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    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...
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    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...
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    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 ConsumerAffairs.com 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 ConsumerAffairs.com 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.

    ConsumerAffairs.com 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...
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