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Walter Dartland: Will your next car be a rebuilt wreck?

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Years of lobbying to eliminate a longstanding and critical component of Florida consumer protection may soon pay off for big insurance companies and salvage auto auction corporations.

 

Today, Florida law requires a total-loss vehicle that has damage of more than 80 percent of its retail value to receive a Certificate of Destruction, deeming it to be destined for dismantling or destruction. Although many of these vehicles cannot be returned to a safe condition, Senate Bill 754/House Bill 7063 would make it much easier to put such vehicles back on the road.

 

Consumers in all states should expect their title and branding laws to protect their safety and welfare, and their pocketbooks, by requiring these wrecks to be taken off the road. After years of efforts to change this law, the businesses that stand to gain have fashioned a “compromise” that creates two classes of vehicles for purposes of Certificate of Destruction status.

 

Under this proposed law, severely damaged vehicles seven years old or newer with a retail cost of at least $7,500 will be considered nonrepairable only if the owner or insurance company determines that the estimated costs of repair are 90 percent or more of the cost of the vehicle. To be branded nonrepairable, vehicles more than seven years old must be damaged to the extent that the only value is for parts or scrap, making them essentially immune from nonrepairable branding at the determination of the owner or insurer. With the average age of the vehicle on the road today at almost 11½ years, this subjective definition could exempt most of the vehicles registered in Florida.

 

Last year, the salvage vehicle auction companies that sell damaged vehicles on behalf of the insurers — and keep a percentage of the sale price — testified in the Florida Senate that a repairable vehicle typically sells for $1,500 to $2,000 more than one with a nonrepairable title. This extra profit for insurers and salvage auctions provides the motivation for insurers pushing to exempt many salvage cars from nonrepairable branding.

 

There is a well-documented history of such abuses. After Hurricane Katrina, State Farm Insurance admitted to avoiding branding and then reselling as many as 30,000 vehicles damaged in the storm. As a result, new owners were unaware of their vehicles’ histories.

 

A consumer who purchases a severely damaged salvage vehicle that cannot be made safely operational will have the daunting task of finding a remedy via the courts. As a longtime consumer advocate and a former Florida deputy attorney general who helped draft and get Florida’s Lemon Law passed, I know that for most consumers — especially minority and low-income consumers who would become the victims of the proposed change — this is an insurmountable obstacle. There is no Lemon Law remedy under these circumstances.

 

Proponents of bills like these claim that they are looking out for consumers who may want to keep or repair their older, lower-value damaged vehicles. In fact, this legislation has no impact on branding when a car is repaired and kept by the consumer. The real issue seems to be an effort by insurers to avoid branding the most catastrophically damaged vehicles as nonrepairable after they pay off a claim and take possession of a total-loss vehicle.

 

Recently, ABC News followed the sale of a single Hurricane Sandy flood loss vehicle, and traced it to titling and branding issues that originated with both an insurer and its contracted salvage auction company. In its seven-month investigation, ABC found Sandy-damaged cars turning up on used car lots across the country. Furthermore, the insurance company that handled the vehicle identified in the ABC News story finally admitted to handling 174 other New Jersey vehicles in the same manner, but refused to comment on whether any of the remaining 3,698 cars the company insured and declared as total losses as a result of Sandy were also sold with unbranded titles.

 

The current requirement for a Certificate of Destruction is a very important section of the statute, created through extensive meetings and discussion among consumers, law enforcement, the auto recycling industry, the insurance industry, auctions and other stakeholders. The law has provided substantial protection for consumers. Legislators should keep these protections in place.

 

Walter Dartland is executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast.

