Don’t fall for the pitch! Avoid investment scams – National Consumers League

May 1, 2008

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

Washington, DC – Free seminars are a popular way to promote investment and insurance products. After the meal, the so-called “experts” urge folks to trade in their current investments for the product being pitched. Testimonials are glowing; the charts and handouts are impressive. But don’t fall for the pitch! This month, the National Consumers League is helping consumers differentiate between legitimate and fraudulent offers of investment opportunities this month in the National Consumers League’s “2008 Consumer Calendar: Do We Have Tips for You!”

NCL offers a listing of red-flag pitches that should cause a consumer to take the money and run from the seminar, including:

  • “Your profit is guaranteed!”
  • “Your money is always 100% available!”
  • “This offer is only available today!”

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 May tips about debit cards were sponsored by AARP.

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.

Groups unite in pressing for a standardized, useful Alcohol Facts label – National Consumers League

April 22, 2008

White paper and ad campaign put issue in front of policymakers; new poll finds consumers want government to act

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

Washington, DC– A coalition of public interest groups today called for the federal government to end 30 years of “deliberations and fact finding” by issuing a useful final regulation to require standardized labeling information on beer, wine and distilled spirits products.

At a news conference in Washington, members of a broad-based coalition of public health leaders and consumer advocacy organizations used the occasion of Alcohol Awareness Month to release a white paper laying out the need for an easy-to-read, standardized label that will provide consumers with complete information about alcohol and calorie content per serving. Issued as a nationwide call to action, the white paper concludes that easily accessible alcohol labeling can play an important role in reducing alcohol abuse, drunk driving, and the many diseases attributable to excessive alcohol intake, such as liver cirrhosis and cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract.

To highlight this issue for federal policymakers, Shape Up America! — the anti-obesity crusade launched by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop — also unveiled a newspaper advertising campaign featuring an open letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson signed by 18 organizations and public health officials. The open letter cites more than 30 years of delay by Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and its predecessor agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), in responding to public pressure, several petitions, and court challenges, none of which has produced a government rule requiring an easy-to-read, standardized label on all alcoholic beverages.

“Today, even the most basic information about alcohol beverages is not provided on the labels of most alcohol beverage products,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League. “We are urging TTB to get it right by issuing a consumer friendly final regulation that will provide the same helpful and easily accessible labeling information on alcoholic beverages that is now required for conventional foods, dietary supplements, and nonprescription drugs.”

TTB’s most recent action occurred in 2007 when the agency proposed a mandatory “Serving Facts” panel on beer, wine and distilled spirits but left out the requirement that manufacturers list information about the alcohol content per standard serving. This resulted in a barrage of letters from consumers and public health leaders, all calling for complete information on the label.

Now that TTB has heard from the public and other stakeholders, the open letter ad declares it is time for Secretary Paulson and the TTB to “do the right thing” by mandating a standardized alcohol label with information about the alcohol content, the amount of alcohol per serving, the definition of a standard drink, the number of calories and facts about other ingredients. The ad states, “Anything short of mandating this basic information would be a failure of the regulatory process.”

Along with Shape Up America!, 17 prominent national public health, nutrition and consumers organizations and officials signed onto the ad and support this message: American Council on Science and Health, American Institute for Cancer Research, American Public Health Association, American Society for Nutrition, American Society of Addiction Medicine, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Consumer Federation of America, Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, National Association of Local Boards of Health, National Consumers League, National Research Center for Women & Families, Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, George Blackburn MD, PhD; Associate Director of Nutrition, Division of Nutrition, David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP; Director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, C. Everett Koop, MD, ScD; Senior Scholar, C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth College and U.S. Surgeon General 1981-1989, Peter Rostenberg, MD, FASAM; Private Practice, Internal Medicine and Addiction Medicine and Attending Physician, Danbury Hospital Department of Medicine and  Judith S. Stern, ScD; Professor, University of California at Davis.

