Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel


Embed this content in your HTML

Search

Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Showcase


Channel Catalog


older | 1 | (Page 2) | 3 | newer

    0 0

    For Immediate Release

    Seattle, WA - A leading consumer group, WashPIRG, released the ninth in a series of reports that review complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  The latest report explores consumer complaints about medical debt, a major source of problems for consumers, since medical debt items on credit reports are often wrong or about the wrong consumer.  The report also demonstrates the need to defend the CFPB from partisan and special interest attacks.

    Medical debt collectors often employ aggressive tactics and attempt to collect debt from the wrong customers – putting consumers' credit records at risk. Medical debt accounts for more than half of all collection items that appear on consumer credit reports. Recognizing medical debt is both often mistaken and not a good indicator of future creditworthiness, leading credit score companies have begun to remove it from credit scores, but it still appears in credit reports. 

    “The CFPB is working tirelessly to stop unfair medical debt collection practices that harm innocent consumers, so why are some on Capitol Hill backing efforts to kill or weaken the CFPB?” asked Bruce Speight, Executive Director of WashPIRG. “This report provides strong, concrete evidence that CFPB Director Richard Cordray and the CFPB’s oversight are effective in protecting consumers. Both the director and the bureau must be defended.”

    Complaints submitted to the CFPB suggest that many consumers contacted about medical debt should not have been contacted in the first place, and that many contacts involve aggressive or inappropriate tactics.  Key findings of the report “Medical Debt Malpractice,” by the WashPIRG Foundation and the Frontier Group include: 

    • Nearly two-thirds (63%) of 17,701 complaints about medical debt collection reviewed in the report assert either that the debt was never owed in the first place, it was already paid or discharged in bankruptcy, or it was not verified as the consumer’s debt.
    • Many complaints document inappropriate and aggressive tactics including frequent or repeated calls, calls harassing friends and family, threats of legal action, or the use of abusive language.
    • Although impacts on credit reports are not categorized by the CFPB, they appear to be a significant source of complaints: 1,810 complaint narratives, or 35 percent of all medical complaint narratives submitted, contain the text “credit report.” 

    "Medical debt collection is a system run amok," said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, report co-author. "Our analysis of CFPB complaint data suggests that many of the consumers facing harassment and damaged credit due to medical debt never owed any money in the first place."

    The group noted powerful special-interests continue to spend many billions -- $2 billion on lobbying and campaign donations in 2015-2016 alone, according to the PIRG-backed Americans for Financial Reform, to weaken the CFPB and all of the Wall Street reforms enacted in 2010.

    The report’s key recommendations included the following:

    • Stop debt collectors and buyers from collecting debts without proper information and documentation about the debt and records of prior communications with the consumer.
    • Stop debt collectors from bringing robo-signed cases in court.
    • Crack-down on widespread use of threats, harassment and embarrassment in debt collection, and make it easier for the consumer to demand a stop to unwanted communications.
    • Protect servicemembers by strictly limiting contact with their commanders to verifications of address. 

    “Consumers deserve protection from unfair, aggressive, and illegal medical debt collection. Fortunately, they have a powerful resource in the CFPB, which has already taken multiple actions against collection companies that break the law while collecting medical debt,” Speight concluded. “Not only that, they need to preserve a strong CFPB because it’s the one agency working to make financial markets fair for consumers.”

    -30-

    WashPIRG is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. On the web at www.WashPIRG.org. WashPIRG Foundation is its research and education affiliate. On the web at www.washpirgfoundation.org.  

    Frontier Group provides information and ideas to help citizens build a cleaner, healthier, fairer and more democratic America. We address issues that will define our nation’s course in the 21st century – from fracking to solar energy, global warming to transportation, clean water to clean elections. Our experts and writers deliver timely research and analysis that is accessible to the public, applying insights gleaned from a variety of disciplines to arrive at new ideas for solving pressing problems. For more information about Frontier Group, please visit www.frontiergroup.org. 

    Report Demonstrates Need to Defend CFPB From Attacks
    WashPIRG Foundation

    A leading consumer group, WashPIRG, released the ninth in a series of reports that review complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  The latest report explores consumer complaints about medical debt, a major source of problems for consumers, since medical debt items on credit reports are often wrong or about the wrong consumer.  The report also demonstrates the need to defend the CFPB from partisan and special interest attacks.


    0 0
  • 04/11/17--07:42: Medical Debt Malpractice
  • Released by: WashPIRG Foundation

    Executive Summary

    Millions of Americans are contacted by debt collectors every year over debt related to medical expenses. 

    Medical debt collectors often employ aggressive tactics and attempt to collect debt from the wrong customers – putting consumers' credit records at risk. Medical debt accounts for more than half of all collection items that appear on consumer credit reports. A review of 17,701 medical debt collection complaints submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) shows that problems with medical debt collection are widespread and harm Americans across the country.

    Complaints submitted to the CFPB suggest that many consumers contacted about medical debt should not have been contacted in the first place, and that many contacts involve aggressive or inappropriate tactics.

    • Nearly two-thirds (63%) of complaints about medical debt collection assert either that the debt was never owed in the first place, it was already paid or discharged in bankruptcy, or it was not verified as the consumer’s debt.
    • Many complaints document inappropriate and aggressive tactics including frequent or repeated calls, calls harassing friends and family, threats of legal action, or the use of abusive language. 
    • Although impacts on credit reports are not categorized by the CFPB, they appear to be a significant source of complaints: 1,810 complaint narratives, or 35 percent of medical debt collection complaints contained in the database, contain the text “credit report.” 

    Figure ES-1. Most Complaints Concern Attempts to Collect Debt of Questionable Legitimacy (Debt Consumers Believe Was Already Paid, Never Owed, or Not Verified)

    A small number of companies are the subject of a disproportionate amount of total complaints. 

    • Just 10 companies account for more than 20 percent of all complaints. 
    • Tenet HealthCare, which ranks third for most medical complaints, was penalized in the CFPB’s largest enforcement action for illegal medical debt collection behavior.

    Nevada has the most medical debt collection complaints per capita, with 11.4 complaints per 100,000 residents. Florida (9.3), Delaware (9.0), Georgia (7.7) and New Jersey (7.4) have the next highest rates of complaints per capita.

    Medical debt collection affects a broad swath of the population and subjects millions of consumers to undue stress and financial harm. State and federal policymakers should work to protect consumers from unfair treatment by medical debt collectors. They should stop attempts to collect debts without proper information and documentation about the debt, stop debt collectors from bringing robo-signed cases in court, crack down on widespread use of threats, harassment and embarrassment in debt collection, and protect consumers from having their credit records unfairly affected by medical debt, among other actions.

    Federal policymakers should also defend the CFPB against attempts to eliminate or cripple it, and should continue to ensure the CFPB has the resources, independence and tools at its disposal to effectively protect consumers from all kinds of predatory financial behavior.

    Consumer Complaints About Medical Debt Collectors, and How the CFPB Can Help

    0 0

    For Immediate Release

    Today, WashPIRG Foundation, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP)), and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures calling on the multinational cosmetic giant L’Oréal USA to eliminate cancer causing chemicals and to disclose its secret “fragrance” chemicals. The petitions were gathered by these groups, as well as CREDO Action, Moms Rising and Story of Stuff, over the past two years. This Sunday, millions of Americans will be celebrating their moms and showering them with gifts such as beauty products and perfumes. However, some of those products may contain chemicals linked to cancer and other health hazards.

    “This Mother’s Day, don’t give your loved ones an unwanted dose of toxic chemicals,” said Dev Gowda, Toxics Advocate with WashPIRG Foundation. “L’Oréal should stand up for moms everywhere and pledge to be toxic-free. Many of their product ingredients have been linked to cancer and other health problems.”

    As Breast Cancer Prevention Partners Organizing Manager Sara Schmidt said, “Women shouldn’t have to worry about whether they are increasing their risk of breast cancer every time they use a mascara, or nail polish or other L’Oréal beauty product. L’Oréal should prove ‘we’re worth it’ by removing all cancer-causing chemicals from their beauty products.”

