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Current Events in July 2004

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    Graco "Travel Lite" Swings Recalled

    July 13, 2004
    About 140,000 Grace "Travel Lite" infant swings are being recalled. The swings carrying handle can fail to stay in place properly and drop or be pushed down, hitting a child in the head.

    Additionally, the 3-point seatbelt can fail to prevent a child from leaning forward or to either side, posing a risk that the child can fall forward and strike his/her head on the floor or the swings frame.

    Graco has received about 28 reports of incidents involving the handle falling down on young children; in addition, Graco has received 100 reports of children falling forward or to the side. Injuries resulting from these incidents include bloody or swollen lips, red marks, bumps and bruises.

    The recalled Travel Lite portable swings have an adjustable reclining seat, a rotating handle and a canopy and include model numbers 1850JJP, 1850JGB, and 1870DAL. The swings, which were manufactured between May 2003 and December 11, 2003, also have a serial number between 050503 and 121103. Both the model and serial numbers can be found on a white label underneath the seat.

    The swings have the words, Graco and Travel Lite swing printed on each side, and have buttons on the handle to activate lights and music. On the underside of the handle are multicolored designs of the sun, moon, and stars that light up when the light button is pressed.

    The swings were sold at discount, department and juvenile stores from June 2003 through June 2004 for about $60.

    Consumers who have a Travel Lite swing with a 3-point seatbelt (waist belt and crotch strap only) or a Travel Lite swing without a red handle release button should stop using it immediately and contact Graco for a free repair kit.

    Consumers can call Graco toll-free at (800) 345-4109 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or visit the Companys Web site at www.gracobaby.com.

    The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

    Graco Travel Lite Swings Recalled...

    Credit Counselors Not Always What They Seem

    Debt-Ridden Consumers Often Get Bad Advice, Report Claims

    Heavily-indebted consumers often get bad advice about where to go for help, according to a Washington-based organization that itself is of questionable parentage.

    The media, government agencies and policymakers frequently steer troubled consumers to Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS) or other agencies that are members of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). In doing so, they tell consumers that the decades-old NFCC and its CCCS affiliates are neutral, reputable, "nonprofit" charities that serve consumers' interests.

    But according to the report issued by Consumers for Responsible Credit Solutions, consumers seeking help from an NFCC affiliate may be handing their financial futures over to the very creditors who buried them in debt in the first place -- and who will profit handsomely from collecting on those debts.

    They may also be relying on the reputation of an organization whose leadership and affiliates have been associated with some recent, troubling financial scandals.

    Some of the report's key points include:

    ? Credit counseling agencies under the NFCC umbrella are essentially agents of creditors. Creditors created the NFCC and many of its affiliates. NFCC members receive two-thirds of their funding from creditors. The NFCC and many of its affiliates are led by former creditor executives. The NFCC's governing board has included representatives of credit industry giants including VISA, CitiCorp, Household Credit Services, Bank of America, JC Penney, Dayton Hudson (Target Corp.), TransUnion, Experian, and Zales Jewelry. Major debt collectors have also held positions on NFCC governing boards.

    ? Creditors profit tremendously from the debt collection activities of the NFCC, which through its nonprofit network of more than 1,300 locations collects close to $5 billion in at-risk debts for creditors every year. For their work on behalf of creditors, the NFCC's "nonprofit" executives have received compensation packages approaching $400,000 per year.

    At one NFCC affiliate, the top four officers received compensation totaling about $1 million for their "charitable" work of collecting debts from consumers and turning them over to creditors.

    When consumers seek advice on finding a good credit counseling agency, one of the first things they need to consider is how their money will be handled. The report finds the recent financial record of some NFCC leaders and affiliates should raise serious concerns:

    • NFCC President's Financial Scandal In 2004, the current NFCC president, Susan Keating, joined the NFCC following her resignation as president of Allfirst Financial bank, where she presided over one of the largest financial scandals in history in which it was discovered that one of the bank's foreign currency traders had hidden $691 million in currency trading losses.
    • Utah CCCS Seized by State Regulators In 2004, just weeks after the NFCC withdrew its membership, the decades old CCCS of Utah, a founding NFCC member, was seized by state regulators in search of missing funds after consumers complained that their payments were not being forwarded to their creditors.
    • Hawaii Credit Counseling Agency Used to Launder Drug Money. In 2001, just three months after the NFCC withdrew its membership, the president and treasurer of the decade-old Hawaii Credit Counseling (HCC) service were suspects in an investigation that lead to their conviction for using their clients' funds to launder drug money for heroin dealers. Even as the police were investigating HCC, the media and an official of the U.S. Government continued to publicly recommend HCC as "among the best" providers of credit counseling services for consumers.
    • NFCC Board Member Companies Have Paid Record Fines for Abusing Consumers. Creditors who have been represented on the NFCC Board of Trustees have recently paid hundreds of millions of dollars in Federal Trade Commission fines and other settlements for anti-consumer practices and abusing consumers' rights.

