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NY Sues Alleged Spyware Distributor

NY Sues Alleged Spyware Distributor...

April 28, 2005
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has sued one of the nation's leading internet marketing companies, alleging that the firm was the source of "spyware" and "adware" that has been secretly installed on millions of home computers.

The suit against Los Angeles-based Intermix Media, Inc. is the most sweeping case to date involving programs that redirect web addresses, add toolbars and deliver pop-up ads.

"Spyware and adware are more than an annoyance," Spitzer said. "These fraudulent programs foul machines, undermine productivity and in many cases frustrate consumers' efforts to remove them from their computers. These issues can serve to be a hindrance to the growth of e-commerce."

Ari Schwartz, the Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington D.C. said, "One of Internet users' biggest frustrations today is unwanted software that sneaks onto computers without their owner's consent and cannot be uninstalled."

"Companies have gotten away with unethical and illegal software download practices for too long. The practices alleged in this case are widespread on the Internet and we hope that both federal and state authorities follow Attorney General Spitzer's lead in making this a priority," Schwartz said.

The suit follows a six-month investigation in which the Attorney General's office found that the company had installed a wide range of advertising software on home computers without giving consumers proper notice.

Intermix owns and operates a wide range of web sites, including mycoolscreen.com, cursorzone.com and flowgo.com, which advertised "free" software available for download, including screensavers, screen cursors and games.

The Attorney General found that along with these programs, Intermix secretly downloaded a number of ad-delivery programs. One such program was called "KeenValue" and it delivered pop-up ads to its unsuspecting users. Another program, "IncrediFind," redirected web addresses to Intermix's proprietary search engine. Other programs placed advertising "toolbars" on users' screens.

The Attorney General documented at least ten separate web sites from which Intermix or its agents were downloading spyware, providing either no warning or other misleading disclosures. In this way, Intermix and its agents downloaded more than 3.7 million programs to New Yorkers alone, and tens of millions more to users across the nation.

Intermix also went to great lengths to protect the spyware and adware it secretly installed. The programs were hidden in unlikely locations on the computer and could not be removed through a computer's "Add/Remove" function. In addition, the programs omitted "un-install" applications, and even reinstalled themselves after being deleted.

The Attorney General's suit seeks a court order enjoining Intermix from secretly installing spyware, an accounting of all revenues made on these products, and payment of penalties.

The lawsuit arises under the State's General Business Law, which prohibits false advertising and deceptive business practices, and New York's common law prohibitions against trespass. Legislation specifically directed at "spyware" and "adware," including bills applying or strengthening criminal sanctions for its distribution, has been proposed both in Congress and in the New York legislature, as well as legislatures across the country.

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Consumer Drug Ads May Influence Doctors' Rx Decisions

Doctors tend to give patients what they ask for

Consumer Drug Ads May Influence Doctors' Rx Decisions...

Patients requesting specific medications can have a profound effect on physicians prescribing medications for major depression, according to a new study in the April 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Critics charge that direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements lead to overprescribing of unnecessary, expensive, and potentially harmful medications. Proponents counter that they can serve a useful educational function and encourage patients to treat conditions that may be poorly recognized or highly stigmatized.

The study noted that antidepressant medications consistently rank among the top DTC advertising categories -- with $3.2 billion spent on consumer ads for antidepressants in 2003.

Richard L. Kravitz, M.D., M.S.P.H., from the University of California, Davis, and colleagues conducted a randomized trial using trained actors as standardized patients to determine the effects of patients' DTC-related requests on physicians' initial treatment decisions in patients with depressive symptoms. The patients were middle-aged, white, non-obese women, most with professional acting experience.

They were trained to portray six roles and represented two clinical conditions: symptoms consistent with major depression or adjustment disorder, and three request types: a brand-specific drug request, a general drug request, or no request (control condition).

The scenarios included patients telling their doctor that they had seen an advertisement for Paxil on TV and asked for that drug by name; or patients saying they had watched a program on TV about depression and asking the physician if medication might help them.

The researchers chose Paxil because at the time of the study, it was widely promoted, priced higher than the generic fluoxetine, and available through the participating health care organizations in all three cities. In the control scenario, the patients reported the same symptoms but made no request for medication.

"Antidepressant prescribing rates were highest for visits in which standardized patients made general requests for medication (76 percent), lowest for visits in which standardized patients made no requests for medication (31 percent), and intermediate for visits in which standardized patients made brand-specific requests linked to DTC advertising (53 percent)," the authors found.

"Among standardized patients portraying major depression, paroxetine was rarely prescribed (approximately 3 percent) unless the standardized patient specifically requested Paxil; if Paxil was requested by name, 14 (27 percent) of 51 received Paxil/paroxetine, 13 (26 percent) received an alternative antidepressant, and 24 (47 percent) received no antidepressant," they said.

For standardized patients portraying adjustment disorder, physicians were less likely to prescribe antidepressants.

"These results underscore the idea that patients have substantial influence on physicians and can be active agents in the production of quality," the authors write. "The results also suggest that DTC advertising may have competing effects on quality, potentially averting underuse, while also promoting overuse."

"The results of this trial sound a cautionary note for DTC advertising but also highlight opportunities for improving care of depression (and perhaps other chronic conditions) by using public media channels to expand patient involvement in care," the study's authors said. "Furthermore, physicians may require additional training to respond appropriately to patients' requests in clinically ambiguous circumstances."

In an accompanying editorial, Matthew F. Hollon, M.D., M.P.H., from the University of Washington, Seattle, writes, "Relying on emotional appeals, most advertisements provide a minimal amount of health information, describe the benefits in vague, qualitative terms, and rarely offer evidence to support claims."

More than 80 percent of physicians believe that DTCA does not provide balanced information, he added.

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Pennsylvania Charges Home Improvement Fraud

Took the money but did no work

The lawsuit claims that the defendant engaged in an illegal telemarketing campaign by contacting consumers without first purchasing the state's "no call" l...

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MBNA Turns Up the Heat

Credit Card Giant Raises Rates, Plays Hardball with Clients

MBNA Turns Up the Heat...

MBNA's surging profits may make it popular with investors but its propensity for self-surging interest rates isn't going over so well with its cardholders.

Consumers writing to ConsumerAffairs.com complain that their MBNA interest rates have jumped from a reasonable 5.99% fixed rate to a 15.99% variable rate, from 18.99% to 26.99% and even from 7.99% to 26.99%. That unlucky customer, Kevin M. from Hamden, CT, was outraged.

"It's just plain robbery. I went from being able to comfortably pay my bills to an overnight crisis situation," he said.

MBNA claims to offer written advance notice any time an interest rate changes for any reason, yet consumers repeatedly claim they received no notice about their rate changes. It's only upon opening their monthly statement that they learn of the increase.

In July 2004, Jason M. of Ridgecrest, California opened his MBNA bill to find his rate had increased from 7.9% to 17.98%, "claiming that the increase was the result of information gained from my credit report and was unrelated to my payment history with their company."

When Jason contacted MBNA's customer service department, he was told that written notification had been sent out to consumers, advising them of the potential rate increase.

"I was told that the notification was mailed with my July statement. As luck would have it, my July statement was still unopened in the kitchen as I recently moved and paid my bill online. When I opened the statement there was no notification in it," he said.

Asked to comment, MBNA representatives did not return calls and e-mails.

Dale B. of Minneapolis, Minnesota received MBNA's Gold Option account, a personal installment loan with a fixed rate of five years, and a fixed payment amount. Although MBNA's Gold Option website states that "Your APR is not guaranteed for any period of time and may be changed by MBNA," Dale was nonetheless surprised to find his loan rate had jumped from 18.99% to 27.98% after applying for an auto loan.

"MBNA now sees me as a risk and has drastically increased my APR and extended the term of the loan," he stated. "I have never been late with a payment, and have not defaulted in any way with this or any other credit account that I have ... MBNA claims I received a mailing telling me about the rate increase, and that it was due to me taking on additional credit. I do not recall such a mailing."

The MBNA representative offered Dale the chance to pay the loan off in full and close the account, which he was unable to do, leaving him saddled with a 72-month installment loan at a much higher rate.

Customer Service

MBNA is generally considered the leading credit card issuer. Most other companies follow its lead. But MBNA's reputation for customer service appears to be in steep decline, judging by the complaints received by ConsumerAffairs.com.

Dutch B., from Marana, Arizona, missed a payment on his MBNA card when he moved circa October 2004. He was shocked to find that his interest rate had jumped to 25 percent, and that he owed MBNA another $112. He tried to dispute this charge but to no avil.

"In the meantime, they are phoning me all hours of the day and night, not showing up on the caller ID, then [when I call], I'm asked to wait for the next operator. The operators are very nasty, threatening, overbearing and extremely rude," he said.

Other consumers have complained of continual calls at their workplace, MBNA representatives asking co-workers for customers' cell phone numbers, and of offering deliberately false terms of rates and loans.

Jeff Stroman, of Norridgewock, Maine, a former MBNA call center employee, describes an atmosphere of constant pressure to push cards and "encouraging representatives to 'bend' the rules in order to make a sale."

"You are competing against your peers, constantly trying to outsell them. If your stats fall below a certain measure -- and they will when representatives don't (bend the truth to make a sale) -- you will be placed on probation and lose your incentive for a time no matter what your performance," he said. "If you don't improve your statistics, you will be let go."

"When the management 'team' at MBNA in Farmington was comfortable around you they joked about targeting the elderly and young adults," Stroman said in an interview.

Stroman noted the willingness of other employees to be less than truthful about interest rates in order to clear a sale and earn their incentive pay.

"It is amazing to me that I lasted there for nearly two years. I can only wonder how many hundreds of customers opened a credit card from MBNA believing the rate was 9.99%, because that's what they were told, but in reality were stuck with 19.99% or higher."

Universal Default

Even in a sluggish economy and amid reports of losses by other credit and financial companies, MBNA continues to turn a healthy profit. The company reported a gain of $432.5 million, or 33 cents per share, as its first quarter earnings this year. This was an increase from $369.9 million, or 28 cents per share, for the same period last year.

One analyst credited this to MBNA attracting "a higher class of consumer than the rest of the market," and company spokespeople said that the average MBNA customer earned over $70,000 a year. MBNA has also backed away from offering zero-percent interest loans in order to attract consumers, whereas competitors such as Capital One and Citigroup have faced rising loan defaults.

Further improving profits, MBNA was also one of the first creditors to adopt the "universal default" policy, raising the interest rates on a consumer's debt if they are late with any kind of payment on any bill, regardless of whether they pay their credit card balance on time every month.

In Jeff Stroman's words, "MBNA is so big now, and in their minds they are such 'fearless innovators,' that they are willing to be the first to use such a dragnet as 'universal default,' while Citigroup and Capital One will wait and watch to make sure they get the green light in Washington."

MBNA's continued success has earned it unrivaled clout in the political arena. As has been widely reported, it was one of the biggest financial backers of President George W. Bush's 2004 campaign, and a leading supporter of the recent tightening of bankruptcy laws.

Consumer Affairs.Com's special report on the bankruptcy legislation details how high credit card debt and inability to pay back the rapidly ballooning interest and fees often leads consumers to bankruptcy. These are the circumstances facing many credit card users, even those who have never missed a payment or used their card irresponsibly, or -- as in the case of Teresa W. from Madison, Tennessee -- never used at all.

Teresa's husband had suffered many hospitalizations, was forced to declare bankruptcy, and died, leaving her with a $12,000 debt on an MBNA card she didn't know he had. Evidently not MBNA's preferred class of customer, she was forced to deal with abusive collection agents constantly, and had her formerly low interest rate increased to 27.9% after missing two payments.

"I was a widow, no money, tired, at the point of wishing for my last breath, and now I am sending them the last of my husband's insurance death benefit of $6,000," she said in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com.

In fact, it is very possible that Teresa had no obligation to pay MBNA. If the credit card was in her husband's name, she had no personal obligation to pay even one dime to MBNA. The proceeds from her husband's life insurance policy were presumably hers, not his estate's.

MBNA would have a legitimate claim against her husband's estate but not against any of Teresa's personal assets. Teresa should consult an attorney, as she may be able to recover some or all of the funds in court.

Unfortunately, credit card companies and other creditors routinely demand payment from the families of deceased debtors, knowing full well that in many cases the families have no obligation whatsoever to pay any of the deceased's debts.

"It's very sad that many have died fighting for freedom in this country, only to find they can never truly be free because the corporations that supply you with food, electricity, water, they can ruin your air if they wish, poison your water, take every penny you have and reduce you to nothing," Teresa said.

 


 

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U.S. Automakers Lag in Hybrid Sales

Although hybrid vehicle sales are off and running, American manufacturers are being left at the starting line

U.S. Automakers Lag in Hybrid Sales...

Although hybrid vehicle sales are off and running, American manufacturers are being left at the starting line, with Japanese manufacturers capturing more than 96 percent of hybrid sales in the U.S.

New hybrid vehicle registrations totaled 83,153 in 2004, an 81 percent increase over the year before. The huge increase occurred before the latest dramatic run-up in gasoline prices. Nevertheless sales nearly doubled as a wider variety of models attracted consumers.