    The average American woman is exposed to over 100 different chemicals from personal care products alone every day. Consumers should be able to trust that the products they buy are safe — especially those that they apply directly to their bodies. Yet, when people shampoo or apply make-up like mascara, they often dose their bodies with numerous chemicals. Here's what was found on store shelves:

    • L'Oréal Colour Riche Nail Polish and Maybelline Color Show Nail Polish contain Benzophenone-1, a chemical linked to endocrine disruption and breast cancer.
    • At least four L'Oréal products (Maybelline Great Lash Mascara, L'Oréal toner, kids shampoo and mascara) contain four different formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. Formaldehyde is classified as a known carcinogen by respected scientific authoritative bodies.
    • Some anti-aging products contain Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which means PFOA contamination could be a problem in these products. “Fragrance” or “parfum” refers to a mixture of chemicals that don’t have to be labeled, due to a loophole in federal law. According to the International Fragrance Association, any of approximately 3,000 chemicals may be in a single fragrance.Some of the chemicals on this list have known links to cancer,reproductive and respiratory problems, and hormone disruption. Safer alternative products are available, and can be found use the Healthy Living and Think Dirty apps, or by looking for brands with Made Safe certification.

    Earlier this year, popular personal care product maker Unilever, which owns brands like Dove and Caress, made a bold move to announce that it would disclose most of its fragrance ingredients by 2018.

    Consumer, public health, and environmental groups across the country are urging L’Oréal to follow suit and disclose all of its fragrance ingredients, as well as remove carcinogens and other chemicals linked to health problems from its cosmetic products.

    "More and more companies are taking action to protect their customers from harmful chemicals. Just recently, CVS Health announced plans to remove three classes of chemicals of concern from their beauty and personal care products,” said Mike Schade of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families. “And we've seen major announcements on chemicals from retailers like Target and Walmart. L’Oréal should join the growing movement toward safer chemicals."

    View the petition drop at L’Oréal USA’s headquarters in NYC on Facebook Live at https://www.facebook.com/safecosmetics.

    Read WashPIRG Foundation's Personal Care Product Safe Shopping Guide “Getting Personal with Chemicals”, here.

    Read Breast Cancer Prevention Partners’ recent report on toxic chemicals in L’Oréal’s anti-aging products, “Anti-Aging Secrets Exposed,” here. 

    ###

    This Mother’s Day, consumer groups call on L'Oréal to go toxic-free and to disclose fragrance chemicals

    Today, WashPIRG Foundation, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP)), and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures calling on the multinational cosmetic giant L’Oréal USA to eliminate cancer causing chemicals and to disclose its secret “fragrance” chemicals. 


    0 0

    By Dev Gowda, WashPIRG Foundation Toxics Advocate and Tara O’Gorman, WashPIRG Foundation Toxics Intern

    We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

    CEH’s report, “Kicking the Can? Major retailers still selling canned foods with BPA,” finds that of the cans tested from four retailers, 38% tested positive for BPA.  BPA was found in 52% of the cans tested in the store 99 Cents Only, 33% of Kroger and Dollar Tree cans tested, and a whopping 36% of Albertson’s cans tested. Some of the cans with BPAs were mixed vegetables, cream of mushroom soup, and Campbell’s beef gravy.  

    BPA, or bisphenol A, is a chemical used to harden plastic. BPA has been linked to birth defects, breast cancer, prostate cancer, reproductive health problems and other serious health conditions. BPA is also harmful because it can imitate the body’s own hormones.

    BPA is found in hard plastics such as water bottles, baby bottles, and dental fillings. It is also found in household devices such as cell phones that are used multiple times daily.

    The study also found toxic BPA alternatives in cans. The toxic alternative PVC was found in 19% of the cans tested. In 2011, scientists from the FDA stated that canned foods are our “primary source” of BPA exposure.

    Federal regulations to aren’t effective enough. Consumers can better protect themselves by buying frozen or fresh food, or buying cans that have a BPA free logo on it. Consumers should also urge their local grocery stores to go BPA-free.

    WashPIRG Foundation is calling on retailers to eliminate and safely substitute BPA from all canned foods, and in the meantime, label all chemicals used in can liners. Consumers can check out the Kicking the Can guide before buying canned goods.

    Take action today by signing our petition here calling on Albertsons, owner of Safeway, Shaw's, Jewel-Osco, and other grocery chains to remove BPA from their cans.


    0 0

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Statement from WashPIRG Foundation Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on P&G’s Fragrance Disclosure Announcement.

    WashPIRG Foundation applauds consumer product giant Procter & Gamble, the maker of brands like Olay, Old Spice, and Pampers, for its announcement today that it will increase fragrance ingredient transparency in all of its consumer brands. 

    Consumers have the right to know if they are exposed to harmful chemicals. Some chemicals used in fragrance have been linked to cancer, but because companies aren’t required to disclose fragrance ingredients, consumers have no way of knowing if the products they apply to their bodies are putting their health at risk. P&G has listened to the public and is now increasing transparency in the chemicals that they use in their fragrances.

    Last year, WashPIRG Foundation and several other consumer, public health, and environment groups called on P&G to disclose fragrance ingredients and to pledge to be toxic-free. You can view our open letter here. WashPIRG Foundation also recently delivered thousands of petitions to P&G’s headquarters calling on the consumer giant to disclose fragrance ingredients.

    According to P&G’s statement, it will expand its current ingredient lists to include the fragrance ingredients in a product’s formulation above 0.01% (100 parts per million) through a smartphone or computer via SmartLabel. P&G aims to complete this update by the end of 2019.

    This is a victory for consumer product transparency. Other personal care manufacturers like L’Oréal should follow P&G’s lead and provide greater fragrance transparency.

    The ingredient “fragrance” or “parfum” refers to a mixture of scent chemicals and ingredients that are not required by law to be disclosed. According to the International Fragrance Association approximately 3,000 chemicals can be used to make fragrance, some of which have been linked to cancer, reproductive and respiratory problems, and allergies.

    P&G’s announcement comes on the heels of Unilever USA’s announcement in February 2017 that it will disclose fragrance ingredients in its personal care brands by 2018.

    While we applaud P&G’s actions today, we will also urge them to go further in protecting public health. P&G should also provide full fragrance disclosure to consumers on product packages, regardless of the product category and whether the product contains fragrance ingredients over 100 parts per million. For certain chemicals like endocrine-disrupting compounds, low level exposures have been associated with serious health effects. Putting the info right there on the package means that shoppers won’t need to pull out their smartphone or computer, which is one more hurdle to jump through. 

    While this is a move in the right direction to increase transparency for consumers, P&G should take the next step to protect public health and achieve full fragrance disclosure and remove all toxic chemicals of concern from their consumer product brands.

    WashPIRG Foundation applauds consumer product giant Procter & Gamble, the maker of brands like Olay, Old Spice, and Pampers, for its announcement today that it will increase fragrance ingredient transparency in all of its consumer brands.


    0 0

    For Immediate Release

    Two small explosions last night at a Texas chemical facility highlight that comprehensive emergency regulations need to be enforced more strictly at chemical plants.

    Rain from Hurricane Harvey flooded the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, damaging its refrigeration system. The plant stores dangerous organic peroxides, which need to be kept cool or they become volatile. The lack of refrigeration led to the explosions. The Federal Emergency Management Agency warns that the plant is still “incredibly dangerous.” In its worst-case scenario plan from 2014, Arkema stated that in the case of an explosion, 1.1 million residents could be impacted over a radius of 23 miles.

    Commonsense regulations could help us to avoid these explosions, and may have averted this current disaster. In June, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was delaying an Obama-era rule aimed at improving safety at U.S. chemical plants. This rule would have strengthened the federal Risk Management Program (RMP), which addresses some 12,500 facilities that use or store large quantities of highly toxic or highly flammable chemicals. Under the new rules, Arkema and other plants would have to engage in more coordination with local first responders to plan for incidents and make it easier for community members to learn about plant dangers. Further, the rule would require plants to evaluate whether they need greater safety improvements and emergency preparedness, such as strengthening backup power so refrigeration would be maintained in a storm.

