Consumer Action INSIDER - April 2018

 

Table of Contents

 

What people are saying

“Consumer Action has made enormous progress in providing consumer and market information in a wide variety of languages. Their efforts are helping to ensure a fair marketplace for all Americans, whatever language they speak.” —Review posted on GreatNonProfits.org

Did you know?

Mortgage pre-qualification and pre-approval are very different, despite sounding quite similar. A pre-qualification is designed only to give you an idea of the mortgage you might qualify for based on information you provide without verification. Some mortgage professionals believe pre-qualification is virtually useless. A pre-approval letter from a lender shows that you qualify for a specific mortgage amount based on an underwriter’s review of your actual financial information, such as your outstanding debt, credit history, income and assets. Learn more at Realtor.com and NerdWallet.

FTC holds lively Contact Lens Workshop

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a public workshop in Washington, DC, on March 7 to explore issues of competition in the contact lens marketplace, consumer access to contact lenses and prescriptions. The workshop was held in conjunction with an FTC routine regulatory review in which it proposed some updates to its Contact Lens Rule, which gives consumers the automatic right to a copy of their contact lens prescription after an eye exam. Unlike most other medical professionals, optometrists often sell the products they prescribe. The rule ensures consumers can shop around for eyewear and purchase it from the seller of their choice.

Consumer Action’s Linda Sherry joined an afternoon panel on consumer choice and prescription release. Consumer Action conducted a poll in early 2017 that found that close to one-third of consumers are not being given their prescriptions following eye exams.

The event was well attended, due mainly to a fly-in by dozens of optometrists and eyecare professionals belonging to the American Optometric Association (AOA). Many of these “prescribers” expressed disagreement with the updated rule, which would require optometrists to obtain a signed acknowledgement after providing a prescription to a consumer, and to keep that acknowledgement on hand for three years. The proposed change comes because the FTC (like Consumer Action) found that many contact lens wearers had no idea they were supposed to be given a copy of their lens prescription at the eye doctor’s office, even thought that has been the rule for many years. The past president of the AOA, Dr. David Cockrell, stated during the workshop that the signed acknowledgement would place a significant burden on optometrists and their office staff because getting a patient’s signature would require “two to three minutes” just to explain why a signature was necessary.

The FTC believes that the proposal would serve several objectives, said panel moderator Elizabeth Delaney, an attorney with the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices, under the agency’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It would remind prescribers to release prescriptions, inform patients of their rights, reduce misunderstandings and improve the Commission’s ability to make sure the prescriptions have been released,” said Delaney.

Sherry said that Consumer Action believed the signed acknowledgement was necessary because “sadly, many consumers are still finding it hard to get a copy of their own prescription after an eye exam.”

“Getting a sign-off on a prescription copy is not a crazy burden,” said Sherry. “A lot of the comments against the updated Contact Lens Rule seemed more about protecting the status quo—in other words, keeping patients captive throughout the exam and buying phases.”

Watch video recordings of all panels at the event, and read more about the proposed rule, at the FTC website. The record on the updated rule is open through April 6. You can submit your comment here.

Data (in)security in the news

As consumers do and store more and more online, the threat of data breaches and privacy lapses increases. The latest issue of Consumer Action News examines the apparently constant risk to our personal information and ponders whether U.S. consumers stand to benefit from new European Union (EU) data protection laws. We also introduce readers to Consumer Reports’ “digital standard.”

Erosion of consumer privacy

Data breaches are a daily occurrence. Even in the absence of a breach, anyone who takes advantage of 21st century technology (think smartphones or other products that connect to the internet) forfeits some personal data every day, with little likelihood of knowing exactly who is getting it or how it’s being used.

Even something as routine as driving a car has transitioned to a data-collecting event. Kids’ connected toys and household digital assistants bring data privacy risks into our own homes, with potentially dangerous consequences.

"Data insecurity" highlights a few of the everyday threats to our data and explains what advocates are doing to protect consumers from unwelcome intrusions and lax, or nonexistent, privacy laws.

Guidelines for product privacy and security

To help protect consumers’ personal data, Consumer Reports, the venerated product rating company, and its project partners have developed a “digital standard.” Introduced early last year, the set of guidelines aims to help Consumer Reports and other testers evaluate internet-connected products and apps.

