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Current Events in February 2006

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    Ohio Sues 'Cashable Voucher' Promoters

    Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro has sued two out-of-state consumer promotion firms and their top officers for violating the state's Consumer Sales Practices Act by misrepresenting their "Cashable Voucher Program" to Ohio consumers, engaging in bait advertising, and failing to honor valid consumer claims.

    Petro's lawsuit named as defendants Consumer Promotions, Inc. of Lees Summit, Missouri, and The Consumers Trust of New York, New York, and Aaron J. Racine, of Kansas City, Missouri.

    They allegedly violated provisions of the Ohio's consumer protection law requiring companies to make the terms of any purchase agreement clear and conspicuous to consumers, according to the lawsuit.

    "Many consumers bought goods because they were falsely promised they would later recoup all or part of their money if they submitted a so-called voucher claim," Petro said. "These consumers probably would not have purchased these goods without that fraudulent inducement. The misleading tactics used by the defendants will not be tolerated."

    Petro said the companies' primary swindle, the Cashable Voucher Program, works as a "financial memory test" that consumers are expected to fail. Its underlying strategy is an assumption most consumers will forget to redeem their vouchers or fail to follow the complicated procedures to redeem them, Petro said.

    According to the state's lawsuit, Consumer Promotions persuaded Ohio merchants to market the Cashable Voucher Program to consumers by claiming that potential consumers will be more likely to buy a merchant's product if they are offered an incentive to later get back all or part of their money through the voucher program.

    Merchants were told that the cashable vouchers would eliminate price shopping and give customers an incentive to buy from them.

    The Attorney General's Office has received more than 100 consumer complaints against The Consumers Trust alleging that terms and conditions for submitting a claim under the voucher program were difficult to read and understand and that meeting many of the requirements to validate the voucher were beyond the consumer's control.

    The defendants told consumers that any error on the consumer's part to meet the requirements was grounds for denial of payment, and this gave the company unfair advantage over the consumer, according to the complaints.

    The state's suit seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, restitution for more than 100 consumers who were harmed by the defendants' business practices, and a civil penalty of $25,000 per violation.

    Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro has sued two out-of-state consumer promotion firms and their top officers for violating the state's Consumer Sales Practice...
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    Gas Prices Headed Up, Analysts Warn

    Oil industry expert Trilby Lundberg warns gasoline price declines are for the most part over

    Oil industry expert Trilby Lundberg warns gasoline price declines are for the most part over and she expects the cost of a gallon of gasoline to head up through the spring and summer.

    "This year's new fuel reformulation requirements make the spring and summer blends already costlier" than last year, Lundberg said.

    "The convergence of previous and new environmental regulations, lower levels of sulfur allowed, for instance, and use of ethanol rather than the additive MBTE will add to the cost and tighten supplies," according to Lundberg.

    Lundberg points out that this is the time of the year that refiners draw down gasoline stocks as they perform routine maintenance and repairs in preparation for warmer weather and increased gasoline demand.

    The warning comes despite minor declines in gasoline prices. Lundbergs survey found that the average price of self-serve regular as of February 24 was $2.24 per gallon, down 9-cents over the last five weeks.

    "I believe we can expect these price cuts will end soon," she said.

    The survey found the lowest cost of gasoline was in Portland, Oregon where a gallon of self-serve regular cost $1.99, and the highest cost in Honolulu at $2.59.

    Gas Prices Headed Up, Analysts Warn...
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      Honolulu Leads in Motorcycle Thefts, NYC in Accidents

      Bikers beware! Your motorcycle's most likely to be stolen in Honolulu

      Bikers beware! Your motorcycle's most likely to be stolen in Honolulu. You're more likely to be involved in a crash in New York City; Norfolk, Va., and Baton Rouge, La.

      The Progressive Insurance Company reviewed claims data on more than two million motorcycles over the past three years to determine the likelihood of a motorcyclist getting into an accident or having a bike stolen. The analysis focused on the 89 U.S. metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 and higher.

      The study found Honolulu riders are most likely to have their bikes stolen, even though it's the 53rd largest metropolitan area. In fact, a motorcyclist in Honolulu is four times more likely to have a bike stolen than is a motorcyclist in Chicago or Detroit, which are the third and seventh largest metro areas in the country, respectively.

      Similarly, though Baton Rouge ranks 75th in population, it ranks third when it comes to the likelihood of a rider there having a motorcycle crash. And, a motorcyclist in Philadelphia, the country's fifth largest metro area, is 36 percent less likely to have an accident as one in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach metro area, which is the 47th largest.