    “The people of Texas have suffered enough from this natural disaster. And as Americans pitch together to provide support and relief for those affected by the floods, the added danger from chemical explosions is unconscionable,” said Kara Cook-Schultz, of WashPIRG Foundation. “The Trump Administration should listen to Americans across the country who have demanded more safety regulations on these chemical plants.”

    It is possible that the organic chemicals at the Arkema plant could be neutralized—however, the public cannot verify that, because Arkema does not provide information about the exact chemicals stored at their facility. Under the proposed rules delayed by the Trump administration, Arkema would have to provide that information to the public in the future.

    These Arkema explosions are not isolated incidents. According to the EPA, roughly 150 chemical disasters occur each year. In the worst cases, these disasters result in fatalities and serious injuries, with many others resulting in evacuations, and risk of harm to public health. One of the worst recent disasters was also in Texas. In 2013. in the town of West, 15 Americans died in a chemical plant explosion. More than 100 million Americans live within the vulnerability zone of a hazardous chemical facility, and one in every three schoolchildren in the U.S. attends a school within a danger zone.

    WashPIRG Foundation urges the Trump administration to implement the regulations requiring more coordination with emergency management, to have greater regulations on these facilities, and to provide more money for research into non-toxic alternatives for many of these chemical plants. Our thoughts are with the Crosby community and the first responders on the scene at this time.

    # # #

    WashPIRG Foundation is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.

     

    Two small explosions last night at a Texas chemical facility highlight that comprehensive emergency regulations need to be enforced more strictly at chemical plants.


    0 0

    For Immediate Release

     

    Statement by Elise Orlick at the WashPIRG Foundation, on the recently announced Equifax data breach.

    “The Equifax breach affecting over 140 million Americans appears to be the largest of its kind and is beyond troubling. The types of stolen information, including social security numbers and dates of birth, can be used to commit new account identity theft against all of these people. Additionally, stolen credit cards affecting over 200,000 people in this breach can also be used to commit existing account identity theft.

    Equifax should alert all affected people to the benefits of credit freezes and offer them to all Americans for free of charge with all three major national credit bureaus. For people who don’t want credit freezes, Equifax should offer free credit monitoring for an unlimited amount of time.

    Due to huge marketing pushes by credit monitoring services that only alert consumers to fraud after the fact, most Americans are not aware that they can actually prevent id thieves from opening new credit accounts in their names in the first place by placing freezes on their credit accounts at all three national credit bureaus. Credit freezes help prevent new account identity theft because they keep potential creditors from seeing consumer credit history, without which new accounts are typically not opened.

    When a credit bureau such as Equifax loses data, it is much more troubling than when a merchant is hacked. When a credit bureau tasked with acting as a gatekeeper to financial and employment success loses the keys to identity theft, that's very scary. How does one of the three major national credits bureaus lose this data? When did they discover this? And how are they going to respond?

    The firm should be held fully accountable by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” More information about placing credit freezes is available at

    http://uspirg.org/reports/usf/why-you-should-get-security-freezes-your-i...

    ###

    WashPIRG Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organizations that stand up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. On the web www.washpirgfoundation.org. 

    Equifax Should Offer Free Credit Freezes and Unlimited Credit Monitoring
    WashPIRG Foundation

    0 0

    For Immediate Release

    Consumers should know the risks and limits of what Equifax is offering and consider getting credit freezes with all three national credit bureaus instead.

    Equifax’s response to its breach fell short to begin with. But to make matters worse, there is an arbitration clause in its agreement for the free services it is offering. While the FAQ section of their website says the arbitration clause only applies to disputes that might arise from the services provided, the language in the actual agreement as of today is vague. It is unclear in the agreement whether or not Equifax also intends to bar victims of the data breach from joining class action lawsuits.

    Equifax should get rid of the arbitration clause from this agreement. Until Equifax removes this clause or at least clarifies these terms in the agreement itself, consumers should hold off on accepting Equifax’s package.

    In the meantime, consumers should consider the following actions:

    • Request free credit reports at all three credit bureaus to spot any unauthorized activity. The official website authorized by the government for requesting these free reports is annualcreditreport.com.
    • Place credit freezes on their credit reports with all three credit bureaus. Steps for doing this are available here.
    • Place free, renewable fraud alerts on your credit report if you decide not to place credit freezes on your credit reports.
    • Additionally, identitytheft.gov is the government’s official website that will walk you through clear checklists of actions you can take to recover from identity theft.

    The types of stolen information, particularly social security numbers and dates of birth, can be used to commit new account identity theft against everyone whose info was breached. This means bad guys could open fraudulent credit accounts and rack up tons of debt in your name.

    Due to huge marketing pushes by credit monitoring services that only alert consumers to fraud after the fact, most Americans are not aware that they can actually prevent id thieves from opening new credit accounts in their names in the first place by placing freezes on their credit accounts at all three national credit bureaus.  Credit freezes help prevent new account identity theft because they keep potential creditors from seeing consumer credit history, without which new accounts are typically not opened

    Equifax’s package includes credit monitoring at all three bureaus for only one year. Equifax should make it clear that monitoring only alerts people to fraudulent activity after it has occurred, and they should offer it indefinitely, not just one year. The stolen information does not have a shelf life.

    Equifax’s package also includes something similar to a credit freeze, something they call a “credit report lock,” but only for Equifax reports. Bad guys could still try to open credit accounts with companies that use the other two credit bureaus for credit checks. So a credit freeze with only one bureau is incomplete protection. Equifax should make clear the benefits of the credit freeze and offer it for free with all three bureaus, not just themselves. Equifax should reimburse consumers who place freezes on their own.

    Furthermore, it’s worth pointing out how long it took Equifax to alert the public about the breach. Equifax discovered the breach on July 29th, 2017. It has left people vulnerable to new account identity theft for over a month while it conducted its investigation. That’s a problem – people should have been alerted sooner and been given clear explanations about their options.

    More information about placing credit freezes is available at http://uspirg.org/reports/usf/why-you-should-get-security-freezes-your-information-stolen

    ###

    WashPIRG Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organizations that stand up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. On the web www.washpirgfoundation.org. 

    WashPIRG Foundation

    0 0

    Hackers gained access to the personal data of as many as 143 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

    Tips:

    1. Request a free credit report - all three credit bureaus will give you one free report per year.

    2. Consider placing a credit freeze with all three credit bureaus. See our step-by-step guide for freezing your credit.

    3. Don't accept any deal from Equifax until they confirm they won't take away your right to sue in all terms of use on its websites.

    4. If you’ve already been affected, take steps to recover from identity theft visiting identitytheft.gov.

    Frequently Asked Questions:

    Q: What happened?
    A: Equifax, one of the big three credit reporting agencies, announced on September 7th that it had been hacked, potentially compromising the data of 143 million Americans.

    The types of information taken from the massive credit bureau, particularly Social Security numbers and dates of birth, are the keys to new account identity theft. This means identity thieves could open fraudulent credit accounts and rack up tons of debt in your name.

    This is a big deal. To make matters worse, there’s a lot of confusion over what to do now.

    Q: Am I affected?
    A: Equifax has a website where you can use a tool to see whether your information has been hacked. We have seen numerous press reports that it gives different results at different times. Presume instead that it is more likely than not that your information has been compromised.

    Q: What should I do? 
    A: We recommend taking the following steps:

    • Request free credit reports at all three credit bureaus to spot any unauthorized activity. The official website authorized by the government for requesting these free reports is annualcreditreport.com.

    • Consider placing credit freezes on your credit reports with all three credit bureaus.More info about credit freezes and how-to do this are answered below.

    • Place free, renewable fraud alerts on your credit report if you decide not to place credit freezes on your credit reports.

    • Additionally, identitytheft.gov is the government’s official website that will walk you through clear checklists of actions you can take to recover from identity theft.

    Q: What is a credit freeze?
    A: A security freeze prevents new accounts from being opened by blocking your credit report from being shared with potential new creditors, such as banks or credit card companies. Most creditors will not issue new credit to a customer if they cannot see that customer’s credit report or score derived from it from at least one of the three major national credit bureaus. So if a thief applies for a new account in your name with your Social Security number and his or her own address, but your credit report is frozen, creditors will simply not open a new account.

