Follow us:
  1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2005
  4. November

News in November 2005

Browse by year


Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Prius Owners Still Miffed about Mileage

    Toyota has sold more than 500,000 of the Prius hybrids, setting the mark in October amid continuing complaints about gasoline mileage claims. While the Japanese automaker is developing a loyal band of Prius owners, it's also amassing a gaggle of angry Priusians.

    Feelings run deep among people who have endured waiting lists and additional premiums, particularly those who feel they were sold a pig in a poke.

    Deborah H. in Louisville, Kentucky is angry. "I feel there was false advertising by Toyota stating there was 50 miles per gallon on the highway and 60 miles per hour in the city driving my Toyota Prius hybrid," she wrote.

    Deborah was one of thousands of Prius buyers who paid the dealer a "market adjustment" or extra money for her new hybrid.

    "They jacked up the price $8,000 from sticker stating it was a car that was hard to come by and that was their price. They said I would actually save money on gas."

    But Deborah writes that gas mileage results her Prius achieves continue to be disappointing: "After six months of tracking, the best mileage I ever got was 43 miles per gallon. Most often my mileage is between 30 and 36 miles per gallon."

    The mileage, she complains, is "no better than cars I have had in the past. I am very disappointed in Toyota's advertising and the money I have shelled out."

    A Toyota spokesman contacted by insists that 30 to 36 miles to a gallon is not possible with a Prius unless driver error or a mechanical problem is involved.

    Laurie K. in Folsom, California finally concluded her mileage problem must be driver error with her Prius. She solved the nagging mileage issue by paying close attention to the onboard computer in her hybrid.

    "I have owned a Toyota Prius since 2004. I too was getting poor mileage," she wrote. "However, after many months I finally discovered the secret to getting higher mileage. I keep the computer screen on that shows how many miles per gallon I'm getting."

    The computer tracks mileage every 15 to 30 minutes, Laurie said.

    "I just watch the gauge and keep my foot lightly on the gas pedal. I have averaged 60 miles per gallon when I do this. However, if I am in a rush, I get lower gas mileage because I do not have time to gently take off from a stoplight or drive slower by easing up on the gas pedal."

    Laurie says that if driven correctly, her Prius now averages 60 mpg.

    "My husband and I finally figured it out, she wrote. "Now we have a goal to try and keep the average, but it takes practice and a visual of the computer screen to make sure you are driving appropriately."

    Irene S. in Montebello, California, wrote that the mileage drop-off in her 2005 Prius was almost immediate.

    "When I started driving the car, I got 44 mpg on the street. Presently, I am still driving the car on the street and getting about 24 mpg and the odometer reads 780 miles."

    Dave B. in Laguna Woods, California, reports similar problems with his 2004 Prius but he knew the cause. The gasoline engine is running too much: "The last two times I filled the tank I got 25 miles per gallon. Not acceptable. The gasoline engine runs continuously."

    Dave's Toyota dealer where he purchased the hybrid has been unable to help after three trips to the service department. "They agree the gasoline engine should not start up until the car gets up to 20 miles per hour, but cannot correct the problem," he wrote.

    Prius Owners Still Miffed about Mileage...
    Read lessRead more

    Scottrade Gets Hacked

    The Scottrade online brokerage firm has notified many of its clients that their personal information may have been hacked, due to a data breach from a partner company's payment processing system.

    It's the latest in a seemingly endless stream of customer data breaches. The TROY Group, makers of the "eCheck Secure" online checking application, stated that a hacker had breached the servers containing the personal information of eCheck Secure users.

    The company was sparing in its details of the incident, saying only that it had notified the FBI and its customers, and had hired a "professional forensic services firm" to investigate the incident.

    eCheck Secure enables users to submit data from their checking account and have transactions automatically debited without using credit or debit cards, via ACH (Automated Clearinghouse) transfer.

    The TROY Group had boasted in a press release that eCheck Secure "utilizes a multi-level server system with the latest in encryption technology to ensure the integrity of the data transmitted over the Internet."

    St. Louis-based Scottrade handles over 1.3 million accounts for its brokerage service, and claimed $223 million in revenue for 2003, though it still pales alongside rival online brokerages Ameritrade and E*Trade. The company has been in business with the TROY Group since 2000.

    Scottrade notified affected customers via mail on Nov. 11th of the incident, which apparently occurred in late October. The letter stated that "[S]ome of your personal information, including your name, driver's license or state ID number, date of birth, phone number, bank name, bank code, bank number, bank routing number, bank account number and Scottrade account number may have been compromised. If you used your Social Security number as your driver's license or state ID number, your Social Security number may have been compromised as well."

    Many Scottrade customers did not get the letter for several days or a week, leading to complaints that the company took too long to report the incident. Said one disgruntled customer, "It's inexcusable that it took them one month to notify us of this breach."

    The Scottrade breach is the latest in a year full of expensive, dangerous, and embarrassing data losses for major companies, including Bank of America, ChoicePoint, Lexis Nexis, and DSW. Irate consumers have been pushing lawmakers to enact stronger safety standards for data brokers, and require immediate notification of affected customers in case of theft.

    Many Scottrade customers did not get the letter for several days or a week, leading to complaints that the company took too long to report the incident....
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Retailers' Return Policies Getting Tougher

      When determining a store's return policy, it's always best to ask for it in writing

      You want your gifts to be perfect, but not all of them are. Sometimes they're the wrong size or color, and the recipient will want to return the item for something else. As you shop you might do well to consider a store's return policy before making a purchase.

      When determining a store's return policy, it's always best to ask for it in writing. Don't just take the word of an employee. Consider the experience of Julie, from Renton, Washington, who recently purchased a jacket at Burlington Coat Factory.

      "When checking out, I asked the clerk about their return policy, she told me 14 days with the receipt and tags and/or package it came in. When I got home, I realized it was the same jacket I bought at season end last year, just a different color," she told

      After Julie drove back to the store to return the jacket, the customer service office took the jacket back and handed her a gift card in the amount of the original purchase but would not give her a cash refund.

      "I was told the 'return' policy is 14 days with receipt and the tags and/or packaging the item came in. I asked where that policy was posted, she pointed to the ceiling. There was every kind of policy except a 'return' policy."

      Returns can be slightly more complicated when you purchase items online. The transaction must be resolved by telephone and email, and when a third party is involved, it can get even more complicated.

      "I paid $914 for patio chairs for my restaurant from I paid for them using PalPal," said Phillip, of Portland, Oregon.

      "A week later informed me that they were not in stock. I asked for a refund but they claimed they only issue store credits. I have since found another product and have no use for a store credit for a product they do not have."

      Stores find it to be a costly annoyance when consumers return merchandise. Some retailers have begun using a computer database operated by The Return Exchange of Irvine, California, to track customer returns.

      Stores swipe the shopper's driver's license each time a return is being made, and if the store-set return limit is exceeded, the customer's tendered return is denied. Most stores' posted policies do not warn shoppers of a cap on frequent returns.

      The Return Exchange boasts that its "Verify-1" system offers retailers "a measurable reduction in your return rate without disruption of your business, delays for customers, or added burdens on IT operations."

      The company says it does not share details of a consumer's return history with multiple retailers. Instead, it says that information is based only on previous transactions with each retailers. In other words, Target would learn only of other returns to Target.

      According to the company's Web Site, information provided to retailers includes:

      • Characteristics of your current return, such as the time since you purchased the item, the number of items, the total dollar amount, and the time since your last return.

      • Characteristics in your return history, such as the number and kind of returns you have made, if you have provided receipts or not, the duration between your returns, the dollar amounts of your returns, and the number of stores in which you have made returns.

      • The performance of consumers who have return characteristics similar to yours.

      The company's Website offers an email address consumers can write to for a copy of their return record: Consumers who do not receive a satisfactory response should file a consumer complaint with, the Federal Trade Commission and their state attorney general.

      Some large retailers presumably maintain their own, proprietary databases of similar information.

      Besides using return records, stores are using increasingly strict but conventional means to curb returns. Items such as computers, digital cameras, and opened goods may be subject to limited return rights, restocking fees, shortened return periods, or no refunds at all. When purchasing these items, it is always wise to check the stores written policy.

      Tips for Hassle-Free Returns

      To improve your chances of getting a full refund, provide a sales slip or gift receipt, and return the item in new condition, unopened, and with all original packaging material. Returns without a receipt are subject to the retailer's posted return policy, which might result in receiving only a merchandise credit for the lowest price the item has sold for in recent weeks, or possibly no refund or exchange at all.

      If the item to be returned is defective, some states, such as Massachusetts, require the store to give the consumer his or her choice of one of the three "R's": repair, replacement or refund, irrespective of the store's posted return policy.

      Consumers who have a problem returning a gift, should first contact the store manager or customer service department of the retailer.

      Some credit cards also offer a "return guarantee" benefit whereby the card issuer will refund your money if a store will not within 90 days of purchase. If a satisfactory resolution is not obtained, then a complaint can be filed with the state Attorney General's office or local consumer agency.

      To improve your chances of getting a full refund, provide a sales slip or gift receipt, and return the item in new condition, unopened, and with all origin...
      Read lessRead more

      Connecticut Probes Wal-Mart Pricing

      Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says he will investigate Wal-Mart's pricing practices in the wake of studies showing significant discrepancies between the chain's posted and checkout prices.

      Studies by the University of Illinois' Chicago Center for Urban Economic Development and the University of California-Berkley revealed that items purchased at Wal-Marts in Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and California scanned the wrong price as often as 8.3 percent of the time. That far exceeds the federal standard, a 2 percent error rate.

      Errors recorded in the studies were both greater and less than the posted prices, so they sometimes benefited the consumer, other times the company.

      Consumers have also complained to about pricing issues. Janice of Ellington, Mo., said the Poplar Bluff, Mo., Wal-Mart frequently has incorrect prices on its items.

      "Checkers and managers get very nasty when you correct them. Why don't they fix the problem and correct the price?" she asked. "You can go back a week later and it most times is not taken care of so why get ugly with the customer?"

      "I see this at Walmart all the time on all different types of products," said Maggi of Bloomington, Indiana. "How can they get away with that?"

      Blumenthal will determine whether similar discrepancies exist at Wal-Mart stores in Connecticut.

      "This data shows serious discrepancies between the prices posted and the amounts actually charged -- meriting prompt investigation -- because Wal-Mart has a legal obligation to be always accurate, not always low," Blumenthal said.

      "Nothing is more fundamental to fair pricing than keeping promises about prices. Consumers should be spared a sweepstakes system when they come to the cash register. They deserve reliable, rock-solid price guarantees. The price they are given should be the price they are charged, he added.

      "Consumers should take nothing for granted while shopping at Wal-Mart this holiday season. Check the register price with the shelve price and report any discrepancies to my office. Shoppers can be our eyes and ears, as we begin this investigation, according . to Blumenthal. "I will take appropriate action to protect consumers and assure the integrity of Wal-Mart's prices if my investigation uncovers unacceptable price inaccuracies in Connecticut."

      The studies found that almost 85 percent of Wal-Mart stores surveyed in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan failed to meet the federally standard of a 2 percent error rate. In California, 87 percent of Wal-Marts surveyed exceeded the standard. The error rate was also highest in California -- 8.3 percent -- compared with 6.4 percent in the other three states.

      Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says he will investigate Wal-Mart's pricing practices in the wake of studies showing significant discrepanc...
      Read lessRead more

      Restaurants Still Pouring on the Trans Fats

      Supermarkets, Food Processors Cleaning Up Their Act

      While many of America's biggest food manufacturers and supermarket chains are busily replacing trans fats with more healthful substitutes, the biggest restaurant chains are still frying French fries, chicken nuggets, and other fast foods in trans-fat-laden, heart-attack-inducing partially hydrogenated oils, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

      Trans-fat labeling on packaged foods becomes mandatory on January 1, 2006. That approaching deadline has been a powerful incentive for supermarkets and food manufacturers to switch to healthier oils, but CSPI found that the lack of any nutrition labeling or disclosure requirements for restaurant chains has caused them to lag far behind.

      While several major restaurant chains, including Yum! Brands, corporate parent of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, told CSPI they are testing healthier oils, only a few chains have already taken action. They include:

      Au Bon Pain, a 220-location caf chain based in Boston, has eliminated trans fat from all of its cookies, bagels, and muffins, and is now using a non-hydrogenated margarine;

      Jason's Deli, a 137-outlet sandwich and salad chain, has stopped using partially hydrogenated oils in all of its products;

      Panera Bread, a 773-outlet caf chain that was formerly part of Au Bon Pain, is in the process of replacing all partially hydrogenated oils and plans to be trans-free by year's end;

      California Pizza Kitchen has removed trans fat from deep-fried foods and is working on eliminating it from all other foods.

