Do Not Call Me. Seriously. – National Consumers League

by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Five years ago, I had the pleasure of putting my home phone number on the first national Do Not Call list. Dramatically seeing the number of unwanted telemarketing calls drop was a joy for my family. Back when the list was created in 2002, the plan was that consumers who added their phone numbers to the list would remain on it for five years. When the five years were up, they’d have to sign up again. (Unless, of course, they missed being interrupted at dinner time and wanted the calls to resume.)

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission, the agency responsible for the implementation of the list, announced it would not be purging the numbers after five years and require that people re-up. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection of the Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony from the FTC last week pledging to keep the list going without dropping any names. Great news for consumers! Further steps taken by Congress recently indicate our phone numbers will remain protected. House and Senate committees passed bills making it permanent. We see this as a win-win, and I was on National Public Radio’s Marketplace earlier this week to talk about it.

NCL Criticizes ‘Gap’ in Retailer’s Audit System – National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, which convenes the Child Labor Coalition, just issued a statement in reaction to admissions from Gap Inc. that one of the vendors somewhere along its supply chain had used the services of bonded child laborers. Turns out the products were in a line of clothing that would have ended up at GapKids.

Yuck.

NCL’s take on it? Good that Gap pulled the products. Bad that it came at this cost. Read the statement here.

Bonjour from the OECD: What’s a “global marketplace”? – National Consumers League

by Susan Grant

There’s a lot of talk about the “global marketplace,” but what does that mean for the average consumer? It’s not just about buying something online from a business in a foreign country. It also encompasses the fact that many goods and services sold in the United States are produced in or provided by other countries. It’s also true that many of the companies that American consumers deal with operate in other countries as well, so the policies and practices of those businesses can affect consumers on a global scale.

paris.jpgOne important organization that looks at consumer protection globally is the Committee on Consumer Policy at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD represents 30 major democractic industrialized countries from around the world. NCL is sometimes invited by the U.S. government to be part of its delegation to the CCP. At the fall meeting of the CCP, which just concluded in Paris, many issues that are important to U.S. consumers were discussed, including mobile commerce, online identity theft, protecting consumers in the telecommunications market, consumer education, and the role of business self-regulation.

I gave an update on the activities of the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, a coalition of 60+ consumer organizations from the U.S. and Europe that provides input to governments on both sides of the Atlantic about how to ensure that consumers have strong, consistent rights and protections.

Are banks doing enough to protect their customers from fraud? – National Consumers League

by Susan Grant

The answer, in my opinion, is that they can and should do more, and that was the focus of a speech I gave on October 16 a conference organized by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal agency that regulates national banks. The conference brought together people who handle consumers’ questions and complaints from the OCC, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the Office of Thrift Supervision. I used four problems — the current mortgage foreclosure crisis, identity theft, unauthorized debits from consumers’ bank accounts, and the explosion of fake check scams — to provide examples of how banks can help their customers avoid becoming fraud victims. I also asserted that the people who work in the bank regulators’ helplines can play an important role in educating both consumers and banks and in spotting serious problems that may need to be addressed quickly.

Entertainment Industry Making Child Labor Abuse News – National Consumers League

Last week, the parent company of American Idols Live Tour ‘07’ agreed to pay the New York State Department of Labor $5,000 in fines for 16 child labor violations involving two under age 18 performers.

Earlier this fall, a new television series used children as young as eight years old to scruff out a community of sorts, run by youth, in an isolated New Mexico community. Rumors of injuries, of children performing illegal occupations, and of other exploitation have earned scrutiny of the program. Children participating in the program received $5,000 for their 40 days of round-the-clock on-air entertainment.

Well done to the New York State Department of Labor! Not blinded by the “stars in the eyes” syndrome, it recognized that all working children, regardless of the glamour or lack thereof of the activity, deserve protection from child labor exploitation.

In New York State, employers who use performers under 18 must register with the state to ensure compliance with all labor and worker compensation laws. They have to obtain an employment permit for each minor whose services they use. This provides the state with the information of where and how youth are working in entertainment – are they in a bar? — are they in a strip club? – are they working three shows a day with no days off – is a portion of their wages being protected in a trust fund – is their education being provided – is it a safe workplace?

The bad news is that protecting children in entertainment is up to the states. The worse news is that 19 states, more than a third, don’t regulate children working in entertainment whatsoever. Twenty-five states do not even require the most basic regulation: the requirement for a work permit. Only a handful has bothered to adequately address the safety, education, financial protection, working conditions, morals, and health of children working in entertainment.

It’s a patchwork quilt of state protections. It’s been a long time since Congress provided the exemption from protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act for children working in entertainment. Who has the guts to take this on and once and for all to pass federal protections for these working children?

Child Labor in America: Wood chipper Tied to Teen Death – National Consumers League

by Darlene Adkins, VP for Public Policy at NCL and Coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition

Did you know that one working teen dies, on average, every five days in the United States?

