National Consumers League

From the Experts Blog

NCL staff is hard at work for you playing watchdog on a variety of issues. Get to know the latest From the Experts!

Think About Carlitos…

By Reid Maki, NCL staff

As you bite into that juicy piece of fruit, you might want to think about the hidden cost of inexpensive American produce: the extensive use of chemical pesticides, some of which cause grievous harm to the workers who pick the fruit.

The potential dangers of pesticides were highlighted on March 24, when Ag-Mart, a Florida-based produce company, announced it was settling a civil suit brought by the parents of Carlos (“Carlitos”) Candelario Herrera, who was born in December 2004 without arms and legs.

Carlitos was one of three children born with major birth defects in a six-week period in 2005-2006 to farmworker parents who lived in Immokalee, Florida and who worked for Ag-mart in Florida and North Carolina. According to reports in the Palm Beach Post, Carlitos’ mother, Francisca Herrera, worked in Ag-Mart fields when she was 19 and pregnant with the boy. In court depositions, Herrera said that she and other workers were exposed to pesticides repeatedly when chemicals drifted from adjacent fields. Herrera also worked in fields were pesticides had been recently applied. According to Post reporters John Lantigua and Christine Stapleton, the Herreras’ complaint asserted that “at least three of the chemicals used were mutagenic, which means they had caused deformities in lab animals during testing.”

Although major birth defects like those suffered by Carlitos are thought to be rare in the farmworker community, advocates worry about the frequent use of chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic. Scientific studies have suggested that children with their smaller body weight and developing neurological and endocrine systems are more vulnerable to pesticides than adults. That’s just one of the reasons that the National Consumers League, through its leadership role in the Child Labor Coalition, is fighting to change child labor laws to close loopholes that allow kids in agriculture to work at younger ages and for longer hours than kids in other industries. We are working closely with Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) in support of the CARE Act (the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment), her legislative remedy to end the discrimination against the children of farmworkers. If a 12-year-old is not allowed to work for wages in an air-conditioned office, why should he or she be allowed to work in 100-degree heat in pesticide treated fields? (Our proposed legislative changes would not impact family farms where children work for their parents.)

Terms of the settlement between Ag-Mart and the Herrera family were not disclosed, but published reports speculated that millions of dollars will go toward the care of Carlitos. Ag-Mark has stopped using the three pesticides that health experts feared caused the mutations.

If you want to support NCL’s Child Labor coalition efforts, become a member of the league and make a contribution to our work.


New Help for Home Buyers and Owners

Unless you’ve been asleep the last couple of years, you’ve www.mortgagetown.orgprobably heard that we’re in the midst of a foreclosure crisis, people are abandoning homes they can no longer afford, and the rest of the economy isn’t looking so good either.

Prices for food, gas and healthcare – the most basic items – have increased by more than nine percent since 2006, according to The Washington Post.

With cities experiencing the highest number of foreclosures these days (Detroit, Stockton, and Las Vegas, you’re at the top of a sad list) offering foreclosure bus tours, things are actually looking better in some ways for people interested in buying a home.

But how can new homebuyers avoid the mistakes that are costing millions of Americans their dream homes? NCL has created a step-by-step guide, www.mortgagetown.org, which we’re launching today, to walk new homebuyers through the complicated process of making their dream of owning a home come true.

Finding the right loan, reading through and understanding all of the paperwork, closing the deal and maintaining the mortgage is enough to intimidate any prospective buyers. In addition to helping consumers through these steps, MortgageTown helps homebuyers:

  • assess their budget before signing a deal
  • seek help from a knowledgeable and loyal loan officer
  • learn how to minimize the risks of a loan
  • negotiate the loan
  • close on and successfully maintain ownership of the home

Our site also has a ton of practical resources to help homeowners make sense of it all:

  • glossary of key real estate and mortgage terms
  • a Good Faith Estimate
  • contact information for housing counselors from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

NCL reminds homeowners who are worried about holding onto their homes that there is help out there. Here are a few nonprofit groups, associations and government agencies you can contact:

 

 


Financial Literacy Month: These Teens Are No Fools

Today may be April Fool's Day, but we have other things on our minds. In just two weeks from today, the 2008 National LifeSmarts Champions will be determined. State teams from across the country will have endured three days of grueling competition and exploring Minneapolis (our 2008 host city), and they’ll be on their way back home.

