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    Suzuki Recalls Eiger ATV for Fire Hazard

    March 10, 2006
    American Suzuki Motor Corp. is recalling about 1,900 2005 model year Eiger ATVs because of a potential fire hazard.

    Some of the ATVs were assembled with an improperly manufactured plastic fuel tank. The thin portion of these tanks could develop a fuel leak, posing a fire hazard.

    The recall involves certain Suzuki 2005 model year LT-F400FK5 and LT-A400FK5 (Eiger) ATVs. These models are available in yellow, green, or red. Below is a list of make, model and vehicle identification numbers (VIN) involved in the recall.

    Year/MakeModelVehicle Identification
    2005 Eiger 4WD 5-SpeedLT-F400FK55SAAK46A*57105591 ~ 5SAAK46A*57106610
    2005 Eiger 4WD AutoLT-A400FK55SAAK46K*57108892 ~ 5SAAK46K*57110274

    Suzuki ATV dealers nationwide from March 2005 through February 2006 for between $5,200 and $5,350.

    Consumers with recalled ATVs are being sent direct notice from Suzuki. Consumers should stop using these vehicles immediately and contact a local Suzuki ATV dealer to schedule an appointment for a free repair.

    Consumer Contact: For more information, consumers can call Suzuki toll-free at (800) 444-5077 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, or visit the firms Web site at www.suzukicycles.com.

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

    Suzuki Recalls Eiger ATV for Fire Hazard...
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    GM Recalls Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra Pickups to Fix Tailgate

    General Motors is recalling 805,368 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks because of weak tailgate support cables according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    The recall involves 1999-2000 models of both brands. The cables used to support the tailgate can corrode and fracture, NHTSA reported on its Web site.

    A spokesman for GM said the galvanized steel cables were protected with a plastic coating but water has been found to get in the coating and cause the cable to corrode and snap when the tailgate is down.

    GM reports there have been 84 injuries because of the corroded cables, most of them minor scrapes and bumps.

    Owners will receive letters in April and the tailgate cable will be replaced with a stainless steel cable.

    GM Recalls Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra Pickups to Fix Tailgate...
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    North Carolina Declares Victory In War On Payday Lending

    North Carolina has extracted agreements from three additional lenders to stop making payday loans

    North Carolina has extracted agreements from three additional lenders to stop making payday loans, which are illegal in the state. State Attorney General Roy Cooper said the agreements mean that payday lending practices by all major companies operating in the state have now ended.

    "We've fought payday lending at every turn and we're putting this industry out of business here in North Carolina," Cooper said.

    "These payday lenders thought that they had found a way around North Carolina law. Now we're showing them the way out of our state," he said.

    So-called "payday" loans are targeted at low income consumers, often struggling to make ends meet. Cooper says the lenders took advantage of their desperate circumstances to saddle them with outrageous terms.

    For example, consumers who took out a typical payday loan of $300 from one of the three companies were required to repay the loan within two weeks, plus around $60 in interest. That amounts to an annual percentage rate of 400 percent.

    Consumers who couldn't repay the loan at the end of two weeks were required to take out another payday loan to repay the first.

    Under the consent agreements, Check Into Cash, Check n Go and First American Cash Advance will stop making payday and other unauthorized loans in North Carolina.

    Cooper said the companies will not only stop collecting interest and other fees on existing loans, but will pay a total of $700,000 to find efforts to help consumers adversely impacted by payday loans.

    The money will go to several non-profit groups that provide credit counseling and financial literacy training.

    Cooper said two of the firms plan to close down operations in North Carolina and leave the state, while the third will try to get a license as a consumer finance lender that operates under state rules.

    North Carolina Declares Victory In War On Payday Lending...
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      Ohio Sues Primax Windows for Consumer Violations

      The state of Ohio is suing a window replacement company and its owner for shoddy work

      The state of Ohio is suing a window replacement company and its owner for shoddy work, failure to deliver goods and services and high-pressure sales tactics that allegedly violated the state's consumer protection and door-to-door sales laws.

      Acting on complaints from 18 Ohio consumers, Attorney General Jim Petro filed the lawsuit in the Allen County Court of Common Pleas against Primax Window Specialist, Inc., formerly located in Elida, Ohio, and owner Richard Thompson of Lima for numerous violations of the state's Consumer Sales Practices Act and the Home Solicitation Sales Act.

