Consumer Health Digest #16-35

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 18, 2016

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

Bills to block robocalls introduced. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has introduced the Repeated Objectionable Bothering of Consumers on Phones (ROBOCOP) Act (S. 3016), which would force telephone companies to enable their customers to block unwanted robocalls without charge. [Schumer reveals: last month alone, nearly 50 million robocalls rang in just two NYC area codes; old methods to hangup on robocalls not working; annoying calls going up nationwide; senator introduces new bill—Robocop Act—to mandate blocking technology so millions of consumers can stop the calls. Schumer press release, June 5, 2016] An identical measure (H.R. 4932) is awaiting action in the House of Representatives. Robocalls are phone calls that use automated dialing machines to either play a pre-recorded message or connect to a live person. In many cases, they are made by fraudulent companies trying to steal money from the person on the other end of the phone. Many are placed using "caller ID spoofing" that makes the caller ID display the phone number of a government agency, credit card company, or bank. Under the "Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009," this practice is illegal if used for the purpose of defrauding or otherwise causing harm. However, even though many of these calls clearly violate the law, it is difficult to catch the perpetrators, many of whom are overseas and/or hiding behind fake numbers. People interested in decreasing robocalls should register their interest with Consumers Union.

Court denies tax deduction for Amway losses. The U.S. Tax Court has ruled that losses sustained by a pair of Amway distributors were not tax-deductible as business expenses. IRS regulations hold that for losses to be tax deductible, the underlying activity must involve credible efforts to earn money. Activities that comprise a hobby or merely provide products for personal use do not qualify. Noting that from 2005 through 2011, the couple reported gross receipts of only $5,098 and a total net loss of $99,000, the Court concluded:

Petitioners did not create a business plan, budget, or estimate of revenues and expenses; nor did they introduce records demonstrating the amount of product they sold, who their customers were or how many customers they had, or who their downline distributors were or how many downline distributors they had. Although petitioners carefully maintained receipts, they did not use those receipts to maintain a general ledger, create profit and loss statements, or improve the performance of their Amway activity. To the contrary, petitioners used a document that merely explained Amway's payment structure as their business plan and operated their Amway activity in the same manner each year despite consistently generating losses. On these facts, it appears that petitioners maintained receipts for substantiation purposes only rather than to monitor the income and expenses of, and ultimately improve, their Amway activity. Accordingly, the Court concludes that petitioners did not operate their Amway activity in a businesslike manner.

In 2011, blogger Peter J. Reilly, CPA, summarized 23 other unfavorable rulings and concluded: "If the reason you want to start a business is so that you can deduct money you spend anyway (something I advise you not to do), Amway is probably one of the worst things that you could pick." [Reilly PJ. Selling soap as a hobby - Amway IBO's in Tax Court, Passive Activities and Other Oxymorons Blog, June 15, 2011] MLM Watch has an article on Amway's origins.

Graston technique study finds unimpressive results. A randomized controlled clinical trial has found no difference in outcome for pain or disability among patients who received spinal manipulation, Graston technique, or sham therapy for nonspecific thoracic spine pain. However, all groups improved. The study involved 143 patients who were evaluated at 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months. [Crothers AL and others. Spinal manipulative therapy, Graston technique and placebo for non-specific thoracic spine pain: a randomized controlled trial. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies, May 16, 2016] Graston Technique is said to use "specially designed stainless steel instruments, along with appropriate therapeutic exercise, to specifically detect and effectively treat areas exhibiting soft tissue fibrosis or chronic inflammation. The Graston Web site says that the technique is used by 24,500 clinicians worldwide and is taught at 45 colleges and universities.

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This page was posted on September 18, 2016.