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

News in July 2007

Browse by year


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.

    Virus Spreading Through Emailed Screensaver

    Computer security specialists are warning of a widespread email spam campaign that poses as a screensaver, but is really designed to install a Trojan horses and rootkits on infected Windows PCs.

    The emails, which computer users are finding in inboxes worldwide, claim that the recipient has been sent a screensaver by a friend and tells the user to open the attachment, called bsaver.zip.

    The emails used in the malicious spam campaign contain phrasing such as "Good morning/evening, man! Realy cool screensaver in your attachment!" and use a variety of subject lines including:

    Life is beautiful
    Life will be better
    Good summer help you

    Clicking on the file contained inside the ZIP attachment infects users with the Troj/Agent-FZB Trojan horse, which drops two rootkits to try and hide from security software.

    "If you receive an unsolicited email with an encouragement to run the 'cool screensaver' attached then alarm bells should instantly be ringing in your head," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos Labs. "Hackers are using a mixture of social engineering and stealth-mode rootkits to try and take advantage of Windows users who forget to think before they click."

    Rootkits are software frequently used by third parties - usually a hacker - to hide other software and processes using advanced stealth techniques. Malicious code, such as spyware and keyloggers, can be invisibly cloaked from detection by conventional security products or the operating system making them hard to detect, said Cluley.

    Hackers use rootkit technology to maintain access to a compromised computer without the user's knowledge, so it's important to be properly defended from these sort of threats.

    Sophos Anti-Rootkit identifies known and unknown rootkits, and is available to download - free of charge - for non-Sophos users, as well as existing customers.

    Computer security specialists are warning of a widespread email spam campaign that poses as a screensaver, designed to install a Trojan horses and rootkits...
    Read lessRead more

    Pet Thefts Feed Dogfighting Craze

    Stolen Pets Used as "Bait," Sold for Medical Research

    It's not how we think of America in 2007: starving pit bulls tearing one another apart, "bait" dogs torn apart in minutes, "losers" beaten, shot or electrocuted, all as spectators leer, cheer and place their bets.

    But, as the indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick makes clear, such blood sport is common throughout the U.S., no longer confined to rural backwaters but increasingly popular in major cities and suburbs.

    And, perhaps most frightening to pet owners, the vicious blood sport feeds off of stolen household pets used as "bait."

    Although Vick pleaded not guilty Thursday in Richmond, Va., to federal charges that he sponsored and participated in a dogfighting operation, revelations since his arrest make it clear that dogfighting is riding a new wave of popularity.

    Some blame hip-hop and rap artists, including Jay-Z and DMX, for glamorizing dogfighting while others note that the vicious sport seems most prevalent in areas with NFL and NBA franchises.

    Vick is certainly not the only professional sports figure linked to dogfighting. Former NFL running back LeShon Johnson was arrested twice for his involvement in a dogfighting ring.

    Former Portland Trail Blazers forward Qyntel Woods was suspended in 2004 after he was suspected of hosting fights. He pleaded guilty to first-degree animal abuse.

    In an interview the the Baltimore Sun, John Goodwin of the Humane Society said dogfighting is an increasingly common outlet for the "type A" competitive personality of top athletes.

    "I think there is a pervasive subculture of dogfighting in the NFL and probably in the NBA as well," Goodwin said. "And it needs to be rooted out," the Sun reported.

    North Carolina Connection

    Dogfighting has traditionally been identified with the rural South. While that may be changing, the South still has more than its share of cases.

    The national pet abuse Web site www.pet-abuse.com tracks animal cruelty nationwide. It identifies North Carolina as a hotbed of dogfighting, with seven cases in 2007, more than Georgia, Texas, Ohio and other large states.

    When the Humane Society of the United States rounded up three years of dogfighting magazines and cataloged their kennel and breeder advertisements, the North Carolina folder was the thickest, the Greensboro News-Record reported.

    Besides rap music and professional sports, dogfighting also often involves drugs, guns and gambling, presenting law enforcement with a volatile mix: dangerous people and dangerous dogs.

    "It's a violent sport, and there's money to be made," said Robert Reder, North Carolina state director of the Humane Society. "So you have greed and violence all packaged together."

    Baltimore Gets Wired

    In Baltimore, where the dognapping of twin Pugs created a firestorm of public outrage, city police say they will crack down on dogfighting, noting its connection to drug dealing and illegal gambling.

    Police admit dogfighting has been popular for years in Baltimore, with fights often held in rowhouse basements but in a city overwhelmed by crime, it has gone largely unprosecuted.

    Police say that's about to change. Police and city health officials have formed a multi-agency dogfighting task force. Detectives will investigate dogfight rings and collect evidence against organizers, trainers, breeders and spectators.

    Most cities and states allow prosecution of dogfight spectators, but those laws are seldom invoked.

    Bait Dogs

    Perhaps most frightening to animal lovers is the dognapping of small dogs to be used as "bait" in dogfights. Bait dogs are also used in private training sessions, as fighting dogs are trained to kill, the U.S. Humane Society says.

    Most of the bait dogs are stolen, often from backyards.

    Heres a recent case investigated by Humane Society officials:

    An Elvira, Iowa, family reported the disappearance of their two Labrador retrievers. When the dogs didnt return, the family made flyers and talked to their neighbors.

    Thats when they discovered five other Labs had been reported missing in recent weeks. A nearby boat dock owner along the Mississippi River later found three dead dogs washed up on his property: a Pit Bull, a Labrador retriever, and a smaller dog. The Pit Bull and the Lab had wounds consistent with dogfighting.

    The Humane Society also says pets are stolen by bunchers, who sell the animals to research facilities. These bunchers also acquire the animals through lost, stray and free to good home" ads.

    Only an estimated ten percent of the dogs and cats stolen each year in the United States are ever found, according to the U.S. Humane Society.

    What To Do

    How can you protect your dogs and cats from being stolen?

    The U.S. Humane Society recommends you:

    • Keep your pet indoors, especially when you are not at home;

    • Identify your pet with a collar and tag, microchip or tattoo. Sherrie T. of Baltimore says her kidnapped Pugs have microchips. They also had tags on when they were stolen, but Richies was missing when he was found;

    • Be aware of strangers in the neighborhood. Report anything unusual to the police. Sherrie says her neighbors noticed someone hanging around her background -- and calling her Pugs -- shortly before they were stolen;

    • Padlock your gates and make sure people can't access your pets over the fence. Sherrie had a four-foot fence, but says the gates were not locked;

    • Keep your pet on a leash whenever you go outside;

    • Support federal legislation to ensure that all cats and dogs used by research facilities are legally obtained.

    The U.S. Humane Society also warns pet owners should never:

    • Let their pets roam free in the neighborhood;

    • Have their pets be visible from the street;

    • Leave their pets unattended at any time.

    If your pet is stolen, authorities say you should not over-describe your pet in a lost ad -- let the caller describe the animal to you. They also say you should be wary of offering a huge reward in the ad. Only give a reward when the pet is returned.

    Some scam artists prey on pet owners whove lost their dogs or cats. They respond to lost pet ads, claiming to have the missing animal. They arrange a meeting with the owner, but when they arrive, they claim the animal is at a second location. They then offer to retrieve the pet, but only if the owner gives them the reward money in advance.

    Pet owners whove fallen for this scheme have lost their money and hopes of finding their missing pet.

    If your pet is stolen, authorities say you should not over-describe your pet in a lost ad -- let the caller describe the animal to you. Only give a reward ...
    Read lessRead more

    Bush "Slowly Killing" Consumer Safety Agency

    Sole Democratic Commissioner Complains of Budget, Staff Cuts

    Thomas Moore

    Despite intense public concern about product and food safety, the Bush Administration is slowly killing the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), commissioner Thomas Moore complains.

    Two years of significant staffing cuts and other resource reductions have limited the Commissions ability to carry out its mission and have left the agency at a point where it is now doing only what is absolutely necessary for it to do and little else, Moore wrote in a letter outlining his hopes for revitalizing the agency.

    Bush's most recent budget proposal increases the agency's funds by $880,000. But with standard inflation and rent increases, the CPSC was still forced to fire 19 employees, reducing its staff to 401 total.

    The chronically underfunded agency still uses a 1950s missile-tracking site as its testing lab.

    Staff morale is very low, Moore wrote. Employees see the agency being gradually but continually downsized; managers cannot fill vacant positions and employees either take on additional jobs as their colleagues leave or see projects shelved for lack of funding.

    Many employees at the agency are looking for other jobs because they have no confidence the agency will continue to exist (or will exist in any meaningful form) for many more years," Moore continued. The clear signal from the administration is that consumer protection is just not that important.

