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    Wireless Broadband Still Expensive, Service Still Spotty

    Sprint Tops Our Test, Cingular Still Trying to Get Into the Race


    American consumers looking for broadband wireless service basically have three choices: Verizon, Sprint and Cingular. All three are fast, at least sometimes, all three are expensive and all three advertise unlimited downloads.

    Over the past two years wireless providers have been developing and rolling out their national wireless Internet services. These services, which send and transmit data using cellular frequencies, are a portable wireless connection for laptops and cell phones that can, under the right conditions, reach broadband speeds.

    Many of the latest cell phones, such as Blackberries and other PDAs, can connect to these services. But mostly, the services are used by laptops that are equipped with an easily-installed PCMIA card.

    At ConsumerAffairs.com, we have been testing and using all three services for three months. What we learned is that each service has its advantages but overall, Sprint was the most likely to deliver a fast, usable signal. We subscribe and pay for both Verizon and Cingular services; Sprint provided us with a free test for three months.

    All three services cost roughly the same: Cingular and Verizon are $60 per month with a qualifying voice plan or $80 per month alone. Sprint now offers its service for about $60 regardless of whether you have a voice plan.

    Although Sprint did the best in our tests, none of these services is truly nationwide so it's best to perform thorough testing before committing to one plan. Because the service is so expensive, the companies will usually let you demo the product before committing. It's important to take advantage of that demo.

    Be sure to check each company's wireless coverage map -- Verizon, Cingular and Sprint -- to make sure they can deliver a signal in the spots you're most likely to be. After all, at $80 a month, it's essential you get as much out of the service as possible.

    The services all claim about 400-700 kilobytes per second downloading with bursts of more than 2 megabytes per second. Upload speeds flutter around 200 kb per second. So if you get a good signal in your home or office, this service could replace existing broadband connections such as DSL or cable.

    However, it would not be wise to replace a standard broadband connection with a wireless one if you don't travel or work away from home or office. Wireless is slower than DSL or cable and costs about double those services. Wireless broadband is really intended for business people -- road warriors who need to be in touch 24/7.

    At ConsumerAffairs.com, we're fairly typical business users. We use wireless broadband to connect from the U.S. Capitol and other points around Washington, D.C., as well as when traveling and as a back-up if the office T-1 goes down.

    The Tests

    Using the free ConsumerAffairs.com broadband test, we were able to test the services throughout various parts of the country.

    In Washington, D.C., and in Manhattan, all three services tested well, reaching speeds close to, and in the case of Cingular, above 2 mb per second.

    But outside those urban jungles, the services varied wildly. Sprint and Verizon, which use the faster and more reliable EVDO service, tested well in many rural locations.

    Sprint in particular did well, surfing the web at about 400 kb per second in Reno, Nev., Scarsdale, N.Y., Indianapolis, Ind., Buffalo, N.Y., and even Uniontown, Pa., a town of about 14,000 people, located an hour south of Pittsburgh.

    In most of those locations, Cingular had absolutely no signal. In Scarsdale and Indianapolis there were weak signals that yielded unbearably slow speeds and browsing times.

    In our D.C. office Cingular reached the record download speed of 2.8 mb per second. However, using Cingular as a "nationwide" Internet provider is not practical and, as of this writing, Cingular's EDGE and 3G service simply can't compete with Verizon and Sprint's EVDO.

    As far as services go, Sprint and Verizon were similar. Although Sprint is slowly unveiling a faster EVDO technology than Verizon, both performed well in various locations.

    However, there is a catch with Verizon: it advertises its service as "unlimited," but in reality, if you download too much, as ConsumerAffairs.com found out, Verizon will cancel your account. It's a convenient way to end your contract but not so convenient if you're trying to do work away from the office.

    Both Cingular and Sprint advertise their service as unlimited and representatives assured us that there are no limits on downloading. During our extensive tests of their service, this proved to be the case.

    Another point to consider is the physical card you use to receive the service. Verizon and Sprint's cards are sturdy. But Cingular's card includes a required external antennae that is very flimsy. Although it has not broken during our testing period, it seems like it's only a matter of time.

    Big Bucks

    For most consumers, the current generation of wireless broadband is too expensive, too unreliable and too slow to be practical. There are enough Wi-Fi hotspots to satisfy most occasional travelers and wireless broadband is not really a suitable substitute for a hard-wired DSL or cable connection.

    For dedicated business travelers who absolutely, positively need to be in touch and are willing to pay the big bucks, our tests give the nod to Sprint, with Verizon second and Cingular still trying to get into the race.

    Long-Term Verizon Test

    As he has recounted at great length, our somewhat irascible editor-in-chief, James R. Hood, has been using Verizon's wireless broadband service almost since the day it was introduced in the Washington, D.C., area. His first review -- in July 2005 -- pronounced it "the most shiftless, unreliable service we have ever paid good money for."

    "At about $90 a month, it's far from cheap but we found it to work so poorly it would be overpriced at any price," Hood fumed.

    Since then, however, the price has come down and service has improved notably as Verizon equips more and more of its towers with the EVDO technology, Hood reports.

    Here are Hood's crude notes from his various travels over the last year. Like a comet, he tends to go to the same places, thus limiting the scope somewhat.

    Gangbusters

    • On the runway at Dulles Airport -- We worked for hours while waiting out a band of thunderstorms.
    • High atop the Park Lane Hotel in New York City -- Signals so strong and speeds so high we hated to leave despite room service prices that could feed a family of 12 for a year or more in much of the world.

    So-so

    • Garden City, Long Island, New York -- Big bucks abound but it's not the best spot for laptop addicts.
    • The North Fork of Eastern Long Island, New York -- Actually, this ever-narrower little sand spit is so remote, it's surprising the service works as well as it does here. It's slow but steady.
    • Evanston, Illinois -- Like Garden City, an upscale suburb has to make do with slow speeds and intermittent signals.
    • Ocean Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA -- Too much ocean in the coverage pattern, maybe?
    • Long Beach Airport, Long Beach, CA -- Fortunately, JetBlue has its airport Wi-Fi working well now.
    • Chevy Chase, MD -- Works fine here if you don't mind standing on the sidwalk. The signal drops out completely in most high-rise buildings.

    Really Rotten

    • Fairfax, VA -- Must be all the Beltway Bandits sucking up the bandwidth. Even when signal strength is what they used to call "5x5," connectivity tends to be poor.
    Wireless Broadband Still Expensive, Service Still Spotty...
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    Study Eyes Payments for Living Organ Donors

    Modest payments might encourage more donations

    More than 80,000 people in the United States are on waiting lists for organ transplants. Some will have to wait for the death of a matching donor, but more and more people are receiving organs from living donors.

    Last year nearly 7,000 people donated a kidney, segment of the liver or lobe of a lung to help someone in need of a transplant. In fact at some major transplant centers -- like Barnes-Jewish Hospital and St. Louis Children's Hospital at Washington University Medical Center -- the number of transplants involving living organ donors now exceeds the number of transplants using organs from deceased donors.

