by National Consumers League staff
Today is Cyber Monday, the day retailers herald as seeing the most Internet-based shopping activity. In fact, some are going so far as to expect that more money will change hands (from consumers to merchants) than did even on Black Friday.
If so many Americans are avoiding the mall and shopping online, how do they know whether they’re perusing the virtual “aisles” of reputable merchants or about to fall victim to the sophisticated scams of con artists operating online? By getting to know our tips for shopping online safely, that’s how!
by Ria Eapen, NCL Health Policy Associate
Two Fridays ago, I attended a Food and Drug Administration briefing on the Reagan-Udall Foundation following the much-awaited release of the names of the Foundation’s board members earlier that day. The briefing was led by Dr. Janet Woodcock, FDA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Medical Officer, and participants at the briefing included representatives from patient and consumer advocacy groups.
by Sally Greenberg, NCL
Managing our long lists of gifts and recipients each holiday season is stressful enough, even without the added anxiety over safety issues. With all of the bad publicity that toys have gotten over the past six months – with excessive levels of lead paint in trains imported from China, magnets that would be deadly if swallowed by young children, and a bizarre chemical found in the coating of some toys – shopping for kids is more complicated this holiday season than ever.
The good news is that with all the attention to toy safety issues, useful advice for avoiding hazards is easy to find so if you are shopping for holiday presents for the kiddies, don’t despair. Here are some tips NCL is offering this holiday shopping season:
Relax. Remember that any toy that has been recalled should be off the shelves and not available for purchase. As a result, the risk of buying a toy with lead paint is greatly reduced this holiday season. In addition, retailers are testing toys themselves in far greater numbers than ever before. They claim toy selections have never been safer.
Want to avoid Chinese toys altogether? It should be easier this year, as retailers say they’re offering alternatives. ToysRUs, for example, claims to carry more products from more countries than anyone and its clerks should have lists of toys made in countries other than China to help customers find what they want.
Watch the age-ratings on products. A product that is safe for a 6-year-old might not be safe for a toddler.
Go for safer toys. Some categories are less prone to safety concerns like lead paint or magnets. These include learning toys, board games, and the newer interactive plush toys.
Watch out for small parts. Toys for children younger than 3 are banned from containing small parts, and toys for 3- to 6-year-olds that have small parts are required by federal law to carry a warning label. Sometimes those labels are absent or hard to read because of small print or unclear descriptions of the hazard, so take a close look at the product itself to ensure the toy doesn’t have dangerous small parts if you are buying it for a kid under 6.
by Darlene Adkins, Child Labor Coalition
Who’s not attracted to this concept? For many of us – admit it – our primary source of guilt is over the calories and fat. Well, we’re somewhat mollified these days since we know cocoa is so loaded with antioxidants — yay!
But, that’s not the source of the “guilt” I’m talking about. Remember the news reports that crop up periodically about serious types of child labor being used in cocoa growing in Ivory Coast and Ghana – the major supplying countries of cocoa? Yeah, those two countries supply about 70 percent of the world’s cocoa. And, we’re not talking about an afterschool job, but awful stuff like forced labor and human trafficking of children.
Nobody wants something like this in their cocoa. Well, in about seven months, the rubber meets the road – or maybe we should say the candy meets the wrapper.
On July 1, 2008, a system is supposed to be in place to provide consumers with some ongoing measurement of the worst forms of child labor in cocoa growing in Ghana and Ivory Coast and assessment of the success of the cocoa industry’s actions to address the problem.
We’re keeping our eyes on the process and will report back as the date draws closer. The key is for a transparent system that allows the public access to data and reports and an independent verification to ensure that what we hear about the labor behind cocoa is truly credible.
By Rebecca Burkholder, VP for Health Policy at NCL
This week I spoke at a Food and Drug Administration public meeting on whether certain drugs should be available without a prescription and sold from “behind-the-counter” with counseling from a pharmacist. This “BTC” class of drugs would make some drugs that were previously available only with a prescription available to consumers without spending time and money on a doctor’s visit. The public meeting was a chance for FDA officials to hear the wide range of arguments both for and against establishing this new class of drugs, and to get a glimpse at the many issues that would be raised with the introduction of a new class of drugs. Some type of BTC or pharmacy class of drugs already exists in many other countries. Canadians, Australians, and residents of the United Kingdom have access to BTC drugs. Should Americans be next?
