Current Events in August 2007

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    Dunkin Donuts To Dump The Trans Fat

    Fast-food chains at last are getting the trans fats out of their recipes

    The words healthy and donuts dont exactly belong in the same sentence, but executives at the Dunkin' Donuts say they plan to make their food healthier by no longer using trans fatty acids.

    The company said it hopes to offer a completely trans-fat-free menu by October 15. Even the donuts will be free of the artery-clogging cooking oil.

    It's not as though Dunkin' had a lot of choice. Since New York City banned trans fat last December, fast-food chains have been scramling to reformulate their recipes.

    KFC, Wendy's, Burger King and Starbucks have already eliminated some or all of the trans fat from their dishes. Hotels and upscale eateries are doing the same.

    It's not much ado about nothing. A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health confirms the risk, providing the strongest association to date between trans fat and heart disease. It found that women in the U.S. with the highest levels of trans fat in their blood had three times the risk of CHD as those with the lowest levels.

    Dunkin' said doughnuts with zero grams trans fat are currently being served in Philadelphia and New York City. To date, the zero-grams-trans-fat doughnuts have been served in approximately 400 restaurants throughout the country, the company says, as part of a nationwide blind test over a period of four months.

    We applaud the Dunkin' Brands Research & Development and Supply Chain teams, who have worked behind the scenes for nearly four years to move toward an entirely zero grams trans fat menu," said Joe Scafido, Chief Creative and Innovation Officer at Dunkin' Brands.

    We are proud to be the first major quick service restaurant chain to introduce a doughnut that has zero grams trans fat.


    Dunkin Donuts To Dump The Trans Fat...

    IRS Warns About New Email Scam

    Email says you're under investigation

    August 27, 2007
    If you receive an email from the Internal Revenue Service saying you are under investigation, dont panic. The IRS says its the latest scam designed to fool people into downloading a program making their computers vulnerable to hackers.

    The e-mail purporting to be from IRS Criminal Investigation falsely states that the person is under a criminal probe for submitting a false tax return to the California Franchise Tax Board.

    The e-mail instructs recipients to click on a link or open an attachment to learn more information about the complaint against them. The IRS warned people that the e-mail link and attachment is a Trojan Horse that can take over the persons computer hard drive and allow someone to have remote access to the computer.

    The IRS urged people not to click the link in the e-mail or open the attachment. Similar e-mail variations suggest a customer has filed a complaint against a company and the IRS can act as an arbitrator.

    The latest versions appear aimed at business taxpayers as well as individual taxpayers.

    The IRS said it does not send out unsolicited e-mails or ask for detailed personal and financial information. Additionally, the IRS never asks people for the PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for their credit card, bank or other financial accounts.

    Everyone should beware of these scam artists, said Kevin M. Brown, Acting IRS Commissioner. Always exercise caution when you receive unsolicited e-mails or e-mails from senders you dont know.

    Recipients of questionable e-mails claiming to come from the IRS should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the e-mails. Instead, they should forward the e-mails to phishing@irs.gov .

    The IRS also sees other e-mail scams that involve tricking victims into revealing private personal and financial information over the Internet, a practice that is known as phishing for information.

    The IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration work with the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) and various Internet service providers and international CERT teams to have the phishing sites taken offline as soon as they are reported.

    Since the establishment of the mail box last year, the IRS said it has received more than 17,700 e-mails from taxpayers reporting more than 240 separate phishing incidents. To date, investigations by TIGTA have identified host sites in at least 27 different countries, as well as in the United States.

    Other fraudulent e-mail scams try to entice taxpayers to click their way to a fake IRS Web site and ask for bank account numbers. Another widespread e-mail tells taxpayers the IRS is holding a refund (often $63.80) for them and seeks financial account information.

    Still another email claims the IRSs anti-fraud commission is investigating their tax returns.

    More Scam Alerts ...

    IRS Warns About New Email Scam...

    Erectile Dsyfunction Affects All Ages

    Most men don't talk about it, which only makes things worse

    A few months ago I was at a party and, as it reached the early hours of the morning and just I and a few other hard-drinking males remained, I somehow got onto the subject of impotence.