    In an effort to close the gap between organ supply and demand, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine, the University of Michigan and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons are studying ways to reimburse living donors for some of their out-of-pocket expenses when they choose to donate an organ.

    "One of the barriers to living organ donation is the financial barrier," says Barry A. Hong, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Washington University and one of the study's principal investigators.

    "When a relative or friend agrees to donate, they might need an airline ticket or have to pay for lodging or medical tests. Much of that is not covered by insurance, so when someone volunteers to be a donor, they may have significant out-of-pocket expenses."

    The current study, funded by an $8 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, will identify and reimburse potential living donors who face financial hardship from those expenses. The investigators hope both to determine whether a system of reimbursement is desirable and by covering some of those out-of-pocket costs to make between 300 and 400 organs available for transplantation that would not have been in the pool otherwise.

    "Paying people to donate remains illegal, and that's not what we're doing here," Hong says. "This is a social justice issue. If people come from higher income brackets, they can more easily afford the expenses associated with donation. We hope to ensure that financial issues don't prevent living donors from giving patients in need access to life-saving organs."

    In a related study, Hong and his co-investigators also are taking a close look at the health of living organ donors in the months and years following a transplant.

    Studying living lung and kidney donors, the researchers want to ensure that those donors aren't experiencing any serious, long-term problems. This is the first large-scale, government-sponsored study to look at organ donor health following transplantation.

    "In some sense, transplant centers have never really thought of living donors as our patients," Hong says. "When you don't think of them as patients, you don't follow up with them. Some donors might be followed for a month or six months or even a year, but after that, we really don't know much about them. We just don't know whether being generous and donating an organ might have conferred some extra burden on these people."

    When a person donates a kidney, for instance, what happens if later in life they develop kidney disease themselves? And do living donors change their risk of health problems in the years after the transplant? No one really knows. But Hong hopes that learning the answer might provide more incentive for potential living donors.

    "The government and the transplant community want to find every reasonable way to put more organs into the pool," he said.

    "One way might involve removing economic disincentives for living donors. Another way might be giving people better long-term information about donor outcomes. If we can assure donors that they won't have to spend thousands of dollars and that they won't increase their risk of problems down the road, more people might want to donate. That could make more organs available for the people currently waiting for a life-saving transplant."



    Study Eyes Payments for Living Organ Donors...
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    Glass Tables a Serious Safety Hazard

    If Glass Is Not Tempered, Breakage Can Be Life-Threatening


    In an instant, Kori Saunders thought her soccer playing days at the University of Nebraska were over. After sitting on the corner of a friend's glass coffee table while playing Nintendo, she heard a loud popping noise and all of a sudden, the glass shattered.

    As Kori fell, a large glass shard punctured her kidney and chipped her vertebrae. She was told she would never walk again.

    Jason Black, a professional opera singer, was told he'd never speak again after a heavy glass table he was carrying fell and shattered, severing both jugular veins, and almost decapitating him as his wife watched in horror.

    "With this accident and all the blood, and just the shrieking sound of the glass it was so loud, I just, I really didn't think he was going to make it," Jason's wife told the syndicated TV news show Inside Edition.

    Glass tables are stylish and popular, but are they safe? What many people might not know is that some glass tables are safer than others and you can't tell by looking at them.

    Inside Edition conducted a demonstration by breaking two types of glass: regular and "safety glass," known as tempered glass in the industry. When regular glass is broken it breaks into very large shards of sharp glass that could very easily cut somebody.

    However, according to Consumer Reports product safety director Don Mays who conducted the demonstration with Inside Edition, when tempered glass breaks, it breaks into small pieces that aren't likely to cause serious injury.

    Mays says accidents could be dramatically reduced if all glass furniture sold in the U.S. was required to be made of safety glass.

    "The European Union requires that glass table tops be made of safety glass. In the United States, no such law exists," Mays said.

    Both Kori Saunders and Jason Black have recovered fully. But they both say Americans have a right to know just how safe their furniture is.

    ConsumerAffairs.com hears regularly from consumers whose glass patio tables have imploded and consumers complain of getting small pieces of glass in their feet and hands. But, though annoying, this kind of breakage is typical of tempered glass and is not likely to cause life-threatening injury.

    Hard to Tell

    But as Inside Edition found, it's not always easy to find out if you are actually buying tempered glass.

    Inside Edition's Matt Meagher took hidden cameras to two different Bombay furniture stores. Salespeople at both assured Meagher that a particular tabletop was made from tempered glass.

    To find out if this was true, Meagher purchased the tabletop and broke the top to see how the glass broke. The result was large, dangerous shards of regular glass.

    A spokeswoman for Bombay told Inside Edition the chain would try to prevent similar incidents.

    "You have told us that our sales associates represented this glass as tempered and if so the sales associates were incorrect about this particular piece of glass we are taking immediate action to provide additional information to our sales associate throughout the country in an attempt to avoid similar incidents in the future," a Baombay spokesperson said.

    What Can You Do?

    As Inside Edition reported, glass tops are attracgtive but can be very dangerous. The safest course of action -- especially for families with small children -- is to avoid glass-topped furniture entirely.

    If you have a table that requires a clear top, any mirror or glass shop can provide you with glass that is guaranteed tempered. Better yet, while your children are small, have the glass shop cut clear plexiglass to replace the glass tops. Sure, it may scratch but it won't shatter and cause serious injury.

    Glass Tables a Serious Safety Hazard...
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      Honey Baked Recalls Hams, Turkeys

      Just in time for the holidays ... listeria scare forces recall

      Just in time for the holiday season, one of its busiest times of the year, HoneyBaked Foods, Inc., of Toledo, Ohio has recalled nearly 47,000 pounds of booked ham and turkey products. The company notified USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service the meat may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

      The company has set up a section on its Website -- www.honeybaked.com/ReCallNotification.asp where consumers can check to see if products sold in their area are affected. The following products are subject to recall:

      • 6- to 11-pound packages of "SLICED & GLAZED FULLY COOKED HALF HAM." Each package bears the establishment number "EST. 15875" inside the USDA mark of inspection. Each label also bears a package code between "6261" and "6310."

      • 12- to 16- pound packages of "SLICED & GLAZED FULLY COOKED WHOLE HAM." Each package bears the establishment number "EST. 15875" inside the USDA mark of inspection. Each label also bears a package code between "6261" and "6310."

      • 3-pound approximate weight packages of "SLICED AND GLAZED COOKED BONELESS TURKEY BREAST." Each package bears the establishment number "P-15875" inside the USDA mark of inspection. Each label also bears the product code "30505 02099", as well as a package code between "6248" and "6258."

      • 3-pound approximate weight packages of "SLICED AND GLAZED FULLY COOKED SMOKED BONELESS TURKEY BREAST."

      Each package bears the establishment number "P-15875" inside the USDA mark of inspection. Each label also bears the product code "30504 02099", as well as a package code between "6248" and "6258."

      The ham and turkey products were produced between September 5 and November 13, and were sold at the company's retail stores and kiosks in the Toledo, Ohio, region, as well as through internet and telephone catalogue sales nationwide. HoneyBaked Foods Inc. has contacted catalogue sale customers who purchased products subject to recall.