 

New York Times: Skip the Supplements

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By PAUL A. OFFIT and SARAH ERUSH

PHILADELPHIA — PARENTS whose children are admitted to our hospital occasionally bring along something extra to help with their care: dietary supplements, like St. John’s wort to ameliorate mild depression or probiotics for better health.
Here’s the problem: The Joint Commission, which is responsible for hospital accreditation in the United States, requires that dietary supplements be treated like drugs. It makes sense: Vitamins, amino acids, herbs, minerals and other botanicals have pharmacological effects. So they are drugs.
But the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate dietary supplements as drugs — they aren’t tested for safety and efficacy before they’re sold. Many aren’t made according to minimal standards of manufacturing (the F.D.A. has even found some of the facilities where supplements are made to be contaminated with rodent feces and urine). And many are mislabeled, accidentally or intentionally. They often aren’t what they say they are. For example:
In 2003, researchers tested “ayurvedic” remedies from health food stores throughout Boston. They found that 20 percent contained potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury or arsenic.
In 2008, two products were pulled off the market because they were found to contain around 200 times more selenium (an element that some believe can help prevent cancer) than their labels said. People who ingested these products developed hair loss, muscle cramps, diarrhea, joint pain, fatigue and blisters.
Last summer, vitamins and minerals made by Purity First Health Products in Farmingdale, N.Y., were found to contain two powerful anabolic steroids. Some of the women who took them developed masculinizing symptoms like lower voices and fewer menstrual periods.
Last month, researchers in Ontario found that popular herbal products like those labeled St. John’s wort and ginkgo biloba often contained completely different herbs or contaminants, some of which could be quite dangerous.
The F.D.A. estimates that approximately 50,000 adverse reactions to dietary supplements occur every year. And yet few consumers know this.
Parents of children admitted to our hospital often request that we continue treating their child with dietary supplements because they believe in them, even if that belief isn’t supported by evidence. More disturbing were the times when children were taking these supplements without our knowledge. Doctors always ask parents if their children are taking any medicines. Unfortunately, because most parents don’t consider dietary supplements to be drugs, we often never knew about their use, let alone whether they might react dangerously with the child’s other treatments.
The F.D.A. has the mandate, but not the manpower, to oversee the labeling and manufacture of these supplements. In the meantime, doctors — and consumers — are on their own.
Our hospital has acted to protect the safety of our patients. No longer will we administer dietary supplements unless the manufacturer provides a third-party written guarantee that the product is made under the F.D.A.’s “good manufacturing practice” (G.M.P.) conditions, as well as a Certificate of Analysis (C.O.A.) assuring that what is written on the label is what’s in the bottle.
The good news is that we’ve been able to find some vitamins, amino acids, minerals and a handful of other supplements that meet this standard. For example, melatonin has been shown to affect sleep cycles and has a record of safety, and we identified a product that met manufacturing and labeling standards.
The bad news is that this was a vanishingly small percentage of the total group. Around 90 percent of the companies we reached out to for verification never responded. They didn’t call us back, or their email or manufacturing addresses changed overnight. Of the remainder, many manufacturers refused to provide us with either a statement of G.M.P. or a C.O.A.; in other words, they refused to guarantee that their products were what they said they were. Others lied; they said they met G.M.P. standards, but a call to the F.D.A. revealed they had been fined for violations multiple times. Perhaps most surprising, some manufacturers willingly furnished information that their product didn’t meet standards — like one company that provided a C.O.A. showing that its product contained 47,000 International Units of beta-carotene, when the label stated 25,000.
Now, when parents in our hospital still want to use products whose quality can’t be assured, we ask them to sign a waiver stating that the supplement may be dangerous, and that most have not been studied for their effectiveness. “Use of an agent for which there are no reliable data on toxicity and drug interactions,” the waiver reads, “makes it impossible to adequately monitor the patient’s acute condition or safely administer medications.”
What can other individuals who are concerned about supplement safety do? They can look for “U.S.P. Verified” on the label — this proves the supplement has been inspected and approved under the United States Pharmacopeial Convention. Unfortunately, fewer than 1 percent of the 55,000 or so supplements on the market bear this label. The real answer is that, until the day comes when medical studies prove that these supplements have legitimate benefits, and until the F.D.A. has the political backing and resources to regulate them like drugs, individuals should simply steer clear.
For too long, too many people have believed that dietary supplements can only help and never hurt. Increasingly, it’s clear that this belief is a false one.
Paul A. Offit is chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where Sarah Erush is the clinical manager in the pharmacy department.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/opinion/sunday/skip-the-supplements.html?_r=0