      Last year, Ruby Tuesday, with some 700 table-service restaurants around the country, began deep-frying in heart-healthy canola oil, though its suppliers still par-fry some items in partially hydrogenated oil.

      Chik-fil-A fries in peanut oil in its outlets, though its suppliers also par-fry French fries in partially hydrogenated oil.

      Among companies that responded to CSPI, Starbucks, ice-cream chain Friendly, and fried-chicken chain Popeyes indicated they had no plans to remove or reduce trans fat in their foods.

      In 2002, McDonald's famously promised to reduce and ultimately eliminate the trans fat in its cooking oil, but in 2003 it quietly retreated from its pledge. McDonald's settled a lawsuit against it on the matter by giving $7 million to the American Heart Association and by promising to spend more money informing its customers about the "delay."

      Although McDonald's has reformulated Chicken McNuggets and a few other products to have a little less trans fat, its fried foods are still very high in trans fats overall.

      A meal including a 5-piece Chicken Selects and a medium order of French fries has about 9.5 grams of trans fat -- five days' worth of trans fat if one were following the recommendations of the government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

      McDonald's outlets in Australia, Denmark, and Israel all fry in trans-free oil.

      Meals at other restaurants also are loaded with trans fat. KFC's Chicken Pot Pie contains 14 grams of trans, and Taco Bell's Nachos BellGrande has seven grams.

      "Selling food cooked in or with partially hydrogenated oils is like selling a car without seat belts," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "Partially hydrogenated oil causes thousands of avoidable premature deaths, and the restaurant industry's reluctance to change is absolutely reckless."

      Processed food manufacturers have made much more progress than restaurant chains. According to CSPI's survey, seven of the 10 top-selling cracker brands have been reformulated to contain zero grams of trans fat per serving. (CSPI warns, however, that the FDA lets companies treat amounts of trans under half a gram per serving as zero. Someone eating several servings of foods that contain just less than half a gram of trans could easily reach their daily limit without knowing it.)

      Food manufacturers making headway on trans fat include:

      Kraft has eliminated most or all trans fat from Triscuts, Wheat Thins, Chips Ahoy, Mallomars, Reduced Fat Oreos, Boca products, Honey Maid low fat Cinnamon Grahams, SnackWell's Cracked Pepper crackers, and other products;

      Gorton's has replaced partially hydrogenated oils with healthier oils in its entire line of fish sticks and fillets;

      George Weston Bakeries plans to eliminate trans fat in all Entenmann's and Freihofer cake and danish products;

      McCain now uses canola oil for all of its grocery and retail frozen potatoes and one line of its food-service French fries.

      Supermarket chains are also making progress, according to CSPI.

      Whole Foods has never sold foods with partially hydrogenated oil, and nine of 11 chains that responded to CSPI's queries say they have already made changes or plan to do so for their store-brand products.

      Wegman's has been making gradual changes for years; the Raley's and Giant chains have asked suppliers to make changes and have switched to trans-free McCain for store-brand frozen French-fries.

      "Including trans fat on food labels has had a much greater positive effect that most people imagined," said Jacobson. "Nevertheless, the federal government should do what several Denmark has done, and actually require companies, including restaurants, to send partially hydrogenated oils down the garbage disposal of history."

      Denmark limits trans fat to 2 percent of the fat or oil content of foods.

      Although small amounts of trans fat occur in meat and dairy foods, 80 percent of trans fat in the diet comes from partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fat is the most harmful of fats in the food supply, since it both raises LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, and lowers HDL, or "good" cholesterol. Dr. Walter C. Willett, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, and his colleagues estimate that trans fat in food causes at least 30,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year.

      Although CSPI has been aggressively urging food companies to eliminate partially hydrogenated oils, the group does not want companies to switch to palm oil.

      That oil is generally produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, where oil palm plantations have replaced rainforest teeming with orangutans, tigers, and other endangered species. Moreover, it promotes heart disease, though not to the same extent as the typical partially hydrogenated oil.

      CSPI's survey included 38 major food manufacturers, 100 restaurant chains, and 25 supermarket chains.

      Restaurants Still Pouring on the Trans Fats...
      Read lessRead more

      Is Black Friday Going Green?

      "Black Friday" is the nation's number-one shopping day, with an estimated $8 billion spent on shopping in 2004. The day after Thanksgiving was coined "Black Friday" as the day businesses started to show profits on their books, i.e. "going into the black."

      Many major retailers are now referring to the day as "Green Friday," in order to avoid the negative connotations of using the word "black."

      Another source calling the day "Green Friday" is Mitch Goldstone. The online photo shop owner and credit card reform activist has been promoting "Green Friday" as a "day without credit cards."

      Goldstone has been urging shoppers and activists to use cash to pay for gifts on Nov. 26th, in order to draw attention to the high merchant fees banks and card issuers charge stores when consumers buy goods with credit and debit cards.

      "We've been drawing a lot of attention," Goldstone said. "It's being observed by a lot of big companies."

      Goldstone is part of a class action lawsuit against Visa, MasterCard, and major banks over the issue of interchange fees.

      The nonprofit group Americans for Consumer Education and Competition (ACEC) has come out against Goldstone's crusade, saying that consumers prefer the convenience of using debit cards over cash.

      "We are in a technological age where consumers want to streamline the process of purchasing, better track their own expenses, and maintain a certain amount of security -- which becomes challenging when they carry a wad of cash as opposed to one plastic debitcard," ACEC's national chairperson, Susan Molinari, said.

      It's just not practical and it's not what consumers or retailers want."

      Molinari cited as evidence another poll conducted by the NRF in 2004, which cited debit cards overtaking cash -- and credit cards -- as the chief purchasing tool for holiday shopping.

      Many major retailers are now referring to the day as "Green Friday," in order to avoid the negative connotations of using the word "black." ...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumer Group Sues Sony BMG

      EFF Says Company Should Repair Damage to Customers Caused by CD Software

      November 22, 2005
      The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a lawsuit against Sony BMG, demanding that the company repair the damage done by the First4Internet XCP and SunnComm MediaMax software it included on over 24 million music CDs.

      The state of Texas and several private class-action attorneys have also filed suit against the company.

      EFF said it was "pleased that Sony BMG has taken steps in acknowledging the security risks caused by the XCP CDs, including a recall of the infected discs" but said the measures "fall short of what the company needs to do to fix the problems caused to customers."

      EFF also charged that Sony had "failed entirely to respond to concerns about MediaMax, which affects over 20 million CDs -- ten times the number of CDs as the XCP software."

      "Sony BMG is to be commended for its acknowledgment of the serious security problems caused by its XCP software, but it needs to go further to regain the public's trust," said Corynne McSherry, EFF Staff Attorney. "It is unconscionable for Sony BMG to refuse to respond to the privacy and other problems created by the over 20 million CDs containing the SunnComm software."

      The suit, to be filed in Los Angeles County Superior court, alleges that the XCP and SunnComm technologies have been installed on the computers of millions of unsuspecting music customers when they used their CDs on machines running the Windows operating system.

      Researchers have shown that the XCP technology was designed to have many of the qualities of a "rootkit."

      It was written, EFF says, with the intent of concealing its presence and operation from the owner of the computer, and once installed, it degrades the performance of the machine, opens new security vulnerabilities, and installs updates through an Internet connection to Sony BMG's servers. The nature of a rootkit makes it extremely difficult to remove, often leaving reformatting the computer's hard drive as the only solution.

      When Sony BMG offered a program to uninstall the dangerous XCP software, researchers found that the installer itself opened even more security vulnerabilities in users' machines.

      EFF said Sony BMG has refused to use its marketing prowess to widely publicize its recall program to reach the over 2 million XCP-infected customers, has failed to compensate users whose computers were affected and has not eliminated the outrageous terms found in its End User Licensing Agreement (EULA).

      The MediaMax software installed on over 20 million CDs has different, but similarly troubling problems, said EFF. It installs files on the users' computers even if they click "no" on the EULA, and it does not include a way to fully uninstall the program.

      The software transmits data about users to SunnComm through an Internet connection whenever purchasers listen to CDs, allowing the company to track listening habits -- even though the EULA states that the software will not be used to collect personal information and SunnComm's website says "no information is ever collected about you or your computer."

      If users repeatedly requested an uninstaller for the MediaMax software, they were eventually provided one, but they first had to provide more personally identifying information. Worse, security researchers recently determined that SunnComm's uninstaller creates significant security risks for users, as the XCP uninstaller did.

      "Music fans shouldn't have to install potentially dangerous, privacy intrusive software on their computers just to listen to the music they've legitimately purchased," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Regular CDs have a proven track record -- no one has been exposed to viruses or spyware by playing a regular audio CD on a computer. Why should legitimate customers be guinea pigs for Sony BMG's experiments?"

      "Consumers have a right to listen to the music they have purchased in private, without record companies spying on their listening habits with surreptitiously-installed programs," added EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl, "Between the privacy invasions and computer security issues inherent in these technologies, companies should consider whether the damage done to consumer trust and their own public image is worth its scant protection."

      Both the XCP and MediaMax CDs include outrageous, anti-consumer terms in their "clickwrap" EULAs, according to EFF.

      For example, if purchasers declare personal bankruptcy, the EULA requires them to delete any digital copies on their computers or portable music players.

      The same is true if a customer's house gets burglarized and his CDs stolen, since the EULA allows purchasers to keep copies only so long as they retain physical possession of the original CD.

      EFF is demanding that Sony BMG remove these unconscionable terms from its EULAs.

      Consumer Group Sues Sony BMG...
      Read lessRead more

      Study: Most Women Don't Need Hormones for Menopause Symptoms

      Risks outweigh the benefits of most hormone treatments

      While medicines containing the female hormones estrogen and progestin are highly effective at reducing the symptoms of menopause, risks associated with taking them outweigh the benefits for most women, according to a new report from Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs.

      It's the latest in a series of reports that compares commonly used prescription drugs on effectiveness, safety and price. All reports are available free at

      Studies evaluated for the Best Buy Drugs report show that between 70 percent and 90 percent of women who have hot flashes or night sweats experience an average 75 percent reduction in these symptoms within a few months of taking hormones medicines.

      The drugs also effectively reduce vaginal dryness and help with sleep disturbances.

      Hormone treatment, however, increases the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, blood clots, stroke, urinary incontinence and dementia. Although the increased risk is relatively small, it adds on to already-existing risk factors for tens of millions of women.

      For example, a woman who has high blood pressure and diabetes is already at elevated risk for heart attack and stroke. Taking hormones adds to that risk.

      Similarly, a woman who has high cholesterol and a family history of early heart disease and breast cancer would add to existing elevated risk if she took hormones.

      For that reason, the report recommends that the vast majority of women who have an elevated risk of heart disease, stroke, or cancer of the breast, ovaries, or uterus not take hormones. This represents 35 percent to 50 percent of all women aged 50 and older.

      In addition, studies show that while 70 percent of women entering menopause will have some symptoms, most will have mild symptoms that can be managed with lifestyle changes and adjustments. Only about 20 percent of women have severe symptoms that significantly disrupt their lives or reduce their quality of life.

      The reports states for such women, hormone treatment may be warranted. Treatment should be with as low a dose as possible for the shortest duration possible. The risk associated with such use appears to be quite low, but definitive studies on that are not yet complete.

      Hormones should not be used at all, the report says, to treat mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety, mental lapses, forgetfulness, cognitive difficulties, reduced libido, urinary incontinence, back pain, chronic pain, joint pain, stiffness, or fatigue. They dont help these conditions and could make them worse.

      The report also recommends caution in using herbs, supplements, and bioidentical hormone products as alternatives to estrogen and progestin for women who do require treatment. These products are widely touted but lack proof of effectiveness and safety.

      Taking effectiveness, safety, the choice for mode of delivery, and cost into account, the reports chooses the following as Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs for treating menopausal symptoms:
      • Generic estradiol pills
      • Gynodiol pills (estradiol)
      • Estratab or Menest pills (esterified estrogen)
      • Generic medroxyprogesterone pills (when a progestin alone is needed)
      • Generic estradiol patch
      • Alora patch (estradiol)
      • Vivelle or Vivelle Dot patch (estradiol)
      • Premarin Cream (conjugated equine estrogen)
      • Ogen Cream (estropipate)
      • FemRing (estradiol, vaginal ring)
      • Estring (estradiol, vaginal ring)

      Most of these products are used to treat all menopausal symptoms. The creams and FemRing are used primarily to treat vaginal dryness.

      All the Best Buys are as effective as other hormone drugs, but less expensive. In particular, the two estradiol pills could save consumers $300 to $450 a year out-of-pocket compared to brand name Premarin. Similarly, the generic estradiol patch could save women $200 to $400 a year over higher-priced products.

      Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs is a grant funded public information project administered by Consumers Union.

      Study: Most Women Don't Need Hormones for Menopause Symptoms...
      Read lessRead more

      Whistleblower Claims DuPont Failed to Act on Food Contamination Danger

      Former executive says the company knew for years about problems with its non-stick coatings

      A former DuPont Company employee charges the company knew for years about higher than expected food contamination from one of its non-stick coatings, but failed to act.

      Appearing at a news conference with the Environmental Working Group, Glenn Evers claimed DuPont covered up the risks from a chemical the group says is now found in the blood of most Americans.

      According to the group, Evers was a DuPont employee for 22 years, working as one of the company's top technical experts and the chairman of an invitation-only committee of its 40 best scientists and technical experts. He reportedly holds six patents, and his work has, to date, made the company an estimated $250 million in after-tax profits.

      He also worked in chemical engineering, involved with designing and developing new uses of grease-resistant, or perfluorinated, chemical-based coating for paper food packaging.

      Breakdown chemicals from these coatings and related sources are now in the blood of 95 percent of Americans, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent the last several years trying to determine how they get there, the group said in a release.

      DuPont has denied the claims of both the Environmental Working Group, and Evers. Evers was fired from the company in 2002.

      But Evers charges his former employer hid for decades that it was polluting Americans' blood with a hyper-persistent chemical associated with the grease-resistant coatings on paper food packaging. The environmental group released a set of documents it says are internal DuPont documents that back up Evers account.

      Evers said that in the mid-1960s, the company negotiated with the Food and Drug Administration for a weak standard for how much of the paper chemical coating, which is applied to give packaging grease or liquid resistance, could contaminate food. The FDA at the time normally required a two-year study for chemicals it wasn't familiar with, but agreed to base DuPont's approval on a 90-day test with a 1,000-fold safety factor added.

      Evers said that standard, which remains in effect today, was based on the premise that the chemical would leave the body quickly.

      But Evers said the company knew, at least by 1981, that another class of perfluorinated chemicals -- PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) -- accumulates in people. It is unclear whether or not the company ever provided the FDA this information, but Evers said the company continued to worry about this information throughout the 1990s.

      Documents released by the group purport to show that:

      • DuPont conducted a toxicological study in 1973 in which it was unable to find a safe level of exposure in lab animals, and that the chemicals were toxic to the kidneys, liver and blood.

      • A 1984 internal company memorandum raised the question of which of these crucial findings, if any, from the 1973 study were provided to the FDA.

      • In 1987, DuPont's Dr. Richard Goldbaum found that the company's marquee paper packaging coating chemical, Zonyl RP, could contaminate food at over three times the federal safety standard, while two effective alternatives contaminated food at half the federal maximum level.

      Evers said he realized with time that the company had not ordered a standard, internal process hazards review to find out why the chemical was above FDA approved levels. He said the company did not provide the information to customers, federal health officials or the public.

      EWG said it has sent the documents to the FDA's acting commissioner, as well as the inspector general of its parent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), requesting the officials act on the new information. The group is also referring documents to relevant EPA officials.

      "These documents indicate a failure to disclose critical public health information about a toxic chemical that never breaks down, that gets into our bodies and stays there," said EWG Senior Scientist Tim Kropp.

      "If we ever needed a reason to reform the nation's toxic chemical laws, every American now has one, courtesy of DuPont."

      Whistleblower Claims DuPont Failed to Act on Food Contamination Danger...
      Read lessRead more

      Prius Owners Question Mileage Claims

      A desire for fuel economy is the reason most consumers plunk down big bucks for a Toyota Prius or one of the other gas-electric hybrids that are consuming a fast-growing slice of the American auto market.

      But while most hybrid owners at least claim to be happy with their pricey acquisitions, some Prius buyers are troubled by nagging indications that Toyota's gas mileage claims for the hybrid may have a little fiction mixed in with all of the facts.

      Toyota, of course, insists that all of its mileage claims are based upon standardized Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests.

      But for Sandra C. of Bloomington, Indiana, the figures just don't add up. In fact, she says she was told the onboard computer in her car is programmed to provide high mileage numbers that may exceed the miles per gallon the car actually achieves.

      Sandra bought her new Prius in the spring of 2005. I've been watching my gas mileage and have consistently gotten around 34 miles per gallon, she wrote to That is far below the sticker information and hype.

      The Toyota Prius advertises on its sticker that the EPA has determined through testing that the car achieves an average of 60 mpg in city driving and 51 mpg on the highway.

      Sandra took her Prius into the dealer for a check-up and was initially told that she was getting 46 miles to a gallon, which is less than the amount claimed by Toyota for city driving but still a pretty enviable figure. The service technician turned on the gas mileage icon of the onboard computer for her to prove his point.

      The computer did say 46 miles per gallon, Sandra wrote. I asked them why it is that when I divide the miles from fill-up to fill-up by the gallons I put in, I get 34 or 33 miles a gallon?

      The service technician admonished Sandra that she probably had her math wrong. I said no and I wanted an answer, she said.

      Finally the service department manager told Sandra, Yes, you are right, you probably are getting 34 miles to a gallon.

      When Sandra asked why the computer spit out the higher inaccurate, number the service manager told her, That is a number Toyota has programmed into the car which accounts for wind resistance and other factors, she said.

      Voodoo Math

      Susan did not buy the service managers story which she says is nothing more than voodoo math.

      I said to him that is fuzzy math and dishonest. His reply was every car dealer does this, Sandra said.

      Needless to say, Sandra is disappointed and unhappy with Toyota.

      I've been screwed by Toyota. I don't actually blame my local dealership because this isn't their problem. Toyota has pulled this over on the public to sell their car. This must be happening to everyone else too.

      Sandras mileage problems with her new Prius continue.

      I filled it up after using half of my last tank of gas on the interstate and half in town. This time I got 47 mpg. So this looks like I am getting better mileage on highway than in city! That is the opposite of what Toyota advertises.

      Other Complaints

      Sandra is far from alone. Prius owners around the country are questioning the Toyota/EPA mileage claims. displays the site owner's Prius fuel consumption records dating back to 2002. The lifetime average as of Nov. 20, 2005 is 43.2 mpg, a bit worse than Sandra's experience.

      • On another site,, a person we'll assume is Randy Rathbun displays his log dating back to March 31, 2002. His lifetime average: 47.332 mpg.

      • On the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association Website, a consumer identified as RJF has posted his Prius log, starting July 14, 2005. His lifetime average to date: 49.221 mpg.

      This comes as no surprise to automotive experts. Data from Consumer Reports indicates that hybrid cars get less than 60 percent of EPA estimates while navigating city streets. In Consumer Reports' real-world driving test, the Civic Hybrid averaged 26 mpg in the city, while the Toyota Prius averaged 35 mpg, much less than their respective EPA estimates of 47 and 60 mpg. Hybrid cars performed much closer to EPA estimates in Consumer Reports'

      highway tests.

      Consumer Reports' senior auto test engineer Gabriel Shenhar says that while the EPA test is a lab simulation, Consumer Reports puts the cars on the streets and measures the fuel consumed to more accurately reflect gas mileage.

      Denials All Around

      But back to the other half of Sandra's complaint. Does the Prius onboard Computer fudge the mileage numbers?

      Asked if the Prius onboard computer is programmed to take anything into account when calculating mileage other than distance traveled and gallons consumed, a spokesman for Toyota said, I have never head of anything like that.

      Toyota environmental engineer Dave Hermance says the EPA city test for the Prius includes 19 stops of at least a few seconds, which take up a "non-trivial" amount of the test and could cause hybrid cars to rate even higher than conventional cars because of their reliance on electric motors, which provide the biggest mileage boost in stop-and-go driving.

      Hermance says customers who drive less than seven miles per trip will get fewer miles per gallon, as will drivers who speed. There's a huge range of customer behavior and limited resources to collect data, so there's no perfect test, according to Hermance.

      As it turns out, drivers of all kinds of vehicles dont often achieve the mileage EPA finds in its tests. Most drivers get between 75 to 87 percent of the EPA rated estimates with variations based on driving habits and traffic.

      A generally accepted rule of thumb is that if a new car gets less than 75 percent of its EPA rating, then there is something amiss. Sandras Prius is just at the limit of the 75 percent rule.

      If this is true, then the EPA needs to change the way they do business for hybrids and Toyota knows the figures are incorrect and are creating false advertising, Sandra said.

      Indeed, Sandra is not alone in her assertions. Some independent test data suggests hybrid cars routinely get less than 60 percent of EPA estimates while navigating city streets.

      The Prius has averaged only 35 mpg in some city driving tests, inidcating that there may be nothing out of the ordinary with Sandras Prius, suggesting instead that the EPA numbers and Toyota mileage claims based on them are in error.

      About That Computer

      While the test data can explain the actual mileage Sandra was able to obtain, the Toyota information does nothing to explain why the onboard computer in her Prius provided inaccurate information at her dealership.

      Toyota spokesman Sam Butto flatly denies that his company programs any fuzzy math into the Prius onboard computer.

      I can tell you that Toyota does nothing to have a preset fuel economy figure and does not take into any account the wind. The meter simply calculates the fuel level and the distance driven, Butto told

      He once again pointed a finger at the car owner stating that it would be extremely difficult to have fuel economy figures that low on a Prius."

      "I'm not saying it is impossible. Extremely aggressive driving habits can definitely contribute to lower fuel economy but 34 mpg would be really tough to achieve on Prius," he said.

      Butto had another scenario for the low gasoline mileage. What we think may have occurred, is the customer could have possibly reset the fuel monitor before refilling.

      Prius Owners Question Mileage Claims...
      Read lessRead more

      Beta Blockers and Women

      Beta blockers help women with heart failure, a study finds

      Beta blockers help women with heart failure, according to an article published in the journal Circulation.

      If you have heart failure, your heart doesnt contract hard enough to pump blood to your body. Beta blockers help by calming the heart down and lowering blood pressure so the heart does not have to work so hard.

      Studies show beta blockers work in men but we didn't have many studies about them in women until now.

      Doctors studied a group of 900 women and 300 men with heart failure. Some of the patients received a beta blocker called Metoprolor, brand named Lopressor.

      The beta blocker reduced the death rate in women by 21 percent and in men a bit more.

      When researchers combined the result with the results of two other studies on two other beta blockers, Corguard and Zebeta, the results were about the same in both men and women.

      While Lopressors maker paid for this study and it did not include a lot of minority women, both men and women with heart failure should ask their doctors about beta blockers.

      Beta Blockers and Women | Dr. Henry Fishman on Health and Medicine...
      Read lessRead more

      Air Pollution and Asthma

      Air pollution may cause asthma, not just trigger it, according to an article published in the journal Lancet.

      Researchers followed 3,500 9 year of children in 12 Southern California towns for five years. Half of the towns had clean air and half had polluted air. All of the children led active lives participating in sports like baseball, basketball and soccer.

      During the study, 265 of the children developed asthma, the vast majority of them from the polluted towns.

      These results support the idea that pollution may cause asthma, not just trigger it. That is a big change in our thinking about this epidemic disease.

      Asthma affects about 20 million Americans. Nearly half are kids and the number is growing. The disease costs billions of dollars in lost time from work and school as well as medical costs.

      Rules and regulations have cut pollution in lots of cities, but there may still be enough dirty air to cause asthma.

      Air Pollution and Asthma | Dr. Henry Fishman on Health and Medicine...
      Read lessRead more

      Hospital Sloppiness Costing Taxpayers Billions

      Taxpayers are being forced to pick up the bill for infections patients pick up while in the hospital

      A health policy group charges taxpayers are being forced to pick up the bill for infections patients pick up while in the hospital. The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council says the federal Medicare program and Pennsylvania's Medicaid program were billed for 76 percent of the 11,668 hospital-acquired infections reported by Pennsylvania hospitals in 2004.

      According to the report, Medicare and Medicaid were billed for 7,870 and 1,028 hospital-acquired infections, respectively. As a result, taxpayers footed the bill for $1 billion in additional hospital charges for Medicare patients and $372 million in additional hospital charges for Medicaid patients.

      "The financial toll of potentially preventable hospital- acquired infections is staggering," said Marc P. Volavka, executive director of PHC4. "Our health care system is hemorrhaging money."

      The average charges for Medicare patients with a hospital- acquired infection were about $160,000, compared to $32,000 for Medicare patients who did not contract an infection. For Medicaid patients, the average charges were approximately $391,000 for patients who contracted an infection while hospitalized, compared to an average of $29,700 where an infection did not occur.

