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.

Consumer group: Capital One breach highlights need for Congressional action on data security legislation

July 30, 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—Just one week after consumers received relief from the massive Equifax breach, yet another massive breach—this time at Capital One bank—is placing consumers at risk, yet again, of identity theft.

In one of the largest financial breaches in history, more than 100 million Capital One accounts and 140,000 Social Security numbers were reportedly compromised. As was the case in previous breaches, the Capital One breach appears to have stemmed from a third-party cloud hosting vendor that stored Capital One’s data.

The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, is calling on Congress to immediately pass comprehensive privacy legislation and protect highly personal data.

“Consumers are sitting ducks if big banks like Capital One, giant hotel chains like Marriott, and credit scoring companies like Equifax don’t take the necessary steps to protect our data,” said John Breyault, NCL’s vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud. “When companies like Capital One are sloppy in protecting consumers’ data, it allows hackers steal consumer information which ultimately fuels identity theft and other frauds against us.”

“More than five years after hackers compromised the personal information of nearly 110 million Target customers, criminals are still breaking through supposedly strong firewalls and stealing consumers’ personal data from companies. Any data security legislation must require that consumer data be protected with strong fines and criminal penalties for failing to do so,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg.

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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.

DC takes lead in fight against deceptive hotel resort fees

July 10, 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) is applauding District of Columbia (DC) Attorney General Karl Racine for his action this week to rein in Marriott International’s use of deceptive “resort fees.” According to the consumer group, the fees hide the true cost of a hotel stay and are too often presented to consumers in a “take it or leave it” fashion at the end of their hotel stays. On Tuesday, Racine filed a lawsuit against Marriott alleging that the hotel chain violated consumer protection laws by not including resort fees in the advertised room rates, luring consumers with deceptively low prices.

“Hotel resort fees tacked on at the end of a hotel stay are deceptive, plain and simple,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “That’s why NCL and other consumer groups have been raising the alarm about these anti-consumer practices for years. We are grateful to General Racine for leading the charge against Marriott and putting other hotels on notice that deceptive hotel resort fees have no place in the District.”

Advocates’ issue with resort fees is that they prevent consumers from being able to accurately compare the cost of a hotel room when they don’t know what the all-in costs will be until the end of their stay. Mandatory hotel resort fees leave consumers stuck paying extra costs that may have discouraged the booking had they been disclosed up-front.

Marriott owns, manages, and franchises more than 5,700 hotels and 1.1 million hotel rooms in more than 110 countries, including at least 29 hotels in the District of Columbia. In 2012 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned Marriott and nearly two dozen other hotel chains that their pricing practices around resort fees may violate federal consumer protection laws by misrepresenting the true price of hotel rooms. In 2017, the FTC’s Bureau of Economics issued a report concluding that “separating mandatory resort fees from posted room rates without first disclosing the total price is likely to harm consumers.”

Marriott has charged resort fees to tens of thousands of District consumers over the years, totaling millions of dollars. Racine’s lawsuit alleges that over the past decade, Marriott has violated the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act and harmed District consumers.

“Marriott had fair warnings on several occasions but continued this unfair and deceptive business practice. We are so pleased that General Racine is seeking monetary relief for residents of the District who have been forced to pay these fees,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud. “We urge other state attorneys general to enforce their consumer protection laws against Marriott and other hotel chains whose are sticking millions of consumers with these deceptive, unwanted fees.”

The complaint is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-07/Marriott-Complaint.pdf

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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.

National Consumers League applauds the Department of Justice for bringing phone scam perpetrators to justice – National Consumers League

July 24, 2018

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 commended the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for its crackdown on impersonation scams targeting vulnerable Americans. Last week, following their arrest in 2017, 24 perpetrators of a phone scam in which fraudsters extorted money from victims by impersonating IRS agents, or employees of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. The following statement is attributable to James Perry, Customer Services Coordinator and John Breyault, Vice President, Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud, both of the National Consumers League:

“Imposter scams consistently rank amongst the most prevalent scams reported to NCL’s Fraud.org campaign. Last year alone, Americans lost a whopping $327 million to scammers who were impersonating individuals or government agencies. With the DOJ’s announcement that they have ended a massive operation that extorted hundreds of millions of dollars from vulnerable consumers, Americans can feel a little bit safer from a threatening phone call from a scammer. While we applaud the DOJ for this hard-won victory, we must all continue working hard to both educate consumers about this scam and redouble our efforts to put other perpetrators of this scam behind bars.”