Hybrids still represented less than 1 percent of the 17 million new vehicles sold in 2004. But the U.S. hybrid market has grown by 960 percent since 2000, when 7,781 were sold, according to the Polk data, and major automakers plan to introduce about a dozen new hybrids during the next three years.

Despite the arrival of Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Escape hybrid in showrooms last year, Japanese automakers continued to control the vast majority of the U.S. market, Polk said. Japanese brands accounted for more than 96 percent of the hybrid vehicles registered.

Toyota Motor Corp., which was the first automaker to mass produce and sell hybrid cars, dominates the market. The Toyota Prius, which went on sale in the United States in 2000, occupied 64 percent of the U.S. hybrid market last year, with 53,761 new Priuses registered, Polk said.

Toyota is on track to double Prius sales again this year. The company sold 22,880 Prius cars in the first three months of the year, more than double the number it sold in the first three months of 2004. Toyota has announced it plans to produce 100,000 Priuses for the North American market this year.

The Honda Civic hybrid was second, with a 31-percent market share. Honda Motor Co. also sold several hundred Accord and Insight hybrids, which each commanded 1 percent of the market. Ford sold 2,566 Escape hybrid SUVs, or about 3 percent of the market, Polk said.

Automakers are introducing hybrid versions of several models this year, including the Lexus RX400h, Mercury Mariner and Toyota Highlander SUVs. General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG already sell hybrid pickups, but the system they use is less fuel-efficient.

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AIG Faces Workers' Comp Audit

The New York Insurance Department will appoint a consultant to audit years of alleged improper booking of workers' compensation premiums at American Intern...

The New York Insurance Department will appoint a consultant to audit years of alleged improper booking of workers' compensation premiums at American International Group (AIG).

According to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Insurance Superintendent Howard Mills, the practice to be audited, now apparently discontinued, involved booking premiums for workers' compensation coverage as premiums for general liability coverage.

The conduct appears to have taken place for over a decade, and continued even after AIG insiders repeatedly challenged its legality.

By booking the income as something other than workers' compensation premiums, AIG avoided paying its true share into various workers' compensations funds. One AIG document dating from the early 1990s roughly estimated unlawful benefit to AIG at tens of millions of dollars annually.

A purpose of the consultant is to determine what of this money, if any, is owed to the State of New York or others.

In 1992, an internal AIG legal memorandum to top management reported that the practice was illegal. This followed similar warnings made years earlier. It remains unclear when the practice stopped. AIG, which has recently been cooperating with the Attorney General and Insurance Department's inquiries on this subject, has uncovered no evidence that AIG disclosed the practice to regulators or made restitution.

The assessment funds at issue are designed to pay for the operations of the workers' compensation board and provide certain other claim benefits for injured workers.

A broad investigation of the company by the Attorney General's Office and the Insurance Department is continuing.

 



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Processed Meat Linked to Pancreatic Cancer

A new study finds that heavy consumption of hot dogs, sausages and luncheon meats may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer

A diet rich in pork and red meat also increased pancreatic cancer risk by about 50 percent, compared to the diets of those who ate less meat....

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Graco Toddler Beds

Graco Toddler Beds...

March 22, 2005
Graco is recalling 1.2 million toddler beds. A childs arm, leg or foot can become entrapped between the slats in the guard rails or footboard. This can result in broken bones, sprains and other injuries to young children.

Graco has received reports of 77 entrapments. This resulted in 13 broken arms and legs, 1 broken foot, a sprained ankle, and 54 other injuries including bruised, scratched, and swollen limbs.

The recalled Graco toddler beds are white plastic and steel with openings between the slats in the guard rails and footboard. The beds were sold under the names Cozy Toddler Bed, Glow-in-the-Dark Toddler Bed, and Classic Toddler Bed. There is a label on the guard rail or leg containing one of the following model numbers: 8801, 8801WR, 8821, 8824, 8828, 8833, 30066, 34434 and 11030, a serial number, and the manufacturers address. Model 8828s headboard has a blue sky with a yellow moon and stars. Model 8801WR has red legs. Graco is printed on all of the beds footboards.

The beds were sold at discount, department and juvenile product stores nationwide from February 1994 through March 2001 for between $50 and $70.

Consumers should remove the guard rails from the recalled Graco toddler beds immediately and call the firm to receive a free retrofit kit. The kit includes custom designed mesh coverings that must be attached to the guard rails and footboard to prevent entrapment. The mesh coverings will be available in 6 to 8 weeks.

Consumer Contact: Graco at (800) 837-4404 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or log on to the firms Web site at www.gracobaby.com.

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



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Report Finds No Link Between Doctors' Premiums and Malpractice Suits

Report Finds No Link Between Doctors' Premiums and Malpractice Suits...


A new report finds no link between doctors' rising insurance premiums and medical malpractice lawsuits filed by injured patients.

At the same time that insurance rates in some areas have been climbing, the number and total value of malpractice payouts to patients have been flat since 1991 and, in fact, show a significant decline since 2001, when the spike in insurance rates began, the Public Citizen study found.

"The hard, factual evidence cannot be any clearer: We have no medical malpractice lawsuit crisis in America," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.

"Insurance companies may be padding their bottom lines by jacking up rates on doctors, but it is not because of patients seeking relief for bad medical care through our courts. The true crisis continues to be in inadequate measures for patient safety and incompetent medical care by a small number of physicians," she said.

The data show that from 1990 to 2004, only 5.5 percent of doctors account for 57.3 percent of all malpractice payments. In addition, only 11.4 percent of doctors who have made three or more malpractice payouts have ever been disciplined.

The medical malpractice payment trends report analyzes the most current information from the federal government's National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). The NPDB reports on malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors by malpractice payers, such as insurance companies, state-run insurance funds and self-insured health care providers. Those making malpractice payments are required by federal law to report them to the NPDB.

The NPDB also contains information about disciplinary actions taken against doctors and provides a repository of data that those employing doctors can query for background checks.

In analyzing records from the NPDB, Public Citizen found that:

• The annual number of malpractice payments is down. Despite alarms by doctors and insurers about a "crisis," the number of malpractice payments paid on behalf of doctors - chiefly by their insurance companies - has fallen over the past three years, from 16,682 in 2001 to 14,441 in 2004, a drop of 13.6 percent. The 2004 number is only 5.5 percent higher than the 13,687 payments recorded for 1991. Adjusting for population growth, the number of payments per 100,000 people has fallen from 5.85 to 4.91 from 2001 to 2004, a decline of 16.1 percent. Since 1991, the number of payments per 100,000 people has dropped by 9.2 percent, from 5.41.

• The total value of malpractice payments has been flat since 1991. Total malpractice payments increased from $2.1 billion in 1991 to $4.2 billion in 2004. However, from 1991 to 2004, the inflation-adjusted amount has changed little, rising from $2.1 billion to $2.3 billion - an average annual increase of only 0.8 percent.

• Jury verdicts are not out of control. The median size of payments from judgments appears to have soared, from $125,000 in 1991 to $265,000 in 2004. But adjusted for inflation, the median payment grew from $125,000 in 1991 to $146,100 in 2004 - an average annual increase of only 1.2 percent.

• There has been a 56 percent decline in million-dollar payouts. The incidence of payments of $1 million or more, adjusted for inflation, is down 56 percent from 1991 to 2004, from 2.25 percent of all payments to just 1 percent of all payments. Even during the so-called "crisis" years between 2001 and 2004 when insurance rates were spiking, the incidence of large payments declined 31 percent, from 1.44 percent of payments to 1 percent.

• The incidence of surgical and obstetrics payouts has not increased. Although surgeons and obstetricians complain the loudest about malpractice insurance rate hikes, the incidence of surgical and obstetrics payouts is virtually unchanged from 1991 to 2004. In 1991, 9.5 percent of all payouts were for obstetrics cases; in 2004, the figure was the same. Surgical cases accounted for 25.6 percent of payments in 1991, and 26.1 percent of payouts last year.

• Cases of serious injury to patients continue. Three-quarters of payments for 2004 involved major or significant injuries, or death, and these most severe cases account for 89 percent of the value of payouts made. "Failure to diagnose" cases have grown from 16 percent of payouts in 1991 to 20 percent in 2004, while "improper performance" cases have grown from 10 percent to 15 percent of payouts.

"The evidence shows that the system is working as it should, with minor injuries receiving little compensation and the great bulk of malpractice awards going to cases of major, debilitating injuries - or death," said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch.

"Rather than complain about medical malpractice lawsuits, the medical community should address its own failings and strive aggressively to improve the performance and competency of its doctors and better protect patients. That is the surest way to keep both doctors and patients out of the courtroom."



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North Dakota Limits Use of Black Boxes By Insurers

North Dakota Limits Use of Black Boxes By Insurers...

April 21, 2005
North Dakota has put some limits on insurance companies making your car testify against you. The legislature decided that insurance companies will be barred from using data from a vehicle's "black box" to set drivers' premiums.

After the vote, insurance industry groups said they believe North Dakota is the first state bar the use of the "black box" information to set rates. Of course, the insurance group says it never uses the data for that purpose anyway.

At least eight other states are considering black-box regulation this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The North Dakota bill also requires cars and trucks, starting with the 2007 model year, to include information about the recorders in their owner's manuals, and says dealers must notify their customers about the presence of a recorder.

The state still allows data to be retrieved without the owner's consent for use in medical research, or for improving motor vehicle safety, as long as the driver's identity is not disclosed. The courts can also order disclosure of the information.

GM Leads the Way

When you think about leadership in the automobile industry, General Motors does not often come to mind but the aging giant does lead the way installing the "black box" technology in automotive products.

GM began installing the devices in vehicles as early as 1996. "Black boxes" are really computer chips used to activate airbags and other safety apparatus but they also store information that can be used to investigate an accident. These chips are common in newer vehicles and are sometime called Event Data Recorders or EDRs.

The chips record a car's speed, braking and steering efficiency, and whether the driver was wearing a seat belt.

Whether or not General Motors has sided with government regulators and investigators who are proponents of "black box" technology is not longer an issue. "Black boxes" are now installed in every GM car in the company line since the 2004 model year. The units are also in a number of Ford Models.

That means that roughly 15 percent of all the vehicles on the road in the U.S. today now carry some sort of "black box" device that could eventually be turned against the driver.

Proponents of the technology include the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA has proposed standards for the data collected by "black boxes" and EDRs. The agency emphasized in a recent notice that it is not mandating "black boxes" despite growing pressure.

Highway safety advocates say the data is valuable for studying how accidents happen and how to make roads and cars safer and the NTSB lists the "black box" as one of its "most wanted" measures.

Rental car companies routinely use global positioning systems (GPS) to track renters driving habits, where they go and how fast they drive. GPS will also allow the rental car companies to shut off the engine of a car and lock a renter out.

This is the same technology used by OnStar, which promises to be a guardian angel for car owners who are locked out or report a vehicle stolen.

Parents with teenage drivers are turning to technology in growing numbers to deal with never ending problems of young drivers. A parent can now place a "black box" under the hood or seat of the family sedan and keep up with any teenager.

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Your Next Car: Made in China?

Will Chrysler soon carry the "Made in China" label?

Will Chrysler soon carry the "Made in China" label? The world's fifth-biggest carmaker is trying to work out an agreement to build cars in China and export...

Will Chrysler soon carry the "Made in China" label? The world's fifth-biggest carmaker is trying to work out an agreement to build cars in China and export them to the United States. According to a company executive, DaimlerChrysler is holding the discussion with one of its Chinese partners. The decision on whether to go ahead is due in the second half of 2005.

If Daimler and the unspecified partner decide to proceed, the automaker would be the first Western player to consider export-oriented factories in China. Japan's Honda Motor Co. is already building cars for export in China.

"We would like to establish here in China an export joint venture for Chrysler products," Ruediger Grube, head of the carmaker's Chinese business told reporters on the sidelines of the Shanghai auto show. "Today we are not talking about Europe. We are talking about North America."

Car manufacturers worry that cheap made-in-China cars will someday swamp the automobile markets, especially with vehicle sales growth declining.

The United States and other developed economies have complained that cheap Chinese goods are threatening U.S. industry and millions of manufacturing jobs.

 

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Ameritrade Loses 200,000 Client Files

Ameritrade Loses 200,000 Client Files...

April 20, 2005
It's one thing when cyber-thieves break into computer systems and steal sensitive personal information. It's quite another when the information simply gets lost in the mail. But that's what's happened with 200,000 present and former clients of the online brokerage service, Ameritrade.

Ameritrade has sent emails to the former and current clients in question, explaining that a backup tape containing their names, Social Security numbers, account numbers and other sensitive personal data, is unaccounted for.

The company said four backup tapes, full of information from 2000-2003, were lost during shipping earlier this year. Three of the tapes have turned up. The fourth remains missing.

The mishap occurred in February, but an Ameritrade spokeswoman said the company waited to announce it until they had determined exactly which current and former clients were on the missing tape. Those clients have received emails, notifying them of the problem.

The announcement comes against the backdrop of recent security breaches at data collection firms like ChoicePoint and LexisNexis, but Ameritrade said this situation is very different. No security system was breached, and the information on the missing tape is compressed, requiring special equipment to read it. Ameritrade said it is confident no customer accounts have been compromised or misused.

