Current Events in August 2004

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    Growing Menace: Fake Check Scams

    Consumers lose an average of $5,000 each

    Fake check scams are defrauding thousands of Americans. The National Consumers League reports that fake check scams are now the sixth most common Internet fraud, with consumers losing an average of $5,000 each.

    There are many variations on this popular scam. Many start with an e-mail contact, with a stranger proposing to send the mark a check and have him wire money in return. Susan Grant, director of NCL's National Fraud Information Center, says it may start with someone offering to buy something you advertised for sale, pay you to work at home, or give you an advance on a sweepstakes you supposedly won.

    Whatever the set-up, the bottom line is if someone you don't know wants to pay you by check but wants you to wire money back, it's a scam.

    The crooks often claim to be in other countries and say it's too hard to make payment directly, so they'll have someone in the U.S. who owes them money send the victim a check. The amount of the check is more than the victim is owed, so the victim is instructed to deposit the check and wire the excess back. Or scammers may tell the mark to wire some of the money back as fees to collect their "winnings."

    The checks sent to victims are forgeries, but they're so realistic that even bank tellers may be fooled. By the time the checks bounce, the victims have already wired the money to the crooks. Because bank customers are responsible for the checks they deposit, the victims of these scams are left to repay the bank the money they withdrew against the bad check.

    American Bankers Association Executive Vice President Edward Yingling explains that federal law requires banks to make the funds you deposit available quickly. But he adds that it's important for consumers to know that just because you can withdraw the money doesn't mean the check is good. If the check turns out to be a forgery, the bank will reclaim the money later.

    Some tips on avoiding this and similar scams:

    • There's no legitimate reason for someone who is giving you money to ask you to wire money back;
    • Just because you can withdraw the money doesn't mean the check is good, even if it's a cashier's check; • If a stranger wants to pay you for something, insist on a cashier's check for the exact amount, preferably from a local bank or one with a branch in your area.

    For more details about how fake check scams work and how to avoid them, visit the telemarketing or Internet fraud section of www.fraud.org.



    Growing Menace: Fake Check Scams...

    Britax Recalls Child Safety Seats

    Britax is recalling 355,516 child seats because a harness can come loose, federal safety officials said.

    Britax is recalling all Marathon, Husky, Wizard and Snug Seat Traveler Plus seats. The seats were made between August 2002 and this July and have the model numbers E9L06, E9L30, E9L07 and E9L32, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

    The defect was discovered during company testing. Britax found that the adjuster strap could slip within the metal buckle that controls the tightness of the shoulder harness. If the strap slips far enough, the harness could loosen and the child could fall forward in an accident.

    No injuries have been reported as a result of the defect.

    Britax will provide consumers with a free kit that will allow them to fix the problem by replacing the adjuster strap. Registered owners should receive the kit by Sept. 30. Consumers who did not register should call 800-683-2045 to receive a kit.

    In the meantime, Britax said consumers should check to see if the strap is slipping and should use a different seat if it is.

    Britax said seats made after Aug. 1 are not affected. The company also said it is recalling all seats not yet purchased and retrofitting them with the new strap. A spokeswoman for the company could not immediately say how much the recall will cost.

    Britax Recalls Child Safety Seats...

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      Lawsuit Challenges Cortislim Claims


      If you watch cable TV or listen to talk radio, you can't escape the ads for CortiSlim, which make the irresistible pitch that it's not your fault that you're fat. The problem, you see, is that you're stressed out. Their pills are supposed to fix that.

      A nationwide consumer class action lawsuit against the manufacturer and distributor of CortiSlim charges that the company's claims are false and misleading.

      The CortiSlim pitch goes something like this: when you're under stress, your body releases a hormone called cortisol, which does a lot of things, including increase your appetite. Not only that, we're told that cortisol actually influences where the fat from all that stress-related eating goes - straight to your belly.

      The ads for CortiSlim say it blocks cortisol, which helps you lose weight without a lot of diet and exercise.