      One metropolitan area where the statistics are more in line with what you might expect is New York; it ranks number one both in population and in the likelihood of motorcycle collisions.

      Most Likely to Crash

      1. New York
      2. Norfolk/Virginia Beach
      3. Baton Rouge
      4. San Diego
      5. San Francisco-Oakland
      6. New Orleans
      7. San Antonio
      9. McAllen, Texas
      10. Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y.
      11. Orlando

      Least Likely to Crash

      1. Columbus, Ohio
      2. Oxnard-Semi Valley
      3. Cleveland
      4. Providence-Warwick-Pawtucket, R.I./Mass.
      5. Tacoma, Wash.
      6. Cincinnati
      7. Toledo
      8. Akron
      9. Indianapolis
      10. Bakersfield, Calif.

      Most Likely to Be Stolen

      1. Honolulu
      2. Miami
      3. San Diego
      3. Las Vegas
      4. New York, N.Y.
      5. Washington, D.C./Va./Md.
      6. Los Angeles
      7. Fort Lauderdale
      8. New Orleans
      9. Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Portsmouth, Va.

      Least Likely to Be Stolen

      1. Nashville-Davidson, Tenn.
      2. Pittsburgh
      3. Milwaukee
      4. Minneapolis-St. Paul
      5. Cincinnati
      6. Lansing-East Lansing, Mich.
      7. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, N.Y.
      8. Syracuse, N.Y
      9. Harrisburg, Penn.
      10. Grand Rapids, Mich.

      Honolulu Leads in Motorcycle Thefts, NYC in Accidents...
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      H&R Block Goofs on Its Own Taxes

      The company has also had serious problems with its in-house computer network.

      Tax preparation giant H&R Block has a little problem. It miscalculated its own state income taxes, understating its liabilities by $32 million as of April 30, 2005. The company has also had serious problems with its in-house computer network.

      The Irvine, California-based company will need to restate its fiscal year 2004 and 2005 results, as well as its previously reported results for fiscal 2006, reducing its earnings for both years.

      The snafu sent the company's stock price lower and gave it a black eye at the height of tax preparation season, although the actual financial impact is likely to be slight.

      "While likely embarrassing for the nations leading tax preparation company, the restatement is fairly immaterial," wrote analyst Alexander Paris Jr. of Barrington Research Associates in a research note.

      The admission came as the company reported its third quarter 2006 financial results. Because of a consumer class action lawsuit, net earnings were down from the third quarter of fiscal 2005, when Block had net earnings of $92.3 million, or $0.28 per share.

      Block attributed the decline to an after-tax charge of $31.7 million, or $0.10 per share, from a legal settlement and legal costs arising from the $360 million settlement of a class action suit that accused it of gouging consumers who took out refund anticipation loans at interest rates frequently exceeding 100 percent.

      The state of California filed a similar suit against H&R Block last week and Attorney General Bill Lockyer said damages could total "hundreds of millions" of dollars.

      Technical Snafus

      Besides bungling its own taxes, H&R Block had serious problems with its in-house computer network that cut into its business in January.

      "Technology problems across the H&R Block network in early January impacted our ability to serve clients in those crucial early weeks," said Block Chairman Mark A. Ernst.

      He said the problems had been corrected, but they impacted the company's ability to serve 250,000 clients who were trying to get an early start on their taxes.

      Analysts speculated the internal technical troubles could reflect badly on the company's TaxCut software, to the benefit of its primary competitor, Intuit's TurboTax.

      Other tax preparation chains, such as Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, could also see increased business.

      H&R Block Goofs on Its Own Taxes...
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      It's Getting Hard to Tell Airports By Their Name

      Name Changes Add Little But Confusion

      Getting from Point A to Point B is getting more complicated thanks to a wave of airport name changes ostensibly designed to boost business.

      Passengers already befuddled by bag-tag abbreviations taken directly from the alphabet-soup now have new ways to get lost before they even approach the airport.

      EWR used to represent Newark Airport, later called Newark International but more recently Newark Liberty International. Technically, the airport is in nearby Elizabeth anyway.

      JFK is easy enough, since John F. Kennedy was known by those initials, but that airport used to be Idlewild.

      Chicago's sprawling O'Hare hasn't changed its name but might consider changing its ORD abbreviation. And why is there an X at the end of the LA initials for Los Angeles International?

      Thanks to Republican control of Congress, Houston Intercontinental is now George Bush Intercontinental, named for the 41st president, while Washington National is now Reagan National, named for the 40th -- and the man who not only fired striking air-traffic controllers but enacted airline deregulation.