    A security freeze does not affect your ability to use existing credit you already have, such as a credit card or loan, nor does it prevent existing creditors from reviewing your continued eligibility for current or additional credit.

    • You can easily unfreeze or “thaw” your credit report when you want to apply for new credit.

    • A security freeze does not affect your credit score. In fact, a security freeze helps protect your score by preventing your credit from being negatively scored if someone tries to fraudulently apply for credit in your name.

    • Security freezes are available to consumers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. A security freeze costs between $3-10 for each of the three major national credit bureaus, depending on the state. There is a $2-12 fee, depending on the state, for unfreezing your credit report with each bureau. All states give you the right to free security freezes if you can prove that you are an identity theft victim. Some states offer them for free to consumer 65 years+.

    • There are seven states where freezes are free to all consumers, whether they are identity theft victims or not:Colorado, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

    • Security freezes can also be placed by parents and legal guardians of minors and medically incapacitated consumers.

    Consumers who chose a security freeze should account for the time it can take to thaw their reports if they want to apply for credit in the future. In most cases if a request for a thaw is made online or over the phone, a report can be unfrozen within 15 minutes. However, it can take longer if a consumer lost his or her PIN number that was assigned when the report was frozen. It can also take up to three days of receipt of a thaw request if it is made via postal mail.

    Q: Why shouldn’t I accept the package offered by Equifax? 
    A: The package of services offered by Equifax falls short of protecting consumers.

    Also, to take advantage of Equifax’s package, you have to agree to be bound by an online agreement. Equifax’s original Package agreement included an arbitration clause, which Equifax could have tried to use to bar victims of the data breach from joining class action lawsuits. After public outcry, Equifax removed the arbitration clause from its agreement.

    However, Equifax has a separate Terms of Use agreement on its website which also includes an arbitration clause. There remains some concern that Equifax could try to use this clause to bind victims who agree to be bound by the Package agreement.

    Until Equifax get rid of the arbitration clause from all its sites and contracts, consumers should hold off on accepting Equifax’s package.

    Q: What is Equifax offering? And why does it fall short?
    A: Equifax is offering a package to anyone, whether their info was lost or not, made up of five different services or products. Services can be selected individually, in combination, or as a total package. This package falls short of protecting consumers. Here's what they are offering and what the limitations of each are:

    1. Copies of your Equifax credit report.
      Looking at your credit report is a good idea because you can spot unauthorized activity in your name. It's a good idea to check your credit report at all three bureaus, not just Equifax. You can request free copies of your credit report at all three bureaus at annualcreditreport.com, the official website authorized by the government for requesting these free reports. 
    2. Credit monitoring for one year at all three national credit bureaus.
      Credit monitoring alerts you to changes to your credit reports, which can help you spot unauthorized activity in your name.The types of stolen information, particularly social security numbers and dates of birth, can be used to commit new account identity theft against everyone whose info was breached. This means bad guys could open fraudulent credit accounts and rack up tons of debt in your name.Due to huge marketing pushes by credit monitoring services that only alert consumers to fraud after the fact, most Americans are not aware that they can actually prevent id thieves from opening new credit accounts in their names in the first place by placing freezes on their credit accounts at all three national credit bureaus. Credit freezes help prevent new account identity theft because they keep potential creditors from seeing consumer credit history, without which new accounts are typically not opened.  Equifax’s package includes credit monitoring at all three bureaus for only one year. Equifax should make it clear that monitoring only alerts people to fraudulent activity after it has occurred, and they should offer it indefinitely, not just one year. The stolen information does not have a shelf life.
    3. Equifax Credit Report Lock
      Equifax’s package also includes something similar to a credit freeze, something they call a “credit report lock,” but only for Equifax reports. Bad guys could still try to open credit accounts with companies that use the other two credit bureaus for credit checks. So a freeze or "lock" with only one bureau is incomplete protection. Equifax should make clear the benefits of the credit freeze and offer it for free with all three bureaus, not just themselves. Equifax should reimburse consumers who place freezes on their own.You're better off getting actual credit freezes with all three bureaus, not the one "lock" with Equifax. You can find out how to get all three credit freezes here.
    4. Social Security Number Monitoring
      Equifax advertises this services as searching "suspicious websites for your Social Security number." This service by itself  wouldn't' hurt,  but again, the only fraud that can actually be prevented once someone has your Social Security number is new account identity fraud. And the only way to prevent that is through credit freezes. You're best off getting credit freezes with all three bureaus.
    5. $1M Identity Theft Insurance
      This is a feature that reimburses you for costs incurred from identity theft. It’s worth noting that you might already have some sort of insurance or equivalent protection from fraud resulting from id theft that is extended to you voluntarily by your employer, your insurance company (as a rider on your existing homeowner’s or renter’s insurance), or your credit card issuer (as a perk), etc. It’s also important to point out that ID theft insurance, whether offered free or as part of a service that you’re paying for always has limitations, exclusions, and requirements and usually only covers incidental expenses to clear ID theft problems up such as postage and notary fees. It doesn’t usually reimburse you for money that’s been stolen from you, and if it claims to cover attorney’s fees, remember that such coverage is usually extremely limited.

    Q: How do I place a credit freeze?
    A: You can place a freeze online, over the phone, or in writing.

    Equifax
    Online: https://www.freeze.equifax.com
    Phone: 1-800-685-1111 (NY residents please call 1-800-349-9960)
    Mail: Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, Georgia 30348

    Experian
    Online: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
    Phone: 1‑888‑397‑3742
    Mail: Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, Texas 75013
    Experian includes a potentially confusing three paragraph “Security Freeze Warning.” They are just explaining that you will need to unfreeze your credit report before applying for credit if you ever wish to do so in the future. You might also notice right next to their warning is an offer to purchase their credit monitoring service for $15.95 a month – again, the credit freeze is the ONLY way to prevent new accounts from being fraudulently opened in your name and is much cheaper than paid credit monitoring.

    TransUnion
    Online: http://www.transunion.com/securityfreeze
    Phone: 888-909-8872
    Mail: TransUnion LLC, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022

    Additional detailed Identity Theft Tips from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission are here.

    Q: What do I do if I detect New Account Identity Theft?
    A: Take the following steps.

    Step 1: Notify your financial institutions. If you discover that your wallet, checkbook, credit card or other sensitive information has been lost or stolen, immediately notify the issuing bank, credit card issuer or relevant institution to close all existing accounts.

    Step 2: Get an Identify Theft Affidavit. If you suspect identity theft, report it to the Federal Trade Commission using the online complaint form or by calling 1-877-ID-THEFT. When making the report, you will be given an option to receive an Identity Theft Affidavit. This document, together with the police report, will be critical to minimizing the damage.

    Step 3: File a police report. If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, file a report with your local police department. When you make the report, bring a copy of the Identity Theft Affidavit. The police report will be important for insurance purposes. Keep copies of the police report and Identity Theft Affidavit.

    Step 4: Contact the three major credit reporting companies and place a fraud alert on your accounts. If you haven’t already, it’s time to place a security freeze.

    Q: What is our consumer team doing to solve the problems?
    A: Plenty. First, we're spreading the word through the media and on social media about how consumers can protect themselves. Help us reach more people by sharing our Facebook post here.

    Second, we're asking Equifax to do more to making things right for consumers. We're putting together a call to action requesting that the company offer free credit freezes for all three credit reporting companies; and, for consumers who choose not to freeze their credit reports, unlimited credit monitoring -- not just one year. After all, there's no expiration date on when thieves can use stolen personal information.

    Congress is planning to hold hearings on the issue. We'll urge members of Congress to address these issues and more, and reject legislation that would actually weaken protections at the credit reporting companies. And we'll continue to hold the companies accountable through our research, reports, consumer tips and media outreach.


    0 0

    For Immediate Release

    Statement from WashPIRG Foundation Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

    “Unilever USA is now live with fragrance disclosure ingredient lists in SmartLabel for numerous products across seven brands— Dove, Axe, Degree, Nexxus, Suave, TRESemmé and Vaseline. These are some of the most popular Unilever brands and it’s great that Unilever’s first round of implementation includes products for the entire family. The company announced in February 2017 that they will disclose ingredients in all personal care products by the end of 2018. We applaud Unilever USA for disclosing fragrances in certain products ahead of schedule.