“It’s time to give consumers complete and detailed information about the alcohol and calorie content per serving in all beverage alcohol products so they can make informed and responsible purchasing and consumption decisions,” said Barbara J. Moore, Ph.D., president of Shape Up America!, “Anything less is a setback for public health.”

Reinforcing these views, National Consumers League and Shape Up America! released the findings of a new opinion poll, providing further evidence that the public believes government policy must change. Conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, the poll surveyed 1,003 adult Americans aged 21 and over from April 11-14, 2008 to identify the information consumers consider most important on an alcohol label. The top priority cited by more than three in four respondents (77 percent) is listing the alcohol content followed by the amount of alcohol per serving (73 percent) and the calories in each serving (65 percent). Of less importance but considered valuable information is the following: the number of servings in the bottle or can (57 percent), the carbohydrates in each serving (57 percent), the amount of fat in each serving (52 percent), and the protein in each serving (46 percent). When asked about TTB’s proposal that fails to require information on the amount of alcohol in a serving on the label, even more consumers — 74 percent — said this information should be mandatory.

The new poll also validates the usefulness of alcohol labels to educate consumers about following the Dietary Guidelines’ advice on moderate drinking, which is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. When asked if Americans should follow this advice, seven in ten respondents (71 percent) agreed and almost six in ten (58 percent) said they would use the alcohol label for this purpose. These findings reinforce a previous online survey conducted for Shape Up America! in December 2007, which reported that 79 percent of consumers would support alcohol labeling that summarizes the Dietary Guidelines’ advice.

“Those consumers who choose to drink absolutely need alcohol and calorie information per serving to help them comply with recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America.  “Without it, alcohol consumers continue to be left in the dark.”

The online survey also asked respondents to review three alternative labels that could be placed on alcohol beverage containers, giving TTB a better idea of what information consumers find most useful. When asked to compare the different options, the results were dramatic: the vast majority (76 percent) opted for a label that combines the information required under TTB’s proposed rulemaking (the amount of calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein) with the amount of alcohol per serving and the statement “a standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol.” In contrast, only 7 percent chose the format proposed under TTB’s rulemaking.

Besides the general public, the coalition’s white paper summarized the views of leading public health and nutrition experts, who submitted comments to TTB about the health justifications for issuing a useful rule on alcohol beverage labeling.  A review of the estimated 18,000 comments that TTB received in 2005 indicates that 96 percent supported giving consumers access to standardized and complete labeling information on beer, wine and distilled spirits.

This issue has a long history. In 1972, consumer organizations asked the federal government to require meaningful alcohol labeling. In  2003, the National Consumers League joined with the Center for Science in the Public Interest and 75 other public health and consumer organizations to submit a formal petition to TTB. This resulted in the agency issuing an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” in April 2005, followed by a “proposed rule” in 2007. That proposed rule, consumer advocates and public health leaders believe, leaves a huge gap in the basic nutritional facts consumers want and need when they consume alcohol.

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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.

Consumer/health groups united in pressing for standardized, useful alcohol facts label – National Consumers League

April 22, 2008

White Paper and Ad Campaign Put Issue in Front of Policymakers; New Poll Finds Consumers Want Government to Act

Sally Greenberg’s remarks

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

Washington, D.C.– A coalition of public interest groups today called for the federal government to end 30 years of “deliberations and fact finding” by issuing a useful final regulation to require standardized labeling information on beer, wine and distilled spirits products.

At a news conference in Washington, members of a broad-based coalition of public health leaders and consumer advocacy organizations used the occasion of Alcohol Awareness Month to release a white paper laying out the need for an easy-to-read, standardized label that will provide consumers with complete information about alcohol and calorie content per serving. Issued as a nationwide call to action, the white paper concludes that easily accessible alcohol labeling can play an important role in reducing alcohol abuse, drunk driving, and the many diseases attributable to excessive alcohol intake, such as liver cirrhosis and cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract.