"We sincerely apologize for this unusual event, and any discomfort it may cause you," Ameritrade said in the e-mail to affected clients. "That's why we wanted to notify you as quickly as possible, and let you know what actions we are taking."



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Verizon Will Offer Stand-Alone DSL Service

Verizon says it will phase in a policy of allowing customers to buy stand-alone high-speed Internet service

Verizon Will Offer Stand-Alone DSL Service...

Verizon says it will phase in a policy of allowing customers to buy stand-alone high-speed Internet service. Qwest is currently the only major local telephone company that will sell DSL service to customers who do not have a local telephone number at the same location.

Verizon said current customers in 13 Northeastern states will be allowed to drop telephone service but continue to receive DSL service. However, the company said customers would have to transfer their number to a wireless carrier, to a VOIP provider like Vonage or to a cable company -- not to a competing local phone company that uses Verizon's lines.

Verizon said it will expand the stand-alone option to all of the states in which it operates. Eventually, the company said, it will offer stand-alone DSL to new customers as well as exissting customers but said a timetable has not been established.

Not everyone was pleased. Gene Kimmelman of Consumers Union said Verizon's new policy was "less than what consumeres need to have a vibrant, competitive marketplace."

With the growing popularity of Internet telephone service, many consumers would be expected to get rid of their regular telephone service and rely solely on VOIP, which is not only cheaper in most instances but also offers many features not available with regular telephone service.

Verizon's move leaves SBC and BellSouth as the hold-outs. Neither company currently provides DSL-only service.

 



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New York Eyes Identity Theft Prevention

New York Eyes Identity Theft Prevention...

April 19, 2005
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and representatives of consumer advocacy and crime victims organizations are urging the State Legislature to protect consumers from identity theft and the unauthorized use of personal data.

Spitzer has submitted a package of bills aimed at providing consumers better control over the dissemination of their personal information, strengthening government's ability to prosecute crimes leading to identity theft and increasing penalties for such crimes.

"It has been said that the theft of one's identity and personal information is not a matter of 'if' but a matter of 'when'," Spitzer said. "New York State must enact reforms to strengthen consumers' ability to control personal information and to facilitate the prosecution of identity theft crimes."

In February, the Federal Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse reported that 38 percent of all fraud claims in 2004 related to identity theft, and New York State ranked seventh in the nation in per-capita identity theft reports. Moreover, a national survey conducted by the Federal Trade Commission estimated that the number of victims in 2002 approached 10 million, including 663,300 New Yorkers.

Spitzer noted that in the last nine weeks alone, numerous incidents have highlighted the issue including:

• Two major information brokerage companies, ChoicePoint, Inc. and LexisNexis have admitted that data files of over 455,000 consumers were breached;
• One of the world's largest financial institutions, Bank of America, confirmed that backup tapes containing personal data on 1.2 million accounts were missing;
• Federal authorities confirmed an investigation into the electronic hacking theft of eight million credit card accounts from the processor of credit transactions for MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express;
• A popular shoe store chain, DSW Shoe Warehouse admitted that customer credit information was stolen from over 100 of its stores; and
• Approximately 180,000 GM Mastercard holders will soon receive notification that someone might have stolen their personal information in a data breach at Polo Ralph Lauren Inc.

Spitzer's legislative proposals would address many of these incidents by:

• Providing identity theft victims better control over their personal identifying information, including: allowing for "security freezes" on credit files; and providing significantly increased protections against a private company's disclosure of a customers' social security numbers;

• Requiring companies to provide notice to individual consumers involved in instances in which a security breach has exposed personal information concerning 500 or more New Yorkers;

• Facilitating the ability of victims to file criminal complaints with law enforcement agencies;

• Requiring that information brokers notify consumers whenever a report containing personal information - such as telephone numbers, bank account information, income, medical information, driving record, and purchasing preferences - has been issued and mandating the disclosure include contact information of the entity that requested the report. The bill also would provide consumers access to their profiles compiled by information brokers;

• Establishing statewide personal information "opt-out" lists, similar to the Telemarketing Do Not Call program, for consumers who want to ensure their confidential personal information is not disclosed;

• Facilitating prosecutions against computer hackers by creating specific criminal penalties for the use of encryption to conceal a crime, to conceal the identity of another person who commits a crime, or to disrupt the normal operation of a computer;

• Increasing criminal penalties for gaining unauthorized access through a computer to data about employment, salary, credit or other financial or personal information;

• Facilitating prosecutions against hackers and others who surreptitiously gain access to computers, but do not steal or destroy computer material.

 

 

 

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Don Pedro's Sausage

Don Pedro's Sausage...

April 19, 2005
Don Pedro's Meat, a La Puente, Calif., firm, is voluntarily recalling approximately 40 pounds of sausage products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

Products subject to recall include: 2- and 10-pound packages of "DON PEDRO'S MEAT, RELLENA, COOKED PORK BLOOD SAUSAGE." The establishment code "EST. 20946" appears inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The sausage was produced on April 8 and was distributed to retail establishments in Los Angeles, Calif. The problem was discovered through routine FSIS regulatory sampling. FSIS has received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products.

Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease. Healthy people rarely contract listeriosis. However, listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea. Listeriosis can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as serious and sometimes fatal infections in those with weakened immune systems including infants, the elderly and persons with chronic disease, such as HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy.

Media with questions about the recall should contact company HACCP coordinator Miguel Jimenez at (626) 336-8900. Consumers with questions about the recall should contact company Sales Director Karla Hernandez at (626) 336-8900.

Consumers with food safety questions can phone the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). The hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.

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



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Maytag Settles Neptune Washer Lawsuit

Maytag Settles Class Action Law Suit

Maytag has settled a consumer class action suit alleging odor, mold and mildew problems withMaytag Neptune Washers. More than two million consumers are......

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Parents: Be Wary of Supposed Model Searches

An "open call" for young models and actors is on its way to upstate cities in New York, but this so-called "free evaluation" is only a prelude to the actua...


An "open call" for young models and actors is on its way to upstate cities in New York, but this so-called "free evaluation" is only a prelude to the actual evaluation which costs at least $525 to attend, the New York State Consumer Protection Board ("CPB") warned.

Aquarian Associates of Pittsburgh is conducting "open calls" in Rochester on April 21, Schenectady on April 22 and Buffalo on April 24 as part of its "Great American Model Search."

But the CPB said many parents complain that nothing happens at the "free evaluation" because the true evaluation (attended by casting agents and other talent scouts) only takes place in Pittsburgh. That event -- the Great American Model Search -- costs at least $525 to attend plus lodging, transportation and other costs.

CPB Chairwoman and Executive Director Teresa A. Santiago said, "Aquarian claims to select only the most-promising models and actors at these 'open calls.' But parents say virtually everyone is 'selected' and they are then given the option of spending money to attend the Pittsburgh event. When parents think their child has been selected for a special privilege, they're more willing to open their checkbooks."

Even if they attend the Great American Model Search, chances are slim that they will get work as a model or actor are slim, according to agents who are paid to attend the Great American Model Search. The agents also noted that many of these young people won't get work because they live too far away from the big cities where models and actors are hired.

"Parents have to ask themselves: who's profiting from this process -- the kids or this so-called talent company? Talent agencies that charge advance fees, without promising to find work for their clients, have a talent for making money but only for themselves," said Santiago.

On its website, Aquarian says, "We bring together aspiring models, commercial and film talent of all ages and present them in person to industry personnel such as casting directors, film directors, film producers, talent scouts, model agents, and advertising agencies."

The website continues, "Over the past 18 years this concept has provided many infants, toddlers, children, teenagers and adults the opportunity to succeed in our industry. At our presentations we will provide numerous success stories and specific examples of commercials, TV shows, movies, music videos and modeling printwork."

But Santiago said it's all about money.

"Advance-fee operations continue to make money because young people and their parents don't know enough about how the modeling and talent industries work," said Santiago. "We want to warn consumers about companies that hang on the fringes of the New York fashion and entertainment worlds; charging hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of dollars in advance fees for photographs, websites and other services that do little to help find jobs for aspiring models, singers and actors."



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Health Discount Card Plan Makes Fraudulent Claims, Illinois Charges

Health Discount Card Plan Makes Fraudulent Claims, Illinois Charges...

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit against a Texas company for allegedly marketing health care discount cards that misled consumers into believing they were buying health insurance instead of mere discounted fees on health care services - discounts often not even accepted by providers.

Madigan said her office has received more than 120 complaints from Illinois consumers since January 2002 about companies that masquerade as health care. The number of complaints doubled from 2003 to 2004. The discount health care card companies aggressively market their products through radio ads, blast faxes and circulars.

Madigan, noting that more than a million Illinoisans lack health care insurance, said she is also working with lawmkers to craft legislation designed to end deception by companies falsely parading as actual health insurance providers.

"If you see or hear ads that trumpet such terms as 'Affordable Healthcare,' 'Health care for the entire family for only $89.95 a month' or 'All Medical Conditions Accepted,' a reasonable person will probably assume this ad is for a health care plan," Madigan said.

"Illinois consumers are being deceived into thinking that they are finally able to achieve health care security when in fact all they may receive is a few dollars off of a service, and thats only if a provider agrees to accept their health care discount card. What these consumers are truly gaining access to is deception, disappointment, and very often, massive debt."

Madigans complaint charges a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization, International Association of Benefits, formerly International Association of Businesses, and a Texas corporation, HealthCorp International, Inc., all doing business as IAB, 701 Highlander Dr., Arlington, Texas, with violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

The company markets its health care-related cash discount cards at www.iabbenefits.com.

According to one of the nine complaints lodged with Madigans Health Care Bureau against IAB, a consumer reported to Madigans office that he signed up with IAB after hearing a radio ad allegedly stating that IAB was an insurance company.

The man alleges the company quoted the savings he would realize when pre-certifying a planned hospitalization. When he submitted his hospital bills to IAB, the consumer allegedly discovered it was merely a health care discount card. While the Attorney Generals office was able to get his premiums refunded, the south suburban consumer now owes more than $7,000 to a south suburban Chicago hospital.

Another consumer received a flyer stating IABs coverage was a nationwide PPO and would provide reimbursements for office visits and access to PPO hospitals, doctors, dentists and other medical services.

The consumer paid a $100 enrollment fee and a monthly premium of $89.95 for the services, and allegedly was told he could cancel the plan within 30 days of purchase. However, he and other consumers reported that IAB refused to refund their money once the consumers realized that IABs product was not insurance. In one case, IAB finally returned the payment only after Madigans Health Care Bureau intervened.

Madigans suit also alleges IAB misled consumers by fraudulently displaying a Better Business Bureau seal on its Web site and listing health care providers as participating in its discount program, when in fact, these providers would not honor the discount. Additionally, IAB was not legally registered with the Illinois Secretary of State or the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations Division of Insurance.

Madigans suit seeks to permanently prohibit the company from doing business in Illinois. The suit also seeks to recover restitution for consumers, and asks the court to impose a civil penalty of $50,000 and additional penalties of $50,000 per violation committed with the intent to defraud. Madigans suit also seeks an additional civil penalty of $10,000 per violation committed against a person aged 65 and older.

 



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Loans Secured by Car Titles Trap Borrowers in Cycle of Debt

Cash-strapped families risk losing their cars in the latest form of high-cost small lending

Loans Secured by Car Titles Trap Borrowers in Cycle of Debt...

Cash-strapped families risk losing their cars in the latest form of high-cost small lending spreading across America, according to a new report from the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) and Consumer Federation of America (CFA).

Consumers who put their cars on the line to borrow a few hundred dollars for one month become trapped in a cycle of repeated loans with interest rates often around 300 percent.

Borrowers often find themselves "rolling over" these loans repeatedly -- paying huge amounts in interest and fees while barely touching the principal. In many cases, the lender repossesses the car after the borrower has made substantial payments. That can be devastating because a car is often the borrower's largest asset and his or her only way to get to work.

"Car title lenders are taking a page out of the payday lender playbook by making very short-term loans without considering the borrower's ability to repay the loan," said Mark Pearce, CRL's President. "Emergency loans should help families out of trouble, not keep them in it."

CRL and CFA have issued a first report on the car title pawn/loan industry, titled "Car Title Lending: Driving Borrowers to Financial Ruin," which describes the title loan product and industry, illustrates predatory aspects of these over-secured small loans, and makes recommendations for stronger protections for borrowers.

To get a title loan, borrowers sign over the title to a paid-for car and, in some states, provide the lender with a spare set of keys. The loan is usually due within a month in a lump-sum payment, making it difficult for families to repay the loan.

Since car title loans are typically made for a fraction of the value of the car, the lender is well-protected if the borrower fails to make the full payment at the end of the month. In some states, title lenders are allowed to keep the surplus from the sale of the car, allowing title lenders to reap a windfall from the borrower's default.

"Some title lenders claim their secured loans are "pawns," "sale leasebacks," or open end credit to evade state usury and small loan protections," stated Jean Ann Fox, CFA's director of consumer protection. "State legislatures should close loopholes and protect consumers' assets from unfair lender terms and practices."

While CRL and CFA do not encourage states to legalize small loans based on titles to vehicles, the report spells out an extensive set of legal protections that should apply to car title loans.