The goals: Empower shoppers to make informed buying decisions, and encourage companies to up their data security and privacy game to outdo the competition.

Learn more in Standard for measuring data privacy, security, including what the standard calls on companies to do, what Consumer Reports found in its recent evaluation of smart TVs, and how you can weigh in on the evolving guidelines.

EU rules could benefit Americans

Starting in May, the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will help protect the personal information collected about EU citizens by giving individuals the right to know, limit, delete and correct data related to them. Companies that do not comply could be hit with huge fines, and consumers can seek compensation for any harm they suffer.

U.S. federal and state protections lag far behind, but the hope is that the EU’s rules will ultimately impact American consumers, since global businesses are unlikely to create two separate data handling systems.

To find out what rights the GDPR grants EU consumers, and what limited protections U.S. consumers have, read New data protection rights…for Europeans and Will EU rules boost U.S. data privacy rights?.

Hotline Chronicles: Paying upfront fees for a mortgage

Constance* from Georgia wrote to Consumer Action’s hotline with a complaint about a local real estate broker.

“I spoke with her about purchasing a house but due to my lack of credit I felt I couldn’t buy a home. She assured me that she would be able to place me in a home if I paid her a $500 fee plus $120 for an application fee,” wrote Constance. “After she began to search for a home for me, she asked me to pay an additional $1,500. At this point the situation didn't seem right so I requested my money back but she refused.”

Our counselors told Constance that the upfront fees seemed highly irregular and advised her to submit a complaint to the Georgia Real Estate Commission. The agency has a disclaimer on its page: “The Agency's restricted resources often make the investigative process take longer than you...would prefer. Thus, you may get quicker attention to your problem by (1) discussing it directly with the agent(s) involved or the agent's broker or (2) asking the Small Claims Court in your county to address the problem. Regardless, before, after, or during those processes, you may file a Request for Investigation with the Commission/Board.”

While we don’t have more details about Constance’s dilemma, typically the buyer's agent is paid only when a home closes—and this compensation comes from the seller, not the buyer, when the home is sold. Sometimes potential buyers may be asked to sign a contract that contains out-of-the-ordinary requirements, so be very cautious about signing documents without reading them carefully and thoroughly.

Homeownership is possible with a lower-than-prime credit history, however, at the very least, you will face a higher interest rate. Other costs may include “private mortgage insurance,” or PMI, which protects the lender if you default. Most mortgages with a downpayment of less than 20 percent include additional monthly amounts for your insurance and property taxes held in “escrow” to ensure they’ll be paid. It’s best to be pre-approved (not just pre-qualified) before beginning your home search because you will know what you can afford.

To begin, get your free credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. Then, instead of speaking with a real estate agent, we’d recommend talking to a mortgage loan officer at your bank or credit union. He or she can help you understand your chances and what you can do to improve them. Online mortgage lenders like Quicken Loans or mortgage lender marketplaces like Lending Tree also can be helpful in determining your chances of being approved for a mortgage loan. The sites have free educational materials that you should digest thoroughly before submitting a mortgage application, as applicants may be bombarded by calls from interested lenders after they apply.

Before home shopping, look up local homes for sale on the web using Trulia or Zillow to get an idea of what’s available. Be careful about contacting agents from these sites, as the agents given prominence on the page usually are not the listing agent and may have paid for listings to attract buyers. (The same goes for mortgage lenders that these sites link to.) Instead, we recommend you do some footwork to find a reputable local buyer’s agent. See Bankrate’s 7 tips for picking a great real estate agent for detailed advice.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers advice and information to help educate potential homebuyers about how credit affects the mortgage and home-buying processes.

*Not this consumer's real name

Webinars explain new cross-border credit reporting tool

Consumer Action and Nova Credit Inc., a cross-border credit reporting agency, join forces to co-host two webinars on May 9 to educate community partners who serve expats, foreign nationals or immigrants about Nova’s international credit reporting service and Consumer Action’s credit publications. Collin Galster of Nova’s business development team and Consumer Action’s Nelson Santiago will facilitate the webinars. Active network partners will receive an emailed invitation in early April. We hope many of our community partners can join the informative sessions.

You must register in advance for the live webinar and choose the morning OR afternoon session. (The sessions are identical.)