      The suit charges CortiSlim with using a series of misleading infomercials in which the human body's ability to regulate weight loss is allegedly linked to the body's production of a chemical substance called cortisol. Contrary to the company's advertisements, the suit charges the defendants' marketing claims are unsubstantiated and lack a valid scientific basis.

      The official CortiSlim Website features a FAQ section that is somewhat vague about when consumers of the product will see results. However, it advises users to not weigh themselves for the first 30 days of using the product. In fact, the company recommends not using a scale to measure the product's effectiveness!

      The lawsuit seeks a refund for all consumers who relied on the company's claims.



      If you watch cable TV or listen to talk radio, you can't escape the ads for CortiSlim, which make the irresistible pitch that it's not your fault that you'...

      Ford SUVs Laggards in Rollover Tests

      Some versions of the popular Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer SUVs are among the worst on the road for rollover risk

      Some versions of the popular Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer SUVs are among the worst on the road for rollover risk, according to the latest rankings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

      The Explorer Sport Trac two-wheel drive posted the single worst rating for rollover risk among all 2004 vehicles analyzed -- including cars, vans and SUVs. DaimlerChrysler's Pacifica four-wheel drive was the top rated SUV, with a 13 percent rollover risk.

      The Explorer Sport Trac four-wheel drive, the Explorer four-door, two-wheel drive, and the Mountaineer four-door, two-wheel drive were in the bottom six of the SUV class, which as a group posted the lowest scores.

      NHTSA has for years used a five-star safety rating system, assailed by safety experts as incomplete and misleading. With today's release, NHTSA began assigning a percentage risk for rollover to the star ratings.

      The ratings are determined by a mathematical calculation based on a vehicle's measurements and on a road test that includes extremely sharp "fish-hook" turns.

      Cars and minivans generally did well in the tests, with most outperforming SUVs. Pickups were mostly in the SUV class, with worse ratings than most vans and cars.

      The safest vehicle overall was the Mazda RX-8 four-door. It has an 8 percent chance of rolling over. By comparison, the two-wheel drive Explorer Sport Trac has a nearly 35 percent chance of rolling over in an emergency maneuver, the government said.

      2004 Model Year Rollover Testing
      Passenger Cars

      Make

      Model

      Class

      Rollover
      Star Rating

      % Chance of
      Rollover in
      Single Vehicle
      Crash

      Tip/ No Tip

      Mazda

      RX-8 4-DR

      PC

      5

      8.0

      No Tip

      Acura

      TL 4-DR

      PC

      4

      10.3

      No Tip

      Mazda

      3 4-DR

      PC

      4

      10.5

      No Tip

      Volkswagen

      New Beetle Convertible

      PC

      4

      10.5

      No Tip

      Hyundai

      Tiburon 2-DR

      PC

      4

      10.7

      No Tip

      Nissan

      Maxima 3.5SE 4-DR

      PC

      4

      10.7

      No Tip

      Hyundai

      Accent 4-DR

      PC

      4

      10.9

      No Tip

      Pontiac

      Grand Prix GT 4-DR

      PC

      4

      10.9

      No Tip

      Chevrolet

      Malibu LS 4-DR

      PC

      4

      11.1

      No Tip

      Hyundai

      XG350L 4-DR

      PC

      4

      11.1

      No Tip

      KIA

      Amanti 4-DR

      PC

      4

      11.1

      No Tip

      Suzuki

      Forenza 4-DR

      PC

      4

      11.6

      No Tip

      Toyota

      Solara SLE 2-DR

      PC

      4

      11.6

      No Tip

      Acura

      TSX 4-DR

      PC

      4

      11.8

      No Tip

      Hyundai

      Elantra 4-DR

      PC

      4

      12.1

      No Tip

      Toyota

      Prius 5-DR

      PC

      4

      13.0

      No Tip

      Chevrolet

      Aveo 4-DR

      PC

      4

      13.3

      No Tip

      Ford

      Focus Wagon

      PC

      4

      14.0

      No Tip

      Toyota

      Echo

      PC

      4

      14.7

      No Tip

      Subaru

      Outback wagon

      PC

      4

      15.5

      No Tip

      Pickup Trucks

      Make

      Model

      Class

      Rollover
      Star Rating

      % Chance of
      Rollover in
      Single Vehicle
      Crash

      Tip/ No Tip

      Chevrolet

      Silverado 4x2 extended cab

      PU

      4

      15.9

      No Tip

      GMC

      Sierra 4x2 extended cab (1)