    No Quorum

    Besides the problems enumerated by Moore, Bush has left the agency powerless to invoke mandatory recalls, create new legislation and levy fines because he has not nominated a third commissioner to fill a long-standing vacancy.

    By law, the agency requires at least three commissioners to function and its previous chair, Hal Stratton, bolted 13 months ago for a lobbying position. Eight months later, Bush nominated Michael Baroody, a top lobbying executive with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which represents manufacturers' interests.

    Responding to criticism in the press and around Capitol Hill, Baroody withdrew his name the day before a Senate hearing to vote on his nomination. Two months later the commission is still down one commissioner.

    The agency's two remaining commissioners have shared the CPSC's woes with members of Congress over the past few months and most Democrats appear sympathetic while Republicans have remained largely noncommittal.

    Several Democrats have proposed legislation that would strengthen the agency through budget increases, more rigid policies and at least temporary authorization to operate with two commissioners.


    Democrats have also discussed "reauthorizing" the agency a lengthy legislative process that rewrites the agency's composition, powers and authority.

    Moore, a Clinton appointee and former assistant law school dean, is clearly hoping that takes place.

    For the first time since I came to the Commission, over twelve years ago, I have the sense that real and important changes can be made to our statutes to give us new authorities and clearer direction in achieving our mission, he wrote.

    Members of Congress asked Moore and the agency's Chair, Nancy Nord, to submit proposals for reathorization. Because Nord is a Republican and Moore is a Democrat, it's likely the Democratic-controlled Congress will pay more heed to Moore's call for a stronger agency with stricter regulatory powers.

    Moore's proposal could yield two particularly controversial changes.

    Public Records

    The first is a request that the agency's proceedings with manufacturers be available to the public. This could potentially include publishing unverified, uncensored consumer complaints. That practice would be similar to what ConsumerAffairs.com does now; it would also open a trove of complaints which consumers have filed with the agency over the years.

    The complaints that taxpayers file are now kept secret from the public, a concession granted to manufacturers by a friendly Congress years ago. Although Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests can pry loose complaints about a specific company, there is no easy way for the public to read the information other consumers have submitted to a publicly-funded agency.

    Private Web sites like ConsumerAffairs.com have filled a vital need by publishing consumers' complaints but they do so under constant harrassment and legal challenges. Many such sites have come and gone in the last decade and industry lobbyists and dirty trick artists are hard at work undermining those that remain in business.


    The second controversial change would hold companies more accountable for their defective products.

    Currently, companies are shielded from most personal injury lawsuits as long as they follow the procedure for voluntarily recalling their unsafe product. But changes which will likely be added later in the legislative process could hold companies liable regardless, a source close to the proceedings said.

    It's expected that manufacturers will vehemently oppose these changes along with the rest of Moore's proposals. Baroody's National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is expected to lead the charge against the changes, although NAM spokesman Hank Cox said the organization would not have a comment until Monday.

    This could present the interesting scenario of Baroody -- President Bush's failed choice to head the agency charged with protecting consumers -- leading a campaign to weaken or eliminate proposals that would strengthen the agency's ability to do so.

    Bush 'Slowly Killing' Consumer Safety Agency, Commissioner Complains...
    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.

      Depression Not a Normal Part of Aging

      The Healthy Geezer

      Q. Is depression just a normal part of aging?

      A. There are a lot of problems to face as you get older. There are losses of all kinds that can get you down. And feeling blue for a while is a normal part of living at any age.

      But unrelenting depression is not normal. If you feel this way, you should seek medical attention. Most people get better if they treat their depression.

      There are many causes of depression. Some of them are the natural consequences of being older: a health crisis or death, the loss of physical or mental capacities, or being a stressed-out caregiver.

      Seniors usually rebound from a period of sadness. However, if you are suffering from clinical depression and dont get help, your symptoms might last months, or even years.

      The following are common signs of depression. If you have several of these, and they last for more than two weeks, get treatment:

      • anxiety,
      • fatigue,
      • loss of interest or pleasure,
      • sleep problems,
      • eating too much or too little,
      • abnormal crying,
      • aches that cant be treated successfully,
      • diminished concentration or memory,
      • irritability,
      • thoughts of death or suicide, and
      • feelings of despair, guilt and being worthless.

      Depression is a serious illness. It can lead to suicide. Dont waste time; find help.

      Start with your family doctor. The doctor should check to see if your depression could be caused by a health problem (such as hypothyroidism or vitamin B12 deficiency) or a medicine you are taking.

      After a complete exam, your doctor may suggest you talk to a social worker, mental health counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Doctors specially trained to treat depression in older people are called geriatric psychiatrists.

      Support groups can provide new coping skills or social support if you are dealing with a major life change. A doctor might suggest that you go to a local senior center, volunteer service, or nutrition program. Several kinds of talk therapies work well.

      Antidepressant drugs can help. These medications can improve your mood, sleep, appetite, and concentration.

      Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an option. It may be recommended when medicines cant be tolerated or when a quick response is needed.


      What can be done to lower the risk of depression?

      Nurture your family ties and friendships; they are your lifelines. Hobbies keep your mind and body active. Exercise is a mood-elevator. Eat a balanced diet. Get outdoors to absorb sunlight and breathe fresh air. Take naps.

      Remember, with treatment, most people will find positive thoughts gradually replacing negative thoughts. And you can help this process by catching yourself when you are dwelling on the negative and shifting gears to sunnier thoughts.

      All Rights Reserved © 2007 by Fred Cicetti

      Depression Not a Normal Part of Aging...
      Read lessRead more

      The 411 on Free 411

      Information Doesn't Have to be Expensive

      When was the last time you needed a phone number and had no choice but to call 411? Nancy Allen knows that feeling.

      "As a home health care nurse I am constantly on the road," says Nancy. "It's easy to get the number from directory assistance using my cell phone, but I hate paying $1.50 for one little call. My bill is high enough already."

      Nancy certainly isn't alone. The U.S. directory assistance business is a multi-billion dollar industry funded by one little call at a time. A 411 call from your cell phone can cost up to $1.79 per call and the same call from a land-line can cost up to $3.50.

      Whats a frugal consumer to do?

      You can continue to throw out your money, or you can build your bank account by checking out two free directory assistance services available today.

      Google Voice Local Search

      Although it is famous for their search engine, Google also offers a free directory assistance service called Google Voice Local Search. Available from any phone, you can dial 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) and Google will give you the listing of any business in the U.S.

      You can search by a specific business name or a category name. Once the business is found Google can connect you at no charge. In addition, if youre calling from a wireless phone, Google can send you the details by text message.

      Google Voice Local Search is currently in a testing phase, so there might be kinks in the system. Furthermore, the system does not currently provide residential listings, unlike another free service called 1-800-FREE-411.


      1-800-FREE-411 from Jingle Networks, Inc., allows you to access the same directory assistance database used by traditional phone companies, except without the annoying charge.

      There are no limits on how many directory assistance calls you can make, and it doesnt matter if the call is from a land-line or cell phone.

      Based on the same model used by numerous websites, 1-800-FREE-411 gives you the information you need -- at no cost -- because the service is supported by advertisers.

      And now a word from our sponsors

      Lets say you need the number of a specific insurance company. You dial 1-800-FREE-411 (1-800-373-3411) and are greeted with an automated system that will ask for the city and state. Next youre asked if the number belongs to a residence, business, or government agency.

      Heres where 1-800-FREE-411 differs from traditional 411.

      Instead of automatically hearing your requested number, youll first hear an advertisement, typically 10 to 12 seconds in length. In our example, you might hear an ad for a different insurance company. Youre then provided the number you requested and also given the option to be connected to the company that was advertised.

      Notice that although you can be connected to the company that was advertised you wont be connected to the number you requested. Make sure and have pen and paper on hand to write down your number.

      If requesting a residential number, the advertisement could be anything from an upcoming TV program to a vacation package from a travel agency.

      Additionally, keep in mind that based on your wireless plan, you could still use up your minutes even though the call is toll free.

      You can continue to throw out your money, or you can build your bank account by checking out two free directory assistance services available today....
      Read lessRead more

      Lone Congressman Can't Kill Amtrak

      A congressman's bid to derail Amtrak has been squashed by his colleagues

      A congressman's bid to derail Amtrak has been squashed by his colleagues.

      The House of Representatives voted 328-94 against a move to end Amtraks federal subsidies.

      The move to strip Amtraks support was made by Rep. Jeff Blake, a Republican from Arizona, a state with limited service from the national passenger railroad.

      President Bush, a fellow Republican, has also been a vocal opponent of giving federal funding to Amtrak but is willing to provide federal funding for the airline industry.