    “While fragrance disclosure through SmartLabel is a good first step for Unilever and consumers’ right to know, the company should also provide full fragrance disclosure to consumers on product packages. Needing a smart phone in the store or having to look up the ingredients online at home before shopping is an unnecessary barrier for consumers. We will continue to push for Unilever to disclose fragrance ingredients on the product packages.

    “Some chemicals used in fragrance have been linked to cancer, but because companies aren’t required to disclose fragrance ingredients, consumers have no way of knowing if the products they are applying to their bodies are putting their health at risk.

    “The ingredient “fragrance” or “parfum” refers to a mixture of scent chemicals and ingredients that are not required by law to be disclosed. According to the International Fragrance Association approximately 3,000 chemicals can be used to make fragrance, some of which have been linked to cancer, reproductive and respiratory problems, and allergies.

    “Procter & Gamble recently announced a fragrance disclosure commitment similar to Unilever’s that they plan to implement by the end of 2019. 

    “L’Oréal USA, however, has made no such fragrance disclosure commitment. Earlier this year, WashPIRG Foundation delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures collected by WashPIRG Foundation and partner groups calling on L’Oréal USA to disclose fragrance ingredients. We will continue to push for L’Oréal USA to disclose fragrance ingredients. Consumers have a right to know. 

    “Last year, WashPIRG Foundation and several other consumer, public health, and environment groups called on Unilever, P&G, and L’Oréal to disclose fragrance ingredients and to pledge to be toxic-free.

    “While this is a great move in the right direction to increase transparency for consumers, Unilever should take the next step to protect public health and achieve full fragrance disclosure and remove all toxic chemicals of concern from their personal care product brands.”  

    Statement from WashPIRG Foundation Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel


    0 0
  • 09/20/17--10:52: Defend the Consumer Bureau
  • For more than 20 years, Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski has helped us stand up against big banks and credit card companies.

    A CONSUMER COP ON THE FINANCIAL BEAT

    You work hard to earn your money. You should be able to save, invest and manage your money without fear of being trapped, tricked or ripped off by the institutions you are trusting with your financial future.

    That’s why we need strong consumer protections on Wall Street. And from the 2008 economic collapse, we know how big of an impact those institutions can have on our economy when they play fast and loose with our money. It made it clear: Americans need a watchdog agency on Wall Street, devoted to creating and enforcing fair, clear and transparent rules to protect consumers.

    So in 2010, we helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to be our consumer cop on the financial beat.

    THE CFPB GETS THE JOB DONE

    Despite the fact that the CFPB is not widely known, they’ve been hugely successful at working for consumers, returning nearly $12 billion to more than 29 million people who were ripped off by companies that broke the law … in just six years.

    The Consumer Bureau holds big banks, debt collectors and lenders accountable. Here are a few examples of some of the cases the CFPB has taken on to protect consumers:


    When American Honda Finance used discriminatory pricing to rip off African-American, Hispanic and Asia/Pacific Island borrowers who paid too much for car loans, the CFPB returned $24 million to these consumers.


    The Department of Justice and 47 states joined the CFPB in a $216 million action against JP Morgan Chase Bank for illegal debt collection practices affecting over half a million Americans.


    When it was discovered that Wells Fargo employees were opening unauthorized debit and credit accounts using their customer's information, the CFPB fined Wells Fargo $100 million for fraud.

    The CFPB fined Equifax and TransUnion — two of the three largest credit reporting agencies — $5 million for selling inflated credit scores to consumers that were different from ones actually used by lenders and returned $17 million to those harmed by the deception.

     

    In addition, the Consumer Bureau has helped level the financial playing field, educating veterans, senior citizens, new homeowners, college students and low-income consumers on how to keep their finances secure.

    The Consumer Bureau's success should be earning it applause in Washington. Yet instead of cheering on the agency, the Trump administration and many members of Congress are pushing to weaken or even get rid of it.

    Even with the Consumer Bureau on the job, many Americans are still at risk of reckless financial practices that threaten their homes, their retirement savings and their overall well-being. That’s why we don’t simply need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to exist: We need to make it even better, by strengthening commonsense consumer protections.

    Issue updates

    Related topics

    Consumer Protection

    0 0

    For Immediate Release

    Statement from Kara Cook, WashPIRG Foundation Toxics Director:

    “Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals (known as “organohalogens”). The CPSC directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain these chemicals. Once again, the CPSC has made an important action for consumers.

    “The CPSC voted to issue a strongly worded guidance warning the public of the hazards posed by this class of flame retardants in children’s products, mattresses, electronic casings and furniture. This is a huge victory for consumers, firefighters, and children.

    “These chemicals have been associated with serious human health problems, including cancer, reduced sperm count, increased time to pregnancy, decreased IQ in children, impaired memory, learning deficits, hyperactivity, hormone disruption and lowered immunity.

    “Since these chemicals migrate continuously out from everyday household products into the air and dust, more than 97 percent of U.S. residents have measurable quantities of toxic organohalogen flame retardants in their blood. Children are especially at risk because they come into greater contact with household dust than adults, and have three to five times higher blood levels of these chemicals than their parents.

    “Firefighter organizations are deeply concerned about the use of this class of chemicals as well. When consumer products containing these chemicals burn, the fire and smoke become more toxic. The International Association of Fire Fighters has determined that there is a link between exposure to the fumes created when toxins burn and the disproportionately high levels of cancer among firefighters.

    “The CPSC’s vote to grant the petition will start a rulemaking process at the CPSC. However, because the rulemaking process will take time, the Commission is urging manufacturers not to use these chemicals in the production of children’s products, mattresses, furniture and the casings of electronics. The CPSC also announced that it will convene a scientific panel to provide guidance to assist the Commission staff regarding the hazards posed by organohalogen flame retardants.”

    Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals (known as “organohalogens”). The CPSC directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain these chemicals. Once again, the CPSC has made an important action for consumers.


    0 0

    For Immediate Release

    Statement from WashPIRG Foundation Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda

    “WashPIRG Foundation applauds retail giant Walmart for updating its sustainability policy to restrict toxic chemicals in 90,000 products including cosmetics and skincare items, infant products, and household cleaners.  

    “Walmart aims to reduce its consumables chemical footprint for Walmart and Sam’s Clubs U.S. stores by 10 percent by 2022, becoming the first U.S. retailer to set a time bound reduction goal. This means that the company plans to remove 55 million pounds of harmful chemicals out of products. In addition to its new chemical footprint reduction goal, Walmart will also ask suppliers to verify the purity of ingredients where contaminants of concern may exist.

    “The updated policy includes new goals for Walmart to restrict over 2,700 harmful chemicals in household products by 2022, increase transparency of ingredients globally, and encourage suppliers to certify their products to credible third-party standards such as EWG (Environmental Working Group) Verified and EPA Safer Choice.  

    “Walmart expects suppliers to provide full ingredient disclosure of priority chemicals both online, which it had already pledged, but now also on product packages, starting in 2018.

    “While we applaud Walmart for taking these important steps, we urge the company to completely eliminate toxic chemicals from products sold in its stores.

    “WashPIRG Foundation has been working with Safer Chemicals Healthy Families’ Mind the Store coalition to get retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals. This year, Best Buy, Costco, CVS, and Target have all announced new initiatives to address harmful chemicals in products.

    “Manufacturers have also been following consumer demands for increased chemical transparency. This year, Unilever USA and Procter & Gamble announced that they will disclose fragrance ingredients in their products. Many fragrance chemicals have been linked to negative health effects like cancer.”

    ###


    0 0

    For Immediate Release

    Statement from WashPIRG Foundation Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

    “After persuasion from U.S. PIRG and other consumer groups, Unilever USA is now disclosing the fragrance ingredients in many of its most popular products. You now can find more information about the Dove, Axe, Degree, Nexxus, Suave, TRESemme and Vaseline brands on the SmartLabel website or app, which Unilever and other U.S. companies use to share information beyond what's on a product label.

