1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2007
  4. January

News in January 2007

Browse by year

2007

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Super Bowl Boosts TV Sales

    A Big Game Needs a Big Screen

    Consumers will be seeing the Super Bowl action more clearly this year as the high-def buying frenzy continues.

    According to the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association's (RAMA) 2007 Super Bowl Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, more consumers plan to take advantage of retailers' promotions of high-definition televisions for game day.

    In fact, 2.5 million consumers plan to purchase a new TV for Super Bowl Sunday, up from the 1.7 million who said they would last year.

    The survey found that consumers plan on spending an average of $56.04 on Super Bowl-related merchandise, up from last year's $36.78. Total spending for the February 4 Super Bowl is expected to reach $8.7 billion.

    "The Super Bowl is more than just a game -- it's a chance for companies to attract new customers by being creative, and often outlandish, in their advertisements," said RAMA Executive Director Mike Gatti. "After an incredibly promotional holiday season, consumers can expect big sales on Super Bowl-related merchandise until game day."

    According to the survey, 69.7 percent of consumers plan to celebrate the Super Bowl, compared with 65.9 percent last year. Of those that will be celebrating, 69.3 percent will be purchasing food and beverages and 6.3 percent will buy team apparel and accessories. In anticipation of the big day, 1.3 million consumers plan to buy new furniture, including new home entertainment centers.

    The survey also found that more people plan on throwing a party this year than last year (12.8% vs. 9.8%), and more people will be attending those parties (26.8% vs. 24.3% in 2006). Additionally, 9.2 million people plan to watch the game from a restaurant or bar.

    "The interest in this year's Super Bowl is higher than in many other years, so retailers have an opportunity to win big with sales of electronics, team apparel, and food," stated Phil Rist, Vice President of Strategy at BIGresearch. "As the price of flat-screen televisions continues to decrease, they are becoming more affordable for average consumers, which is contributing to an increase in TV sales."

    While Americans say the game itself is still the most important part of the Super Bowl (32.1%), more than 40 million consumers (18.1%) said they will tune in because of the commercials. The 18-24 (22.2%) and 25-34 (26.3%) year-old age groups will be most likely to pay attention to the advertisements, compared with last year when 18.5 percent and 19.3 percent respectively said the commercials were most important.

    Super Bowl Boosts TV Sales...
    Read lessRead more

    Honda Recalls ATV to Fix Ball Joints

    January 31, 2007
    American Honda Motor Corp. is recalling about 11,000 all-terrain vehicles because of a problem with the ball joints. The recall is for model year 2006 TRX450ER/R ATVs.

    The front suspension arm ball joints could have been contaminated during production, resulting in rapid wear of one or more of the ball joints and possible ball joint separation. If the ball joint separation occurs while riding, the operator could lose control of the ATV.

    American Honda Motor Corp. has received seven warranty claims about this problem. No injuries have been reported.

    The recall involves 2006 model year TRX450ER and TRX450R ATVs. They are adult-sized ATVs designed for use by riders age 16 and older. The ATVs are available in red or black. The TRX450ER and TRX450R model names are located on the front cowling just below the handlebars and the name Honda is printed on the seat.

    The units were sold by Honda dealers nationwide from September 2005 through December 2006 for between $6,600 and $7,000.

    Consumers should stop using these recalled ATVs until the repair has been completed. Call any Honda ATV dealer to make an appointment to have the ATV repaired. The dealer will inspect and repair your ATV, if necessary. Registered owners of the recalled ATVs have been sent direct notice.

    Consumer Contact: For more information, consumers can call Honda toll-free at (866) 784-1870 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, or visit the firms Web site at www.powersports.honda.com.

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

    Honda Recalls ATV to Fix Ball Joints...
    Read lessRead more

    Super Bowl Attracts Super Scams

    Watch out for shady, last-minute deals

    With the Chicago Bears and the neighboring Indianapolis Colts set to square off Sunday in Super Bowl XLI in Miami, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is urging fans of both teams purchasing tickets and making frantic travel to exercise caution and not be fooled by shady, last-minute deals.

    "With both regional fan favorites, the Bears and the Colts, in the Super Bowl, Illinois and Indiana consumers need to be on guard against fraudulent ticket and travel scams," Madigan said. She offered the following tips and information regarding ticket sales and travel arrangement.

    Tickets

    Fans attempting to purchase tickets online from a third party run the risk of receiving a counterfeit ticket or no ticket at all. Consumers should follow several rules in responding to sellers offering ticket deals:

    • If dealing with a ticket broker, determine whether the broker is a member of the National Association of Ticket Brokers -- -- and the Better Business Bureau, www.bbb.org. Both organizations have membership standards that promote ethical business conduct.

    • If dealing with an Illinois ticket broker, consumers can contact the Illinois Secretary of State's Index Department in Springfield to ensure that the broker is properly registered. Illinois law requires ticket brokers meet certain requirements such as having a toll-free phone number and maintaining a consumer rebate fund.

    • Avoid paying cash for tickets on hand from a stranger in the event the tickets may be counterfeit. Consumers should deal only with a seller who accepts credit card payments or other secure payment methods. Consumers are urged not to buy tickets from an unsecured website. Consumers should also be wary of online escrow sites, especially those recommended by a seller. If an escrow site is suggested, the consumer should independently investigate whether the site is legitimate.

    • Consumers should be aware that tickets to many of the parties held in conjunction with the Super Bowl are by "invitation only" and cannot be re-sold. Tickets to such an event may be counterfeit.