      The problem was discovered through the company's microbiological testing. FSIS has received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of this product.

      Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease.

      Healthy people rarely contract listeriosis. However, listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea. Listeriosis can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as serious and sometimes fatal infections in those with weakened immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy.

      Consumers with questions about the recall should contact company Customer Service Hotline at (800) 461-3998.



      Honey Baked Recalls Hams, Turkeys...
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      Rote Learning Improves Memory in Seniors

      Maybe memorizing lists isn't as worthless as we thought

      A new study offers older adults a simple way to combat memory loss: memorization.

      Researchers found that seniors who engaged in an intensive period of rote learning followed by an equally long rest period exhibited improved memory and verbal recall, according to a study was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

      "We didnt see an immediate improvement following the intensive memorization period," said Jonathan McNulty, B.Sc., H.Dip., of Diagnostic Imaging at the School of Medicine and Medical Science, University College Dublin in Ireland. "However, after a six-week rest, the volunteers manifested both metabolic changes in the brain and improved memory performance."

      As people age, they often begin to experience forgetfulness and may have difficulty learning new material. Approximately 40 percent of people over age 60 have some kind of memory difficulty.

      Mild, age-related memory loss is caused by the loss of brain cells over time, along with changes in brain chemistry. The researchers studied how repeated cognitive exercise impacts memory and recall, as well as the health of brain cells involved in memory.

      The study involved 24 healthy older adults between the ages of 55 and 70. The volunteers engaged in six weeks of intensive rote learning, memorizing a newspaper article or poem of 500 words, followed by six weeks of rest.

      An extensive battery of learning and memory tests was administered before and after the six-week learning period. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), a special type of magnetic resonance imaging, was performed on half of the volunteers before and after the intensive learning session, and again six weeks later.

      MRS was used to measure changes in N-acetylaspartate, creatine and choline, three metabolites in the brain that are related to memory performance and neural cell health.

      At the end of the six-week learning session, no changes in the brain metabolism or memory performance were observed. But following the rest period, all of the volunteers experienced improvements in their verbal and episodic memory -- they were better able to remember and repeat a short story and a list of words and to recall events that occurred earlier in the day or week.

      These behavioral changes correlated with metabolic changes identified by MRS in the left posterior hippocampus, a memory-related brain structure.

      "Unlike other studies on memory involving specific training regimes, memorizing is an everyday activity that anyone can undertake," said co-author Richard Roche, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology at National University of Ireland in Maynooth. "The brain is like a muscle that should be exercised through the retirement years as a defense against dementia, cognitive lapses and memory failure."



      Rote Learning Improves Memory in Seniors...
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      Michigan Credit Card Mystery Deepens

      Is It the Newest "Worst Hack Ever?"

      Wesco was urging customers to contact their financial institutions to correct any inaccurate or fraudulent transactions, raising fears of a new wave of cre..

      Consumers Warned About Oprah Scam


      Consumers should be on the lookout for unsolicited e-mails purporting to offer a special invitation from The Oprah Winfrey Show to attend a show taping.

      The e-mails are part of a scam designed to defraud money or gain personal information from consumers.

      "Phishing" scams, which attempt to obtain consumers' personal and financial information through fake e-mails, are becoming more frequent and creative, according to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. "An unsolicited e-mail purportedly sent by a third party that requests information such as the consumer's Social Security number and credit and bank account information is a scam," Madigan said.

      Common "phishing" scams involve authentic-looking e-mails that ask the consumer to respond or direct the consumer to a Web site designed to look just like the site of the alleged sender. Once redirected to that site, the consumer is asked for sensitive account information to "update" or "validate" his/her account information for some urgent reason.

      In this case, e-mail recipients are asked to submit personal information and told they will receive tickets to The Oprah Winfrey Show after verification of certain financial information and/or the wiring of money to an unknown third party.

      However, according to Harpo Productions, Inc., The Oprah Winfrey Show does not sell tickets or ticket travel packages to fans. Consumers should disregard any e-mail that purportedly comes from The Oprah Winfrey Show offering show-taping tickets for a fee.

      "With the large number of Oprah's fans worldwide, we are concerned that their excitement at the opportunity to attend a taping of her TV show may result in fans responding to this unauthorized offer," Madigan said. "Consumers should be alarmed whenever unsolicited e-mails ask them to divulge personal or financial information."

      Recipients of "phishing" emails are urged not to respond. Madigan said Illinois consumers who have sent money or divulged personal information can contact her office's Consumer Fraud Hotline at 1-800-386-5438 (TTY: 1-800-964-3013). The Spanish-language Hotline number is 1-866-310-8398.

      Consumers outside of Illinois can file a consumer complaint by downloading the complaint form at www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/consumers/conscomp.pdf. In addition, Madigan said out-of-state consumers should report the occurrence to local authorities, their state Attorney General's Office and monitor their financial accounts for any suspicious activity.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      Consumers should be on the lookout for unsolicited e-mails purporting to offer a special invitation from The Oprah Winfrey Show to attend a show taping....
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      Polly Pocket Dolls With Magnets Recalled

      November 22, 2006
      Reports of at least three serious injuries have prompted the recall of more than 2 million Mattel's Polly Pocket Magnetic Play Sets.

      Tiny magnets inside the dolls and accessories can fall out undetected by parents and caregivers. The magnets can be swallowed, aspirated by young children or placed by a child in their nose or ears.

      When more than one magnet is swallowed, the magnets can attract each other and cause intestinal perforation, infection or blockage, which can be fatal. Aspiration to the lungs requires immediate surgery. Magnets placed in the nose or ears can cause swelling and be difficult to remove.

      CPSC is aware of 170 reports of the small magnets coming out of these recalled toys.

      There were three reports of serious injuries to children who swallowed more than one magnet. All three suffered intestinal perforations that required surgery. A 2-year-old child was hospitalized for seven days and a 7-year-old child was hospitalized for 12 days. An 8-year-old child was also hospitalized.

      The recalled Polly Pocket play sets contain plastic dolls and accessories that have small magnets. The magnets measure 1/8 inch in diameter and are imbedded in the hands and feet of some dolls, and in the plastic clothing, hair pieces and other accessories to help the pieces attach to the doll or to the doll's house. The model number is printed on the bottom of the largest pieces on some of the play sets.

      More images below

      Contact Mattel if you cannot find a model number on your product to determine if it is part of the recall. Polly Pocket magnetic play sets currently on store shelves are not included in this recall.

      Polly Pocket Magnetic Play SetsItem Number
      Polly Pocket!™ Polly Place™ Hangin? Out House™B2632
      Polly Pocket!™ Polly Place™ Treetop Clubhouse™B3158
      Polly Pocket!™ Spa Day™B3201
      Polly Totally!™ Polly Place™ Totally Tiki Diner™B7118
      Polly Pocket!™ Quik-Clik™ BoutiqueG8605
      Polly Pocket!™ Quik-Clik™ City Pretty PlaysetH1537
      Polly Pocket!™ Quik-Clik™ Sporty Style PlaysetH1538
      Polly Pocket!™ Totally Zen™ PlaysetH3211

      Polly Pocket Dolls With Magnets Recalled...
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      Heinz Warns Customers Of Lottery Scam

      Got a check from H.J. Heinz? Be skeptical

      If you should receive a letter announcing you've won a Canadian lottery, along with a check from the food giant H. J. Heinz, the company wants you to throw it away.