    "The company announced in February 2017 that they will disclose ingredients in all personal care products by the end of 2018. We applaud Unilever USA for disclosing fragrances in certain products ahead of schedule.

    “While fragrance disclosure through SmartLabel is a good first step for Unilever and consumers’ right to know, the company should also provide full fragrance disclosure to consumers on product packages. Needing a smart phone in the store or having to look up the ingredients online at home before shopping is an unnecessary barrier for consumers. We will continue to push for Unilever to disclose fragrance ingredients on the product packages.

    “Some chemicals used in fragrance have been linked to cancer, but because companies aren’t required to disclose fragrance ingredients, consumers have no way of knowing if the products they are applying to their bodies are putting their health at risk.

    “The ingredient “fragrance” or “parfum” refers to a mixture of scent chemicals and ingredients that are not required by law to be disclosed. According to the International Fragrance Association approximately 3,000 chemicals can be used to make fragrance, some of which have been linked to cancer, reproductive and respiratory problems, and allergies.

    “Procter & Gamble recently announced a fragrance disclosure commitment similar to Unilever’s that they plan to implement by the end of 2019. 

    “L’Oréal USA, however, has made no such fragrance disclosure commitment. Earlier this year, WashPIRG Foundation delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures collected by WashPIRG Foundation and partner groups calling on L’Oréal USA to disclose fragrance ingredients. We will continue to push for L’Oréal USA to disclose fragrance ingredients. Consumers have a right to know. 

    “Last year, WashPIRG Foundation and several other consumer, public health, and environment groups called on Unilever, P&G, and L’Oréal to disclose fragrance ingredients and to pledge to be toxic-free.

    “While this is a great move in the right direction to increase transparency for consumers, Unilever should take the next step to protect public health and achieve full fragrance disclosure and remove all toxic chemicals of concern from their personal care product brands.”  

    Statement from WashPIRG Foundation Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel


    0 0
  • 09/20/17--10:52: Defend the Consumer Bureau
  • For more than 20 years, Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski has helped us stand up against big banks and credit card companies.

    A CONSUMER COP ON THE FINANCIAL BEAT

    You work hard to earn your money. You should be able to save, invest and manage your money without fear of being trapped, tricked or ripped off by the institutions you are trusting with your financial future.

    That’s why we need strong consumer protections on Wall Street. And from the 2008 economic collapse, we know how big of an impact those institutions can have on our economy when they play fast and loose with our money. It made it clear: Americans need a watchdog agency on Wall Street, devoted to creating and enforcing fair, clear and transparent rules to protect consumers.

    So in 2010, we helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to be our consumer cop on the financial beat.

    THE CFPB GETS THE JOB DONE

    Despite the fact that the CFPB is not widely known, they’ve been hugely successful at working for consumers, returning nearly $12 billion to more than 29 million people who were ripped off by companies that broke the law … in just six years.

    The Consumer Bureau holds big banks, debt collectors and lenders accountable. Here are a few examples of some of the cases the CFPB has taken on to protect consumers:

    When American Honda Finance used discriminatory pricing to rip off African-American, Hispanic and Asia/Pacific Island borrowers who paid too much for car loans, the CFPB returned $24 million to these consumers.

    The Department of Justice and 47 states joined the CFPB in a $216 million action against JP Morgan Chase Bank for illegal debt collection practices affecting over half a million Americans.

    When it was discovered that Wells Fargo employees were opening unauthorized debit and credit accounts using their customer's information, the CFPB fined Wells Fargo $100 million for fraud.

    The CFPB fined Equifax and TransUnion — two of the three largest credit reporting agencies — $5 million for selling inflated credit scores to consumers that were different from ones actually used by lenders and returned $17 million to those harmed by the deception.

    In addition, the Consumer Bureau has helped level the financial playing field, educating veterans, senior citizens, new homeowners, college students and low-income consumers on how to keep their finances secure.

    The Consumer Bureau's success should be earning it applause in Washington. Yet instead of cheering on the agency, the Trump administration and many members of Congress are pushing to weaken or even get rid of it.

    Even with the Consumer Bureau on the job, many Americans are still at risk of reckless financial practices that threaten their homes, their retirement savings and their overall well-being. That’s why we don’t simply need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to exist: We need to make it even better, by strengthening commonsense consumer protections.

    Issue updates

    Related topics

    Consumer Protection

    0 0

    For Immediate Release

    Statement from Kara Cook, WashPIRG Foundation Toxics Director:

    “Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals (known as “organohalogens”). The CPSC directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain these chemicals. Once again, the CPSC has made an important action for consumers.

    “The CPSC voted to issue a strongly worded guidance warning the public of the hazards posed by this class of flame retardants in children’s products, mattresses, electronic casings and furniture. This is a huge victory for consumers, firefighters, and children.

    “These chemicals have been associated with serious human health problems, including cancer, reduced sperm count, increased time to pregnancy, decreased IQ in children, impaired memory, learning deficits, hyperactivity, hormone disruption and lowered immunity.

    “Since these chemicals migrate continuously out from everyday household products into the air and dust, more than 97 percent of U.S. residents have measurable quantities of toxic organohalogen flame retardants in their blood. Children are especially at risk because they come into greater contact with household dust than adults, and have three to five times higher blood levels of these chemicals than their parents.

    “Firefighter organizations are deeply concerned about the use of this class of chemicals as well. When consumer products containing these chemicals burn, the fire and smoke become more toxic. The International Association of Fire Fighters has determined that there is a link between exposure to the fumes created when toxins burn and the disproportionately high levels of cancer among firefighters.

    “The CPSC’s vote to grant the petition will start a rulemaking process at the CPSC. However, because the rulemaking process will take time, the Commission is urging manufacturers not to use these chemicals in the production of children’s products, mattresses, furniture and the casings of electronics. The CPSC also announced that it will convene a scientific panel to provide guidance to assist the Commission staff regarding the hazards posed by organohalogen flame retardants.”

    Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals (known as “organohalogens”). The CPSC directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain these chemicals. Once again, the CPSC has made an important action for consumers.


    0 0

    For Immediate Release

    Statement from WashPIRG Foundation Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda

    “WashPIRG Foundation applauds retail giant Walmart for updating its sustainability policy to restrict toxic chemicals in 90,000 products including cosmetics and skincare items, infant products, and household cleaners.  

    “Walmart aims to reduce its consumables chemical footprint for Walmart and Sam’s Clubs U.S. stores by 10 percent by 2022. This means that the company plans to remove 55 million pounds of harmful chemicals out of products. In addition to its new chemical footprint reduction goal, Walmart will also ask suppliers to verify the purity of ingredients where contaminants of concern may exist.

    “The updated policy includes new goals for Walmart to restrict more than 2,700 harmful chemicals in household products by 2022, increase transparency of ingredients globally, and encourage suppliers to certify their products to credible third-party standards such as EWG (Environmental Working Group) Verified and EPA Safer Choice.  

    “While we applaud Walmart for taking these important steps, we urge the company to completely eliminate toxic chemicals from products sold in its stores.

    “WashPIRG Foundation has been working with Safer Chemicals Healthy Families’ Mind the Store coalition to get retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals. This year, Best Buy, Costco, CVS, and Target have all announced new initiatives to address harmful chemicals in products.

    “Manufacturers have also been following consumer demands for increased chemical transparency. This year, Unilever USA and Procter & Gamble announced that they will disclose fragrance ingredients in their products. Many fragrance chemicals have been linked to negative health effects like cancer.”

    ###

    WashPIRG Foundation applauds retail giant Walmart for updating its sustainability policy to restrict toxic chemicals in 90,000 products including cosmetics and skincare items, infant products, and household cleaners.


    0 0

    Released by: WashPIRG Foundation

    Older consumers are at risk of harm from predatory financial behavior. An analysis of more than 72,000 financial complaints submitted by older consumers (those 62 years of age and older) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB, or Consumer Bureau) and contained in its Consumer Complaint Database suggests that mistreatment of older consumers by financial companies is widespread.