      The airfield in Rockford, IL is now called Chicago/Rockford International even though the Windy City is 90 miles distant. Stewart International of Newburgh, NY is about to become New York Hudson Valley International, though it lies 70 miles from Manhattan.

      Baltimore-Washington International Airport was always a lot closer to Baltimore than Washington. Now it's Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, much more long-winded than the late Supreme Court justice ever was.

      Not to be outdone, Savannah airport is now Savannah/Hilton Head International, though getting to the island resort requires more than a hop, skip, and jump.

      Reno-Tahoe airport, located in Reno, adopted the hyphenated name in the 90s, about the same time that airports in Allentown, Buffalo, and Terre Haute also thought new names would boost travel-related business.

      While the Newburgh airport lies within the Hudson Valley giving logic to half its name not all name changes are well-received. When the National Tour Association attempted to change its name to CrosSphere during its Toronto convention in November 2004, members reacted so angrily that the original name had to be restored.

      Not all airports are getting that keep-it-simple message.

      It's Getting Hard to Tell Airports By Their Name...
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      Glucosamine and Chondroitin Show Mixed Results in Pain Relief Study

      Study finds little benefit from popular supplements

      A study fings that the popular dietary supplement combination of glucosamine plus chondroitin sulfate did not provide significant relief from osteoarthritis pain among all participants.

      However, a smaller subgroup of study participants with moderate-to-severe pain showed significant relief with the combined supplements.

      Researchers led by rheumatologist Daniel O. Clegg, M.D., of the University of Utah, School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, conducted the 4-year study known as the Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT) at 16 sites across the United States. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

      GAIT enrolled nearly 1,600 participants with documented osteoarthritis of the knee. They were randomly assigned to receive one of five treatments daily for 24 weeks: glucosamine alone (1500 mg), chondroitin sulfate alone (1200 mg), glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate combined (same doses), a placebo, or celecoxib (200 mg).

      Celecoxib is an FDA-approved drug for the management of osteoarthritis pain and served as a positive control for the study. (A positive control is a treatment that investigators expect participants to respond to in a predictable way; it helps validate study results.)

      A positive response to treatment was defined as a 20 percent or greater reduction in pain at week 24 compared with the start of the study.

      The researchers found that participants taking celecoxib experienced statistically significant pain relief, as expected, versus placebo -- about 70 percent of those taking celecoxib versus 60 percent taking placebo had a 20 percent or greater pain reduction.

      For all participants, there were no significant differences between the other treatments tested and placebo. However, for participants in the moderate-to-severe pain subgroup, glucosamine combined with chondroitin sulfate provided statistically significant pain relief compared with placebo -- about 79 percent in this group had a 20 percent or greater pain reduction compared to 54 percent for placebo..

      In the subgroup of participants with mild pain, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate together or alone did not provide statistically significant relief compared with placebo.

      "This rigorous, large-scale study showed that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate appeared to help people with moderate-to-severe pain from knee osteoarthritis, but not those with mild pain," said Stephen E. Straus, M.D., NCCAM Director. "It is important to study dietary supplements with well-designed research in order to find out what works and what does not."

      "Because of the small size of the moderate-to-severe pain subgroup, the findings in this group for glucosamine plus chondroitin sulfate should be considered preliminary and need to be confirmed in a study designed for this purpose," said Dr. Clegg, Professor of Medicine and Chief of Rheumatology at the University of Utah, School of Medicine.

      On entering the study, a participant's level of pain was assessed as either mild or moderate to severe using standard pain assessment tools and scales, such as the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC).

      Of the 1,583 study participants, 78 percent were in the mild pain subgroup and the other 22 percent were in the moderate-to-severe pain subgroup. Level of pain was evaluated at weeks 4, 8, 16, and 24 using the WOMAC scale and other tools.

      In addition to taking their daily study treatment, participants could take up to 4000 mg of acetaminophen daily for pain, except for the 24 hours before they were assessed by study staff. The use of acetaminophen, however, was low, overall averaging fewer than two 500 mg tablets per day.

      Participants could not take other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines or narcotic (opioid-based) pain relievers during the study.

      "More than 20 million Americans have osteoarthritis, making it a frequent cause of physical disability among adults," said Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D., NIAMS Director. "We are excited to support studies looking at new treatment options that could improve the symptoms and quality of life of people with osteoarthritis."

      The GAIT team continues its research with a smaller study to see whether glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate can alter the progression of osteoarthritis, such as delaying the narrowing of the joint spaces. About one-half of the participants in the larger GAIT study were eligible to enroll in this ancillary study. The results are expected in about a year.

