Don’t be a fool about debit cards this April – National Consumers League

April 1, 2008

Contact: 202-835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC – Debit cards are convenient and safer to carry than cash, and they’re more widely accepted by merchants these days than personal checks. But just because they look and feel like a credit card doesn’t mean they work exactly like one, and not understanding the differences could cost you, warns tips featured this month in the National Consumers League’s “2008 Consumer Calendar: Do We Have Tips for You!”

NCL teaches consumers how debit cards work and how to use them wisely with tips, such as:

  • Know your balance, and know what overdraft fees you’ll face if your bank lets you withdraw more than you have. When making a purchase with a debit card, make sure there’s enough money in your account to cover it. Deduct debits from the balance in your check register promptly.
  • Don’t forget about checks you’ve already written. Even if they haven’t cleared yet, consider that money gone.
  • Know if there’s a cost for using the card. Some card issuers charge monthly or even per-transaction fees that are automatically deducted from your account.
  • Notify the issuer immediately if the cost is lost or stolen. Under federal law, the amount you could lose if someone uses your debit card depends on how quickly you report the loss once you discover it. Your card issuer may have “zero” liability policies that give you extra protections.

The nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, NCL works to educate people about how to make wise decisions in today’s marketplace. Each month, NCL’s Web site, www.nclnet.org, will feature the calendar and tips for the month. Covering a range of subjects from medication safety, to avoiding scams, the tips are sponsored by major companies, government agencies, and organizations. The April tips about debit cards were sponsored by Visa and its Practical Money Skills for Life program.

The print version of the calendar was distributed to consumers free of charge through agencies and organizations around the country. There are no printed copies of the calendar remaining.

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About the National Consumers League
Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Tax scammers are waiting to take your money – National Consumers League

March 25, 2008

Contact: 202-835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC — Tax-related scams are on the rise, according to consumer complaints tracked by the National Consumers League’s Fraud Center. Reports of tax scams from consumers nearly quadrupled in 2007 from the year before, and the trend seems to be continuing into 2008

“This time of year – and with the economy in the shape it’s currently in – crooks see vulnerable prey in consumers feeling the squeeze at tax time, said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director, National Consumers League. “Posing as

IRS officials, these criminals pretend to be helping consumers claim a refund they’re due, but they’re really setting up a sting to steal consumers’ hard-earned cash. Consumers who are eager to get their refund faster may be vulnerable to these pitches.”

In the scam, which was first reported to NCL’s Fraud Center in April 2005, the two most common scenarios are both “Phishing” schemes: the victim receives a phone call from an “IRS employee” offering a tax refund – however, they need the taxpayer’s checking account number, he or she is told, in order to deposit the money.  Alternately, the victim gets an email claiming to be from the IRS – often with a realistic-looking sender address – stating that the consumer is due a refund and needs to click on a link and enter their personal financial information in order to have it processed.

“Our Fraud Center received close to 50 complaints in 2007, which we believe is just the tip of the iceberg, since many people don’t report these scams due to embarrassment,” said Greenberg. “Many consumers who do report have been too savvy to fall victim. However, with tax season upon us, and as scammers’ pitch continues to evolve, we’re cautioning consumers against falling for the bait.

Tips for Consumers:

  • Be immediately suspicious if someone claiming to be from the IRS or any other government agency contacts you.
  • Do not give out any personal information – legitimate government agencies will have a consumer’s contact information on file and should not need you to provide it.
  • Ask the caller to follow-up with you via regular mail, or hang up and call the agency’s phone number – obtained from a credible source, such as the official Web site or the government pages of your phone book.

Other tax-related scams reported to NCL’s Fraud Center include:

  • Offers to provide “tax relief,” or assistance with clearing or reducing tax payments consumers owe to the government.
  • Con artists claiming to be government representatives calling to initiate payment transfer of impending government tax “rebates” (Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 which will provide payments to more than 130 million American households)
  • Tax-filing services that file the return on behalf of the consumer but use different routing numbers to ensure that the refund never makes it to the consumer’s bank account.