    The stories told in these complaints reinforce the importance of the Consumer Bureau’s work to hold financial companies accountable for wrongdoing, to secure relief for mistreated consumers, and to help older consumers avoid mistreatment in the financial marketplace.

    The Consumer Bureau provides a valuable service to older consumers, along with all consumers. Attempts to weaken or eliminate the Consumer Bureau could risk the financial wellbeing of millions of older consumers.

    Older consumers face unique challenges and threats in the financial marketplace.

    • Older consumers can make tempting targets for predatory behavior in the financial marketplace. Scammers may look to take advantage of their savings, home equity, or guaranteed income. Older consumers facing a savings shortfall may be harmed by low-balance or overdraft fees at banks, or be tempted to take on credit or use products such as reverse mortgages, whose risks may not be fully understood. Payday lenders offering risky loans have been reported to cluster around senior housing to target seniors that receive Social Security or disability benefits.
    • Many older consumers are at increased risk because of health or living conditions, including cognitive decline, isolation, disability, or the recent loss of a loved one. These conditions can make seniors more appealing targets for scammers, more susceptible to misleading advertising, or more prone to misunderstanding confusing terms or fee schedules. A study from the American Journal of Public Health estimated that each year, 5.4 percent of older consumers are affected by financial scams or fraud.

    Mortgages are the leading source of complaints to the Consumer Bureau’s Consumer Complaint Database among older consumers.

    • Mortgages account for 31 percent of complaints by older consumers.
    • More than 80 percent of mortgage complaints relate to problems with existing mortgages, rather than applying for or closing on a new mortgage. This percentage is nearly identical to mortgage complaints submitted by the general public.
    • Five percent of mortgage complaints by older consumers relate to reverse mortgages, loans solely available to older consumers that allow them to use their home equity as security. The risks of such products are not always fully understood by consumers, and the Consumer Bureau has taken action against reverse mortgage companies for misleading consumers about risks.
    • Older consumers report a variety of problems with reverse mortgages, including trouble keeping up with property taxes and other payments, and trouble accessing credit. In one complaint, a consumer alleged that he or she could no longer access a reverse mortgage line of credit, after his or her loan was sold to a new mortgage company that did not provide accurate contact information.  

    Older consumers often report inaccurate debt appearing on their credit reports, including medical debt.

    • Credit reports are the second-leading source of complaints by older consumers, accounting for 17 percent of such complaints. Most complaints – 67 percent – relate to incorrect information appearing on reports.
    • Many older consumers report inaccurate information on their reports relating to medical debt, which is a well-known source of inaccurate credit reporting. In one case, a senior asserted that he or she was denied the purchase of a new home (to downsize) after medical bills resulting from an injury erroneously appeared on his or her credit report.
    • Deaths of family members can create complicated financial situations for older consumers. In one consumer story, the consumer’s credit history was damaged by the inaccurate appearance of medical debt belonging to a recently deceased spouse.

    Most debt collection complaints assert either inaccurate debt, or mistreatment by the debt collector.

    • Debt collection is the third-leading source of complaints by older consumers, accounting for 17 percent of such complaints (only slightly less than credit report complaints).
    • The majority of debt collection complaints – 71 percent – allege one of two issues: either the consumer believes they do not owe the debt, or the consumer feels they have been mistreated by the debt collector.
    • Older consumers report a variety of inappropriate communication tactics used by debt collectors. One consumer reported a string of contacts in which “Sometimes they curse at me and tell me that they know I am that woman and that they will have me thrown in jail.” Another consumer reported being contacted by a debt collector over false debt belonging to the consumer’s deceased husband.

    Many of the companies that have received the most complaints from older consumers have been the subject of enforcement actions by the Consumer Bureau.

    • Among the 10 most-complained about mortgage companies, five have been the subject of mortgage-related Consumer Bureau enforcement actions, including Ocwen Loan Servicing, Nationstar Mortgage, and a company (Green Tree) that later merged with Ditech, the company that ranks sixth for mortgage complaints among older consumers. In the case of Ocwen, the Consumer Bureau alleged that the company “botched basic functions like sending accurate monthly statements, properly crediting payments, and handling taxes and insurance.”
    • The three major credit reporting companies – Equifax, Transunion, and Experian – account for 95 percent of credit report complaints by older consumers. All three were the subject of 2017 enforcement actions alleging deception about the value of the credit reports they sold to consumers, after the companies marketed their credit report products as reflecting the scores that lenders used to make credit decisions, when in fact the credit reports available to consumers were “educational” products based on a different credit score formula.
    • Equifax and Transunion were also the subject of enforcement actions for marketing their products as being free, or $1, when downloading the score automatically signed consumers up for an expensive credit monitoring subscription service (they would need to cancel within the trial period of either seven or 30 days to avoid the first payment).
    • The two companies with the most debt collection complaints, Encore Capital Group and Portfolio Recovery Associates, have both been penalized by the Consumer Bureau for using deceptive tactics to collect bad debt that was “potentially inaccurate, lacking documentation, or unenforceable.”
    • The Consumer Bureau has also taken action against at least 10 companies that engaged in illegal or predatory behavior related to reverse mortgages.

    Nevada has the most complaints per older American.

    • The District of Columbia, Nevada, Delaware, Maryland, and Georgia have the most complaints by older consumers, normalized for population over 62.
    • The high per capita volume of complaints from the D.C. area may be a reflection of the region’s familiarity with the Consumer Bureau, stemming from a high number of people that work with or alongside the federal government.

    Figure ES 1. Complaints by Older Consumers (per Population over 62) by State

     

    The Consumer Bureau is a critical ally for older consumers, and consumers of all ages. In addition to taking action against bad actors, the Consumer Bureau’s Office for Older Americans produces educational resources, research, and advisories to help older consumers plan their financial future and stay secure in the financial marketplace. The Consumer Bureau’s broader consumer protection work has resulted in consumers seeing $12 billion in relief from harmful financial practices. And the Consumer Bureau has also handled more than 1 million consumer complaints, providing a valuable resource for consumers facing problems with financial companies.

    To protect older consumers and all consumers in the financial marketplace, policymakers must protect the Consumer Bureau from attempts to weaken the agency or hinder its independence. In addition, state and federal policymakers should strengthen consumer protections in areas of risk including debt collection, credit reporting, and high-fee bank accounts. Policymakers should also allow the Consumer Bureau to move forward with its new arbitration rule that will make it easier for consumers to file class action lawsuits when harmed by financial companies.

    An Analysis of Complaints, and Results, from the CFPB

    0 0

    Our Consumer Advocate, Mike Litt, was invited by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to testify this week at a Congressional hearing on the Equifax data breach. This was a continuation of the committee's previously held hearing on October 5th entitled "Examining the Equifax Data Breach."

    Because the only witness at the Committee's hearing on October 5th was Richard Smith, the former CEO of Equifax, Ranking Member Waters called for a continuation of the hearing with more witnesses in order to “give Members of the Committee and the American public the opportunity to consider and discuss ideas for ensuring the integrity of our country’s consumer reporting system and safeguarding of consumer data.”

    Mike testified alongside other experts on privacy and data security (full witness list here). The current CEOs of all three big credit bureaus were also invited but disappointingly did not show up.

    Mike's introductory remarks from the hearing are below. Download his full written testimony here.


    U.S. PIRG Consumer Advocate Mike Litt's introductory remarks from the House Financial Services Committee hearing entitled "Examining the Equifax Data Breach":

    "As a consumer advocate for U.S. PIRG, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss next steps after the Equifax breach. Equifax still has not provided or even clearly explained what is needed to fully protect consumers. 

    Once your information has been stolen, there is only one kind of ID theft that can be stopped before it happens. That's where somebody opens a credit account in your name. The way to prevent that is by blocking access to your credit reports with all three credit bureaus.

    It's beyond time for all consumers to have the right by law to control access to their credit reports with free credit freezes. In my written testimony, I explained how Equifax is true -- trusted ID Premier product fails to fully protect consumers. I also highlight concerns with its forthcoming Lifetime Lock. Locks and freezes appear to function similarly and that they block access to your credit report.

    The bottom line is freezes are better because they are right by law and not conditional on terms set by the credit bureaus. Also, creditors run credit checks with any one or a  combination of credit bureaus so it's important that you block access to your credit reports at all three bureaus.