What you will learn in this webinar:

  • Innovation creating opportunity to serve consumers that lack domestic credit history
  • The technology frontiers of international credit data
  • An overview of globalization and access to credit
  • How immigrants can overcome today's environment

Network partners will have the opportunity to learn about Nova Credit Passport® and how it aids newcomers to the U.S. arriving from Mexico, India, China and other countries to share their credit history from their homeland with financial service providers in the U.S. Partners will also learn about Consumer Action’s credit education resources and how to use them in their financial capability programs.

“It’s challenging for immigrant consumers to navigate the financial landscape in America, let alone establish credit,” said Consumer Action’s Audrey Perrott. “We are pleased to provide our partners with an opportunity to learn about the Nova Passport, which can help to unlock access to credit for immigrant consumers. As we all know, a credit history is needed for almost everything in America.”

Nova was part of the third cohort of innovators in the 2017 JPMorgan Chase Financial Solutions Lab, a virtual business development lab funded by Chase and managed by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI). The lab represents a five-year commitment and $30 million investment in innovative technology designed to meet the financial health needs of low-to-moderate-income (LMI) and underrepresented consumers.

Nova Credit is based in San Francisco. It’s backed by Index Ventures, First Round Capital, NYCA and Core Innovation Capital. For more information, visit www.neednova.com.

Sponsors sought for our ninth annual conference

Consumer Action hosts its 9th National Consumer Empowerment Conference in Rosemont, IL, on Nov. 14-15 near Chicago. The annual conference takes community outreach and consumer literacy training to the next level by providing our most active and engaged community group partners—from cooperative extension offices and social service agencies to veterans advocates and credit and housing counselors—with the rare opportunity to learn from some of the country's top community educators and subject matter experts and to network with other adult consumer literacy education providers.

This year we unveil some new levels of sponsorship as well as a paid registration level for non-network and unconfirmed network partners. To view the conference sponsorship and exhibitor website, click here. We have added a Friend level of sponsorship at $1,000, which includes conference registration and hotel accommodations for one attendee; acknowledgment on all materials and listing on the conference webpage; and exhibit space in the general session room. It does not include travel.

We reduced the FinTech Exhibitor rate to $500, which includes the reception; one breakfast and one lunch for one attendee; an opportunity to exhibit products during conference exhibit hours, with complimentary Internet access and power at the exhibit table; listing on the conference webpage; and a copy of the conference participant list. Note: Lodging and travel are not included in the FinTech Exhibitor registration.

To view a complete list of sponsorship opportunities, download the 2018 National Conference Sponsorship and Exhibitor Rates (PDF).

Conference registration fees for non-network and unconfirmed network partners are $350 for two days of conference programming and $75 for the pre-conference reception. Note: Lodging and travel are not included.

“We are very excited to offer these new sponsorship opportunities and paid registrations because some of our partners have asked in the past how they could support the conference and others wanted to be in the room even if it meant paying their own way,” said Consumer Action’s Audrey Perrott. “Each year, we receive more registration requests than we are able to accommodate. Paid registrations enable us to allow more people in the room. We will continue to offer hotel accommodations and a limited number of travel scholarships to our most active network partners.”

The national conference has a tremendous impact on how our partners serve their consumers, educate their staff and operate their programs. Here’s a sampling of what we have been told:

Thank you for hosting a great conference. I’m having a debriefing with our staff tomorrow to share the great info that your presenters provided. We are trying to use best practices as we review a client’s loan application and will be using a lot of the info, such as the international credit reporting data that was presented, the PACE info, the consumer surveillance, etc. —Al Alvarez, Greater Newark Enterprises Corporation, NJIT-Enterprise Development Center (EDC), Newark, NJ

Consumer Action’s annual Empowerment Conference continues to provide numerous valuable materials to those we serve in our county. So much of the information that we have obtained by attending the conference has been used directly to assist low-income residents in our county who attend our month-long employment training program. The money management and budgeting material has been invaluable to this client base. Also without the ability to obtain a scholarship to attend, our department would find it difficult to send a representative to the conference. —Joel Flamand, Contra Costa County Workforce Services, Brentwood, CA

