The National Consumers League has issued kudos to the U.S. House of Representatives for voting to delay the official date of the federal transition from analog to digital television.
You’ve probably heard of the impending transition, which is set for Feb. 17. Consumer advocates are concerned, however, that there are still many consumers out there – an estimated 6.5 million! – who are unprepared for the switch. Those rabbit-ear-relying TV watchers would be in for a rude awakening when the analog signals stop airing. If they haven’t yet subscribed to cable or satellite, swapped their TV for one with a digital signal, or purchased a converter box, they may be baffled when their sets go blank later this month. Unless, that is, the delay is made official, and advocates, government, and others are given more time to reach those millions of consumers with the info they need to make the switch.
Sally Greenberg, NCL‘s Executive Director, had this to say about the move by the House:
“The decision by the U.S. House of Representatives to approve a four-month delay in the shutdown of analog TV signals is a victory for the estimated 6.5 million U.S. households that remain unprepared for the DTV transition. Consumers in these unprepared households are disproportionately elderly, low-income, rural, and minority. The delay will allow time for governmental, private, and non-profit educational efforts to have greater effect and for more converter box coupons to be sent to consumers currently on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s waiting list. The delay will also help avoid the nightmare scenario of consumers, particularly older ones, climbing their roofs in February to adjust TV antennas due to the transition. We urge President Obama to sign the bill to law as soon as possible.”
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.
by Susan Grant
There’s a lot of talk about the “global marketplace,” but what does that mean for the average consumer? It’s not just about buying something online from a business in a foreign country. It also encompasses the fact that many goods and services sold in the United States are produced in or provided by other countries. It’s also true that many of the companies that American consumers deal with operate in other countries as well, so the policies and practices of those businesses can affect consumers on a global scale.
One important organization that looks at consumer protection globally is the Committee on Consumer Policy at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD represents 30 major democractic industrialized countries from around the world. NCL is sometimes invited by the U.S. government to be part of its delegation to the CCP. At the fall meeting of the CCP, which just concluded in Paris, many issues that are important to U.S. consumers were discussed, including mobile commerce, online identity theft, protecting consumers in the telecommunications market, consumer education, and the role of business self-regulation.
I gave an update on the activities of the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, a coalition of 60+ consumer organizations from the U.S. and Europe that provides input to governments on both sides of the Atlantic about how to ensure that consumers have strong, consistent rights and protections.
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.
by Susan Grant, Director of NCL’s Fraud Center
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.