    • Most importantly, consumers should never wire any payment to a seller for any reason. Buyers are sometimes told that they will receive Super Bowl tickets after wiring money to an unknown seller. In many cases, the consumer will end up being a victim of fraud.

    "Right now, both teams are preparing their game plans," Madigan said. "There's no reason why fans shouldn't do the same and prepare themselves against unscrupulous ticket and travel vendors."

    Travel

    The Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the U.S. Department of Transportation has established rules for Super Bowl travel package promoters. These rules require that tour operators who market Super Bowl packages that include tickets to the game must have either already purchased the tickets or have a written contract for the tickets before advertising a package.

    This "Truth in Ticketing" rule also requires that companies pay full refunds to consumers when they sell a travel package that includes game tickets, but fail to provide the game tickets. These refunds must cover the full price paid for the package, including airfare and hotel rooms.

    The rule also allows consumers to obtain full refunds if promoters increase the price of the package by more than 10 percent after consumers have paid, and no price increases are allowed during the last 10 days before the departure date.

    Fans are reminded to purchase travel packages from providers they have used in the past or ask family or friends to recommend a company that they trust. Madigan said fans should be skeptical if they cannot reach a person on the phone to answer questions or if the company does not give its street address

    "As with game preparation, Super Bowl travelers need to protect themselves by checking all the "Xs and Os" before purchasing travel packages," Madigan continued. These include:

    • Making sure that tickets to Sunday's game are included in the travel package.

    • Getting all information about the travel package in writing and carefully read and fully understand all of the terms and conditions of the travel package before purchasing the trip, including the total price as well as any cancellation and change penalties.

    • Purchasing the trip with a credit card will give consumers the ability to dispute a charge if the promoter does not provide what is contracted for.

    • Being careful of mail, fax and telephone solicitations offering travel packages to the Super Bowl.

    • Calling the travel promoter a few days prior to the departure date to confirm reservations.

    Super Bowl Attracts Super Scams...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Food Makes You Sexy - Fact or Fiction?

      "Love foods" may taste great but do they tickle your libido?

      With Valentine's Day around the corner, many may look to food as a way to rekindle the libido. But is this merely wishful thinking?

      Like red wine, so-called love foods -- chocolate, oysters, cucumbers, strawberries and cream, licorice, alcohol -- may taste great, but will these foods tickle your libido as much as your taste buds?

      According to Lawrence Cheskin, M.D., director and founder of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, there are some foods that can keep individuals in good sexual health, but as far as supposed aphrodisiacs are concerned there is no scientific evidence that they do the trick.

      "The reputed sexual effects of so-called aphrodisiacs are based in folklore, not fact, and there is no scientific proof that any food or beverage can treat sexual dysfunction or increase desire," says Cheskin. "In health, there are some food recipes that promise to spice up your food and love life, but the ingredients do not lead to better chances of sexual intercourse."

      Cheskin does point out that chocolate contains certain interesting chemicals, such as phenylethylamine (also known as the "love-chemical"), that do stimulate the brain. They are found in high amounts in people who are in love, which is how we get the idea that chocolate is an aphrodisiac.

      "However, eating chocolate does not raise levels of phenylethylamine in your brain and increase your libido," says Cheskin. "Candy may be dandy, but it doesn't enhance your chance for romance."

      Healthier alternatives to chocolate, with the same sweet taste, are fruits like pineapple, bananas and strawberries, which contain plenty of vitamins and are high in antioxidants.

      "The health value of fruit may not be sexy, but they are at least healthy," stresses Cheskin.

      Oysters are another food with a reputation for increasing the libido. Cheskin calls oysters "good food" because they are low in fat and high in protein, vitamins and minerals and because they contain some nutrients that are important for the production of hormones that can improve fertility.

      "There is no proof that oysters have an aphrodisiac effect," he says, "but they are good for your sexual health and your overall health."

      Part of good sex health is having a good body weight because being overweight can contribute to a decreased libido and fertility. For those who want to increase their libido, Cheskin says the best approach is "to exercise and eat the right foods."



      Food Makes You Sexy - Fact or Fiction?...
      Read lessRead more

      Smokers Win Atlantic City Gamble

      Fear of irate smokers is about to trump common sense in Atlantic City

      Fear of irate smokers is about to trump common sense in Atlantic City.

      Faced with a chance to clear the air of deadly tobacco smoke in local casinos, the city council succumbed to pressure from the pro-smoking casino industry and passed a preliminary measure that will limit but not eliminate smoking.

      If approved in final form in early February, smoking will be permitted on 25 per cent of Atlantic City casino floors.

      That's a greater percentage the number of adults (over age 21) who still smoke in the United States.

      New Jerseyans already enjoy smokefree bars and casinos and enjoy the support of anti-tobacco Gov. Jon Corzine and the state legislature.

      Because casinos were exempt from the original statewide bill, the matter was left to the City Council of Atlantic City. When the casino industry argued that 3,400 jobs and 20 per cent of its revenues would be jeopardized by a smoking ban, the council accepted a compromise that called for a 75 per cent ban.

      The Jersey-based Group Against Smoking Pollution (GASP) and other opponents objected, citing the recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General that passive tobacco smoke is carcinogenic even in limited quantities.

      Regina Carlson, founder and executive director of the group, said breathing in a nonsmoking section offers no protection from smoke that happens to seep into that area.

      Atlantic City Councilman Dennis Mason disagreed, stating that new casino smoking areas would be walled off from floor to ceiling and topped by ventilation systems that suck smoke out of the air.

      Experts on the issue, as well as scientific studies, have shown such ventilation systems to be inadequate. In addition, air recirculated by heating and cooling systems would be filled with the secondhand tobacco smoke found deadly to nonsmokers.

