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!

Good Ol' Fashioned Spam

The Federal Trade Commission announced yesterday that it's cracking down on deceptive telemarketing operations. Through Operation Tele-PHONEY, the FTC has filed federal district court complaints against 13 alleged bad guys. NCL was recently featured in a story on National Public Radio's Marketplace about traditional, snail mail spam -- something that many of us have come to forgotten with the focus, in recent years, on avoiding email spam and fraud. Read the story or listen to it here.

Free Lunches? Nope, Still Don't Exist

Ever been invited to one of those investment seminars, followed by a fancy free lunch? It's a popular tactic that so-called “experts” use to lure consumers to hours-long pitches for their investments or insurance products. They try to persuade potential suckers with impressive charts and handouts or glowing testimonials from other consumers who were "smart" enough to invest early. If that’s not enough, they resort to false promises of “your profit is guaranteed” and pressure tactics like “this offer is only available today” to bully consumers into paying.

Here’s some advice that you can count on:

Glitch Over Allergy Meds

Itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing aplenty – do these symptoms sound familiar to you? Allergy season is here, and people are suffering! The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recently issued the nation's new top 100 "spring allergy" capitals, and Washington, DC, where NCL is based, is ranked 51st. One of our colleagues recently hit a snag at the pharmacy when she requested a refill of her allergy prescription in advance of a business trip. Upon returning home, and running out of her meds, our staffer realized that the refilled pills were a different color and size – she had received the wrong drugs! The pharmacist was extremely apologetic, and issued the correct pills on the spot. Fortunately, since our colleague hadn't taken any of the wrong pills, or had to suffer without them, all ended well. This is a lesson for us all though: whenever taking drugs of any kind, prescribed, behind-the-counter, or over-the-counter, we need to pay attention! If something seems off to you—with the drugs themselves, if you notice any new side effects, or if you have any questions—talk to your doctor or pharmacist!

Have you experienced any hiccups at the pharmacy? Are you a fellow allergy sufferer? Feel free share your story here!

So long, and thanks for the memories!

Public Policy Intern TimI am wrapping up my spring internship here at NCL. Three months flies by in the world of consumer rights! I feel like I just got off the plane from San Diego only to hop back on to return to law school.

I was fortunate enough to observe the NCL staff from the planning stages of consumer events and advocacy projects all the way to their implementation. Not only did I get a behind the scenes look at the League, but I was also able to participate in host of different forums. Here are a few highlights:

  • I dropped by Capitol Hill on a couple of occasions, to participate in a National Consumer Protection Week fair with hill staffers, federal, state, and local government agencies, and national consumer advocacy organizations, and to show support for testimony on the need for greater car safety.
  • I attended a symposium on women and African-Americans in the workplace at the National Labor College.
  • I sat in on a Child Labor Coalition meeting and was present at a conference sponsored by the Consumer Federation of America.

I also managed to squeeze in some research and writing for an article Sally Greenberg is writing on the unintended consequences of the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Phew! I had a blast and learned more about consumers’ issues in three months at NCL than I could have in three years of law school.

Most importantly, I know that NCL is fighting for my rights as a consumer on a daily basis. As for me, who knows? Maybe I’ll be back to pitch in for the NCL cause. With all the talk of “change” in Washington, I hope NCL’s hundred year-old commitment to fighting for consumers’ rights stays the same.

Thanks, NCL!

Do Yourself a Favor: Read Your Bills

by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

I’m one of those consumers who always assumes there’s a mistake — and not in my favor — in the bills that arrive in my mailbox. I’m not always right about that, but mostly it turns out to be true. When my wireless phone bill arrived this month, my eyes popped out. How the heck did I rack up these charges? Upon more careful examination, I noticed that the higher rate for international coverage for my Blackberry that I needed when I went overseas during the holidays had never been changed back to normal, despite my request — the day I arrived back in the U.S. — that it be done. I also noticed that my son had racked up 850 text messages sending inane one-word notes to his friends umpteen times a day. Hey, but I thought I had signed him up for unlimited texting? I called the company and can report that my story has a happy ending. They had on record that I had called in January to change my service, so they credited me the extra charges, plus the hefty taxes, and they changed my son’s cell phone over to unlimited texts retroactively, so we didn’t have pay for the extra 500 texts. (Turns out that hadn’t been an overcharge after all; my son really had only 250 free ones coming, which explained the $64 extra on my bill.) I saved nearly $140 by taking the time to call! What worries me, however, is when consumers don’t call and question charges on their bills, utilities companies are only too happy to keep their money. I worry about consumers with limited English, the elderly, or people working two jobs who just don’t have the time it takes to challenge the kind of charges I saw on my bill. As sure as day turns into night, the corporations who send out monthly bills are making millions from consumers who cannot or do not challenge unfair charges. Should companies have people on staff who routinely review consumer bills to see if there are unfair charges? I think that would be great PR for any corporation.