      Heinz says it has learned of a lottery scam being run by a group called the Metropolitan Lottery Commission that involves consumers receiving a fake Heinz check.

      The scammers instruct victims to wire nearly $3,000 to an agency at a Nova Scotia address to cover so called clearance fees for their fictitious lottery winnings.

      "The fake Heinz check is not legally valid and should not be deposited. Additionally, the fake check illegally uses the Heinz name and trademarks," the company said in a statement.

      Heinz said it has reported the fraud to the U.S. Attorney General's Office in Pittsburgh and is encouraging anyone who receives such a letter to contact local authorities in their area.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      Heinz Warns Customers Of Lottery Scam...
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      FDA's Breast Implant Decision Shows 'Double Standard,' Critics Charge

      "Most defective medical device ever ..." says Public Citizen

      Critics are assailing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's decision to allow the marketing of silicone gel-filled breast implants made by two companies. Public Citizen labeled them the "most defective medical device ever approved by the FDA."

      "It is a terrible reminder of the double standard for women versus men that the FDA has not approved silicone gel testicular implants because of the inadequacy of clinical trials on these devices," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

      The FDA approved implants manufactured by manufactured by Allergan Corp. (formerly Inamed Corp.), Irvine, Calif., and Mentor Corp., Santa Barbara, Calif., for breast reconstruction in women of all ages and breast augmentation in women ages 22 and older.

      "FDA has reviewed an extensive amount of data from clinical trials of women studied for up to four years, as well as a wealth of other information to determine the benefits and risks of these products," said Daniel Schultz, M.D., Director, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, FDA.

      "The extensive body of scientific evidence provides reasonable assurance of the benefits and risks of these devices. This information is available in the product labeling and will enable women and their physicians to make informed decisions."

      The FDA will continue to monitor the devices by requiring each company to conduct a large postapproval study following about 40,000 women for 10 years after receiving breast implants.

      Public Citizen has opposed the use of silicone gel breast implants since the fall of 1988, when it petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban them after receiving what it said numerous documents from FDA scientists concerned about their safety.

      "In terms of adverse safety and health information known at the time of approval -- such as high rates of rupture, the need for repeat surgery and clear evidence of lymph node infiltration and damage by leaked silicone -- silicone gel breast implants are the most defective medical device ever approved by the FDA," Wolfe said.

      "The approval makes a mockery of the legal standard that requires 'reasonable assurance of safety,'" he said.

      FDA said its decision was based on a thorough review of each company's clinical and preclinical studies, a review of studies by independent scientific bodies and deliberations of advisory panels of outside experts that heard public comment from hundreds of stakeholders.

      In addition, FDA conducted inspections of each company's manufacturing facilities to determine that they comply with FDA's Good Manufacturing Practices. Some of the complications reported in the core studies included hardening of the area around the implant, breast pain, change in nipple sensation, implant rupture and the need for additional surgery.

      However, FDA said the majority of women in the studies reported being satisfied with their implants.

      FDA approved the silicone gel-filled breast implants with a number of conditions, including requiring each company to: conduct a large postapproval study; continue its core study through 10 years; conduct a focus group study of the patient labeling; continue laboratory studies to further characterize types of device failure; and track each implant in the event, for example, that health professionals and patients need to be notified of updated product information.

      The postapproval studies will continue to gather information about the safety and effectiveness of the implants. Information will be collected about rates of local complications, rates of connective tissue disease and its signs and symptoms, rates of neurological disease and its signs and symptoms, potential effects on offspring of women with breast implants, potential effects on reproduction and lactation, rates of cancer, rates of suicide, potential interference of breast implants with mammography, and MRI compliance and rupture rates.

      Wolfe said Public Citizen will also remain interested. "We will certainly be urging thorough Congressional investigations and hearings on this lack of assertion of regulatory authority by (FDA)," he said.



      FDA's Breast Implant Decision Shows 'Double Standard,' Critics Charge...
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      Penalty Fees, Interest Rate Hikes, and Misleading Contracts Await Credit Card Shoppers


      With the holiday shopping season upon us, Consumers Union is warning shoppers about the increasing number of credit card traps that can trip up consumers and lead to spiraling debt.

      "You can find yourself buried in debt if you aren't careful to avoid the credit card gotchas," said Michelle Jun, Staff Attorney for Consumers Union. "Too many credit cards are designed to get you in debt and keep you there."

      Consumers enjoy few protections when it comes to credit cards, according to Consumers Union, and there are an increasing number of ways they can be penalized with fees or get stuck with higher interest rates:

      Universal default: Your interest rate can skyrocket if your credit score declines because of your behavior with other creditors even if you always pay your credit card on time and never miss a payment. Some card issuers will raise your rate if you inquire about a car loan or open a new credit card.

      Change of terms: Credit card terms keep changing. Read the fine print and chances are you'll find this disclosure: "We reserve the right to change the terms (including the APRs) at any time for any reason." A fixed rate is fixed until the bank gives you at least 15 days notice that it isn't. If you want to keep your account open, you'll pay the higher new rate on your existing balance.

      Teaser rates: That low rate you signed up for expires suddenly and you end up paying more. A temptingly low introductory rate can climb to 30 percent or more.

      Minimum payment: If you pay the minimum payment every month, you'll end up paying a lot more than what you charged and you could be on the hook for a very long time.

      On time payment: Card issuers are systematically mailing statements closer to the due date, giving customers less turnaround time. You can be hit with a late fee even if the payment is mailed on time. The average fee for a late payment has more than doubled in the past decade.

      Double cycle billing: Finance charges are usually calculated using the average daily balance. If you alternate between paying off and carrying a balance, you'll end up paying more interest.

      Cash advance/convenience checks: The interest rates on these are higher than your credit card.

      Penalty interest and fees: Late payments can raise your interest from 7 percent to 27 percent! Rather than rejecting charges that exceed your credit card limit, issuers today often let them go through but then charge a hefty fee

      • as high as $39.

      Fees, fees, and more fees: As if the penalties weren't enough, you pay more fees for paying by phone or charging abroad. You may have to pay a fee to receive what used to be free year- end summary statements.

      Balance transfer switcheroo: Transferring a balance from an account with a high APR to another one with a lower interest rate could come at a high cost. Any payments you make are typically applied first to the lowest rate balance. So while the credit card company uses your payment to quickly pay off that 0 percent transfer balance, you are piling up interest on purchases, at say, 18 percent. Multiple balance transfers will hurt your credit score.

      A recent report by the General Accountability Office (GAO) found that there are many types of credit card fees, and that they have risen much faster than inflation. It also finds that current fee disclosures are difficult to understand, bury important information, and often fail to convey to cardholders when late fees would be charged and what actions could result in penalty interest rates.