      PHC4 says private-sector commercial insurers, where the health care bills are paid primarily by businesses and labor unions that provide health insurance, were billed for almost 23 percent -- or 2,633 -- of the reported hospital-acquired infections, which added $604 million in extra hospital charges.

      The average charge for a hospital admission in which a commercially insured patient contracted a hospital-acquired infection was almost $258,000, compared to $28,000 for admissions where an infection did not occur. The average charges for a stay in which uninsured patients contracted an infection reached almost $230,000, compared to $21,000 for uninsured patients without an infection.

      "Assuming that Pennsylvania hospitals are no better or worse than those anywhere else in the country, we can estimate that at least $20 billion was charged to Medicare to pay for hospital- acquired infections in this country during 2004," said Volavka.

      "Given that hospitals underreported the 2004 data, this number is undoubtedly low."

      Hospital Sloppiness Costing Taxpayers Billions...
      Read lessRead more

      Car Title Loans the Latest Predatory Lending Tactic

      Cash-strapped consumers are being pushed into expensive, high-risk loans, using their automobiles as collateral

      Cash-strapped consumers are being pushed into expensive, high-risk loans, using their automobiles as collateral, according to a new report by the Consumer Federation of America. CFA says car title lenders charge consumers 300 percent annual interest for small cash loans secured by the title to cars owned free and clear.

      Loans are for a fraction of the cars value, but failure to pay in full at the end of the month can lead to late-night repossessions by lenders holding a duplicate set of keys.

      Title loans trap borrowers in perpetual debt through unaffordable balloon payments, high interest costs, and the threat of repossession, said Jean Ann Fox, director of consumer protection for Consumer Federation of America.

      Title loans for up to half the value of the consumers car cost ten times more than it would to get an auto loan to finance the purchase of the same car.

      CFA said a survey of title lenders in eleven states and online found almost half of the states permit predatory title lending, either through weak authorizing laws or failure to close consumer loan loopholes.

      In California and South Carolina, lenders only make loans that are large enough not to trigger rate caps. In Virginia, Iowa and Kansas, lenders claim their loans are open-ended to get around state limits for small loans.

      The industry is reportedly pushing for state laws to legalize title loans without rate caps or adequate protections.

      CFAs study, Driven into Debt: CFA Car Title Loan Store and Online Survey, documents that lax state laws result in the most abusive loans. Tennessee and Mississippi permit loans up to $2,500 to be due in thirty days. Georgia permits title lenders to keep all the proceeds earned from selling a repossessed car. Online lenders are entering the title loan market, claiming to use the lax regulatory environment in New Mexico or Delaware to market loans nationwide.

      Title loans are extremely expensive. Title loan stores charge a median 25% per month finance charge which translates to 300% annual interest, plus additional fees average $25 per loan.

      CFA urges states to close loopholes being exploited by title lenders and to reject industry-backed model legislation to legitimize predatory title loans, Fox said. States that fail to protect their consumers from one-sided title loans should repeal or reform their laws, as Kentucky and Florida recently did.

      Car Title Loans the Latest Predatory Lending Tactic...
      Read lessRead more

      Lawsuit Challenges New Bankruptcy Law

      Suit claims the law unnecessarily restricts the ability of bankruptcy attorneys to interact with their clients

      A Minnesota law firm has filed a legal challenge to the new bankruptcy law, claiming that it unnecessarily restricts the ability of bankruptcy attorneys to interact with their clients, and violates both the First and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution.

      Robert Milavetz and Barbara Nevin, of the Milavetz, Gallop, and Milavetz firm, issued a complaint for a declaratory judgment against the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on Nov. 14th.

      The complaint alleges that the BAPCPA's rules regarding "debt relief agencies" are so vaguely worded that attorneys are also included under the rules, which may limit their ability to advise their clients on how to proceed with bankruptcy petitions.

      In their argument, Milavetz and Nevin contend that the BAPCPA specifically prohibits any sort of "debt relief agency" advising their client to incur more debt while "contemplating" bankruptcy, or to "pay an attorney or bankruptcy petitioner fee or charge for services" in the course of their duty.

      Following this logic, they argue, they cannot ask their own clients to pay them, nor can they advise them to make any kind of payment for services that might cause a debt.

      Milavetz and Nevin say this "chills attorneys' federally protected rights and ethical obligations to properly advise and counsel their clients." This would deprive the lawyers of their First Amendment right to free speech, and their clients of their Fifth Amendment right to prevent their loss of property without due process.

      Nathalie Martin, resident scholar at the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI), says the complaint is the result of "overly broad language" used by the bankruptcy law's authors.

      "There were many debtors' lawyers and consumer bankruptcy attorneys who didn't know what they were doing," she said. "In attempting to eliminate bad practices, [the Senate] drafted this so broadly that it hurts the good guys as well."

      One bankruptcy court judge has already held that attorneys should not be considered "debt relief agencies." Judge Lamar Davis of the Georgia U.S. District Court believed "[I]f Congress meant to ensnare attorneys in the thicket of [the new bankruptcy regulations], it would have used the term 'attorney' and not 'debt relief agency.'" Milavetz and Nevin referred to Davis' decision in their complaint.

      The new bankruptcy law has come under heavy fire for being too punitive and restrictive towards consumers, particularly in terms of the heavy paperwork and filing requirements it involves. Martin says that clients filing for bankruptcy themselves, or relying on petition preparers to do it for them, are taking a huge risk.

      Some parts of the new law have already been waived due to potential problems. The Justice Department temporarily waived bankruptcy filing requirements for victims of Hurricane Katrina, as they would have been unable to file properly due to the loss of personal documents and records from the storm.

      Members of Congress in both houses had introduced bills designed to ease many of the filing rules for victims of Katrina, but House Judiciary Committee chairman F. James Sensenbrenner refused to hold a hearing on the matter.

      Lawsuit Challenges New Bankruptcy Law...
      Read lessRead more

      Nordstrom, Wal-Mart Top Customer Service Rankings

      Wal-Mart Ranks First Among Discounters

      Though the retail industry will be flooded with promotions and discounts this Christmas shopping season, customer service will also play an important role for shoppers when deciding where to buy gifts, according to a new survey by the NRF Foundation, an arm of the National Retail Federation and the American Express Company.

      According to the survey, conducted by BIGresearch, the importance that shoppers place on customer service should not go unnoticed by retailers, as 85 percent of consumers said that they spend and shop more at retailers who provide good service. Another 82 percent are likely to recommend these retailers to friends and family.

      Retailers know that consumers spend more time and money in a store when they have a pleasant shopping experience, said John Theiss, Vice President, Retail Industries, American Express Establishment Services. Through excellent service, retailers have an opportunity to retain and build on their customer base.

      A nationwide poll yielding more than 8,600 consumer responses put Nordstrom at the top of the customer service list of retailers, followed by Coldwater Creek, Marshall Fields, Kohls, and Boscovs.

      Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), JC Penney, Lane Bryant, Best Buy and Eddie Bauer round out the top 10.

      The survey also ranked the top direct merchants, whose customer service front-runners included: L.L. Bean, Blair,,, and

      Consumers Have Highest Expectation at Restaurants

      According to the survey, consumers expect the highest level of service from restaurants, which had a 4.39 rating out of 5.0. Consumers also have high service expectations from specialty stores (4.32), department stores (3.94), and drug stores (3.92).

      Shoppers have average expectations from grocery stores (3.77) and Internet retailers (3.71), and have the lowest expectations of service at membership warehouse clubs (3.58) and discount stores (3.21).

      As the retail environment becomes more competitive, customer service is taking a front seat in helping retailers maximize sales, said NRF Foundation President Tracy Mullin. Retailers are investing heavily in employee training to ensure that the people who represent their companies during the holiday season are as knowledgeable and professional as possible.

      Wal-Mart Ranks First Among Discounters

      When looking at the top stores for customer service by segment, a variety of retailers emerge as front-runners in their sector.

      For discount chains, Wal-Mart holds the number-one spot for customer service, while Nordstrom is at the top of the list for department stores.

      Womens apparel retailer Coldwater Creek ranked first in the specialty apparel category and outdoor gear company REI took the top spot among non-apparel specialty stores.

      Additionally, family-owned Wegmans Food Markets ranked first in the grocery category.

      Nordstrom Picked as Best Retailer for Customer Service...
      Read lessRead more

      Prius Runs Amok After Stalling, Hits Tow Truck

      A Toyota Prius suddenly stalled, then unaccountably took off and smashed into the tow truck that had come to remove it

      A Toyota Prius suddenly stalled, then unaccountably took off and smashed into the tow truck that had come to remove it. Toyota has warned Prius owners of a software glitch that can cause the hybrid cars to suddenly stall or shut down and federal safety regulators are looking into the problem.

      The warning from Toyota did not carry a sense of urgency. The sudden stall, however, can be extremely dangerous and frightening when it occurs, as a reader discovered.

      Venu I. was driving along the Dumbarton Highway near Fremont, California, when his 2004 Prius suddenly shut down.

      The Dumbarton at that point, Venu explains, is a bridge. Luckily I was in the slow lane, he writes. My car froze all of a sudden with four or five warning lights coming on. I couldn't turn the car off and could not drive it either.

      Venu says that if he had been driving in one of the other fast lanes he might have been the cause of a serious accident or worse.

      I would be dead by this time. The situation was real panicky. None of the controls worked. I left the car with emergency lights on.

      Toyota explained in its warning to owners that the stalling problem may cause several of the warning lights in the vehicles to come on, prompting the Prius to enter a fail-safe mode that will cause the gasoline engine to stall.

      Toyota also reassured drivers that the electric motor in the vehicles would have sufficient power to allow the driver to pull the vehicle over and away from traffic.

      But Venu was unable to drive his Prius to safety.

      Again I would like to reiterate that I left the car as is with all the warning indicators on as I couldn't do anything with them as all the controls froze. My car was towed to a nearby safe place.

      Then something very strange happened which was not covered in the Toyota warning to Prius owners. The moment my car was detached from the tow truck, I saw the car moving forward and it hit the truck. My car was damaged on the front fender.

      Venu is about to give up on his hybrid. I am now very scared and have totally lost confidence in this car.

      The vehicles involved in the Toyota service notice to owners are from the 2004 and 2005 model years. Toyota sold 53,991 of the Prius in 2004 and more than 100,000 so far this year.

      The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) is compiling complaints about the 2004 and some 2005 Toyota Priuses that have shut down while driving. Several owners have told NHTSA that the car completely loses power at highway speeds.

      Prius Runs Amok After Stalling, Hits Tow Truck...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumer Data Stolen from Trans Union

      By Martin H. Bosworth

      November 14, 2005
      A desktop computer containing data on thousands of consumers, including names, addresses, and Social Security numbers, was stolen from a local office of the Trans Union credit bureau.

      The theft took place in October 2005 from a regional sales office in California, according to Colleen Tunney, Trans Union's vice-president for corporate affairs. The bureau sent notices to 3,623 consumers on Oct. 21st warning them of the theft and promising them free credit monitoring for a year.

      Tunney told the Washington Post that Trans Union was investigating why the data was on an individual laptop computer rather than a secured network.

      Trans Union said it is investigating whether the thieves were after the data or the machine. According to Evan Hendricks, editor and publisher of Privacy Times, "the key issue was why that information was on the laptop in the first place."

      Credit bureaus have been criticized for hoarding millions of records on individuals and not protecting them or maintaining their accuracy. Sloppy record-keeping by credit bureau employees can often leave individual consumers vulnerable to fraud and identity theft.

      Although the three major credit reporting agencies have agreed to a unified "data protection standard" for sharing data with lenders, slipshod physical protection of records can lead to data loss and potential identity theft.

      In a recent example, Blockbuster came under fire when a former employee of a store in Manhattan left thousands of membership records in trash bags on the sidewalk.

      And there is the case of the Topeka Credit Bureau, when local businessman Augie Bogina found an office full of abandoned consumer records left behind when the bureau shut down. The Experian credit bureau, a former partner of the Topeka agency, had to personally send representatives to oversee the data's destruction.

      "This is what happens when information leaves your control," Evan Hendricks said. "There's a lot of uncertainty about who has access to your data."

      "This is what happens when information leaves your control," Evan Hendricks said. "There's a lot of uncertainty about who has access to your data."...
      Read lessRead more

      Eating Out Often May Add to Kids' Cardiovascular Risk

      Children who frequently eat out score worse on measures of cardiovascular disease risk than those who eat more meals at home, researchers reported at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2005.

      "As a culture, we say we value physical activity and healthy eating, but in reality we're all about convenience and convenience foods because we have such busy schedules," said study author Karen Olson, R.N., executive director of the Cardiovascular Research and Education Foundation in Wausau, Wis.

