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!

Are banks doing enough to protect their customers from fraud?

by Susan Grant The answer, in my opinion, is that they can and should do more, and that was the focus of a speech I gave on October 16 a conference organized by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal agency that regulates national banks. The conference brought together people who handle consumers' questions and complaints from the OCC, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the Office of Thrift Supervision. I used four problems -- the current mortgage foreclosure crisis, identity theft, unauthorized debits from consumers' bank accounts, and the explosion of fake check scams -- to provide examples of how banks can help their customers avoid becoming fraud victims. I also asserted that the people who work in the bank regulators' helplines can play an important role in educating both consumers and banks and in spotting serious problems that may need to be addressed quickly.


Entertainment Industry Making Child Labor Abuse News

Last week, the parent company of American Idols Live Tour ‘07’ agreed to pay the New York State Department of Labor $5,000 in fines for 16 child labor violations involving two under age 18 performers.

Earlier this fall, a new television series used children as young as eight years old to scruff out a community of sorts, run by youth, in an isolated New Mexico community. Rumors of injuries, of children performing illegal occupations, and of other exploitation have earned scrutiny of the program. Children participating in the program received $5,000 for their 40 days of round-the-clock on-air entertainment.

Well done to the New York State Department of Labor! Not blinded by the “stars in the eyes” syndrome, it recognized that all working children, regardless of the glamour or lack thereof of the activity, deserve protection from child labor exploitation.

 

In New York State, employers who use performers under 18 must register with the state to ensure compliance with all labor and worker compensation laws. They have to obtain an employment permit for each minor whose services they use. This provides the state with the information of where and how youth are working in entertainment – are they in a bar? -- are they in a strip club? – are they working three shows a day with no days off – is a portion of their wages being protected in a trust fund – is their education being provided – is it a safe workplace?

The bad news is that protecting children in entertainment is up to the states. The worse news is that 19 states, more than a third, don’t regulate children working in entertainment whatsoever. Twenty-five states do not even require the most basic regulation: the requirement for a work permit. Only a handful has bothered to adequately address the safety, education, financial protection, working conditions, morals, and health of children working in entertainment.

It’s a patchwork quilt of state protections. It’s been a long time since Congress provided the exemption from protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act for children working in entertainment. Who has the guts to take this on and once and for all to pass federal protections for these working children?

 


Child Labor in America: Wood chipper Tied to Teen Death

by Darlene Adkins, VP for Public Policy at NCL and Coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition

Did you know that one working teen dies, on average, every five days in the United States?

It's happened again. A young worker's life has come to a tragically early end because of a deadly workplace accident. North Carolina and federal labor department officials are investigating whether child labor laws were broken in last week’s death of a 17-year-old working with a wood chipper. The young man, Nery Castaneda, became entangled in the wood chipper 3 months into his job, where his assignment was to grind up wooden pallets to make mulch.

Death's like Nery's are devastating for the family and heart-wrenching to us child labor advocates, who see the failure of child labor laws to protect working teens as the culprit.

 


October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month: Avoid ID Theft Online

by Susan Grant, Director of NCL's Fraud Centerphishinginfo.jpg Everybody knows that it's important to have a fire extinguisher and an insurance policy to protect their home in case of fire. But not everybody is as aware that they should have certain tools to protect their personal information online. To celebrate National Cyber Security Awareness month this October, we've added new information to our www.phishinginfo.org Web site about how to avoid becoming a victim of online identity theft.

Consumers have a lot of options for cyber protection, but it can be confusing. The new information on our site explains how verification engines, security toolbars, and other tools can help to keep your personal information safe and how to find them.

Get the tips here.


Phony Checks Costing Consumers Billions

fakeckeck_logo_nw.jpg blog posted by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The National Consumers League is the only consumer group that has a Fraud Center and is actively engaged in battling Internet and telemarketing fraud. This October 3, the Alliance for Consumer Fraud Awareness, of which NCL is a member, launched its “Fakechecks.org” Web site, with press conferences in New York and Washington, D.C.

I spoke at the press conference at the TimesCenter in New York, and the Director of NCL's Fraud Center, Susan Grant, spoke in Washington, DC at the Press Club. The centerpiece of the campaign is a new NCL Web site, www.fakechecks.org. The Alliance warned consumers that while there are many different ways scammers set up the fake check scheme, there is a single common thread running through them that can enable consumers to identify it as fraud: no one who legitimately wants to give you a check or money order for something would ask you to wire money anywhere in return.

NCL also called on banks to warn their customers that just because the funds are available quickly doesn't mean that the check is good.

The Alliance announced a new consumer survey found that 35 percent of adult consumers had been presented with a fake check at some point and that 28 percent of those had actually sent money back. Fake check scams tend to cost consumers between $3,000-4,000 each year. Based on these numbers, NCL estimates that the cost of fake check scams to be between $63 and $84 billion each year.

We’ve spotted 6 general categories of fake check scams: work at home, love losses, rental schemes, foreign business offers, sudden riches, and overpayments. The pitches scammers are coming up with are plausible, and the checks are so convincing – it’s no wonder consumers are falling for this! But we hope www.fakechecks.org will help spread the word about these phony checks.