    Getting a lock or a freeze at just one but not the others, is basically like locking your front door, but leaving your garage and back doors wide open. All 50 states and D.C. have their own laws governing fees for freezes, temporary lifts and permanent removals. There are approximately 158 million consumers in 42 states that must pay a fee between $3 to $10 per bureau. We did not give the credit bureaus permission to collect our information or sell it or, in the case of Equifax, to lose it. So why do we have to pay to control access to our reports?

    PIRG helped passed the first state freeze laws. Now we support federal legislation that would set free freezes for all Americans as the floor. We also support legislation that would require freezes to be placed within 15 minutes of online and phone requests, as is the law in 10 states and D.C. States should be allowed to find even more ways of giving consumers control over access to their own reports. Federal legislation should not preempt or replace existing stronger state laws for privacy , breach notification, or data security either.

    We also strongly support H.R.3755, introduced by Ranking Member Waters. While the transfer of Fair Credit Reporting Act responsibilities to the consumer Bureau has jumpstarted the compliance efforts of the big three credit bureaus, this bill will give required improvements. Thank you for your attention and for the opportunity to present my testimony."

    Our Consumer Advocate, Mike Litt, was invited by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to testify this week at a Congressional hearing on the Equifax data breach. This was a continuation of the committee's previously held hearing on October 5th entitled "Examining the Equifax Data Breach."


    0 0
  • 11/06/17--15:59: Lead In Fidget Spinners
  • Released by: U.S. PIRG Education Fund

    By Dev Gowda and Kara Cook-Schultz, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

    Introduction

    The negative health effects of lead poisoning are well known. Unfortunately, lead remains a problem in our everyday lives. While much attention has been focused on tainted drinking water, such as the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., lead still remains a problem in toys. While lead in toys has become less prevalent in recent years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested several models of one of today’s hottest toys, fidget spinners, for the toxic heavy metal. Laboratory results indicated that two fidget spinners purchased at Target and distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C. contained extremely high levels of lead.

    U.S. PIRG Education Fund calls on Target and Bulls i Toy to immediately recall these two fidget spinners and investigate how such high levels of lead were found in these toys. Also, we call on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to classify these fidget spinners as toys and hold them to federal standards for lead in children’s products. 

    Background on Lead

    Elemental lead is a metal occurring naturally in soils and rocks. It has a variety of commercial uses including in batteries, plastics, and radiation shielding. In the past, lead was also added to gasoline and paint. Because of lead’s toxicity, in 1978 it was banned in household paint, in products marketed to children, and in dishes and cookware in the United States. Lead is not discernible by sight or smell.

    Lead exposure is particularly damaging for young children because of its impact on development. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to undermine IQ, attentiveness, and academic achievement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes clear that any amount of lead in a child’s blood is unsafe. Moreover, since the effects of lead exposure cannot be reversed, it is especially important to prevent lead exposure to children in the first place. 

    Unfortunately, toys can pose a risk in part because lead is used in other countries and can be found in imported products. Additionally, lead may be incorporated into plastic. Lead is used to soften plastic and make it more flexible, but when the plastic is exposed to sunlight, air, or detergents, the chemical bond between the lead and plastic breaks down, forming lead dust. Children can inhale or come in contact with this dust when they put toys in or near their mouths.

    Federal Standards for Lead 

    With a few exceptions, federal law requires that all children’s products manufactured after August 2011 contain no more than 100 parts per million (ppm) of total lead content in all accessible parts. The CPSC defines accessible parts as parts that a child could reach through “normal and reasonably foreseeable use and abuse of the product.”

    Paint or similar surface coatings on all children’s products are subject to a limit of 90 ppm of total lead. (Household paints are also subject to this rule.) 

    Exceptions to these standards include metal components of bicycles, which cannot contain more than 300 ppm of lead. Components in electronic devices, inaccessible parts, and other items are exempt from the lead standard.

    Note that these limits do not meet the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which recommends that all products intended for use by children contain no more than trace amounts of lead, defined as 40 ppm, the high end of typical lead concentrations in uncontaminated soil.

    Lead Found in Fidget Spinners

    Several fidget spinners were tested for lead content by a CPSC-accredited laboratory. The fidget spinners were analyzed in accordance with CPSC-CH-E1001-8.3 using Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP/MS). The toys that tested for high levels of lead were then re-tested a second time to confirm the results. The results of the second test are included in this report.

    The lab results showed two fidget spinners contained extremely high levels of lead:


    Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass:

    • The center circle tested for 33,000 ppm of lead.
    • The arm tested for 22,000 ppm of lead.

    This fidget spinner was purchased at Target and is distributed by Bulls i Toy, LLC, located in Des Moines, Iowa. Although the box says for ages 14+, the Target.com website where it is available for sale says both that it is for children 6+ and 14+ and specifically states that it is “framed as a toy”. See screenshot from Target.com website below. Moreover, it was found in the toy aisles of numerous Target stores throughout the country and is marketed as a toy. Below is a picture of the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass in the toy aisle of a Target store. Therefore, we believe that this product should be treated as a toy since it’s marketed for use by children under 12 years.

    Screenshot from Target.com website.

    Fidget spinner in Target store.


    Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Metal:

    • The center circle tested for 1,300 ppm of lead.
    • The arm tested for 520 ppm of lead.

    This fidget spinner was purchased at Target and is distributed by Bulls i Toy, LLC, located in Des Moines, Iowa. Although it says it’s for ages 14+, it was found in the toy aisles of numerous Target stores throughout the country and is marketed as a toy. Therefore, it should be held to federal lead standards for children’s products. 

     

     

     

     

    Furthermore, the BullsiToy.com website where Fidget Wild products are found is clearly a website for toys. Below is a screenshot of the Bulls i Toy website. The products they sell are marketed towards children and should, therefore, be classified as toys by the CPSC.

    Alarmingly, when U.S. PIRG Education Fund notified the CPSC about the elevated lead levels in the fidget spinners, the CPSC responded in an email (screenshot below) that these fidget spinners are general use products, not toys, so the CPSC will not hold them to federal lead standards. When we alerted Target and the toy's distributor to our findings, they pointed to the same CPSC statement and refused to address the problem. Belying that statement, U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff found these fidget spinners sold in the toy aisle of Target stores and on the Target.com website, which includes a statement that the product is intended for children ages 6 and up. Furthermore, common sense dictates that fidget spinners are meant for kids and therefore should be classified as toys. U.S. PIRG Education Fund calls on the CPSC to classify these fidget spinners as toys and hold them to the federal standard for lead in children’s products.

    Recommendations

    For consumers:

    • Adults and children alike should stop using these fidget spinners.
    • Call on the CPSC to classify all fidget spinners as toys so that they will be held to federal standards for lead in children’s products.
    • Subscribe to email recall updates from the CPSC and other U.S. government safety agencies available at www.recalls.gov.

    For Target, Corp and Bulls I Toy, L.L.C.:

    • Immediately recall these fidget spinners and remove from store shelves and Target.com website.
    • Issue a public statement about the recall due to high lead content.
    • Investigate how these toys came to contain such extremely high levels of lead and make findings public.
    • Ensure that other fidget spinners sold or manufactured do not contain high levels of lead.
    • Notify customers who purchased these fidget spinners, where contact information is available, that they should stop using the fidget spinner due to high levels of lead and offer a return for full refund. 

    For U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

    • Ensure that all fidget spinners are classified as toys and that they must meet federal regulations for children’s products.
    • Investigate any misleading marketing by Target, Corp. and Bulls i Toy, L.L.C. and take appropriate action. Although the labels on the toy boxes say 14+, they’re clearly being marketed to children under 12 years.
    • Conduct testing for other fidget spinners, especially those labeled “brass” or “metal”, for lead.

     

    U.S. PIRG Education Fund is a consumer and public health non-profit organization. We work to educate the public about dangers in toys, and for more than 30 years we have published an annual report titled Trouble in Toyland. Our survey of toys has led to more than 150 recalls and other enforcement actions.


older | 1 | (Page 2) | 3 | newer