• Establish Fair and Affordable Loan Terms. Title-secured loans should be repayable in affordable installments rather than a lump sum. Rates should be limited, and lenders should be required to consider the borrower's ability to repay. Borrowers should have a right to cancel loans within a reasonable time and to prepay without penalty at any time.

• Protect Borrowers After a Default. States should bar abusive practices such as seizing cars without notice, pocketing the difference between the sales price and what the borrower owes or pursuing the borrower for even more money after repossessing the car.

• Close Loopholes to Ensure Consistent Regulation. States that permit title lending should close loopholes that exempt some loans from the law and ensure that laws apply to all lenders, including those operating across state lines.

• Monitor Lenders Better. States should closely monitor lenders through strong licensing, bonding, reporting and examination requirements.

• Ensure Borrowers Can Exercise Their Rights. Borrowers should be able to sue title lenders and void contracts that violate the law. Binding mandatory arbitration clauses that deny borrowers a fair chance to challenge abuses in court should be eradicated.

 



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Feds Charge Tax Scam Targets Military Personnel

Feds Charge Tax Scam Targets Military Personnel...


The Justice Department has asked a federal court to bar Lou Ann Moser and Carla Newman of Hawaii from promoting an allegedly fraudulent tax scheme targeted at military personnel and from preparing tax returns for others.

In the complaint, the government also seeks an order directing the defendants to provide the government their customers names, mail and e-mail addresses, and Social Security and telephone numbers. The government alleges that Moser and Newman operate their tax preparation service in Kailua, Hawaii.

According to the complaint, Moser falsely advises military customers that they can claim tax deductions for non-deductible personal expenses such as haircuts, cell-phone and Internet services, and other personal items and services.

Moser allegedly advises non-military customers to use sham corporations to improperly claim deductions for non-deductible personal expenses. Newman allegedly assists Moser and allegedly electronically files returns for customers falsely stating that the customers had prepared them when in fact Moser prepared them.

The government alleges that the defendants have prepared and filed hundreds of returns for customers, and estimates that the defendants conduct cost the federal treasury more than $4 million for tax year 2003 alone.

"The Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are working methodically to halt tax fraud scams and the preparation and filing of fraudulent income tax returns," said Eileen J. O'Connor, Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division. "People who prepare returns claiming false deductions are cheating honest taxpayers and creating legal problems for their customers."

The complaint further alleges that Moser advised customers to lie to IRS agents to obstruct investigations. Moser allegedly told one customer to delay an IRS audit until her husband was deployed to Afghanistan, and then falsely tell the IRS that the husband had receipts needed to substantiate tax deductions.



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AT&T Agrees to Comply with Pennsylvania's Do Not Call Law

The agreement ends an investigation

AT&T Agrees to Comply with Pennsylvania's Do Not Call Law...

AT&T Corp will pay fines and investigation costs to resolve complaints from dozens of consumers who claimed that the telecommunications company violated Pennsylvania's "Do Not Call" law by illegally calling their homes to sell its long distance telephone services.

Attorney General Tom Corbett said under the legal agreement , the company will pay nearly $35,000 in fines and investigation costs and comply with Pennsylvania law prior to conducting any future telemarketing activities within the Commonwealth.

The agreement ends an investigation into claims that AT&T Corp. violated Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and the Telemarketer Registration Act during its telemarketing campaign.

According to Bureau of Consumer Protection agents, between November 2002 and June 2004 Pennsylvania consumers across 24 different counties claimed that AT&T representatives contacted them at home to sell long distance telephone service plans even though the consumers' names, addresses and telephone numbers were properly registered on the state's "no call" list.

Under the Telemarketer Registration Act, businesses and telemarketers as of November 1, 2002 are required to purchase the "no call" list and properly process the names and telephone numbers to ensure that those on the registry are not contacted.

In addition, businesses conducting telemarketing sales campaigns are prohibited from contacting consumers until the list is obtained and properly adapted to their internal calling systems.

Dozens of consumers officially registered on Pennsylvania's "no call" list filed complaints claiming that they received multiple calls from AT&T offering them discount long distance service plans.

According to the complaints, consumers reminded AT&T telemarketers that they were on the state's "no call" list and should not be contacted. They also requested that their telephone numbers be placed on AT&T's internal "no call" list.

The company is accused of falsely telling consumers that they were allowed to contact residents because:

• Pennsylvania's "no call" list did not exist.
• The consumer's name was not on the list.
• They were trying to save the consumer money.
• Pennsylvania's "no call" list did not apply to telephone companies.
• The telemarketing calls were generated outside of Pennsylvania.
• It takes 30 days for the state's list to be active and 90 days to update the company's internal list.
• The consumer was not on AT&T's • no call• list.

Several consumers also claimed that the company blocked its telephone number disabling their caller ID systems in violation of state law.

A total of 250 consumers filed complaints claiming that they received calls from AT&T but were unsure if the telemarketers were calling on behalf of AT&T Corp, AT&T Wireless, AT&T Broadband or Universal Card Services. Approximately 60 calls were traced to telemarketers with AT&T Corp.

"A business that makes two or two million calls to sell its goods or services to Pennsylvanians is required to comply with the 'no call' law," Corbett said. "Our residents were given the legal right to take steps to stop telemarketers from contacting them at home and it's my job to enforce that right."

AT&T Corp. claimed that one of its telemarketers experienced computer problems that resulted in numerous calls being placed to consumers whose names were legitimately registered.



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The Importance of Warming Up

The older you get the more important it is

Warming up slowly increases your body temperature, which increases the flexibility of muscles, ligaments, tendons and cartilage and leads to fewer strains,...

Warming up before exercise works and the older you get the more important it is.

I know -- you're too busy and it's not that important.

Wrong. Warming up slowly increases your body temperature, which increases the flexibility of muscles, ligaments, tendons and cartilage and leads to fewer strains, sprains and tears.

Warm-up movements also activate the fluids in your joints, reducing friction and wear and tear. Warming up gives your heart time to push blood and nourishment into your muscles and gives your heart time to adjust.

Sudden exercise can lead to heart attacks.

The older we get the more important warming up is because we have less supple tissues, less joint fluid and weaker hearts. Warming up can include stretching but it's not the same.

Warming up means gently using your workout muscles enough to sweat a bit and raise your body temperature, like walking for five to ten minutes before you jog.

 

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Former USDA Inspector Questions Mad Cow Testing

The government covered up mad cow disease, inspector says

Former USDA Inspector Questions Mad Cow Testing...

A former U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector is claiming that his government covered up mad cow disease, years before a case turned up in Canada. In a CTV.ca interview, Lester Friedlander said he was "forced out" from his job as head of inspections at a large Philadelphia meat packing plant in 1995 after blowing the whistle on what he called unsafe practices.

Friedlander said he knows USDA veterinarians who sent suspect cow brains to private laboratories that confirmed bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) -- commonly known as mad cow disease -- but that USDA laboratories cleared the samples.

He said there was pressure from Washington for veterinarians to "look the other way."

Canadian cattlemen are still seething about the U.S. embargo of Canadian cattle instituted in 2003 after a single infected cow was found. Since then four others have been found in Canada.

With 120 million cattle in the United States and 15 million in Canada, the Canadians are suspicious of U.S. claims that the U.S. herd is clear of the deadly infection.

Friedlander alleges the department tried to hide mad-cow cases because "at one time, the United States was exporting to over 90 countries. If mad cow disease is found in the United States, look at the economic impact it would have on the whole country," CTV.ca reported.

Michael Hansen, a scientist with the Consumers Union in Washington, said there is suspicion surrounding the testing of three suspected cases of mad cow in U.S. cattle. He said the tests came back negative but that the USDA used a rapid test based on immuno-histochemistry, which is considered less reliable than other tests.

A study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis three years ago concluded there was a 20 per cent chance that mad cow was likely to be found in U.S. cattle.

The U.S. border was set to reopen to young Canadian cattle March 7 tbut a U.S. cattlemen's group went to court and obtained an injunction blocking the action.

In Canada, a group representing 100,000 farmers filed a $7 billion class-action lawsuit against the Canadian federal government, claiming that gross negligence allowed BSE to devastate the cattle industry.



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Penicillin Allergy Widespread

Penicillin is the number one drug allergy in the world

Penicillin Allergy Widespread | Dr. Henry Fishman on Health and Medicine...

So you need an antibiotic and think you are allergic to penicillin. What should you do?

Well, first, talk to you doctor about being tested. After all, penicillin is the number one drug allergy in the world. About ten percent of folks who take the drug become allergic.

They can develop a slight rash or more serious problems like anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction.

But penicillin allergy often goes away with time. Ten years after a serious reaction only around one prevent of people are still allergic. If you think you allergic, tell your doctor.

You should stay away from penicillin and wear an identification bracelet.

Usually you can find a substitute. But sometimes you need penicillin and nothing else will do. For example, penicillin is used to treat certain kinds of meningitis, heart valve infection, urinary tract infection and advanced syphilis.

If you think you need it and are allergic ask about a skin test. There are two kinds. Your doctor will know the right one for you.

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Allergy Myths

There are lots of myths out there. Here are a few of the most common

Allergy Myths | Dr. Henry Fishman on Health and Medicine...

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Honda FourTrax ATV

Honda FourTrax ATV...

April 14, 2005
Honda is recalling its 2004-2005 FourTrax All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs). The steering rods can separate, causing the driver to lose steering control. This could cause the ATV to crash and pose a risk of serious injury or death.

Honda Foreman - Other models not shown
Honda has received 27 reports of steering rod separation. No injuries have been reported.

The recall includes 2004-2005 FourTrax Honda ATVs. The ATVs are red, olive, yellow or blue and have Honda written on the fuel tank. The following models are included in recall:


YearModel No.Model NameVIN Range
2004TRX350TERancher ES478TE244*44300003 through 478TE244*44310382
TRX350TMRancher478TE240*44300006 through 478TE240*44310445
TRX350FERancher 4x4 ES478TE254*44300010 through 478TE254*44323289
TRX350FMRancher 4X4478TE250*44300005 through 478TE250*44315544
TRX400FARancher AT478TE290*44000055 through 478TE290*44019249
TRX400FGARancher AT GPS478TE294*44000016 through 478TE294*44008055
2005TRX250TERecon ES1HFTE214*54500014 through 1HFTE214*54510334
TRX250TMRecon1HFTE210*54500010 through 1HFTE210*54509249
TRX350TERancher ES1HFTE244*54400001 through 1HFTE244*54412240
TRX350TMRancher1HFTE240*54400001 through 1HFTE240*54410980
TRX350FERancher 4x4 ES1HFTE254*54400001 through 1HFTE254*54415180
TRX350FMRancher 4x41HFTE250*54400001 through 1HFTE250*54416860
TRX400FARancher AT1HFTE290*54100005 through 1HFTE290*54115657
TRX400FGARancher AT GPS1HFTE294*54100004 through 1HFTE294*54103423
TRX500TMForeman1HFTE314*54000012 through 1HFTE314*54002112
TRX500FMForeman 4x41HFTE310*54000015 through 1HFTE310*54002715
TRX500FEForeman 4x4 ES1HFTE317*54000026 through 1HFTE317*54003486
TRX500FAForeman Rubicon1HFTE260*54400010 through 1HFTE260*54402169
TRX500FGAForeman Rubicon GPS1HFTE264*54400012 through 1HFTE264*54400555
TRX650FARincon 4x41HFTE280*54000009 through 1HFTE280*54011239
TRX650FGARincon 4x4 GPS1HFTE284*54000002 through 1HFTE284*54002521

The model numbers can be found on the identification label located on the left side of the frame down tube. The VIN number is stamped on the front side of the frame.

The ATVs were sold at Honda motorcycle dealers nationwide from August 2003 through February 2005 for between $3,600 and $8,000.

Consumers should stop using the recalled ATVs immediately. Registered owners of the vehicles will be notified directly by American Honda about the recall. All recalled vehicles will be repaired free of charge.

Consumer Contact: For more information, consumers should call Honda toll-free at (866) 784-1870 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, or visit their Web site at www.powersports.honda.com.

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

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GM MasterCard Data May Have Been Breeched

GM MasterCard Data May Have Been Breeched...


At least 180,000 consumers who used their General Motors MasterCard to make purchases from Polo Ralph Lauren may be at risk of identity theft. British financial giant HSBC is notifying the cardholders that criminals may have obtained access to their credit-card information.

Details of the incident are sketchy, but HSBC has advised the consumers that they should replace their credit card to minimize the risk.

The theft is thought to have taken place more than a month ago and may have involved other credit-card issuers as well. Only California requires financial and database firms to notify consumers when their data is stolen, although Congress is holding hearings on the issue this week.

Visa USA Inc. said in a statement that it was aware of the incident and said it is working to "monitor and prevent card-related theft."

HSBC said it was sending letters to 180,000 holders of cards branded by MasterCard and GM. The British bank manages more than six million GM-MasterCard branded cards in circulation.



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Previous Data Thefts Unreported

ChoicePoint, LexisNexis Didn't Notify Consumers About Earlier Breeches

ChoicePoint, LexisNexis Didn't Notify Consumers About Earlier Breeches...