      According to Rep. John Olver of (D-MA), Amtrak has saved $100 million by streamlining sleeping-car service and making cost-saving cuts in food service.

      Olver is the sponsor of a transportation appropriations bill that would meet Amtraks request for more than $1 billion in federal funding. Bush opposes the measure, which is expected to receive the support of the U.S. Senate.

      "Theres no passenger rail system in the world that runs without some operating subsidy," said Olver.

      Both houses of Congress have passed bills that would provide more at least $1.3 billion in operational subsidies but thats $500 million more than President Bush has stipulated for Amtrak in his budget.

      According to Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant, the system could keep operating if the congressional legislation, expected to pass sometime in September, evades a promised veto. But Bush, never a friend of Amtrak, says hell nix any bills that exceed his budget requests.

      The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), would target even more money for Amtrak: $3.3 billion for operating subsidies and $4.9 billion for capital improvements, plus $1.4 billion for upgrades of other urban rail systems.

      The grants would require states to supply an additional 20 per cent for each federal dollar.

      The Lott-Lautenberg measure would keep Amtrak afloat for four more years, through 2012, rather than the year-to-year funding it usually receives.

      Unless it gets funds soon, Amtrak will be forced to slash service even though ridership is rising. The rail network has reported 5.4 per cent more riders in 2007 than it had the year before but also said it is not taking in enough money to upgrade aging equipment, including bridges, tunnels, locomotives, and passenger cars.

      If forced to slash service, everything outside the busy northeast corridor (Boston-New York-Washington) could be in jeopardy. That would mean elimination of all passenger train service in the west, midwest, and south creating a much heavier demand on an airline industry that is already stretched to the breaking point.

      Amtrak predicts it will carry 25 million passengers in 2007, as opposed to 24.3 million last year. With better and more reliable engines, cars, and facilities, ridership could rise even more.

      Congress has not okayed a multi-year funding program for Amtrak since 2002, when the Republicans were in control. Now that the Democrats are in control of both houses, that could change although the possibility of a presidential veto could kill any legislation.

      The 2008 fiscal budget takes effect on Oct. 1, 2007.

      Lone Congressman Cant Kill Amtrak...
      Read lessRead more

      Hip Protectors Dont Protect Elderly In Falls: Study

      Shock-absorbing hip pads don't do the job

      Elderly people worried about falling and breaking a hip will often wear shock absorbing hip pads. They should save their money, says a new study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

      We found that there was no benefit to the hip protector, said study author Dr. Douglas Kiel, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

      Contrary to the way they are promoted, currently available hip pads wont prevent hip fractures, he said.

      The threat of falling and fracturing a hip is a very real one for the elderly population. An estimated 340,000 Americans break a hip every year, with most of the injuries associated with a fall.

      The study authors say nursing home residents are the most vulnerable, with up to 50 percent falling each year.

      In the study, conducted in nursing homes nationwide, there was no statistically significant difference in the incidence of hip fracture between those wearing hip protectors and those who were not. In fact, the hip fracture rates were 5.3 percent for protected hips as opposed to 3.5 percent for unprotected hips.

      Kiel said there is a wide variety of hip protectors made for senior citizens, ranging in price from $30 to $175. Before buying them, he says, consumers should remember that most of them haven't been tested and haven't been proven effective.

      Hip Protectors Dont Protect Elderly In Falls: Study...
      Read lessRead more

      MySpace Deletes More Sex Offenders

      Rupert Murdoch's Site Deletes 29,000 More Potential Predators

      Rupert Murdoch's MySpace.com says there were a lot more sex offenders lurking within its membership roles than it first reported.

      The site popular with teens but feared by parents says it has deleted 29,000 members it found to be convicted sex offenders.

      Initially, the company said it found only 7,000 members who had been convicted of sex crimes.

      MySpace is owned by Murdoch's News Corporation, which owns the New York Post, Fox Television and is currently attempting to get control of The Wall Street Journal.

      A number of state attorneys general first highlighted the issue, pressuring MySpace to take stronger measures to protect younger users from pedophiles.

      Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal first opened a probe of the Web site in 2006 after state police said that as many as seven teenage Connecticut girls had been sexually assaulted by men they met through MySpace.com. The girls said they were fondled or had sex with men who turned out to be older than they claimed.

      Police say one man traveled 1,000 miles to prey on one of the girls he found through the site.

      Other state investigations followed. In May, under pressure from state officials nationwide, MySpace used a database of 600,000 sex offenders to cull its membership ranks.

      There was no explanation for the discovery of additional sex offenders among MySpace members, or how there were missed in the first sweep. The company, however, tried to put a positive spin on this latest development.

      We're pleased that we've successfully identified and removed registered sex offenders from our site and hope that other social networking sites follow our lead, MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a statement.

      MySpace said it used a national database of 600,000 registered felons, convicted of sex-related crimes, to identify sexual predators within its membership. Parents and law enforcement officials have raised concerns about teenagers being exposed to sexual predators on the site.

      MySpace.com faces lawsuits from several families who charge their daughters were sexually assaulted by MySpace members.

      MySpace is a treasure trove of potential victims for child predators, said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Sex offenders have no business being on this site, and we believe MySpace has a responsibility to get them off the site.

      "I tell parents every day that MySpace is a dangerous place for teenagers," said Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

      100 Incidents

      In 2006 alone, the media reported almost 100 criminal incidents across the country involving adults who used MySpace to prey or attempt to prey on children.

      In North Carolina, a former sheriffs deputy was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2006 for molesting a 15-year-old Cary boy he met on MySpace. In 2006, the NC State Bureau of Investigation arrested a Boiling Spring Lakes police officer for raping a 14-year-old girl he lured through MySpace.

      Both North Carolina and Connecticut and a handful of other states are currently pushing legislation that would require social networking sites including MySpace to get parents permission before letting children join.

      Cooper is also pushing a measure that would make it a felony for convicted sex offenders to join social networking sites where children are members.

      Virginia and Kentucky already require convicted sex offenders to register their email addresses and instant messenger accounts with authorities.

      MySpace Deletes More Sex Offenders...
      Read lessRead more

      Court OKs Rebate Lawsuit against Cingular/AT&T

      Firm Advertises Cash Rebate But Sends "Reward Card

      A lawsuit charging that Cingular (now AT&T) engages in false and misleading advertising when offering rebates on cell phones may proceed, a federal court has ruled.

      The suit, brought under Californias consumer protection laws, charges that the cell phone company promised to pay rebates to people who bought cell phones, and advertised discounted prices that reflected the promised rebate.

      But instead of getting a rebate check, purchasers received a VISA Reward card that can only be used under numerous restrictions and for a limited period of time.

      By the time consumers found out they were not getting a rebate check, it was too late to cancel Cingulars wireless service without paying an Early Termination Fee of $175, the suit alleges.

      In their intense marketing for cellular services, cell phone companies make price the paramount focus, said Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights Harvey Rosenfield, one of the lawyers in the case.

      Cingular told consumers that they would ultimately pay a discounted price, once the rebate was received. In some cases, consumers were led to believe the phone would be free -- that it would end up costing them nothing after the rebate.

      "But instead of getting money back, consumers get a VISA Reward card. Purchasers never got the promised discount. None of this was made clear to consumers. This deceitful practice hurts consumers and other cell phone companies that advertise honestly, he said.

      Cingular Asks Dismissal

      The case was filed in California state court on behalf of all affected consumers in June 2006, but Cingular transferred the case to federal court in San Francisco.

      In May, Cingular asked the federal court to dismiss the suit, arguing that consumers were not harmed or misled and that Californias consumer protection laws do not prevent the company from engaging in the practice. Last week, the court rejected Cingulars motion, allowing the case to proceed.

      The courts ruling found that "a reasonable consumer, upon seeing an advertisement that promises a rebate of a certain amount, would generally understand that advertisement to mean that the amount will be returned to the consumer in cash, check or its equivalent."

      The court said the numerous terms and conditions placed on the VISA cards raised legitimate doubts about whether the cards could be considered the equivalent of cash or a check.

      Ads Changed After Suit

      After the suit was filed, the company, now called AT&T after its merger with Cingular, modified some of its ads to state, in fine print, that the advertised price was after debit card. However, the companys web site still refers to a mail in rebate card. Consumer advocates contend the new language remains misleading.

      The lawsuit asks the court to order the company to stop the practice, and to provide refunds to consumers.

      Court OKs Rebate Lawsuit against Cingular/AT&T...
      Read lessRead more

      Diet Soft Drinks Linked To Metabolic Syndrome

      Drinking one or more carbonated beverages a day even diet soft drinks can increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome, according to new research.