      Glucosamine and Chondroitin Show Mixed Results in Pain Relief Study...
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      Cigarette Smoking Leads to Root Canal

      Research Confirms Link Between Cigarettes, Root Canals

      If you're a smoker, there's a good chance you're damaging more than your lungs.

      According to a new study appearing in the April issue of the Journal of Dental Research, cigarette smoking can lead to not only tooth discoloration and gum disease, but also a common dental procedure that helps to heal a diseased tooth -- the root canal.

      "The findings substantiate what most of us already know: Smoking is detrimental to your health," Elizabeth Krall Kaye, PhD, MPH, epidemiologist at the Boston VA Hospital and professor in the department of health policy and health services research at Boston University's School of Dental Medicine in Boston, and the lead author of the study.

      "But because root canal treatment is so common -- it's estimated that half of US adults have experienced one by age 50 -- I think people can relate to it more than lung cancer and other smoking-induced conditions. No matter what your age, you may need a root canal and as our research shows, smoking increases your risk," she added.

      The findings are based on data collected during Veterans Affairs Normative Aging and Dental Longitudinal studies at the VA Boston Healthcare System in Boston. The study, which began in 1968, tracked how men's dental and physical health progressed over the course of 30 years.

      "Men visited the study site every three years where they were checked for signs of caries, or cavities, tooth restorations and periodontal disease. Clinicians also took mouth x-rays and documented their smoking habits, including frequency and type of tobacco," explained Dr. Kaye.

      "From the data, we were able to identify approximately 811 men with teeth that were free of root canal treatment at the study's beginning. That's 18,893 teeth to track over the course of 30 years."

      Root canal treatment is necessary when the dental pulp, or soft tissue of the tooth containing nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue, becomes inflamed.

      A general dentist or an endodontist, a root canal specialist, removes the infected tissue, cleanses the space and fills the tooth to prevent the bacterial infection from recolonizing.

      With the help of two endodontic residents, who re-examined the dental x-rays taken over the course of the study, Dr. Kaye was able to identify 998 teeth that had received root canal treatment by the study's conclusion. These data were then compared with each man's smoking habits.

      Pipes, Cigars Not So Bad

      "We found that cigarette smokers are 70 percent more likely to need root canal treatment than nonsmokers," explained Dr. Kaye. The research also showed that cigar and pipe smoking, despite being another form of tobacco smoking, had only slight impact on a patient's risk for root canal compared to non-smokers.

      "Because fewer men smoked cigars and pipes, we cannot be absolutely positive there's an increased risk there at all," she said.

      Besides identifying the risk for root canal treatment, the research also showed the positive effects of quitting. "The total amount time smoked and total time they remained smoke-free was directly related to their risk," said Dr. Kaye.

      "For example, the teeth of a man who smoked for less than four years had a likelihood of treatment that was 20 percent greater than that of non-smokers, but the risk doubled in men who smoked anywhere between five and 12 years and was 120 percent greater for men who smoked for more than 12 years. The good news is that after being smoke-free for nine years, the risk returned to the level of men who never smoked," Dr. Kaye noted.

      "While our research doesn't explain why the risk is increased among cigarette smokers, we suspect that the body's reduced infection-fighting capabilities as a result of smoking may contribute," concluded Dr. Kaye.

      "Other studies have also suggested that smokers experience more dental cavities, which is a major reason for root canal treatment. Hopefully future research will be able to identify the mechanisms that explain why cigarette smokers have more root canal treatments."

      Cigarette smoking can lead to not only tooth discoloration and gum disease, but also a common dental procedure that helps to heal a diseased tooth - the ro...
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      Travel Web Sites Keep Pace with Explosive Travel Growth

      By Dan Schlossberg

      Increasing numbers of consumers are counting on the Internet to book or research travel, a plethora of websites are vying for the right to be their primary sources.

      According to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), the number of web-based bookings for airlines, hotels, car rentals, and packed tours has more than tripled in the last two years, with 64 million people using the internet to book travel in 2005. They spent an average of $1,288 apiece, an indicator that internet travel transactions has become big business.