April 14, 2005
Evidence continues to mount that personal information on millions of Americans, stored in massive computer databases, is not only at risk, but that much of it may have already been stolen. The latest revelation has rocked LexisNexis, which now concedes that cyber-criminals have been rifling its files for at least three years, with consumers blissfully in the dark.

A LexisNexis executive, testifying before a Congressional committee this week, said there has been at least one data break-in that was never reported to the public. Earlier, the data management firm revised its estimate of the number of compromised computer files from 32,000 to 310,000.

ChoicePoint Inc. conceded under questioning that it too suffered breaches before passage of a California law in 2003 that requires companies doing business in the state to notify consumers that their data might be at risk, officials said.

Since they were not legally obligated to do so, the companies chose not to alert the public in those cases.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based privacy watchdog, has renewed its call for federal regulation of data brokers, saying there is too much secrecy surrounding their practices and too little accountability. EPIC said in the LexisNexis case, databases had been fraudulently breached 59 times using stolen passwords, allowing access to addresses, Social Security numbers, and other sensitive information.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has sponsored a bill that would establish a national notification law, similar to the state law already in effect in California. She has introduced similar bills several times in past sessions, with no success.

More than 20 states are studying California's statute and considering enacting similar legislation.

Kurt Sanford, LexisNexis President and CEO for U.S. Corporate and Federal Markets, told Congress that an earlier, unreported break-in occurred prior to 2003. He did not give details or estimate how many personal files might have been compromised.

The issue of consumer privacy and data brokers took center stage earlier this year when Georgia-based ChoicePoint revealed that data thieves had used phony accounts to access the most sensitive financial information on hundreds of thousands of consumers nationwide. Officials at EPIC say the issue is not security, but privacy.

In testimony to the California Senate Banking Committee, EPIC West director Chris Hoofnagle argued that even if commercial data brokers could securely sell personal information, that would not address the underlying issue of whether the information should be sold in the first place. EPIC urged California lawmakers to act quickly to limit commercial data brokers' collection and sale of personal information.



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Warning: Toxic Blogs

Many blogs house nasty viruses

Warning: Toxic Blogs...

Blogs, or online journals, have become a popular feature of the Internet, allowing readers to swap information and opinions. But a computer security firm warns that some blogs are also sharing nasty viruses.

Websense, which provides Internet management solutions for businesses, says blogs are increasingly being exploited as a means to distribute malicious code and keylogging software. To date, Websense Security Labs says it has discovered hundreds of instances of blogs involved in the storage and delivery of harmful code.

According to the firm, cyber-criminals are taking advantage of blog sites that allow users to easily publish their own web pages at no cost.

It says blogs can be attractive vehicles for hackers for several reasons, since blogs offer large amounts of free storage, they do not require any identity authentication to post information, and most blog hosting facilities do not provide anti-virus protection for posted files.

In some cases, the culprits create a blog on a legitimate host site, post viral code or keylogging software to the page, and attract traffic to the toxic blog by sending a link through spam email or instant messaging (IM) to a large number of recipients. In other cases, the blog can be used as a storage mechanism, keeping malicious code that can be accessed by a Trojan horse that has already been hidden on the user's computer.

For example, on March 23, 2005, Websense Security Labs issued an alert detailing a spoofed email message that attempted to redirect users to a malicious blog which would run a Trojan horse designed to steal banking passwords.

In this situation, the user received a message spoofed from a popular messaging service, offering a new version of their IM program. Upon clicking the link, the user was redirected to a blog page which was hosting a password-stealing keylogger. When predetermined banking websites were accessed, the keylogger (bancos.ju) logged keystrokes and sent them to a third party.

"These aren't the kind of blog websites that someone would stumble upon and infect their machine accidentally. The success of these attacks relies upon a certain level of social engineering to persuade the individual to click on the link," said Dan Hubbard, senior director of security and technology research for Websense, Inc. "In addition, the blogs are being utilized as the first step of a multi-layered attack that could also involve a spoofed email, Trojan horse, or a keylogger."

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Virginia Sentences Spammer to 9 Years

Defendant Free on Bond Pending Appeal of Nation's Harshest Anti-Spam Law

Virginia Sentences Spammer to 9 Years...

Jeremy Jaynes has earned a spot in the legal history books, becoming the first to be convicted of felony spamming. Loudoun, Virginia, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Horne sentenced Jaynes to nine years in prison Friday but deferred execution of the sentence pending appeals.

In freeing Jaynes on bond pending appeal, Judge Horne noted the lack of precedent on Virginia's ultra-tough felony spam law, which could well be invalidated on appeal.

I don't believe that a person should go to prison for a law that is invalid, Horne said.

Jaynes' attorney, David Oblon, raised questions about the law in a post-trial hearing. In particular, Oblon questioned whether Jaynes, a North Carolina resident, could be imprisoned by Virginia merely because he sent the spam to customers through America Online, an Internet service provider based in Virginia.

At the sentencing hearing, Oblon argued that his client deserved a lenient sentence because he may have assumed that his actions in North Carolina would not be subject to Virginia's felony spam law, which was enacted in 2003.

Virginia law prohibits spam with falsified routing information that prevents recipients from knowing how to contact the sender.

Oblon also argued that a nine-year sentence was unduly harsh because Virginia sentencing guidelines would permit a sentence of less than nine years even for violent crimes such as manslaughter. Jaynes, a former Eagle Scout, had a clean criminal record before his November conviction, Oblon said.

Virginia Attorney General Judith Williams Jagdman said the tough sentenced was "a victory for all citizens of the Commonwealth and consumers nationwide who are plagued by spam. She said her office is preparing to prosecute accused spammers from Texas and Colorado.

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Ionizing Air Cleaners Can Cause Problems

Some can create hazardous ozone levels

All 5 ionizers failed the industry standard sealed-room test for ozone levels replicated for this report by producing more than 50 parts per billion of ozo...

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Cell Phone Charity A Scam, Oklahoma Charges

Even the most charitable-sounding appeal can turn out to be a wrong number

In Oklahoma, a charity operation collecting used cell phones for battered women has been charged with fraud, with authorities charging it duped thousands o...

Even the most charitable-sounding appeal can turn out to be a wrong number. In Oklahoma, a charity operation collecting used cell phones for battered women has been charged with fraud, with authorities charging it duped thousands of well-meaning Oklahomans.

Domingo Frias-Payan, 24, and Heather Frias-Payan, 25, owners of Oklahoma City-based Save a Life Give a Phone Foundation, Inc., are charged with one felony count of racketeering and 11 counts of violating the Oklahoma Solicitation of Charitable Contributions Act.

Domingo Frias-Payan was also charged with one count of violating the Oklahoma Securities Act and one count of offering forged or false instruments for record. The state also filed a separate civil action asking the court for a temporary injunction prohibiting the company from conducting business while the state seeks legal remedies to permanently shut down the allegedly fraudulent business.

"Our investigation determined and we allege that cell phones solicited on behalf of battered women's shelters, domestic violence victims, the elderly or disabled were actually sold for the couple's personal profit," Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said.

"Preliminary numbers show the couple solicited about 100,000 cell phones on the premise that the phones would be distributed to these vulnerable groups for emergency use. We allege that only about 300 phones were actually donated and the others were sold for about $1.2 million, which was deposited into accounts controlled by the couple."

The attorney general's office alleges the Frias-Payans were misleading in their solicitations by failing to disclose to donors that only a small portion of the cell phones would actually be donated.

"These people were bold in their solicitations," Edmondson said. "They allegedly called on individuals, businesses, cell phone companies, cities and even police departments for donations. In all, Save a Life received used cell phones from businesses or individuals in 41 different states."

Edmondson alleged the couple also falsely represented that donations to Save a Life would be used to maintain a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

"The only shelter run by the defendants has been shut down because it was not licensed and operated in violation of municipal ordinances," Edmondson said. "The couple allegedly required residents to either pay $125 per month or work four hours a day in a telemarketing boiler room soliciting cell phones and donations."

The attorney general said a boiler room refers to a facility equipped for telemarketing solicitation calls.

The state's complaint also alleges a violation of the Oklahoma Securities Act. According to the complaint, a woman formerly employed by Domingo Frias-Payan paid him $4,500 in exchange for stock in the company. Frias-Payan allegedly never issued stock certificates to the employee and has not refunded the employee's money.

The final alleged violation stems from Domingo Frias-Payan's failure to properly register as a charity with the Oklahoma Secretary of State's Office.

"We allege Frias-Payans represented through telephone solicitations, in print and on the Internet that donations made to Save a Life would be distributed and used to help others," Edmondson said. "After the Frias-Payans became aware of our investigation, they added a disclaimer to the Save a Life website saying that a portion of the proceeds were donated to charity. It's a little late for that."

According to the state's complaint, the couple also did business as Domingo Group Telecom, Inc., Givafon, Inc., and Recycleable (sic) Cellular Network, Inc.

Edmondson said his Consumer Protection Unit is continuing its investigation to determine the exact number of donated phones and contributions.

 



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FDA Opens Breast Implant Review

Silicone breast implant safety being debated once again

FDA Opens Breast Implant Review...

The Food and Drug Administration's advisory panel on General and Plastic Surgery Devices meets this week to review data on the safety of silicone breast implants. The panel will vote Tuesday on Inamed Corporation's application for approval, and on Wednesday on Mentor Corporation's application.

"This is the third time both companies have applied for FDA approval" said Dr. Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families. "The first unsuccessful effort was in 1991, so the companies have had more than enough time to study these products? Why have they provided no long-term safety data?"

Both companies applied for FDA approval again in 2002-3, but Mentor withdrew its application when Inamed's implants were not approved in January 2004.

When the FDA refused to lift restrictions on the sale of silicone gel-filled breast implants at that time, the FDA explained their decision was based on concerns about rupture, unknown complication rates, and the long-term safety of silicone in the body.

Last week, the FDA publicly released its scientific review of the companies' applications. The group says the reviews indicate that FDA scientists found that the industry data are insufficient to answer many of their concerns. In addition, it points to data it says reveal significant problems with the devices.

Rupture

The FDA's probability analysis, provides several estimates based on industry data. Assuming that implants, like other products, are more likely to break as they get older, the most realistic estimate indicates that three-quarters of implanted women will have at least one ruptured implant within a decade of receiving the devices.

Specifically, these data estimate that 93% of breast cancer reconstruction patients should expect at least one broken implant, 38% of augmentation patients, and 66% of women who replace previous breast implants with new ones.

Leakage

Approximately one in four women have silicone leaking outside their scar tissue capsules, and silicone seepage increases over time.

When that happens, women are more likely to report breast hardness, fatigue and other auto-immune symptoms, and, perhaps, auto-immune diseases.

Other problems include painful hardening of the breast, changes in nipple sensation, dying breast tissue, and other complaints.

Long-Term Safety

While the data submitted by the manufacturers did not provide evidence of long-term safety, other researchers have conducted studies that indicate increased risks:

National Cancer Institute researchers found that women with implants were twice as likely to die of brain cancer, three times as likely to die of lung cancer, and four times as likely to commit suicide, compared to other plastic surgery patients.

FDA scientists studied women who had silicone breast implants for at least six years, and found that women with extracapsular silicone leakage were significantly more likely to report a diagnosis of painful and debilitating diseases such as fibromyalgia.

A Canadian study found that women with breast augmentation were more likely to be hospitalized compared to other women of the same age in the same communities, and augmentation patients also had more medical visits.

Mammography

Breast implants interfere with the detection of breast cancer. A study published in the January 2004 of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that mammograms missed 55% of breast cancers in women with breast implants, compared to 33% in women without implants.

After hearing the manufacturer's data at the 2003 October panel meeting, advisory panel chairman Dr. Thomas Whalen wrote a letter to the FDA dated October 31 where he noted that mammography was a key concern, writing that "[t]here is at least one facet of long-term danger that was established during the panel -- specifically the obscuration of surrounding normal breast tissue to mammographic detection of breast cancer."

Toxic Chemicals

An article published in the Annals of Bioanalytic Chemistry reported alarmingly high levels of a dangerous form of platinum in children born to women with breast implants. Platinum is a known toxic chemical.

 



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Inflation Pressure Building

High gas prices pushing up inflationary pressures

Inflation Pressure Building...

The latest economic data from the U.S. Government does little to reassure consumers, who are already coping with record high gasoline prices. And one private economist says inflationary pressures that appeared at the end of last year are becoming more pronounced.

"While Newton may have concluded that what goes up must come down, we are still waiting for his law of gravity to be proved in the oil market," said Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisors. "Right now, what goes up must go up even more and that is creating real hardship for many people and businesses. With prices for energy so high for so long, spending is being cut and that is lowering estimates for economic growth."

The sudden and rapid rise in fuel prices, says Naroff, is like a tax. Consumers have less money to spend on other things. Adding to the economic uncertainty, the rise in oil prices is beginning to have a ripple effect through the economy.

"Businesses are also being pressured by rising energy prices and feel they can only swallow so much of it. As a result, they're now beginning to look for ways to raise prices. So the consumer is not only paying more at the pump, but soon will be paying more everywhere," Naroff told ConsumerAffairs.com.

The inflation alarm bells have been ringing at the Federal Reserve for the last couple of months. At its latest meeting, March 22, the Fed's Open Market Committee formally recognized the potential of inflation.