      The report found that 35 percent of active credit cardholders of the six largest issuers were charged at least one penalty fee in 2005, averaging $33.64.

      Penalty Fees, Interest Rate Hikes, and Misleading Contracts Await Credit Card Shoppers...
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      ATM, Bank Card Security Getting Worse

      Vulnerabilities Identified but Fixes Aren't So Easy


      The ATM is such a ubiquitous staple of life now that we don't even think about the process of putting the bank card in and taking money out anymore.

      ATMs have so many bells and whistles attached to them -- ordering movie tickets, watching ads, or making phone calls -- that the act of withdrawing money from your account seems almost an afterthought.

      Unfortunately, that same nonchalance may be catching on with banks.

      Several recent incidents indicate that that it's easier than ever to not only hack an ATM and steal all the cash, but to steal a bank customer's PIN number and drain their checking account without them ever being the wiser.

      Dancing On A PIN

      According to "The Unbearable Lightness of PIN Cracking," a new report released by a pair of Israeli security researchers, a weakness in how PINs are transmitted across global financial networks could enable unscrupulous bank employees to crack a cardholder's PIN using as few as one or two guesses.

      The flaw could enable crooked insiders to gain access to a PIN if the cardholder withdraws money from their bank, even if the cardholder's money is in another bank. It could also be used to generate new PINs that would work just as well as the legitimate number.

      Researchers Odelia Moshe Ostrovsky and Omer Berkman demonstrated several weaknesses in the "chain" a PIN goes through when it is transmitted from the machine a user enters it into, through a series of "switches," to the verifying bank that the user does businesses with.

      One weakness centers around the "translation" of PINs as they go through the chain, while another targets ATMs that enable users to select PINs during online banking.

      Ostrovsky, of Algorithmic Research (ARX), and Berkman determined that even if the issuing bank addressed every possible vulnerability on their end, customers would still be vulnerable to attacks along the chain if other banks did not improve their systems.

      "To be protected from this attack, countermeasures in all verification paths to the issuer must be taken," they said. "As this is unrealistic, solutions outside the standard must be sought."

      The two researchers claimed that the vulnerabilities could account for many unexplained instances of "phantom withdrawals" from cardholders' accounts.

      "The attacks are so simple and practical that issuers may have to admit liability not only for future cases but even retroactively, " they said. "The attacks can be applied on such a large scale...that such liability can be enormous."

      The authors went public with their research after presenting it to major credit card issuers and banks, none of whom acted on the information.

      MP3 vs. ATM

      Sometimes it doesn't take a sophisticated hack attack or the work of greedy insiders to break a bank network open. In one case, all it took was a simple MP3 player.

      Manchester, England resident Maxwell Parsons was recently convicted of stealing 200,000 pounds from cash machines throughout Britain. Parsons would find "free-standing" ATM machines, plug his MP3 player into the back, and record the tones of the keys when users would input the PIN numbers.

      Parsons would then run the recorded tones through separate software programs to decipher them, and created "clone" cards which he then encoded with the recorded PINS, according to a report in The Register.

      Parsons was arrested by sheer luck when he was pulled over for an illegal U-turn in London. The police found a fake bank card in his wallet, and after searching his residence, turned up 26 other fake cards, 18 of which were cloned.

      Parsons was sentenced to 32 months in prison for deception and unlawful interception of communications transmissions. The authorities believed he was the ringleader of a gang, The Times reported.

      Representatives of the U.K. banking industry claimed to be so shaken by the incident that they planned to move immediately to fix the flaws in free-standing machines to prevent similar crimes.

      What You Can Do

      • Avoid using any ATM machine that looks like it's been tampered with or damaged in any way. If you see people loitering around an ATM who don't seem to be getting money out, find another one to use.

      • Try to stick to ATMs from your bank or in your credit union's network. It won't remove vulnerability to fraud, but it can reduce it -- and you'll be saving yourself extra money by not incurring withdrawal fees from ATMs.

      • When using an ATM, shield the keypad from view so that your PIN can't be seen by onlookers.

      • Keep receipts from ATM withdrawals at the time of the transaction, but be sure to destroy or shred them later.

      • Regularly check your bank account or statements for unusual activity.

      More Information

      The complete text of "The Unbearable Lightness of PIN Cracking" is available online as a .pdf document.

      The ATM is such a ubiquitous staple of life now that we don't even think about the process of putting the bank card in and taking money out anymore....
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      People to People: Ambassadors or Tourists?

      Kids told they're specially chosen to be a "Student Ambassador"

      The letter convinced the 15-year-old she was specially chosen.

      It made her believe a non-profit organization founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower had hand-picked her to be a Student Ambassador for an educational trip overseas.

      "My daughter thought she was so special when she received a letter saying she was nominated for this trip," says Regina G. of Brooklyn, New York. "She was ecstatic. She was on Cloud Nine thinking that someone nominated her."

      The letter had the same effect on a 15-year-old Linden, New Jersey, girl.

      "We went to the mailbox together and when she saw the letter and opened it, she was ecstatic," says Crystal B., the teenager's mom. "I was ecstatic, too. The letter made it seem like something was being bestowed on you for all your hard work. And I've always told my daughter that if you do well and work hard, you'll be rewarded. That's what we thought this was."

      And why wouldn't they?

      The letter Crystal -- and thousands of other parents -- received from the organization stated their children were eligible for these "educational exploration programs ... and named for this honor by a teacher, former Student Ambassador, or national academic listing."

      But parents across the country say the letter is a misleading marketing gimmick designed to lure them into sending their children on oversea trips that cost thousands of dollars.

      Complaints Nationwide

      In the past two months, ConsumerAffairs.com has received nearly 30 complaints from parents nationwide about the organization's marketing tactics and its letter. On the other hand, those who actually take the overseas seem relatively content; as of this writing, we've received only one complaint from a parent whose child was disappointed with her journey.

      Parents we interviewed are outraged by the deceptive tactics the organization -- founded to promote world peace -- used to market its educational programs abroad.

      Parents say the letter, which arrives in an official-looking envelope that touts the organization's ties to eight United States Presidents, duped their children into believing they were specially chosen for these trips.

      Many say their children's classmates received the same letter -- even students who struggle academically.

      They also learned the organization bought their child's name from a company that compiles and sells the names of students nationwide.

      "Why Did They Lie To Me?"

      "I'm really angry they lied to me," says Tracie Y. of Niagara Falls, New York, whose ten-year-old son received an invitation to travel overseas. "These are kids we're talking about and you have to be honest with them.

      "When I got the letter, I thought this was a good thing and that it was legitimate," she adds. "I was ready to take out a second mortgage on my house so my son could go on this trip. His dream has always been to go to France, and he thought this was his opportunity. His hopes were totally up. When he found out that everyone got this letter, my son asked 'why did they lie?'"

      Trouble In Iowa

      He's not the only one asking that question.

      Earlier this year, the Iowa Attorney General's Office criticized the group's marketing letter, saying it misled parents into "believing that their child was selected on merit when that is not the case, and that parents may be manipulated into making substantial expenditures they might otherwise decline to make."