I’m in favor of the creation of this third BTC class because it would increase patient access to the meds we know they can safely use, after consulting with a pharmacist, to self-treat conditions they can easily diagnose for themselves, like allergies or migraines. However, along with other consumer groups, we have some concerns about how the system would work. There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered. Which drugs can safely be placed behind-the-counter? And how can we ensure that consumers get useful counseling by the pharmacist in a private area? All too often the line at the pharmacy counter is endless, and pharmacists’ time too short to provide counseling.
By the end of the day the FDA acknowledged that it was not ready to make a decision regarding a new BTC class of drugs, but that it was helpful to hear the variety of opinions. After reviewing all the comments submitted on this issue, the FDA will consider where to go from here.
By Susan Grant, Director of NCL’s Fraud Center
Most consumers don’t know that their activities online may be tracked by companies that create profiles of them based on the Web sites they visit, the pages they look at, the ads they click on, what they buy, and other information about their behavior. These profiles help businesses target their ads to those consumers who are most likely to be interested in their products or services.
So, for instance, if you’re an avid golfer and you’ve visited Web sites about golf or bought golf equipment online, you may see an ad for golfing vacations to Scotland the next time you visit a travel Web site. This isn’t necessarily sinister — you may want to see ads that are tailored to your interests. But the practice, behavioral tracking and targeting, raises concerns about privacy, security of personal information, the potential for discrimination, and use for other purposes such as law enforcement. Even though these profiles may not include consumers’ names, they may contain information that can easily be linked to specific people.
On November 1 and 2, 2007, the Federal Trade Commission held a Town Hall that brought members of the online advertising industry together with researchers, consumer representatives, privacy advocates, and others to discuss these concerns. Today, the National Consumers League submitted comments asking the FTC to take action to protect consumers and ensure trust in the online marketplace. One interesting idea, which NCL supports, is to create a national “Do Not Track List” similar to the popular “Do Not Call Registry” for consumers who don’t want to be tracked online.
by Susan Grant, Director of NCL’s Fraud Center
When you work on a national public education
project, it’s often hard to tell if the message really works. So it’s been gratifying to hear from consumers (below) that our effort to warn people about fake check scams is succeeding! On October 3, we launched a new Web site, www.fakechecks.org, and a major publicity campaign in partnership with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, major banks, money transfer services, and others who shared our concern about the epidemic of fake check scams that is sweeping our nation.
You’ve probably seen the commercials, like the one with the guy on the bus who tries to give the woman a check as a down payment for the millions she has supposedly won in a foreign lottery. Fake check scams have become the top telemarketing fraud and the second most common Internet scam reported to NCL’s Fraud Center. The average loss is $3,000-$4,000 — that’s a lot of money for most of us. But the consequences can be even more severe.
We recently blogged about popcorn lung, a disease associated with exposure to a chemical found in the production of butter-flavored popcorn and other products. Here’s part two.
by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Given NCL’s view that consumers care about more than just the bottom line when it comes to the products they purchase, we decided to conduct an informal phone survey to see what kind of information popcorn makers were providing consumers about the safety of their products.
by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Butter-flavored microwave popcorn has long been a consumer favorite, but the chemical that gives it that buttery flavor – diacetyl – has caused serious lung impairment, known as “popcorn lung,” so called because many cases have occurred among factory workers who make the product. This is a concern for workers and consumers alike. On October 17, 2007, I attended a “roundtable discussion” outside Washington DC called by Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to discuss “popcorn lung” disease.
by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Five years ago, I had the pleasure of putting my home phone number on the first national Do Not Call list. Dramatically seeing the number of unwanted telemarketing calls drop was a joy for my family. Back when the list was created in 2002, the plan was that consumers who added their phone numbers to the list would remain on it for five years. When the five years were up, they’d have to sign up again. (Unless, of course, they missed being interrupted at dinner time and wanted the calls to resume.)
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission, the agency responsible for the implementation of the list, announced it would not be purging the numbers after five years and require that people re-up. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection of the Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony from the FTC last week pledging to keep the list going without dropping any names. Great news for consumers! Further steps taken by Congress recently indicate our phone numbers will remain protected. House and Senate committees passed bills making it permanent. We see this as a win-win, and I was on National Public Radio’s Marketplace earlier this week to talk about it.