      "We are seeing younger and younger patients with more aggressive cardiovascular disease, and we realized we needed to take a closer look at our young people to see when risk factors emerge and why," she said. "We're concerned because we know that children who have cardiovascular risks grow up to be adults who have these risks."

      The project initially included 759 participants, but only 621 completed the diet and exercise surveys. Researchers examined these remaining participants to find out the relationship between the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors and eating outside the home.

      Researchers randomly selected students in the 2nd, 5th, 8th and 11th grades who participated in the Wausau SCHOOL (School Children Have early Onset Of Leading risk factors for CVD and diabetes) Project, an examination of the development of risk factors for CVD and diabetes.

      The SCHOOL project earlier found that 40 percent of the children followed had at least one lipid abnormality.

      Twenty-percent of the students (126) indicated that they had eaten out four or more times weekly, not including lunches in the school cafeteria.

      Compared with the 495 students who ate out less than four times a week, those who dined out often had significantly:

      • Higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure (the top, higher number) measures the force on the arteries when the heart is contracting. Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.

      • Lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) -- the "good" cholesterol that protects against heart disease.

      • Smaller LDL particle size. Small, dense LDL particles are associated with atherosclerosis (a build-up of artery-clogging plaque).

      • Lower scores on the quantitative insulin-sensitivity check index (QUICKI). Lower insulin sensitivity is an early sign of progression towards type-2 diabetes.

      • Significantly overall higher dietary intake of starch, sugar, sodium, fat and cholesterol.

      "Children who ate out more frequently were not significantly more overweight than their peers who ate out less frequently," Olson said. "But this might just reflect that the dietary patterns have not yet had their full impact on body weight. However, their diets and exercise patterns differed significantly from the children eating at home more often."

      Researchers questioned children about their activities and, using pictures illustrating portion sizes, asked about their typical diet and what they ate during the last week.

      Compared with the average consumption in the total group of children, those eating at home ate slightly less sugar, sodium, fat and cholesterol, while those eating out ate substantially more foods containing those ingredients.

      "In a 21-meal week, eating out four times shouldn't create the high-sugar, high-sodium, high-fat intake that we saw," Olson said. "We think it's not just the eating out but the way these children are eating all the time, with lots of frozen pizzas and packaged macaroni and cheese on the days they eat at home."

      The study did not include information about take-out foods consumed at home, so it may underestimate the number of fast-food meals consumed by the children, researchers noted.

      Children who ate out more often also drank almost twice as many sodas and other soft drinks, about six cups a week compared with 3.65 cups a week for the children who ate out less often. Punch, sugary juice drinks and diet soda were counted as sodas.

      "For these children, soda is no longer a treat -- it's something you have every day or several times a day," Olson said. Sodas are now banned from Wausau School District public schools but were available at middle and high schools in Wausau during the study (2002-03 school year).

      According to researchers, children who ate out more often were also significantly less active than their peers.

      Not counting school or time spent reading or doing homework at the computer, children who ate out more often spent an average of 3.59 hours a day in sedentary activities such as playing computer games and watching television. Children who ate out less often spent 2.78 hours a day in sedentary activities.

      "I think what we've tapped into here is a whole different lifestyle," said study statistician Bryan Hendricks, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

      The researchers are working on interventions to encourage more physical activity and healthier eating for children. "Ideally, we can teach people the skills to consciously include active living and healthy eating in their busy lives," Olson said. Researchers said that there may be other factors besides eating out that may have resulted in higher risk factor scores, noting that the study is retrospective and self-reported information.

      Eating Out Often May Add to Kids' Cardiovascular Risk...
      Read lessRead more

      Oil Companies Deny Price-Gouging

      FTC Warns that Price Controls "Do More Harm Than Good"

      Senators berated oil company executives claiming their big profits are the result of gouging U.S. consumers. The senators demanded that oil companies take steps to bring down high gasoline and heating oil prices.

      Members of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee questioned top executives from five major oil companies including Lee Raymond, chairman of Exxon Mobil Corp.

      Raymond conceded that high gasoline prices "have put a strain on Americans' household budgets" but he insisted that Exxon Mobils huge profits this year are just part of a business cycle where petroleum earnings "go up and down" from year to year.

      Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras testified that her agency is investigating to determine if the price of gasoline is being artificially manipulated by reducing refinery capacity or by any other form of market manipulation or price gouging practices.

      Faced with record profits as the price of crude oil hit $70 a barrel and gasoline prices soared after supply disruptions caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, bosses at the five giant oil companies repeatedly defended their industry's profits.

      They told senators that most of the money is re-invested into energy exploration projects.

      Republican Sen. Pete Domenici said many Americans believe the companies are exploiting current conditions to reap excess profits that amount to price gouging.

      ExxonMobil is the worlds' largest privately-owned oil company and earned nearly $10 billion in the third quarter of the year. The five companies as a group earned more than $25 billion in profits in the July-September quarter after the price of crude oil hit $70 a barrel and gasoline spiked at record levels following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

      Raymond told the senators that ExxonMobil tried to minimize the increase in price while at the same time recognizing if the company kept the price too low ExxonMobil would quickly run out of fuel at its service stations.

      Majoras said the FTC is "keenly aware of the importance to American consumers of free and open markets and intends faithfully to fulfill its obligation to search for and stop illegal conduct, which undermines the markets consumer benefits."

      Majoras cautioned, however, that a full understanding of pricing practices before and since Hurricane Katrina may not lead to a conclusion that a federal prohibition on price gouging is appropriate. She said consumers understandably are upset when they face dramatic price increase within a short period of time, especially during a disaster.

      "But price gouging laws that have the effect of controlling prices likely will do consumers more harm than good," she said. "While no consumers like price increases, in fact, price increases lower demand and help make the shortage shorter-lived than it otherwise would have been."

      Even if Congress were to outlaw gasoline price gouging, such laws would be difficult to enforce fairly, based on the difficulty of defining the term price gouging and determining when such laws should be put into effect, she said.

      For all of these reasons, Majoras said, the commission remains persuaded that federal price gouging legislation would unnecessarily hurt consumers. Enforcement of the antitrust laws is the better way to protect consumers.

      To determine whether oil companies have violated antitrust laws, Majoras told Congress that her agency has sent subpoenas to the nations largest oil companies in connection with its probe, and hopes to reach a conclusion by next spring. Among those receiving subpoenas are Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. , ConocoPhillips, and the U.S. units of BP Plc. (BP.L) and Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

      FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras testified that her agency is investigating to determine if the price of gasoline is being artificially manipulated by re...
      Read lessRead more

      Sony Slammed for Hidden CD Software

      It's been a bad few weeks for Sony BMG Music. First was the revelation that their copy-proof compact discs contained software that could hide files on any computer the disc was played on, and could cripple the entire machine if a user tried to remove it. Even a quickly-issued "patch" to the software didn't soothe buyers' outrage.

      Now the entertainment giant is facing a potential class-action lawsuit in California for violation of a state law that forbids "inducing" the installation of spyware or similar utilities on a personal computer in order to use a particular application.

      San Francisco lawyer Robert Green said he is investigating the possibility of a lawsuit against Sony. "We're still investigating the case and talking to different people about what happened to them," Green said.

      Green has been involved in consumer lawsuits accusing Palm Inc. of selling defective Treo cell phones and accusing Trilegiant of deceptive marketing practices.

      Sony's Hidden Surprise

      The issue first came to light when Mark Russinovich, a software designer and Windows expert, found evidence of a "rootkit" on one of his systems. Rootkits are tools designed to camouflage changes to a computer system made after a hacker or spyware vendor has compromised it.

      Russinovich investigated the rootkit and traced it back to a company called First 4, which recently struck a deal with Sony to provide digital rights management (DRM) for its CD music releases. DRM controls the usage of a CD and is often used to block it from being copied onto a computer or to make multiple copies.

      There's no mention of the rootkit in the end-user license agreement (EULA) that a buyer agrees to when they play the disc, and attempting to remove it can cripple Windows computers, which may require a full reformat and reinstall of the computer's hard drive.

      Russinovich had recently bought a new CD by the Van Zant brothers, "Get Right with the Man," which contained a special media player required to play the disc on his computer. By installing the player, he had unknowingly installed the rootkit as well.

      Russinovich posted the findings on his Web site's blog on Oct.31st, provoking a flurry of criticism and complaints against Sony.

      One blogger said that "[t]he most frustrating thing about this is the way in which it punishes the people who've actually chosen to buy the product."

      Another critic pointed out that because rootkits are tools used by hackers, installing one on a machine can leave it vulnerable to access from outside sources. "The purpose of a "rootkit" is to open up one or more access points to administrative ("root") control, letting [hackers] do anything they want with your machine," they said.

      The Fix Is In

      Sony and First 4 hastily offered a "patch" to the software, allowing angry buyers to view the files hidden by the rootkit.

      In an interview with BBC News, First 4's chief executive, Mathew Gilat-Smith, claimed that the Van Zant CD explicitly stated that it was copy-protected on the packaging, and that users were informed that the CD required special software to play.

      Thomas Hesse, president of Sony's global digital entertainment division, was rather flippant when discussing the complaints. In an interview with NPR, he said "Most people, I think, don't even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?"

      The supposed "patch" does not actually allow a user to remove the rootkit. It only enables users to see the previously hidden files.

      In order to actually remove the files, users have to visit a special Sony Web site. In addition, users of Web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox or Opera are denied from accessing the site, as it requires special "ActiveX" controls found only in Microsoft Internet Explorer.

      ActiveX is derided by experts in the anti-spyware industry for easily enabling hackers and malware creators to get access to a user's machine through Internet Explorer.

      Bizarro World

      Sony and First 4 insist that the hidden software does not empower hackers to take advantage of vulnerable computers, but a strange twist in another case involving unauthorized software installation may prove otherwise.

      Blizzard Entertainment, makers of the popular online roleplaying game "World of Warcraft," recently came under fire for installing a program called "The Warden" on players' machines, in order to verify that they weren't attempting to cheat or hack the game. The program can enable access to anything that's on a user's computer while playing the game, including personal files, spreadsheets, and so on.

      Several enterprising World of Warcraft hackers found they could use the Sony rootkit to cloak their activities from any sort of monitoring, including Blizzard's own program.

      In addition, any discussion of how to circumvent the Sony rootkit can possibly be interpreted as a violation of copyright law. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed to prevent illegal content piracy, specifically forbids any attempt "to `circumvent a technological measure' means to descramble a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner."

      To sum up ...

      • A piece of software designed to prevent illegal copying of a CD can effectively open that computer up to attacks from hackers, and any attempt to remove it can cripple the machine.

      • Further, hackers can use the software to cloak their own activities, and any discussion of how to remove it can be potentially punished with civil or criminal penalties.

      • In order to get help from Sony to remove it, you have to use a set of Web browser applications that are magnets for viruses, spyware, and Trojan horses.

      As one furious commenter on's message board put it, "All of this was bad enough but this new method takes the copy protection madness to a whole new level[y]ou'd never pay anyone to install malware on your computer system, would you? But that's exactly what happens when you buy this CD."

      Sony Slammed for Hidden CD Software...
      Read lessRead more

      Movies Encourage Teen Smoking, Study Finds

      The first national study to look at the connection between smoking in movies and smoking among adolescents shows that exposure to smoking in popular films is a primary risk factor in determining whether young people will start smoking.

      The study by researchers from Dartmouth Medical School (DMS) and Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) appears in the November 7 issues of the journal Pediatrics.

      The research, supported by the National Cancer Institute, suggests that exposure to movie smoking accounts for smoking initiation among over one-third of U.S. adolescents. It concludes that limiting exposure of young adolescents to movie smoking could have important public health implications.

      "We found that as the amount of exposure to smoking in movies increased, the rate of smoking also increased." said lead author Dr. James Sargent, professor of pediatrics at DMS and director of the Cancer Control Research Program at NCCC.

      "Part of the reason that exposure to movie smoking has such a considerable impact on adolescent smoking is because it is a very strong social influence on kids ages 10-14," he said.

      "Because movie exposure to smoking is so pervasive, its impact on this age group outweighs whether peers or parents smoke or whether the child is involved other activities, like sports," said Sargent.

      In the study, 6,522 US adolescents aged 10-14 were asked to identify films they had seen from a list of 50 randomly selected titles out of a database of films released in the U.S. from 1998 2000. Researchers found examples of movie smoking in 74 percent of the 532 movies in the database.

      Based on the movies each participant had seen and the amount of smoking in each movie, the adolescents were split into four levels of exposure to movie smoking. Researchers then examined risk for adolescent smoking, comparing adolescents in the higher movie smoking categories with the lowest category and controlling factors known to be linked with adolescent smoking, like peer and parent smoking.