      PU

      4

      15.9

      No Tip

      Ford

      F-150 4x2 extended cab

      PU

      4

      17.4

      No Tip

      Chevrolet

      Silverado 4x4 extended cab

      PU

      4

      18.5

      No Tip

      GMC

      Sierra 4x4 extended cab (2)

      PU

      4

      18.5

      No Tip

      Ford

      F-150 4x4 extended cab

      PU

      4

      19.8

      No Tip

      Toyota

      Tacoma 4x2 extended cab

      PU

      4

      19.8

      Tip

      Toyota

      Tacoma 4x4 extended cab

      PU

      3

      28.3

      Tip

      Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV)

      Make

      Model

      Class

      Rollover
      Star Rating

      % Chance of
      Rollover in
      Single Vehicle
      Crash

      Tip/ No Tip

      Chrysler

      Pacifica 4x4

      SUV

      4

      13.0

      No Tip

      Chrysler

      Pacifica 4x2

      SUV

      4

      14.0

      No Tip

      Nissan

      Murano 4x4

      SUV

      4

      15.1

      No Tip

      Honda

      Pilot 4x4

      SUV

      4

      15.9

      No Tip

      Nissan

      Murano 4x2

      SUV

      4

      15.9

      No Tip

      Volvo

      XC90 4x4

      SUV

      4

      17.9

      No Tip

      Buick

      Ranier 4x4 (3)

      SUV

      4

      19.1

      No Tip

      Chevrolet

      Trailblazer 4x4

      SUV

      4

      19.1

      No Tip

      Dodge

      Durango 4x4

      SUV

      4

      19.1

      No Tip

      GMC

      Envoy 4x4 (3)

      SUV

      4

      19.1

      No Tip

      Olds

      Bravada 4x4 (3)

      SUV

      4

      19.1

      No Tip

      Buick

      Ranier 4x2 (4)

      SUV

      3

      20.4

      No Tip

      Chevrolet

      Trailblazer 4x2

      SUV

      3

      20.4

      No Tip

      GMC

      Envoy 4x2 (4)

      SUV

      3

      20.4

      No Tip

      Olds

      Bravada 4x2 (4)

      SUV

      3

      20.4

      No Tip

      Toyota

      4Runner 4x4

      SUV

      3

      20.4

      No Tip

      Ford

      Escape 4x4

      SUV

      3

      20.9

      Tip

      Mazda

      Tribute 4x4 (5)

      SUV

      3

      20.9

      Tip

      Mercury

      Mariner 4x4 (5)

      SUV

      3

      20.9

      Tip

      Dodge

      Durango 4x2

      SUV

      3

      21.2

      No Tip

      Jeep

      Liberty 4x4

      SUV

      3

      21.9

      No Tip

      Toyota

      4Runner 4x2

      SUV

      3

      21.9

      No Tip

      Ford

      Explorer 4-DR 4x4

      SUV

      3

      22.8

      No Tip

      Mercury

      Mountaineer 4-DR 4x4 (6)

      SUV

      3

      22.8

      No Tip

      Ford

      Escape 4x2

      SUV

      3

      23.7

      Tip

      Mazda

      Tribute 4x2 (7)

      SUV

      3

      23.7

      Tip

      Mercury

      Mariner 4x2 (7)

      SUV

      3

      23.7

      Tip

      Jeep

      Liberty 4x2

      SUV

      3

      24.6

      No Tip

      Chevrolet

      Tahoe 4x4

      SUV

      3

      26.3

      Tip

      GMC

      Yukon 4x4 (8)

      SUV

      3

      26.3

      Tip

      Ford

      Explorer Sport Trac 4x4

      SUV

      3

      27.9

      No Tip

      Chevrolet

      Tahoe 4x2

      SUV

      3

      28.3

      Tip

      Ford

      Explorer 4-DR 4x2

      SUV

      3

      28.3

      Tip

      GMC

      Yukon 4x2 (9)

