Veteran Democratic congresswoman takes aim at online scams, fatal furniture tip-overs

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WASHINGTON — Fraud risks and privacy concerns have intensified as Americans increasingly have relied on online shopping during the pandemic. The Biden administration dedicated this year’s National Consumer Protection Week, which began Monday, to addressing threats from online marketplaces.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subpanel on consumer protection, recently spoke about what she’s working on and previewed expected changes under the Biden administration.

Last week, the 12-term congresswoman re-introduced the STURDY Act of 2021, which aims to deliver a stronger, mandatory stability standard for dressers and other clothing-storage units known for tipping over and killing children. Her subcommittee also held a hearing in February on safeguarding American consumers from scams and fraud during the pandemic.

Next week, the subcommittee plans to hold a hearing on protecting children’s rights online, according to a spokesman.

The Q&A below has been edited for clarity and length.

Medill News Service: What is the biggest concern in consumer protection right now?

Schakowsky: Privacy is a really big issue and not just for children, like in the upcoming hearing on what’s happening on the internet when it comes to children’s rights. I think a lot of people are very skeptical of their private information and how it’s being how it’s being sold or used. If you’re not paying, somebody is probably making money on your data. So coming up with a comprehensive privacy protection bill is something that is on the agenda for many consumers.

Also, we have unsafe products that are being sold. We have knockoffs that are not the legitimate product and a lot of just deception, particularly focused on senior citizens and online. We had a full hearing about it. It’s just incredible the kinds of scams that people will resort to.