    ? The report asserts that the chief aim of creditors in controlling the NFCC is to discourage consumers from declaring bankruptcy. By using the NFCC to discourage bankruptcy, creditors reduce their financial risks and assume less responsibility for granting excessive credit to already overextended consumers. The NFCC has been very effective in achieving that goal. Although 86% of the consumers who approach the NFCC are legally insolvent, only 11% go on to declare bankruptcy.

    Bankruptcy is a bad outcome for everyone, but discouraging eligible people from declaring bankruptcy can make things even worse for the consumer and the public. Keeping insolvent people paying endless debts often results in high personal costs for the consumer and high social costs for taxpayers who end up paying the costs associated with broken families, failed businesses and other problems.

    Consumers are also harmed when creditors use control of the NFCC to scrutinize consumers and deny them debt management plan benefits, leaving them financially strapped and unable to dig themselves out of debt.


    The report argues the best way to make the credit counseling industry more favorable to consumers is to reduce the direct influence and control of creditors. The report presents a number of options to consider, which range from the outright banning of creditor management and funding of agencies to simply limiting or even just disclosing the creditors' influence. It also includes recommendations to the industry for improvement of customer service.

    The report argues that the recent growth of independent, non- NFCC credit counseling agencies has brought many benefits, including wider public awareness and access to credit counseling and debt management plans through advertising and marketing, and improved customer service and technology.

    At the same time, there have been new entrants who have not served consumers well. Two factors have contributed to problems: a lack of national regulatory standards; and mandates that credit counseling agencies be "nonprofit," which exempts them from most state and federal regulation. This has left an industry that handles billions of dollars in consumer payments largely unregulated.

    The report recommends establishing national standards and opening the industry to professional financial services businesses that already serve consumers and are already subject to regulatory scrutiny.

    Consumers for Responsible Credit Solutions is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that says it is an ad hoc group of about 800 consumers, credit counselors, bankruptcy attorneys and consumer advocates. Its parttime executive director, Darrell McKigney, said the group has been in existence for about two years.

    The full text of the report is available at www.responsiblecredit.com.

    Heavily-indebted consumers often get bad advice about where to go for help, according to a Washington-based organization that itself is of questionable par...

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      Uninsured Older Adults More Likely to Die

      Lack of Insurance is Third-Leading Cause of Death

      The risk of death among uninsured people ages 50 to 64 is 43% higher than it is for people in that age group who have insurance, according to a study in Health Affairs. That could mean that more than 105,000 U.S. residents in that age group will die prematurely in the next eight years because they lack insurance.

      The researchers said that if lack of health insurance were categorized as a disease, it would be the third-leading cause of death among the near-elderly, behind heart disease and cancer. They predicted that if policymakers do not work to expand health coverage, the number of unnecessary deaths among adults in that age group could grow to more than 30,000 per year by 2015 as baby boomers age.

      "The consequences of being uninsured are growing more severe, especially for this older age group," said lead author Dr. J. Michael McWilliams of Brigham and Women's. "We were surprised by the sheer number of preventable deaths."

      Deborah Banda, director of AARP for Massachusetts, called the findings "appalling" and said the report "adds another level of urgency to finding a solution to the problem" of the uninsured.

      For the study, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital used data from the National Institute on Aging on 8,736 adults in 1992, dividing them into two groups -- those who were publicly or privately insured and those who weren't.

      By examining the number of deaths by the year 2000, the researchers found that lack of insurance increased risk of death by 43%, even after adjusting for the fact that the uninsured are frequently sicker or have lower incomes.

      In addition, the researchers found that low-income uninsured participants were 53% more likely to die early, and those with diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure were also found to be more vulnerable.

      According to the study, the difference in mortality rates between insured and uninsured adults was found only in whites, not in non-Hispanic, black or Hispanic adults.

      An abstract of the data is available on the Health Affairs Web site.

      Uninsured Older Adults More Likely to Die...

      Hunting Tree Stands Recalled

      July 6, 2004
      Rivers Edge/Ardisam, Inc. is recalling about 78,000 Big Foot Series and Lite Foot Series hunting tree stands.

      If the strap mounting bracket loosens or rotates, the strap hook can release, causing the tree stand to detach from the tree. If this occurs, the hunter could fall to the ground.

      Rivers Edge/Ardisam, Inc. has received three reports of hunters falling when their stands detached. Two of them reportedly suffered serious injuries, including broken bones.