      SUV

      3

      28.3

      Tip

      Mercury

      Mountaineer 4-DR 4x2 (10)

      SUV

      3

      28.3

      Tip

      Ford

      Explorer Sport Trac 4x2

      SUV

      2

      34.8

      Tip

      Vans

      Make

      Model

      Class

      Rollover
      Star Rating

      % Chance of
      Rollover in
      Single Vehicle
      Crash

      Tip/ No Tip

      Nissan

      Quest

      VAN

      4

      12.1

      No Tip

      Ford

      Freestar

      VAN

      4

      14.7

      No Tip

      Mercury

      Monterey (11)

      VAN

      4

      14.7

      No Tip

      Toyota

      Sienna

      VAN

      4

      15.9

      No Tip

      1. Corporate Twin of Chevrolet Silverado 4x2
      2. Corporate Twin of Chevrolet Silverado 4x4
      3. Corporate Twin of Chevrolet Trailblazer 4x4
      4. Corporate Twin of Chevrolet Trailblazer 4x2
      5. Corporate Twin of Ford Escape 4x4
      6. Corporate Twin of Ford Explorer 4x4
      7. Corporate Twin of Ford Escape 4x2
      8. Corporate Twin of Chevrolet Tahoe 4x4
      9. Corporate Twin of Chevrolet Tahoe 4x2
      10. Corporate Twin of Ford Explorer 4x2
      11. Corporate Twin of Ford Freestar



      Some versions of the popular Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer SUVs are among the worst on the road for rollover risk, according to the latest rankings...

      Pokmon Plush Toys

      August 6, 2005
      Pokmon plush dolls, beanbags, and key chains are being recalled. Tips of sewing needles have been found in the stuffing, posing a puncture hazard.

      The recall involves 13 plush Pokmon characters shown below. All recalled toys have a sewn-in label reading TOMY. There also is a production code on the toys label that begins with a letter and is followed by two numbers. The following production codes are included in the recall: A04, B04, C04, D04, E03, E04, F03, F04, G03, G04, H03, I03, J03, K03, and L03. Any production code containing an S is not part of this recall.

      The toys were sold at Pokmon Center NY, 10 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City and on the firms Web site at www.pokemoncenter.com nationwide from January 2004 through August 2004 for between $2 and $11. A limited number were given away as a promotional item.

      Parents should take these toys away from children immediately and contact TOMY Company for information on receiving a refund or free replacement toy.

      Consumer Contact: Call TOMY Company at (800) 691-8055 between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

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

      Pokmon Plush Toys...

      Hands-Free Phones Safer, Study Finds

      The study is one of the few to analyze physical impairment experienced while driving and using a mobile phone

      A new study finds that drivers' reaction time, accuracy and consistency of speed improved significantly when they used a headset with their cell phone, compared with using a handheld phone.

      The study is one of the few to analyze physical impairment experienced while driving and using a mobile phone; to date most other studies have focused solely on the mental distraction of using a mobile phone while driving.

      The study was commissioned by Plantronics, which manufactures headsets. It was conducted by Design Science, an independent human factors research firm that has conducted other driving-related studies for a wide range of organizations including the U.S. Department of Transportation.

      Many traffic safety experts contend that the use of any kind of cell phone -- hands-free or otherwise -- creates a dangerous distraction for drivers. Washington, D.C., New Jersey and New York have outlawed the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

      "Our study is not intended to address the issue of whether or not it is safe to talk on a mobile phone while driving, but rather what type of technology is safest for drivers to use while talking on their mobile phones," said Beth Johnson, Plantronics senior director of product marketing.

      Researchers used a driving simulator to compare the driving ability of subjects using a mobile phone under two conditions -- one holding a mobile phone, and the other using a headset, leaving their hands free.

      "The central question of our study was, 'For a person using a mobile phone, does driving improve if he or she uses a headset?' What the research showed is that, across all conditions, the answer is a resounding yes," said Stephen Wilcox, Ph.D., Principal of Design Science.

