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    Sen. Clinton Targets Child Identity Theft

    Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says she will add protection against the theft of children's identities to new legislation she is introducing to prevent debit card fraud.

    Identity thieves are increasingly turning to pilfering the information of young children in order to pull off their scams, Clinton said. The dangerous tactic uses children's personal data to open up new credit accounts and rack up thousands in debt.

    Clinton said she knew of a case where a thief used a seven-year-old's identity to purchase a $40,000 houseboat.

    The nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center estimates that as many as 500,000 American children may have been victimized by fraud or identity theft in 2005. The Federal Trade Commission says the number is closer to 400,000.

    Children and young adults are prime targets for identity thieves as they may have unblemished credit records, or no credit records at all.

    Common tactics include parents using childrens' Social Security numbers to open up new credit accounts, and "dumpster diving" thieves stealing credit offers mistakenly sent to children too young to make use of them.

    Victims often remain ignorant of their identities being misused until they start receiving collection notices for unpaid bills on accounts they don't recognize, as well as pre-approved credit offers.

    Under her legislation, credit card companies would have to verify the age of any new applicant for credit before approving or denying the claim. Companies that failed to verify applicants' ages would be fined.

    The new legislation is part of Clinton's "Debit and Check Card Consumer Protection Act of 2006." The bill would extend the anti-fraud protections for credit cards to debit and check cards, including the limitation of liability for fraudulent purchases to $50.

    Under current liability law, consumers whose debit cards are used fraudulently can be liable for as much as $500 if the fraud isn't reported in two business days or less. Many banks and credit unions extend zero-liability protection to debit card users, but the practice varies according to the bank or credit union in question.

    Debit card users would also have the right to "charge back" purchases made with their cards if they were dissatisfied with the merchandise under Clinton's bill.

    What You Can Do

    • Keep your child's Social Security card and information locked up in a safe or strongbox. Do not carry it or share it with anyone outside the household.

    • Ask to have your child's Social Security number obscured or removed from insurance or medical documents.

    • Don't give your child's Social Security number to them until they're old enough to understand what it is and why they need it.

    • Check both yours and your child's credit reports regularly for any signs of fraud or unidentified accounts.

    Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says she will add protection against the theft of children's identities to new legislation she is introducing to prevent debit ...
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    Denver DA Probes LimeWire; Peer-to-Peer Software Enables Identity Theft, Cops Claim

    Peer-to-Peer Software Enables Identity Theft, Cops Claim

    Denver authorities are warning consumers of an alleged identity theft scam involving the use of LimeWire, a popular peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing program that lets users send music, videos, and documents to each other over the Web.

    The warning came after a search of a LimeWire user's apartment turned up documents belonging to local businesses on the user's hard drive.

    Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney's office said that the investigation turned up 75 documents belonging to businesses "from all over the country" that the suspect using LimeWire. One arrest had been made and three more suspects were being sought for questioning, Kimbrough said.

    Details were scarce as to the nature of the investigation and how the program was "exploited." Denver authorities noted that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued an alert warning consumers of the dangers of using file-sharing programs.

    "Computer users might consider uninstalling and deleting file-sharing software from their computers and consider having their computers screened by a reputable computer professional," Kimbrough said.

    But is this all there is to it?

    Peer-To-Peer Perils

    LimeWire's P2P service works by enabling users who have downloaded LimeWire to remotely search each other's hard drives and upload or download files that they want.

    The user enables the folders they want to open to other LimeWire users for sharing.

    For example, if a LimeWire user sets up their computer's "My Documents" folder for sharing, other LimeWire users can access that folder for something they may want.

    If a LimeWire user was storing sensitive business documents in a folder enabled for sharing, other users could easily avail themselves of the information without any special exploitation of the program. The program has to be active and running for files to be shared.

    Without knowledge of the particulars of the investigation, it can only be speculated that an unscrupulous user may have found other users' personal information and business documents in their shared folders.

    Many P2P service users will leave applications like LimeWire running for hours or even overnight when downloading multiple files, so documents could be uploaded with no one being the wiser.

    LimeWire is one of the largest remaining P2P file-sharing programs active, as many of its contemporaries have been litigated into oblivion for copyright violation, or become legitimate (and less successful) for-pay download services, such as Napster.

    The Recording Industry Association Of America (RIAA) has sued LimeWire on charges that it "induces" users to engage in illegal file-sharing, based on the Supreme Court decision of MGM vs. Grokster.

    In Grokster, the Court ruled that P2P services could be used to "induce" copyright infringement, which the RIAA took as carte blanche to sue any file-sharing service that didn't comply with its terms.

    In response, LimeWire sued the RIAA in September for what it called violations of antitrust law.

    "This case is but one part of a much larger modern conspiracy to destroy all innovation that content owners cannot control and that disrupts their historical business models," the company said in its suit.

    What You Can Do

    Whether or not you believe file-sharing is identity theft, or that sharing files via P2P is copyright infringement, the reality is that allowing unknown users to have access to your personal computer files is very dangerous if you don't have protective measures set up. These can include the following:

    • Only set up a file-sharing program if you have up-to-date antivirus software and firewalls running. Scan any uploaded files for viruses or other nasty tricks before putting them in your folders.

    • Don't use any file-sharing program that installs additional files onto your machine. Many services come bundled with spyware and adware programs that can cause irreparable harm to your machine. Consider using a "premium" paid model rather than a basic "free" model, as the latter often has many unexpectedand unwantedadditions when you download it.

    • Don't enable any directory or folder for sharing that exposes private documents to other users. If you want to share documents, music and images, set up specific folders to open up to your P2P service, and move the files you want to share into those folders only.

    • Turn off any file-sharing application if you're not using it. This can be trickier than it sounds, as many programs will continue to run in the background even if you've exited from active use. Make sure to enable your program's settings to shut off completely when you want it to.