      Not surprisingly, websites are springing up to seize their share of the pie. Here are some of the best:

      • Airfarewatchdog.com Great for frequent or infrequent flyers, theres a daily low-airfare report (with offers guaranteed) plus links to airline websites
      • Gladtravel.com Finding an inexpensive room in an expensive destination is made easy through this listing of 1,300 lodging alternatives prices under $99
      • Hotelbook.com Ideal for travelers who prefer independent hotels, this site includes 5,000 choices and allows for immediate booking
      • Newyorkology.com Everything you wanted to know about New York but were afraid to ask, this Manhattan-centric site, run by freelancer Amy Langfield, has links to New York news stories and websites, plus such basics as subway information and favorite watering holes
      • Officialtravelguide.com Especially good for North American destinations, this site provides links to convention & visitors bureaus and state tourism offices while also facilitating hotel and vacation bookings
      • Reservemy.com Maps and satellite images target a desired location (like Fenway Park) and show the names and proximity of nearby hotels.
      • Sportsgroupie.com As the name implies, this site is for sports buffs willing to spend big bucks (last-minute tickets to the All-Star Game, World Series, or Super Bowl, plus hotel and flight bookings)
      • Travelpost.com This blog-type site contains reviews of hotels plus photographs posted by travelers but the best part is a personal travel map that allows visitors to plan their journeys
      • Turnhere.com Short travel films, downloadable to iPods, profile 15 states, Washington, and other cities, plus several foreign countries, with an emphasis on neighborhoods and offbeat events
      • Ulivewhere.com Life in exotic places is described by locals in six exotic spots, with more in the mix soon.
      Travel Web Sites Keep Pace with Explosive Travel Growth...
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      Nationwide Infant Formula Recall

      Mead Johnson Formula May Contain Metal Particles

      A recall is being conducted by Mead Johnson Co. for its GENTLEASE powdered infant formula, lot number: BMJ19, use by 1 Jul 07. This lot was found to contain metal particles of up to 2.7 millimeter in size.

      No illnesses have been reported to date. However, in the rare instance that an infant were to inhale the infant formula into the lungs, the presence of these particles could present a serious risk to the infant's respiratory system and throat.

      Any injuries associated with this problem would be likely to show up within three to four hours. The symptoms could be varied depending on whether there is damage to the throat or lungs.

      Damage to the throat or lungs may include coughing, difficulty swallowing or difficulty breathing.

      If you may have fed this lot of GENTLEASE to your baby, and you have any concerns about your baby's health, you should contact your baby's physician immediately.

      There were approximately 41,464 24-ounce cans of this lot of recalled product distributed, beginning on December 16, 2005, through many major retail stores across the country, so the consumer should concentrate on the code on the can rather than on the place of purchase.

      The affected products can be identified by the lot number and expiration/use by date embossed on the bottom of the can of BMJ19, use by 1 Jul 07.

      Mead Johnson and the Food and Drug Administration are currently investigating how the metal particles got into the infant formula.

      Consumers who have a can of this batch of GENTLEASE powdered infant formula should not use the product and should contact Mead Johnson at 888-587-7275 immediately. -30-
      Nationwide Infant Formula Recall...
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      CardSystems Solutions Settles Federal Charges

      Tens of Millions of Consumer Credit and Debit Card Numbers Compromised

      CardSystems Solutions has settled federal charges growing out of the largest known compromise of financial data to date.

      CardSystems Solutions, Inc. and its successor, Solidus Networks, Inc., doing business as Pay By Touch Solutions, settled Federal Trade Commission charges that CardSystems' failure to take appropriate security measures to protect the sensitive information of tens of millions of consumers was an unfair practice that violated federal law.

      According to the FTC, the security breach resulted in millions of dollars in fraudulent purchases. The settlement will require CardSystems and Pay By Touch to implement a comprehensive information security program and obtain audits by an independent third-party security professional every other year for 20 years.

      This is the ninth FTC case targeting companies whose security practices compromised consumers' confidential financial information, and the first the Commission has brought against a credit card processor.

      "CardSystems kept information it had no reason to keep and then stored it in a way that put consumers' financial information at risk," said Deborah Platt Majoras, Chairman of the FTC. "Any company that keeps sensitive consumer information must take steps to ensure that the data is held in a secure manner."

      According to the FTC, CardSystems provided merchants with products and services used in "authorization processing" -- obtaining approval for credit and debit card purchases from the banks that issued the cards. Last year, it processed about 210 million card purchases, totaling more than $15 billion, for more than 119,000 small and mid-size merchants.

      In processing these transactions, CardSystems collected personal information from the magnetic strip of the card, including the card number, expiration date, and other data. CardSystems then stored this information on its computer network.

      Pay By Touch acquired CardSystems' assets in December 2005, and now processes transactions for the merchants CardSystems served.

      The FTC charged that CardSystems engaged in a number of practices that, taken together, failed to provide reasonable and appropriate security for sensitive consumer information. Specifically, the agency alleges that CardSystems:

      • created unnecessary risks to the information by storing it;

      • did not adequately assess the vulnerability of its computer network to commonly known or reasonably foreseeable attacks, including "Structured Query Language" injection attacks;

      • did not implement simple, low-cost, and readily available defenses to such attacks;

      • did not use strong passwords to prevent a hacker from gaining control over computers on its computer network and access to personal information stored on the network;

      • did not use readily available security measures to limit access between computers on its network and between its computers and the Internet; and

      • failed to employ sufficient measures to detect unauthorized access to personal information or to conduct security investigations.