      "Driving with both hands on the wheel is the safest option for motorists who use mobile phones, and headsets are tools to enable that improvement."

      The driving performance of 24 subjects in three major categories was measured: steering accuracy, braking reaction time and speed variability. Key initial findings of the research found:

      • 71% of the test subjects steered more accurately when using a headset;
      • 100% of the test subjects had faster brake reaction times when using a headset;
      • 92% of the test subjects maintained a more consistent speed when using a headset.


      Hands-Free Phones Safer, Study Finds...

      Vornado Portable Electric Heaters

      August 3, 2004
      About one million Vornado portable electric heaters are being recalled. A faulty electrical connection can cause the heater to overheat and stop working, posing a fire hazard to consumers.

      Vornado has received 24 reports of heater fires, though no injuries have been reported.

      The recalled portable electric whole room heaters are designed for indoor use and have model numbers 180VH, VH, Intellitemp, EVH, and DVH. The model numbers are located on the bottom of each unit. Each heater is about 11 inches long, 9 inches wide, and about 12 inches tall; weighs about 6 lbs.; and has the Vornado name and symbol on the front.

      Retailers and distributors nationwide, as well as Vornados Web site, sold the heaters from July 1991 through January 2004 for between $50 and $120.

      Consumers should stop using the recalled heaters immediately and contact Vornado to arrange for shipping and a repair, free of charge.

      Consumer Contact: Contact Vornado at (888) 221-5431 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday or log on to the companys website at www.vornado.com.

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

      Vornado Portable Electric Heaters...

      Teflon Chemicals Found in Humans

      Chemicals used in Teflon and Scotchguard are showing up in the bloodstream of humans throughout the world

      Chemicals used in Teflon and Scotchguard are showing up in the bloodstream of humans throughout the world, with higher levels in the United States and other highly developed nations, according to a new study.

      The chemicals -- perfluoronated compounds -- have been used for decades with very little government oversight. Scientists say they are surprised at the chemicals' pervasiveness in the environment, which they said raises concerns about their potential impact on public health.

      Perfluoronated compounds have been found in the blood of virtually every person tested for them in the United States, including children as young as 2. The compounds have been linked to cancer, developmental problems, liver damage and other ailments in animals, though there is no general agreement about their effects on humans.

      The Environmental Protection Agency has begun a major investigation and last month accused DuPont Co. of withholding more than 20 years of evidence that a perfluoronated compound used to make Teflon endangered its workers and the public.

      Company memos show the compound was passed in 1981 from a pregnant employee to her fetus, but DuPont allegedly failed to report the information to the EPA as required under federal law. The company has denied the allegations.

      EPA officials became concerned after 3M revealed that its studies found small amounts in people across the United States. Other 3M tests found the compounds in foods such as apples, bread, green beans and ground beef.

      Scientists say they don't know how the compounds are being released into the environment. They speculate that as Teflon, Stainmaster, Scotchgard, Gore-Tex and similar products age, the compounds break down and enter the environment. Others think there are unreported releases of the chemicals into air and water.

      Under EPA pressure to better control Scotchguard, 3M decided in May 2000 to stop making perfluoronated compounds. The chemicals still are synthesized by a handful of other companies, including DuPont, the maker of Teflon and Stainmaster products.

      EPA stepped up its investigation last year because of concerns about potential links between the compounds and reproductive and developmental problems in young girls and women. Levels of the compounds in some children have been as high as those for chemical-plant workers and were close to levels that caused developmental problems in rats.

      In the latest study, eleven researchers from 10 nations collaborated on the examination of perfluoronated compounds in human bloodstreams, published on the Internet by Environmental Science & Technology (subscription required) in advance of regular print publication. A division of the American Chemical Society, a national professional and scientific organization, publishes the bimonthly magazine.

      The study analyzed blood from 473 samples from city and suburban residents on four continents. Levels of the most common compounds proved highest in the United States and Poland, and lowest in India.



      Teflon Chemicals Found in Humans...