      Potential loss of jobs and revenues -- cited by bars and restaurants in big cities considering smoking bans -- have not materialized. In fact, both New York and Los Angeles reported gains in jobs, revenues, and customers because nonsmokers unable or unwilling to appear previously became new patrons.

      Though 16 states and hundreds of municipalities have banned smoking in public places, most gambling venues have managed to wriggle free of such regulations. Some, like Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in otherwise-smokefree Connecticut, stand on Native American land not bound by state jurisdiction.

      Las Vegas showrooms have gone smokefree but not the city's fabled casinos. A smoking ban in Atlantic City casinos would be the largest in any American gambling destination.



      Smokers Win Atlantic City Gamble...
      Read lessRead more

      "Medical Vacations" - A Good Idea?

      Cancer Surgery in India, Dental Work in Costa Rica

      An estimated half a million Americans are going to take a "medical vacation" this year because they either can't afford to undergo the treatment they need ..

      Congress Targets Credit Card Companies For Reform


      After years of having its way with American consumers, the multibillion-dollar credit card business may soon face greater oversight and tighter reins.

      "I would like to put the credit card industry, issuing banks and card associations on notice," said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

      "If you currently engage in any business practice that you would be ashamed to discuss before this Committee, I would strongly encourage you to cease and desist that practice."

      The committee recently heard testimony from experts on both sides of the credit card reform debate, including Harvard Law professor and bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren.

      Warren was a staunch foe of the new bankruptcy law, which makes it much harder for consumers to discharge credit card debt.

      "A growing number of card issuers increase their profits by loading their credit cards with tricks and traps so that they can catch consumers who stumble or mistake those traps for treasure and find themselves caught in a snare from which they cannot escape," Warren said in her testimony.

      "The credit card market is broken, and consumers pay a steep price in this non-functioning market. But it doesn't have to be this way."

      Big Fees, Big Business

      Witnesses cited a number of instances in which the credit card industry makes its profit through penalizing its customers. Chief among them was the practice of levying fees for just about every transaction -- even charging interest on balances already paid.

      Travis Plunkett, director of the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), pointed out that penalty fees for late payments have not only risen in volume, but "have become primarily a revenue enhancer for credit card issuers," he said.

      Credit card companies charge fees for things such as paying bills over the phone, which can cost the consumer an average of $5 to $15 per transaction.

      Plunkett and several other witnesses referenced a recent study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found credit card fees had tripled in the past ten years, from an average of $13 in 1995 to $34 in 2005.

      The report found a 110 percent increase in charging "overlimit fees," when a customer carries a balance higher than their credit limit.

      "These monthly fees are charged every month a consumer carries a credit balance higher than their credit limit," Plunkett said. "Critics of this practice argue that issuers should not assess a penalty fee when they can simply enforce the credit limit if they wish to prevent consumers from exceeding it."

      In Plain English

      Another big target was the complexity of credit card disclosure statements. Prof. Warren noted that the average disclosure statement grew from one page in the late 1980's to "more than 30 pages of incomprehensible text."

      "Anyone who has ever tried to read a credit card agreement knows that the terms are simply incomprehensible," Warren said. "The inserts sent along with monthly bills to amend the card agreements are filled with language even a lawyer would have difficulty parsing."

      MSN Money columnist Liz Pulliam-Weston recently discussed the practice of not even disclosing the card's actual interest rate until the applicant has been approved for it.

      This could lead to cardholders playing "Russian roulette" when selecting a credit card, as they might end up agreeing to an interest rate of 30 percent or higher without their knowledge.

      "If you have a good credit history, you should get a good rate, not one that's been inflated to cover the risks of others who haven't been as responsible," she said in a recent column.

      The Interchange Wars

      Another hidden fee that traps consumers is one they never hear about at all -- the "interchange fee" that retailers pay to process transactions made with credit cards.

      Merchants have been waging war with the credit and banking industries to disclose and standardize these fees, which they say amount to a "hidden tax" on consumers.

      In his opening statement, Dodd specifically targeted interchange fees as "opaque" costs which "are passed on, in part or whole, to consumers who have no knowledge or understanding that a fee is even a part of the cost of bread or milk, or any other consumer product."

      Dodd noted that interchange fees net between $30 and $40 billion for the credit industry annually.

      The Merchants Payments Coalition, a trade association of businesses opposed to interchange fees, hailed Dodd's statement.

      "The credit card companies have long profited from placing hidden fees and practices on unsuspecting merchants and consumers," they said in a statement. "The interchange fee is the biggest fee consumers have never heard of and accounts for more than the total of all other consumer fees such as late fees and over-the-limit fees."

      Over the Top

      Most of all, the expert witnesses emphasized the willingness of banks to lend to just about anyone as a prime reason for the explosion in consumer credit card debt.

      Travis Plunkett noted that as consumers cut down on their total credit card balances, the industry responds with ever-more-aggressive marketing, usually through direct mail solicitations.

      "CardTrak estimates that each household receives nearly 50 credit card solicitations in the mail each year," Plunkett said. "Issuers have increased the number of mailed credit card offerings by six-fold since 1990, from just over 1.1 billion to a record 6.06 billion in 2005. The number of solicitations mailed by issuers in 2006 likely exceeded this amount."

      Robert Manning, Rochester Institute of Technology Professor and author of Credit Card Nation, pointed to the expansion of lending to lower-income households as one reason why overall credit card profits -- and consumer debt -- is booming.

      In Manning's view, the more that lower-income families were ensnared in credit debt, the more their debt could be used to finance larger lending moves for wealthier customers.