      The recalled Big Foot and Lite Foot Series hunting tree stands are hang-on stands that can be identified by a yellow warning label affixed to the stand that reads: Rivers Edge Hunting Products. These tree stands have dual post seat uprights and a gold-colored strap hook bracket. Only these model tree stands with the gold-colored bracket are included in this recall.

      The stands were sold in hunting stores and catalogs nationwide beginning in January 1998 for between $60 and $120. The tree stands were manufactured from January 1998 though July 2001.

      Consumers should contact Rivers Edge/Ardisam, Inc. to receive free replacement hardware for self-installation. Call Rivers Edge/Ardisam, Inc. at (800) 204-7435 or visit their Web site at www.ardisam.com.

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Hunting Tree Stands Recalled...

      Teen Burned When Cell Phone Catches Fire

      Kyocera Wireless 2325 cell phone caught fire

      A California teen suffered second-degree burns when her Kyocera Wireless 2325 cell phone caught fire, according to local fire investigators.

      The 16-year-old Ontario girl's phone burst into "fist-size flames" without warning, said Frank Huddleston, an investigator at the Ontario fire department. Huddleston said he suspects the phone's battery overheated.

      Witnesses said the victim had the phone in her back pocket, when it "let out a whoosh," bulged, then shot out flames and smoke. She was treated for second-degree burns and released.

      Huddleston said there were no sources of flame nearby. He said witnesses saw flames coming from the bottom of the phone, near vents that are intended to prevent overheating batteries from exploding.

      Kyocera issued a recall of about 140,000 batteries used in Kyocera Model 7135 Smartphones in January. The recall announcement said the batteries can short-circuit and erupt with force or emit excessive heat, posing a burn hazard to consumers.

      In January, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued its first-ever recall of cell phone batteries, some 40,000 from Coslight International Group in Hong Kong. The batteries were on four phones, all Kyocera Wireless models that overheated. One person was slightly injured from the defect. The batteries were also available from Verizon Wireless and Alltel.

      There have been other incidents involving portable phones overheating and exploding, raising concerns about the safety of jamming the devices into pockets, purses and briefcases and holding them against the face.

      A California teen suffered second-degree burns when her Kyocera Wireless 2325 cell phone caught fire, according to local fire investigators....

      Door-to-Door Meat Seller Fined

      All American Foods, a Wisconsin-based door-to-door meat sales company, has been ordered to make refunds to Iowa customers

      All American Foods, a Wisconsin-based door-to-door meat sales company, has been ordered to make refunds to Iowa customers and not to violate Iowa's Consumer Fraud and Door-to-Door Sales laws.

      The Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit on May 14 naming Country Manor Distributors, Inc., of Hudson, WI, doing business in Iowa as "All American Foods," and James Leis, owner and operator of All American Foods. The suit alleged the defendants gave false information to consumers and violated the Door-to-Door Sales Act.

      "Consumers need to be cautious and skeptical of door-to-door sales of meat or seafood," Attorney General Tom Miller said. "We've seen scams for many years. The classic misrepresentation is that the meat is available at cut-rate prices because it is left over from another delivery, or because the sales person was unable to complete an expected sale to a nearby restaurant or retailer," he said.

      "In reality, the price usually turns out to be very high, although consumers can't tell that at first because there is no itemized list of cuts and their price per pound. Finally, consumers have a very hard time canceling and getting a refund," Miller said.

      Floyd County District Court Judge Bryan H. McKinley's order resolving the lawsuit requires All American Foods to make restitution totaling $2,332 to seven customers who already filed complaints - and to make refunds to any other customers who file complaints with the Attorney General.

      The company must provide right-to-cancel notices and tell the price-per-pound of meat, and it is prohibited from misrepresentations - including that products were "excess" and had been intended for delivery to other destinations.

      "The suit alleged All American gave false information to consumers," said Attorney General Tom Miller. "For example, sales persons claimed they had been unable to sell the meat to a nearby restaurant or store for which the meat was intended. That created a false impression that the meat was being sold at a bargain price right then, and that the potential buyer needed to make a snap decision whether or not to buy. They also failed to give the price-per-pound, which is required for meat, and they failed to give consumers the required right-to-cancel information," Miller said.

      Judge McKinley also ordered a civil penalty of $40,000, but made it payable to the state if the defendants violate his order in the future.

      All American customers in Iowa who would like a refund must file a consumer complaint with the Attorney General's Office within 120 days of the Court order, which was entered last week. The court order does not require buyers to return unused meat. Send email to consumer@ag.state.ia.us, or write to the Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Phone 515-281-5926.