    Denver DA Probes LimeWire; Peer-to-Peer Software Enables Identity Theft, Cops Claim...
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      Worried About Outliving Your Assets?

      Longer Lifespans Increase the Risk of Outliving Your Money

      This is one of those "good news, bad news" stories. The good news is that overall we're living longer. The bad news is that some of us are going to run out of money before we die.

      This is increasingly becoming a concern for baby boomers just entering their retirement years. In fact, there's even a financial term for it -- "longevity risk" and it refers to the risk of outliving our money.

      You have to figure that if the finance experts have a name for a problem, then they probably also have a solution. Recently, a pair of investment gurus were awarded a patent for inventing a system that directly addresses the challenge of outliving our assets.

      Moshe Milevsky, from York University in Toronto and Peng Chen, president of the investment advisory company Ibbotson Associates were issued U.S. Patent 7,120,01 for coming up with a system that takes longevity risk into account when recommending investment strategies to those looking to finance their retirement.

      The system considers three basic risk assessments when making asset and product allocation decisions in retirement:

      • financial market risk,
      • inflation risk, and
      • longevity risk.

      This model integrates all of these risks and provides a solution to help investors have a comfortable retirement.

      How It Works

      Here's more or less how the Milevsky-Chen invention works. Keep in mind the goal is to provide retirement income while hedging longevity and financial risk. It's sort of like your own personal hedge fund that includes a hedge against a long and healthy life.

      The first thing you have to consider is how to manage your financial risk. One of the best ways to do that is through diversification and asset allocation -- not keeping all your eggs in one basket. That way you spread the risk around.

      Here's where it gets a little tricky: If you diversify a lot and minimize the risk too much, your money is going to be safer but it's not likely to grow much either. So you need to keep enough risk in your investment portfolio to grow your money at a rate that will cover what you have to live on.

      Putting it another way, stocks tend to be riskier than bonds but also offer great growth potential, so in most cases you want to make sure you put more of your money into stocks than bonds.

      Next is dealing with longevity risk. One way to do that is to do what insurance companies do. They spread the risk of living a long time across a pool of assets to come up with an annuity, which will pay you so much income annually for each year of your life.

      Milevsky and Chen figured out that by combining an annuity with an investment portfolio, you can at least lower the probability of running out of money before you die.

      Annuities Aren't Cheap

      Where does the money to buy that annuity come from? It comes from your assets. The key question is how much then do you need to purchase an annuity that provides an income that lasts a lifetime, or at least your lifetime?

      That depends on a number of things. Do you want to leave an inheritance or are you, as they say, taking it all with you? Are you wealthy enough that you don't even have to worry about money? If that's the case, then why are you even reading this article? Do you expect to live a long time? Don't we all? And finally, how much does the annuity cost?

      You may have to buy the annuity from an insurance company, and they don't give them away. There are costs involved.

      According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, today's workers can expect to receive only one-third of their retirement income from Social Security and traditional company pension plans. That means the bulk of your retirement money has to come from somewhere else and that somewhere else is personal savings, unless you're planning on winning the Australia lottery or getting money from a Nigerian prince.

      So how much do you need to save by the time you retire? There are a lot of "guestimates" but the low end number seems to be around $450,000. Anything lower than that and it becomes a real struggle. To live really comfortably, you need close to $1 million in savings.

      Let's say you were smart and by the time you and your spouse retired at age 65, you've saved $1 million. To cover living expenses beyond what you get from Social Security and pensions you'll still need an extra $50,000 a year to live comfortably.

      So what do you do? You could invest that $1 million into a portfolio of 60 percent stocks and 40 percent bonds. Unfortunately, if that's all you do, there's a 10 percent chance you'll run out of money by the time you reach age 84, a 25 percent chance by age 87, a 50 percent chance by age 92.

      If you live to a 100, there's a 90 percent chance you'll be broke before you die. You may think that by that time you won't care but don't count on it.

      Now, let's use the Milevsky-Chen model. You would take $400,000 of that money and buy an annuity or maybe even a mix of annuities. This model provides for a combination that includes a portfolio of stocks and bonds and fixed and variable annuities.

      It is this combination that hedges the longevity risk as well as any financial market risk. In fact, if you follow the Chen and Milvesky system there's only a 10 percent chance of running out of money at age 92.

      Longevity Insurance

      Insurance companies have started coming up with policies to address this issue as well. You can now buy something called "longevity insurance." For example, MetLife has a retirement income insurance policy that for $30,000 would pay a 65-year-old male retiree lifetime monthly payments of $2,200, or $1,250 with a death benefit, starting at age 85.

      The main drawback here is that you have to live to 85 to reap the benefits. As I said before, they just don't give it away.

      Best thing you can do to prepare for retirement is to start saving as early as possible. If you're already a boomer and you haven't put away $500,000 in savings, you may have to take other action, such as selling your house and moving to a less expensive location or getting a reverse mortgage.

      The Milevsky-Chen model may not work for everyone, but then nothing does. At least they're taking the issue of "longevity risk" seriously, and you should too.

      Worried About Outliving Your Assets?...
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      Pittsburgh Man Arrested in MySpace Sex Case

      Agents from the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Child Predator Unit have arrested a Pittsburgh man accused of using the MySpace social networking website to sexually proposition a 14-year old girl. The same suspect was also charged with possessing illegal child pornography on his computer.

      According to the criminal charges, Dustin Pawlicki sent a series of sexually graphic email messages to a 14-year old whom he located by browsing through personal profiles on the MySpace website.

      After learning that the girl was from Allegheny County, Pawlicki allegedly proposed that they meet for the purpose of having sex.