Thank for you again for the invitation and travel scholarship awarded to Navicore Solutions. The conference was great as usual and Consumer Action staff is always amazing. I learned a lot of great things to bring back to my community to share. Thank you as well for all the great free resources you always provide your partners! —Janice Parker, Illinois Relationship Manager, Navicore Solutions, Peoria, IL

The free scholarship to the conference came as a lifesaver to my agency as it provided us the much needed partnerships and affiliations while enhancing our capabilities to operate our various programs more effectively and efficiently. Specifically the conference helped us develop our company website, i.e. we now plan to issue web-based annual and quarterly reports on our programs as well as use infographics for program illustrations. The knowledge gained at the home buyer/lending education sessions enabled us to effectively market our program to our clients in the Kansas City area by using enhanced outreach techniques. —Edward Ukponmwan, Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc., Kansas City, MO

Save the date! There are many great events happening simultaneously. We want our most active groups to be in the room to hear from expert consumer advocates, government regulators, financial educators and others. The conference planning committee works tirelessly to assemble top-notch presenters who are experts in their fields. We will post the agenda for the 2018 conference in late September.

Agency protects, educates muni bond investors

Many investors looking for a safe haven in today’s volatile market invest in municipal securities (muni bonds). Municipal bonds provide reliable income and typically are purchased by investors with long-term investment objectives. While all investments carry risk, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) protects investors and the public interest by overseeing the municipal securities market and regulating municipal securities firms, banks and municipal advisers that engage in municipal securities and advisory activities.

Consumer Action’s Linda Sherry met in February with Lynnette Kelly, MSRB’s president and executive director; Ritta McLaughlin, chief education officer; and Priya Ghosh Ahola, Esq., outreach manager, to learn more about this self-regulatory organization, which is subject to oversight by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Sherry learned that the MSRB also regulates the sale of state 529 savings plans, many of which are considered municipal securities. State 529 plans are tax-advantaged programs designed to help families save for education expenses. While the plans previously were limited to use for higher education tuition, the 2018 federal tax law lets families use 529 savings plans to pay for costs associated with private schools, from elementary school upward. Starting this year, owners of 529 plans can withdraw up to $10,000 tax-free annually to pay for pre-college students’ tuition.

Many investors rely on credit ratings when making decisions about whether to invest in municipal bonds. Because credit ratings may change over time, a bond’s rating should not be the sole criterion on which to judge municipal securities. These securities may be subject to other risks, such as call risk, interest rate risk, inflation risk and liquidity risk. The MSRB’s Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA®) website, an official repository for information on all municipal bonds, provides investors with a wealth of information about muni bond investments, including state 529 plans.

Using EMMA, investors can access information for more than 1 million outstanding municipal bonds. Also, the data available on EMMA ranges from real-time trade prices and yields for individual securities to statistics on market-wide trends.

To easily find a municipal security you want to research, it is helpful to have its CUSIP number—a unique identifier for securities, including municipal bonds. Access to this information supports investors making informed decisions about buying and selling municipal bonds.

Sherry learned how MSRB protects municipal bond investors by providing free and objective educational resources for investors about municipal bonds and 529 savings plans as well as basic investing information in its free digital Education Center, which can be accessed from the home page of the MSRB’s website at msrb.org.

The MSRB is a Congressionally chartered, self-regulatory organization governed by a 21-member board of directors that has a majority of public members, in addition to representatives of regulated entities. Visit msrb.org for more information.

Popular Consumer Services Guide updated for 2018

Consumer Action has just completed the latest update of its popular Consumer Services Guide (CSG), an extensive directory of federal, state and local government agencies, industry organizations, advocacy groups, media action lines, legal aid resources, non-profit organizations, and other entities that provide assistance and information to individuals.

Recognizing that it can be challenging for consumers to find trustworthy information, competent advice and effective complaint handling assistance, Consumer Action responded by compiling a directory full of helpful listings. First published in 1984, the original (printed) guide contained only California resources. Today, the online version reflects the organization’s now national scope, with nearly 900 entries for helpful resources in all 50 states.

Visitors to ConsumerServicesGuide.org can easily find the appropriate resources for the issue they need to resolve. A search for an organization name, state and/or keywords will offer matching results. Or, users can browse the database alphabetically, by category, by location or by date (resulting in a list with newest resources at the top). The 44 categories in the directory range from “Attorneys General” to “Workplace Issues.”