It’s happened again. A young worker’s life has come to a tragically early end because of a deadly workplace accident. North Carolina and federal labor department officials are investigating whether child labor laws were broken in last week’s death of a 17-year-old working with a wood chipper. The young man, Nery Castaneda, became entangled in the wood chipper 3 months into his job, where his assignment was to grind up wooden pallets to make mulch.

Death’s like Nery’s are devastating for the family and heart-wrenching to us child labor advocates, who see the failure of child labor laws to protect working teens as the culprit.

 

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month: Avoid ID Theft Online – National Consumers League

by Susan Grant, Director of NCL’s Fraud Centerphishinginfo.jpg

Everybody knows that it’s important to have a fire extinguisher and an insurance policy to protect their home in case of fire. But not everybody is as aware that they should have certain tools to protect their personal information online. To celebrate National Cyber Security Awareness month this October, we’ve added new information to our www.phishinginfo.org Web site about how to avoid becoming a victim of online identity theft.

Consumers have a lot of options for cyber protection, but it can be confusing. The new information on our site explains how verification engines, security toolbars, and other tools can help to keep your personal information safe and how to find them.

Get the tips here.

Phony Checks Costing Consumers Billions – National Consumers League

fakeckeck_logo_nw.jpg
blog posted by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The National Consumers League is the only consumer group that has a Fraud Center and is actively engaged in battling Internet and telemarketing fraud. This October 3, the Alliance for Consumer Fraud Awareness, of which NCL is a member, launched its “Fakechecks.org” Web site, with press conferences in New York and Washington, D.C.

I spoke at the press conference at the TimesCenter in New York, and the Director of NCL’s Fraud Center, Susan Grant, spoke in Washington, DC at the Press Club. The centerpiece of the campaign is a new NCL Web site, www.fakechecks.org. The Alliance warned consumers that while there are many different ways scammers set up the fake check scheme, there is a single common thread running through them that can enable consumers to identify it as fraud: no one who legitimately wants to give you a check or money order for something would ask you to wire money anywhere in return.

NCL also called on banks to warn their customers that just because the funds are available quickly doesn’t mean that the check is good.

The Alliance announced a new consumer survey found that 35 percent of adult consumers had been presented with a fake check at some point and that 28 percent of those had actually sent money back. Fake check scams tend to cost consumers between $3,000-4,000 each year. Based on these numbers, NCL estimates that the cost of fake check scams to be between $63 and $84 billion each year.

We’ve spotted 6 general categories of fake check scams: work at home, love losses, rental schemes, foreign business offers, sudden riches, and overpayments. The pitches scammers are coming up with are plausible, and the checks are so convincing – it’s no wonder consumers are falling for this! But we hope www.fakechecks.org will help spread the word about these phony checks.

Sally’s Blog: First Week at National Consumers League – National Consumers League

NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg

NCL Executive Director
Sally Greenberg

I kicked off my first week on the job as Executive Director at the National Consumers League with testimony on Monday, October 1 before the Interagency Working Group on Import Safety. This group of federal agencies – 12 of them headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt – came together at the request of President George Bush this summer to assess the government’s response to protecting the public from unsafe imports. (See Leavitt’s blog on the task force.)

NCL touched on three issues: the irony in the history behind American health and safety laws and regulations; the risks of counterfeit drugs; and the relationship between sweatshop-like working conditions in China and the dangers in the products they manufacture.

1) We noted the irony that many American businesses and industries over the years had fought against health and safety laws and regulations but in fact, during the crisis over toy and food safety this past summer, with many consumer products from China and elsewhere proving to be unsafe, “Made in America” has come to mean “made safely and with quality materials that won’t endanger you or your family.”

2) Counterfeit drugs from overseas are a major threat to consumers, and we need all makers of drugs coming into the United States to be made in factories that are FDA-certified. We also recommended that this Working Group encourage consumers to buy only from Internet pharmacies that have undergone third-party certification or something like it, because the risks of buying drugs online are considerable.

3) Citing a report from the NY-based group China Labor Watch, NCL noted that many of the Chinese toy factories are sweatshops that violate Chinese and international labor laws, regularly use child labor, force overtime on their workers, dock workers pay for minor infractions, and in fact resemble sweatshops that existed 100 years ago in the United States. Pictures from those factories also show dirty factories that don’t take precautions to keep workers safe, worker overcrowding, materials piled up on the floors. NCL cited the relationship between factories that make low quality goods and violate safety standards. NCL believes that when factories are forced to open their doors to close inspection and third-party certification for safety, they are likely to improve conditions across the board.

The National Consumers League believes many consumers would be alarmed to know that the toys they buy their children are made under such dismal conditions. NCL encourages “ethical consuming” and will continue to focus on the relationships between the consumer and those who make the products we buy.