    An eerie silence fell over the room and as I related some of my personal experiences with this affliction I half-expected everyone to start laughing. Instead something else happened - whether moved by my own account or by the copious ammounts of alcohol consumed, one by one, each of the men in the room cautiously admitted that they'd also had similar troubles at some point in their lives.

    While each of them was careful to make it clear that everything was in working order now, I felt almost like a priest as they confessed their imperfect virility for the very first time.

    Impotence and erectile dsyfunction are somewhat taboo topics in the modern world. In a world where sex is the predominant theme of most commerce, entertainment and bar room banter, to admit that you might not be always up to the job is tantamount to doubting your right to exist.

    Replacing a fuse and carrying logs is all well and good but the inability to get an erection puts your manhood in serious question. Yet with around 30 million men reporting dsyfunctional erections (and how many more staying quiet?), it's something that most men face at one time or another.

    Impotence vs. ED

    To be clear, impotence refers to the inability to get any kind of erection, even during sleep. There can be solid medical reasons for this, including the side-effects of medications (such as anti-depressants, in particular) and in this case it's definitely worth getting a professional opinion.

    Erectile dsyfunction, on the other hand, refers to the inability to get a full erection on demand or losing the erection halfway through sexual intercourse. Talk about frustrating.

    A few years ago a girlfriend finally convinced me to give up traveling for a while and move in with her. It seemed like a dream rest cure until after a few days I found that man's best friend was letting me down and the bed became a torture chamber.

    I started going for morning runs to get the blood flowing, adopting a vegetarian diet to make sure my veins weren't being blocked up by saturated fats and even sneaking a look at the lingerie advertisements in my girlfriend's fashion magazines in the morning to get me in the mood.

    Nothing helped.

    In desperation, I spent hours on the Internet researching ancient herbs that purported to help with problems of virility and headed down to the health food shop to see what was on offer. Although pretty poor at the time, I spent most of what meager income I had on packets of Korean ginseng, packets of Ginko Biloba and an African herb called Yohimbe - the latter prompted some promising tingles but caused such palpitations of the heart that I almost called an ambulance.

    So much for alternative health, at least on this occasion.

    I eventually found a cure but I'm going to make you wait until the end of the article to find out what it was.

    The Pharmaceutical Solution

    In any case, according to the likes of Pfizer with their best-selling drug, Viagra, impotence and erectile dsyfunction should be a thing of the past. Having isolated the active components that stimulate blood flow to the penis, all our troubles should be over. And Viagra does, in fact, work.

    Head to any red light zone in South East Asia and outside the bars and discos where old Americans and Europeans go to pick up girls half their age or less, you'll see vendors touting Viagra pills alongside cigarettes and chewing gum.

    Independent drug manufacturers weren't slow to realise the potential and for a while Asian-produced copies of Viagra were the No. 1 export item for the average traveler with space in his backpack.

    So why is there still any problem? If popping a pill is all it takes we should all be living in a world of great sex and guaranteed erections, right?

    Well, aside from the risk of having a heart seizure if you're prone to any cardiovascular issues, Viagra is a perfect example of the modern world's urge to treat the symptom and not the cause.

    According to Darwin and any scientist who believes that life on this planet has been going on for rather a long time, sex has long been an essential component of evolution. Our bodies are designed to have sex, reproduce and have a good time along the way.

    Impotence is rarely a problem amongst animals so why should it be any different with human beings?

    Just for fun, yesterday I walked into town to see how often I'd get exposed to sexual imagery in the course of a half an hour walk. I'd barely stepped outside the apartment where I was staying before I saw a billboard where the advertisers had come up with the ingenious strategy of placing a beer bottle next to a rather prominant cleavage. The word "association" becomes redundant.

    Then I passed a newspaper stand where there were no less than 7 men's magazines for sale, each with a super model in a bikini on the cover. They were outnumbered only by the magazines focusing on cars and motorbikes and all but one of them again had a girl in a bikini sprawled on top of the hood.

    Just as I was about to conclude that drinking and driving really is all it takes to get laid, a car passed playing Snoop Dogg's rap about turning a girl into his sex slave. Damn, you need to be a gangsta rapper, too.

    In any case, you don't need me to let you know that sex is a more likely candidate to make the world go round than love but it is striking how little we really understand it.