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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 https://nclnet.org.

Imposters, information theft, and internet scams: the dangers of unregulated online pharmacies – National Consumers League

By NCL Food Policy and LifeSmarts Caleigh Bartash

With technology improving rapidly over the past few decades, online retailers have proved more convenient, reducing the market share of brick-and-mortar retailers. However, the convenience of purchasing prescription medication online or over the phone can inadvertently trap consumers in internet scams.Countless issues can arise from ordering prescription medication online. Unapproved internet dealers often evade government recognition or detection, failing to comply with drug safety regulations. Consumers can receive counterfeit, contaminated, or expired drugs. In some cases, these drugs may contain deadly opioids like fentanyl. Unauthorized medications can also have varying amounts of a medicine’s active ingredient — if they contain the correct ingredient at all.

Consumers may be attempting to access medications that they have previously been prescribed. However, they face security threats as soon as they give their personal details to an illegitimate pharmacy. These sellers have poor security protections, with leaks of sensitive customer information all too common. Illegitimate online sellers may even outright sell consumer data to scammers. Moreover, these websites can trick unsuspecting consumers into downloading viruses which further risk personal property and information.

Counterfeit drugs, unauthorized data sharing, and cyber attacks are dangerous, but now, a new threat has emerged involving counterfeit letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Last week, the FDA released a press announcement alerting consumers to fraudulent warning letters claiming to be sent from the government. They advised that any consumer who received a warning message is likely the victim of a scam.

The July 2018 FDA press announcement is unique in that it is targeted directly to consumers. Commonly, these warning letters are used as a tool to inform the public about drug safety issues and are typically sent exclusively to manufacturers and companies creating products under their jurisdiction. FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb summarized the FDA’s policy, stating “we generally don’t take action against individuals for purchasing a medicine online, though we regularly take action against the owners and operators of illegal websites.”

What’s next for those that received a warning letter? The FDA requests that potential victims contact them with information, including pictures and scanned documents if possible, in an effort to help them investigate the scams. Consumers can use the email address FDAInternetPharmacyTaskForce-CDER@fda.hhs.gov as the primary channel for communicating with the agency about suspicious warnings.

The best way to avoid falling victim to any scam involving illegal internet pharmacies is to abstain from suspicious websites. How do you distinguish fake internet pharmacies from safe ones? The FDA offers guidance with their BeSafeRx campaign. Asking a few simple questions at the doctor’s office or calling a certified pharmacist can help consumers protect themselves. Safe online pharmacies usually offer information including address, contact information, and state license. Consumers should be wary if the pharmacy does not require prescriptions to access pharmaceutical drugs. Other warning signs include international addresses, clear spam messages, and unreasonably low prices.

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Have more questions about fraud? NCL’s Fraud.org site has prevention tips, an outlet for consumer complaints, and an experienced fraud counselor to teach you how to avoid common scams. And for those wanting to learn more about proper medication consumption, our Script Your Future initiative has helpful advice and information so you can navigate your prescriptions with the utmost confidence.

Regulations Can Save Lives, Like Ted’s – National Consumers League

Sarah Aillon, NCL internWritten by National Consumers League Intern Sarah Aillon

The Trump administration is waging war against regulations. In January, President Trump announced in his State of the Union address that “in our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.” Since entering Office, the Trump administration rolled back many environmental, and economic regulations which secure the health, safety, and security of the American people. While the Trump Administration boastfully describes these rollbacks as progress, many public protection advocates have sounded their alarms.