      Metabolic syndrome, in turn, is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

      According to investigators working on the Framingham Heart Study, consuming one of more sodas per day increases the risk of metabolic syndrome by 45 percent. They say whether the soda is regular or sugar-free doesnt seem to matter.

      The investigators observed that compared to consumers who drank less than one can per day, subjects who drank one or more soft drinks daily had a:

      • 31 per cent greater risk of becoming obese
      • 30 per cent increased risk of adding on belly fat.
      • 25 per cent higher risk of developing high blood sugar.
      • 32 per cent higher risk of having low HDL (good cholesterol) levels.

      Metabolic syndrome is a dangerous condition because it is made up of a lot of bad things; excess fat, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and low HDL. Not surprisingly, researchers say having metabolic syndrome will double your odds of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

      Canadian health researcher Dr. David Jenkins, director of the Risk Factor Modification Center at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, said the new research changes previous perceptions about acceptable ways to reduce calories.

      In the past, having a diet soda with a meal was seen as a good way to reduce overall calories. Now, he says, that has to be reconsidered.

      But exactly why drinking soda even diet soda increases the metabolic syndrome risk has yet to be answered.

      The researchers who completed the study of nearly 9,000 middle age people say they are unable to provide an answer. They suggest, however, that people who drink a lot of diet soda may be consuming lots of calories from other sources.

      Drinking one or more carbonated beverages a day even diet soft drinks can increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome, according to new research....
      Read lessRead more

      Honda Civic GX is the Greenest Car in U.S.

      The Meanest is a Diesel

      By Joe Benton

      July 24, 2007
      A Honda Civic powered by natural gas is the greenest car in America and a Volkswagen diesel-powered Touareg is the meanest vehicle in the land, at least according to the 2007 Green Book which ranks vehicles according to their environmental friendliness.

      Consumers looking for green cars and trucks are turning to the Green Book, The Environmental Guide to Cars & Trucks published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in growing numbers.

      The book helps consumers compare vehicles on the basis of a green score which is a measure that incorporates fuel consumption and air pollution, including both unhealthy tailpipe emissions and the emissions of gases that cause global warming.

      "Whether you are looking to buy a compact car, large car, pickup, minivan, or SUV, the Green Book takes the guesswork out of identifying which models are friendlier to the environment," said James Kliesch, a Research Associate at the council.

      The council each year names the "greenest" and "meanest" vehicles, along with environmental scorings of all model year cars and passenger trucks. This is the tenth year they have published the respected rankings.

      Claiming the prize as the greenest model year 2007 vehicle is Honda's natural gas-powered Civic GX.

      The Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid, stalwarts on the annual "Greenest Vehicles" list, claim spots two and three, while the Nissan Altima Hybrid and Toyota Yaris, market newcomers for model year 2007, round out the top five.

      Others in the list include conventional and hybrid-electric vehicles from Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and Toyota.

      Domestic automakers were shut out of the top-twelve list.

      "We've seen a lot of advertising this past year about efficient and eco-friendly vehicles being offered by domestic manufacturers. But when you look at the specs that matter, it's fair to say the imports have Detroit's number," said Kliesch.

      He blames the absence of domestic brands from the list on their wavering approach to fuel-efficient technologies.

      "Certain companies committed years ago to fuel-efficient technologies and held firm to those commitments. Today, those automakers have a clear competitive advantage in the world of green vehicles," Kliesch said.

      GreenerCars.com provides information to examine the eco-performance of any 2007 model.

      Mean & Dirty

      This year's "Meanest Vehicles for the Environment," a list traditionally dominated by large domestic pickups and SUVs, contains only four models from Detroit.

      European imports make up the remainder of the list.

      Much of the reason for that shift is the arrival of a number of new diesel models that meet some of the dirtiest tailpipe emissions standards allowable in the United States.

      Five diesels populate the year's twelve-worst list, including the year's most environmentally unfriendly model, the diesel-powered Volkswagen Touareg.

      Rounding out the "bottom five" are the Mercedes-Benz GL320 CDI, Lamborghini Murcielago, diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Bentley Arnage RL.

      Prominent gasoline models on the list include the Dodge Ram 2500 Mega Cab pickup, Ford F-250 pickup, and Lincoln Navigator SUV.

      "Given the arrival this year of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, having five diesels show up on the Meanest Vehicles list is a letdown," said Therese Langer, Transportation Program Director at the council.

      "Fortunately, these same manufacturers have already announced plans to bring much cleaner diesels to the United States in 2008, using an entirely different emissions control strategy."

      While diesels are more efficient than gasoline-powered vehicles with similar performance, they produce higher levels of environmentally damaging nitrogen oxides and particulate matter and consequently require more sophisticated emissions control.

      Greener Choices

      The GreenerCars.com Web site also identifies a selection of top widely available models in each vehicle class.

      This "Greener Choices" list includes larger vehicles, such as the Ford Escape Hybrid SUV, GMC Sierra Classic C1500 pickup, and Toyota Sienna minivan. Passenger cars such as the Hyundai Sonata and Ford Focus Wagon also top their respective classes.

      As the list demonstrates, consumers can make greener choices,whether they need a sedan, minivan, pickup truck, or SUV.

      "We must boost fuel economy if we hope to replace oil with biofuels or any other energy source. The good news is that we can boost fuel economy with the technologies on our Greenest Vehicles list, easing our pain at the pump while revitalizing our auto industry and slowing global warming," said Bill Prindle, ACEEE's acting Executive Director.

      Honda Civic GX is the Greenest Car in U.S....
      Read lessRead more

      Roof Crush Summit Highlights Safety Shortcomings

      Government Lapdogs Roll Over for Automakers

      David Garcia thought he was dead.

      He had just swerved to avoid a car that cut him off. The violent motion sent his Ford Escort rolling and tumbling off I-29 in Tallulah, La. in 1996. The roof caved in with surprising ease.

      His fiancee asked him if he was all right. His ability to respond assured him he was not dead but it didn't answer why he couldn't feel or move any part of his body.

      That night, with screws holding his skull in place, Garcia asked a doctor in the hospital if he would make a full recovery. The doctor's terse, professional response was, You will never walk again.

      Garcia, a quadriplegic, is one of the "lucky" 16,000 who merely suffer catastrophic injuries in vehicle rollovers annually; 10,000 who aren't so lucky die each year.

      David Garcia

      With someone else holding the microphone and turning pages, Garcia told his story to a crowd made up mostly of engineers at a Washington, D.C. summit on automobile roof crushes last week.

      The goal of the summit, according to its organizer, Paula Lawlor, was to get the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and members of Congress.

      Lawlor, a 54-year-old mother of seven, has been crusading for safer cars since at least 1998. She has helped accident victims and their families with the legal research that has helped them win millions of dollars in damage awards.

      Industry lobbyists and their government accomplices often attempt to tar the reputation of consumer advocates who help consumers find legal representation, as though ordinary citizens unable to afford lobbyists and public relations spinmeisters are not worthy of assistance.

      They have given Lawlor the same treatment.

      Her conference was well-attended by independent safety experts but representatives of Congress, NHTSA and the auto industry failed to show up, even though the event took place just a few blocks from NHTSA's headquarters and the Capitol. Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety were represented.

      The only presence from Capitol Hill was a staff member from the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over NHTSA.

      Nor was the press knocking down the doors. A search of Google News over the weekend found only one story about the conference -- a July 16 ConsumerAffairs.com story that said government and industry planned to shun the event.

      The contrast with industry-sponsored events was stunning. When GM or Ford brings one of its one-in-a-million plug-in hybrid prototypes to Capitol Hill, the vehicle is swallowed up in the bipartisan crush of lawmakers. When the show is over, the gee-whiz prototype disappears and is never seen again.

      And so it was not surprising that no one from Congress or NHTSA came to Lawlor's event. Injured and dead consumers don't have lobbyists and don't make large campaign contributions.

      Lawlor said Roger Saul, NHTSA's director of crashworthiness, asked her prior to the conference: What do you have to say that we don't already know?

      She later discovered that he had forbidden any NHTSA staffer to attend, she said.

      Saul could not be reached for comment, but NHTSA spokesman Ray Tyson said, There's nothing to discuss until the process goes along much farther.

      The process Tyson referred to is a proposed rulemaking that will require automakers to increase roof strength. NHTSA began work on the proposed rules 10 years and about 100,000 deaths ago. Although Congress set an April 2009 deadline for the proposals, Tyson said there is still no timetable and many auto safety experts say the stricter rules still will not keep drivers safe.

      Body by Fisher

      Currently, automakers must abide by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 216, which became law in 1973.