      That action came after an Iowa mother -- whose infant son died in 1993 -- received a letter in September, 2005, stating a teacher, former Student Ambassador, or national academic listing named her child for a 20-day trip to Europe.

      "The letter raised concerns that parents were being led to believe that their child had been chosen for an honor based on recommendations or academic performance, criteria that could not possibly have applied to the infant who died years ago at seven weeks of age," Assistant Attorney General Steve St. Clair wrote in a letter to the group's attorney.

      Iowa officials also discovered the misleading tactics didn't end with the letter.

      "We later learned that in-person presentations to families who received the invitation letter also convey the message that students are specially selected as an honor," St. Clair wrote. "And we found that representatives with whom our investigator had phone contact described the program in the same manner."

      The Attorney General's Office did not take issue with the merits of the Student Ambassador trips aboard. Its investigation only focused on the organization's letter and its marketing tactics.

      Earlier this summer, the organization agreed to modify its letter and presentations.

      Parents Say Organization Continues To Deceive Students

      But parents who contacted ConsumerAffairs.com say the organization continues to deceive students and exploit their dreams to travel abroad.

      Tricia W. of Barnegat, New Jersey, says her daughter received one of the organization's letters on October 2, 2006. "My daughter opened the letter and she was ecstatic," Tricia says. "She thought it was spectacular that someone thought all these lovely things about her."

      But her excitement soon turned to heartbreak.

      "When I informed my daughter of the complaints I'd read about the organization, she was devastated," Tricia says, adding her 14-year-old daughter suffers from depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. "She was very upset because she was led to believe she was specially chosen for this trip overseas. It made her feel special to get this invitation. And it was hard to explain to her that she still is special, and that in no way does this misleading letter mean she's not.

      "It's awful what they're doing to children."

      Other parents agree.

      "It's misleading and it's wrong," says Crystal B. of Linden, New Jersey, whose teenage daughter received a letter from the organization in September, 2006. "The initial excitement my daughter felt when she received the letter was just like getting free tickets to Walt Disney World.

      "When I told my daughter what I'd learned about the organization, she was completely crushed. She really wanted to do this and we'd talked about how we could raise the money. This is a scam. Anything with a hidden agenda is a scam and this letter had a hidden agenda."

      Regina G. of Brooklyn, New York, is appalled by the organization's marketing tactics.

      "This is fraud," she says, adding her teenage daughter received an invitation from the organization in September, 2006. "Here I was getting ready to collect funds so my daughter could go on this trip and then I find out it's garbage. How dare they do this.

      "When I found out this letter was nothing but trickery, it was devastating -- to me as a parent and to my child."

      Complaints Across the Country

      Parents across the country, whose children received one of the organization's letters in the past two months, echo Regina's outrage and concerns.

      Consider these comments they shared during interviews with ConsumerAffairs.com:

      • Anna S. of Indianapolis, Indiana: "My 14-year-old son received a letter stating he was nominated to go on a trip to Australia. He's a bright kid and thought he'd done something special. He was very disappointed when I told him that I went online and found out this organization was a sham."

      • Pam V. of Sheboygan, Wisconsin: "I was ready to send my 15-year-old twin boys to a foreign country with an organization that I was led to believe nominated them based on their achievements. Knowing this is not true, I wonder if the organization has misled me regarding other issues as well -- including safety and the screening of leaders. I think they've become an expensive travel agency for what they're charging. It's not worth it."

      • Becki W. of Selah, Washington: "It's very misleading and emotionally harmful to kids. I thought it was legitimate because it had a list of all the past presidents who were associated with the organization. But as I thought about it more, no one said why my (14-year-old) daughter was nominated. If they're just trying to sell parents on these overseas trips for their kids, they need to be more aboveboard in their approach."

      • Patricia S. of New Windsor, New York: "It's pretty deceptive to say your child is nominated to go on these overseas trips when they've gotten their name from a list. I learned this was just a marketing technique. I don't know if the programs are any good, but the trips should definitely not be presented like they're some honor. Parents need to be wary and investigate the organization fully."

      People to People: Ambassadors or Tourists?...
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      People To People's CEO "Mortified" by Recruiting Letter

      People to People: "Ambassadors" or Tourists?

      The non-profit organization behind the "you've been chosen" recruiting letter inviting students to be "ambassadors" on one of its international tours is People To People International, which President Dwight D. Eisenhower founded in 1956.

      People To People International is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. President Eisenhower's granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower, is the group's president and chief executive officer.

      She recently sat down with ConsumerAffairs.com to discuss parents' concerns about the organization's marketing tactics and the problems in Iowa.

      "I was mortified when that happened," Eisenhower says of the letter sent to the woman who lost an infant son. "I've lost a baby so I know how devastating that is.

      "What happened in Iowa was an unfortunate mistake caused by a mailing list," she adds, pointing out the Attorney General's Office did not file any charges against her organization. "It was human error, and it unfortunately caused people to doubt our mission. We are sincerely sorry people feel misled or hurt. Believe me, nobody wants to dupe anybody."

      Eisenhower says her organization donated $5,000 to the Iowa SIDS Foundation and $20,000 to Blank Children's Hospital in honor of the baby who died.

      Wording Of The Letter Changed

      People To People has also changed the wording of its letter, Eisenhower says.

      "It now says 'you're invited' to go on a trip and talks more about People To People," she says, adding the changes were made to all the letters -- not just the ones sent Iowa parents.

      Those revisions, however, didn't go into effect until mid-October. Eisenhower says the original letters were already processed and couldn't be pulled. That's why parents received invitations stating their children were "named" for the Student Ambassador Program as recently as early October.

      Eisenhower also apologized to every student who believes the organization deceived them -- or made them think they weren't special. "I feel awful that the letter made any child feel that way. They are special."

      Eisenhower says her organization is "very selective" about the students invited to take one of its trips. And invitations are only sent to academic achievers.

      "The mailing list we use contains the names of good academic students and students who are receptive to learning about other cultures," she says. "The kids then go through a screening process, they write essays, and they put in a certain amount of community service. These are very special kids we pick."

      How Does People To People Get Names?

      Eisenhower says the names of potential student ambassadors are generated from three sources:

      • A mailing list compiled by the American Student List company;
      • Nominations from parents and teachers; and
      • Nominations from individuals who've traveled with the organization.

      Private individuals can also nominate students on the organization's Web site.

      But ConsumerAffairs.com discovered People To People's Web site doesn't ask for any supporting information about the student -- or their qualifications for the program. It doesn't even ask for the name of the person making the nomination.

      ConsumerAffairs.com reporter Joseph Enoch nominated himself to be a People To People Student Ambassador.

      Enoch soon received letters stating he was recommended for the Student Ambassador program and the organization had identified him "as a remarkable and motivated student."

      Eisenhower says she was unaware the organization's Web site didn't ask for background information on student nominees.

      "There should be a place on there that says why this student is being nominated," she says. "I will talk our Web site people about this immediately."