      According to the FTC's complaint, these practices compromised millions of credit and debit cards, and led to millions of dollars in fraudulent purchases.

      In addition, after the fraud was discovered, banks cancelled and re-issued thousands of credit cards, and consumers experienced inconvenience, worry, and time loss dealing with the affected cards.

      The proposed settlement requires CardSystems and Pay By Touch to establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program that includes administrative, technical, and physical safeguards.

      The settlement also requires them to obtain -- every two years for the next 20 years -- an audit from a qualified, independent, third-party professional that confirms that its security program meets the standards of the order, and to comply with standard bookkeeping and record-keeping provisions.

      This case is similar to prior FTC actions involving alleged failures to secure credit and debit card information. As in the prior cases, CardSystems faces potential liability in the millions of dollars under bank procedures and in private litigation for losses related to the breach.

      "CardSystems kept information it had no reason to keep and then stored it in a way that put consumers' financial information at risk," said Deborah Platt M...
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      Japan's Big Three Take Aim at Gens X and Y

      Japanese automakers are targeting young U.S. consumers with advertising designed to sell small, fuel-efficient subcompacts

      Japanese automakers are targeting young U.S. consumers with advertising designed to sell small, fuel-efficient subcompacts to Gens X and Y .

      The big three Japanese automakers stand to profit from runaway gas prices as they prepare to roll out a new batch of the small vehicles all the while spelling more trouble for the big three U.S. automakers still obsessed with gas-gulping muscle cars.

      America is no longer demanding giant SUVs. Japan seems to know the lesson while Detroit is still learning.

      The new subcompacts from Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. will deliver fuel economy in the 30 miles-per-gallon range at prices starting at about $12,000.

      The Toyota Yaris sedan and three-door hatchback rolls out in March. The Yaris will be followed by Honda's Fit, a five-door hatchback in April, and Nissan's Versa hatchback in May and a sedan in the fall.

      Toyota discovered the younger market with the popular and boxy Scion xB refrigerator look alike Gen X and Y consumers are snapping up. Last year Toyota sold Americans 156,000 cars in the Scion line.

      The Asian automakers are counting on these young people who otherwise shop for used cars becoming Honda, Toyota or Nissan loyalists for life, moving up to larger and more profitable models.

      "There are 64 million Gen Y buyers coming into the marketplace," said Jim Lentz, Toyota's group vice president and general manager. "We know when they come to market to buy a vehicle, new or used, they will spend on average about $15,000."

      The most frequently mentioned reasons for the small-car boom are sustained higher gas prices and higher sticker prices for such popular compact models as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

      Among American carmakers, only General Motors sells a subcompact. The South Korean Chevrolet Aveo outsold all other subcompacts in the U.S. last year, posting a 20 percent sales hike as dealers sold 68,085 of the cars.

      The new entries from Japan are certain to cut into those GM sales numbers.

      The Japanese subcompacts, which top out at roughly $15,600 for a top-of-the-line Toyota Yaris, come with a long list of standard and optional equipment. Their modern looks have little resemblance to the boxy cars of three decades ago.

      Researcher J.D. Power and Associates expects sales of the smallest, cheapest cars to increase as much as 94% from 2005 to 2010 as new vehicles hit the market.

      Subcompacts already are popular in Asia, Europe and South America, based on their better fuel economy and easy-to-park size.

      A subcompact is typically 12 to 14 feet long, bumper to bumper. Of the new Japanese subcompacts, the smallest is the Toyota Yaris hatchback at 12.5 feet. A Honda Civic compact sedan is 14.7 feet long.

      Known in the auto industry as B-segment cars, subcompacts are big sellers in Asia and Europe, where their size makes them ideal for shooting through traffic and narrow city streets. Fuel economy is important in countries where gasoline is $4.50 to $5.50 a gallon.

      Japanese automakers are targeting young U.S. consumers with advertising designed to sell small, fuel-efficient subcompacts to Gens X and Y....
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      FDA Asked to Prohibit use of Carbon Monoxide in Red Meat

      A Michigan company has filed a petition asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop the use of carbon monoxide in supermarket meat.

      A Michigan company has filed a petition asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop the use of carbon monoxide in supermarket meat.