"The Fed's rate setting committee did what was expected: It raised the funds rate one-quarter percent. But in its closely watched statement, it noted that 'pressures on inflation have picked up in recent months and pricing power is more evident,'" Naroff said.

So, while inflation creates a drag on the economy, making consumer goods and services more expensive, it will likely make borrowing money more expensive too. Naroff said he expects interest rates will continue to creep higher, especially long term rates like mortgages.



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Cell Phone Users Interrupt Sex for Phone Calls

Fourteen percent of the world's cell phone users report that they have stopped in the middle of a sex act to answer a ringing wireless device

Fourteen percent of the world's cell phone users report that they have stopped in the middle of a sex act to answer a ringing wireless device, Ad Age repor...

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What's Inside MySpace.com?

Murdoch's Latest Media Marvel May Be His Biggest Yet

Hey, let’s walk the grounds of memory lane a little bit. If you remember, before there was something called Facebook there was something called Myspace....

What started out as a "place for friends" has grown into the definitive social-networking phenomenon.

The MySpace Web site hosts millions of pages, with new users signing up in droves. One industry poll claimed that MySpace had 12 billion unique page views in Oct. 2005, twice that of Google's 6.6 billion.

MySpace is the hot spot for teens and young adults, and a powerful new tool for music and media artists to market their wares to a hungry audience with lots of disposable income.

The company is fueled by advertisers eager to reach the teens and young adults who are the most prized demographic in the advertising universe, resulting in huge profits for company founders Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe. It seems to be the perfect model for making money off the Web in a post-tech boom world.

But where did it come from? How did MySpace go from being virtually unknown to a buyout opportunity for Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp? What's the story behind the meteoric rise of the company?

From Boom To Bust And Back Again

MySpace's story began in 1999, with Anderson and DeWolfe meeting while working for Xdrive, a start-up company that provided free online storage space for photos, music, and files.

In 2001, with the tech bubble bursting and their fortunes failing, Anderson and DeWolfe left to form their own company, ResponseBase, an "e-mail list broker" that sold lists of e-mail subscribers to other companies for marketing purposes.

ResponseBase built its lists primarily from the e-mail addresses of current and former Xdrive users. The "MySpace" name seems to have evolved from "freediskspace.com," similar to Xdrive's initial business plan.

The ResponseBase messages were often considered spam, with many domains and list managers blocking the mailings when users complained about receiving advertisements without their permission.

Even worse, the emergence of tough new anti-spam laws in California (where ResponseBase was located) and on the federal level, ResponseBase's revenue was in jeopardy. DeWolfe and Anderson needed a new source of cash.

Enter Brad Greenspan, Internet "boy wonder" and then-CEO of eUniverse, an online "entertainment network."

Greenspan excelled in utilizing online advertising -- including what many critics called extensive adware and spyware programs -- to get his content onto users' computers. It seemed like a match made in Heaven, and eUniverse agreed to purchase the ResponseBase assets in Sept. 2002.

But by 2003, Greenspan would be out of the picture, and his former company's troubles would be just beginning.

In The Intermix

On Oct. 31st, 2003, Greenspan suddenly resigned from eUniverse after the company was forced to restate its earnings for most of 2002 and 2003. SEC filings from that year show that Greenspan was even asked to repay a bonus of $42,500 he received when the company's earnings goals were revised.

In 2004, eUniverse renamed itself as "Intermix Media," and MySpace reemerged as a "social networking site," complete with DeWolfe as CEO.

The company experienced explosive growth, due largely to the immense popularity of MySpace, and Intermix's experience with targeted online advertising, which often took the form of downloads and adware that showed up on users' computers.

The usage of adware would come back to haunt Intermix in 2005, when New York state attorney general Elliot Spitzer launched a high-profile lawsuit against the company for deceptive advertising practices, including installing new programs without a user's consent, and making them extremely difficult to remove.

Intermix agreed to settle the lawsuit without admitting fault, to the tune of $7.5 million. Greenspan himself ponied up $750,000 to settle charges that he had directed Intermix employees to ensure the adware downloads were hard to remove from computers.

Murdoch Enters the Space

Meanwhile, Greenspan's former company had attracted the attention of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

The huge amount of advertising potential in MySpace and Intermix's other media sites was too much for the news baron to resist, and he bought out Intermix for $580 million in cash in July of 2005.

"We see a great opportunity to combine the popularity of Intermix's sites, particularly MySpace, with our existing online assets to provide a richer experience for today's internet users," Murdoch said at the time.

Greenspan promptly fired back, claiming that Intermix's principal stockholders had rushed to dump their shares during the course of Spitzer's investigation, and then sold Intermix to Murdoch's NewsCorp at a much lower price, all while pocketing millions of dollars in stock options.

Greenspan's Web site, "Intermixedup.com," is full of charges of insider trading and shady business on the part of Intermix and NewsCorp. Greenspan also claims that it was his "leadership and direction as CEO" that led to MySpace's success.

MySpace and Marketing

None of this really means much to the average MySpace user, to be sure. But one common thread in the company's history, from Xdrive to NewsCorp, is the practice of targeting particular users with specific advertisements.

MySpace's privacy and terms of use policies grant it extensive control over the media posted to its site, though it has altered these terms somewhat to accommodate the many recording artists and bands that use MySpace to communicate with fans and sell their music.

Even with that, much of what a MySpace member posts to the site becomes the property of the company, to be sold to other companies and advertisers at their whim.

Online journalist Trent Lapinski has extensively investigated the origins and history of MySpace, and he noted that the key to MySpace's success wasn't just advertising, but demographics.

In his view, NewsCorp was more interested in the potential advertising treasure trove of the MySpace "target demographic" -- the coveted 16-to-35 year old market.

"Unlike some sites, MySpace has always also been a part of an advertising company so they have always designed their site with the intention of advertising," he has said. "Essentially, MySpace users are filling out marketing profiles that are mined by the company that are then presented as these people's personal Web pages."

However, all of this marketing madness and heavy emphasis on youth advertising carries a price, and MySpace has come under fire for enabling sexual predators and pedophiles to track down potential victims through the site.

On March 13th, 2006, Chris DeWolfe announced plans to improve the security features of MySpace to prevent underage teens from accessing it as readily, and impose stronger measures against misuse of the site for criminal purposes.

Money Talks

Beyond the demographic targeting-advertising connection, the genius of MySpace is that virtually all of the "content" is free; it's provided by the users themselves.

"To a newspaper/television baron like Murdoch, this is a dream come true," said a media executive familiar with Murdoch's modus operandi. "Accustomed to spending megabucks to produce news and entertainment products, Murdoch must marvel at being able to sit back and watch the audience entertain itself, in effect."

While it is far from the only community site -- the Web has been full of them since its inception -- MySpace is perhaps the first to be controlled by experienced mass-media marketers who understand the connection between building the audience your advertisers are seeking at the lowest possible cost.

There are those in the traditional media world who will tell you that Murdoch's arrival in the U.S. is responsible for the rising tide of sensationalism in print and television.

But media theorists have for years preached the message that the most effective media are those that, in essence, reflect and "validate" the lives of their audience. Whether it's Fox News, "American Idol" or MySpace.com, it's a media model that sells and it's not likely to go away anytime soon.

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Verizon Completes MCI Purchase

Verizon has completed its $8.5 billion purchase of disgraced long-distance carrier MCI, paying much more than it initially intended, thanks to rival Qwest'...


Verizon has completed its $8.5 billion purchase of disgraced long-distance carrier MCI, paying much more than it initially intended, thanks to rival Qwest's running up the bidding.

Verizon hopes the MCI brand name -- now roughly the equivalent of mud to most consumers -- will enable it to snag more high-paying business customers, the kind who buy data circuits and network services in addition to long distance. MCI has about 60,000 large corporate customers in 150 countries. With SBC buying AT&T;, Verizon feels it needs a leg up in the corporate market.

Upon completion of the deal, short-time MCI Chief Executive Michael Capellas, 51, retires with an exit package valued at $39.2 million.

"Our strategy is to be a customer-focused leader in consumer broadband and video, as well as business and government services, in both the landline and wireless environments," said Verizon Chairman and Chief Executive Ivan Seidenberg in a statement. "We believe that our superior networks are the basis for innovation and competitive advantage in communications."

Most consumer organizations opposed both the MCI and AT&T acquisitions, saying there's already been too much consolidation, leading to less and less competition and higher calling rates. Others argued that the real competition these days is coming from cell phones and Internet phone service, including that provided by cable TV companies.

MCI was an early innovator in long distance after its disastrous purchase by Worldcom became part of the biggest corporate bankruptcy in history.

Among innocent bystanders affected by the deal are sports fans in Washington, D.C. MCI got its start in D.C. and for years the city's downtown sports arena has borne its name. The arena, which is home to the Wizards, Capitals and Mystics will now be known as the Verizon Center.

In the San Francisco area, Giants fans have been mourning the switch from SBC Park to AT&T Park and a spirited petition drive has suggested renaming it Mays Field in honor of Willie Mays.

The latest deal establishes Verizon as the nation's number two telecommunications company. AT&T, formerly SBC Communications, is the largest. That raises the question of what happens to BellSouth and Qwest, the two remaining regional Bell companies. The most likely outcome is that they become prime acquisition targets.

All involved deny that any such deal is in the works.

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Eli Lily Fined $36 Million Over Evista Promotion

At issue is Lillys marketing of Evista, which was approved by the FDA for prevention and treatment of osteoporosis

The FDA charges that Evista sales were so disappointing its first year on the market, Lilly starting promoting the drug for unapproved uses -- which is ill...

Eli Lilly and Company has agreed to plead guilty and pay $36 million in connection with its illegal promotion of its drug Evista. The Justice Department said the company is pleading guilty to a criminal count of violating the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by misbranding the drug.

Lilly will pay a $6 million criminal fine and forfeit to the United States an additional sum of $6 million. In addition to the criminal plea, Lilly has agreed to settle civil Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act liabilities by entering into a consent decree of permanent injunction and paying the United States $24 million in equitable disgorgement.

At issue is Lillys marketing of Evista, which was approved by the FDA for prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.

The FDA charges that Evista sales were so disappointing its first year on the market, Lilly starting promoting the drug for unapproved uses -- which is illegal. Once approved by the FDA, the drug may not be legally marketed or promoted for so-called off-label uses - any use not specified in an application and approved by the FDA.

In October of 1998, the company reduced the forecast of Evistas first years sales in the U.S. from $401 million to $120 million, prosecutors said. An internal Lilly business plan noted a disappointing year versus original forecast. The information filed with the court alleges that Lillys strategic marketing plans and promotion touted Evista as effective in preventing and reducing the risk of diseases for which the drugs labeling lacked adequate directions for use.

According to the information, Lillys Evista brand team and sales representatives promoted Evista for the prevention and reduction in risk of breast cancer, and the reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Under the provisions of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, Evista was misbranded when its labeling did not bear adequate directions for each of these intended uses. As alleged in the information, Lilly promoted Evista as effective for reducing the risk of breast cancer, even after Lillys proposed labeling for this use was specifically rejected by the FDA.

The agency maintains that potential problems that can arise from off-label use without the benefit of careful FDA oversight include the possibility that the promoted drug was used instead of another drug that had already been approved by the FDA for a particular use.

The information alleges that Lilly executed its illegal conduct using a number of tactics, including:

• One-on-one sales pitches by sales representatives promoting Evista to physicians about off-label uses of Evista. Sales representatives were trained to prompt or bait questions by doctors in order to promote Evista for unapproved uses;

• Encouraging sales representatives promoting Evista to send unsolicited medical letters to promote the drug for an unapproved use to doctors on their sales routes;

• Organizing a market research summit during which Evista was discussed with physicians for unapproved uses, including reducing the risk of breast cancer; and

• Creating and distributing to sales representatives an Evista Best Practices videotape, in which a sales representative states that Evista truly is the best drug for the prevention of all these diseases referring to osteoporosis, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

The complaint for permanent injunction alleges that Lilly executed its illegal conduct using a number of additional tactics, including:

• Training sales representatives to promote Evista for the prevention and reduction in the risk of breast cancer by use of a medical reprint in a way that highlighted key results of Evista and thereby promoted Evista to doctors for an unapproved use. The complaint says some sales representatives were instructed to hide the disclosure page of the reprint which noted, among other things, that All of the authors were either employees or paid consultants of Eli Lilly at the time this article was written, and The prescribing information provides that The effectiveness of [Evista] in reducing the risk of breast cancer has not yet been established.;

• Organizing consultant meetings for physicians who prescribed Evista during which unapproved uses of Evista were discussed; and

• Calculating the incremental new prescriptions for doctors who attended Evista advisory board meetings in 1998. The advisory board meetings included discussion of unapproved uses for Evista. By measuring and analyzing incremental new prescriptions for doctors who attended the advisory board meetings, Lilly was using this intervention as a tool to promote and sell Evista.

 

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Watch That Peanut Butter!

One of the most lethal allergens is that preschool staple, peanut butter. This seemingly innocuous substance is positively lethal to those who are allergic...