      "To make the assumption of debt more attractive to these households -- and to entice them into carrying debt for longer periods -- creditors lowered minimum payment balances from around five percent of principal to just over two percent," Manning said.

      "More than one-quarter of the lowest income families spent over 40 percent of their income on debt repayment in 2001 ... [the] 'democratization of credit' has had serious negative consequences for many Americans, putting them one unexpected financial emergency away from bankruptcy."

      Hope On The Horizon

      The hearing put credit card issuers on notice that change may be on the way. Dodd introduced legislation in the previous Congress that would ban certain penalty fees and mandate clearer disclosure of credit card terms and is expected to introduce a tougher version of the bill this year.

      Still, Prof. Warren warned that Congress has a limited window of opportunity in which to act.

      With the continuing slump of housing sales causing more defaults and foreclosures, and job growth continually shaky, consumers need help from their debt.

      "Americans benefit from markets that work," Warren said. "If Congress repairs the busted credit card market, then Americans -- consumers and businesses alike -- will benefit as well."

      Congress Targets Credit Card Companies For Reform...
      Read lessRead more

      TJX Sued for Loss of Consumer Data

      Data Breach Resulting in Wave of Fraudulent Transactions

      While banks and retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada report a growing number of illicit transactions, a class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of consumers exposed to identity theft as a result of hackers penetrating the computer network of TJX Companies, Inc., corporate owner of the T.J. Maxx and Marshalls chains.

      The suit, filed in federal district court in Massachusetts, charges that TJX was negligent for failing to maintain adequate computer data security of customer credit and debit card data.

      Story continues below video

      "As a result of TJX's actions, customer information was stolen from TJX's computer network that handles a wide range of financial information for millions of customers, including credit cards, debit cards linked to checking accounts, and transactions for returned merchandise," said the attorneys filing the suit.

      The suit castigates the company for being tardy in releasing news of the data loss to affected consumers.

      Although TJX discovered the data breach in mid-December, 2006, it did not publicly announce the intrusion until one month later. That delay prevented consumers from taking measures to protect their accounts, the lawsuit charges.

      TJX has said that consumers who patronized TJX stores in 2003 and from mid-May through December 2006 may be affected by the theft.

      "Because of TJX's actions, hundreds of thousands or even millions of its customers have had their personal financial information compromised, have had their privacy rights violated, have been exposed to the risk of fraud and identity theft, and have otherwise suffered damages," a statement released by Berger & Montague, PC, and Stern Shapiro Weissberg & Garin, LLP,the law firms representing the plaintiffs, charged.

      Fraudfest

      Alarm over the computer break-in has been growing as incidents of apparent fraud mount.

      More than 60 of the 205 banks in Massachusetts have begun reissuing cards after being contacted by credit card companies about compromised cards, the Massachusetts Bankers Association (MBA) said. In Vermont, one bank had to reissue cards to 1,600 customers because of the compromise, according to press reports.

      The MBA said fraudulent transactions have been reported in at least three states as well as Hong Kong and Sweden.

      The MBA noted, however, that credit card and bank fraud does not necessarily mean the data thieves have stolen someone's identity; they may merely gained access to credit card numbers.

      TJX has set up a toll-free number (866-484-6978) for customers who have questions, and is also taking information on its Web site.

      Banks, Congress Irate

      Banks, who bear the brunt of the expense when data breaches occur, are beginning to press for Congressional action that would make Visa and Mastercard bear more of the responsibility for identifying the source of data leaks and taking preventive action.

      "It is critical that the card associations -- Visa, Mastercard, etc. -- and public officials carefully evaluate whether the source of the breach should be identified quickly and be held liable for a data breach, particularly if the information being stored is in violation of card-network rules," MBA CEO Danial Forte said.

      Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, said the TJX breach was "further evidence of the need for a provision that Democrats pushed for in last year's debate over data security.

      "Those institutions where breaches have occurred must be identified and they must bear responsibility," he said.

      TJX Sued for Loss of Consumer Data...
      Read lessRead more

      Sunday Times Reports Widespread Shill Bidding on eBay


      A newspaper report finds many dealers on auction site Ebay artificially driving up bids, forcing consumers to pay more for offered items than they should.

      The Sunday Times of London said it undertook an extensive investigation and found so called "shill" bidding is widespread across the popular site.

      Among the evidence the newspaper presented to its readers was a transcript of a taped conversation with one of Britain's major eBay dealers, who admitted that he used associates to bid up prices of his offerings.

      The investigation also reportedly found businesses placing bids themselves, using false identities.

      The Times notes that eBay's policies strictly forbid bidding on your own items, but points out the rule is hard to enforce. A recent rule change designed to protect users' privacy drops an extra curtain around bidders' identities, making it hard to know just exactly who is bidding on what.

      The Times quotes Eftis Paraskevaides, an eBay "Titanium PowerSeller" as claiming shill bidding is commonplace on eBay.

      Paraskevaides said he would occasionally ask a business associate to place a high bid if he was offering something really expensive, and was concerned it might go too cheaply.

      He also claimed to be immune to eBay disciplinary action because he generated so much money for the Web site.

      "Are they going to ban somebody who's making them the best part of 15 grand a month?" he asked the Times undercover reporter. "No," he said.

      The Times reported Paraskevaides disavowed his comments, after being told he had been talking to a reporter.

      A spokesman for eBay told the Times he expects that the company will launch an investigation into Paraskevaides and charges of shill bidding.

      Auctionbytes.com reported last year that a German company was offering a shill bidding service to help sellers drive up their prices.