NEW RESEARCH SHOWS THAT AUTO INSURER USE OF CREDIT SCORES DISCRIMINATES AGAINST LOWER-INCOME DRIVERS

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But Surveys Reveal That Americans Reject Use of Credit Scores by Auto Insurers

Washington, DC — New research shows that, holding all other factors constant, the two largest auto insurers, State Farm and Allstate, charge moderate-income drivers with poor credit scores much higher prices than drivers with excellent scores. Yet, surveys show that, by a greater than two to one ratio, Americans reject insurer use of credit scores in their pricing of auto insurance policies. These are two key conclusions of the latest Consumer Federation of America (CFA) report on auto insurer treatment of lower income drivers, “The Use of Credit Scores by Auto Insurers: Adverse Impacts on Low- and Moderate-Income Drivers.”

“Americans reject auto insurer use of credit scores because they don’t think someone who’s had difficulty paying debts should automatically be charged higher auto insurance premiums,” said CFA Executive Director Stephen Brobeck. “After all, if drivers don’t pay their insurance premiums, insurers are not obligated to pay claims,” he added.

The CFA report asked three questions: First, do low- and moderate-income drivers tend to have lower auto insurer credit scores? Second, what is the impact of auto insurer use of these scores on actual prices? And third, do Americans approve of auto insurer use of credit scores in their pricing policies?

The report summarizes and references more than a decade’s worth of research by state insurance departments and the Federal Trade Commission that shows, without question, a strong positive relation between income and auto insurer credit scores – in general, the higher one’s income, the higher one’s credit scores. It also notes that in one study by the Florida Insurance Department, insurance agents with offices in low-income areas “unanimously condemned the use of credit scores because of the negative impact on lower-income customers.”

Auto Insurers Charge Higher Prices to Drivers With Lower Credit Scores

FICO estimates that, where permitted, 95 percent of auto insurers use credit scores in their pricing of insurance policies. However, this use is difficult to research because auto insurer websites do not permit consumers to input credit scores. So, CFA purchased price data related to credit scores for the two largest auto insurers, State Farm and Allstate, from Quadrant Information Services, an independent data services company that aggregates insurance premiums. These price data on minimum liability coverage, for a moderate-income, safe driving, single woman from ten major metropolitan areas, distinguished ten levels of credit score, from “excellent” to “worst.” The areas are Hartford, Baltimore, Atlanta, Louisville, Chicago, Houston, Denver, Phoenix, Oakland, and Seattle. The prices were for all State Farm and Allstate companies serving moderate-income ZIP Codes in the ten cities.

Analysis of these price data reveals a strong relationship between credit scores and annual auto insurance premiums, except in Oakland since California (and Massachusetts and Hawaii) prohibit auto insurer use of credit scores in their pricing. The prices charged by the State Farm companies serving the other nine cities were, in all cases, at least 94 percent higher for “poor” than for “excellent” credit scores with an average of 127 percent higher. In the Baltimore ZIP Code, for State Farm Mutual the prices ranged from $2,788 for a poor score to $1,030 for an excellent score. And for the State Farm F&C company, the prices ranged from $3,909 for a poor score to $1,467 for an excellent score.

The Allstate prices, which tended to be higher in the ten cities than the State Farm prices, also revealed large differences between prices for poor and excellent scores, though not as extreme as State Farm’s. In the Baltimore ZIP Code, for Allstate Indemnity the prices ranged from $1399 for a poor score to $1001 for an excellent score. And for the Allstate P&C company, the prices ranged from $2834 for a poor score to $1613 for an excellent score.

“It is simply not fair to ask the poor to pay more for auto insurance just because they’re poor,” said CFA Insurance Director J. Robert Hunter (a former Texas Insurance Commissioner). “Lower-income families tend to have lower credit scores just because they have less discretionary income and more insecure jobs,” he added.

Large Majority of Americans Reject the Auto Insurer Use of Credit Scores in Pricing Policies

In a 2009 survey commissioned by the Iowa Insurance Department that asked state residents whether people with poor credit scores should pay a higher auto insurance rate, only 12 percent agreed while 65 percent disagreed. A 2012 national survey commissioned by the Consumer Federation of America, and conducted by ORC International, had a similar finding. Only 31 percent thought it was fair for insurers to use credit scores in setting auto insurances rates while 67 percent disagreed, with 47 percent of the total sample strongly disagreeing.