      Ties To The Ambassador Group, Inc.

      During our interview, Eisenhower described the relationship between her non-profit organization and the for-profit company that markets the trips and makes all the travel arrangements.

      That company is the Ambassadors Group, Inc., which sent the letters to students nationwide on People To People letterhead.

      The publicly-traded company (EPAX ) is based in Spokane, Washington. It describes itself as a "leading educational travel company that organizes and promotes international and domestic educational travel and sports programs for youths, athletes and professionals."

      A majority of those programs are marketed under the People To People name, including:

      • People To People Student Ambassador Programs,
      • People To People Sports Ambassador Program,
      • People To People Ambassador programs (for adults);
      • People To People Leadership Summits.

      Eisenhower says her organization has partnered with the Ambassador Group since 1963. "We've had a long, legitimate relationship with them," she says. "They're more than a travel agency. They do all our logistics."

      The Ambassador Group also puts money into People To People International's coffers. Revenue generated from the trips it markets goes into People To People International's operating budget.

      People To People International's Tax Return

      ConsumerAffairs.com reviewed People To People International's tax records for 2005. Those records listed its total revenue at $4.7 million dollars. Of that amount, records show the organization received:
      • $940, 657 from Student Programs;
      • $701,983 from Adult programs,
      • $1,867,274, from what is listed as "other programs,"
      • $712,499 from membership dues; and
      • $45,154 from licensing fees.

      Eisenhower says private donations to her organization are tax-deductible and do not go into the operating budget. She says 100 percent of any donation goes to the specific program named by the donor.

      Tax records also reveal Eisenhower's annual salary is $157,628 plus $24,042 in other benefits.

      That's substantially less than her counterpart at the for-profit Ambassador Group. Jeffery Thomas is the company's president and CEO, and stock information listed on Reuters.com reveals his annual salary is $1,203,673 plus $872,206 in other compensation.

      Cost And Safety Concerns

      What about the cost of the Student Ambassador overseas trips?

      Parents repeatedly asked ConsumerAffairs.com why the trips are so expensive and if they're worth the money? The average price for a 20-day trip is about $5,000, which Eisenhower agrees is high.

      "But these are academic programs and students can receive school credit for going on these trips," she says. "There's an educational aspect to the programs, and because of that content the price is a little higher."

      Eisenhower assures parents the trips are worth the money. She says students go to places they might never have the opportunity to visit and many meet foreign dignitaries.

      How do students pay for these trips abroad?

      "We encourage kids to hold fundraisers like car washes and bake sales," Eisenhower says. "Some kids also write to corporations and request donations, but if they're going on one of our ambassador programs those donations are not tax deductible (because the Ambassador Group is for-profit organization).

      "We also have scholarships that students can apply for," she adds. "And we pay 100 percent of the cost for students to go to our Peace Camps."

      Safety Measures To Protect Students

      Parents also wondered what safety measures are in place to protect their children in a foreign country. And they questioned whether background checks are done on the adults who supervise the students.

      Eisenhower says safety is the organization's top priority.

      Teacher leaders, she says, are specially trained how to handle a crisis overseas, including a terrorist threat.

      "We had students in London when the terrorists bombed the subways last summer," Eisenhower says. "I was in Belfast and immediately went to London. We quickly updated our Web site and called every parent to let them know their children were safe.

      "We pride ourselves on our safety measures," she adds. "We have a very good safety net in place. Only two people cancelled trips after that terrorist bombing. That shows you how much trust parents have in our ambassador programs. It puts them at ease."

      The organization also screens everyone who travels with the students, Eisenhower says. "Most of the student leaders are teachers who've already undergone background checks."

      First Complaints In The Organization's History

      Eisenhower says these complaints are the first ones leveled against People To People International during its 50-year-history.

      She said she takes each one seriously. And personally.

      "I know something like this would be very upsetting to my grandfather," she says, adding he founded the organization to create world peace -- not controversy -- by bringing people from diverse cultures together. "And that's so upsetting to me.

      "I'm just mortified this has happened. We are sincerely sorry and we've taken measures to correct these problems. I hope that in spite of all of this, people will still want to marry us."

      Some parents applaud Eisenhower for listening to their concerns and those raised by their children.

      But Tracie Y. of Niagara Falls, New York, says Eisenhower's comments haven't swayed her views.

      "People To People shot my son's hopes of going overseas down the tubes," Tracie says. "I was lied to and I don't take being lied to lightly. If they lied to me about this, then they lied to me that I can trust them with my child.

      "I don't want anything to do with them again."

      Next: Parents Object to Student Lists

      People To People's CEO...
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      Payday Lenders Move Online, Try to Bypass State Laws

      States are largely powerless to stop them

      Consumer advocates have long campaigned against financial companies offering payday loans, car title loans, and other loans targeted to low-income or poor-credit consumers. While these outfits were once limited to shabby storefronts, they've now moved into cyberspace, exploiting anyone who has access to a computer.

      A number of states have passed laws trying to regulate payday lenders, who charge their customers exorbitant interest rates, by forbidding them from doing business in their states. The online lenders, however, seek out clever loopholes.

      "All aspects and transactions on this site will be deemed to have taken place in our office in the State of Delaware, regardless of where you may be viewing or accessing this site," reads the disclosure language on APPLE Fast Cash Personal Loans' Web site. "Borrower is responsible for complying with any local statutory obligations that may exist in their state or area with respect to any transactions with APPLE Fast Cash Personal Loans."

      Recently West Virginia Attorney General McGraw filed suit to enforce investigative subpoenas against 14 Internet payday lenders and to enjoin their usurious lending activities in his state.

      McGraw also announced that his office has reached formal settlement agreements with 18 other Internet payday lenders in which they promised to permanently discontinue their payday loans here and to refund all unlawful fees and charges collected from West Virginia consumers. McGraw said the latter agreement will result in tens of thousands of refunds and canceled debts for hundreds of West Virginia consumers.

      McGraw said the 14 Internet lenders made "payday loans" to consumers in their homes via interactive web sites and have claimed that states, including West Virginia, cannot regulate their lending activities. The state, he says, sees it differently. The defendants require payment of interest with Annual Percent Rates ("APR") ranging from 600 to 800 percent APR. The State of West Virginia has a maximum allowable rate of 18 percent APR for consumer loans.