      As is so often the case, the standard was devised not by zealous government regulators but by industry.

      Fisher Body, a subsidiary of General Motors, created the standard. It was supposed to be a 4-year solution, according to a 1971 NHTSA press release. The year 1977 came and passed without any improved testing methods and the nation has relied on a mostly-unchanged FMVSS 216 for the past 35 years.

      FMVSS 216 requires that vehicles be able to withstand pressure from a metal plate that applies at least 1.5 times the weight of the vehicle onto the roof without caving more than five inches into the cabin.

      But engineers say many vehicles that pass this static test would not pass a dynamic test -- a more demanding test that subjects the vehicle to more realistic scenarios, such as dropping it from a few inches above the ground or forcing it to do many uncontrollable flips at high speed.

      Documents reveal that Fisher Body likely created FMVSS 216 because many of General Motors' vehicles would not pass anything else.

      Many General Motors vehicles were not passing the drop test standards of the 1960s. So Fisher Body developed the static crusher, coined Goldfinger. In a proposal by Fisher Body's Ed Klove, he outlined Goldfinger's advantages: More impressive numbers are obtained three inches crush for 6,000 lb. load. (A six-inch vehicle drop height allowing eight inches crush is not impressive).

      Before NHTSA accepted the tests, Fisher Body increased the size of its crushing plates more evenly dispersing the crushing power and decreasing the plates' angle of attack, thereby lessening Goldfinger's crushing ability.

      On the Road

      Today, many American and Japanese models barely meet the less than stringent requirements of FMVSS 216.

      In fact, there may be Ford Explorers on the road that fail FMVSS 216, said Stephen Forrest, a former General Motors engineer and now engineer for the Safety Analysis & Forensics Engineering consumer safety group.

      He analyzed Ford's testing statistics and found the 1998-2001 Ford Explorer models barely passed FMVSS 216. Comparing the results of those models to 1995-1997 models and applying the standard eight percent variation, Forrest determined that there are almost certainly Ford Explorers in daily use today that do not meet NHTSA's standards.

      It's so close, with normal variation it's almost a certainty there are some vehicles that fail 216, Forrest said.

      Although the two Explorer models are similar in size and weight, Forrest said he believes the 1998-2001 models are less safe because there is six inches less of reinforcement in the door frame -- a critical juncture during rollovers.

      Accidents involving the rollover-prone Explorer sparked the massive Firestone-Bridgestone tire recall in 2000.

      Findings Ignored

      But when he took his statistics to NHTSA, they ignored his petition because of financial and industry considerations, Forrest said.

      NHTSA's proposed new FMVSS 216 requirements would require Ford and other automakers to create vehicles that can withstand 2.5 times their weight, versus the 1.5 standard now in effect.

      But engineers believe those new standards still won't do enough because they rely on a static test rather than a dynamic one.

      The 216 test is flawed in so many ways, Forrest said. It doesn't take into account occupancy and it doesn't take into account survival space. Five inches in an Econoline Van and (in) a Ford Escort is not the same thing.

      Both Forrest and Nick Perrone, an engineer who has analyzed and taught vehicular safety for 35 years, said that to be safe, a vehicle should survive at least 3.5 times its weight in a static test and a dynamic rollover test.

      It's criminal negligence that auto manufacturers do not perform dynamic tests, Perrone said.

      Additionally, if a vehicle is designed to withstand rollovers, it will also survive side impacts better, he said.

      The two deadliest things that can happen are side impact and rollover, Perrone said. They account for about two-thirds of all fatalities.

      But automakers say dynamic tests yield unusable results.

      The problem with the dynamic test is that it's unpredictable, Chrysler representative Michael Palese said. It's a very violent, very unpredictable event.

      But critics say real-world accidents are violent and unpredictable as well -- and that's why cars should pass violent dynamic tests along with more controllable drop tests and static crush tests.

      Making vehicles strong enough to pass stricter static and dynamic tests would cost $50 to $100 per vehicle, Perrone said.

      Incestuous Relationship

      Many industry insiders blame NHTSA's snail's pace on the incestuous relationship it has with U.S. automakers.

      For example:

      • Sue Bailey became NHTSA's administrator in 2000, just as the Firestone tire recall became front page news. A year later, Ford hired Bailey as a consultant on the recall even as Ford and Firestone battled over liability.

      • Barry Felrice worked for NHTSA for 20 years, climbing to the associate administrator position, before accepting a job as Chrysler's chief of regulatory affairs in its Washington, D.C. office.

      • Jerry Curry headed NHTSA during the first Bush administration. He then went on to pursue a career consulting two of the larger automobile lobbying firms.

      Outside of NHTSA, in the Executive Branch, Andrew Card has dipped deeply into the automotive industry's wallet. Between his terms as Chief of Staff for Bush Sr. and Jr., Card was the auto industry's head lobbyist as president of the American Automobile Manufacturing Association.

      Perrone, who has worked with many NHTSA employees, said the transition from the government to the lucrative auto and lobbying industries is common at all levels.

      It's like a revolving door, he said.

      Forrest said that although NHTSA's relationship with the auto industry is peculiar, he doesn't believe the agency is purposely trying to harm consumers for the sake of the industry.

      I don't know if they actually defend automakers as much as they capitulate to them. ... Their hands are (so) tied by economic and political pressures that they can't get much of anything done."

      NHTSA and automakers say they work together to protect consumers and that although new regulations are being proposed, the current ones are still effective.

      The current standard is quite stringent, NHTSA's Tyson said.

      NHTSA data reveal that of all the passengers in rollovers, about 2.5 percent die while 6.5 percent suffer serious injuries.

      Tyson argued that many of those injuries and deaths are not the result of the roof collapsing.

      Of the 10,000 or so (deaths) every year, about two-thirds of them are not belted, Tyson said.

      Tyson said the greatest way for consumers to stay safe during a rollover is to have their seatbelts fastened.

      He failed to mention another way consumers can increase their margin of safety: buy a European car. BMW, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and other European manufacturers build much more rigid bodies that are more stringently tested for rollover protection.

      Another option: install a roll bar of the kind used in race cars. Most body shops can install a roll bar in nearly any vehicle. They greatly increase protection in a rollover and may help in some side impacts.

      David Garcia, who was belted in and completely sober during his accident, said he just wishes Ford had made his car safer.

      Roof Crush Summit Highlights Safety Shortcomings...
      Read lessRead more

      China Pledges Improvements In Food Safety

      The pledge follows a string of recalls and consumer warnings

      Under pressure in the U.S. from consumers and lawmakers, the Chinese government has pledged to improve the way in which it supervises food safety.

      The pledge follows a string of recalls and consumer warnings, on products ranging from pet food to seafood.

      Just as in the U.S., various government agencies share responsibility for food safety in China. Li Changjiang, minister in charge of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said the government is reviewing the entire system.

      He said new measures will be taken to improve the system, but offered no specifics.

      The existing system involves at least five central government departments - AQSIQ, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Health and the State Food and Drug Administration - which are responsible for supervising farming, production and processing, and distribution and selling.

      Li said the government is considering ways to streamline the system and make it more efficient.

      "To ensure the quality of food exports, the Chinese government has set up a monitoring system that covers plantations, breeding farms and production bases," said Li. "Only products that pass strict quarantine inspection are allowed to be exported."

      Li also said his agency is consulting with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on ways to improve supervision of Chinese food products before they leave China and once they arrive in the U.S.

      China initially denied there were safety problems with its exports, but has softened its position as the number of recalls has provoked a consumer backlash in the U.S., as well as in Congress.

      Li said food safety is a global issue that requires cooperation and improved inspection systems among all trading partners.

      China Pledges Improvements In Food Safety...
      Read lessRead more

      Short Workouts Burn More Fat than Longer Sessions

      Taking a break in the middle of your workout may metabolize more fat than exercising without stopping, according to a recent study in Japan.

      Researchers conducted the first known study to compare these two exercise methods -- exercising continually in one long bout versus breaking up the same workout with a rest period. The findings could change the way we approach exercise.

      Many people believe prolonged exercise will be optimal in order to reduce body fat, but our study has shown that repetitions of shorter exercise may cause enhancements of fat mobilization and utilization during and after the exercise. These findings will be informative about the design of [future] exercise regimens, said lead researcher Kazushige Goto, Ph.D.

      Most people are reluctant to perform a single bout of prolonged exercise. The repeated exercise with shorter bouts of exercise will be a great help [in keeping up with fitness], he said.