Consumers should remember: the IRS does not use e-mail to initiate contact with taxpayers about issues related to their accounts. If a taxpayer has any doubt whether a contact from the IRS is authentic, the taxpayer should call the IRS customer service toll-free number (1-800-829-1040) to confirm it.

Stephen

Stephen was worried about the money he owed the IRS. He contacted a company that assured him he would be work with tax attorneys who would settle his debt. Stephen sent them his personal information and tax returns from previous years. One week later, the company said they couldn’t help Stephen, but wished him “luck”. When Stephen asked for a refund for the $9,500 fee he paid via credit card, the company hung up on him.  Stephen reported the scam to NCL’s Fraud Center, and is working with an attorney in hopes of recovering the money he lost.

“Pattie”

Pattie responded to a tax refund company’s advertisement – receive a tax refund directly deposited into one’s bank account within 8-11 days for only $99!  She provided her routing number when filling out the paperwork. The company told her that there was a delay but that her direct deposit was being processed. After following up with her bank, Pattie learned that the company had rerouted her deposit into their account – leaving her without a refund and helpless.

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About the National Consumers League
Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL disappointed in Treasury Department for taking major step back in alcohol labeling – National Consumers League

January 23, 2008

NCL Recognizes TTB for Progress on Alcohol Labeling, but Expresses Disappointment in Agency for Taking Major Step Back from Recent Proposals

Contact: 202-835-3323, media@nclnet.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Consumers League (NCL) has expressed its disappointment in the U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB), the federal agency responsible for regulating alcohol beverages for its new proposed rule on alcohol content. In comments joined by several other organizations representing patients, consumers, and families, NCL raised concerns about the TTB’s recent proposed rule on “Alcohol Serving Facts,” arguing that the rule represents an “about-face” on TTB’s part, with a decrease in the amount of important information mandated on the labels.

Five years ago, NCL served as the lead organization on a petition requesting a mandatory “Alcohol Facts” panel on labels of all alcoholic beverages. NCL has also called for industry support for better labeling of alcoholic beverages.

The full letter to TTB is available here. Excerpts from the letter, signed by NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg, follow:

“The proposed rule represents a sharp retreat from earlier TTB proposals for the Serving Facts panel. Originally, in proposed specifications issued by TTB in July 2004, the Serving Facts panel would have been required to include the following information: the amount of alcohol per serving, the definition of a “standard drink,” and the number of standard drinks per serving. Now, TTB is proposing that no alcohol information at all be required in the Serving Facts panel and that only [alcohol by volume] ABV and amount of alcohol per serving be permitted. Yet, TTB has provided no persuasive explanation for this about-face.”

“We appreciate TTB’s proposing a mandatory Serving Facts panel, but are disappointed that the proposed rule would not mandate any new information about alcohol content on product labels. Under the proposed rule, the “Serving Facts” panel for a beer, wine, or distilled spirit product could, at the option of the bottler, contain no information about alcohol whatsoever.

“TTB [is] missing a historic opportunity to de-mystify the composition of alcoholic beverages and educate consumers about healthy and responsible drinking. We urge TTB to require a mandatory Serving Facts panel that contains meaningful information about alcohol content, information consumers need to help them drink responsibly and follow federal dietary recommendations.”

On ABV labeling

NCL commended TTB for extending the requirement to declare percent ABV to all alcoholic beverage products, thus closing an existing loophole in the law. (Current law does not require ABV information on the labels of malt beverages, except for flavored malt beverages, or wines containing 7 to 14 percent alcohol by volume.)

However, NCL raised concerns about consumers’ ability to find the information, given that bottlers would now essentially be given the opportunity if they so choose, to “bury the information.”

“Consumers deserve to know where ABV can be found. For this reason, we urge TTB to require that ABV appear in the Serving Facts panel, and allow it to be repeated elsewhere on the label at the option of the bottler.”