To highlight this issue for federal policymakers, Shape Up America! — the anti-obesity crusade launched by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop — also unveiled a newspaper advertising campaign featuring an open letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson signed by 18 organizations and public health officials. The open letter cites more than 30 years of delay by Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and its predecessor agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), in responding to public pressure, several petitions, and court challenges, none of which has produced a government rule requiring an easy-to-read, standardized label on all alcoholic beverages.

“Today, even the most basic information about alcohol beverages is not provided on the labels of most alcohol beverage products,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League. “We are urging TTB to get it right by issuing a consumer friendly final regulation that will provide the same helpful and easily accessible labeling information on alcoholic beverages that is now required for conventional foods, dietary supplements, and nonprescription drugs.”

TTB’s most recent action occurred in 2007 when the agency proposed a mandatory “Serving Facts” panel on beer, wine and distilled spirits but left out the requirement that manufacturers list information about the alcohol content per standard serving. This resulted in a barrage of letters from consumers and public health leaders, all calling for complete information on the label.

Now that TTB has heard from the public and other stakeholders, the open letter ad declares it is time for Secretary Paulson and the TTB to “do the right thing” by mandating a standardized alcohol label with information about the alcohol content, the amount of alcohol per serving, the definition of a standard drink, the number of calories and facts about other ingredients. The ad states, “Anything short of mandating this basic information would be a failure of the regulatory process.”

Along with Shape Up America!, 17 prominent national public health, nutrition and consumers organizations and officials signed onto the ad and support this message: American Council on Science and Health, American Institute for Cancer Research, American Public Health Association, American Society for Nutrition, American Society of Addiction Medicine, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Consumer Federation of America, Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, National Association of Local Boards of Health, National Consumers League, National Research Center for Women & Families, Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, George Blackburn MD, PhD; Associate Director of Nutrition, Division of Nutrition, David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP; Director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, C. Everett Koop, MD, ScD; Senior Scholar, C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth College and U.S. Surgeon General 1981-1989, Peter Rostenberg, MD, FASAM; Private Practice, Internal Medicine and Addiction Medicine and Attending Physician, Danbury Hospital Department of Medicine and Judith S. Stern, ScD; Professor, University of California at Davis.

“It’s time to give consumers complete and detailed information about the alcohol and calorie content per serving in all beverage alcohol products so they can make informed and responsible purchasing and consumption decisions,” said Barbara J. Moore, Ph.D., president of Shape Up America!, “Anything less is a setback for public health.”

Reinforcing these views, National Consumers League and Shape Up America! released the findings of a new opinion poll, providing further evidence that the public believes government policy must change. Conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, the poll surveyed 1,003 adult Americans aged 21 and over from April 11-14, 2008 to identify the information consumers consider most important on an alcohol label. The top priority cited by more than three in four respondents (77 percent) is listing the alcohol content followed by the amount of alcohol per serving (73 percent) and the calories in each serving (65 percent). Of less importance but considered valuable information is the following: the number of servings in the bottle or can (57 percent), the carbohydrates in each serving (57 percent), the amount of fat in each serving (52 percent), and the protein in each serving (46 percent). When asked about TTB’s proposal that fails to require information on the amount of alcohol in a serving on the label, even more consumers — 74 percent — said this information should be mandatory.

The new poll also validates the usefulness of alcohol labels to educate consumers about following the Dietary Guidelines’ advice on moderate drinking, which is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. When asked if Americans should follow this advice, seven in ten respondents (71 percent) agreed and almost six in ten (58 percent) said they would use the alcohol label for this purpose. These findings reinforce a previous online survey conducted for Shape Up America! in December 2007, which reported that 79 percent of consumers would support alcohol labeling that summarizes the Dietary Guidelines’ advice.

“Those consumers who choose to drink absolutely need alcohol and calorie information per serving to help them comply with recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. “Without it, alcohol consumers continue to be left in the dark.”

The online survey also asked respondents to review three alternative labels that could be placed on alcohol beverage containers, giving TTB a better idea of what information consumers find most useful. When asked to compare the different options, the results were dramatic: the vast majority (76 percent) opted for a label that combines the information required under TTB’s proposed rulemaking (the amount of calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein) with the amount of alcohol per serving and the statement “a standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol.” In contrast, only 7 percent chose the format proposed under TTB’s rulemaking.