      Attorney General Tom Corbett explained that while Pawlicki was allegedly communicating online with the 14-year-old girl, he was free on bail following an earlier "Internet child sex sting" by the Attorney General's Child Predator Unit.

      On June 14, 2006 agents arrested Pawlicki after he traveled to North Huntingdon, Westmoreland County, to have sex with an undercover agent that he believed was a 13-year old girl.

      Corbett noted that as conditions for his release on bail following the June arrest, Pawlicki was specifically ordered not to have any contact a minor and not to use a computer.

      According to the criminal charges, Pawlicki visited the MySpace site and contacted the 14-year old girl four times between Aug. 29 and Sept. 15, 2006. Pawlicki allegedly contacted the girl using a computer at an electronics store in the mall where he worked.

      Pawlicki was charged with criminal solicitation to have unlawful contact with a minor, a second-degree felony punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $25,000 fine, along with criminal use of a computer, a third-degree felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

      Corbett said that Pawlicki also has been charged with possession of illegal child pornography, based on a search of a computer that was seized following his June 2006 arrest.

      A detailed analysis of that computer by the Attorney General's Computer Forensics Unit identified two items of suspected illegal child pornography -- both videos allegedly depicting children under the age of 18 either nude or engaging in sexual activity.

      Pawlicki is charged with one count of sexual abuse of children related to the suspected child pornography discovered on his computer. That charge is a third-degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

      Pawlicki currently is awaiting trial on the criminal charges filed against him on June 14, 2006, including criminal solicitation of unlawful contact with a minor, criminal use of a computer and criminal attempted obscene performances.

      Dustin Pawlicki sent a series of sexually graphic email messages to a 14-year old whom he located by browsing through personal profiles on the MySpace webs...
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      Scammers Dust Off The Old "Pump & Dump"

      With the Dow at 12,000 and real estate values sinking faster than the Titanic, many investors are taking another look at the stock market. And scammers have dusted off an old chestnut to take advantage of unsophisticated investors.

      As long as there have been stocks, there have been stock touters -- those who seek to drive up the price of shares that they happen to own in hopes of selling at a huge profit.

      Also called the "pump and dump," this scheme leaves many small investors holding the bag when the scammers sell and the share prices plunge.

      Using spam emails, these scammers are sending out millions of messages each day breathlessly extolling the virtue of some obscure company. In nearly every case the company itself is clueless that it is part of a scam. It's chosen because its stock is selling for pennies a share, making it easy for the scammer to acquire a huge number of shares with a minimal investment.

      Does the scam work? Apparently it does.

      Texhoma Energy was touted in a recent spam email, resulting in a significant increase in the stock's value. According to the Chicago Tribune, 53,000 shares of Texhoma stock were traded on October 16. The next day the volume jumped to more than one million.

      Two day later it jumped to more than five million, as the spam emails began to hit inboxes and prompt victims to place orders.

      The scammers, of course, sell at the stock's high point and other investors soon join them as the price begins to fall. Pretty soon the stock is back to selling at a nickel a share and those who jumped on the bandwagon have lost significant amounts of money.

      The best way to avoid this scam> Don't take investment advice from an anonymous email.

      Scammers Dust Off The Old ...
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      New Jersey Sues Rite Aid for Consumer Fraud

      The State of New Jersey is suing Rite Aid, charging the drug store chain sold expired merchandise, including non-prescription drugs, infant formula and baby food, and charged consumers prices in excess of those listed on the shelf.

      The complaint seeks civil penalties, consumer restitution and an order directing the defendants to remove and destroy all expired non-prescription drugs, infant formula or baby food from any Rite Aid store in the state.

      The complaint alleges that the defendants violated the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) and the Weights and Measures Act, and violated the terms of prior agreements with the Division.

      "It is unconscionable that a store would sell expired merchandise -- especially infant formula, baby food and nonprescription medications -- to unsuspecting consumers who rely on these products for the care and welfare of their loved ones," said Attorney General Stuart Rabner.

      "The behavior of these stores is even more egregious because they had previously agreed not to engage in any such violations and cease and desist from selling expired products."

      During the period of August 14, 2006 through October 3, 2006, the Division, including the Office of Weights and Measures and the Office of Consumer Protection, investigated approximately 104 Rite Aid stores. The defendants currently operate approximately 159 Rite Aid stores in New Jersey.

      The state alleges it found the following violations:

      • the sale of expired merchandise at approximately 42 retail stores;

      • unconscionable commercial practices, false promises and/or misrepresentations;

      • failure to post a refund policy or obscuring the posted refund policy at approximately 31 retail stores;

      • charging consumers prices that exceed the price posted at the point of display;

      • violation of an October 2001 assurance of voluntary compliance (AVC) by defendants; and

      • violation of a November 2001 consent order and a June 2005 consent order by Rite Aid NJ

      The States complaint also alleges that the defendants violated the Weights and Measures Act due to improper price scanning by at least 76 store locations.

      The States complaint also alleges that the defendants violated the Weights and Measures Act due to improper price scanning by at least 76 store locations....
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      Court Orders Guidant To Release Documents

      Judge Grants Public Citizen Motion to Unseal Pricing Data

      The pacemaker manufacturer Guidant must make public judicial records from a case involving the pricing of its products in response to a Public Citizen motion to unseal the documents, according to a federal judge's ruling.

      The sealed summary judgment records were from the recently settled Cardiac Pacemakers v. Aspen II Holding Co., in which two subsidiaries of Guidant that produce and sell controversial cardiac rhythm management devices sued the health care consulting company Aspen Health Care Metrics for publishing information about the prices of Guidant's pacemakers.

      Guidant had defended the filing of the papers supporting summary judgment under seal but provided no documentation of a need for secrecy.

      Paul Alan Levy, an attorney for Public Citizen, argued before Judge Donovan Frank of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota that the information was highly important to the public interest and should be unsealed.