“State legislators and insurance commissioners should follow the lead of those in Hawaii, California, and Massachusetts and prohibit auto insurers from using credit scores in their pricing,” said CFA’s Hunter. “That would help ensure equality of opportunity for lower-income drivers who often face more daunting financial challenges than drivers with higher incomes,” he added.

This report is the fifth in a series by CFA that studies the impact of auto insurer practices on low- and moderate-income drivers. Earlier research showed that auto insurers, who use factors such as occupation and education in setting auto insurance rates, discriminate against lower-income drivers. It also revealed that bad (unsafe) drivers from high-income areas often paid less than good (safe) drivers from moderate-income areas. All states but New Hampshire require drivers to carry liability coverage.

The Consumer Federation of America is an association of more than 250 non-profit consumer groups that, since 1968, has sought to advance the consumer interest through research, education, and advocacy.

Fraud.org: Hidden truth about penny auctions

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Hidden truth about penny auctions

Most consumers are familiar with online auctions – consumers bid up the price of an item until a timer expires. The high bidder at the end of the auction wins the item at the winning bid price. However, another form on online auctions, Internet penny auctions, have expanded at a drastic pace in recent years. While some of these sites are technically legitimate and legal, many of their business practices are questionable, and NCL is warning consumers to avoid them altogether.

How penny auctions work

In some ways, online penny auctions are essentially bidding Web sites not unlike auction sites like eBay. The key difference, however, is that all consumers who bid on penny auctions must make some sort of financial concession, regardless of whether they win or lose the auction. Here’s how penny auctions work:

  1. Generally, consumers must pay a registration fee before gaining access to bidding. This fee, while not required by all penny auction Web sites, is often expensive and undisclosed. An NBC News article discussing online penny auctions reports that one user on Grabswag.com was charged $99 as part of the registration process. While this consumer did provide his credit card information, he did not authorize any payment.
  2. A prospective bidder then pays for bid credits. Users must purchase non-refundable bid packs, or bundles of credits, before they can begin bidding. Each credit entitles the user to one bid. The price of each bid pack varies by Web site, but a Business Insider article reports that one popular site, Quibids.com, sells different size bid packs­­ for anywhere between $24 and $480. Each bid costs approximately $0.60 and is non-refundable.
  3. The bidding begins at $0 and then increases by one cent each time someone bids automatically (hence the “penny auction” name). There is a countdown clock that restarts every time someone places a new bid. Some Web sites even allow users to set up automatic rebids if they are out-bid. A penny doesn’t seem like much, right? Wrong! The total price of the item “won” is determined by the number of bids so you could end up paying well over the value of the item you’re bidding on. Generally, if you lose the bid, you have also lost the money spent on the used bids.

Some sites allow users to apply a portion of the money spent on bidding towards buying the product at retail price. However, penny auction sites often misreport the retail price of items, so buyers could be overpaying regardless.

Penny auctions are a bit complicated. Becky Worley, a writer at Yahoo! News, illustrates the process quite simply in her recent piece, “Hidden Dangers of Penny Auctions:”

“I bought $60 in bids and got in on an iPad auction. I bid occasionally, trying to time it when the counter neared zero, but I quickly blew 40 bucks in bids. Someone always jumped in at the last second, usually someone using the automated bid setting. So I signed up for automated bids myself, and I was amazed. My $20-worth of remaining bids flew out in 24 seconds. And I didn’t win. My 60 bucks was goners! In fact, I watched the most aggressive bidder make 30 bids a minute for 2 more hours until the auction ended. 3600 bids, at a minimum 55 cents a bid. That’s $1980 for a device that costs retail $499, and that guy didn’t even win!”

What’s wrong with penny auctions?

Some critics of online penny auctions claim that they should be considered illegal online gambling sites. Others argue that most of the auctions are illegitimate or use illegal sales tactics.