    If we were to go by the lyrics of the songs in the charts and the passionate scenes that we see in Hollywood flicks, sex would seem something like a performance or a contest between two highly-skilled opponents.

    Devastating looks are a prerequisite to good sex, it would seem, and the whole deal is to give maximum performance, conquer your opponent and generally score lots of points in the arena of the bedroom.

    Small wonder that so many people find real sex to be so utterly bewildering, challenging and utterly out of their depths. But instead of rushing to pop a pill, you could pause to go a little deeper into the mysteries of physical intimacy and burst some of the sex myths that are so abundant in our society.

    These myths are hardly ever challenged as, whilst we pride ourselves in living in a free, open-minded country, most people are far too embarrassed to ever talk about it.

    Nothing Lasts Forever

    Take the myth of the ever-hard erection, for instance. Most men, including myself a few years ago, see a wavering of their erection and assume they're on the slippery slope to impotence. They do all they can to rise to the occasion, putting all the pressure they can on their libidos to perform and often completely withdraw from their partner in the process.

    Their girlfriend ends up feeling ignored, shunned or left out in the cold and the beautiful dance of two bodies in the night becomes the frenzied efforts of one guy to maintain his image of a virile lover.

    The truth is, just like everything else in life, erections come and go.

    Sexual passion comes in waves and the only way to really make love is to go with the flow. If the feeling isn't there or it drops for a few minutes or hours, it's completely okay.

    Ask most women and they'll tell you that if from the moment they meet for coffee that evening, the guy is completely focused on getting to the point of penetration, then the thrill is gone anyway. The whole expectation of the key moment kills the passion.

    In a relaxed setting, making love can be just kissing, giving massage or even talking while spenting time together naked.

    How did I solve my erectile dysfunction problem? Part of the cure was in realizing it wasn't exactly a problem in the first place - at least not as much as all the nervous energy I put into worrying about it.

    The more I worked it up in my head, the more fearful I became that it would never get better. I began to imagine a life of not being able to maintain any kind of relationship and the stakes on performing well the next time I was in bed soared to dizzy levels.

    Instead of sharing a beautiful moment with a loved one, sex became the Million Dollar Question and, unsurprisingly, with so much pressure placed on the act, it just got worse and worse.

    The Solution

    Finally, one day I just broke down and told my girlfriend just how bad I felt about it and how I'd understand if she wanted me to move out and find a real man instead. She, in turn, looked at me disbelievingly and told me she imagined it was something she was doing wrong or that I no longer found her attractive.

    We continued our mutual confessions for another few minutes before we were interrupted by an unexpected resurgence of a third party. All it took was some communication, honesty and allowing myself to just surrender to how I was feeling.

    Of course, in a society where obesity is steadily becoming the norm, where almost no one walks when they could drive and where our diets are programmed in chemical flavoring laboratories, it's no surprise that our natural vitality and virility have decreased.

    We take medications that affect our libidos, flood our brains with thousands of sexual images from every form of media and whilst we may think about sex most of the time, we rarely talk about it.

    So if you do find yourself suffering from erectile dysfuncion, it's not a bad idea to make sure you're getting enough exercise and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

    More importantly, though, you need to make sure you're relaxing enough. Cut down on the pornogaphy and spend some quiet time every day to unwind. Go easy on the alcohol; it doesn't help. Getting into yoga, meditation or just giving yourself a foot massage before going to sleep at night might be all it takes for you to get out of your stress routine and back into your body.

    The next step is to communicate with your partner.

    Vulnerability vs. Virility

    There are few things more attractive to a woman than a man who is able to be vulnerable. It's by admitting your fears and weaknesses that you show your real strength and courage instead of the act of the man who can, ready to rise to any challenge.

    Alternatively, you might find that there are issues in your relationship which are blocking the flow of passion - maybe you forgot her brithday and she still hasn't forgiven you for it...

    ConsumerAffairs.com's Dr. Henry Fishman agrees.

    "Erectile dysfunction is common, tough to talk about, and may be in your head, not your groin," he said. "While you should have it checked out by a doctor, being relaxed, talking about it and being in a loving relationship can help a lot of men get active again," he said.