      Frank ruled Tuesday that Guidant must release all of the summary judgment briefs and most of the supporting affidavits, while allowing most of the supporting exhibits to remain sealed for reasons that he did not sufficiently explain.

      In its motion, Public Citizen asserted that Guidant's efforts to suppress publication of its products' prices hinders efforts at maintaining price transparency and threatens to foster the artificial elevation of prices, possibly limiting public access to affordable health care.

      Guidant's attempts to keep court records secret also deny other hospitals, purchasing organizations and health care industry actors who are subject to Guidant's lawsuit threats access to vital information to better prepare their own defense.

      "This is a partial win for health care consumers over corporate secrecy," said Levy. "Unfortunately, although Judge Frank has ordered the release of a significant amount of material, the methods he has used -- extensive in chambers review without requiring Guidant to make a public showing of evidence of its need for confidentiality -- sets a poor precedent for future cases. An appeal may be necessary to ensure that future cases are handled correctly."

      The pacemaker manufacturer Guidant must make public judicial records from a case involving the pricing of its products in response to a Public Citizen moti...
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      Study: Cell Phone Users Have Lower Sperm Counts

      Researchers warn that your sperm cell count may drop as your cell phone usage rises.

      Researchers warn that your sperm cell count may drop as your cell phone usage rises.

      A study presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in New Orleans showed a drop in sperm count and quality with increased usage of mobile phones. The study covered 361 men attending a fertility clinic.

      Results of tests on the men's sperm showed significant declines in four standard measures of sperm quality, including count, viability, motility and shape, with a definite link to the average amount of time spent using their phones daily.

      The researchers found those men who used a phone for four or more hours a day had fewer sperm and those they had moved less well and were of poorer quality. Those who said they did not use cell phones at all had the highest average sperm counts and their sperm was of the highest quality seen.

      The study was conducted by Ashok Agarwal and colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. Agarwal stressed that while the research did not conclusively prove that mobile phones were damaging fertility, it certainly suggested that more research was needed.

      According to Agarwal, mobile phone radiation may harm sperm by damaging DNA, disrupting cells that produce testosterone in the testes, or shrinking the tubules where sperm are created.

      Recent research in Hungary concluded that men who carry mobile phones in their pockets risk damaging their sperm count.

      Last year the chair of the UK Health Protection Agency, Sir William Stewart, warned that children under eight should not be using mobile phones because there was still no certainty about the long-term health impact.

      Study: Cell Phone Users Have Lower Sperm Counts...
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      Jousting with Jiffy Lube - Chain Adopts New Quality Control Measures Nationwide

      Chain Adopts New Quality Control Measures Nationwide

      Lately, Jiffy Lube has been slipping on its own oil. Since last spring, several of the quick-lube franchises, especially five Los Angeles-area stores owned by Heartland Automotive, were caught charging for work never performed.

      In the Los Angeles case, NBC4's undercover investigation found that Jiffy Lube charged a producer for a new fuel filter, even though the old filter remained under the hood. The investigation brought others disillusioned with Jiffy Lube out of the woodwork in at least 17 states.

      In response, Luis A. Scoffone, President of Jiffy Lube International, went on the offensive with a September letter to customers.

      The following "Jiffy Lube Pledge" just went into effect and will be displayed in all service centers:

      • We will inform you of services that may be necessary during your visit, and you will have the ability to make the final decision about which services to purchase.
      • We will recommend our services based on manufacturers' time and mileage intervals for
      • severe
      • driving conditions. If you do not drive in
      • severe
      • conditions or need more information about different driving conditions, please let us know.
      • We may recommend certain services based on other criteria if manufacturers' recommendations do not exist for them.
      • We will never base fluid services recommendations on the appearance or smell of your vehicle's fluids.
      • We will never charge you for services that you have not authorized or that we did not complete properly. Please ask if you would like to see or receive your used parts and we will be happy to accommodate your request.

      The company also has three "operational initiatives" geared toward preventing fraud.

      First, a "technical mystery shopper" program will inspect a car before and after the work ordered is done. This will presumably ensure that work really IS done before a customer forks over that check.

      Second, Jiffy Lube has established a "Store Audit Group" to measure the quality of service at each store. These internal auditors will conduct customer invoice reviews, take fluid samples, check for compliance with brand standards, interview employees, file exception reports if something is out of order and review customer satisfaction data.

      Third, Jiffy Lube will have franchisees and District Managers conduct annual Business-Assurance Reviews beginning in 2007. Topics covered include business principles and ethics, safety and environmental practices, service recommendations for products sold, personnel policies, store oversight structure and compliance with procedures manuals.

      A Jiffy Lube Success Story

      Not too long ago, I experienced my own "Jiffy Lube adventure," which turned out okay in the end. I brought my Ford Windstar van to Jiffy Lube for the usual every-three-month oil change.

      While sipping coffee and craning my neck to watch the ceiling-mounted TV, I usually expect my "personal" mechanic to arrive and escort me to the car to point out a couple of other services needed. I wasn't disappointed.

      "Ma'am? Are you the owner of the Windstar? Come with me, please."

      I followed.

      As I leaned over the engine, Mr. Lube pointed to the serpentine belt:

      "See that? It's all ragged and worn out -- you should replace it, since you already have 70,000 miles on the vehicle. This could break while you're driving sometime," he warned.

      It seemed logical, so I told them to install a hefty new serpentine.

      Fast-forward two days. I'm cruising along Route 50 in Chantilly, a major road in busy Fairfax County, Virginia. I'm returning from a saxophone lesson, in a mellow mood.

      The engine starts to whine, worse than a three-year-old. Several minutes later, power cuts off (including steering) and I somehow force the white behemoth to the side of the road. I caught a gorgeous sunset while waiting for the tow truck to drag the deceased to the Ford dealer.

