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.

Carpenter v. United States: Impacts on privacy legislation – National Consumers League

The U.S. Supreme Court decision last week in Carpenter v. United States will shape the relationship consumers have with their wireless devices and the services they use every day for years to come. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that by obtaining cell-site records, the U.S. government performed a search. By doing so without a warrant, this search was judged unconstitutional, violating petitioner Timothy Carpenter’s Fourth Amendment rights and reversing two previous decisions.

In the case, the FBI had requested records as part of an investigation into several Detroit-area armed robberies, and those records included details about call dates, times, and approximate locations. Carpenter asked that the cell phone evidence be suppressed because it was obtained in a search without a warrant.   

You’re thinking, “And? I’m not accused of armed robbery,” but it’s bigger than Timothy Carpenter. The Carpenter decision affects all of us, and in essence redefines government searches in a digital age.

Think of your relationship with your cell phone. According to Pew, 95 percent of Americans now own one. The same study found that for one in five of us, our smartphone is our sole source of Internet service. We carry them to work, to school, to our homes, and to meet up with friends. They go with us to our meetings, appointments, and vacations. They are a key vector through which we’re understood. Part of that is an unprecedented ability to locate us. When 95 percent of us are moving and communicating with our phones, and when 20 percent of us are using them as our only personal Internet connection, government access to when and where we use cell phones becomes an inroad to very intimate surveillance.

The FBI obtained records defined by the Court as “personal location information maintained by a third party” under the Stored Communications Act (SCA). SCA compels service providers to hand over records of electronically stored communications to government, without a warrant requirement, provided there is evidence for the information’s relevance to an ongoing investigation. Last week’s decision sets a new standard for expectations of digital privacy at a time when consumers and government are grappling with how to think about our lives online using documents drafted by the nation’s founders.

NCL has previously stated that consumer privacy is an integral part of the data economy, and we advocate for robust consumer protections in this space to encourage safe and secure use of online services. We applaud the Court’s decision and see it as an important step in the fight to safeguard consumers’ data in the United States and beyond.

Rebecca Kielty is spending the summer with John Breyault’s team, working on consumer privacy issues as NCL’s 2018 Google Public Policy Fellow. Rebecca received her B.A. from the University of South Florida Saint Petersburg and her M.A. from Georgetown University.

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.

Feeling the pressure to go paperless? – National Consumers League

By Melissa Cuddington, NCL public policy intern

Feel forced to go digital or pay for paper bills and statements? You are not alone. Many consumers are beginning to push back against the “going paperless” trend that has become so popular among credit card and other companies that send bills to millions of consumers.

Charging for a paper bill is not a popular practice among consumers. In fact, according to a survey conduced by Toluna and Two Sides North America, 83 percent of American consumers believe that they should not be charged more as a result of opting for a paper bill. 

NCL and Consumer Action have agreed to work with “Keep Me Posted North America” (KMPNA), based out of Chicago, and yes supported by the paper industry — to raise these concerns. We happen to agree that preserving consumer choice when it comes to choosing what type of bill you receive is important. Keep Me Posted is working in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Europe. 

This specific issue is of significant importance when it comes to the work that NCL does on behalf of consumers and promoting their best interests in the marketplace. The campaign is currently working to represent more vulnerable consumers: seniors, low-income populations, the disabled, and those on Indian Reservations and in rural areas who may not have access to broadband. Charging them $3.50 or more because they choose a paper bill is just plain wrong. We believe anyone who chooses a paper bill should not have to pay for it. 

This consumer issue also has relevance to the increasing occurrence of digital fraud in the United States. According to a 2017 survey done by the Competition Bureau in Canada, digital fraud is increasing at a rapid rate. From 2011 to 2016, digital fraud increased significantly from $4.95 billion to $7.95 billion. This paperless trend is increasing the likelihood that consumers are the victims of telemarketing and Internet fraud. 

It is important that consumers, especially elders and those in low-income and rural areas have the option to receive a paper bill without incurring additional costs. For many Americans, $3.50 x 12 months is extra money they don’t have — and multiply times several bills and it really adds up. Additionally, the option of receiving a paper bill is seen as a more convenient and secure form of payment. In fact, 78 percent of people keep hard copies of important documents at home, because they believe it is the safest and most secure way to store their information (Two Sides North America, 2017). 

We believe this is a good coalition and one that will push hard to preserve consumer choice and do away with the odious practice of charging consumers who can least afford it for the convenience of a paper bill.

The role of technology in meeting consumer demands for product info – National Consumers League

Entering the grocery store, more than 40,000 products are right at your fingertips. As our Food Policy Fellow Haley Swartz has written about previously, choice overload and the “tyranny of too much” are increasingly common for consumers in grocery store aisles.

In an age when nutrition, health, and product safety are major consumer priorities, it becomes increasingly important to know what are in the items you purchase, and how they compare to the many other options on the grocery shelf.

Transparency itself is in high demand, as some have even called it the must-have ingredient for successful food companies in the modern era. Substantial consumer research data also indicates consumer demand for industry transparency, particularly in food and beverage manufacturing. The 2016 Label Insight Food Revolution Study found that 71 percent of consumers believed product transparency influences their purchasing decisions at the grocery store. A July 2017 survey found even more striking results, that 70 percent of purchases were influenced by transparency content.

A more recent survey from May 2018 found that if consumers were provided with additional information about a product, 80 percent said they would be more likely to buy it. In fact, more than two-thirds of respondents said that their interest about the information on product labels has increased over just the past two years.

Shoppers across the country are hungry for detailed information about what is in a product, why it is there, how it is produced, and what impact it has on the environment and their health. This call for more product information could be a result of the increasing complexity of food manufacturing, occurrence of allergies in the United States, and heightened awareness about the effect food has on our health.

A variety of tools aim to help anxious consumers wade through the noise to find the information they seek. But product packaging is becoming increasingly complex, enough so that some have called it a “competitive piece of real estate.” Only some of the information consumers want can be available directly in sight during grocery shopping experiences or when they are at home making out their shopping lists.

One tool that answers this question is SmartLabel, a digital disclosure tool which makes more information than can ever fit on a label available to consumers. SmartLabel works using a smartphone to scan barcodes or QR codes on food, beverages, personal care, and household products in the grocery store. Once the barcode is scanned, a SmartLabel website page provides detailed information about a range of things: ingredients, nutritional facts, allergens, usage instructions, third-party certifications, such as Kosher, and other information such as whether a food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The information can also be found by going to www.smartlabel.org on a computer while you’re at home.

As of June 2018, SmartLabel is being used on nearly 28,000 food, beverage, personal care and household products in grocery stores, with many more products on the way.

The National Consumers League food policy team applauds the grocery manufacturers and retailing industry for responding to consumer demand and working to create a way for consumers to find more transparent information about the products they are purchasing. We hope that the industry will continue to roll out similar initiatives that promote the best interests of consumers and respond to demand in the marketplace.