      Sunday Times Reports Widespread Shill Bidding on eBay...
      Read lessRead more

      Antidepressants Similar in Effectiveness, But Side Effects Differ

      Six in 10 experience at least one side effect,

      Today's most commonly prescribed antidepressants are similar in effectiveness to each other but differ when it comes to possible side effects, according to an analysis released by HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

      The findings, based on a review of nearly 300 published studies of second-generation antidepressants, show that about six in 10 adult patients get some relief from the drugs. About six in 10 also experience at least one side effect, ranging from nausea to sexual dysfunction.

      Patients who don't respond to one of the drugs often try another medication within the same class. About one in four of those patients recover, according to the review. Overall, current evidence on the drugs is insufficient for clinicians to predict which medications will work best for individual patients.

      Second-generation antidepressants, which include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), are often prescribed because first-generation antidepressants (such as tricyclic antidepressants, or TCAs) can cause intolerable side effects and carry high risks.

      "Second-generation antidepressants provide hope for many of the millions of Americans who struggle with depression," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, MD. "But often trying to find the right drug is trial and error, and in many cases relief is temporary or comes with serious side effects. It's clear we need more evidence to help patients and their doctors make the best choices."

      Authors of the new Comparative Effectiveness Review analyzed the benefits and risks of a dozen second-generation antidepressants: bupropion (sold as Wellbutrin), citalopram (Celexa), duloxetine (Cymbalta), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), fluvoxamine (formerly sold as Luvox), mirtazapine (Remeron), nefazodone (formerly Serzone), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), trazodone (formerly Desyrel), and venlafaxine (Effexor).

      Many of these drugs are also sold in generic form.

      The analysis, which examined only adult use of second-generation antidepressants, drew on 293 published studies. Of those, 187 were judged to be of good or fair quality. The analysis compared the drugs' benefits and risks in the treatment of major depressive disorder, dysthymia (a chronic, less-severe form of depression), and subsyndromal depression (an acute mood disorder that is less severe than major depression).

      Each of the disorders can be disabling. Major depressive disorder affects more than 16 percent of U.S. adults at least once during a lifetime, the review noted. In 2000, the economic burden of depressive disorders was estimated to be $83.1 billion. More than 30 percent of these costs are for direct medical expenses, such as doctors' fees, hospital bills and medications.

      The new analysis, produced by AHRQ's Effective Health Care program, was completed by the Agency's RTI International-University of North Carolina Evidence-based Practice Center. Evidence reviewed by the authors suggests:

      • In general, the various second-generation antidepressants have similar rates of effectiveness. In controlled studies, about 38 percent of patients saw no improvement and 54 percent had only partial improvement.

      • According to the National Institute of Mental Health's Sequenced Treatment Alternative to Relieve Depression (STAR-D) trial, a substantial number (between about 25 percent and 33 percent) of patients will improve with the addition or substitution of a different drug.

      • On average, 61 percent of patients taking second-generation antidepressants experience at least one side effect. The most common are nausea and vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, headache and sleeplessness.

      • Venlafaxine, an SNRI, is associated with a higher incidence of nausea and vomiting than SSRIs. That drug is also more likely than SSRIs to be discontinued due to adverse events.

      • Sertraline is more likely to cause diarrhea than bupropion, citalopram, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, mirtazapine, nefazodone, paroxetine, or venlafaxine. Mirtazapine leads to higher weight gains than fluoxetine, paroxetine, venlafaxine, or trazodone. Trazodone is associated with higher rates of sleeplessness than bupropion, fluoxetine, mirtazapine, paroxetine, or venlafaxine.

      • Paroxetine and venlafaxine have the highest rates of discontinuation. Fluoxetine has the lowest.

      • Second-generation antidepressants work at different rates. Seven studies funded by the maker of mirtazapine showed that the drug works faster than citalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, or sertraline.

      • Bupropion is less likely to cause sexual dysfunction than fluoxetine, paroxetine, or sertaline. Paroxetine has higher rates of sexual dysfunction than fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, nefazodone, or sertraline.

      "As with all medications, second-generation antidepressants should be used after careful consideration of benefits and risks," Dr. Clancy said. "It's up to clinicians and patients to work closely together so the best possible results are achieved."



      Antidepressants Similar in Effectiveness, But Side Effects Differ...
      Read lessRead more

      Nightmare On the Runway

      Stranded Airline Passengers Organize after Holiday Delays


      A horrifying experience for one planeload of passengers may turn out to be a blessing for all air travelers.

      American Airlines flight 1348, bound from San Francisco to Dallas-Fort Worth on Dec. 29 sat on an Austin runway for nearly nine hours while fierce but slow-moving thunderstorms pounded the state of Texas.

      Food, water, and patience were soon in short supply, along with working toilets.

      But passengers had plenty of time to prepare the groundwork for a new Congressional lobbying group called the Coalition for Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights. With consumer-conscious Democrats controlling both houses, passage of legislation seems more likely than it did in 1999.

      That was the year the airline industry adopted a voluntary standard that effectively killed a bill created after a Northwest plane was stranded on the tarmac for many hours.

      Story continues below video

      Furious passengers from the latest fiasco insist the voluntary standard is worthless. They've started a website called www.flyersrights.org/index.php.

      "Enough is enough," said American passenger Kate Hanni in a Jan. 22 press release published by the coalition. "This is not the first time, nor it is likely to be the last, that this kind of degrading treatment is visited on passengers.

      "Thousands of legitimate complaints by travelers mistreated by the airlines are regularly dismissed or inadequately addressed by the industry," she fumed.