      Guess what the problem was? Yup -- improperly installed new serpentine belt. To put it simply, the new belt had fallen off.

      This little adventure cost almost $300 to fix, not counting the tow. So I was extremely motivated to let Jiffy Lube know about the debacle as soon as possible. I did a little research to get the name of the franchise's owner and manager.

      NOTE: You can do this by calling your local town hall or county building and talking to whoever is in charge of the business/corporate division. In most places, any business has to have a license to operate, which is on record at city hall.

      Next I hit the computer and sent this letter:

      General Manager
      Jiffy Lube, Inc.
      210 Maple Avenue West
      Vienna, VA 22180

      Re: Serpentine belt debacle

      Dear Mr. Manager:

      I've been a Vienna Jiffy Lube customer for at least fifteen years, first with two Peugeots and for the past eight years, with my Ford Windstar Minivan.

      On August 4th, 2004, I visited your store for the usual oil change. The mechanic working on my car said that the serpentine belt looked worn and should be replaced. After almost 70,000 miles, this seemed reasonable. The belt was replaced, along with other repairs, for total of $333.06. I enclose a copy of the bill.

      A short while later, I was riding along Route 50 in Chantilly when the car started to whine. Several minutes later, I lost all power and barely managed to maneuver the car to the side of the road to avoid getting hit. As you can imagine, this was a hair-raising experience.

      We had the car towed to Ted Britt Ford, at a cost of about $100. The Ford dealer reported that the serpentine belt had locked up and had to be replaced, along with the belt tensioner and idler pullies. Cost for this repair was $283.03 -- bill enclosed.

      Since the belt was obviously installed improperly, I am asking Jiffy Lube to reimburse me for the $283.03 I had to spend at Ted Britt Ford for a new belt.

      I look forward to your prompt response.


      Within a week, I got a check in the mail for the full amount, along with a nice note.

      Some Not-So-Happy Endings

      Unfortunately, not all stories end so happily.

      As the nearly 400 Jiffy Lube complaints in the ConsumerAffairs.com database illustrate, the devil really is in the details. What starts off as a minor error can quickly morph into a catastrophe.

      In 2006 alone, we heard from customers like Judy of Fort White, Florida, whose radiator flush and oil change led to a $567.76 bill to replace the water pump on her Dodge Caravan. Or Jamie of Twin Falls, Idaho, whose engine failed about a month after her Jiffy Lube oil change.

      Upon opening the hood, Jamie was surprised to see the oil cap sitting on top of the radiator. Her local Jiffy Lube had no record of her visit, Jamie reports.

      Loose bolt, hose and filter stories are common. Daniel of Chesapeake, Virginia noticed an oil leak after his Jiffy Lube oil change. The store blamed a leaking oil pan gasket, but Daniel discovered that the oil filter was loose, and tightened it with a filter wrench.

      Mohammed of Miami, Florida wasn't so lucky. After having the oil changed on his 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer, he "heard something fall out of the car on the way home." Problem: the tech neglected to tighten a nut after the old oil was drained out.

      A prototype customer story usually reads like this: I took my car to Jiffy Lube for Signature Service. While driving home, I noticed a) the oil light was on, b) the car wouldn't go over 25 mph, c) the engine was knocking/smoking/whining. I called Jiffy Lube/ returned to Jiffy Lube, they investigated and determined that it was not their fault. I'm now stuck with a) a $1500 repair bill, b) a car I can't sell

      Kit Lindsay of Warrensburg, Missouri, a transmission mechanic who owns his own shop, has an especially frustrating story.

      He overhauled the transmission on a customer's 1998 Dodge Caravan, covering the work with a 36 month/50,000 mile warranty. Problem: the customer had the transmission serviced at Jiffy Lube while still under Lindsay's warranty. The usual strange noises, slipping and revving followed and the owner brought the van back to Lindsay.

      Guess what? There was a gasket on the transmission oil pan, despite the fact that Chrysler didn't use gaskets on this model.

      After taking the transmission apart, Lindsay found that the Jiffy Lube tech who worked on the car didn't install the o-ring seal between the filter inlet and valve body casting. As a result, "the transmission pump was drawing air which burned the pump, starved the unit of lubrication and eventually resulted in the failure of the transmission," Lindsay said.

      Unfortunately, Lindsay got stuck with the tab for Jiffy Lube's error and was never reimbursed, despite repeated requests.

      Jiffy Lube Speaks

      Are sloppy workmanship and refusal to pay for errors the "Jiffy Lube way?"

      Absolutely not, says Judy Scholl, Customer Service Manager of Jiffy Lube International, a subsidiary of Shell Oil based in Houston. Scholl has been with the company for 25 years. "We service more than 25 million vehicles a year, and the complaint rate is running about .00l%," Scholl said.

      If a customer has a problem or complaint?

      Scholl recommends speaking to the manager on duty. She points out that the back of each invoice contains warranty information, along with the toll-free number, (800) 344-6933. Customers can call this number to complain, or go to the Jiffy Lube Web site at www.jiffylube.com and reference the "customer care" section and fill in the online feedback form.

      What about the elusive franchisee/owner?

      "We have franchise information and are able to contact a particular franchisee," said Scholl. Ninety percent of Jiffy Lube locations are franchises, with the rest company-owned.

      Scholl points out that Jiffy Lube employees are "technicians," not ASE-certified mechanics (ASE = National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.) They receive computer-based training, which is standard across the country. Techs work their way through progressively more difficult "modules," based on manufacturers' service recommendations for each vehicle.

      So when the Jiffy Lube tech calls you out of the waiting room, he's going to recommend a service or part replacement suggested by the OEM (original equipment manufacturer,) and based on your car's mileage. Employees are not compensated on a "quota" system, which can encourage the sale of add-on services.