April 8, 2005
The threat of severe allergic reactions by children is a danger that is very real and ever present and one that we cannot ignore. While it may seem that severe allergic reactions are becoming more common, the reality may simply be that diagnosis and awareness have increased. It really doesnt matter. The point is that anyone who has children or works with children must become knowledgeable about minimizing risk and reacting quickly and correctly if a crisis occurs.

One of the most lethal allergens is that preschool staple, peanut butter. This seemingly innocuous substance is positively lethal to those who are allergic to it. There are many other common allergies that pose a risk of death and are not likely to be outgrown. They include allergies to tree nuts, shellfish, cow's milk, eggs and fish.

The deadly risk comes from the reaction called anaphylaxis -- difficulty breathing, swelling of the mouth and throat, a drop in blood pressure and loss of consciousness -- sometimes to the point of a coma and death. As little as one-fifth to one-five-thousandth of a teaspoon of the offending substance has caused death.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, five percent of children have food allergies. One percent of the American population -- three million people -- are allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, the most virulent allergy.

Anaphylaxis doesnt usually occur the first time a person eats a particular food, but after exposure to an allergin to which he or she has been sensitized. Allergic children may break out in hives if they so much as kiss someone who has eaten a peanut or if they merely touch a surface -- like a table or doorknob -- where peanuts or peanut butter have been. Peanut protein survives for six months.

Not only is the peanut protein long-lived, but the peanut allergy can survive death. A man who received a liver and kidney transplant inherited a peanut allergy from the donor, a 22 year-old who had fallen into a coma and died after eating satay sauce.

Several months after the transplant, the recipient suffered a skin rash and difficulty breathing after eating peanuts. Doctors traced the newly developed allergy to blood cells primed to recognize the allergins that were passed along with the liver.

A 1992 Johns Hopkins study involving 13 children, six of whom died and seven of whom nearly died, recommended that epinephrine, a form of adrenaline, be kept available in schools and day care centers. These recommendations have been incorporated in settlement agreements negotiated between child care centers and the Department of Justice under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

As announced in an October 1998 Justice Department press release, staff at La Petite Academy will administer epinephrine to children who experience life-threatening allergic reactions to foods such as peanuts or bee stings.

The agreement with La Petite Academy, which operates more than 750 day care centers (one in D.C., 14 in Maryland, and 35 in Virginia), also contained a provision modeled after an earlier agreement with KinderCare, the nation's largest child care.

Schools, day care centers, churches and private child care workers should be aware of the risk, have epinephrine on hand and train workers and volunteers in its use. Those who fail to do so may face serious legal consequences if a child dies as a result of their failure to do so.

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Cavalier Telephone Buys Talk America

Cavalier one of the few surviving "new entrants" in the local and long-distance business

The combined company will serve more than 550,000 residential customers and 85,000 business customers and will have more than 2,000 staffers....

Talk America is being acquired by privately-held Cavalier Telephone & TV for $251 million.

Ed Meyercord, chief executive officer of Talk America, will become CEO of Richmond, Virginia-based Cavalier. Brad Evans, current CEO of Cavalier, will become Cavalier's executive chairman. Talk America is based in Reston, Virginia.

The combined company will serve more than 550,000 residential customers and 85,000 business customers and will have more than 2,000 staffers. It would have annual revenue of more than $750 million and a presence in six of the country's 20 largest markets -- Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit and Atlanta.

Cavalier is a privately held company whose equity holders include MC Venture Partners, Banc of America Capital Investors and BB&T; Capital Partners. It is one of the few "new entrants" in the local and long-distance business to survive the tough shake-out that followed Congressional passage of the Bell-friendly 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Founded in 1989, Talk America began as a provider of long distance phone service to residential and small business customers. In 2000, the company began offering a bundle of local and long distance phone services to residential and small business customers.

 

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Capital One Harms Credit Scores by Withholding Data, Suits Charge

The company should fully report on its client, the suit alleges

Capital One Harms Credit Scores by Withholding Data, Suits Charge...

Here's a new twist on privacy rights: three class action lawsuits charge that Capital One is harming consumers' credit ratings by not reporting their credit limits to the three national credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.

The suits, filed in U.S. district court in Greenville, S.C., name the credit bureaus, but not Capital One. They allege that the three credit bureaus violate the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act by not requiring Capital One to report fully on its clients.

Capital One, which has millions of customers nationwide, does not dispute that it withholds customers' credit limits, although it doesn't say why it is so tight-lipped.

There's speculation that Capital One doesn't want to make it easy for competitors to identify its better customers by trolling through the national credit databases.

How does this harm consumers?

Chances are it doesn't make much difference if you're just shopping for a better credit card rate but if you're looking for a mortgage, the effect could be significant.

That's because the dominant credit scoring model -- Fair Isaac Corp.'s FICO score -- looks at a consumer's use of his or her available credit. Without knowing your Capital One credit limit, Fair Isaac can't accurately measure how much of your available credit you're using.

That could be very expensive, possibly costing you a full point, which adds up to many thousands of dollars over the life of a mortage.

Even worse, say the attorneys who filed the suits, most consumers are completely unaware of Capital One's refusal to provide the information Fair Isaac needs, and thus can't do anything to compensate.

Capital One is not alone. Some subprime mortgage lenders don't report any of their clients' on-time payments to the credit bureaus, thereby lowering the positive information in their files and depressing credit scores. Why? The subprime lenders don't want their customers to be able to get a better mortage someplace else.

The law suits do not challenge Capital One's legal right to withhold the information. Instead plaintiff William A. Harris, Sr., charges Equifax, Experian and Trans Union with failure to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

That law requires the bureaus to follow "reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of information in consumer (credit) reports."

Harris' attorneys said the credit bureaus are fully aware that Capital One is withholding information but do nothing to require Capital One and other lenders to provide complete data.

 

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Texas Sues Sony for Violating Spyware Law

Texas Sues Sony for Violating Spyware Law...

Sony BMG's bad few weeks are turning into a bad month, as the state of Texas filed suit against the corporation for violating the state's new laws against spyware.

The suit stems from Sony's use of a copy-protection software "rootkit" that installs hidden files on a user's computer, which can cripple it and leave it vulnerable to outside attacks.

In a press conference announcing the suit, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott accused Sony of "acting illegally" in hiding secret files on computers, and engaging in a "high-tech cloak and dagger" enterprise.

"This would be the most outrageous form of invasion of privacythat the new spyware act was created to prevent," Abbott said.

Although Sony has publicly stated that it is recalling all CD's that contain the copy-protection software, the Attorney General's investigators claim to have found CD's containing the software at retail stores throughout the Austin area.

In addition to the Texas lawsuit, private attorneys are investigating the possibility of a class action lawsuit against Sony for violating California's spyware-prevention laws as well.

The Association for Freedom in Electronic Interactive Communications-Electronic Frontiers Italy (ALCEI-EFI), a Milan, Italy-based digital rights advocacy group, filed a complaint with Italy's cybercrime authorities over Sony's usage of the software. The investigation may lead to criminal charges being filed against Sony.

The complaint, issued on Nov. 4, states that "It isunacceptable that any products containing invasive software are sold, especially when its presence is not properly disclosed and notified to the users. Furthermore, it is unacceptable that, after committing such serious offenses, anyone can believe that 'releasing a patch' can be enough to relieve the offender's responsibility."

Patch Criticized

The "patch" Sony issued to users has come under intense criticism as well. The "patch" does not actually remove the rootkit from an affected computer, but merely renders it visible to the user.

The patch itself was found to open an even bigger security hole, thanks to a flaw that enables an outside attacker to command the "patched" machine to download any code desired to the user's hard drive.

Several computer security analysts advised against downloading Sony's Web-based uninstaller until a suitable version was released, or to use alternate methods of removing the copy-protection software.

As if that weren't enough, the rootkit was found to contain elements identical to "LAME," an open-source software MP3 encoder. First4Internet, the British company that created the rootkit for use on Sony CD's, was alleged to have used the LAME code without indicating its origin or sharing their alterations to the code.

In other words, software designed to prevent copyright infringement was itself being used in violation of copyright.

Sony's recall encompasses approximately 5 million CD's that contain the rootkit. Although the number of affected computers is still unknown, security expert Bruce Schneier has said it may be as many as "half a million."

Schneier criticized computer security companies such as McAfee and Symantec for not responding quickly enough to provide tools for detecting and removing the rootkit.

"What happens when the creators of malware collude with the very companies we hire to protect us from that malware?" he said. "We users lose, that's what happens. A dangerous and damaging rootkit gets introduced into the wild, and half a million computers get infected before anyone does anything."

 

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Title Insurance Fraud on the Upswing

At least ten states are investigating alleged title insurance fraud

At least ten states are investigating alleged title insurance fraud. Investigations involve not only a number of America's top title insurance companies bu...

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Lawn Mower Injuries Increase Nationwide

Injuries from Lawn Mowing Increase Nationwide...


Looking for an excuse not to mow the lawn this summer? Try this: Each year, nearly 80,000 Americans require hospital treatment from injuries caused by lawn mowers, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The researchers also concluded that the number of injuries from lawn mowers is increasing, with the majority of injuries occurring in children under age 15 and adults age 60 and older.

The most common injuries were caused by strikes from debris, such as rocks and branches, propelled by the mower's spinning blades. The study, published in the April 2006 online edition of the Annals of Emergency Medicine, is the first to examine the extent and mechanisms of lawn mower injuries nationwide.

"There is no reason anyone under 12 should ever be injured by a lawn mower," said David Bishai, MD, PhD, MPH, senior author of the study and associate professor in the Department of Population and Family Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. "If we would keep the kids off the lawn when mowing and off the riding mowers we could greatly reduce the number of injuries each year."

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no one under age 16 should use a riding mower, and no one under age 12 should use a push mower.

Bishai and co-author, Vanessa Costilla, analyzed data of mower-related injuries requiring hospitalization from the National Hospital Discharge Survey from 1996 to 2003 and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System from 1996 to 2004.

According to the results, more than 663,000 people were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for lawn mower injuries between 1996 and 2004. More than 80,000 people required hospital treatment for lawn mower injuries in 2004, which means about 2 out of every 1,000 injury-related emergency room visits is because of a lawn mower injury.

The rate is about half the number treated for firearms injuries annually. In addition to strikes from flying projectiles, the most common causes of injury for people over age 15 were non-specific pain after mowing and injuries occurring while servicing the mower. The most common injury requiring hospitalization was fractures of the foot.

Based on the study results, Bishai recommends some safety tips to follow to avoid lawn-mowing injuries.
• Wear goggles, long pants and close-toed shoes with gripped soles
• Clear the yard of debris before mowing
• Keep everyone, especially small children, away from the yard while mowing
• People with histories of chest, back or joint pain should reconsider mowing
• Use care and wear protective gloves when servicing mower or changing blades
• Many injuries occur while lifting mower--get help if needed
• Never service the mower while it is running
• Mow only in good weather conditions--avoid mowing in high heat
• Do not use riding mower on steep hills or embankments
• Do not carry passengers on riding mowers or tow passengers behind the mower
• Do not allow children under the age of 16 to operate riding mower
• Store lawn mowers in area with minimal traffic and not accessible to children

"These are machines with sharp blades spinning at 160 miles per hour just inches away from our feet and hands. Everyone needs to respect the dangers and use common sense," said Bishai.
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The Search for a Trustworthy Mechanic

The Search for a Trustworthy Mechanic

Looking for a mechanic when your car is already in trouble is much like trying to find a doctor when you're sick - you want someone you can trust before an...

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Income Tax Filing Extensions Free and Easy

Income Tax Filing Extensions Free and Easy...


Way behind on your taxes? No fear. You don't need an excuse, or even a stamp, to get an automatic, no-questions-asked extension.

Automatic four-month extensions are available by phone or online via computer, as well as through the paper Form 4868. The IRS expects to receive almost 9 million extension requests, which must be made by the normal filing deadline.

An extension of time to file does not give you more time to pay any taxes owed. A person may choose to pay any projected balance due when requesting an extension, and the payment may be made electronically. Even without a payment, one can still get the extension.

Whether requesting an extension electronically or on paper, the taxpayer must estimate the total tax liability based on the information available. If the IRS later finds this estimate to be unreasonable, the extension will be null and void. The taxpayer will still get credit for any payments made with the extension request.

The IRS has a special toll-free phone line for extensions 1-888-796-1074 for those who filed a tax return for 2003. Callers may use Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, as a worksheet to prepare for the call, figuring their 2004 tax and total payments made.

They get a confirmation number signifying that the extension request has been accepted. They should put this confirmation number on Form 4868 and keep it for their records. They do not send the form to the IRS.

Taxpayers may also e-file an extension request using tax preparation software on their own computer or by going to a tax preparer. Those filing by computer get an acknowledgment that the IRS has received their request.

Taxpayers asking for extensions by phone or computer can choose to pay any expected balance due by authorizing an automatic withdrawal from a checking or savings account. They will need the appropriate bank routing and account numbers for that account. They must also have the adjusted gross income (AGI) from their 2003 tax return to verify their identity.

Another way to get a filing extension is to charge an extension-related payment to an American Express, Discover Card, MasterCard or Visa account. The authorized processors take payments through their phone and Web site systems. There is no IRS fee for credit card payments, but some processors may charge a convenience fee. Use Form 4868 as a worksheet; it has details on making credit card payments.

