National Consumers League is Anti-Scam Veteran: Internet Scambusters #505
When it comes to long service in the battle against scams, the National Consumers League is in the vanguard.
As America's oldest consumer organization, it has campaigned for the public interest for more than 110 years.
But, as we explain in this week's spotlight issue, its approach to Internet fraud and telemarketing scams is bang up to date.
National Consumers League Targets Telemarketers and Online Scams
Although, as we reported in our recent 500th issue, Scambusters is probably the Internet's longest-running anti-scam publication, we're still youngsters in the world of fraud protection compared with the National Consumers League (NCL).
NCL is America's oldest consumer organization (founded in 1899) and takes center stage this week in our occasional series spotlighting some of the nation's leading anti-scam campaigners.
It's a non-profit membership organization, based in Washington DC, whose mission is "to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad."
That's rather a broad sweep, but the National Consumers League has a particular remit for tracking down and exposing fraud against consumers.
The organization has its own Fraud Center, which is actually hosted on a separate website with a separate mission: "...to give consumers the information they need to avoid becoming victims of telemarketing and Internet fraud and to help them get their complaints to law enforcement agencies quickly and easily."
To this end, NCL includes an online complaint form for victims of these particular frauds.
When completed, complaints are sent to law enforcement agencies, which, says NCL, will treat them the same way as if they received the complaint directly.
The advantage is that you only have to fill in one form, which is then sent to local, state and federal law enforcement.
"Since most agencies cannot take legal action on every individual complaint, they look for patterns of fraud," the organization explains.
"That's why it's so important to report it. We can't make any guarantees about what will happen, but we know that the information that consumers provide is essential for stopping fraud."
The National Consumers League also runs a number of scam awareness education programs.
Earlier this year, it helped launch ThinkB4U.com, a site and program to help consumers learn how to navigate the Internet safely. (No longer a working site.)
The interactive site, a partnership initiative with Google, Common Sense Media and Connect Safely, tracks the way a family typically uses the Internet during the course of a day, highlighting good and bad practices.
ThinkB4U is aimed at all sections of the population, but the National Consumers League also specifically targets the younger generation about scams through its LifeSmarts program.
LifeSmarts -- "The Ultimate Consumer Challenge" -- is an interactive, education-oriented competition for teens, run in conjunction with various partners and with separate programs in each state.
It doesn't deal just with fraud, but teaching teens about technology-related scams is high on its list of priorities.
"Teens online need to play it safe," NCL warns. "A few simple guidelines include guarding personal information from strangers, learning about the privacy policies of the sites they visit, distinguishing advertising from other content, and recognizing that offers that are 'too good to be true' are possible frauds."
LifeSmarts offers a huge range of educational material and study programs for teachers, youth leaders and volunteers.
Its competition is a nationwide, online team challenge.
Among its advocacy issues, the National Consumers League has recently filed a complaint against a confusing nutritional scoring system being used in some grocery stores that suggests, for example, that potato chips are three times more nutritious than canned peaches.
The organization has also been a vocal campaigner against phone bill cramming, notably third-party billing for non-phone services that consumers often get tricked into signing up for.
Like Scambusters, NCL also publishes its own Top 10 list of scams based on filed complaints. Its 2011 chart, released a couple months back, lists the following order:
1. Bogus lotteries and prizes.
2. Fake checks.
3. Phony or non-existent merchandise offered on the Internet.
4. Phishing for identity theft (#1 in the Scambusters chart).
5. Upfront fees for bogus loan modification programs.
6. Phony scholarship schemes.
7. Sweetheart scams.
8. Nigerian letter scams.
9. Grandparent scams -- bogus distress calls from supposed grandchildren.
10. Internet auctions.
As we have previously highlighted, one of the most significant aspects of many of these scams is the extent to which some of them specifically target older folk.
So, for example, although lottery/sweepstakes scams accounted for around 30% of all complaints, with the 65-plus age group they made up twice that proportion -- around 60% of all senior scams were lottery-related.
On the other hand, young people in the 18-25 years age range were most vulnerable to fake check scams, NCL reported.
It's no surprise that the most common form of financial loss in scams was through untraceable money wiring and that the scammers behind them are heartless crooks who don't care one bit about the pain, loss and misery they cause.
"Fraudulent telemarketers and web-based scammers are hardened criminals out to take their victims' life savings," says NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. "The best way for consumers to fight back is to get educated and not be afraid to report such fraud to law enforcement. Scammers know all too well that their victims are often embarrassed and count on this to continue to perpetrate their crimes."
It's good to know that a venerable organization like the National Consumers League is still playing such a vital role in the battle against scams.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.