      Scholl expects the new corporate initiatives to ensure consistent performance among dealerships. Audits will match store inventory with receipts and the "mystery shopper" program will keep employees on their toes.

      "Our people are passionate and dedicated to quality service," said Scholl, and the new oversight measures will drive this home to customers.

      If All Else Fails

      Jiffy Lube swears it is taking proactive steps to ensure that all its customers drive away with the services and products they paid for. If you have a problem which remains unanswered despite complaining to the store manager and filling out the online feedback form, try the following measures:

      • Use the complaint form to send your story to ConsumerAffairs.com. (Please don't email me directly; complaints need to go into the database via the complaint form).

      • Call your local town hall or business registration office. By providing a business address, the municipality can tell you the registered name and address of the owner. Write the owner a business-like letter explaining the situation and enclosing copies of receipts. Don't be abusive or threatening -- it doesn't help.

      • Register a complaint with your local chapter of the Better Business Bureau, accessible at www.bbb.org. There's an online complaint system and you can also find your local BBB.

      • Let your state's Attorney General know about the situation. Find him or her at www.naag.org, the Web site of the National Association of Attorneys General. The site includes a master list of Attorneys General, state by state, with name and address of each. Or call (202) 326-6000. Check our Resource Section for other consumer protection agencies.

      • Complain to the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees franchises. Send your letter to: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20580.

      • File a complaint in your local court. Depending on the dollars involved, this may be a small claims court, which normally doesn't require that you have an attorney. Call your local clerk's office for more information or check out our Small Claims Guide.


      Joan E. Lisante is an attorney who writes frequently on consumer issues.

      In the Los Angeles case, NBC4's undercover investigation found that Jiffy Lube charged a producer for a new fuel filter, even though the old filter remaine...
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      Automakers Lobby to Weaken Roof Strength Proposal

      By Joe Benton

      October 23, 2006
      Automakers in Washington are working feverishly to convince the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to scale back proposed regulations calling for stronger vehicle roofs.

      NHTSA has proposed increasing roof strength standards more than 50 percent to 2-1/2 times vehicle weight in an effort to reduce deaths and injuries in rollover crashes. The agency wants the new roof standard to maintain sufficient headroom for an average sized adult male.

      The price tag for the stronger roofs could reach above $100 million in additional costs for vehicle research and redesign. The regulation would, for the first time, include bigger sport utility vehicles and pickups.

      The auto industry is wary of design changes that could make vehicles heavier or less aerodynamic, affecting fuel economy and emissions. They also believe greater seat belt use may be more helpful than stronger roofs.

      About 60 percent of the people killed in rollovers are not wearing seat belts according to safety figures.

      Both U.S. and foreign automakers have sent their Washington representatives to NHTSA in an effort to win their argument with regulators and weaken the the proposed roof strength regulations.

      "Our bottom line is ensuring that any changes or any rule that comes out has sound science behind it," said Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

      Rollover crashes account for roughly 10,000 fatalities annually or a quarter of all U.S. traffic deaths according to NHTSA statistics and roughly 600 deaths and 800 injuries are caused by head contact with a collapsed roof in a rollover.

      Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety charge that the automakers are trying to dilute what safety advocates believe to be an "already weak" NHTSA initiative.

      Regulators face a Congressional requirement to complete the roof crush regulation by July 2008.

      Automakers Lobby to Weaken Roof Strength Proposal...
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      Stars Urged to Rethink "Bud.TV"

      October 23, 2006
      Several top Hollywood stars are being urged to reconsider their participation in Bud.TV -- an online video entertainment web site being developed by Anheuser-Busch.

      Sixty health, safety and child-protection organizations are urging Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Kevin Spacey and Vince Vaughn to insist that the beer company at least verify the ages of visitors to the site, and to reconsider their participation with the venture in the first place.

      According to published reports, Anheuser-Busch intends to feature programming developed by production companies associated with those film artists as well as user-generated videos when the site premiers in February 2007.

      Bud.TV will target the young people who use video sites like YouTube and social networking sites like MySpace.

      "The main reason that we're doing this is that we need to connect to these new beer consumers," Anheuser-Busch executive Tony Ponturo told the Associated Press.

      "Willie Sutton robbed banks because 'that's where the money is,'" said George A. Hacker, director of the alcohol policies project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

      "Anheuser-Busch trolls the Internet because that's where the young people are. There they can reach out to kids, free from parental interference and government regulators. These actors should rethink whether they want their appeal to young people to be exploited by Anheuser-Busch."

      According to research estimates, underage consumers drink as much as 20 percent of all the alcohol consumed in America, and each day 7,000 kids in the U.S. under the age of 16 take their first drink. People who begin drinking by 15 years of age are four times as likely to become alcohol dependent as those who wait until age 21.

      Currently, web sites run by Anheuser-Busch and other alcohol producers merely ask visitors to assert that they are of legal drinking age to enter the site.

      According to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University, 13 percent of visits to alcohol-branded sites were initiated by underage consumers and 34 percent of in-depth visitors to Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light site were younger than the minimum legal drinking age.

      The groups urged the Hollywood stars to insist that Anheuser-Busch go beyond the honor system and adopt age-verification technologies to help exclude young children. They also asked the stars to reconsider whether the beer site is an appropriate vehicle for the distribution of their creative works.

      Underage drinking is a major factor in the three leading causes of teenage death in the United States: car crashes, homicides, and suicides. Some 5,000 persons under age 21 die each year from alcohol-related causes, and growing evidence suggests that youthful drinking may result in long-term brain damage, as well as a significantly increased risk of alcohol dependence in adulthood.

      One of the stars participating in the Bud.TV project, Ben Affleck, was treated for alcoholism in 2001.

