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 adds Identity Theft Resource Center ‘Live-Chat’ to Fraud.org to help identity crime victims

December 13, 2022

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, and the Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC), a nationally recognized nonprofit organization established to support victims of identity crime, are partnering up to help victims of identity crimes.

NCL integrated the ITRC’s live-chat function into fraud.org, a project of the NCL to give consumers the information they need to avoid becoming victims of telemarketing and internet fraud. The ITRC live-chat function on fraud.org will help assist victims of identity crimes related to data breaches, identity theft and identity fraud. It will also provide people with another resource during the holiday shopping season when there is an increased risk of identity crimes. According to Forbes, Adobe predicts a 2.5 percent growth in online sales from November 1-December 31, when identity criminals may look to take advantage of increased online activity.

The ITRC’s staff of identity advisors provides preventative information and customized plans to address all types of identity concerns. ITRC advisors assist victims live during business hours or through direct follow-up when contacted after hours and on weekends.

“NCL is always looking for new ways to reach consumers and better protect them from fraud,” said John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud at NCL. “By increasing the number of options that individuals can use to contact us, we can help a greater number of people. Thanks to ITRC, consumers with differing accessibility needs, levels of phone service, and communication preferences will find it easier to get in touch with a fraud expert.”

“The NCL and ITRC have a long history of mutual respect and shared commitment to victims of identity crimes,” said Eva Velasquez, President and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “Adding the NCL to the group of organizations and government agencies using live-chat to help victims continues our fight for small businesses and consumers to protect them from identity criminals. We believe giving more people direct access to our live identity experts – at no cost – will help prevent identity fraud and provide the support needed to recover from these crimes.”

NCL is the third organization the ITRC has partnered with to integrate the ITRC live-chat function on its website. Earlier in 2022, the ITRC embedded its chat into the San Diego District Attorney Office and New Mexico Office of the Attorney General websites.

Since the ITRC’s chat function was launched on fraud.org, three (3) percent of the ITRC’s total cases have come from its website. Implementing the ITRC’s live-chat function provides victims access to support when it is convenient and in a manner people often prefer – a live-chat rather than a phone call. ITRC advisors will:

  • Ask what happened
  • Ask a series of questions to help determine the scope of the problem
  • Provide a victim or curious consumer with a detailed, custom plan of action steps to take

Currently, most ITRC cases from fraud.org involve scams, primarily lottery and prize scams (mostly about criminals pretending to be Publisher’s Clearing House representatives) and existing account takeover of a bank or credit card account.

The ITRC is committed to providing access to everyone seeking help. Read about the Center’s accessibility initiative here. Anyone can contact an advisor by visiting www.idtheftcenter.org or calling toll-free at 888.400.5530.

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.

About the Identity Theft Resource Center  

Founded in 1999, the Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC) is a national nonprofit organization established to empower and guide consumers, victims, business and government to minimize risk and mitigate the impact of identity compromise and crime. Through public and private support, the ITRC provides no-cost victim assistance and consumer education through its website live-chat idtheftcenter.org  and toll-free phone number 888.400.5530. The ITRC also equips consumers and businesses with information about recent data breaches through its data breach tracking tool, notified. The ITRC offers help to specific populations, including the deaf/hard of hearing and blind/low vision communities.

Breyault and Amazon’s Alyssa Betz discuss policing fake reviews and counterfeits

 

By NCL Staff

 

This week, John Breyault, our Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud, sat down with Amazon’s Director of Public Policy, Alyssa Betz. On this episode of NCL’s We Can Do This! podcast, Alyssa and John discussed fake reviews, Amazon’s product liability, and more. This has been the latest collaboration between Amazon and NCL in our partnership towards improving consumer safety and online experiences.  

Fake Reviews 

With users increasingly relying on user reviews to make buying decisions, having access to trustworthy reviews is critical for consumers. Last month, Amazon sued a group of review brokers who were allegedly paying for fake reviews at large scale. In addition to discussing the suit, Betz outlined some of the steps they have taken to ensure that user reviews are trustworthy and accurately reflect consumers’ experiences. 

Counterfeits 

Given the vast number of products sold through nearly two million sellers worldwide, Amazon has an enormous responsibility to ensure consumer safety. Alyssa discussed some of the measures Amazon has taken to reduce criminals’ ability to operate on their platform, including investing over $700 million and employing more than ten thousand people to protect its store from fraud and abuse, including counterfeit products.

To hear the full episode, including John and Alyssa’s conversation about product liability and how to spot those phony Amazon delivery phishing texts, click here. 

If you have received suspicious communications or packages claiming to be from Amazon, you can find Amazon’s support page here. 