On a Mandatory Serving Facts panel

NCL commended TTB for proposing a mandatory “Serving Facts” panel on labels of all alcohol beverage products, calling it “a significant breakthrough,” but once again criticized the agency’s failure to require ABV information on the panel.

“We find it inconceivable that the ‘Serving Facts’ panel for alcohol beverages would not be required to include any information about alcohol content. Since alcohol is the characterizing ingredient in alcohol beverages, a ‘Serving Facts’ panel with no mandatory alcohol content information does not make sense. The main purpose of modernizing alcohol beverage labels is to provide consumers with more useful and actionable information about alcohol content. Yet, except for the expansion of the ABV labeling requirement noted above, the proposed rule fails to do this.”

Groups unite in call for action against phishing scams – National Consumers League

March 16, 2006

Contact: 202-835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC—Consumer confidence in conducting business and protecting personal data online is threatened every day by phishing scams. In an initiative led by the National Consumers League (NCL), law enforcement, financial services and technical industries have joined forces to combat this threat.  The group today issued a “call to action” with the release of a paper outlining key recommendations that form a comprehensive plan for combating phishing more effectively.

Phishing is a large and growing problem, in which identity thieves pose as legitimate companies, government agencies, or other trusted entities in order to trick consumers into providing their bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, and other personal information. In 2005, phishing scams ranked 6th in Internet complaints to NCL’s Internet Fraud Watch program and the scams continue to dupe consumers.  A May 2005 consumer survey by First Data found that 43 percent of respondents had received a phishing contact, and of those, 5 percent (approximately 4.5 million people) provided the requested personal information. Nearly half of the phishing victims, 45 percent, reported that their information was used to make an unauthorized transaction, open an account, or commit another type of identity theft.

NCL’s new report, the result of a comprehensive three-day brainstorming retreat organized by the Washington-based consumer advocacy organization last September, makes multiple recommendations on how to combat it. 

“There is no silver bullet to solve the phishing problem, but there are known responses that need more support and promising new approaches that could help deter it,” said Susan Grant, director of NCL’s National Fraud Information Center. The key recommendations in the report are:

  • Create systems that are “secure by design” to make consumers safer online without having to be computer experts;
  • Implement better ways to authenticate email users and Web sites to make it easier to tell the difference between legitimate individuals and organizations and phishers posing as them;
  • Provide better tools for investigation and enforcement to prevent phishers from taking advantage of technology, physical location, and information-sharing barriers to avoid detection and prosecution;
  • Learn from the “lifecycle of the phisher” and use that knowledge about how these criminals operate to exploit points of vulnerability and stop them;
  • Explore the use of “white lists” to identify Web sites that are spoofing legitimate organizations and use “black lists” to create a phishing recall system that would prevent phishing messages from reaching consumers;
  • Provide greater support for consumer education, using clear, consistent messages and innovative methods to convey them.

Sponsorship for the initiative was provided by the American Express Company, First Data Corporation, and Microsoft Corporation.  The recommendations were developed by retreat participants representing financial services firms, Internet service providers, online retailers, computer security firms, software companies, consumer protection agencies, law enforcement agencies, consumer and ID theft victims organizations, academia, and coalitions such as the Anti-Phishing Working Group and the National Cyber Security Alliance.  Peter Swire, C. William O’Neill Professor of Law at the Moritz College of Law of the Ohio State University, wrote the report for NCL.

In the next phase of this project, NCL is forming working groups and inviting organizations and experts who are concerned about phishing to examine how the anti-phishing strategies in the report can be adopted on a widespread basis. “We all need to work together in a systematic approach if we want to have a significant impact on the tidal wave of phishing that is hitting consumers and hurting legitimate organizations,” said Grant.

To obtain a copy of “A Call for Action,” 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.