      Besides CSPI, other signers of the letters to Affleck, Damon, Spacey, and Vaughn include the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, National Association of Teen Institutes, National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and the American Osteopathic Association.

      Stars Urged to Rethink Bud.TV...
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      Charity Scams Increase As Holidays Approach

      Some so-called "charities" are outright scams that pocket all the funds people contribute

      As we near the end of the year, many people will give generously to charities and good causes -- but increasingly these donations never reach the people who need help. Some so-called "charities" are outright scams that pocket all the funds people contribute.

      Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says even seemingly legitimate charities use professional fundraisers that eat up 80 to 90 percent of the donations in "fundraising expenses," so almost nothing is left for true charity.

      "Fraudulent and questionable charities cheat donors, hurt legitimate charitable organizations that rely on donations - and shortchange people who truly need help," Miller said.

      How to protect yourself from falling for a fraudulent charity?

      • Ask questions. Reputable charities welcome questions. Ask how much of your donation goes for the charitable purpose, and exactly how your contribution will be used. Ask if the caller is a professional fundraiser.

      • Ask phone solicitors to send written information. Check out the charity before you make a decision. Be suspicious if they refuse to send solid information. Check them out at the national Better Business Bureau "wise giving" site - www.give.org.

      • Don't be fooled by "look-alike" names. Some scams use names that sound impressive and are designed to resemble well-respected organizations.

      • Be very wary of calls from supposed "law enforcement" or "firefighter" charities. Contact your local sheriff or police department to check out claims that a donation "will be used locally." Ask for information in writing before you agree to give. Ask if the caller is a paid professional fundraiser, and ask how much of your gift will go to the charitable purpose and be used in your community.

      • Don't give your credit card or checking account numbers over the phone to someone you don't know.

      Most foolproof is to give directly to a known charity of your choice. That's always the best option. Check your telephone directory for a charity's local office and contact the office.

      Charity Scams Increase As Holidays Approach...
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      Consumers Revolt Against Hotel Surcharges

      Some Hotels Levy Phone Charges Even If You Don't Make Any Calls

      Thanks primarily to the proliferation of personal cell phones, consumers are staging a successful revolt against hotel surcharges on the use of telephone lines.

      Some refuse to book rooms in properties that do not include free Internet access or free local calls, while others express outrage at hoteliers that impose heavy charges for minibars, telephones, or Internet connections.

      The biggest consumer gripe is directed at hotels that charge for calls that are allegedly "toll-free," such as 800 numbers for airlines or car rental companies.

      Though widely considered a scam by the traveling public, hotel phone charges were once a huge source of revenue. In some places, they still are: the Sheraton Waikiki charges $9.44 for the first minute and $1.50 for each additional minute, while New York's Waldorf Astoria charges $9.99 per minute and up to 99 cents for additional minutes on international calls (and $1.95 for up to 60 minutes on domestic calls).

      Fees for daily Internet access range from $13 (Sheraton Waikiki) to $10.95 (Houston InterContinental) and $9.95 (Seattle Grand Hyatt, Albuquerque Hyatt Regency, New Orleans Sheraton, Waldorf Astoria, and more).

      According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, three of every four hotels allows free local calls and nine out of ten offer Internet access (not all of it free).

      Clever guests can often find a way to circumvent such charges. Bringing a laptop to a lounge or lobby, or connecting to a wireless router from a nearby source (such as a neighboring hotel) often works when using the laptop in the room isn't free.

      Ironically, upscale properties are more likely to impose phone-line charges than inexpensive or moderately-priced hotels. The reason is simple: there are so many lesser-priced hotels that many of them need to offer amenities designed to woo customers.

      Although cell phone reception is often spotty in high-rise hotels, it is relatively simple to find a nearby location -- such as a pool deck or open-air patio -- with better service.

      Travelers heading overseas can also avoid hotel-room phones by renting international cellphones for their trips.

      Using the Internet for phone calls is also a growing trend, since programs like Skype provide free or discounted calls via the computer.

      To compensate for the loss of revenue caused by widespread cell phone use, some hotels are adding a "phone use fee" to guest room bills. That fee is applied automatically whenever a room phone is activated -- even if it is never used or used only to call the front desk.

      It may not be long before big-league baseball managers call the bullpen on cellphones too.

      Thanks primarily to the proliferation of personal cell phones, consumers are staging a successful revolt against hotel surcharges on the use of telephone l...
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      Soldiers Pinned Down by Predatory Payday Loans

      Thousands of soldiers are being denied overseas active duty because of severe debt

      Adding to the many issues facing the American military today, thousands of soldiers are being denied overseas active duty because of severe debt and financial problems.

      The chief culprit appears to be high-interest predatory lending, which will be at least partly reined in by new Congressional legislation.

      The Navy, Marines, and Air Force have reported a steady increase in soldiers who have lost security clearances due to severe financial problems, according to an Associated Press report.

      The numbers rose from 284 in 2002 to over 2,600 in 2006 between the three branches, with every indication that the trend is continuing.

      The Army, responsible for the vast majority of forces currently engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, refused to share its records of clearance loss with the AP.

      Although reasons for soldiers' increasing indebtedness ranged from low pay to financial irresponsibility, high-interest "payday loans" were first on the list. Payday lenders entice borrowers into drawing advances on their next paycheck, at extremely high interest rates.

      Some payday lenders charge interest of 15 percent on a two-week loan, which averages out to a yearly annual percentage rate (APR) of 390 percent.

      Because of the generally low military pay and usurious interest rates, many military personnel fall deeply into debt with just a single payday loan.

      Military members and their families are particular targets of predatory lenders, as they receive a steady income, but their pay is so low that any unexpected expense may require them to take out loans, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.