      This finding is part of a study entitled Enhancement of Fat Metabolism by Repeated Bouts of Moderate Endurance Exercise, found in the June 2007 edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology, which is published by the American Physiological Society. Summary of Methodology

      The researchers used seven healthy (avg. body mass: 66.1, percentage fat: 17.6) men with an average age of 25 who were physically active and familiar with exercise and had them perform three separate trials:

      • one single bout of 60-minute exercise followed with a 60-minute recovery period (Single)

      • two bouts of 30-minute exercise with a 20-minute rest after the first 30-minute bout, along with a 60-minute recovery period at the end (Repeated)

      • one 60-minute rest period (Control)

      The men performed each trial at the same time of day after fasting overnight. They exercised on a single ergometer (cycling machine) at the commonly recommended exercise prescription of 60% maximum oxygen intake. The recovery and rest periods were conducted while the subjects sat in chairs.

      Blood samples were taken every 15 minutes during the exercise and every 30 minutes during the recovery period. Their respiratory gas and heart rates were monitored continuously throughout the trial.

      The Repeated trial showed a greater amount of lipolysis (fat breakdown) than did the Single trial. The Repeated trial also had a pronounced increase in free fatty acids and glycerol (chemical compounds that are released when stored fat is used) concentrations in the final 15 minutes of exercise, whereas these concentrations only progressively increased throughout the Single trial.

      Also, the second half of the Repeated trial showed a significantly greater epinephrine response while also having a rapid decrease in insulin concentration as a result of lower plasma glucose.

      This combination of high epinephrine and low insulin concentration may have also increased the lipolysis. There was also enhanced fat oxidation in the recovery period of the Repeated trial than in the Single trial, but this result may be because the free fatty acids concentration was already high before the recovery period.

      The American College of Sports Medicine recommends moderate exercise for the duration of 45 to 60 minutes to ensure a sufficient amount of energy is depleted in obese individuals. This has caused a greater focus on extending exercise sessions in order to burn more fat.

      However, this study shows that this method may not be the most effective way to enhance fat metabolism, as splitting up a long bout of exercise with a rest period burns more fat than a continuous bout of exercise.

      This study could help with the practical application of implementing new exercise methods in order to better manage and control weight in individuals in the future.

      Goto and his team of researchers plan on conducting further studies in order to explore the results in a variety of exercise durations as well as in different types of individuals.

      Researchers conducted the first known study to compare these two exercise methods -- exercising continually in one long bout versus breaking up the same wo...
      Read lessRead more

      Researchers Find "Restless Leg" Gene

      It's a major cause of insomnia and sleep disruption

      An international team of researchers has identified the first gene associated with Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), a common sleep disorder affecting tens of millions of people worldwide.

      The findings appear in the online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine and will appear in an upcoming printed edition of the journal.

      Restless legs syndrome is a condition that produces an intense, often irresistible urge to move the legs and is a major cause of insomnia and sleep disruption.

      It affects approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population and about one percent of school-aged children. The discovery provides strong new evidence that RLS is a genuine syndrome, a fact that has recently been the subject of some debate.

      The work was led by scientists at Emory University and deCODE Genetics, Inc., in Reykjavik, Iceland.

      "We now have concrete evidence that RLS is an authentic disorder with recognizable features and underlying biological basis," says David Rye, MD, PhD, professor of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine, director of the Emory Healthcare Program in Sleep, and one of the study's lead authors.

      "This is the most definitive link between genetics and RLS that has been reported to date. We have known for quite some time that the majority of RLS patients have a close family member with the disorder, and now we have found a gene which is clearly linked to RLS," says Dr. Rye.

      The researchers report a population-attributable risk for RLS of at least 50 percent, meaning that were the gene variant not present, more than half of all RLS cases would disappear.

      RLS researchers have known for some time that anemia and low iron levels contribute to more severe RLS symptoms. The current study revealed the gene variant to be more common in Icelandic subjects deficient in iron.

      The medical breakthrough is the result of a four-year study led jointly by Dr. Rye and deCODE Genetics scientist Dr. Hreinn Stefansson. With the goal of identifying genes causing RLS, the research team conducted genome-wide scans of nearly 1,000 Icelanders and 188 Americans. A new chip technology was applied along with genome wide association methods.

      This approach allowed Drs. Rye and Stefansson to probe more than 300,000 small regions (single nucleotides) distributed across the entire genome for differences more common to RLS sufferers as compared to population-based controls.

      According to Dr. Rye, very little is known about the function of the gene variant discovered.

      "Additional work will be required to translate this knowledge into a plausible mechanism and, in turn, more rational and better treatments," notes Dr. Rye. "Future advances will depend upon additional monies which to this point have come solely from private foundations and industry."

      Dr. Rye says RLS is exceedingly common but not taught as a part of standard medical education, in part leading many medical professionals, educators and academicians to challenge its commonality and authenticity.

      Researchers Find 'Restless Leg' Gene...
      Read lessRead more

      Are Used Hybrids a Pig in a Poke?

      Battery Replacement Can Be Very Expensive

      The cost of gasoline along with a sincere desire to drive an environmentally friendly car is leading many young consumers to the used car lot in search of a hybrid. At the same time, the people who bought the first hybrids like the Prius are trading in the green machines for new hybrids.

      So is buying a used hybrid like buying a pig in a poke?

      The weak link in an aging hybrid seems to be the battery system that drives the electric motor.

      Prius batteries will last well beyond 200,000 miles or they will need to be replaced almost as soon as the hybrid passes through 110,000 miles, depending who you talk to and who you choose to believe.

      All of the evidence on the life span of a Prius appears to be anecdotal without any substantial statistical significance.

      So does buying a used Prius make sense? Selling a used Prius certainly makes sense. The hybrids enjoy a good resale value. Even with 100,000 miles on the odometer, a Prius in excellent condition might sell for $11,885 according to the Kelley Blue Book.

      That is exactly what Zachery in Homeland, Calif., decided to do three years ago -- buy a used Prius.

      Giving into all the hype, when I went looking for a new car. I decided to go with the money-saving, eco-friendly Prius, he told ConsumerAffairs.com.

      It had 72,000 miles on it and ran great, for the first year that is. When it came time for the 100,000 mile tune-up it cost me nearly $700. Six months later the computer system failed along with a transmission leak and fuel pump replacement costing me another $2,600, he wrote.

      Ten months after the 100,000-mile problems Zachery received the bad news about his hybrid battery system. I take it down and get it diagnosed, which turned out to be the main hybrid battery. Another $4,800 to get the system replaced, he wrote.

      Unable to afford the cost of that last repair, I now own a 2001 Prius that runs for about 2 miles before the warning light and computer system stop the car.

      Needless to say, Zachery no longer considers his decision to buy a used Prius to be a wise expenditure.

      I'm unable to afford the $4,800 repair bill, thus leaving me without a reliable form of transportation. On top of that, I still owe roughly $5,000 on the car itself. Of course all this happens the day I quit my job and start back to school, he wrote.

      Similar Problem

      A Texas Prius owner reported a similar problem. "My 2001 Toyota Prius lasted five years and 113,000 miles. Then the batteries seemed to die. My dealer estimated the replacement cost at $7,000. They recommended scrapping the car for parts."

      Consumers in the market for a used Prius also need to watch out for problem other than the main hybrid battery system.

      Debora owns a 2001 Prius in North Hills, Calif.

      My 2001 Toyota Prius has been stalling intermittently for 3 years. The dealer has replaced the hybrid battery which was on warranty (thank goodness!) and now says they need to replace the accelerator pedal position sensor which is not on warranty and the part will cost $435 plus tax and 3 hours of labor, she told us.

      Mark in Fairmont, West Virginia, owns a 2003 Prius. My Prius has a steering problem. The dealer informed me that my rack and pinion gear will need replaced at a cost of $1,800.00, he wrote.

      Mark added that he read on the Internet that other Prius cars have steering problems covered by a recall but his was not included.

      I have 85,000 miles on the car, he said. I have already replaced the gas tank, and electronic control module. This steering repair is just too much money, he said.

      A reader in Collinsville, Ill., told us he when he starts his 2002, the engine warning lights come on with their exclamation points and check engine signs, but there is nothing wrong.

      The repair will be expensive. I was told that I need a new fuel pump, gas tank, and engine control module, at a cost of $2,300, he wrote ConsumerAffairs.com.

      In Colorado Springs, Patrick found his 2005 Prius dead and unable to start. He bought the Prius in 2005 when the car had 19,000 miles on the odometer.

      I looked for any accessories that might have been left on, but found none, Patrick told us.

      I pulled out the manual and diagnosed a dead 12-volt battery. I proceeded to follow the jump start procedures in the manual. The jump was unsuccessful, so I called a tow truck recommended by the dealer and had it towed there.