      "Most of the consumers in this case bought windows and patios for their homes that didn't perform as promised or weren't delivered and installed at all," Petro said. "A number of the victims were senior citizens, which makes this company's actions all the more unconscionable."

      Petro is seeking an injunction against the company and financial restitution for consumers who told his office they lost $46,856, or an average of $2,600 each, on home improvement agreements they signed with Primax. Many of the victims were older than 60, and half are from Lima. Primax closed its business in Elida last November.

      The suit contends that Primax failed to deliver purchased windows and patios, failed to state conditions for refunding consumers' deposits, entered into consumer transactions knowing they were in financial trouble, performed shoddy and incompetent work, and failed to honor its warranties, all violations of the Consumer Sales Practices Act.

      It also accuses Primax of violating a provision of the Home Solicitation Sales Act that gives consumers a three-day "cooling off" period to change their minds and cancel their contracts with door-to-door salesmen.

      Ohio's Consumer Sales Practices Act, passed in 1972, prohibits sellers from misrepresenting the nature of their business, products or services; the price of their goods; or the terms of the transaction.

      The state of Ohio is suing a window replacement company and its owner for shoddy work, failure to deliver goods and services and high-pressure sales tactic...
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      California Fines Nursing Home Chain $1 Million

      Pleasant Care Hit with More than 160 Citations

      California's second-largest nursing home chain has agreed to pay $1 million and improve the quality of care at its 30 facilities in the state, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer announced.

      The settlement will result in a permanent injunction that resolves a civil lawsuit filed by the Attorney General's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

      "Despite dozens of warnings and fines, Pleasant Care was simply unable to provide an appropriate level of care for its residents. This injunction will make sure that Pleasant Care complies with existing law and also provides the best level of care possible," Lockyer said.

      Lockyer's lawsuit stems from numerous allegations of elder abuse and criminally negligent care, including more than 160 citations that the California Department of Health Services (DHS) has issued against Pleasant Care facilities across the state over the last five years for regulatory violations.

      The injunction was issued by Superior Court Judge Laura Matz.

      Under the terms of the injunction, all 30 of Pleasant Care's skilled nursing facilities in California must comply with numerous conditions that will immediately and dramatically improve the quality of care provided to residents occupying the company's more than 4,300 skilled nursing facility beds, including:

      • Mandatory Staff Training - staff must undergo training on proper patient care in such areas as wound treatment, accurate record keeping, and the prevention of malnutrition and dehydration;

      • Abuse and Neglect Investigations - each facility is required to implement policies to ensure prompt reporting and investigation of any alleged act of abuse or neglect towards a resident, and staff persons reasonably suspected of committing abuse must be placed on administrative leave during the course of the investigation;

      • Compliance Officer - Pleasant Care must hire a Compliance Officer who will be responsible for ensuring that each facility complies with the law, properly responds to state and federal investigations, and delivers proper levels of care to residents;

      • Independent Monitor - Pleasant Care will pay for an Independent Monitor, selected in consultation with the Attorney General, who has broad authority to order statewide quality of care improvements, and will annually report its findings to the AG over the next five years;

      • Nurse to Patient Ratio - Pleasant Care must maintain nurse staffing ratio of 3.2 hours per patient, per day, subjected to outside audits to ensure compliance, and ordered to pay stipulated fines for any failure to maintain the required nurse-to-patient ratio; and,

      • Whistleblower Protections - Pleasant Care must establish and maintain a whistleblower program that allows employees, residents and other individuals to anonymously report suspected violations and mistreatment of residents. A log detailing all complaints made and investigation outcomes also must be maintained and made available to the Independent Monitor and the AG.

      In addition, Pleasant Care is required to pay $1 million in civil penalties and $350,000 to reimburse the state for investigative costs. Failure to fully comply with any provision of the injunction also could result in civil penalties of up to $6,000 per violation, other sanctions deemed appropriate by the court, and exclusion from receiving funding from both the Medi-Cal and Medicare healthcare programs.

      Pleasant Care currently operates 30 skilled nursing facilities in 14 different California counties, including: Alameda, Butte, Kern, Los Angeles, Marin, Mendocino, Riverside, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Sutter.

      Over the last five years, DHS has issued more than 160 citations and fines against numerous Pleasant Care facilities for violations of patient care regulations, with several citations involving violations which presented an imminent danger that death or serious harm would result.