      A Skinflint Congress

      Last year the Department of Defense issued a warning that predatory lending was keeping troops from being effective in the field, as they were distracted by their financial problems.

      The military stepped up its financial counseling services to urge personnel not to spend any bonuses or advances exorbitantly, and to avoid payday loan centers.

      The continuing problems with predatory lenders led President Bush to sign legislation on October 19 that would cap the APR of payday loans at 36 percent nationwide.

      Congress also authorized a 2.2 percent pay raise for armed forces personnel before adjourning for the election season. The pay raise was criticized as minuscule, given the added costs soldiers and their families have to deal with in times of war.

      States Take Action

      States are also taking action against predatory lenders for both military and civilian residents.

      California's Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed a $2 million lawsuit against local payday lender Fast Cash for suing borrowers for triple the amount of the loan if they had insufficient funds available when they wrote checks to pay it off.

      North Carolina recently finalized a series of agreements with lenders to change their practices, leading many of the companies to leave the state. State Attorney General Roy Cooper called it "the end of predatory lending" in North Carolina.

      The Center for Responsible Lending estimated that payday loans cost American families upwards of $3.4 billion annually.

      In congratulating Congress and President Bush for passing the new legislation for soldiers and their families, CRL President Michael Calhoun urged them to "extend these protections to all of America's working families."

      Soldiers Pinned Down by Predatory Payday Loans...
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      Too Little Sleep May Contribute To Childhood Obesity

      October 20, 2006
      Soaring levels of obesity might be linked to children sleeping fewer hours at night than they used to, according to a British researcher writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

      Dr. Shahrad Taheri of the University of Bristol, blames the increasing availability of computers, mobile phones, TVs and other gadgets on the diminishing nightly quota of sleep, and suggests they should be banned from childrens bedrooms.

      Taheri cites the emerging body of research on the impacts on the body of a fall in the nightly quota of sleep, which reflects circumstances in real life, rather than sustained sleep deprivation, which tends to be more extreme.

      This research shows that shorter sleep duration disturbs normal metabolism, which may contribute to obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Even two to three nights of shortened sleep can have profound effects, the laboratory data suggest.

      One study indicated that insufficient sleep at the age of 30 months was associated with obesity at the age of 7, suggesting that this could program the part of the brain regulating appetite and energy expenditure. But it is also a problem for teenagers in whom the need for sleep increases during this critical developmental period, Taheri said.

      Another piece of research shows that levels of leptin, a hormone produced by fat tissue when energy stores are low, were more than 15% lower in those sleeping five hours compared with those clocking up 8. Similarly, ghrelin, a hormone released by the stomach to signal hunger was almost 15% higher in those with a five hour sleep quota.

      Taheri says sleep loss also disturbs other hormones, including insulin, cortisol (stress hormone), and growth hormone, and that hormonal changes could boost the desire for carlorie rich foods.

      And poor sleep sets up a vicious cycle. It leads to fatigue, which leads to reduced levels of physical activity.which leads to lower energy expenditure..which leads to obesity, which itself leads to poor sleep, he adds.

      "Sleep is probably not the only answer to the obesity pandemic, but its effect should be taken seriously, as even small changes in energy balance are beneficial," Taheri said.

      "Good sleep could be promoted by removal of gadget distractions from bedrooms and restricting their use."

      Too Little Sleep May Contribute To Childhood Obesity...
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      Visa Publishes Interchange Fees For Credit Cards

      The fees are often called a "hidden tax on consumers"

      Visa has taken the unusual step of publishing a list of "interchange fees" it charges merchants to process their credit and debit cards when customers make transactions with plastic.

      The fees are often called a "hidden tax on consumers," as they can drive up the price of goods and services without consumers' knowledge.

      It's these interchange fees that have led a coalition of merchants and retailers to sue Visa, MasterCard, and their partner banks, over what the merchants call collusive price-fixing.

      The interchange fee list, available as a PDF report, is a bewildering array of "performance thresholds" and "reimbursement fees" that seems to require a degree in calculus to understand.

      The basic gist is that different cards and different purchases end up costing merchants different fees to process, ranging from 1 to 2 percent of the transaction plus change.

      When you factor in the billions of credit and debit transactions that go on in the world daily, 1 percent of a purchase can add up to millions in revenue for banks and card companies. It can also wipe out the retailer's profit from a transaction.

      In order to make a profit, merchants will often raise prices on their goods and services, even for those who pay exclusively with cash.

      The Merchant Payments Coalition, the group representing retail and restaurant chains, hailed the move but said that it wasn't enough to simply reveal the fees, and that more transparency was needed in the business.

      "The report shows a bewildering array of rates for different cards, merchants and types of transactions, which emphasizes the opacity of interchange," said MPC chairman Mallory Duncan.

      Duncan also noted the recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the poor disclosure of credit card fees to consumers, saying it was "no surprise" that merchant fees would be similarly hard to understand.

      Although Visa had originally claimed it would not publish its interchange fee rates, the world's largest credit card company reversed course after chief rival MasterCard agreed to do so in an attempt to appease the merchants suing the company.

      Visa recently announced its own initial public stock offering, after eyeing the success of MasterCard's debut on the market. The MasterCard IPO is chiefly designed to build a "war chest" of funds to pay for litigation and settlements in the merchant lawsuits, thereby shifting the risk to investors rather than the member banks that formerly owned MasterCard.

      Mitch Goldstone, one of the lead plaintiffs in the class-action merchant lawsuits, said on his blog that Visa and MasterCard should post the exact interchange fee of each transaction on the customer's receipt.

      "Without this honest and straightforward posting, this hidden tax will continue to feed Visa and MasterCards' member banks with thirty billion dollars each year," Goldstone said.

      Visa Publishes Interchange Fees For Credit Cards...
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