Earlier this June, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards and Georgetown Law organized a symposium which addressed the threat deregulation poses in the Trump era. Titled, The War on Regulation: Good for Corporations, Bad for the Public, the event featured a wide range of public protection advocates, including the mother of an accident victim, professors, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Their stories prove just how critical many regulations are for individual well-being and what happens when regulations do not monitor dangerous products.

little Ted

Janet McGee, an advocate on the event’s second panel, and described the harrowing death of her 22-month-old son, Ted. In 2016, the toddler was in his room napping. When Janet went in to check on him, she found Ted under a dresser that had fallen on him. Ted was unresponsive and cold but had a faint heartbeat. McGee started CPR and then rushed him to the hospital. Tragically, the boy passed away four short hours after she first found him.

McGee’s story is not outstanding: every 17 minutes someone in the United States is injured by falling furniture, televisions or appliances. These furniture tip-overs kill a child every two weeks.

Voluntary safety standards in the American furniture industry perpetuate the high risk of furniture tip-overs. Voluntary safety standards threaten the consumer’s safety and security. A Consumer Reports investigation tested 24 dressers against the industry’s voluntary safety standards and found only six dressers met the industry’s standards. In response to their findings, Consumer Reports suggested raising the test weight for furniture tip-overs from 50 pounds to 60 pounds and to apply tests to dressers that are 30 inches high and higher. Anchoring dressers to walls with brackets and straps is an effective strategy to prevent the problem, but few consumers are aware of the need to secure their furniture from tip-overs.

Voluntary safety standards make enforcement of furniture safety difficult. Companies can pick and choose what standards they comply with. Voluntary safety standards allow product design to remain poor and increase the threat of injury and death.

Ikea dresser safety diagram

The Ikea dresser responsible for the death of Janet McGee’s son did not meet safety standards. McGee’s Ikea dresser is not the only one from the company to fail their consumers. Over the course of 19 years, 8 children have died from Ikea dressers. As stated by McGee, the longstanding effects of furniture tip-over represent an industry-wide problem. However, with voluntary safety standards, little enforcement or change occurs.

Despite the danger many dressers on the market hold, little has been done to resolve the threat. Safety standards remain voluntary instead of mandatory. “Parents should worry about their children for many reasons, but furniture falling on them should not be one of them,” said McGee. Eventually, Ikea offered to take back 29 million chests and dressers in the Malm line, but very few consumers knew about the recall. Tens of millions of the Malm dressers are thought to still be in use and unsecured today.

McGee’s tragic, cautionary tale is just one example of why consumer regulations are necessary. President Trump’s focus on slashing regulations endanger everyday people, favoring big business at consumers’ expense. Regulatory safeguards enable people to live and work safely. “Strong government rules matter. We cannot, we must not accept a government that works only for a privileged few,” Warren said.

To learn more about furniture tip-over and Janet McGee’s story, click here.

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Sarah Aillon is a rising senior at Dickinson College pursuing dual degrees in Political Science and History. She is passionate about the National Consumers League’s work and is a child labor policy intern with them this summer.

National Consumers League Announces Data Security and Technology Policy Fellowship – National Consumers League

June 27, 2018

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

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League, America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, is pleased to announce the creation of the NCL Data Security and Technology Policy Fellowship. The fellowship, made possible through a generous unrestricted educational grant from Google, will be part of NCL’s ongoing #DataInsecurity Project, a consumer awareness and advocacy campaign to raise awareness in Washington and beyond about the impact of data breaches on consumers.

“Too often, the impact on users of technology policy decisions made in the halls of Washington, DC is an afterthought,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL executive director. “Through this new fellowship, our goal is to raise awareness of the need for user-centered decision-making in Congress, at federal agencies, and in the states, particularly regarding data security, privacy, and online safety policy.”

NCL is delighted to announce that Sean Davis, Jr. will be the inaugural Data Security and Technology Policy Fellow. A 2017 graduate of George Washington University Law, Sean comes to NCL after stints with Public Knowledge, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

“We are thrilled that Sean is joining our team,” said John Breyault, NCL vice president, public policy, telecommunications, and fraud. “His passion for the public interest in technology will be an amazing asset to our mission of promoting user-centric policymaking.”

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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 https://nclnet.org.