Who does what: consumers confused about eye care providers, training, M.D. status – National Consumers League

November 17, 2005

Contact: (202) 835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC — A survey released today by the National Consumers League (NCL), found that many consumers, including those who wear glasses or contact lenses, are uncertain about the differences among various eye care providers, the services they perform, and the training and education they must complete. The survey showed that one-third of respondents (30 percent) incorrectly thought optometrists have earned medical degrees. Similarly, nearly 50 percent thought an optometrist can be board certified, when, in fact, only licensure is required. Despite the confusion about which eye care professionals have medical degrees, consumers have strong opinions on the need for the degree: when it comes to performing surgeries (including laser), injecting /prescribing medications, and emergency care, most respondents indicated that they would prefer their eye-care provider to have a medical degree.

“When it comes to eye care, it is vital for consumers to understand who can provide what kind of services,” said NCL President Linda Golodner. “There are a number of different types of professionals on the eye care team, and unfortunately, many consumers, as seen in our survey, don’t differentiate among them. As in any aspect of health care, consumers must take an active role and familiarize themselves with who it is they’re seeking treatment from.”

The nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, NCL commissioned the survey in order to explore consumers’ understanding of the eye care arena, which is often confusing due to the number of professionals who offer services.

  • Opticians dispense and fit contact lenses and glasses
  • Optometrists examine the eye to diagnose vision problems and abnormalities, and prescribe glasses, contact lenses and some medications
  • Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who deliver total eye care services, treat eye diseases and injuries, and perform eye surgery.
  • These professionals have different education profiles and their practice parameters are determined by varying levels of regulation.

To help consumers better understand eye care, NCL has created new Web resources and tips at its Web site, www.nclnet.org. At the site, consumers can learn about the various members of the eye care team, their training and the services they can provide. It also includes tips and a checklist of questions for patients to ask their eye care providers about treatments and services. NCL has also produced a white paper about the state of eye care in the United States. To learn more, visit www.nclnet.org.

The Web-based survey of 600 adults over the age of 25 was conducted for NCL by TNS jstreet, a Washington-based survey firm. The survey was made possible by an unrestricted educational grant provided by the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

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About the National Consumers League

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

National Consumers League applauds House passage of H.R. 3200 – National Consumers League

November 12, 2009

Contact: 202-835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC-The National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer group, applauds the United States House of Representatives’ historic passage of the health reform bill, HR 3200. Since the 1930s NCL, has supported universal health care for all Americans. This legislation is a milestone toward that goal.

“We recognize substantively reforming our health care system is no easy task, and we support lawmakers’ efforts to unite stakeholders and work towards a higher quality system that is more patient-centered and cost-effective,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “We look forward to the final law, which should ensure that effective and efficient care of the highest quality is accessible by all Americans.”

Key provisions of The Affordable Health Care for America Act include:

  • prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions, imposing annual or lifetime benefit limits, or cancelling a policy when someone files expensive claims.
  • creating an “exchange” in each state where individuals and eligible small businesses could shop for insurance policies.
  • offering of a public insurance plan to compete with private companies.
  • expanding coverage to several million uninsured, including those who may not be able to obtain coverage through their employer or who may not have previously qualified for government programs.
  • expanding eligibility for Medicaid to individuals and families with incomes up to 150 percent of the poverty level.
  • reducing payments under the Medicare Advantage program, and enhancing the Medicare prescription drug program by phasing out a coverage gap.

For decades, NCL has been dedicated to achieving quality improvements to America’s health care system. In the 1930s, NCL’s Josephine Roche authored the first universal health care proposal and today, NCL is at the forefront of advocating for comprehensive health reform with legislation that is patient-centered and cost-efficient. NCL recently issued a statement calling the lack of comprehensive health care coverage “America’s albatross,” making our businesses less competitive and our workers less healthy. “We need to put partisan concerns aside and work NOW to ensure that the system is reformed. The cost of doing nothing is unthinkable.”

“We need to address why we are overpaying for care that is not making us healthier. Health reform will move us towards greater accountability, efficiency, accessibility, transparency, and quality,” said Greenberg. “It is essential that everyone have access to affordable health care or the system will remain broken.”

For more information about NCL’s work in health, visit www.nclnet.org/health.

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