Report: Fraud losses hit 10-year high in top scams report

Fast-growing investment scams linked to cryptocurrency

February 1, 2022

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

Washington, DC—Being a fraud victim in 2021 was likely to cost more money than at any time in the last 10 years, according to a new report from the National Consumers League (NCL), which runs Fraud.org. In 2021, the median fraud loss reported to the NCL Fraud.org campaign hit a 10-year high of $800, according to the organization’s annual Top Ten Scams Report. Although the percentage of complaints involving financial loss (41.49 percent) took a slight dip from the previous year (47.48 percent), consumers who lost money reported losing it in greater amounts.  The median loss by victims was up $150 in 2021, according to the organization, which analyzed more than 4,300 complaints filed by consumers online, over the phone, and via postal mail.

“What this data tells us is that scammers are getting better at extracting more money from their victims,” said John Breyault, NCL vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud and the director of the Fraud.org campaign. “We remain concerned that consumers facing economic difficulty and isolation from friends and loved ones due the pandemic are creating fertile ground for crooks.”

The top complaint category reported to Fraud.org in 2021 was bogus prizes, sweepstakes, and “free” gifts. Complaints about such scams made up more than one in three (35.23 percent) complaints captured at Fraud.org, an increase of 48 percent year-over-year. Echoing data recently released by the Federal Trade Commission, the fastest-growing type of scam reported to Fraud.org was investment related, particularly those involving cryptocurrencies. Complaints about these scams more than doubled in 2021 (168 percent year-over-year increase).

Top scams reported to Fraud.org in 2021

  1. Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts
  2. Internet: Gen Merchandise
  3. Phishing/Spoofing
  4. Fake Check Scams
  5. Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles
  6. Investments: Other (incl. cryptocurrency scams)
  7. Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers
  8. Family/Friend Imposters
  9. Computers: Equipment/Software (incl. tech support scams)
  10. Scholarships/Grants

“We hear heartbreaking stories from fraud victims nearly every day,” said James Perry, NCL’s consumer services coordinator. “While these statistics are sobering, behind each one of them are real people,  some of whom have lost their life savings to criminals promising easy money to their victims.”

The goal of most fraudsters is, ultimately, to get paid. In 2021, consumers most frequently told Fraud.org that fraudsters were after their credit card information. However, complaints noting other payment methods such as gift cards, cryptocurrencies, and peer-to-peer payment apps continued to grow in popularity among scammers. In 2021, complaints involving such payment methods increased by nearly half (45.28 percent) year-over-year.

“We are very concerned that scammers are increasingly adopting new payment methods, many of which offer few—if any—consumer protections,” said Eden Iscil, NCL public policy associate. “This new data should serve as a wake-up call to federal regulators that it is past time to close the loopholes in federal consumer protection law that allows these scams to proliferate.”

To view the full 2022 Top Ten Scams report, 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.

NCL applauds decisive action by CFPB against fraudulent payments processor

January 19, 2022

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

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) today applauded action taken by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to hold payments processor BrightSpeed accountable for facilitating payments known to be associated with fraudulent tech support schemes. The Bureau, a critical safeguard for consumers nationwide, has banned BrightSpeed and its founder from participating in multiple financial service industries, including payment processing. Fraudulent tech support scams have been significant source of complaints that NCL receives via its Fraud.org website.

The following statement is attributable to NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

“BrightSpeed processed payments for companies that took advantage of victims, especially senior citizens. They continued to serve scammers despite being aware of nearly 1,000 consumer complaints against their clients, as well as multiple inquiries from banks and law enforcement. BrightSpeed is not alone in this; many other financial institutions are also aware that they are being used to facilitate fraudulent activity. Given the massive spike in fraud since the beginning of the pandemic, we must tackle the problem by addressing all entities involved — especially the financial institutions.

“We hope that today’s action by the CFPB reflects a greater shift towards holding not just fraudsters accountable, but also the financial institutions that enable these crimes. Today’s settlement should serve as wakeup call that looking the other way while fraudsters take advantage of financial services platforms will not be tolerated under the Bureau’s new leadership.”

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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.

The boom in e-commerce has been a boon for fraudsters

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly accelerated the growth of e-commerce…

NCL statement on congressional demand that the Biden Administration investigate competition and consumer protection abuses in the live event industry

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) today applauded action by leaders of the House Commerce and Judiciary Committees calling on the Biden Administration to more actively enforce antitrust laws in the live events ticket marketplace. In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Acting Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Slaughter, Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ-06), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09) and David Cicilline(D-RI-01) signed a letter urging the Administration to more aggressively police antitrust violations in the live event industry and, specifically, to revisit the Department of Justice’s 2010 consent order which allowed the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger to move forward, and launch an investigation of Live Nation Entertainment’s potentially unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive conduct. The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud:

“As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and live events begin again, we must use this moment to address longstanding competition and consumer protection issues in the live event industry. The Live Nation Entertainment conglomerate controls 80 percent of primary ticket sales while holding significant market share in other areas of the live event industry, including venue ownership, event promotion, artist management, and secondary ticket sales. We urge the Biden Administration to heed Congress’ demand for stronger antitrust scrutiny of the live event industry and Live Nation Entertainment, in particular. Reining in the abuses of a rigged ticketing marketplace is a critically necessary step to restore fairness for live event fans.”

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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.

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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.