There is some debate over whether penny auctions are actually just a form of an online casino. Generally, something is considered to be illegal gambling if it includes a prize, chance, and some sort of personal consideration (a potential loss). Critics such as Brian Kongszik of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling claim that the sites meet the definition of gambling. The prize is the potential low cost of the product, the chance is that the consumer will be outbid and will be unable to continue the bidding process, and the consideration is the money lost on registration and bid packs. Critics also claim it can be addictive like gambling.

Those in the industry, such as Quibids.com spokeswoman Jill Farrand, counter that while the auctions have prizes and consideration, there is no chance involved because people can decide whether or not they want to continue to bid. Farrand also claims that the consideration is not a factor because consumers can apply a portion of the money spent on used credits to buy the product at retail price.

It is very difficult for users to determine which penny auction sites are legitimate. For example, several state attorneys general have found that some penny auction Web site use software “bots” that automatically outbid people as the clock reaches zero, making it virtually impossible to win items at a reasonable price. Some of these “bots” even show a fake username in order to persuade consumers that they are bidding against a real person. This tactic was used by ArrowOutlet.com, a site that the Washington State Attorney General sued for using “bots” against consumers. The site had voluntarily shut down before the legal action, but it was still required to pay restitution to affected consumers as a part of a settlement.

In a case in Georgia, the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection entered a settlement with Wavee.com because the company failed to “send a number of purchased products to consumers in a timely manner and failed to clearly and conspicuously disclose that consumers were purchasing bid credits when they registered.”

Other penny auction fraudsters use “shilling,” a process in which site owners have their friends bid in order to drive up prices and prevent consumers from winning. These sites are often used by scammers to steal the money paid in auctions without shipping the merchandise, sell financial information about users, or to simply place additional charges on credit cards without permission.

There are also reports of fraudsters running Ponzi schemes that convince consumers to invest in online penny auction Web sites. These criminals claim that the investors will receive payouts based on profits earned by the sites. Unfortunately, like all pyramid schemes, the payouts generally stop when the scheme becomes unsustainable. In one such example, people of Lexington, North Carolina were duped by Paul Burks and his $600 million scheme. Burks convinced potential investors that ZeekRewards.com was immensely popular and was growing quickly. Unsuspecting investors (many of whom were families that took out second mortgages to invest) lost thousands of dollars when Burks could not get enough people to invest in the scheme. The Securities and Exchange Committee shut the scam down and is working to recover millions of dollars for the victims.

Avoid penny auctions

While online penny auctions may sound like an attractive deal at first, consumers should be very wary before handing over any money or credit card information. It is very unlikely that consumers will save any money by using the service to purchase goods, and it is difficult to know if you are using a legitimate site. The National Consumers League advises consumers to avoid these sites.

Further reading

  • Penny Auction Watch offers the latest news on online penny auctions. This excellent site was created by Amanda Lee, a consumer who was scammed by a penny auction and vowed to use her experience to inform others.
  • Report any suspicious activity immediately to our Fraud Center at Fraud.org.

 

http://www.fraud.org/penny-auctions?utm_source=NCL+Fraud+Alert+June+2013&utm_campaign=June+Fraud+Alert&utm_medium=email

Letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott Regarding HB 55

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Dear Governor Scott,

 

In spite of the best efforts of Consumer Advocates and others to have HB 55 reconsidered in light of it’s adverse impact on the average consumer who purchases a car we are faced with the reality that it may become law.

It is obvious that the purchase of an automobile is not only a considerable expenditure, but in this day of mobility, a necessity. When a purchaser answers the inducements made in the tremendous advertising campaigns carried on by the auto industry and purchases an automobile that purchaser has a right to rely on the advertisements and inducements that result in a purchase. Under the leadership of Bob Butterworth as AG Florida passed a compressive Lemon Law, which has served the auto industry and the purchaser well. The Lemon Law Section has provided the venue for the hearing and resolution of complaints.

The reasons to veto the bill are many and we here list some of the most obvious:

 

1. Vehicle purchasers as opposed to those deceived by any other business are singled out for less protection.

 

2. The 30-day notice period insulates dealers from suit w/o any exposure for damages.

 

3. Purchasers relying on transportation for work and family activities can ill afford to go through the process of filing with the dealer in 30 days and then awaiting resolution.