      Even after considering all other factors known to influence the smoking risk, DMS researchers found that adolescents with the highest exposure to movie smoking were 2.6 times more likely to take up smoking compared to those with the lowest exposure.

      All else being equal, the researchers found that of 100 adolescents that tried smoking, 38 did so because of their exposure to smoking in movies.

      The study confirms the results of a regionalized study by the researchers that focused on adolescents in Northern New England, published December 15 in the British Medical Journal.

      The data in that research showed that exposure to smoking in movies had a similar impact on first-time cigarette smoking, but the children interviewed for that study were predominantly Caucasians living in mostly rural areas, and so the results could not be applied to the rest of the country.

      "This is an extremely powerful confirmatory study that shows that kids react the same way to the movies in other places in the U.S. as they do in New England," said Sargent. "It means that no child is immune to the influence of smoking in movies."

      The participants' ethnicity was taken into account as well. This large national research sample found that Hispanic and black youths were exposed to significantly more movie smoking than their white counterparts, so the population impact may be larger in minorities.

      "The finding on minorities is concerning." said co-author of the study, Dr. Linda Titus-Ernstoff, professor of community and family medicine at DMS. "On average, Hispanic and black adolescents are exposed to more movie smoking than whites, so movie smoking may have a greater impact in these populations."

      In the study, the researchers suggest several ways to reduce teens' exposure to movie smoking. "As a pediatrician, I think that parents need to become more aware of what their young children watch and make an effort to shield young children from the messages in PG-13 and R rated movies," said Sargent.

      The team also hopes that, in light of their new research, the movie industry will be persuaded to voluntarily reduce depictions of smoking and cigarette brands.

      They also suggest that the movie industry could incorporate smoking into the movie rating system to make parents aware of the risks a movie with smoking poses to the adolescent viewer, and include an antismoking preview on all DVD movies that depict smoking. "Those measures have a minimal cost to the movie industry," said Sargent.

      Movies Encourage Teen Smoking, Study Finds...
      Read lessRead more

      Can Aspirin Prevent Skin Cancer?

      Researchers have already concluded that the common aspirin can be effective in reducing the risk of death from a heart attack

      Researchers have already concluded that the common aspirin can be effective in reducing the risk of death from a heart attack. Now Australian researchers say the often-overlooked over-the-counter medication might actually help reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.

      The study, at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, says people who regularly take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDS, might gain increased protection against skin cancer and sunspots. The findings, presented in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, were compiled after studying 1,600 subjects over a 15-year period.

      Researcher David Whitman said aspirin appears to shut down an enzyme known as cyclo-oxygenase, which is a trigger for development of some skin cancers. The enzymes also serve as a means for cancer cells to stimulate cells in the blood.

      For aspirin to be effective, the research says long-term, consistent use is required. Subjects would need to take at least two tablets a week for five years, according to the study.

      Though promising, Whitman said it's too early to base any firm conclusions on it. The next step, he says, would be clinical trials.

      More than one million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. The incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is rising faster than any other cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

      Can Aspirin Prevent Skin Cancer?...
      Read lessRead more

      Driver Error #1 Cause of Teen Fatalities

      Speeding and alcohol use are close behind

      Driver error is the leading cause (77%) of fatal crashes among teen drivers, a study finds, followed by speeding (38%) and alcohol (less than 25%).

      Despite improvements in highways, safer cars and restrictive driving laws, the number of teen deaths attributed to teen motor-vehicle crashes has remained consistent at nearly 6,000 fatalities per year for the past 10 years, the Allstate Foundation study found.

      In addition, each year, more than 300,000 teens are injured as a result of a teen crash.

      Recent research into adolescent brain development may explain why established teen driver-education programs have not been more effective in reducing teen crash statistics, study suggested.

      "Areas involved in multi-tasking, impulse control and the ability to envision consequences, areas crucial for driving, are still developing until age 25," according to the report.

      Here are some common attitudes the survey found among teen drivers:

      If I'm sober, I'm safe. Teens appear to believe drinking and driving is the major cause of crashes when in fact, drinking is a factor in 13 percent of crashes involving 16-year-olds and less than 25 percent overall. The reality is that 75 percent of teen deaths on the road are due to speeding and driver error.

      More than half (56%) of teens make and answer phone calls while driving. Thirteen percent (an estimated 1.6 million teens) drive while reading or writing text messages. Forty-seven percent said passengers sometimes distract them.

      Speeding is normal. Although speeding causes almost half of all teen-driving fatalities, teens say speeding is part of the daily driving experience. Sixty-nine percent of teen drivers that speed said they do so to keep up with traffic.

      One out of four self-identified aggressive teen drivers (26%) reported speeding by more than 20 miles an hour over the limit. Four times as many males as females (25% vs. 6%) said they speed because it is "fun."

      Sixty-four percent polled speed up to go through a yellow light.

      It's not me, it's them Most teens believe they are good drivers and it's other teens that drive recklessly.

      Forty-three percent classified their own driving as "somewhat" or "very defensive" behind the wheel. Sixty-two percent called their peers "somewhat" or "very aggressive" drivers.

      Nearly 70 percent of teens say they've felt unsafe when someone else was driving but less than half (45%) said they would speak up in such an instance.

      Driver Error #1 Cause of Teen Fatalities...
      Read lessRead more

      Weight Loss from a Cactus

      Hoodia Gordonii is a cactus, grown in Africa's Kalahari and eaten by the San Bushmen there. Hoodia Gordonii supposedly curbs your appetite and helps you lose weight. But does it really?

      Look on the Internet and you'll find dozens of ads peddling pills which supposedly contain the product.

      The key word here is supposedly. It is illegal to export the plant from Africa and numerous tests have found no cactus juice in any of the pills.

      Then there are the reports of how well it works. Hoodia Gordonii supposedly contains a molecule, P57, which tells the nerves in your hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls appetite, to stop you from eating.

      The problem is no one seems to be able to find those studies that prove it works in rats or can cut he appetite of obese people by 1,000 calories per day.

      And then there is Pfizer. The big drug company bought the rights to develop Hoodia Gordonii in 1998 and sold them back in 2003.

      Hmmmm. I wonder what they know?

      Until we know more about Hoodia, I'd stick to diet and exercise.

      Weight Loss from a Cactus | Dr. Henry Fishman on Health and Medicine...
      Read lessRead more

      Negative Option: When No Means Yes

      Instead of the merchant having to "sell" you a product or service, it starts with the assumption that youve already bought it

      Today, with "negative option" marketing, commerce can be anything but simple, and consumers can end up being charged for products or services they never in..

      Pennsylvania Suit Challenges State Farm Salvage Title Deal

      A Pennsylvania lawsuit claims State Farm Insurance put together a sweetheart deal with the attorneys general of 49 states after discovering that it had failed to obtain "salvage" titles for cars it had declared to be total wrecks.

      The company is paying $40 million to about 30,000 motorists who bought cars that had been totaled, thinking they were low-mileage cream puffs. The amounts paid to individual consumers range from a few hundred dollars to $20,000, depending on the value of the car.

      The lead plaintiff in the suit filed in Allegheny County court is Robert G. Beaves, 51, of Sewickley. He said he is being offered up to $2,700 for a Honda Civic he bought two and one-half years ago for more than $14,000.

      Beaves said he never would have bought the car had he known it was salvaged. He said Pennsylvania is now demanding that he turn in his clean title to the car and get a salvage title. That will reduce the car's resale value drastically.

      Further, Beaves said, if his vehicle is damaged in an accident, he will be compensated based on its value as a salvaged vehicle. He will also lose his extended warranty.

      State Farm has said that when it discovered it had not been properly retitling totaled vehicled, it approached an assistant to Attorney General Tom Miller of Iowa to see if a settlement could be worked out. Miller's office has defended the settlement because consumers don't have to sue.

      State Farm has not revealed details of how the error occurred but said it was discovered during an internal review.

      Beaves' lawsuit claims State Farm had a financial motive for allowing salvage cars to enter the market without appropriate titles and delayed notifying car buyers in hopes of reducing its payout.

      Beaves' suit seeks damages for the cost of the car, punitive damages and attorneys fees.

      Pennsylvania Suit Challenges State Farm Salvage Title Deal...
      Read lessRead more

      Waist-Hip Ratio Measures Heart Attack Risk

      Waist-to-hip ratio, not body mass index (BMI), is the best obesity measure for assessing a person's risk of heart attack, concludes a global study published in this week's issue of the British medical journal The Lancet.

      If obesity is redefined using waist-to-hip ratio instead of BMI the proportion of people at risk of heart attack increases by threefold, calculate the authors.

      Previous research has shown that obesity increases the risk of heart disease. However, these studies have mainly been done in populations of European and North American origin. The evidence for other populations is therefore sparse.

      In the latest study, Dr. Salim Yusuf, director of the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences, and colleagues aimed to assess whether other markers for obesity, especially waist-to-hip ratio, would be a stronger predictor of heart attack than the conventional measure of BMI in different ethnic populations.

      The investigators looked at BMI, waist-to-hip ratio, waist measure, and hip measure in more than 27,000 people from 52 countries.

      Half the participants had previously had a heart attack and half were age and sex-matched controls (individuals who had not had a heart attack and were the same age and sex as cases).

      The team found that BMI was only slightly higher in heart attack patients than in controls, with no difference in the Middle East and South Asia.

      By contrast, heart attack patients had a strikingly higher waist-to-hip ratio than controls, irrespective of other cardiovascular risk factors.

      The researchers found that this observation was consistent in men and women, across all ages, and in all regions of the world.

      The authors state that compared with BMI, waist-to-hip ratio is three times stronger than BMI in predicting the risk of a heart attack. Larger waist size (which reflects the amount of abdominal fat) was harmful, whereas larger hip size (which may indicate the amount of lower body muscle) was protective.

      The waist-to-hip ratio is calculated by dividing the waist measure by the hip measure. The cut off point for cardiovascular risk factors is less than 0.85 for women and 0.90 for men. A higher number denotes more risk.

      Dr. Yusuf concludes: "Our findings suggest that substantial reassessment is needed of the importance of obesity for cardiovascular disease in most regions of the world."

      In an accompanying published comment Charlotte Krageland of the University of Oslo, Norway states: "The main message from the new report is that current practice with body mass index as the measure of obesity is obsolete. For the assessment of risk associated with obesity, the waist-to-hip ratio, and not the body mass index, is the preferred simple measure."

      Dr. John Kelton, dean of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and dean and vice-president, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, said: "The results of this study will change, on an international scope, how we evaluate patients' risks for heart disease. Being able to easily identify the risk will have a beneficial effect on awareness and treatment."

      Larger waist size (which reflects the amount of abdominal fat) was harmful, whereas larger hip size (which may indicate the amount of lower body muscle) wa...
      Read lessRead more

      Cambridge Credit Counseling Fined $4.2 Million

      State charges the company violated consumer protection laws

      A Massachusetts credit counseling agency and its two owners must pay $4.2 million in penalties and consumer restitution to settle allegations that it misled thousands of consumers and funneled millions of dollars to related for-profit companies.

      The consent judgment resolves a lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly in April 2004. The suit charged that owners John and Richard Puccio violated Massachusetts charities laws by using Cambridge Credit Counseling to funnel millions of dollars to for-profit companies that they also owned.

      The state also alleges that the company violated consumer protection laws by misleading thousands of consumers about the benefits of credit counseling offered by Cambridge Credit.

      Under the consent judgment, both Cambridge Credit and the Puccio brothers will pay civil penalties and restitution to consumers.

      The Puccios will pay a total of $2 million to the Commonwealth - including a $500,000 civil penalty, $500,000 restitution to consumers, and an additional $1 million in disgorgement of ill gotten gains from the charity.

      Cambridge will pay $2.2 million -- a $500,000 civil penalty and $1.7 million in restitution to consumers. The Puccios also are permanently barred from working with Cambridge, contracting with the charity, or receiving any money from the charity.

      "What is clear is that the owners set up this charity primarily to enrich themselves - funneling millions of dollars to their other for-profit companies - and not to benefit the people using their services," Reilly said.

      "This judgment forces the company to pay a significant fine and consumer restitution. It also removes the owners from the company and fundamentally changes the structure of the organization to help assure that it stays true to its charitable mission."

      Cambridge, minus the Puccios, will continue to service existing credit counseling clients and will continue to operate as a Massachusetts charitable organization, following a comprehensive overhaul of the organization and its charitable operations.

      Cambridge Credit also will overhaul its credit counseling practices and its marketing of credit counseling services. Cambridge Credit will charge no more than a $75 fee to enroll in credit counseling, plus a monthly fee not to exceed 10 percent of monthly payments, capped at $50. Before the lawsuit, Cambridge charged an up-front fee equal to one months payment, which ranged between $100 and $1,500, and on average was around $300.

