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!

Tax Time = Scam Time

April 15 is a date that is on many of our minds this time of year, and the clock is ticking.

It’s no news that scammers work year-round. But now, more than ever, NCL’s Fraud Center is finding that con artists are going after consumers through tax refund and rebate scams. So, this year, not only do consumers need to rush to get their taxes filed on time, but they need to watch out for scams as well.

NCL’s Fraud Center has been tracking the scam since April 2005, and we’ve found that most of the set-ups consumers report are variations of phishing scams. It's happening via both phone and email, and there are several pitches, ranging from claims of "tax relief" services to help speeding up refunds.

There are a bunch of different variations of the scam, but one victim’s story stands out in particular:

Stephen was worried about the money he owed the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and he was contacted by a company that assured him they would settle his debt. He sent his personal information and tax returns from previous years to the “tax attorneys.” He used his credit card to pay the $9,500 the company told him he owed. One week later the company said that they could not help Stephen. When he asked for his money back, they wished him “luck” and hung up on him!

Stephen is not alone, but there is some good news: many of the complaints we're getting are from consumers who were savvy enough to recognize the pitch as a scam, and many aren't falling for it!

Now that millions of consumers are expecting to receive their Economic Stimulus check in the coming months, our fraud counselors are concerned that more consumers will be duped by scammers, so we're reminding consumers that the IRS does NOT use email to initiate contact with taxpayers about issues related to their accounts.

Bad Economy Blurring Your Judgment?

Budget cuts. Credit crunch. Foreclosures galore.

The cost of daily necessities such as food and gas continue to rise, and the status of our economy is bleak. In a panic, a slightly questionable opportunity to make some quick cash may seem even more appealing.

But NCL is reminding consumers this month to carefully evaluate offers to work from the comfort of home. Be cautious about emails offering work-at-home opportunities.

Just because the company places an ad for a job in a reputable paper, Web site or magazine does not make the offer legitimate. Don't get involved in work that requires depositing a check in your bank account and them wiring them money -- that's a fake check scam!

Report suspected work-at-home scams or any other telemarketing and Internet scams to NCL’s Fraud Center.

This month's tips from NCL's "2008 Consumer Calendar: Do We Have Tips for You!" on avoiding fraudulent Work-at-Home offers are sponsored by Quixtar.

Sunshine in Litigation Act Gets Boost in Senate

Three cheers for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved what the New York Times called in a March 12 editorial “a modest but potentially life-saving bill” known as the Sunshine in Litigation Act, a piece of legislation that would require judges in federal courts to take into account public interest before granting a request for secrecy. In a letter NCL sent, along with Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Government Accountability Project, and U.S. PIRG, to the Honorable Senator Herb Kohl, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, we argued our support for the act and encouraged senators to see to it that it’s passed quickly. The issue is this: when companies are in the middle of a product liability case, they often demand, as a stipulation of their settlement, that individuals involved must agree to terms that will prevent them from disclosing any public safety hazards that may have been uncovered during litigation. This is a totally anti-consumer practice: allowing the sealing of all litigation records, especially when they involve matters that affect public health and safety, endangers consumers and encourages corporate wrongdoing. The new act preserves a company’s rights to protect important “trade secrets,” so this should be a new rule all parties can live with. We’ll continue to follow this bill as it makes its way through the legislative process. You go, Judiciary Committee! Next up: Senate Floor.

Remembering Howard Metzenbaum (1917-2008)

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The National Consumers League and its allies in the consumer advocacy world lost a friend and icon last week: U.S. Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH), who supported the work of the Child Labor Coalition as a Senate Advisor. Metzenbaum championed the rights of consumers and workers in Congress and was beloved by consumer and labor leaders alike. For example, to protect workers from the disruption of plant closings and loss of jobs, Metzenbaum authored a law requiring 60 days’ notice before a company could shut down a plant.

Metz, as he was called, never shied away from a fight – often infuriating the conservatives in Congress. And when he retired from the Senate, he agreed to serve as Chairman of the Consumer Federation of America. Lucky CFA! I would be hard-pressed to name another Senator whose name is so synonymous with consumer rights and protections. For Metzenbaum, there were no sacred cows - he went after big oil, the insurance and pharmaceutical industry, banks, in his nearly twenty years of service. He also championed the campaign for universal health insurance, an issue with as much (perhaps more) urgency today as it had back in the 1980s.

During my decade with Consumers Union, I worked with many former Metzenbaum staffers and the Senator himself. He reviewed the resumes of applicants for CU’s Esther Peterson Public Interest Fellowship, and I worked on vetting aspiring consumer advocates for that program. They share common traits that I see in many consumer colleagues: indefatigable advocacy for consumer issues in Congress and in the federal agencies and an unwillingness to take “no” for an answer when consumer rights and protections are at stake, even when the deck is stacked against them.

Senator Howard Metzenbaum, vocal and fearless consumer advocates in Congress are a rare breed and we will miss you.

Great Youth Educational Resource:

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director I had the opportunity to travel up to New York City last Friday with dsc01258_edited.jpgNCL Board member Sam Simon to attend the unveiling of the Verizon Foundation’s new educational Web site. The event was part of the New York’s public television station’s (WNET) Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference. And what better way to spend the last day of National Consumer Protection Week than celebrating our friend and avid LifeSmarts’ partners’ own initiative aimed at K-12 graders. Here I am (in the photo on the right), between our hosts: Kathy Brown, Senior Vice President, Public Policy Development and Corporate Social Responsibility and Patrick Gaston, President of the Verizon Foundation. The conference featured luminaries such as ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, and NBC News anchor and correspondent, Ann Curry. The press conference highlighted an enhanced - the Verizon Foundation's free, comprehensive program and online portal to 55,000 educational and literacy resources for teachers, parents and students. The site features lesson plans and interactive activities, and the ability for users to search for resources tailored to individual state standards. Sam and I were impressed by the many resources offered to students and teachers by the site. The National Consumers League shares Verizon Foundation’s commitment to educating young consumers through groundbreaking new technologies and looks forward to our continued work with the Foundation. The site offers valuable content for students and teachers alike, and we encourage everyone to check it out.