      In 2004 alone, for example, eight different Pleasant Care nursing homes in California were found to have delivered "substandard" care to residents in annual surveys conducted by DHS.

      Other specific instances of deficient service and care also formed the basis for the AG's lawsuit.

      In 2003, a resident at the company's Ukiah facility suffered a seizure and a blocked airway, but the nurse was unable to effectively aid the resident due to the fact that the facility's suction machines had not been kept in working order. The resident died from acute cardiopulmonary arrest stemming from his inability to breathe.

      In 2004, a resident at Pleasant Care's Novato facility suffered from a pressure sore that was allowed to worsen so severely that the resident ultimately died. The coroner who examined the female resident later told DHS that his examination showed that she had been subjected to "abominable wound care management."

      According to data maintained by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Developement, Pleasant Care has also consistently failed to staff its chain of nursing homes at the rate of 3.2 nursing hours per patient, per day as required by California law. The failure to adequately staff its facilities with qualified nurses resulted in increased profits for the corporation at the expense of its residents' health and safety.

      In a related case, Pleasant Care of Northern California (PCNC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pleasant Care Corporation, is scheduled to appear in Napa County Superior Court tomorrow for the purpose of entering pleas in a criminal case filed by the Attorney General.

      The case alleges that PCNC delivered criminally negligent care to patients at its now closed Napa facility, and charges the facility with five misdemeanor counts of elder abuse and one count of willfully violating California's nursing home patient care regulations.

      California Fines Nursing Home Chain $1 Million...
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      IRS Warns of Tax Scams

      Don't be fooled by the growing number of scams that use the IRS name and logo

      With taxpayers headed down the home stretch toward the income tax filing deadline, the Internal Revenue Service is warning once again not to be fooled by the growing number of scams that use the IRS name and logo.

      The agency says those who fall for the scam will likely become victims of identity theft, or have their bank accounts looted.

      "Fraudsters may use the IRS name because most consumers recognize it, have had prior communication with or from the IRS, such as receiving annual tax form and instruction packages, and have previously provided the IRS some financial data, such as that contained on tax returns," the agency said in a consumer alert.

      As a general rule, the IRS does not send out unsolicited e-mails or ask for detailed personal information. Additionally, the IRS said it does not ask people for the PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for their credit card, bank or other financial accounts.

      Tricking consumers into disclosing their personal and financial data, such as secret access data or credit card or bank account numbers, is identity theft. Such schemes perpetrated through the Internet are called "phishing" for information.

      The information fraudulently obtained is then used to steal the taxpayer's identity and financial assets.

      Typically, identity thieves use someone's personal data to steal his or her financial accounts, run up charges on the victim's existing credit cards, apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in the victim's name and even file fraudulent tax returns.

      Identity theft usually causes immediate financial losses for the victims, who may also encounter lingering credit and other problems.

      Identity theft schemes take numerous forms. Identity theft may be conducted by e-mail (phishing), standard mail, telephone or fax. Thieves may also go through trash looking for discarded tax returns, bank records, credit card receipts or other records that contain personal and financial information.

      When the IRS learns about schemes involving use of the IRS name, it tries to alert consumers as well as authorities that can shut down the scheme, if possible.

      The following are examples of recent schemes:

      Phony e-mails e-Mails claiming to come from tax-refunds@irs.gov, admin@irs.gov or other variations on the irs.gov theme told the recipients that they were eligible to receive a tax refund for a given amount.

      It directed recipients to claim the refund by using a link contained in the e-mail which sent the recipient to a Web site. The site, a clone of the IRS Web site, displayed an interactive page similar to a genuine IRS one; however, it had been modified to ask for personal and financial information that the genuine IRS interactive page does not require.

      The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has reported that it found 12 separate Web sites in 11 different countries hosting variations on this scheme.

      Bogus letters A bogus IRS letter and Form W-8BEN (Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding) asked non-residents to provide personal information such as account numbers, PINs, mother's maiden name and passport number.

      The legitimate IRS Form W-8BEN, which is used by financial institutions to establish appropriate tax withholding for foreign individuals, does not ask for any of this information.

      To protect against potential identity thieves, take the following steps:

      • Be skeptical of communications you receive from sources you are not expecting. Verify the authenticity of phone calls, standard mail, faxes or e-mails of questionable origin before responding.

      • Do not reveal secret passwords, PINs or other security-based data to third parties; genuine organizations or institutions do not need your secret data for ordinary business transactions.