    "Talking through the problem with a friend, loved one or therapist can help, in addition to popping pills," Fishman added.

    Another stumbling block can be condoms.

    While the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is suing Pfizer for allegedly promoting the spread of HIV by encouraging Viagra-fuelled recreational sex (since when did sex become a bad thing?), condoms can really cut off the sensation for some men.

    But provided you're in a long-term relationship with a trusted partner, you could consider alternative methods of natural contraception such as the Bioself method and abandon the rubber.

    Fishman, however, isn't so enthusiastic.

    "The Bioself is simply a method to measure changes in body temperature, the so-called basal body temperature method for determining when a woman is fertile," he said.

    "It is cheap, non-invasive, and has no side effects. But it is also time consuming, very inaccurate, and a poor method of providing birth control. It leads to lots of unwanted pregnancies," Fishman cautioned.

    If all of that fails and you're climbing up the wall in desperation, well, there's always Viagra but don't make it your first choice.

    The libido and sexual strength do decrease with age (remember those golden teenage years when you were probably too immature to get much action anyway?) but there's no reason why most people under the age of at least 40 should need to turn to the chemicals.

    And for those over 40? Believe it or not, many men (even including some who are not in Congress) enjoy a vigorous sex life well into their 60s, 70s and beyond. Aging and death aren't the same, even though one eventually leads to the other.

    In fact, older men have more reason to be careful with drugs than their sons and nephews. Stay fit, eat sensibly, go easy on the alcohol and talk to your doctor -- and your mate -- if you feel you need an extra boost in the virility department.



    Erectile Dsyfunction Affects All Ages...

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      Krasdale, Red Flannel Dog Food Recalled

      Salmonella contamination a threat to dogs and humans alike


      Mars Petcare U.S. has recalled two brands of its dry dog food because of potential salmonella contamination.

      The Franklin-Tennessee pet food company this week recalled five-pound bags of its Krasdale Gravy dry dog food -- sold in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania -- and 50-pound bags of its Red Flannel Large Breed Adult Formula dry food sold in Pennsylvania.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested more than 150 sub-samples of the companys pet foods. Two of those samples tested positive for salmonella: one from the Krasdale Gravy dry food and another from the Red Flannel Large Breed Adult Formula dry food.

      Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems, the FDA said.

      Pets with Salmonella infections may become lethargic and have diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets will also have decreased appetite, fever, and abdominal pain. Dogs that ate the recalled foods and have these symptoms should see a veterinarian.

      The FDA warned that Salmonella can be transferred to people handling pet food, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands.

      The pet foods involved in this recall are:



      Product: Krasdale Gravy dry dog food
      Size: Five-pound bag
      UPC Code: 7513062596
      Best By Date: July 16, 2008 & July 17, 2008
      Best By Date Location: Back of bag
      Distribution: Stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania

      Product: Red Flannel Large Breed Adult Formula dry dog food
      Size: 50-pound bag
      UPC Code: 4286900062
      Best By Date: July 12, 2008
      Best By Date Location: Back of bag
      Distribution: Stores in Reedsland and Richlandtown, Pa.

      Pet owners with questions about the recalled product can contact Mars Petcare US, Inc. at 866-298-8332.



      Krasdale, Red Flannel Dog Food Recalled...

      Comcast Cuts Off Heavy Internet Users

      Customers complain bandwidth limits are secret

      Comcast has warned broadband Internet customers across the country to curb their downloading or wind up on the curb.

      The company has a bandwidth limitation that, if broken, can result in a 12-month suspension of service. The problem, according to customer complaints, is that the telecom giant refuses to reveal how much downloading is too much.

      The company, which a few years ago advertised the service as unlimited has an acceptable use policy which enforces the invisible download limit.

      The 23-part policy, states that it is a breach of contract to generate levels of traffic sufficient to impede others' ability to send or retrieve information. But nowhere does it detail what levels of traffic will impede others.

      Michael, of Speedway, Ind., uses Comcast Internet to transfer large work files while his son uses it for school research. In 2004 he received letters threatening to disconnect his Internet if he doesn't restrict his bandwidth.