      A Massachusetts credit counseling agency and its two owners must pay $4.2 million in penalties and consumer restitution to settle allegations....
      Read lessRead more

      U.S. Health Care Most Expensive & Most Error Prone

      Not only do Americans pay much more for medical treatment than anyone else in the world, they also bear the brunt of the most medical errors, according to a survey covering the USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Almost 7,000 patients were consulted.

      The survey supported by The Commonwealth Fund finds that one-third of U.S. patients with health problems reported experiencing medical mistakes, medication errors, or inaccurate or delayed lab results -- the highest rate of any of the six nations surveyed.

      While sicker patients in all countries reported safety risks, poor care coordination, and inadequate chronic care treatment, with no country deemed best or worst overall, the United States stood out for high error rates, inefficient coordination of care, and high out-of-pocket costs resulting in forgone care.

      Americans are the most likely to have to pay out-of-pocket expenses over $1,000, and 34 percent of the American patients surveyed said they had encountered either medication errors, wrong test results, late test results or treatment errors.









      New Zealand






      One-third (34%) of U.S. respondents reported at least one of four types of errors: they believed they experienced a medical mistake in treatment or care, were given the wrong medication or dose, were given incorrect test results, or experienced delays in receiving abnormal test results.

      Three of 10 (30%) Canadian respondents reported at least one of these errors, as did one-fifth or more of patients in Australia (27%), New Zealand (25%), Germany (23%), and the U.K. (22%).

      While patient safety efforts have focused chiefly on hospital settings, most patients (60% or more) said these errors occurred outside the hospitala signal that safety initiatives should also focus on ambulatory care, said Cathy Schoen, the study's lead author and a senior vice president at The Commonwealth Fund.

      Patients receiving complex care may be at even higher risk of medical errors: the incidence of patient-reported errors rose sharply with the number of physicians seen. Despite studies showing patients value discussion about mistakes or errors, most patients (61% to 83%) in each country said the health care providers involved did not tell them about the mistakes.

      Communication issues also adversely affect patients' experiences during hospital stays. At least one-fifth of patients (19% to 26%) in the six countries reported communication gaps between themselves and hospital staff, and one-sixth said they would have liked greater involvement in decisions made about their care.

      Good transitional care -- helping patients transfer from hospital to home -- also relies on clear communication and coordination. In all six countries, however, at least one-third of patients said they did not receive instructions about symptoms to watch for, did not know whom to contact with questions, or were left without follow-up care arrangements.

      German patients had the highest rate of coordination deficiencies when discharged from the hospital, with 60 percent reporting failures to coordinate care. According to the authors, poor transitional care can result in complications and increase the likelihood of hospital readmission, raising concerns about costs as well as quality.

      While the U.S. performed better than most countries on the hospital transition measure, it had the highest rate of patients reporting coordination problems during doctor visits.

      One-third (33%) of U.S. respondents said that either test results or records were not available at the time of appointments or that doctors duplicated tests. These delays and duplications are a clear sign of inefficient care, the authors said, and waste both physicians' and patients' time and resources. Rates of care coordination problems in the other survey countries were significantly lower, ranging from one-fifth to one-quarter of patients reporting such problems.

      As was found in past surveys, the U.S. is an outlier in terms of financial burdens placed on patients. Onehalf of adults with health problems in the U.S. said they did not see a doctor when sick, did not get recommended treatment, or did not fill a prescription because of cost.

      Despite these high rates of forgone care, one-third of U.S. patients spent more than $1,000 out-of-pocket in the past year. In contrast, just 13 percent of U.K. adults reported not getting needed care because of costs, and two-thirds had no out-of-pocket costs.

      There were wide and significant variations in access and waiting times on multiple dimensions across the six countries. Respondents in Canada and the U.S. were significantly less likely than those in other countries to report same-day access and more likely to wait six days or longer for an appointment.

      At the same time, majorities of patients in New Zealand (58%) and Germany (56%), and nearly half in Australia (49%) and the U.K. (45%), were able to get same-day appointments. Waiting times for elective surgery or specialists were shortest in Germany and the U.S., with the majority of patients in both countries reporting rapid access.

      The authors say that no country emerges as a clear winner or loser. All survey countries experience high rates of safety risks, failure to coordinate care during transitions, inadequate communication, and a lack of support for chronically ill patients. These areas of shared concern, they conclude, will likely require policy innovations that transcend current payment and delivery systems.

      Facts and Figures:

      • More than one of four patients in each country (28% to 32%) said risks were not completely explained during their hospital stay.

      • In all countries, sizable majorities of patients said physicians had not always reviewed all their medications during the past year, and one-third or more reported infrequent reviews.

      • Across countries, one-sixth to one-fourth of patients said physicians only sometimes, rarely, or never make goals of care and treatment clear or give them clear instructions.

      • Relative to the U.S. and Canada, the four countries reporting comparatively rapid access to physiciansAustralia, Germany, New Zealand, and the U.K.also had significantly lower rates of emergency room use.

      ''What's striking is that we are clearly a world leader in how much we spend on health care," said Cathy Schoen, senior vice president for The Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan, nonprofit foundation in New York that commissioned the survey. ''Clearly, we should be doing better."

      Other specialists agreed, saying the results offer the most recent evidence that the quality of care delivered by the U.S. healthcare system is seriously eroding even as health care costs skyrocket.

      U.S. Health Care Most Expensive & Most Error Prone...
      Read lessRead more

      Yamaha Recalls ATVs

      November 4, 2005
      Yamaha is recalling about 70,000 ATVs because of a problem with the tie-rod ends that could cause steering problems. Affected models include the Yamaha Bruin 250, Bruin 350 4WD and 2WD, Big Bear 400, Kodiak 400, Kodiak 450, and Wolverine 450 ATVs.

      The protective boots covering the steering systems tie-rod ends (universal joints) on the recalled ATVs could be pinched during installation or adjustment, cutting a hole in the rubber. If this occurs, grease could escape, and contaminants such as sand or mud could get into the assembly through the hole, causing accelerated wear. This could result in abnormal steering free play.

      If the ATV continues to be operated without repair, the ball and socket portion of the tie-rod end could wear to the point that they separate, resulting in loss of steering control, which could cause a vehicle crash with injury or death.

      Below is a list of make, model and vehicle identification numbers (VIN) involved in the recall.

      Make/ModelVehicle Identification Number (VIN)
      2005 Bruin 250 2WD
      2006 Bruin 250 2WD
      2005 Bruin 350 Auto 2WD
      2006 Bruin 350 Auto 2WD
      2005 Bruin 350 Auto 4WD
      2006 Bruin 350 Auto 4WD
      2005 Bruin 350 Auto 4WD Hunter
      2006 Bruin 350 Auto 4WD Hunter
      2005 Big Bear 400 4WD
      2006 Big Bear 400 4WD
      2005 Kodiak 400 4WD
      2006 Kodiak 400 4WD
      2005 Kodiak 400 4WD/Hunter
      2006 Kodiak 400 4WD/Hunter
      2005 Kodiak 450 4WD
      2005 Kodiak 450 4WD
      2005 Kodiak 450 4WD/Hunter
      2005 Kodiak 450 4WD/Hunter
      2005 Kodiak 450 4WD SE
      2006 Wolverine 450 4WD
      AG01Y-0116001 ~ 0120900
      AG01Y-0120901 ~ 0123400
      AH10Y-0012901 ~ 0016600
      AH10Y-0016601 ~ 0020100
      AH09Y-0019301 ~ 0023500
      AH09Y-0023501 ~ 0029400
      AH13Y-0002601 ~ 0003600
      AH13Y-0003601 ~ 0006100
      AH06Y-0055101 ~ 0057600
      AH06Y-0057601 ~ 0059281
      AJ15Y-0000101 ~ 0009600
      AJ15Y-0009601 ~ 0011700
      AJ17Y-0000101 ~ 0002100
      AJ17Y-0002101 ~ 0003200
      AJ14Y-0000101 ~ 0014900
      AJ14Y-0014901 ~ 0018800
      AJ16Y-0000101 ~ 0005300
      AJ16Y-0005301 ~ 0008300
      AJ18Y-0000101 ~ 0002700
      AJ21Y-0000101 ~ 0001400

      Yamaha dealers sold these ATVs nationwide from 2004 to October 2005. The manufacturers suggested retail price for the affected ATVs ranged from about $3,500 to $7,000.

      Registered owners of the affected units were notified directly by mail sent on October 14, 2005. Consumers should stop using their ATV immediately and contact an authorized Yamaha dealer to schedule an appointment for repair.

      Consumer Contact: Call Yamaha at (800) 227-5963 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET everyday, or log on to the companys Web site at

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

      Yamaha Recalls ATVs...
      Read lessRead more

      Studies Find Autism Not Caused by Vaccinations

      A comprehensive review finds that the MMR vaccine, which protects against mumps, measles and rubella or German measles, does not cause serious childhood illness like autism or inflammatory bowel disease.

      That's the conclusion of a review of 31 studies involving more than 12 million children published online by the Cochrane Library.

      The analysis looked at a variety of studies, including many double-blind studies in which children got fake injections or no injections at all.

      Overall, the authors found that vaccinated children had fewer upper respiratory infections but more irritability, fever and joint aches right after vaccination.

      The study found no association between MMR and autism or other bowel disorders that a lot of parents worry about.

      This study supports the well-established position of all the major pediatric medical societies that autism starts in the womb and has no relationship to any of the childhood vaccinations.

      Studies Find Autism Not Caused by Vaccinations | Dr. Henry Fishman on Health and Medicine...
      Read lessRead more

      Toyota Continues to Sell Faulty Prius Hybrids

      A reader reports to us that his Prius shut down after just three weeks on the road

      While the Toyota Motor Corp. is notifying 75,000 Prius owners of a software glitchthat can cause the hybrid cars to suddenly stall or shut down, the company is apparently continuing to sell the hybrid vehicles that carry the software problem.

      A reader in Fredericksburg, Virginia reports to us that his Prius shut down after just three weeks on the road.

      I was driving on October 31 along the highway when the engine shut down and would not restart, writes Gerard. The car had been at the dealership for two days in New Jersey and they didn't know what was wrong.

      The New Jersey dealership apparently was not paying attention to its own service bulletins because Toyota began officially warning Prius owners of the stalling problem on October 13.

      After his brand new Prius shut down on the highway, Gerards research brought him to I found information on this Web site regarding 13 previous cases of the engine shutting down, he told us.

      The most confounding aspect of Gerard's Prius stalling is the age of the vehicle. Being that this car was just shipped I would have assumed that the software issue referred to would have been resolved, he wrote.

      Apparently that is not the case. I had to be towed off of the Interstate at night and this vehicle is only 3 weeks old.

      The Prius was probably in production when the automaker discovered the software glitch and began warning consumers by asking that they take the cars to a dealership for free repairs.

      Gerards letter from the company has not arrived.

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an investigation into the stalling problems. NHTSA has received a number of complaints about the hybrid stalling or stopping unexpectedly, often on the highway as was the case with Gerard.

      Toyota Continues to Sell Faulty Prius Hybrids...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumer Reports Unveils Annual Holiday Guide

      Consumer Reports online has unveiled its annual Holiday Giving Guide to provide free expert advice for online shopping as well as Hanukkah and Christmas gift ideas.

      Complete with useful shopping tips in areas including Games & Recreation, Home, Health, and Shopping & Spending, the guide also features e-Ratings, unbiased evaluations of online shopping sites.

      To ensure that people are prepared for the holidays with the latest information, the guide will be updated throughout this Hanukkah and Christmas holiday season with new postings.

      "Early holiday shoppers can consult the Holiday Giving Guide for a wide variety of gift selections," said Helen Popkin, Associate Editor of "The holiday section is easy to navigate and empowers online users to shop smarter and faster, while knowing that they are getting expert advice on products, services, and great tips for the holiday season."

      In this year's guide, shoppers will find valuable information from the best suggested Hanukkah and Christmas gift ideas to the finest online shopping sites, as well as invaluable tips and advice for the holidays.

      Among Consumer Report's advice for tending to your physical - and emotional - health during the holiday season:

      • Be selective about food -- decide on what you want to indulge in and keep portions small.

      • Drink up -- drink plenty of water throughout the day -- at least eight glasses -- to keep from eating when you are actually thirsty.

      • Go easy on the alcohol -- try not to drink too much at holiday.

      • Make exercise a group effort -- take a walk around your neighborhood to admire holiday decorations with your family and loved ones.

      • Enjoy the great outdoors -- remember, your body burns extra calories just keeping warm.

      • Cut everyone some slack; the holidays are a time to be more tolerant and understanding towards your friends, family, coworkers and yourself.