      • Do not click on links contained in possibly questionable e-mails; instead, go directly to the site already know to be genuine. For example, the only address for the IRS Web site is www.irs.gov any other variations on this will not lead to the legitimate IRS Web site.

      • Do not open attachments to e-mails of possibly questionable origin, since they may contain viruses that will infect your computer.

      • Shred paper documents containing private financial information before discarding.

      IRS Warns of Tax Scams...
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      ACORN Names Money Mart "Loan Shark of the Year"

      It's the second year that ACORN has given its loan shark award to Money Mart

      The consumer organization ACORN is naming Money Mart its "Loan Shark of the Year" to protest what it calls the company's predatory payday loans, high fees for check-cashing and wiring money, and high interest Refund Anticipation Loans.

      It's the second year that ACORN -- the Association of Community Originations for Reform Now -- has given its loan shark award to Money Mart, which earlier this week lost its bid for have a Canadian consumer lawsuit dismissed.

      "This company's entire business is based on preying on people in need," said California ACORN member Paulette Chappill-Otten. "And we aren't going to take it any more."

      The interest rates on Money Mart's payday loans range from 266% to 912%.

      While Money Mart says payday loans help people in a one-time emergency, ACORN charges that payday loans get people deeper in debt and that Money Mart's profits come from customers who can't pay the loans back and so are forced to repeatedly renew the loans and pay additional interest.

      A $300 payday loan from Money Mart costs $352.50. If after two weeks the customer can't pay the full amount, they pay the $52.50 finance charge and Money Mart rolls the loan over for two more weeks.

      If, as in many cases, this continues for three months, the customer will have paid Money Mart $341 in interest and still owe the entire $352.50 loan amount.

      "Money Mart is making a killing from people just trying to make a living," says Cindy Ransom, chair of the British Columbia ACORN's Guildford chapter. "That is unacceptable."

      ACORN said it wants Money Mart to stop its predatory practices and agree to the same changes other tax preparers have agreed to.

      Over the last two years, ACORN has won reductions in the prices of RALs and other refund products at the three largest tax preparation companies in the country H&R; Block, Jackson Hewitt, and Liberty Tax and has won improvements in the disclosures and information that these companies provide to their customers about their refund options.

      North of the Border

      The Supreme Court of Canada this week dismissed a bid by the company to derail a proposed class-action suit launched by Windsor pensioner Margaret Smith, who is alleging the fees and interest on the company's short-term payday loans exceed the legal rate of interest set out in the Canadian Criminal Code 60 per cent per annum many times over.

      The Supreme Court dismissed Money Mart's bid to appeal lower court decisions that found arbitration and no-claim waivers signed by the company's customers did not preclude them from suing the company.

      Money Mart is owned by Dollar Financial Group, Inc. With more than 1,000 locations in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, it claims to be the largest international network of retail financial services stores.

      "This company's entire business is based on preying on people in need," said California ACORN member Paulette Chappill-Otten. "And we aren't going to take ...
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      Consumer Reports Sizes Up Hybrid Costs

      Savings at Pump Don't Offset Higher Purchase Price

      For consumers who believe that gas/electric hybrid vehicles will save them money, the picture hasn't been so clear. Hybrid vehicles are more fuel efficient and produce lower emissions than conventional gasoline-only vehicles.

      Most current models of hybrids also score well in Consumer Reports' testing and are highly rated in CR's annual reliability and owner satisfaction surveys. But do hybrid vehicles really hold the potential to save the consumer money over the long haul?

      To find the answer, Consumer Reports looked at all of the major ownership costs and financial benefits of six different hybrid vehicles -- a mix of sedans and sport-utility vehicles (SUVs).

      In Consumer Reports' analysis, none of the six hybrids tested recovered its price premium in the first five years and 75,000 miles of ownership. In fact, the extra ownership costs over five years for those vehicles ranged from $3,700 to $13,300.

      Even when the analysis was extended to a period of 10 years and 150,000 miles, it was not possible to recover the price premium for a hybrid vehicle.

      Consumer Reports also found that the benefits and costs of hybrids vary significantly, depending on the model. Because of the wide range of hybrid vehicles available, it's especially important for consumers to look carefully at all aspects of the vehicle before buying.

      The 2006 model year vehicles examined are the: Ford Escape Hybrid AWD, Honda Accord Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid, Lexus RX400h AWD, Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD and the Toyota Prius.