Each listing includes a detailed description of the resource’s services along with contact information (website URL, email and physical addresses, phone and fax numbers, etc.) and languages spoken.

In just the first quarter of 2018, ConsumerServicesGuide.org garnered more than 13,000 pageviews.

If you know of a consumer resource that is missing from our directory, please send the name and website link to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). If your agency or organization is included but you would like us to change any information in your listing, please let us know.

New year brings new lineup of California legislation

As you are probably aware, Consumer Action is a national organization headquartered in California. Our San Francisco-based staff recently signaled our position on a crop of state bills.

Renters Tax Credit

During the Jimmy Carter administration, California’s renters tax credit was $60. How much is it now? $60. Had the credit been adjusted for inflation, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI Inflation Calculator, it would be $217.75.

SB 1182 (Senator Steve Glazer, D-Orinda) proposes doubling the renters credit to $120 for individuals and $240 for couples. Although this is only half of the inflation-adjusted amount of the original credit, it would help millions of low-income Californians who are struggling financially.

Our system of taxation and tax credits is biased against renters, showering homeowners with numerous credits, deductions and subsidies, even though homeowners tend to be wealthier and less in need of the favoritism.

State net neutrality

In December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to remove internet neutrality protections put in place by the previous administration. After the move, one of the FCC’s own commissioners stated that the partisan maneuver “places the FCC on the wrong side of the law, and on the wrong side of the American public.”

Consumer Action has been a staunch supporter of net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should allow access to all content and applications without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. Therefore we support SB 822 (Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco), legislation seeking to maintain net neutrality standards at the state level by limiting the practice of providing free internet access under certain conditions, such as by only permitting access to certain websites or by subsidizing the service (“zero rating”), and preventing ISPs from throttling users or blocking websites within California. Consumer Action fears that without net neutrality protections, the internet could be monopolized by wealthy firms and special interests, which could in turn curtail consumer access to unbiased information.

Tax justice

AB 2731 (Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson, D-Carson) addresses the “carried interest” tax loophole that costs the state billions of dollars every year and allows hedge fund managers to pay a lower federal tax rate than salaried workers, such as truck drivers or kindergarten teachers. As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to close the carried interest loophole, but Republicans in Congress left it in place when they passed Trump’s corporate tax plan with its giveaways to the richest Americans and corporations.

By closing the carried interest loophole, AB 2731 would raise an estimated $1 billion a year in state taxes. The bill directs the use of the revenue for the support of public schools and other civic priorities, while helping make up for looming federal budget cuts to state coffers.

Right to repair

AB 2110 (Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton) addresses the absence of a fair marketplace for electronics repairs. All too often, consumers discard expensive smartphones and other devices even though a cheap part and a 10-minute repair is all that was needed to restore the device to full functionality. The Right to Repair Act, by requiring device manufacturers to provide access to diagnostic guides and repair parts, will help prolong the lifespan of electronic devices and save consumers money. In turn, fewer discarded electronics will lead to fewer toxic chemicals leaching into our soil and groundwater.

When faced with the difficulty and time in getting repairs, many consumers choose to upgrade to new phones when there is no need to do so.

Use Consumer Action's free Take Action! Center to email your elected officials regarding these California state bills. (Check bill status here.) And watch future issues of the INSIDER newsletter for updates on our California legislative activities.

CFPB Watch: A backhanded call for feedback on the Bureau

Enforcement has come to a grinding halt at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) since Budget Director Mick Mulvaney stepped in last November as temporary acting CFPB director. While the consumer bureau averaged three to five legal actions per month during the last four years, Mulvaney has not initiated any new enforcement actions.

Mulvaney at the CFPB (and other Trump administration regulators) have delayed and revised consumer protections (such as the payday rule, which requires lenders to verify that borrowers can repay high-cost loans), cancelled enforcement lawsuits, imposed fewer penalties for wrongdoing and frozen budgets—all with the goal of reducing regulation on businesses. A Washington Post story sums up the anti-consumer actions piling up in this administration.

Feedback sought on Bureau activities

Meanwhile, under Mulvaney, the CFPB continues to formally request feedback from industry and the public on the usefulness of various elements of the consumer watchdog’s work. While the public can comment, the weekly “Requests for Information” (RFIs) appear to be designed to give financial companies an opportunity to critique the Bureau’s consumer protection activities, corporate oversight and consumer empowerment.