 

4. The pre-suit notice & documents to be prepared and served on the dealer is so complex that the average consumer will not be able to meet it’s conditions w/o the aid of an attorney which the consumer can ill afford and which attorneys will be reluctant to pursue. The economics speak for themselves.

 

5. The dealers exposure is only the actual fraud damages which alone makes it difficult for a purchaser to determine and to claim. Penalties should be severe enough to dissuade fraudulent business conduct.

 

6. Bills like HB 55 enable deceptive practices by dealers to keep their activities out of the public eye.

 

7. When a trade in is involved the dealer can wholesale or otherwise dispose of the trade in. This would make it almost impossible for purchase to seek injunctive relief prohibit a dealer from selling a purchasers trade in or seeking to prevent a repo by the dealer.

 

8. This process may allow dealers to “pick off” purchasers who would otherwise be able to get relief in a class action.

 

The law as it now stands has served both dealers and purchasers well. Arbitration can also be time consuming and expensive and the auto industry, with experience in arbitration of such cases has a substantial advantage over the consumer who does not know the arbitrators that are listed and probably has never had to be a party to an arbitration. How much time do you think the average purchaser has to deal with this kind of an issue when faced with taking time off work or taking care of their children.

I would suggest that this bill be vetoed. If the dealers can show clearly that the current law is an unaffordable expense then there may be other options such as allowing such matters to be handled by the Lemon Law program with enabling legislation. Nowhere in the staff analysis was there a cost benefit study as applied to the dealer and to the purchaser. If we are truly concerned about the cost of government then this bill needs such an analysis.

 

Sincerely,

Walter Dartland

Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast

Rod Tennyson

Former Assistant Special Consumer Counsel to Governor Askew

 

 

 

Walter Dartland: “Keep Those Wrecks Off Our Roads”

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Keep Those Wrecks Off Our Roads

April 9, 2013

Walter Dartland

Tallahassee Democrat

A bill is making its way through the state House of Representatives that has serious consequences for all Florida consumers. Today, Florida law requires a total-loss vehicle that is damaged over 80 percent of its retail value to receive a Certificate of Destruction. This very important threshold keeps badly damaged vehicles from re-entering the marketplace and getting back on our roads and highways.

House Bill 7125 would eliminate this longstanding 80-percent threshold and replace it with a highly subjective definition of a nonrepairable vehicle. This replacement of a hard and fast standard with a definition that is open to interpretation and therefore difficult — if not impossible — to enforce will put each owner of a badly damaged vehicle in a morally hazardous situation. The owner, in the absence of a testable standard, will have the latitude to decide whether the vehicle will be sold as repairable or nonrepairable. A nonrepairable vehicle, sold for parts, typically brings a much lower price.

Many vehicles that are so damaged cannot be brought back to a safe, roadworthy condition. However, elimination of the threshold would certainly mean that many more badly damaged vehicles that should be destined for the scrap heap will instead end up back on Florida’s roads. A consumer who purchases such a salvaged vehicle that cannot be made safely operational will then have the daunting task of finding a remedy via the courts.

As a former Florida deputy attorney general and a longtime consumer advocate, I am acutely aware of the plight of consumers — especially minority and low-income consumers who would become the victims of the fraud imposed on them by the proposed change. The unfortunate truth is that navigating our court system will be an insurmountable obstacle for most consumers, which ultimately means they will have no alternative but to accept their loss.

The 80-percent threshold was established based on extensive meetings and discussion among consumers, law enforcement, the auto recycling industry, the insurance industry, the salvage auto auction industry and all stakeholders. When the Senate considered a similar bill, a great deal of documentation and testimony was provided showing examples of massively damaged vehicles with appraisal abuses by insurers designed to bypass vehicle branding as Certificate of Destruction vehicles. The abuses were designed to enhance the profits of the insurers and the auctions at the expense and safety of the public.

Documentation was also provided from other states that lacked the safeguards of the current Florida law, and which were similar to the changes proposed in the new draft legislation. These states showed many abusive examples of massively damaged cars with repairable titles or even clean titles.

Florida should not emulate such terrible examples.