Besides the general public, the coalition’s white paper summarized the views of leading public health and nutrition experts, who submitted comments to TTB about the health justifications for issuing a useful rule on alcohol beverage labeling. A review of the estimated 18,000 comments that TTB received in 2005 indicates that 96 percent supported giving consumers access to standardized and complete labeling information on beer, wine and distilled spirits.

This issue has a long history. In 1972, consumer organizations asked the federal government to require meaningful alcohol labeling. In 2003, the National Consumers League joined with the Center for Science in the Public Interest and 75 other public health and consumer organizations to submit a formal petition to TTB. This resulted in the agency issuing an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” in April 2005, followed by a “proposed rule” in 2007. That proposed rule, consumer advocates and public health leaders believe, leaves a huge gap in the basic nutritional facts consumers want and need when they consume alcohol.

Statement of NCL’s Sally Greenberg on alcohol labeling – National Consumers League

April 22, 2008

Good morning and thank you for coming. I am Sally Greenberg, the Executive Director of the National Consumers League based in Washington, DC. Joining me today is a panel of consumer leaders, public health officials and experts in alcohol issues. We will briefly summarize our positions and then be available for questions.

For the consumer community, the fight for a useful alcohol label is like the movie “Groundhog Day.” For more than 30 years, consumer groups have petitioned the government, filed lawsuits and testified on Capitol Hill. And for more than 30 years, nothing has changed. The federal agency responsible — the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau or TTB and its predecessor agency — has spent 30 years trying to decide if alcohol labeling – disclosing important information for consumers — is really necessary.

Let’s talk about what can be accomplished in less than 30 years when there is the will to make meaningful change:

  • It took only eight years from when President Kennedy declared the goal of landing a man on the moon to when Neil Armstrong took his first step in July 1969.
  • It took 17 years to conduct the research that lead to the first polio vaccine.
  • And it took 28 years from the laying of the first brick of the Berlin Wall in 1961 to when it began to come down in 1989.

If these feats can be accomplished in less than 30 years, why are we still fighting for a standardized alcohol label? On behalf of the nation’s public health and nutrition organizations, consumer advocates, leading public health officials and consumers themselves, we say it is time for TTB to issue a useful final regulation requiring alcohol labeling. And by “useful,” we mean the same kind of standardized labeling information on beer, wine and distilled spirits products that is now required for conventional foods, dietary supplements, and nonprescription drugs.

In 2005, we thought we were close. TTB had issued a request for public comments and received over 18,000 letters. The vast majority of these comments supported a standardized label listing the number of calories and the amount of alcohol per serving as well as standard drink information.

But, by 2007, we were back to Groundhog Day. TTB published a rule proposing to require a “Serving Facts” panel on beer, wine and distilled spirits. But TTB left out the most important information consumers need when consuming an alcoholic beverage — the amount of alcohol in a serving. This omission resulted in another barrage of letters from consumers and public health leaders, all calling for complete information on the label.

Now that TTB has heard all the arguments, we are here to urge TTB to get it right by mandating a standardized alcohol label that tells Americans what they need to know — the alcohol content, the amount of alcohol in a serving, the definition of a standard drink, the number of calories and facts about other ingredients.

Towards this end, today, we are issuing a new report laying out the need for a standardized and complete alcohol label. Based on a review going back to 1977, this report makes a compelling case that over-consumption of alcohol remains a serious problem. And part of the solution to reducing alcohol abuse, drunk driving, obesity, and the many diseases attributable to excessive alcohol intake is to give consumers an easy-to-read, uniform label with complete information about alcohol and calorie content per serving.

In addition to this new report, we want TTB to hear from consumers themselves — which is why we have commissioned Opinion Research Corporation to survey 1,003 adult Americans aged 21 and over this month. Reinforcing the findings of numerous other polls conducted over the years, this poll shows consumers want government policy to change.