      • Expect less of yourself -- skip the less important holiday rituals and focus on activities that lighten your heart and bring out the deeper meaning of the holidays.

      Additionally, the guide provides useful guidance on extended warranties, Hanukkah and Christmas gift return policies and holiday tipping.

      Among Consumer Report's advice for tipping at the holidays:

      • Reward those who make a difference -- see who makes the biggest impact on you and reward them accordingly.

      • Think about those whose services you frequently use -- these people may include beauticians, barbers, or the newspaper carrier.

      • Tip those who go out of their way for you -- these people may include water-delivery people who lug heavy jugs for you and giving non-cash gifts to postal service workers and schoolteachers.

      Consumer Reports Unveils Annual Holiday Guide...
      Read lessRead more

      Power Survey: Hurricanes Destroy Consumer Satisfaction with Their Insurance

      Amica Mutual Ranks Highest in Overall Satisfaction

      Major hurricanes, such as the ones that have ravaged the Gulf Coast states in the past two years, have had a significant negative impact on consumers' feelings about their homeowners insurance in those states, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2005 Homeowners Insurance Study.

      For the homeowners insurance industry overall, customer satisfaction has remained stable compared with the 2004 study. However, satisfaction levels differ significantly from state to state.

      For example, in Florida, where four major hurricanes occurred in 2004, claims satisfaction is almost 10 percent lower than the rest of the nation.

      Recent catastrophes coupled with serious underinsurance of properties create the potential for disappointed customers as claims are settled. Although study respondents indicate theyve owned their primary residence for an average of 16 years, only about one-half of homeowners have had their homes replacement cost value updated in that time.

      Compounding the problem for consumers and carriers alike, home improvement projects often increase a homes value. According to the study, while 41 percent of homeowners reported they made significant structural changes to their home, 37 percent did not notify their insurer of these changes.

      "As many hurricane victims are unfortunately learning, a homes replacement cost value can change greatly over the years," said Kevin Keegan, insurance practice leader at J.D. Power and Associates. "Homeowners need to take an active role in reading and understanding their policy, and make changes if necessary, to make sure theyre sufficiently covered for the value of their home and its contents."

      The study finds that 25 percent of homeowners do not know which type of homeowners insurance policy they have, and another 24 percent mistakenly believe that they have a guaranteed replacement cost policy that would pay for whatever it costs to rebuild the home without any limits.

      Furthermore, 59 percent of homeowners insurance customers dont feel responsible for the coverage limits, but rather believe the insurance provider or their agent bears the responsibility in determining the replacement cost needed to rebuild their property.

      "This presumption that the agent or carrier is responsible for determining replacement costs no doubt influences many customers to believe that they bear no exposure, even if their propertys replacement cost value has increased," Keegan said.

      "While the agent or representative should carefully educate clients regarding property valuation, ultimately, it is the customers responsibility to understand the nature and limits of the coverage being offered. The homeowner and the insurance company must work together to make sure the right policy and coverage is in place, he added.

      The 2005 study reveals that customers whose coverage is periodically reviewed are significantly more satisfied, even though it may be accompanied by an increase in premium.

      Provider Rankings

      Among homeowners insurance providers, Amica Mutual ranks highest in overall homeowners insurance customer satisfaction for a fourth consecutive year. Amica is followed by State Farm, which records a 14 index point improvement from 2004. Erie Insurance Group, MetLife and The Hartford, respectively, round out the top five providers in the study.

      USAA achieved a higher satisfaction score than Amica, but is not included in the ranking because it is an insurance provider only open to the U.S. military community and their families.

      "With satisfied customers comes customer loyalty," said Keegan. "Amica Mutuals customers have been with the carrier for an average of 18.6 yearsmuch higher than the industry average of 12.7 years."

      Bundling Services

      The ability to bundle two or more insurance policies with the same carrier, such as homeowners and auto, also leads to increased customer loyalty. The average satisfaction index score among customers who bundle is 13 percent higher than non-bundlers.

      "Bundling makes it very easy for the customer, essentially providing one-stop shopping," Keegan said. "One risk to the provider is that if a customer becomes dissatisfied and shops for another homeowners provider, they likely will switch their other insurance policies at the same time."

      The 2005 Homeowners Insurance Study is based on responses from 9,040 homeowners insurance policyholders across the country.

      Power Survey: Hurricanes Destroy Consumer Satisfaction with Their Insurance...
      Read lessRead more

      States Want Congress to Act on Identity Theft, Data Security

      November 1, 2005
      Forty-six state Attorneys General are calling on Congress to help protect consumers from identity theft by enacting national security breach and credit freeze legislation.

      The proposed laws would require businesses entrusted with personal financial data to notify consumers if their company's data files are breached and allow consumers to put a credit freeze on their accounts.

      In the letter, the AGs point out that millions of consumers over the past year have been exposed to potential ID theft because of security breaches suffered by large financial and retail establishments.

      California adopted the nation's first security breach notification law in 2003, and 21 states enacted similar statutes in the past year.

      "Personal information" acquired or accessed by an unauthorized person which would trigger notification includes: • Social Security number. • Driver's license number or government-issued ID number. • Unique electronic ID number. • Unique biometric data such as fingerprint, voice print or retina image. • Home address or telephone number. • Mother's maiden name. • Month and year of birth.

      The Attorneys General also called for a strong federal security freeze law that would give consumers the right to place a "fraud alert" on their credit reports for at least 90 days, with extended alerts when an ID theft occurs.

      Provisions recommended by the Attorneys General include: • Making the security freeze available to all consumers at no or low cost. • Banning fees for victims of ID theft who have a police report or FTC affidavit, seniors, veterans and persons who receive notice of a security breach. • Allowing consumers to selectively or temporarily lift the freeze. • Permitting consumers to contact one consumer reporting agency and have the freeze apply to all three major credit agencies.

      States Want Congress to Act on Identity Theft, Data Security...
      Read lessRead more

      NHTSA Investigating Dodge Dakota and Durango

      Steering may fail

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating almost 500,000 Dodge Durango SUVs and Dodge Dakota pickup trucks because of a possible loss in steering control.

      NHTSA reports that the agency has received several reports of loose steering shafts and separation because of loose or missing coupling bolts in the vehicles.

      NHTSA said there have been no reports of crashes or injuries but has received several reports of accidents caused by steering problems.

      J.A. of Dolton, Illinois, said the steering failed on his 2000 Dodge Durango. "The steering wheel was straight and the truck was going to the left. I was traveling at about 25 mph," he said.

      "My vehicle struck an oncoming car and continued into a gas station where my vehicle struck the concrete barrier around the gas pump. It continued to slide out of the gas station onto a residential street where we finally came to rest in a front yard," J.A. reported.

      The preliminary investigation will involve more than 467,000 vehicles, including the 2004-05 models of the Durango and the 2005 model of the Dakota.

      While owners of the Durango and Dakota writing to confirm the steering problems, they also report the vehicles suffer from a wide range of other difficulties just as troubling.

      The list of complaints includes the continued potential of fires despite previous recalls.

      Consumers are reporting oil pressure failures, brake and rotor problems, along with continued and repeated ball joint failures.

      Valerie in Eustis, Florida dealt with the aftermath of her Durango fire for 5 weeks.

      Overnight the interior of my car had caught on fire, she writes. When the fire chief came, he said that had I left the windows down, my whole house would have caught fire while my son and I were sleeping.

      Her insurance company declined to pursue the cause of the fire. Dodge was even less helpful.

      They sent a special investigator out. Later I received a letter from Dodge stating that they denied any fault. I was told to get a lawyer if I wanted to get the conclusions of their findings, Valerie wrote us.

      Michael in Dunaway, Kentucky, found himself stuck in the mud on his farm when his 2003 Dodge Dakota truck caught fire.

      I was attempting to get my truck free and something caught fire under my truck. I crawled out of the truck on the ground and looked to see what was smoking and I saw a small fire and realized my truck was burning.

      In Garden Grove, California, Michelles 2004 Durango was parked inside her garage. At approximately 6:50 in the morning as I was getting ready to go, my home alarm went off. I turned off the alarm and opened the car door and the Durango was on fire, Michelle wrote.

      The fire chief concluded there was an electrical fire in Michelles Durango.

      Rogers 2004 Durango burst into flames on the streets of Hackettstown, New Jersey in September. The car was assessed as a total loss by our Insurance Company, he wrote. We had found out that the 2004 Dodge Durangos were recalled In December 2003. Why would we have been sold a recalled vehicle?

      The NHTSA preliminary investigation is generated by reports the agency has received of loose steering shafts. has received similar reports of faulty steering. Susan in Barnstead, New Hampshire thought her 2001 Durango was acting very strange.

      The thing that is bothering me the most is that the mechanic told me he had never in all his years of working on vehicles seen a steering arm broken off the way this one was and that he felt I was extremely fortunate that I had made it to the store and parked the car before it came apart, she wrote us.

      Ball joints continue to be a major problem on almost every Durango and Dakota, despite previous recalls. Intermittent oil pressure that can lead to engine failure is troubling many Durango and Dakota owners as well.

      Here are more experiences reported by our readers:

      Natalie in Rockland, Massachusetts: The ball joints on my 1998 Durango wore out two sets of tires. They tell me there is no recall for that year, just for Dodge Dakotas. I spent $500 on the steering shaft after it loosened up and there was a lot of play in the wheel. I almost went off the road.

      Steve in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin: I purchased a 2003 Dodge Durango and was told this was an inspected, certified SUV. After 874 miles I noticed the tires in the front wearing out on the inside if the tread. I took the Durango to a Dodge dealer. They had to replace all of the ball joints and I had to have 2 tires replaced.

      Jackie, Kunkletown, Pennsylvania: I bought used Durango from dealer. Paid top dollar. After no more than 200 miles on it the Durango will not pass inspection until the ball joints are replaced.

      Alan in Dickinson, North Dakota: My Durango suffered engine failure due to the oil pump not working properly on a 600-mile trip. My wife said the oil gauge would drop and start again. Then the gauge would return to normal. The service representative told me the maintenance records were improper because I changed my oil myself. This is a 2002 Durango with 46,600 miles.

      NHTSA reports that the agency has received several reports of loose steering shafts and separation because of loose or missing coupling bolts in the vehicl...
      Read lessRead more

      Texas Company Allegedly Administered Bogus Flu Shots

      State freezes assets of the accused firms

      Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has won a court order freezing the assets of local health care businesses that inoculated an estimated 1,600 employees at the Exxon Mobil refinery in Baytown beginning on Oct. 19 with a substance they falsely promoted as flu vaccine.

      The Attorney Generals lawsuit alleges Comfort & Caring Home Health Care Services, America Home Health Care Services and three individuals engaged in a scheme to administer fake flu shots at the refinery during what they falsely promoted as a health fair for flu vaccine.

      The lawsuit also says the defendants may have administered the vaccines to Medicaid or Medicare recipients at three senior living facilities in Houston and La Porte. One defendant, Iyad Muhammad (Eddie) Abu El Hawa allegedly intended to bill the Medicaid program for these shots, according to investigators.

      I find it unconscionable that these companies engaged in a reckless, potentially dangerous act veiled as a health outreach project designed to help fellow Texans, said Attorney General Abbott. I have taken this legal action today to expose these individuals, these businesses and the scheme they attempted to foist on the public in the name of disease prevention.

      A nurse working with the companies tipped the FBI about the unfolding scam to inoculate the Exxon Mobil employees by the three individual defendants -- El Hawa, Martha Denise Gonzales and Hossan (Sammy) El Hallak.

      The nurse had allegedly been told by El Hallak that he filled syringes on his own with an unknown substance and without regard for vaccine lot numbers, a system mandated by state and federal governments to track vaccines properly.

      An investigation ensued on Oct. 21 by officers with the Attorney Generals Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the FBI, culminating in a visit to El Hawas office on Harwin Drive where he was found disposing of 32 filled syringes into a trash container.

      FBI officers seized the syringes and sent them to an Ohio laboratory for testing, along with one confiscated by the nurse informant.

      Preliminary results obtained on Oct. 27 showed that none of the samples contained flu vaccine; but further testing is being conducted to determine the exact contents of the syringes.

      The companies conducted health fairs and administered the inoculations at the Lovett Manor and Villas in the Pines senior living facilities in Houston and Happy Harbor Senior Housing in La Porte on Oct. 17, 18 and 21, respectively.

      In addition to possible criminal charges tied to false Medicaid billings, the defendants face allegations of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

      Penalties of up to $20,000 per violation of this law can be imposed by a court, plus the relinquishment of any monetary benefit as a result of their actions.

      Texas Company Allegedly Administered Bogus Flu Shots...
      Read lessRead more