      The use of carbon monoxide deceives consumers and creates an unnecessary risk of food poisoning by enabling meat and ground beef to remain fresh-looking beyond the point at which typical color changes would indicate ageing or bacterial spoilage, according to Kalsec, Inc. of Kalamazoo, Michigan, a privately-held supplier of natural spice, herb, hop, and vegetable extracts for use in food, beverage, and pharmaceutical applications

      Kalsec's petition urged the FDA to withdraw its July 2004 decision and related decisions to allow the presence of carbon monoxide in meat packaging.

      "The FDA should not have accepted carbon monoxide in meat without doing its own independent evaluation of the safety implications," said Elizabeth Campbell, former head of FDA's Office of Food Labeling and now a consultant with AAC Consulting Group.

      The FDA accepted the practice under its "Generally Recognized As Safe" procedure, meaning that the FDA conducted no independent safety investigations on its own, but instead relied on industry claims, research and documentation.

      Carbon monoxide makes meat appear fresher than it actually is by reacting with the meat pigment myoglobin to create carboxymyoglobin, a bright red pigment that masks the natural aging and spoilage of meats.

      Carbon monoxide-treated meats are currently being sold to consumers without any notice that the meat has been treated with carbon monoxide.

      "Carbon monoxide simulates the appearance of freshness, so consumers may actually believe meat is fresh and safe when it may be neither," said Dr. Don Berdahl, Vice President and Technical Director of Kalsec. "We hope the FDA acts quickly to end this deceptive, potentially dangerous practice."

      The appearance of meat, and specifically its color, is the primary factor in consumers' decisions to buy a product, Berdahl said. The use of carbon monoxide in meat makes it impossible for consumers to know with certainty about the meat's freshness merely by looking at it.

      Treating meat with carbon monoxide could hide the growth of pathogens, such as Clostridium Botulinum, Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7.

      If meat is bought spoiled, refrigerated improperly or used after these pathogens begin to grow, even proper cooking might not be sufficient to render the food safe to eat, because certain bacteria produce toxins that survive the cooking process, he said.

      The petition claims the FDA illegally accepted the use of carbon monoxide. It is precisely because of the potential for carbon monoxide to mask the appearance of aging or spoilage and promote consumer deception that FDA regulations under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) expressly prohibit the use of carbon monoxide in "fresh meat products."

      Moreover, the petition claims the FDA did not have legal authority to permit the use of carbon monoxide in fresh meat packaging because it is an unapproved and prohibited color additive, and the agency bypassed the required procedure for carbon monoxide to obtain a color additive designation, a necessary precondition for making it legal to use carbon monoxide in fresh meat packaging, according to the petitioners.

      Regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) prohibit the introduction of ingredients in fresh meat that function to conceal damage or inferiority, or give the appearance the product is of better or greater value.

      "The use of carbon monoxide in meat should not have been allowed without independent study of the serious consumer safety and deception implications," said Dr. Berdahl.

      "At the very least, the public has a right to know about the use of carbon monoxide in their food. If the FDA won't prohibit it, the government should require a label that informs consumers about the presence of carbon monoxide and the health dangers it presents."

      The use of carbon monoxide has been banned in other countries. In 2003, the European Union prohibited the use of carbon monoxide in meat and tuna.

      The European Commission's Scientific Committee on Food said, "the stable cherry-color can last beyond the microbial shelf life of the meat and thus mask spoilage."(1) Several countries including Japan, Canada and Singapore also ban the use of carbon monoxide in tuna.

      FDA Asked to Prohibit use of Carbon Monoxide in Red Meat...
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      "Verification" Phishing Scam Hits Indiana

      Scammers passing themselves off as the "Nationwide Verification Office" have popped up in Indiana this month

      Scammers passing themselves off as the "Nationwide Verification Office" have popped up in Indiana this month. Indiana Attorney General Steve Bell says the scam that has targeted mostly seniors in other states has been reported recently all across the Hoosier state.

      "Callers representing themselves as from Nationwide Verification Office are calling Hoosiers and selling them a story that their bank accounts have been compromised and they need to verify their routing numbers and other personal information," Carter said.

      "It is encouraging that callers to this office have been on alert and not victimized by this scam. Letting the bad guys know we are onto them can help stop this activity."

      Similar schemes have been reported recently in Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin.

      In some instances, consumers have been told their banking account information has been posted on the Internet and they need to verify the account number so that the information doesnt "get into the wrong hands."

      Illinois residents were asked for their account information so that it can be deleted from a so-called "federal banking system." Consumers are asked to verify their bank account number, or to read it and the bank routing numbers found at the bottom of their checks.

      Carter is warning Hoosiers to guard their personal and financial information carefully from unsolicited callers.