Moreover, this poll documents the kind of information Americans want on a standardized alcohol label. According to the ORC poll, first and foremost, consumers want alcohol labels to list the alcohol content and the amount of alcohol per serving.

Our new poll also validates the usefulness of alcohol labels to educate consumers about following the Dietary Guidelines’ advice on moderate drinking — which is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. When asked if Americans should follow this advice, seven in ten respondents — 71 percent — agreed and almost six in ten — 58 percent — said they would use the alcohol label for this purpose. These findings reinforce a previous online survey conducted for Shape Up America! in December 2007, which reported that 79 percent of consumers would support alcohol labeling that summarizes the Dietary Guidelines’ advice.

With both the public health community and consumers demanding change, the question for TTB is not whether but when. The same nation that put a man on the moon and made it possible to tear down the Berlin Wall should be able to give its citizens useful labeling information on beer, wine and distilled spirits. As a matter of improved public health, this is the right thing to do.

To explain what information should be on this label and the health justifications, I would now like to introduce the other panelists here today:

  • First, you will hear from Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. Chris will outline what consumer organizations and the public health community believe are the essential components of an alcohol label;
  • Then, you will hear from J.T. Griffin, V.P. Public Policy, of Mothers Against Drunk Driving or MADD, who will summarize the views of those working to curb drunk driving and alcohol abuse.
  • After J.T., Dr. Winston Price, past President of the National Medical Association, will summarize the public health justification to better alcohol labeling.
  • And finally, Dr. Barbara Moore, president and CEO of Shape Up America!, will focus on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and how a useful alcohol label can affect consumer change.

Please hold your questions until the panelists have presented their remarks and then we will be pleased to take your questions.

Arizona declared 2008 national LifeSmarts champions in Minneapolis – National Consumers League

April 21, 2008

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

Washington, DC — The Arizona state LifeSmarts team from Flagstaff, coached by Jennifer Bearchell, has taken the 2008 National LifeSmarts title, defeating more than two dozen state champion teams from across the country in a double-elimination competition that wrapped up in Minneapolis, Minnesota last week. Bearchell’s team, the Flagstaff Home Educators, defeated the Illinois team from West Chicago Community High School in the grueling final match Tuesday morning, April 15th. The event was streamed live on USTelecom’s www.NextGenWeb.org Web site.

“Bankruptcy, the credit crunch, fraud, confusion over health care and medical information – these are just a few of the challenges facing American consumers today,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, the nonprofit advocacy group that sponsors the national LifeSmarts program. “LifeSmarts students, and especially the 2008 champion team from Arizona, represent a new generation of young consumers who have tackled these tough issues and now have the tools they need to the smarts they need to thrive in this marketplace.”

LifeSmarts (www.lifesmarts.org) is an Internet-based competition that begins online, in the states, with high school students competing for a shot to represent their state at the national event. State programs are run by volunteer coordinators; Arizona’s State Coordinator is Tammy Miller, with the Office of the Attorney General. In the 2007-2008 competition, more than 20,000 teens answered 2.6 million consumer questions for a shot at nationals.

“We are so thrilled for our state champion team, the Flagstaff Home Educators,” said Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard. “Their hard work and dedication to becoming savvy consumers has paid off, and they will represent our state program with pride.”

For the last two years, the team from neighboring New Mexico’s Piedra Vista High School reigned as the National LifeSmarts Champions, but early in the first round of the competition, which ran April 12-14 in Minneapolis, the Arizona team defeated the returning champs, sending them to the consolation bracket. Arizona’s Flagstaff Home Educators fell in a later round to the team from Virginia, but it rebounded later to make it to the semi-finals. Arizona defeated a tough team from Rhode Island and, finally, New Hampshire, before competing in the final match.

“What an exciting weekend in Minneapolis,” said Coach Bearchell. “We are grateful for the support of parents, loved ones, and friends and, of course, to the Arizona Office of the Attorney General for bringing the LifeSmarts program to Arizona. The members of our team are sure walking on air, and we have such gratitude for this great opportunity. It was great fun to put all that consumer knowledge to work.”

