never reach out to you via email or telephone to demand money, so hang up or delete. If you’re worried about back-taxes, your immigration status, or a debt you may owe, look up the phone number for the bank or government agency yourself and call to check. Don’t take the word of someone on the phone making threats.” 

Top Ten Scams of 2019

  1. Internet: Gen Merchandise
  2. Fake Check Scams
  3. Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers
  4. Phishing/Spoofing
  5. Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles
  6. Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts
  7. Investment Related
  8. Computers: Equipment/Software
  9. Employ Agency/Job Counsel/Overseas Work
  10. Internet: Info/Adult Services

Other topline findings from the report include: 

Romance scams and friendship swindles on the rise in 2019. 

The percentage of complaints involving romance scams increased by nearly 50 percent versus 2018. This is especially worrisome considering that romance scams tend to be among the most expensive type of fraud for victims. 

Web remains most common place scammers are finding victims. 

While the telephone was the method of first contact used by scammers in nearly a third of complaints to Fraud.org in 2019, the Internet remains the most likely place for complainants to have encountered a scammer. Almost 45 percent of complaints to Fraud.org in 2019 said that they first encountered a scammer on the Web. 

Wire transfer no longer scammers’ top choice of payment method. 

After many years of wire transfer being the payment method of choice by scammers, credit cards bumped wire transfers as the most frequently-reported method of payment in 2019. More than 44 percent of complainants to Fraud.org reported that their loss occurred because a scammer charged their credit card. 

Read the full 2019 Top Scams report from NCL.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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 applauds House passage of safety bills

December 17, 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 applauds the passage by the House of Representatives of three bills to protect consumers, all of which came from the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We are grateful for the leadership of Chairman Pallone and Subcommittee Chair Schakowsky in getting these bills through the Committee and to the House floor for passage,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “The House is taking an important in protecting Americans—especially our children—from dangerous products and protecting consumers from overseas scams.  Children are the most vulnerable consumers, and they need our advocacy. Products that prove dangerous to their health and wellbeing – like inclined sleepers and crib bumpers – should no longer be on the market, and we hope the Senate takes up these bills immediately. Thanks once again to the bipartisan efforts through the Commerce Committee and full House leadership for these important consumer protection measures.”

The House passed the following bills:

H.R. 4779, a bill to extend the Undertaking Spam, Spyware, And Fraud Enforcement With Enforcers Beyond Borders Act of 2006, reauthorizes the U.S. SAFE WEB Act, which improved the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) ability to combat unfair or deceptive acts or practices that are international in scope, through Fiscal Year 2027 and requires the FTC to issue a report to Congress describing the Commission’s use of and experience with the authority granted by the Act. 

H.R. 2647, the “Safer Occupancy Furniture Flammability Act” or “SOFFA,” adopts the California upholstered furniture flammability standard as a national flammability standard for upholstered furniture to limit exposure to toxic flame retardant chemicals. 

H.R. 3172, the “Safe Sleep for Babies Act of 2019,” designates inclined sleepers for infants as banned hazardous products under the Consumer Product Safety Act. The bill was amended to include the text of H.R. 3170, the “Safe Cribs Act of 2019,” which also designates crib bumpers as banned hazardous products.

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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 www.nclnet.org.

NCL applauds FTC action to reign in deceptive marketing in the wireless industry

November 5, 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 AT&T after the wireless provider misled millions of its customers. In 2014, the FTC found that AT&T had secretly slowed down or “throttled” consumers’ Internet speeds on their supposedly “unlimited” plans and then charged consumers early termination fees if they wanted to switch providers to receive better service. As a result of thsettlement, AT&T will create a $60 million dollar settlement fund that will be paid out to current and former users of AT&T’s “unlimited” plan. 

The following statement is attributable to Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League: 

“When consumers are promised unlimited data, they should receive unlimited data. AT&T’s policy of slowing down consumers data, to the point where they could no longer stream videos after using as little as two gigabits of data, is a classic example of bait and switch. NCL applauds the FTC’s efforts to protect consumers from false advertising and unscrupulous business practices in the wireless industry. NCL looks forward to seeing the FTC take additional steps to ensure that the marketplace remains fair and honest for all consumers.”

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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 calls upon state legislators to protect their residents from dishonest automatically renewing contracts

August 12, 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), the nation’s pioneering consumers and worker advocacy organization, calls upon state legislatures across the country to take action to protect consumers from deceptive automatic renewal clauses.

While automatic renewal provisions in consumer contracts, also known as negative option clauses, are billed as helping consumers avoid service disruptions, they can result in financial hardship for consumers. Dishonest companies continue to place these clauses into the fine print of contracts to mask rate hikes, renew gym memberships, generate recurring deliveries, or cause other services to renew without a consumers’ knowledge or consent.

The following statement is attributable to Brian Young, NCL’s public policy manager:

At least 22 states have some protections from automatically renewing contracts; however media reports have shown that companies are now using the guise of a ‘free trial’ to secretly roll consumers into binding contracts, sometimes after as little as a few days. Such clauses can trap consumers in expensive and unwanted contract renewals.

NCL is calling upon each state legislature to review their laws and enact comprehensive legislation. Recently enacted legislation in the District of Columbia is a model bill which requires:

  • clear disclosure of all automatic renewal clauses;
  • a consumer’s affirmative consent for free trials to be rolled over into a contract at the end of a free trial period; and
  • notification by mail, email, or another method of the consumer’s choosing, to be sent to consumers if their long-term contract is set to renew to a “month to month” or longer subscription.

Thirty-five percent of consumers have complained that they have signed up for an automatically renewing contract without realizing it. Likewise, 48 percent of consumers have had a free trial roll over into a contract without their knowledge. The time is long overdue for state legislators to step in and take action to ensure consumers are not tricked into costly and deceptive business practices.

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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.