      The full report, titled "The dollars & sense of hybrids," is published in Consumer Reports' Annual April Auto Issue, which goes on sale beginning Tuesday, March 7.

      The rising price of gasoline and concern over U.S. dependence on oil have generated a lot of interest in hybrids, and with good reason. They typically deliver the best fuel economy in their classes. The most fuel-efficient models can save the consumer about $660 in gasoline costs. Hybrids also emit less pollution.

      Each gallon of gasoline not burned prevents the emission of 19 pounds of carbon dioxide, which many believe contributes to global warming. In some states, hybrid owners can even use special carpool lanes regardless of the number of occupants in the vehicle.

      These benefits add up to an inviting package for many car buyers who are willing to pay a premium for a hybrid.

      But for those who are considering buying a hybrid for purely financial reasons, the figures just don't add up.

      Estimating the Total Ownership Costs

      To estimate the various overall ownership costs of hybrids, Consumer Reports picked six current models that it had previously tested and totaled their major costs and savings over the first five years, the longest period for which reliable data on all the cost components are available.

      Five years is also a typical period of car ownership. CR did the same thing for each model's closest conventional, gasoline-powered equivalent and then compared the two. (For its investigation, Consumer Reports assumed that all the vehicles were purchased in California, the leading market for hybrid sales.)

      Consumer Reports factored the following into its calculations: the purchase price premiums for hybrids, the difference in sales tax, savings from hybrid federal tax credits, fuel savings from hybrids at the pump, the extra cost or savings in insurance premiums for hybrids, the extra maintenance cost or savings from hybrids, the extra depreciation cost, and extra financing cost.

      After factoring in federal tax credits and fuel savings that are based on gas prices rising to $3 and then to $4 a gallon, CR's calculations show that the most cost-effective hybrids, the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius, still cost $3,700 and $5,250 more than their all-gas peers (the Civic EX sedan and Corolla LE sedan, respectively) after five years.

      Models with the highest cost difference -- the Honda Accord Hybrid, Lexus RX400h, and Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited -- ranged from $10,250 to $13,300 more.

      Consumer Reports Sizes Up Hybrid Costs...
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      Study Warns Cell Phones Could Cause Airliner Crash

      Carnegie Mellon study confirms risk

      Lifting the current ban on use of cell phones aboard airliners could pose the risk of a major accident, according to a new engineering study.

      The study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers has found that cell phones and other portable electronic devices, like laptops and game-playing devices, can pose dangers to the normal operation of critical electronics on airplanes.

      The study will be featured in an article appearing in the March issue of IEEE Spectrum.

      "We found that the risk posed by these portable devices is higher than previously believed," said Bill Strauss, who recently completed his Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon.

      "These devices can disrupt normal operation of key cockpit instruments, especially Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, which are increasingly vital for safe landings." Strauss is an expert in aircraft electromagnetic compatibility at the Naval Air Warfare Center in Patuxent River, Md.

      With support from the Federal Aviation Administration, three major airlines and the Transportation Security Agency, researchers crisscrossed the northeast United States on commercial flights, monitoring radio emissions from passenger use of cell phones and other electronic devices.

      They tracked these radio emissions via a broadband antenna attached to a compact portable spectrum analyzer that fit into an innocuous carry-on bag.

      "A laptop computer controlled the system and logged the data," said researcher Granger Morgan. "While we looked primarily at wireless phones, we also discovered that emissions from other portable electronic devices were problematic."

      The researchers found that on average one to four cell phone calls are typically made from every commercial flight in the northeast United States. Some of these calls are made during critical flight stages such as climb-out, or on final approach. This could cause accidents, the investigators report.

      Both Strauss and Morgan, along with Carnegie Mellon researchers Jay Apt and Dan Stancil, recommend that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the FAA begin to coordinate electronic emission standards.

      At the moment, there is no formal coordination between the two federal agencies. The researchers also recommend routine monitoring of on-board radio emissions by flight data recorders and deploying specially designed tools for flight crews to monitor passenger use of electronic devices during final approach.

      While the FCC recently suggested that it might be appropriate to allow passengers to use cell phones and other electronic devices on airplanes, Morgan disagrees.

      "We feel that passenger use of portable electronic devices on aircraft should continue to be limited for the safety of all concerned," Morgan said.

      Study Warns Cell Phones Could Cause Airliner Crash...
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