      Now that the legacy carriers are making money again, they do not figure to retain the sympathy of lawmakers who voted them generous subsidies and immunity from lawsuits after their airplanes were used in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

      In fact, carriers could be in for a rude awakening after legislators collect all the testimony from passengers trapped in grounded planes on New Year's weekend.

      Flight 1348, for example, was an hour late leaving San Francisco because of a mechanical problem. Had that delay not occurred, it could have reached DFW before the bad weather arrived. Instead, the MD-80 was diverted to Austin as one of 85 American flights diverted from Dallas that day.

      Not until 12 hours after departure from San Francisco could passengers disembark.

      American flight 37 from Zurich to Dallas suffered a similar fate, landing at the airport in Tulsa, which did not have the appropriate customs and immigration personnel to clear passengers for entry into the U.S.

      By the time the flight finally reached Dallas after a 10-hour wait on the Tulsa tarmac, the Zurich passengers had been on board for 22 hours.

      AA flight 1682 from Oklahoma City pushed back from the gate at 2:07 p.m. and sat on the tarmac for eight hours and two minutes before it was cancelled and sent back to the gate.

      Austin airport authorities, overwhelmed when 14 planes landed unexpectedly, managed to move flights headed for Chicago or St. Louis but didn't do much for Dallas planes other than deliver food and drinks. The only passengers allowed off flight 1348 were 20 passengers whose final destinations were Austin or San Antonio. Luggage retrieval posed additional problems.

      Passengers remaining in their seats claim they suffered from hunger, thirst, unsanitary conditions, and anxiety caused by unfulfilled promises from the captain plus the frustration of watching other planes come and go from the four American gates at the Austin airport.

      Witnesses said a woman complained her diabetes medication was packed in her luggage -- the result of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines limiting liquids in carry-ons -- while a smoker ran out of Nicorette gum. They added that hungry babies screamed incessantly.

      Fifteen of the stranded passengers from AA flight 1348 explained their complaints in a letter sent to U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

      The proposed Passenger Bill of Rights would require that airlines:

      • Establish procedures for returning passengers to gates during delays so that no plane sits on the tarmac longer than three hours;

      • Provide passengers with food, water, sanitary facilities, and medical needs during delays that exceed three hours;

      • Publish updated lists of flights delayed at least a half-hour 40 per cent of the time in any given month;

      • Compensate bumped passengers or those delayed by cancellations or postponements of more than 12 hours by a refund worth 150 percent of the ticket price;

      • Create a passenger review committee, including consumers, with the formal ability to review and investigate complaints.

      Though it admitted no wrongdoing, Northwest settled a class-action lawsuit by paying $7.1 million in compensation to more than 7,000 storm-stranded passengers who sat on the Detroit tarmac on Jan. 3, 1999. That action is likely to be used as a precedent in any litigation arising from the American case.

      Northwest now refuses to let passengers sit on airport tarmacs more than three hours.

      For its part, American apologizes to stranded passengers and sent them vouchers valid for future flights.

      According to AA spokesman Tim Wagner, "We have examined our reaction to the weather that day and we have reemphasized areas of our procedures that will help ensure that the situation never happens again."

      Industry-wide, flight delays and reports of lost bags have both climbed steadily over the last four years. Staff and service cuts, coupled with congestion in the air and on the ground, have been major contributing factors. In addition, federal rules limit the number of hours flight crews work per day, sometimes making it impossible for delayed flights to take off because the crews have exceeded their allotted time.



      Nightmare On the Runway...
      Read lessRead more

      Illinois Sues Nationwide Debt Collector, Arrow Financial

      Firm Uses Unfair Tactics, Deceptive Practices, State Charges

      Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court alleging that a debt collector used unfair tactics and deceptive practices to collect money from consumers.

      Madigan's lawsuit names Arrow Financial Services, LLC, of Niles, Illinois. Madigan sued another collectiona agency, Leading Edge Recovery Solutions, earlier this month.

      Arrow is a debt buyer and attempts to collect monies ranging from approximately $100 to over $10,000 per debt from consumers nationwide.

      Since 1999, Madigan's Consumer Fraud Bureau has received 669 consumer complaints against Arrow.

      Madigan's lawsuit charges Arrow with multiple violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

      The suit specifically alleges that Arrow attempts to collect on time-barred debts over ten years old, attempts to collect on debts that have been discharged in bankruptcy or that have been settled, engages in abusive practices in an attempt to collect, such as using profanity, attempts to obtain payment without proof of debt, refuses or fails to provide proof of debt, illegally contacts consumers' family members and workplace, and withdraws money without authorization from consumers' bank accounts.

      Madigan's suit contains a number of specific examples of consumer complaints concerning Arrow's conduct.

      For example, according to Madigan's lawsuit, Arrow allegedly contacted one Franklin Park, Ill., consumer through the mail, informing him that he owes approximately $600 on a Montgomery Ward account that he had cancelled ten years ago.

      Soon thereafter, the consumer allegedly began receiving calls and notices regarding the debt approximately once a week for several months at a time.

      When the consumer explained to Arrow that he had cancelled the credit card ten years ago and did not owe any debt, Arrow responded that if he once owned the credit card, then he was obliged to pay for the debt. The consumer disputed the debt and asked for written proof. In response, Arrow threatened to sue the consumer and never provided any evidence of the debt allegedly owed.

      Arrow's conduct has come to the attention of other state enforcement offices.

      In November 2005, the Minnesota Department of Commerce imposed against Arrow Financial Services, LLC, a $125,000 fine, the largest civil penalty ever imposed against a collection agency licensed in Minnesota.