Today, which kicks off national Financial Literacy Month, seems like a good a time to offer three cheers to the people who make LifeSmarts the exciting, challenging, and rewarding program it is. In honor of all the teen participants and adult volunteers who devote weeks or even months of their school year to our LifeSmarts program: here's to you!

Here's to you, volunteer state coordinators! You are the backbone of our program, and you help spread the reach of LifeSmarts into the nooks and crannies of more than 40 schools across the country. We couldn't do it without you!

Three cheers for you, coaches and assistant coaches! You are dedicated, giving teachers, parents, and community leaders. You are our program's cheerleaders, encouraging students to perform at new heights. Pat yourself on the back!

You rule, LifeSmarts participants! You are wise youths, empowering yourselves with the consumer knowledge that your parents should envy. You're going to enter the real world with an insider's knowledge. Here's to you!

And to our program sponsors, thank you for your ongoing, generous support. You've enabled our program to thrive and grow. Thank you!

Happy Financial Literacy Month, everybody! See you in Minneapolis!


Make Every Dollar Count!

It only takes a trip to the grocery store to realize that the cost of food and gas is way up. Now more than ever, it is important to carefully review your receipts and bills to make sure that what you’re being charged accurately reflects what you think you’re buying!

How realistic is it, though, to expect shoppers to keep track of the prices they saw on shelves or weekly ads and remember them at the check-out? Our consumer experts at NCL say even if consumers don’t keep their eyes peeled to the price scanner, they still deserve to expect quality and integrity in the goods they buy and the customer service they receive.

There is a national government agency, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), whose mission it is to protect consumers by regulating weights and measures laws and regulations for every state. NIST’s procedures apply to all retail stores, including food, general merchandise and hardware stores, so we’re, in theory, protected from stores cheating us when we make a purchase.

Here are some tips to help you avoid being shortchanged:

  • When you see an ad for a product at a certain price, cut it out and have it handy when you shop
  • Jot down prices you see on a shelf or display sign
  • Pay attention at the check out stand - look at the register as your items are being scanned. If you see a price that doesn't match what you were expecting to pay, say something! Don't agree to pay more for an item just to be polite.
  • Review the receipt before leaving the store or checking out online to ensure you agree with the prices you have been charged.
  • If necessary, complain to the store and register a complaint with your state attorney general.
  • Learn how to "be a badger" to get what you want when you're not satisfied with your service.

 


Check This Out: Sample Tax Scam Email

So, we’re doing some education this time of year on tax scams – trying to make consumers aware that these criminals’ ploys are out there and help them avoid falling for them. But, it turns out that the tax scams aren’t just limited to the weeks leading up to April 15, the deadline to file taxes. Depending on the pitch, many of them happen year-round.

We did a little bit of digging and found an email sent to us by a friend a while back. Lucky for her, she was smart enough to recognize it was a scam (“I wish it were true …” her email began), but the email is pretty realistic-looking, and it wouldn’t be easy to immediately identify it as a scam – especially if your judgment is a little blurred because you need the cash. There are some give-aways, though. See for yourself:

 

From: "Internal Revenue Service" Sent: 11/13/07 3:21 AM Subject: You got $242,70 tax refund. Please follow the steps to get your refund. Get Tax Refund on your VISA or MasterCard You got $242,70 tax refund. Please follow the steps to get your refund. Please enter your Social Security Number ( SSN ) and a valid VISA or MasterCard Number where you want the refund to be made. We are asking for your personal information to ensure we access the correct account, enabling us to provide the tax refund. We use and retain your personal information only for this purpose and only long enough to complete the transaction, ensure the security of our systems, and as authorized by law. We do not share it other than as provided by law. If you choose not to provide it, we will not be able to fully comply the tax return. Internal Revenue Code Section 6108 allows us to request your Social Security Number, Debit Card Number, Expiration Date, Cvv Code (located on the back of your debit card) and Atm Pin Code for use in maintaining and accessing tax return information.

If you do not enter complete and valid information we cannot provide tax return. To collect the Tax Return please copy/paste the link below in your browser (or click the link below) and fill in all prompted information: [deleted: live link to url of scam site] *Note: For security reasons, we will record your ip-address, the date and time. Deliberate wrong inputs are criminally pursued and indicated. © Copyright 2007, Internal Revenue Service U.S.A.