“Unfortunately, those of us who care about consumer protection must react to these harmful distractions,” said Ruth Susswein of Consumer Action’s DC office. “These RFIs are geared to give regulated firms an opportunity to argue why the Bureau’s rules aren’t needed, while tying up the scarce staff time and resources of non-profit advocates who support the Bureau’s consumer protection focus under former director Richard Cordray.”

Feedback is sought on these and other questions:

  • Do you think the Bureau should share more or less complaint information about specific financial products and services?
  • Do you think the CFPB should continue to publish the names of the most complained about companies in regular public complaint reports?
  • Do you think that access to the public complaint database, designed to warn the public about bad actors, should be expanded, limited or remain the same?

In addition to feedback on its complaint reporting, the Bureau seeks comments on enforcement lawsuits, supervision and oversight of financial companies, and its ability to write consumer protection rules. Click here for more information on the RFIs.

While the RFI documents are dry and formal, Consumer Action encourages you to submit comments in your own words supporting the work the CFPB does suing financial firms that use unfair or predatory practices and providing refunds to consumers, overseeing companies to prevent or eliminate behavior that discriminates against consumers based on their race or culture, and empowering consumers with complaint details and substantive financial information on mortgages, credit cards, student loans, remittances, debt collection and more.

CFPB advisory board invites applicants

Another way to have your say is to apply for the Bureau’s Consumer Advisory Board (CAB).

The CFPB is inviting people to take part in a competitive application process to serve on the CAB. It seeks applicants with background or experience with consumer protection, fair lending, civil rights and financial products or services, as well as those who’ve worked with underserved communities. The application deadline is April 23. For further details and instructions on how to apply, click here.

Coalition Efforts: Advocates ask FTC to investigate Facebook data grab

Personal data of 50M Facebook users wrongly harvested for use in 2016 election. Consumer and privacy advocates expressed outrage at the news that Facebook shared the personal user information of 50 million people with a data-mining firm that later went on to work for President Trump’s 2016 campaign. Consumer Action joined privacy and consumer advocates in a March 20 letter urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether the social media giant may have violated a landmark privacy consent decree from 2011 stating that it would not change access to Facebook users’ data without users’ consent. The FTC has announced that it will investigate. Read the letter.

10 years after Great Recession, Senate considers Dodd-Frank rollbacks. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced a bill that takes aim at Dodd-Frank Act protections for consumers and the ability to monitor big banks to prevent another financial meltdown. The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S 2155) would put consumers at greater risk of predatory lending and weaken other important safeguards passed since the last crisis. Consumer Action joined advocates in a March 8 letter asked that the legislation be given full floor consideration as a separate bill, including an open amendment process. Read the letter.

Advocates alarmed by new HUD mission statement. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), responsible for stopping housing discrimination, proposed new language in its mission statement that seemed to encourage consumer “self-sufficiency” over strict enforcement. The move alarmed civil rights, consumer and fair housing advocates, who worry that the government agency expressly responsible for combating housing discrimination would deemphasize the importance of its mandate under the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The groups joined in a March 8 letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson asking him to correct this “unfortunate impression.” (It’s been reported that Carson subsequently responded in a HUD memo, saying: “The notion that any new mission statement would reflect a lack of commitment to fair housing is nonsense.”) Read the letter.

Stringent safety requirements needed before driverless cars hit the road. In a March 5 letter to Senate leadership, coalition advocates conveyed strong objections to the lack of safety protections in proposed driverless car legislation and urged Senate leaders to make essential improvements to the AV START Act (S 1885). The groups warned that prioritizing the protection of private investments in unproven technologies instead of protecting public safety could have dangerous consequences, and there are numerous critical concerns regarding the rushed deployment of driverless cars. (Last week the earlier warning took on new urgency when an automated Uber vehicle killed a pedestrian in Arizona.) Read the letter.