Based upon the testimony and the evidence, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development responsibly declined to endorse this unsafe legislation. I urge Florida’s representatives to do the same.

Walter Dartland is executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast.

To read this article on the Tallahassee Democrat website, click HERE.

Consumers Confused About Telemarketing Rights

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Consumers are highly suspicious of telemarketing calls, but most consumers don’t know their basic telemarketing rights, according to a survey released by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) earlier this month as part of National Consumer Protection Week. According to the survey, nearly 9 in 10 adults in the United States are concerned that telemarketing calls they receive from companies they haven’t done business with before might be scams, and more than three-quarters think that it’s hard for most consumers to tell if a sales call is legitimate or not.

To help address the problem, CFA is offering new resources on its website to help consumers avoid telemarketing fraud. They include a guide about consumers’ basic telemarketing rights, tips on spotting fraud, and a short, humorous video. This educational project was supported by a grant from Western Union.

“Knowing your rights can help you tell the difference between legitimate telemarketing offers and scams,” said Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection at CFA and leader of CFA’s Consumer Protection Institute. “Simple things such as understanding when companies are violating your Do Not Call rights and when they’re not can help consumers detect possible fraud, because legitimate companies usually follow the rules, scammers don’t,” she added.

“Protect People with Brain Injuries” Campaign Receives National Bulldog Award

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The Consumer Federation of the Southeast and our Ron Sachs Communications PR team received the national Bulldog Reporter “Best Online/Social Media Community of the Year” Bronze recognition for our “Protect People with Brain Injuries” campaign this year. While we are honored to receive this distinguished award, we are more encouraged that we have begun this dialogue that will hopefully raise awareness about this extremely important issue and protect our state’s most vulnerable citizens.

Consumer Federation of the Southeast Calls on State and Feds to Take Emergency Action to Protect FINR Patients

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TALLAHASSEE – Moving to save lives and protect people who are at risk, one of the nation’s leading consumer advocates, the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, today urged state and federal authorities to take emergency action to ensure that patients at the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation (FINR) are protected – including taking over operation of the facility if necessary. The urgent call for immediate action comes after allegations of continued patient abuse, a $31-million lawsuit from a major bank and bankruptcy filings involving FINR.

“The continued allegations of patient abuse, coupled with significant questions regarding FINR’s financial health, are a loud and clear warning for Florida and federal authorities,” said Walter Dartland, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast. “All signs point to an emergency situation at FINR. The state and federal governments need to step up and take a Category 5 level of response to protect the safety and well-being of each FINR resident, and to make certain safeguards are in place to ensure that at-risk patients are protected.”

The Consumer Federation of the Southeast’s advocacy for FINR patients and their families began last summer as a result of an alarming Bloomberg News report detailing alleged instances of abuse and neglect at the Hardee County institute.

As part of an effort to increase public awareness of the issue, Dartland invited concerned individuals to join the Protect People with Brain Injuries Facebook community set up at: https://www.facebook.com/ProtectPeopleWithBrainInjuries. To date, more than 3,300 individuals have “Liked” the page, including many who had friends or relatives they way were improperly treated at the facility.

According to a new report from WTSP, in the latest incident five FINR employees allegedly beat a patient, sending him to the hospital.

The news of the latest allegation comes after Regions Bank filed a lawsuit against FINR claiming that the institute is in default on almost $31 million in loans. In the filing, Regions Bank accuses FINR of:

·       Failure to pay Internal Revenue Service payroll taxes;

·       Failure to pay property taxes; and

·       Failure to pay ordinary operating expenses as they come due.

The Regions Bank lawsuit says FINR has “admitted a significant number of patients on the basis of payment from ‘litigation liens’ upon the proceeds of litigation by these patients against third parties related to the patients’ injuries.” The bank’s filing says FINR recently received a $174,000 payout from a litigation lien but did not notify the bank of the payout when it happened and “have not accounted for those funds.”

Regions Bank is asking for the facility to be put into receivership and says FINR’s “continued possession of the Collateral and operation of the Facility puts both the patients of the Facility and Regions’ interests in the Collateral at risk.”