      The companies sued by McGraw's office include the following:

      • Apple Fast Cash Personal Loans - Wilmington, DE
      • Cash Advance Network, Inc. - Carson City, NV
      • Cash Advance USA - Miami, FL
      • Cash Advance Marketing d/b/a Cash Back Values - Carson City, NV
      • Cash Net - Salt Lake City, UT
      • American Interweb Marketing d/b/a CASHRebateOnLine.com Carson City, NV
      • Leads Global, Inc. d/b/a Cash Today Limited and d/b/a Cash2day4you.com - Reno, NV
      • GECC d/b/a Cashdirectnow.com - Rapid City, SD
      • Americash Hotline d/b/a Direct CashExpress - Wilmington, DE
      • Magnum Cash Advance, Inc. - Wilmington, DE
      • Ambassador Financial Services d/b/a Nationwide Cash - Espanola, MN
      • PayDay OK d/b/a PayDay Select - Ruidiso, NM
      • Quik Payday.com Financial Solutions - Logan, UT
      • USA Cash Center - Rapid City, SD

      The companies that have signed formal settlement agreements with McGraw's office include:

      • AnyDay Cash.com of Holiday, UT;
      • Checkexpress.com d/b/a Paydayloantoday.com of Las Vegas, NV;
      • CNC Funding of Euless, TX
      • Elite Cash Advance of Salt Lake City, UT
      • FSM Processing, Inc. of Las Vegas, NV
      • Get Cash 911.com of San Diego, CA
      • PayDay Advance Plus, Inc. of Los Angeles, CA
      • Sordi, Inc. d/b/a Checks for Cash of Rockford, IL
      • Star Light Financial of Del Ray Beach, FL
      • VIP Cash of Las Vegas, NV

      At least eight other companies have furnished written confirmation that they will sign similar formal agreements with the attorney general.

      Payday Lenders Move Online, Try to Bypass State Laws...
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      People to People: How Selective Is It?

      People to People International has impeccable credentials and some very impressive stationery


      People to People International has impeccable credentials and some very impressive stationery. Its honorary chairs start with its founder, the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower and include nearly every President since then, up to and including George W. Bush. 

      President Eisenhower wanted the organization to further peace and understanding through international student exchange programs, and by most standards, it has succeeded admirably, operating for decades to nearly universal praise and commendation.

      But more recently, the organization has come under fire for its recruiting methods. Its letter to prospective student "ambassadors" give the impression the student has been specially chosen when, in fact, many of the names come from lists the organization purchased.

      Questions were raised earlier this year when the organization sent an invitation to an Iowa child who had been dead for years. The state's attorney general investigated and People to People agreed to modify its practices.

      But has it?

      Lisa Wade McCormick spent weeks investigating People to People's operation and interviewing students, parents and the organization's president, President Eisenhower's granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower.

      The solicitation has also irked a Texas couple, who say they received one of the letters addressed to a name that closely resembled a deceased family membe...
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      Fast Facts About People to People International

      People to People: "Ambassadors" or Tourists?


      • U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower founded People To People International (PTPI) on September 11, 1956. It was called the President's People to People Program.

      • President Eisenhower started the organization to "enhance international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities involving the exchange of ideas and experiences directly among peoples of different countries and diverse cultures."

      • President Eisenhower's granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower, is the organization's president and chief executive officer;

      • PTPI moved its headquarters to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1961. It also has offices in Berlin, Germany and San Diego, California;

      • PTIP is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization;

      • President George W. Bush is PTPI's honorary chairman. Past Honorary Chairmen included former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Regan, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, and John F. Kennedy.

      • Walt Disney, Joyce C. Hall, Bob Hope, Charles M. Schulz, Rafer Johnson, and other leaders representing countries around the world have worked with PTPI.

      • PTPI is represented in 135 countries and has more than 80,000 families and individuals involved in the organization.

      • PTPI has a variety of worldwide educational, cultural, and humanitarian exchange programs, including Adult, University and Student Chapters; Adult Professional Programs; Peace Camp, Global Peace Initiatives; Humanitarian and Educational Initiatives; Global Landmine Initiative; Sports Ambassador Program; Student Ambassador Program; Student Scholarships and Loans; and Worldwide Conferences.

      • PTPI administers Operation Iraqi Children (http://www.operationiraqichildren.org/), an organization founded by Gary Sinise and Laura Hillenbrand. This program has distributed more than 200,000 school supply kits to the Iraqi children.

      • PTPI has worked to eradicate landmines around the world since 2002.

      • PTPI is celebrating 50 years of Peace through Understanding, which started in 2005 and culminate at the organization's 2006 Worldwide Conference in Sydney, Australia

      - Source: People To People International

      U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower founded People To People International (PTPI) on September 11, 1956. It was called the President's People to People Pro...
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      Not Everyone's Happy with People to People Trips

      People to People: "Ambassadors" or Tourists?

      Nearly 100 percent of students who go on a People To People Student Ambassador trip say they'd recommend the program, according to Mary Eisenhower, the organization's president. She says her organization surveys students at the end of their educational trips overseas.

      "And 95 percent say 'Yes, they'd recommend' them to their friends," Eisenhower says. "I've seen these programs work. And they work beautifully."

      The Iowa Attorney General's Office criticized the organization's marketing tactics earlier this year, saying they misled parents into believing their children were specially chosen for the Student Ambassador trips abroad.

      That action came after an Iowa mother -- whose infant son died in 1993 -- received a letter from the organization last year, stating her child was named for a Student Ambassador trip abroad.

      Eisenhower says she was "mortified" when she learned about the letter going to a parent who lost a child. She apologized for that action, calling it "human error."

      Her organization also donated $25,000 to charity in honor of the boy who died. And she says People To People recently changed the wording of its marketing letter.

      Iowa officials, however, never questioned the merits of the Student Ambassador trips.

      ConsumerAffairs.com has received one complaint about the Student Ambassador trips since September.

      Christy E. of Arlington, Texas, says the organization misrepresented the experience her 17-year-old daughter would have on a 20-day trip to Europe.

      "People To People acted like they (the kids) were representatives of America, and there was a lot of emphasis on the way they acted," Christy says. "But when they got over there, most of the things they did were touristy things that anybody could do. We were disappointed because the places listed on the travel itinerary were replaced with not so well-known destinations at the last minute because of 'scheduling issues.'"

      Christy says her daughter, for example:
      • Didn't meet members of Parliament, as promised;
      • Was only in Dublin long enough to check into a motel and grab two meals;
      • Went to Waterford, but didn't go to the Waterford museum.

      "They did tell us things could change once the kids got to Europe," Christy says. "But these were big things. If you say you're going to London and you'll get to go to Parliament -- and then the closest you get to Parliament is seeing it from the London Eye (the big Ferris wheel) -- that's misleading."

      Christy also had concerns with the group leader on the trip. "She was new and I was not happy with the work they were supposed to do to get ready for this trip."

      Her daughter, she says, also lost 12 pounds on the trip. "That's because the food was bad. And for the first two months after she got back, every time I'd make potatoes, she said couldn't eat them because that's all she ate on the trip."

      Would she recommend the Student Ambassador program?

      "As parent, no, I wouldn't," Christy says. "It's not worth the money. I bet I could find a good travel agency that could book a 20-day trip to Europe like this, and it would be a lot less expensive (she paid $4800), and they would get me hooked up with people who lived there.

      "I've been contacted four times by People To People to come and recommend the program to other parents," she adds. "And I've declined all four times. I've also asked to be taken off their list."

      What about her daughter?

      "While she said she would love to go back to the UK, she would never want to go with a People To People group again," Christy says.

      "She's been contacted ten times by People To People to sign up for another trip, and twice to write recommendations for them. She's declined on both and we finally had to request they take us off their contact list to stop the calls and emails."

      People to People: True or False?...
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