Another way to get a filing extension is to charge an extension-related payment to an American Express, Discover Card, MasterCard or Visa account. The authorized processors take payments through their phone and Web site systems. There is no IRS fee for credit card payments, but some processors may charge a convenience fee. Use Form 4868 as a worksheet; it has details on making credit card payments.

Taxpayers may also charge the taxes due for 2004, estimated taxes for 2005, or installment agreement payments for 2000 or later, but such charges do not give an extension of time to file.

Taxpayers who live outside the United States and Puerto Rico and whose main place of work is outside the United States and already have a filing extension to June 15. This June deadline also applies to those in military service on duty outside the country, but not in a combat zone or a qualified hazardous duty area. (A special, longer extension applies to those in such a zone/area, or away from their permanent duty station in support of operations in such a zone/area.) Taxpayers with the June deadline can file a Form 4868 or make an extension-related credit card payment by June 15 to get an additional two months to file. They cannot request this extension by phone. Merely being outside the United States on the April deadline does not give a person an extension to June 15.

Interest charges apply to any tax not paid by the regular deadline. The current rate is 6 percent a year, compounded daily, and is subject to change each calendar quarter. Taxpayers who request an extension may also be liable for a late payment penalty of 0.5 percent per month if the total tax paid by the regular deadline is less than 90 percent of the actual 2004 tax.

One deadline that taxpayers cannot extend is the date to claim a refund for Tax Year 2001 if they have not yet filed for that year. Unless they had a filing extension in 2002 for their 2001 return, they must mail such late returns by April 15, 2005.

Links: Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (PDF 76K) http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4868.pdf

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Experts: Skip The Cough Medicine

Guidelines released by the American College of Chest Physicians earlier this year indicate that many of the "active" ingredients in cough remedies may be i...


Americans spend $3.5 billion annually on over-the-counter cough remedies, but experts say much of this money is wasted.

Guidelines released by the American College of Chest Physicians earlier this year indicate that many of the "active" ingredients in cough remedies may be ineffective, reports the May issue of the Harvard Health Letter.

There are many nonprescription cough medicines, but most contain the same types of active ingredients in a limited number of strengths and combinations. Here are the four main ones:

• Expectorants work by thinning mucus. Studies of their effectiveness vary, and the ACCP "cough committee" didnt endorse them.

• Suppressants work by dampening the cough reflex. They provide short-term relief for chronic bronchitis symptoms, but arent as effective on coughs caused by colds.

• Decongestants work by constricting blood vessels, which shrinks swollen membranes and allows more air to pass through nasal passages. Decongestants can be effective in the short run, but they can cause side effects, and you can become dependent on decongestants in the form of nose drops.



• Antihistamines help regardless of whether a cold or allergies is responsible for the cough.

So what should you take?

The new guidelines advise forgetting the cough and cold medicine and buying an allergy medicine instead.

Choose one that combines an older antihistamine (like brompheniramine, diphenhydramine, or chlorpheniramine) with a decongestant.

On the other hand, if you think a cold or cough medicine works, it probably wont hurt you to stick with it, even if what youre paying for is a placebo effect rather than a proven remedy, according to the Harvard Health Letter.



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Ohio Launches Rx Comparison Shopping Site

Ohio Web site listing prices from pharmacies of the top 25 prescription drugs

More than 200 pharmacies, including Wal-Mart and Discount Drug Mart, have signed up for AGRx, an Ohio Web site listing prices from pharmacies of the top 25...

More than 200 pharmacies, including Wal-Mart and Discount Drug Mart, have signed up for AGRx, an Ohio Web site listing prices from pharmacies of the top 25 prescription drugs.

"It is my hope that this service will become a tool seniors on fixed incomes, the uninsured and those lacking adequate prescription drug coverage can use to comparison shop to find lower prices for their prescription drugs," said Attorney General Jim Petro, who unveiled the site.

Using AGRx is as easy as choosing a drug and/or a region in which you live. The search engine lists the participating pharmacies and prices for drugs in that region, which are updated every three months. The price does not include discounts for insurance or for any other reason.

AGRx can be found at www.ag.state.oh.us/site_map/agrx.htm. It also includes a one-stop resource linking consumers to federal and state prescription drug discount programs and services. Many pharmacies will help consumers find a suitable discount program.

Pharmacies listed on AGRx have volunteered to be part of the program to help consumers save money on their prescriptions. Pharmacies will continue to sign up throughout the year. Consumers who don't see their local pharmacy listed can tell them to call 1-800-282-0515 to sign up. Participating pharmacies send price updates every three months.

The 25 drugs used in AGRx are from Pharmacy Times' annual report of the top 200 drugs dispensed, retailed or sold by mail order across the country.

 



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Passports Required for U.S. Entry by 2008

The days of free and easy travel between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada are coming to an end

Passports Required for U.S. Entry by 2008: The days of free and easy travel between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada are coming to an end....

The days of free and easy travel between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada are coming to an end. You'll soon need a passport to enter -- or re-enter -- the U.S. from its North American neighbors.

The Departments of State and Homeland Security have announced a new policy, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, requiring all U.S. citizens, Canadians, citizens of the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, and citizens of Mexico to have a passport or other accepted secure document to enter or re-enter the U.S. by January 1, 2008.

Currently, U.S. citizens, and some citizens of other Western Hemisphere countries, are not required to present a passport to enter or re-enter the U. S. But legislation passed after the 9/11 ttack gives Homeland Security to require the use of passports by everyone entering the country.

"Our goal is to strengthen border security and expedite entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors," Homeland Security Acting Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Randy Beardsworth said.

DHS and the State Department say they plan to roll out the program in phases, providing as much advance notice as possible.

While a passport will be the document of choice for entry or re-entry, the State Department says it also expects the Border Crossing Card, BCC - or "laser visa," will also be acceptable. Currently, the BCC serves in lieu of a passport and a visa for citizens of Mexico traveling to the U.S. from contiguous territory.

 

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First Case Filed Under Florida Anti-Spam Law

Defendants sent 65,000 illegal emails, suit charges

The complaint accuses Scott J. Filary, 25, and Donald E. Townsend, 34, of sending or assisting the sending of more than 65,000 deceptive emails. ...

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist has filed the state's first legal action under the state's nine-month-old Anti-Spam law, accusing two former Fort Lauderdale residents who now live in Tampa of running a bogus email and internet operation responsible for more than 65,000 illegal emails.

The illegal messages linked recipients to more than 75 different websites engaged in fraudulent or illegal business activities, including pharmaceutical and cigarette sales and the illegal downloading of copyrighted movies.

In announcing the lawsuit, Crist was joined by Nancy Anderson, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Microsoft Corporation, which played a key role in detecting the unlawful spam operation.

The complaint accuses Scott J. Filary, 25, and Donald E. Townsend, 34, of sending or assisting the sending of more than 65,000 deceptive emails, including 48,000 since the Florida Electronic Mail Communications Act took effect last July 1.

Filary and Townsend face penalties of up to $500 per email message under the state Anti-Spam law, for a total potential penalty of $24 million. The two face additional penalties under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act for deceptive emails sent before the Anti-Spam law was passed at Crist's urging.

"Spam is a pervasive and growing threat to unsuspecting computer users everywhere," said Crist. "The Spam itself is illegal, but it is made even worse when it seeks to rip off Florida consumers. Florida's Anti-Spam law was adopted precisely to stop operations such as this one. We are also grateful for the valuable assistance of Microsoft in this case."

Microsoft captured more than 65,000 unlawful emails through its MSN Hotmail trap accounts and provided them to the Attorney General's Office for investigation and enforcement. The emails in turn link recipients to deceptive websites connected to Filary and Townsend.

Since May 2004, more then 350 domain names for internet websites were registered to a "J. Scott" through various assumed names at a Fort Lauderdale post office box registered to Filary. More than 85 new domain names have been registered this year, including 44 in one day alone. Filary and Townsend recently moved from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa.

The websites linked to the two men were promoted by illegal email campaigns, often lasting only days before a new campaign would begin with an identical website but a new website name.

In one instance, Spam messages directed recipients to online pharmacy websites that imposed substantial undisclosed "dispensing fees" adding more than 25 percent to the products' cost. More than 30 percent of the emails sent by Filary and Townsend contained blatantly false subject lines, while thousands of others contained misleading subject lines.

In addition, thousands of messages used false information to disguise the origin of the email, while many others wrongfully used invalid email addresses as the sender's address. Some of the messages attempted to recruit others to the scheme by offering commissions or services as an inducement for others to send emails on behalf of Filary and Townsend.

The Anti-Spam law, which was passed in the 2004 legislative session, prohibits unsolicited commercial email that contains false or deceptive information in the email subject line, contains a false or misleading email header identifying the origin or path of the email, or uses another person's internet domain name without permission.

It also prohibits an individual from sending information such as viruses designed to damage computer systems or from distributing software or any other system designed to falsify information in the email header, which would conceal the true origin of the email message. Violators face a penalty of up to $500 per email message.

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No-Fault Insurance More Expensive, Study Finds

No-Fault Insurance More Expensive, Study Finds...


No-fault auto insurance is consistently more expensive than traditional insurance and should be repealed across the country, according to a national study of auto insurance premiums released by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).

The study found that the cost of insurance fell for drivers in states that have repealed no-fault laws. It also details the importance of a strong insurance regulation system in the effort to lower insurance rates.

"No-fault has failed to live up to insurers' promises of lower insurance rates. Lower premiums can be achieved by repealing failed no-fault laws and instituting strict rate regulation," said Harvey Rosenfield, the Founder of FTCR and author of California insurance reform initiative Proposition 103.

The study compares auto insurance premiums under three different systems: no-fault, personal responsibility and hybrid/choice. According to the analysis of premium data as reported by insurance companies to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners:

• Premiums are 19% higher in no-fault states than in personal responsibility states.

• Seven of the ten states where auto insurance was most expensive in 2002 had no-fault or hybrid/choice systems.

• States with some form of no-fault insurance are consistently a majority of the highest priced states in the nation, forming six to eight of the top ten every year since 1989.

• Auto insurance premiums rose 92% faster in no-fault states than in personal responsibility states between 1998 and 2002.

• Six of the ten states with the greatest premium increases between 1998 and 2002 have mandatory no-fault systems.

Why No Fault Is More Costly

Insurance company promises that lower insurance rates will come from limiting customers' ability to collect compensation from at-fault drivers never come to fruition, according to the report, and restrictions on lawsuits do not offset the higher costs of no-fault insurance. The sources of higher costs include:

• Twice the number of people are covered under no-fault because both the innocent victim and the person who caused the accident are paid.

• No-fault's mandatory payments create incentives to increase medical treatment and encourage fraud for those people without other forms of health coverage.

• No-fault does not significantly reduce litigation costs because it retains the litigation system for property damage, which is a major element in most accidents.

• Limiting drivers' personal responsibility for poor driving encourages reckless driving.



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Spitzer Wins Cramming Concessions from Verizon

Verizon has agreed to give greater protections to consumers who have unauthorized third party charges placed on their telephone bills

Spitzer Wins Cramming Concessions from Verizon...

Under prodding from New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Verizon has agreed to give greater protections to consumers who have unauthorized third party charges placed on their telephone bills.

The agreement with Verizon Communications Inc. marks the first time a telephone company has been required to take steps to monitor and correct the fraudulent billing practice known as "cramming."

"Verizon has an obligation to protect its subscribers from fraud," Spitzer said. "Under this agreement, the company will take a series of steps to protect individual consumers and small businesses from third parties that place unauthorized charges on phone bills."

The agreement applies only to Verizon's New York customers. To extend similar protections to consumers in other states would require action by federal regulators, state authorities or Verizon.

The Attorney Generals settlement focuses on contracts between Verizon and other companies to provide internet access, web hosting and other services. Through these contracts, Verizon had agreed to add third party service charges to a consumers telephone bill.

Thousands of New Yorkers each year and many more nationwide have complained about unauthorized charges that have been "crammed" onto their phone bills. Many people said Verizon did nothing to assist them when they protested the charges on their bill. Verizon instead insisted that consumers resolve the matter with the third parties themselves.

Many of those targeted by "crammers" are small business owners, whom fraudulent operators often claim authorized the charges.

The Attorney Generals agreement with Verizon requires the following:

• Verizon must directly resolve consumers complaints by removing unauthorized charges and blocking future charges. While Verizon had promised to do this in the past, the investigation uncovered numerous instances when Verizons representatives did not follow this policy, or were not aware of it;

• Verizon must terminate contracts with third parties that have persistent complaint levels. The Attorney Generals investigation found that in some cases, Verizon did not promptly take action against parties with high complaint levels, even after lawsuits and regulatory actions had been commenced;

• Verizon must ensure that each bill containing third party charges includes a toll-free contact number for consumers to call to question the bill. Current FCC regulations require that such information be provided. However, the Attorney General s investigation revealed numerous instances where the number provided on Verizon bills was not correct; and

• Verizon must provide credits for "crammed" third party services to consumers where credits have not already been given.

Verizon has also agreed to pay $75,000 to the state to resolve the Attorney Generals investigation.

 



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