      As part of this process, Arrow was required to implement a compliance program to:

      (1) designate a compliance officer in charge of all regulatory compliance matters,

      (2) implement a training program for all Arrow debt collectors, which includes the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Minnesota debt collection laws,

      (3) require Arrow debt collectors to sign a statement in which they acknowledge training completion, which includes debt collection law, and

      (4) establish written policies and procedures for screening debt collector applicants and conduct criminal background checks.

      "Consumers should not be harassed or intimidated by unscrupulous debt collectors. We are focused on protecting Illinois consumers and others affected by businesses that use unfair and deceptive debt collection tactics," Madigan said.

      Madigan's lawsuit asks the court to prohibit Arrow from engaging in deceptive debt collection activities and further violating Illinois' consumer protection laws. The lawsuit seeks a civil penalty of $50,000 and additional penalties of $50,000 for each violation found to have been committed with intent to defraud.

      Finally, Madigan's lawsuit asks the court to order Arrow to pay restitution to consumers and to pay all costs for prosecution and investigation of this case.

      Illinois Consumers who believe they have been the victim of unfair or deceptive debt collection practices or another consumer fraud can download a complaint form at www.IllinoisAttorneyGeneral.gov/consumers or call the Attorney General's Consumer Fraud Hotline at one of the following numbers:

      Chicago: 1-800-386-5438; TTY: 1-800-964-3013
      Springfield: 1-800-243-0618; TTY: 1-877-844-5461
      Carbondale: 1-800-243-0607; TTY: 1-877-675-9339
      Spanish Language Hotline: 1-866-310-8398

      Consumers can get tips to protect themselves against unfair or deceptive debt collection practices on Madigan's website at www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/consumers/debtcollection.html.

      Illinois Sues Nationwide Debt Collector, Arrow Financial...
      Read lessRead more

      Verizon Wireless Raises Text Message Rate

      Remember When a Text Message Was Just a Dime?

      The ten-cent text message may be going the way of the 25-cent phone call.

      Verizon Wireless has just announced a 33 percent increase in its text message rate, raising the price to sending or receiving a message from a dime to $.15.

      The increase applies to customers without a text message plan and follows a similar move by Sprint/Nextel and AT&T;/Cingular. Customers with text plans are not affected.

      Verizon says nearly half of its customers use text messaging features but it's unclear how many have monthly plans and how many pay as they go.

      Text messaging costs can easily push up the monthly cost of owning a cell phone and have been a frequent source of friction in households with teenagers.

      Text messages are transmitted on the same system that voice calls, but instead of getting a call, customers receive a printed message on their phone's screen. Since most phones lack keyboards, customers type their messages by multi-tapping on a phone's number pad to choose letters.

      Though in theory anyone could be an adept text messager, teens and young adults have been the quickest adopters of this somewhat cumbersome means of communicating.

      Verizon Wireless Raises Text Message Rate...
      Read lessRead more

      Prius Shuts Down in the Snow, Reader Complains

      Toyota Calls Automatic Power Reduction a Safety Feature

      The Toyota Prius is known to occasionally shut down its hybrid engine system for no apparent reason, wear tires quickly and unevenly, even drain a battery dry when parked for an extended period.

      But here's one of the oddest Prius stories on file at ConsumerAffairs.com:

      "When my car is on any kind of slick surface that causes one of the front wheels to slip, ALL power to the drive system is stopped," wrote Christopher of Reston, Virginia.

      Christopher said he first experienced the problem with his Prius "on a sloped gravel driveway in July but discounted it as a temporary thing."

      Then the snow fell.

      "This past weekend I was on a snow-covered road with about an 8- to 10-degree grade. Driving at 20 miles per hour, one tire began to slip on the snow and the car came to a stop. The wheels then refused to engage, because one would slip a little, regardless of throttle position," he wrote.

      Christopher tells ConsumerAffairs.com that he "had cable style tire chains and installed them properly on the front wheels and tried again. Still, a tire would slip on the 4 or 5 inches between the cables and the car would refuse to move."

      Ultimately, he said, the only way to get the car up the remainder of the hill was to get out and push while his son put a foot gently on the throttle.

      His Toyota service manager told Christopher that he was able to duplicate the symptoms on a level snow covered surface and apparently achieved the same results with two other Prius cars that were in the dealership fleet.

      But after reporting the problem to Toyota, the service manager told Christopher that the Prius was operating as designed.

      Christopher said that he "will consider this vehicle unsafe for road use under any snow or ice conditions and frankly feel that if all Prius vehicles are designed to do this someone ought to look into the situation to try to force Toyota to modify the design."

      Not a Safety Problem

      Toyota spokesman Bill Kwon agrees that the traction control systems in the Prius could impact performance in snow conditions but says that is not a safety problem.

      "Prius has TRAC (traction control) as standard equipment," he said. "The purpose of traction control is to helps prevent wheel spin and minimize slippage of the drive wheels by applying brakes and/or reducing engine power."

      Kwon points out that an 8 to 10 degree grade "is a fairly steep grade and combined with snow would cause a loss of traction which will activate the traction control system and therefore reduce or cut power."

      "A vehicle without TRAC in those conditions," Kwon adds. "would probably just start spinning in place and eventually spin out of control. In my opinion, it's better to have the vehicle stop then to have the wheels spinning and out of control."

      Prius Shuts Down in the Snow, Reader Complains...
      Read lessRead more

      A Good Night's Sleep Essential to Heart Health

      Sleep apnea a known risk factor for serious disorders

      A health diet, plenty of exercise and staying away from cigarettes are all important to maintaining a healthy heart. But so is getting a good night's sleep, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).