Bearchell’s first place team members each received a variety of prizes, including an iPhone from AT&T, savings bonds, and gift cards to Best Buy and Staples. Coach Bearchell received a certificate good for a new set of Bridgestone tires. This is Bearchell’s 8th year of competing in LifeSmarts in Arizona, and her 8th trip to the National Championship.

At the end of the long weekend of competition and fun, NCL announced that St. Louis, MO, will be the destination for next year’s 2009 National LifeSmarts Championship. For more information, and to read about this year’s event, visit the LifeSmarts blog at: https://lifesmartsnationals.blogspot.com/

NCL thanks the generous contributions of its major sponsors, including the Verizon Foundation, American Century Investments, American Express Company, and others, as well as its Minnesota partner, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota.

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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.

Consumer savvy teens from across U.S. head to Minneapolis to compete for national LifeSmarts title – National Consumers League

April 11, 2008

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

Washington, DC — Bankruptcy, the credit crunch, fraud, confusion over health care and medical information – these are just a few of the problems facing American consumers today. In its fun, fast and educational LifeSmarts program, however, our nation’s oldest consumer group is laying the groundwork for the next generation of consumers to succeed in the marketplace in ways their parents haven’t.

WHAT: The 2008 National LifeSmarts Championship

LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League.

WHO: Consumer savvy teens representing 29 states will compete at the national event. More than 20,000 teens competed online for a chance to represent their states at Nationals. Players answered 2.6 million consumer questions in the online competition.

WHEN: April 12-15, 2007

WHERE: Millennium Hotel, Minneapolis. 1313 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis

FINALS: Tuesday, April 15, 10:45 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. EST 

Awards Ceremony 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. EST

WEBCAST AND WEB COVERAGE: Parents and teachers can follow the action at www.lifesmarts.org, where NCL

will frequently upload photos, competition updates, and stories of the action.

The competition will be streamed live at https://www.nextgenweb.org. NextGenWeb.org, a site sponsored by USTelecom, is a blog and resource site dedicated to looking at how broadband and the innovations that have spawned from broadband deployment are used to better education, health care, the environment and public safety.

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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 launches MortgageTown – National Consumers League

April 2, 2008

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

Washington, D.C. — Consumers concerned about financing a new home in today’s uncertain housing market should start with a trip to MortgageTown, a new Web site (www.mortgagetown.org) launched today by the National Consumers League to help prospective buyers better understand the benefits and risks of homeownership.

“Many consumers are understandably confused about the mortgage process and what it takes to buy – and keep – a home,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League (NCL). “MortgageTown is a user-friendly and reliable resource where consumers can become better versed in the process of getting a mortgage and what pitfalls to avoid as they head down that road.  With millions of homeowners rightfully concerned about predatory lenders, fraud, and foreclosure, it’s critically important that both current and future homeowners are educated, prepared, and protected.”

MortgageTown walks consumers through nine essential steps to financing a home.  Aspiring homeowners learn how to choose the right loan, close on a home, protect themselves from fraud and predatory lenders, and prevent foreclosure.  In addition to translating certain technical real estate jargon into consumer-friendly language, MortgageTown also provides direct Web links to credible sources that can help to explain inspection, closing, fraud prevention, loan options, and many other important aspects of home financing.  The site also provides access to a national database where homeowners can find and track the identity of the mortgage company servicing their loan.

Mortgage Town also is a place for homeowners facing the prospect of foreclosure.

“The most pressing question for homeowners going through foreclosure is who to go to for help in working out their payments in order to keep their home,” Greenberg said. “There is only one entity who can work out a plan for them and that is the mortgage company handling their loan. Homeowners may be able to prevent foreclosure by contacting their mortgage company early and working out a plan. This site provides a quick and free way to find out the identity of their mortgage company through MERS® ServicerID.”

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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.

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.”