      "Bad things can happen when the wrong people get a hold of social security, bank account, and credit card numbers," Carter added.

      "Accounts can be drained before you realize what has happened, and fraudulent credit established under your name. Rectifying these events can take years and hundreds of dollars."

      Consumers contacted by the so-called Nationwide Verification Office are urged to hang up and report the call to authorities in their state.

      "It is encouraging that callers to this office have been on alert and not victimized by this scam. Letting the bad guys know we are onto them can help stop...
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      Cooper Recalls Pickup, SUV Tires

      February 16, 2006
      Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. is recalling 288,000 replacement tires used on passenger cars and light trucks because of concerns about slow leaks and cracking in the tires.

      The company will replace the tires for free. Cooper Tire & rubber is warning owners to avoid driving at highway speeds until the tires are inspected and replaced.

      Roughly 183,000 tires manufactured between February 2004 and January 21 are on the recall list because of a slow leak that may be caused by a contamination problem the upper sidewall.

      The models, used on pickups and sport utility vehicles include the Cooper Discoverer S/T, Dean Mud Terrain Radial SXT, Durango Radial XTR, Mastercraft Courser C/T, Dick Cepek Radial F-C II, Mesa C/T, Pro Comp Xtreme A/T and Tempra Trailcutter Radial RT.

      Cooper Tire & Rubber said an additional 101,000 tires used on passenger cars are being recalled because of cracking found during testing.

      These tires were made from November 2004 to July 2005 and include the Dean Alpha 365 A/S, Mastercraft A/S, Starfire Flite-line IV and Trendsetter SE.

      Cooper Tire was also recalling more than 3,000 of the Cooper Zeon 2XS and Mastercraft Avenger ZHP because of cracking in the sidewall.

      The Ohio-based tiremaker reports there have been no known crashes or injuries linked to the recalled tires. Cooper Tire & Rubber produces 40 million tires each year, according to the company.

      Cooper Recalls Pickup, SUV Tires...
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      Discover Debit Card Challenges Visa and MasterCard

      Discover announced that it was introducing Discover Debit, its own debit card brand

      Two recent actions involving the Discover Financial Services company have positioned it to challenge Visa and MasterCard for dominance in the multibillion-dollar credit and debit card market, and have raised the stakes in the battle between banks, merchants, and consumers over the hidden fees involved in using plastic for purchases.

      Discover announced that it was introducing Discover Debit, its own debit card brand, to compete with Visa and MasterCard's debit offerings and increase its profile as a full-service payment company.

      In a statement announcing the venture on Feb. 13th, Discover CEO David W. Nelms touted the move as "a highly appealing alternative for financial institutions, merchants and consumers."

      "The launch of Discover Debit builds on this with a new, uncomplicated approach to signature debit that provides convenience and broad acceptance to cardholders," said Nelms, "as well as security and competitive program features to financial institutions."

      Discover touted its new card as offering more attractive features than the competition, including zero liability in case of fraud, clear pricing and billing rules, and better security.

      Most attractive to merchants, however, was Discover's announcement that it would be dropping its "No Surcharge" rule when processing merchant transactions.

      The "No Surcharge" rule prevented merchants from passing the costs of card transactions on to consumers via tacking on extra fees.

      Merchants, in turn, have to pay higher "interchange" fees when processing card transactions, and end up making less money than when customers pay cash.

      Discover Financial agreed to drop its "No Surcharge" rule in negotiations over a merchant-backed class action suit against the rule, and was dropped from the suit.

      Leveling the Playing Field

      Discover's actions are a direct challenge to Visa and MasterCard's dominance in the credit and debit market, coming at a time of increasing consumer awareness of the "hidden fees" they pay to use credit and debit cards.

      The "No Surcharge" class action suit is being combined with a separate class action suit challenging Visa and MasterCard's control of interchange fees for merchants.

      Photo shop owner Mitch Goldstone is one of the principal litigants in the interchange fee lawsuit. He hailed Discover's dropping of the "No Surcharge" rule as a smart move, and predicted that "Discover Financial is poised to garner substantial support from merchants and consumers."

      Goldstone has repeatedly targeted Visa and MasterCard for what he has called "illegal price fixing," through setting excessive processing fees that merchants have to pay when customers use plastic instead of cash.

      "While Visa and MasterCard have their heads in the sand, Discover made a brilliant marketing coup which is getting noticed by retailers and cardholders, " Goldstone said.

      Discover Financial is owned by New York-based securities and investment firm Morgan Stanley. The firm recently agreed to pay $15 million as part of a settlement with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) for failing to retain e-mail records of its activities.

      Discover Debit Card Challenges Visa and MasterCard...
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