      According to Lawrence Epstein, MD, AASM past president, medical director of Sleep Health Centers and instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, treating sleep disorders and getting an adequate amount of sleep are pillars of good cardiovascular health.

      "Sleep apnea is a known risk factor for the development of hypertension, heart disease and stroke," said Epstein.

      "Also, chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to change metabolic function in a way that promotes weight gain and diabetes, two risk factors for heart disease." Dr. Epstein's remarks support recent studies that link sleep apnea to cardiovascular disease.

      A study published in the December 1, 2006, issue of the journal SLEEP, showed that daytime sleepiness brought on by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may subtly impair cardiac function. Patients with OSA commonly complain of daytime sleepiness because of the fact that OSA causes their bodies to stop breathing during sleep the night before and can disturb sleep numerous times.

      Further, data from the "Sleep Heart Health Study" show that people with sleep apnea have a 45 percent greater risk for hypertension, a major predictor for cardiovascular disease, than people without the sleep disorder.

      Ralph Downey III, PhD, of the Sleep Disorders Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, Calif., says he is amazed at the high percentage of patients who have both sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease.

      Research has built a compelling case that those with sleep-disordered breathing are at increased risk for hypertension, said Downey, adding that there is also a well-established connection between sleep apnea and heart failure.

      "It makes not only scientific sense that such a relationship exists, but common sense as well," said Downey. "If someone were to suffocate you with a pillow several hundred times a night, you would call the police. In the case of patients with sleep apnea, the airway blocks off due to obstruction and they stop breathing for 10 seconds to a minute, which is repeated hundreds of times in a night."

      Dennis H. Nicholson, MD, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center in Pomona, Calif., says that more public education needs to be done in order to reach out to as many people as possible about cardiovascular disease, and notes that a good night's sleep is critical to maintaining good health.

      "Public education is an important and often neglected component in the overall strategy to improve sleep, cardiovascular outcomes and general well being," said Nicholson, who added that reaching out to people about the importance of sleep may result in a decline in the number of reported cardiovascular diseases.



      A Good Night's Sleep Essential to Heart Health...
      Read lessRead more

      Nationwide, Aetna Customer Data Stolen

      Nationwide Mutual Insurance's 28,000-plus customers were stolen from the offices of contracting vendors.

      By Martin H. Bosworth
      ConsumerAffairs.com

      January 25, 2007
      The personal records of Nationwide Mutual Insurance's 28,000-plus customers were stolen from the offices of a contracting vendor, the company said.

      In addition to the Nationwide data tapes, the thieves made off with backup data tapes containing information on the medical claims of 130,000 Aetna customers.

      The break-in took place at the Weymouth, Mass., offices of Concentra Preferred Systems, which audits hospital stay claims for Nationwide to ensure the company does not overpay.

      The theft occurred on Oct. 26th, but Nationwide delayed notifying customers while it investigated the likelihood of identity theft.

      Concentra made the theft public on Dec. 1st, 2006, and claimed that law enforcement investigations determined that the theft was for "cash or pawnable items of value, and not the act of sophisticated criminals targeting specific data."

      Concentra said it had enlisted a forensic team from global accounting firm Grant Thornton to investigate the possibility that the tapes would be used for identity theft.

      The Grant Thornton team claimed that, "Restoring data from a back-up tape like the one we tested for Concentra is generally considered to be a time-consuming process requiring specialized knowledge ... Typically, this level of technical sophistication exceeds the capabilities of the average computer user."

      Nationwide was in the process of offering free credit monitoring and identity theft insurance to affected customers, though the company did not specify from which vendor.

      The outsourcing of medical functions to third-party vendors may cut costs, but it also opens any company up to the threat of data breaches, whether from thefts of equipment or attacks by enterprising hackers.

      Georgia-based Emory Healthcare suffered the loss of data on 38,000 patients when a laptop was stolen from the offices of a contracting company in Dec. 2006.

      An employee of Perot Systems lost several CDs containing the personal and medical information on 260,000 patients of the Midwest-based Sisters of St. Francis hospital chain in October 2006. The CDs were later recovered, and the hospital claimed the data had not been accessed.

      Aetna itself had a data breach last year when a laptop containing information on another 38,000 customers mysteriously disappeared in May 2006.

      In addition to the Nationwide data tapes, the thieves made off with backup data tapes containing information on the medical claims of 130,000 Aetna custome...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumers Must Act Fast in Data Theft Cases

      January 23, 2007
      With the threat of identity theft multiplying each time a data-laden laptop is lost or stolen, many states are tightening rules on notifying consumers. But suppose a company or government agency notifies you that your Social Security number, credit card information or other sensitive data has been compromised.

      What happens next? How do you protect yourself?

      "Consumers who get word that their information may have been compromised should notify the three credit bureaus, consider placing a freeze on their credit, and continue checking their credit frequently," North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said.

      North Carolina has an online "victims' tool kit -- noscamnc.gov/toolkit.html -- with instructions on how to freeze your credit, a sample letter to request a credit freeze, the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft Affidavit, and other documents.

      Cooper has just dealt with the issue, since a North Carolina Department of Revenue laptop containing information about approximately 26,000 consumers and 7,700 businesses was stolen last month.

      North Carolina had recently enacted a new law requiring speedy notification in such cases. But Cooper says consumers remain vulnerable until they take action to protect themselves.

      "Consumers who get one of these notices can act fast to protect their good names," Cooper said.

      Under North Carolina's new law, state and local government as well as businesses must notify consumers if a security breach may have compromised their personal information and potentially placed them at greater risk of identity theft.

      Consumers Must Act Fast in Data Theft Cases...
      Read lessRead more