      The dealer told Patrick that his Prius was jumped with the cables crossed and the repair will be about $5,000 in parts and labor.

      The repair bill will not be covered under the vehicle's 3-year and 36,000-mile warranty.

      In Stoughton, Wis., Jim has the other side of the story. Just to relate my experience with my 2002 Prius. Yes there have been a few items repaired under warranty but what car doesn't get some of those?

      Jim describes his Prius as the best car I have ever owned.. It's a delight to drive, and my average mpg around 48 in warm weather and 40-42 during wintertime.

      Jim said he loves his Prius but then he is the original owner and his hybrid has only 48,000 miles on the odometer.

      Are Used Hybrids a Pig in a Poke?...
      Read lessRead more

      Newfoundland Breeders Despair After Deaths and Deformities

      Many Blame Pet Food for their Breeding Problems

      By Lisa Wade McCormick

      July 18, 2007
      Professional dog breeder Lisa M. is ensnarled in a frightening mystery.

      The case centers on her beloved Newfoundlands and why these gentle giants have experienced so many baffling reproductive problems in the past year.

      Lisa has searched tirelessly for clues about whats caused her healthy dogs to suddenly stop getting pregnant or -- if they conceive -- to deliver deformed and dead puppies.

      These are dogs that have all delivered healthy puppies before, says Lisa, owner of Lighthouse Newfoundlands in Grafton, Ohio. Ive been a full-time breeder since 1998 and Ive never experienced as many problems as I have in the past year. Its horrible.

      The first signs of trouble surfaced last November.

      Lisas dog, Vella, had a litter of four puppies.

      Two were healthy. But two were mummified fetuses.

      Thats like a miscarriage in the dog world, Lisa says. It looks like a mass of bone; the puppy is not alive. Breeders occasionally will have mummified fetuses. Ive never had it happen, though.

      Twice in Two Months

      But now its happened twice in just two months.

      In January, 2007, Lisas dog, Juliet, had nine puppies.

      Five were healthy. Three were mummified fetuses. And one was deformed.

      That puppy had its elbow stuck to its side; it didnt live, Lisa says. And having three mummified fetuses in one litter was unbelievably horrible.

      All this was just so unusual for me. It just wasnt right. Like I said, its never happened to me -- or my dogs -- before.

      Her dogs never had trouble getting pregnant, either.

      I bred four of my dogs and a friends dog in February. None of mine got pregnant. I usually get two or three, but never zero for four.

      My friends dog had three puppies, but two died (two days after delivery). One of the puppies had a deformity a cleft palate.

      Similar Problems Nationwide

      A ConsumerAffairs.com investigation reveals Newfoundland breeders across the country have experienced similar problems with their dogs.

      We talked to professional breeders in Idaho, Texas, and Pennsylvania whose dogs have encountered such puzzling reproductive issues as:

      • Puppies that wouldnt grow and had to be euthanized. This same breeders dogs also had two mummified fetuses -- in two different litters -- and some of her females stopped getting pregnant;

      • Having several misses -- or failed attempts -- at getting pregnant. This breeder also had a dog that delivered a deformed puppy, which had to be euthanized.

      • Failing to get pregnant -- in the past two years. This breeders mom also raises Newfoundlands and one of those dogs delivered two dead puppies.

      Likely Suspects

      Whats causing these problems?

      Lets consider some of the likely suspects:

      • The Newfoundlands health The breeders say all their females are in excellent physical condition and have previously delivered healthy puppies. They also say theyre using the same sires and those males are in excellent health;

      • The dogs ages -- Veterinarians say the prime age for dogs to deliver healthy litters is two to five. The breeders say all the dogs are in that age range;

      • Genetic problems The breeders say none of the dogs are related, a factor that could pose genetic issues;

      • Changes in breeding protocols The breeders say nothing in their breeding program has changed.

      This whole thing is totally, horrendously insane, says Wendy C. of Blanchard, Idaho, who has bred Newfoundlands for seven years. Its just about ruined my breeding program.

      Theres another suspect in this case. One any good sleuth would follow.

      Its the dog food the only common denominator among these Newfoundlands.

      All the breeders fed their dogs Purina Pro Plan and Purina One. And theyre convinced thats the culprit in this case.

      Why am I certain its the food? Because nothing else has changed in my breeding program, says Lisa, who has 14 Newfoundlands. These are the same dames and the same sires. Theyve all had healthy litters before.

      "I keep my kennels clean, I dont over-vaccinate, I dont add supplements, I dont use pesticides, I follow all the regular worming protocols ... nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed.

      Wendy agrees.

      The food is the only thing that makes sense. Its the only thing we all have in common.

      At first I thought it was the water, but that cant be. There are too many us across the country having the same problems with our dogs. It just has to be the food.

      The breeders say theyve fed their dogs Purina products for years and never had any problems. But Wendy and Lisa suspected something was wrong with the food last summer.

      We both fed our puppies Purina One large breed puppy food, Wendy says. And all our puppies had horrible diarrhea. They were squirting water out of their bottoms. It was awful.

      Anytime a puppy has diarrhea like that, theres something wrong. Its very dangerous. They can dehydrate and die.

      The breeders suspicions about the food heightened in March. Thats when Menu Foods recalled 60 million containers of melamine-tainted pet food.

      Melamine is a chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers; it is not approved for use in pet or human food. Thousands of dogs and cats nationwide suffered kidney disease or died after eating the melamine-tainted foods.

      We panicked when we heard about the recall, Wendy says. The Purina we fed our dogs wasnt on the recall list, but we were still certain something was wrong with it. Maybe that melamine from China got into the food and Purina didnt know. Thats possible.

      Lisa says news of the melamine-tainted food confirmed her worst fears about the reproductive problems with her dogs.

      I read all about the effects melamine can have on pregnancies. And I learned that too much melamine can affect pregnancies.

      I also belong to a chat room with 2,000 subscribers and did my own research with them. Thats when I found out that so many of us who were using Purina were having problems.

      Mutant Puppies

      At the Mountain Ridge Kennel in Blanchard, Idaho, Wendy fights back tears as she recalls the reproductive issues her Newfoundlands have faced in the past year and a half.

      Its just been devastating. Ive been having beautiful litters for seven years. Ive always had huge, healthy puppies.

      But that changed last summer.

      I had two back-to-back litters and had to destroy 14 of those puppies, Wendy says. They wouldnt grow. They looked like mutants; it was hideous. They only weighed six to 10 pounds instead of 25 to 30 pounds at eight weeks. They were so thin. They looked like skeletons with fur.

      The gruesome problems didnt stop there.

      Wendys dogs also had two mummified fetuses in two different litters.

      Plus Ive had females who have had four narrow puppies. Those are puppies that die. Somewhere along the way (during gestation) they were depleted. They werent what they should be at full-term. I believe its because of the poisonous food I unknowingly fed them.

      Some of Wendys other dogs also stopped getting pregnant.

      I bred three of my dogs (to deliver) at the end of February. I didnt have one litter. How unusual is that for me? Ive always gotten everything Ive bred. Im a full-time breeder. This is what I do.

      Wendys not only grappled with the emotional toll these problems have taken on her dogs. And her family.

      She also struggled with the financial repercussions theyve created.

      Ive only had four healthy puppies since December 2005. Normally, I have 40 healthy puppies a year. This has just about bankrupted me.

      Her voice cracks and tears fill her eyes.

      Ive buried at least 20 dogs in the past year, says Wendy, whose puppies sell for $1,200 to $1,500 each. This has cost me more than $25,000. I couldnt sleep because there was no money to pay the bills. My long distance has been cut. Ive lost my insurance. Im facing foreclosure and will probably lose my house.

      This just about killed me. Purina doesnt understand how much all this has devastated fulltime breeders like me.

      Puppy Born Without Tail or Rectum

      In Texas, another Newfoundland breeder wonders why her dogs have experienced so many unusual medical problems.

      Ive had several missed breedings in last few years, says Brenda M. of Blanco, Texas, These are all females that should not have missed.

      Brenda has raised Newfoundlands since 1995. And for the first time in her career, she had a dog deliver a deformed puppy.

      It happened 18 months ago to her dog, Ramona.

      The puppy was born without a tail or rectum. It was awful. It was alive when it was born, but I had to euthanize it.

      Ive had litters before with stillborn puppies. But in all the years Ive done this that was my first deformed puppy. It was freaky and unpleasant.

      Ramona also faced another inexplicable medical problem one not related to her reproductive system.

      She unexpectedly died last month of cirrhosis of the liver.

      Our vet could not find any reason for her to have such a severe case of cirrhosis of the liver. She was only five. She was too young to die from liver disease.