      According to affidavits filed with the lawsuit, consumers who complained to the Attorney General's Office paid amounts ranging from $169 to $525 to All American Foods. Door-to-door salesmen gave various reasons for the purported "savings" people would obtain - because of unexpected loss of sales to a restaurant or wholesaler, and in one instance because the local VFW had purchased less than expected. In that instance, the Howard County consumer called the VFW and found the VFW had not purchased any meat from All American.

      A Bancroft, Iowa, couple who weighed the meat they bought determined that the cost of the meat added up to $8-9 per pound. In each case, meat was not weighed or priced per pound, so as to allow for fair market comparison, as required by Iowa law.

      All American Foods, door-to-door meat sales company, has been ordered to make refunds to Iowa customers and not to violate Iowa's Consumer Fraud and Door-t...

      George Foreman Grill Settlement Helps Non-Profits

      A nationwide antitrust suit against the distributors of the George Foreman Grill is spreading a lot of wealth among chronically under-funded charities in all 50 states.

      Salton Inc. agreed to pay $8 million to settle charges that it coerced retailers into charging artifically high prices for the grill and pressured them to remove competitors' grills from their shelves.

      Because it would be too hard to identify individual consumers, the settlement agreement asks states to distribute the money to charities or government agencies to improve health care and nutrition.

      • In Covington, La., the Covington Food Bank got a check for $10,000. "This is a historic moment," said Deacon Joe Lazo, director of the Food Bank, which provides food and medical and dental care to the needy of St. Tammany and Washington parishes. "We will use this money for our medical and dental center; we'll practice good stewardship."

      • In Salt Lake City, Utah Dietetic Association will get $62,000 from the settlement. It will use the money for nine public health projects that offer nutrition and weight control training to students, senior citizens, Hispanic and Native American groups and patients with Cystic Fibrosis.

      • In Kansas City, Kansas, a shelter for pregnant teens will receive a $15,114 grant from the settlement. "We are ecstatic about accepting these funds on behalf of the young teen mothers we serve in the entire state of Kansas," said Wanda Bibbs, co-executive director of the Grace Center. She said the center receives referrals from the entire state for young women who are pregnant and in need of shelter, counseling, nutrition, nutrition education, food and clothing.

      Salton may soon be on the soup lines itself. Its lenders recently agreed to wait until September 30 to exercise any remedies relating to Salton's failure to comply with lending agreements.

      The distributor of the George Foreman grill and Westinghouse home appliances said that the amended forbearance agreement is conditional on Salton receiving additional funding by July 12. Salton's wider-than-expected third-quarter loss put it out of compliance with senior credit agreements. The company lost $58 million in the quarter ended March 27.

      A nationwide antitrust suit against the distributors of the George Foreman Grill is spreading a lot of wealth among chronically under-funded charities in a...

      AT&T Agrees to Pay Refunds to New Yorkers

      Consumers were charged for long distance service they didn't use

      With prompting from New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, AT&T has agreed to pay refunds to as many as 311,000 New Yorkers who were improperly billed.

      As part of the settlement, AT&T Communications of New York will also reform its billing procedures, provide consumers with additional information on telephone services and pay $400,000 in penalties and costs.

      "Communications companies need to do a better job of communicating with customers about bills for services," Spitzer said. "This settlement will reconcile improper billings, reform some billing practices and provide new information to help consumers make informed choices about telephone service."

      The settlement follows a six-month investigation by Spitzer's office of AT&T's billing practices. The investigation began in January, after the Attorney General's office received hundreds of complaints from consumers who were billed for long distance telephone service that they neither requested nor used.

      This was the result of a change in AT&T's billing policies in which the company sought to impose a monthly fee of $7.72 on "basic rate" customers. However, many of the consumers charged this monthly fee were not AT&T long distance customers at all.

      Consumers who tried to correct this billing error by calling AT&T endured long waiting periods, were often given inaccurate information and were subjected to aggressive sales tactics. Even after receiving confirmation and documentation that the matter had been corrected, some consumers continued to receive bills and past due notices regarding their accounts.

      Under the settlement, AT&T will do the following:

      • Provide for restitution and credits for those who were incorrectly billed;
      • Update and correct billing lists to exclude consumers who are not AT&T customers;
      • Cease collection efforts for past-due accounts linked to monthly charge;
      • Send a notice to all of its "basic rate" customers informing them of the terms of their service plan; and
      • Advise customers on how to switch AT&T plans, change long-distance carriers, or cancel long-distance service completely.

      Consumers have 45 days during which they may register a complaint and request reimbursement from the company.

      As part of a settlement, AT&T has agreed to pay refunds to as many as 311,000 New Yorkers who were improperly billed and pay $400,000 in penalties and cost...