PROSPER Act puts for-profit schools before students and taxpayers. In a Feb. 23 letter to Congress, Consumer Action and its allies working for fairness for student borrowers reiterated support for higher-education safeguards, including the gainful employment rule to ensure for-profit schools actually prepare students for real jobs; the borrower defense rule to protect student borrowers when their schools go bust; the 90-10 rule limiting the number of students using the GI Bill at specific schools; and the ban on incentive compensation, commissions paid to for-profit school recruiters, who often cross ethical lines when signing up students. These four commonsense regulatory measures, which Consumer Action supports and has written much about, should be present in any bill that targets higher education in the future. However, the groups note in their letter that the PROSPER Act (HR 4508) seeks to weaken or gut these protections, leaving students and taxpayers susceptible to for-profit school fraud. Read the letter.

For more about our Coalition Efforts, visit our website.

Class Action Database: Satellite TV, food processors and baby seats

Class action settlements involving the potential for cracks in the blades of some Cuisinart food processors, and Orbit Baby carriers containing unsafe chemicals, were among eight new settlements added to the Consumer Action Class Action Database during March.

The food processor case (Chepiga v. Conair) says that Cuisinart’s parent company, Conair, knowingly sold some Cuisinart models even after owners reported cracks in the blades, which could cause portions of the blades to detach. Learn more.

In Kopin v. Orbit Baby, Inc. and The ERGO Baby Carrier, Inc., makers of baby and toddler transport gear, the plaintiffs say the company’s products exposed users to harmful chemicals, including brominated and chlorinated flame retardants. Learn more.

Of note this month is a class action settlement in Padberg v. DISH Network LLC. The plaintiffs filed a class action against DISH alleging that DISH failed to provide Fox Sport Net (FSN) and FX Network channels during October 2010 as required in customers’ contracts. Plaintiffs say DISH did not issue enough of a refund to offset the loss.

DISH denies the allegations, claiming that it was not obligated to provide FSN and FX and that it offered substitute programming during the month of October 2010. However, as many companies hit with class action lawsuits choose to do, DISH agreed to a settlement to end the lawsuit.

The settlement covers two classes:

  • FSN class: Current and former DISH subscribers who paid for DISH programming in October 2010 that included FSN programming
  • FX class: Current and former DISH subscribers who paid for DISH programming in October 2010 that included FX programming

The $2.7 million settlement fund covers class members who had a DISH AT120+ package in October 2010.

  • AT120+ members who are still DISH subscribers may be eligible for $3 cash or $5 account credit toward upgrading certain programming.
  • AT120+ members who no longer have DISH may be eligible for $3 cash or $5 credit if they sign up again with DISH.

A separate monetary fund covers class members who did not have an AT120+ package during October 2010.

  • Non-AT120+ members who are still DISH subscribers are eligible for $5 credit towards programming upgrades.
  • Non-AT120+ members who no longer have DISH are eligible for $5 credit if they subscribe again to DISH.

Non-AT120+ members should return to the settlement website after May 24, 2018, for more information.

The claims deadline is April 23, 2018, for AT120+ members.

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that has championed the rights of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. Throughout its history, the organization has dedicated its resources to promoting financial and consumer literacy and advocating for consumer rights in both the media and before lawmakers to promote economic justice for all. With the resources and infrastructure to reach millions of consumers, Consumer Action is one of the most recognized, effective and trusted consumer organizations in the nation.

Consumer education. To empower consumers to assert their rights in the marketplace, Consumer Action provides a range of educational resources. The organization’s extensive library of free publications offers in-depth information on many topics related to personal money management, housing, insurance and privacy, while its hotline provides non-legal advice and referrals. At Consumer-Action.org, visitors have instant access to important consumer news, downloadable materials, an online “help desk,” the Take Action advocacy database and seven topic-specific subsites. Consumer Action also publishes unbiased surveys of financial and consumer services that expose excessive prices and anti-consumer practices to help consumers make informed buying choices and elicit change from big business.

Community outreach. With a special focus on serving low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers, Consumer Action maintains strong ties to a national network of nearly 7,000 community-based organizations. Outreach services include training and free mailings of financial and consumer education materials in many languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Consumer Action’s network is the largest and most diverse of its kind.

Advocacy. Consumer Action is deeply committed to ensuring that underrepresented consumers are represented in the national media and in front of lawmakers. The organization promotes pro-consumer policy, regulation and legislation by taking positions on dozens of bills at the state and national levels and submitting comments and testimony on a host of consumer protection issues. Additionally, its diverse staff provides the media with expert commentary on key consumer issues supported by solid data and victim testimony.

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