      I dont know if her death was related to the food, Brenda says, referring to Purina One shed fed Ramona for years. But I dont trust dog food companies. Theres a huge doubt in my mind about the safety of pet food and that it might have contributed to Ramonas death.

      Could it also have caused her dogs reproductive problems?

      I am very suspicious of Purina. Everything thats happened is suspicious.

      No Litters in Two Years

      Across the country, two Newfoundland breeders in Pennsylvania say their dogs have also experienced bizarre reproductive problems.

      I havent had a litter in two years, says one of the breeders, who didnt want to be identified because she was afraid of legal action by Purina. Thats real uncommon for me. These are proven breeders.

      Her mom also raises Newfoundlands.

      And one of her dogs recently had a litter with two dead puppies, the daughter says. They were stillborns; they didnt have fur on them and had been dead a while.

      That dog was a repeat breeder who had two healthy litters before. I took her in for a culture two days after delivery (of the deceased puppies) and everything was negative. The dog was absolutely clean.

      These breeders fed their dogs Purina One wet and dry food for more than 20 years.

      And weve had excellent results up until last year. But now, we really think theres problem with the food. Otherwise, wed still be feeding it to our dogs.

      Missing Evidence

      To solve any mystery, though, a good sleuth needs solid evidence. A smoking gun memo. Or scientific data that proves the case.

      But thats missing in this whodunit.

      They breeders dont have any clinical analysis to support their convictions.

      They didnt test the Purina they fed their dogs. They didnt have autopsies performed on the deceased puppies. And they didnt have lab work or ultrasounds done on the females that failed to get pregnant or delivered deformed or deceased puppies.


      If all of us knew then what we know now, we would have done all sorts of things to prove our case, Wendy says. But along the way, we went through so much devastation and heartbreak that we didnt think of it.

      Lisa concurs.

      I didnt relate the problems to the food until I started reading about the effects melamine has on pregnancies.

      Why didnt she have autopsies performed on the deceased puppies?

      If I had known about melamine and the effects it has on humans and dogs, I would have, Lisa says. But these dogs were born in January three months before Menu announced the recall.

      I know what happened to my dogs, though. Ive been a breeder a long time. I know something is going on with the food. Nothing else has changed in my breeding program. The only common denominator is the Purina.

      Interesting Case But Premature to Blame Purina

      Veterinarians we interviewed agree the cases are interesting. And warrant further investigation.

      But they warn its premature to blame Purina for the Newfoundlands reproductive problems.

      They say more testing is needed before any allegations can -- or should -- be made about the dog food.

      I believe these cases are too poorly defined to try to make any sort of statement regarding the likelihood of diet as the cause of the the problem, said Dr. Margaret Root Kustritz of the University of Minnesotas College of Veterinary Medicine. She is a nationally recognized expert in theriogenology, which is animal reproduction.

      I know of no such problem specific to Newfoundlands. I know of no data in the veterinary literature documenting loss of pups from dietary causes in apparently healthy (female).

      Dr. Root Kustritz asked other animal reproduction specialists about the Newfoundlands problems.

      I have gotten two responses, neither of which noted any increase in such problems in Newfies in their areas. That means eastern Canada, the upper Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest are not seeing a problem recognized by theriogenologists or their clients.

      She added: I believe this mystery is suffering from a lack of diagnostic testing. Breeders will tell you all these tests cost money. They do. So does repeated loss of pups.

      Dr. Jennifer Larsen, a veterinarian and trained nutritionist with Davis Veterinary Medical Consulting group in California, said there are a number of reasons why dogs fail to get pregnant. Or have reproductive success.

      Those factors include timing, semen samples, genetics, viruses, and the environment.

      Nutrition also plays a key role.

      Reproduction is a demanding physical state and you have to be careful about the diet you feed, said Dr. Larsen, who owns Newfoundlands. But to find out whats going on nutritionally (in these cases) would take some scientific investigation. If they (the breeders) were unable to participate in that, than were just speculating.

      Dr. Larsen also said previous reproductive success doesnt guarantee the same results in the future.

      The way genes are resorted can result in a bunch of different effects. Its like people who five or six children and not all of them look the same.

      Past success or good luck has nothing to do with future good luck or success.

      Dr. Larsen, however, said these cases should be more thoroughly examined.

      Its unfortunate whats gone on. And there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that need to be put in place.

      At this point, its premature to say its the food. But I hope these breeders work with their veterinarians to try and figure out whats going on. That could help advance knowledge in this field.

      Lisa consulted her veterinarian, Dr. Lori Hunt at the Center West Animal Hospital in Westlake, Ohio.

      One of things I do with my breeding clients is when we have a dog thats missing, the first thing we look into is what theyre eating, said Dr. Hunt, who devotes much of her practice to canine reproduction. Nutrition can absolutely effect conception. And its certainly possible that something could be out of whack nutritionally ... maybe the manufacturer changed the formula.

      But I cant say its the food. There are other people who feed that same food and they havent had this trouble.

      Dr. Hunt said animals -- like humans -- sometimes develop problems that simply cant be explained.

      I know the science of things and bad things sometimes happen for no reason.

      Nonetheless, the Newfoundlands problems piqued her professional interest.

      It certainly makes you think ... anything is possible.

      Newfoundland Club of America To Explore Problem

      The Newfoundlands reproductive issues also captured the attention of the Newfoundland Club of America (NCA).

      I find this very odd, said Pam Rubio, head of NCAs Health and Longevity Committee. I have not heard of this before. But there are lots of things that have never happened before that crop up.

      Does she suspect the food?

      I would doubt it because so many of us feed Pro Plan without any problems. If its the food -- and Im still doubtful of that -- then it would have to be a change in the formula, the protein source, or an ingredient.

      Rubio, however, said she would discuss this issue with members of her committee.

      Ill put it out there for us to explore. If there are more cases out there, we definitely want to know and see if we can find a common cause.

      The NCA cant offer breeders any financial assistance, Rubio said.

      But the organization can recommend -- and help fund -- research about specific issues facing the breed.

      If researchers want to do a study on this, we do have the Newfoundland Health Challenge and the Research Advisory Committee that decides who gets funding for studies.

      Purina Investigates Breeders Concerns

      ConsumerAffairs.com also contacted Purina about the Newfoundlands problems. Spokesman Keith Schopp told us his company had never heard of these problems until our call.

      He also said the pet food giant has not changed the formulas for Purina One or Purina Pro Plan in recent years.

      But we would like to talk to these breeders and get more information, Schopp told us.

      After our calls to Purina, a company representative contacted the breeders and promised to investigate their concerns.

      New Evidence

      Meanwhile, new evidence has surfaced in this mystery evidence that might confirm the breeders' suspicions.

      Lisa and Wendy contacted ConsumerAffairs.com on Tuesday and said they discovered some of the Purina food theyd fed their dogs when the problems first started.

      Im in the process of revamping my kennel and when I got into one of the feed bins, I found some of the Purina at the bottom, Lisa says. I took back every bag of Purina I had after the recall, but I guess I didnt take back the food I dumped into the bin. With everything that has happened, I forgot the food was in there.

      Lisa plans to immediately test the food.

      So does Wendy, who also found some Purina in the bottom of one of her feed bins.

      The breeders, however, says they dont need scientific data to convince them the food caused their dogs problems. Their dogs -- and the awful experiences theyve endured -- are all the proof they need.

      We know what we saw and we know what happened, Lisa says.

      Dogs Doing Better Off Purina

      They also know their dogs conditions have improved since they took them off Purina products months ago.

      The difference is unbelievable, says Wendy, who makes her own dog food and supplements it with a brand called Bil-Jac. That Ohio pet food maker uses locally produced ingredients. My dogs are looking so good. My younger ones are slowly starting to gain weight now that theyre off that poisonous food. I cant see their ribs anymore. And theyre a lot more active.

      Lisa makes her own dog food.

      And she says her Newfoundlands are much healthier now that theyre off Purina.

      Their coats are a lot shinier, theyre more active, and their skin problems have cleared up.

      Twelve Happy Endings

      This mystery has an even happier ending. Make that 12 happy endings.

      Earlier this month, one of Wendys dogs delivered five healthy puppies.

      Everyone is OK, Wendy says. Im sure its because I took (my female) off Purina. Ill never feed Purina again.

      And Lisas dog, Juliet -- who had three mummified fetuses in her previous litter -- delivered seven healthy puppies over the Fourth Of July holiday.

      My biggest fear has always been the lasting effect this will have on my dogs reproductive systems, Lisa says. Theres no doubt in my mind why this was a healthy litter ... Juliet was not on Purina.

      Newfoundland Breeders Despair After Deaths and Deformities...
      Read lessRead more