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Current Events in June 2006

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    Lawn Mowing Not Child's Play

    With summer approaching and the school year coming to a close, thousands of kids across the country will take on a familiar chore -- mowing the lawn.

    Whether it's to help their parents mow the backyard or a summer job to earn money, this routine task can be dangerous for children and adults alike if proper safety precautions are not taken.

    In fact, more than 230,500 people -- approximately 20,000 of them children under age 19 -- were treated in doctors' offices, clinics and emergency rooms for lawn mower-related injuries in 2004, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports.

    To help prevent injures, the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery (ASRM), the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) have teamed up to educate parents, adults and children about the importance of lawn mower safety during National Safety Month, June 2006.

    "The power lawn mower is one of the most dangerous tools around the home, but many children view it as a potential toy -- resulting in thousands of debilitating injures every year," said ASRM President L. Scott Levin, MD, FACS.

    "Lawn mower injuries often include deep cuts, loss of fingers and toes, limb amputations, broken and dislocated bones, burns, and eye injuries. Most of these injuries can be prevented by following a few simple safety tips," Levin added

    The ASRM, ASPS, AAP and AAOS offer the following tips to help prevent lawn mower-related injuries:

    • Children should be at least 12 years old before they operate any lawn mower, and at least 16 years old for a ride-on mower.

    • Children should never be passengers on ride-on mowers.

    • Always wear sturdy shoes while mowing -- not sandals.

    • Young children should be a safe distance from the area you are mowing.

    • Before mowing, pick up stones, toys and debris from the lawn to prevent injuries from flying objects.

    • Always wear eye and hearing protection.

    • Use a mower with a control that stops it from moving forward if the handle is released.

    • Never pull backward or mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary carefully look for others behind you when you do.

    • Start and refuel mowers outdoors -- not in a garage. Refuel with the motor turned off and cool.

    • Blade settings should be made only by an adult .

    • Wait for blades to stop completely before removing the grass catcher, unclogging the discharge chute, or crossing gravel roads.

    "Though mowing the lawn can be a great form of physical activity, it can also cause harm if the proper precautions are not taken," explained Richard F. Kyle, MD, orthopaedic surgeon and AAOS President. "It's important that people take their time when mowing the lawn, and teach kids at an early age to stay clear of these machines when they are running."

    Many lawn mower-related injuries require a team of physicians from various specialties to properly repair them. Often, patients must endure painful reconstructive operations to restore form and function.

    "Physicians in plastic surgery, microsurgery, pediatric surgery, and orthopaedics are at the forefront in repairing these injuries and see, firsthand, how devastating they can be for children and their families," said ASPS President Bruce Cunningham, MD. "It is equally important for us to aid in the prevention of these injuries as it is to repair them."

    "The sad thing is that so many of these tragic injuries are avoidable," said Eileen M. Ouellette, MD, JD, FAAP, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "A few simple precautions can protect thousands of children."

    Lawn Mowing Not Child's Play...

    Student Loan Company Loses Borrower Data

    It's tough enough to be a college student these days, with skyrocketing tuition costs, higher loan borrowing rates, and the peril of credit card debt just for living expenses.

    Now 1.3 million borrowers from Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation have a new problem -- their personal data was compromised, leaving them vulnerable to identity theft.

    The Round Rock, TX-based lender said files on 10 percent of its borrowers were downloaded to an unidentified piece of equipment belonging to an employee of Hummingbird, a third-party contractor Texas Guaranteed had hired to provide a document management system.

    The files had been securely encrypted for transmission, but once the unidentified employee decrypted the files and downloaded them onto the device, he or she lost it.

    The device itself was password-protected, according to a statement by Hummingbird president Barry Litwin.

    It would be "extremely unlikely" that the data would be misused, he said. "The privacy of customer data is of utmost importance to us and we take our responsibility to safeguard it very seriously. We deeply regret that this incident has occurred."

    The missing data included names and Social Security numbers only, according to Texas Guaranteed. No other information was lost.

    TG has set up a special Web site and toll-free phone number to address concerns from potentially affected individuals.

    The disappearance was first reported by the Hummingbird employee on May 24th, but according to Texas Guaranteed's press statement, Hummingbird did not inform Texas Guaranteed of the loss until May 26th.

    Hummingbird announced on May 27th that it was selling itself to a conglomeration of U.S.-based private equity firms, in response to sluggish stock performance and competitive woes.

    The move drew criticism from investors who felt that the $465 million deal was too low of an offer, and that the company should have engaged in more competitive bidding.

    The Texas Guaranteed data loss comes at a time of rising concern about identity theft and data breaches, following the loss of records for 26.5 million veterans from the Veterans Administration (VA).

    The news that the VA knew about the data theft for three weeks before informing the public has led to the resignation of Michael H. McLendon, the deputy assistant policy secretary who supervised the unidentified data analyst responsible for the loss.

    The Texas Guaranteed data loss also points up the danger of employees taking home sensitive data on laptops, CD-roms, and USB drives. Not counting the VA incident, the number of Americans at risk of fraud or identity theft due to the loss of devices containing personal data exceeds half a million.

    MSNBC reporter Bob Sullivan, commenting on the repeated incidents of laptop and USB drive thefts, made a "modest proposal" on his blog that "workers should leave the work, at work," and not risk security and privacy by taking their work home with them.

    It's tough enough to be a college student these days, with skyrocketing tuition costs, higher loan borrowing rates, and the peril of credit card debt just ...

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      West Virginia Settles With Cambridge Credit Counseling

      Company will refund $250,000 to WV customers

      West Virginia has reached a settlement agreement with Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. of Agawam, Massachusetts, that will result in refunds of $250,000 to hundreds of West Virginia consumers who were overcharged for the company's services.

      Cambridge targets consumers facing dire financial circumstances and offers to help them make payment agreements with creditors, commonly known as "debt management plans."

      Consumers seeking help with debt increasingly go to the Internet seeking solutions.

      Online, consumers find an endless stream of companies with slick web sites providing little to no help for these cash-strapped consumers and charging exorbitant fees for services that they may or may not provide.

      West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office said it determined that Cambridge was providing a legitimate service that genuinely assisted consumers in making debt management plans with their creditors.

      However, prior to October 2005, Cambridge charged consumers an up-front fee that was not used to pay off the consumer's debt and was also charging consumers a monthly service fee of 10 percent.

      West Virginia's "debt pooling" statute that governs debt management plans prohibits companies from charging up-front fees and caps monthly service fees at seven percent of the consumer's monthly payment to the debt management plan.

      "Despite concerns about Cambridge's practices in the past, Cambridge has demonstrated that it is now one of the 'good guys' in an industry that is coming under increasing scrutiny by state and federal regulatory agencies," McGraw said.

      "My office plans to continue its vigilance over the debt relief industry to ensure that West Virginia consumers receive the genuine help they need and are not further victimized by companies that take their money and run."

      West Virginia Settles With Cambridge Credit Counseling...