Shortly after Region Bank’s action, FINR and related companies filed in federal court in Tampa for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

According to Bloomberg News, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has given FINR a January 14 deadline to provide the agency with detailed financial statements proving that it is has sufficient assets and revenues to operate for the next two years and that FINR can document its ability to correct its financial instability.

The Bloomberg News report says the bankruptcy petitions filed by FINR and three related corporations show the facility owes between $3 million and $30 million to its creditors, while FINR’s assets total $150,000 or less. The list of creditors includes insurance companies, law firms, medical supply companies, utilities and the county tax collector.

The latest alleged beating incident, the Regions Bank lawsuit and FINR’s bankruptcy filing are the most recent in a line of troubling revelations related to the Hardee County facility.  Last summer’s report by Bloomberg News brought attention to many powerful examples of alleged abuse and neglect at FINR. These include instances where patients have died or are reported to have swallowed fishhooks and batteries in order to escape the institution, as well as testimonials from former patients including videotaped evidence of apparent beatings by caretakers.

Following a call for action in July by the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, the State of Florida conducted a multi-agency investigation into abuse allegations at FINR that exposed that the facility has been treating patients who are apparently ineligible to be at the facility.

Allstate Insurance has also filed a federal lawsuit against FINR seeking $7.6 million in damages it suffered as a result of an alleged insurance fraud scheme, as well as triple damages under federal racketeering laws.

Regions Bank Lawsuit Against FINR

Regions Bank FINR Lawsuit

FINR and Related Companies Bankruptcy Documents

FINR Bankruptcy Filing

FINR II Bankruptcy Filing

FINR III Bankruptcy Filing

FINR III INC Bankruptcy Filing

FING II Bankruptcy Filing

Traumatic Brain Education Adult Community Home Bankruptcy Filing

New Abuse Allegations at FINR Prompt CFSE Call for Authorities to Give Brain-Injured Patients the Gift of “Guaranteed Protection”

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Renewed Call for Action Comes After New Report of Alleged Patient Abuse at Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation

Tallahassee  — Calling for a redoubling of efforts to better protect patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries, the Consumer Federation of the Southeast today urged federal and state authorities to provide the best possible gift for the residents at the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation (FINR) and their families – the gift of guaranteed protection. The renewed call for action comes after a report by WTSP-TV in Tampa about battery charges against a staffer at FINR, who was supposed to be caring for a patient.

“The latest troubling abuse allegations at FINR are indicative of an apparent pattern of abuse,” said Walter Dartland, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast. “The overriding priority must be to protect the safety and well-being of each FINR resident and state authorities must urgently ensure safeguards are in place to ensure at-risk patients are safe.”

The Consumer Federation of the Southeast’s advocacy for FINR patients and their families began this summer as a result of an alarming Bloomberg News report detailing alleged instances of abuse and neglect at the Hardee County institute.

According to the new report from WTSP, the FINR staffer reportedly struck a patient in the mouth. The apparent injury sent the patient to the hospital, where he allegedly received 19 stitches.

In the WTSP report, the patient alleges he was abused at least four times while he was a patient at FINR. The story goes on to say that FINR is receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to care for the patient.

The alleged incident is the latest in a line of troubling revelations related to FINR.  This summer’s report by Bloomberg News brought attention to many powerful examples of the alleged abuse and neglect at FINR including instances where patients have died, or have reportedly swallowed fishhooks and batteries to escape the institution, as well as testimonials from former patients including videotaped evidence of apparent beatings by caretakers.

Following a call for action in July by the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, the State of Florida conducted a multi-agency investigation into abuse allegations at FINR that exposed that the facility has been treating patients who are apparently ineligible to be at the facility. According to WTSP’s reporting, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration is expected to take action soon to address this issue.

Allstate Insurance also filed a federal lawsuit against FINR seeking $7.6 million in damages it suffered as a result of an alleged insurance fraud scheme, as well as triple damages under federal racketeering laws.

As part of an effort to increase public awareness of the issue, Dartland invited concerned individuals to join the Protect People with Brain Injuries Facebook community set up at: https://www.facebook.com/ProtectPeopleWithBrainInjuries

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