      Unfortunately, neither the letter, the AUP, the Comcast websites, nor any printed Comcast materials specify what those bandwidth usage limitations are, Michael wrote to ConsumerAffairs.com. Essentially, what they are doing is drawing an invisible line, then threatening to disconnect anyone who crosses it.

      "I am more than willing to curb my usage to meet any limitations set by Comcast...if only they would actually make those limitations available to their subscribers, he said.

      ConsumerAffairs.com has received several complaints from onetime Comcast customers whose service was interrupted by the phantom policy. One of them is Frank Carreiro, a West Jordan, Utah computer technician who has led the charge for hundreds of consumers with his Comcast Broadband dispute blog.

      Carriero received a phone call from Comcast in December 2006 warning him that if he didn't cut back on his usage, they were going to cut his service. When he contacted customer service to see what he could do, they had no idea what he was talking about and even suggested it was a prank call.

      One month later, he woke up to no Internet. When he called Comcast, they informed him he would be without service for 12 months.

      For the next few months, he, his wife and his six children were without Internet until DSL came into their neighborhood.

      Comcast told Carreiro he was downloading 200-300 gigabytes per month. He said he and his family download a lot of data but could never have used that much. So when he got his new service, he began tracking his use using two independent data logs.

      We haven't broken 50 Gigs a month yet and we tried, Carreiro wrote in an e-mail. I've even built a server for family photos to be shared and still we're not breaking 50 Gigs.

      Carreiro said he has spoken to hundreds of people in 15 states in the past five months who have had their Internet privileges revoked by Comcast. But Comcast spokesperson, Charlie Douglas, said only .001 percent of Comcast's customers ever horde too much bandwidth.

      Carreiro, whose neighbors have also lost their Internet, doesn't agree.

      If it's so low, why do I have a couple of people right down the street who have had their Internet taken away? Carreiro asked.

      Douglas said the company shuts off people's Internet if it affects the performance of their neighbors because often many people will share a connection on one data pipe.

      If customers want a more dedicated stream, they can order Comcast's business account which costs roughly $1,500 per month, Douglas said.

      Carrerio agreed that download restrictions for residential accounts are necessary to keep the Internet running smoothly. But he said Comcast should reveal what the restrictions are, as most other Internet providers do.

      Some Internet providers charge customers based on how much they wish to download every month. Carreiro's current provider has a 100-gigabyte cap.

      Douglas refused to reveal Comcast's bandwidth ceiling and would not say on the record why they keep it a secret.

      Comcast Cuts Off Heavy Internet Users...

      Soft Drink Sweetener Linked to Diabetes in Kids

      Researchers zero in on high fructose corn syrup


      Researchers have found new evidence that soda pop sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup may contribute to the development of diabetes, particularly in children.

      In a laboratory study of commonly consumed carbonated beverages, the scientists found that drinks containing the syrup had high levels of reactive compounds that have been shown by others to have the potential to trigger cell and tissue damage that could cause the disease, which is at epidemic levels.

      The syrup, commonly called HFCS, is a sweetener found in many foods and beverages, including non-diet soda pop, baked goods, and condiments. It is has become the sweetener of choice for many food manufacturers because it is considered more economical, sweeter and easier to blend into beverages than table sugar.

      Some researchers have suggested that high-fructose corn syrup may contribute to an increased risk of diabetes as well as obesity, a claim the food industry disputes. Until now, little laboratory evidence has been available on the topic.

      In the current study, Chi-Tang Ho, Ph.D., conducted chemical tests among 11 different carbonated soft drinks containing HFCS. He found "astonishingly high" levels of reactive carbonyls in those beverages.

      These undesirable and highly-reactive compounds associated with unbound fructose and glucose molecules are believed to cause tissue damage, says Ho, a professor of food science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. By contrast, reactive carbonyls are not present in table sugar, whose fructose and glucose components are bound and chemically stable, the researcher notes.

      Reactive carbonyls also are elevated in the blood of individuals with diabetes and linked to the complications of that disease. Based on the study data, Ho estimates that a single can of soda contains about five times the concentration of reactive carbonyls than the concentration found in the blood of an adult person with diabetes.

      Ho and his associates also found that adding tea components to drinks containing HFCS might help lower the levels of reactive carbonyls.

      The scientists found that adding epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a compound in tea, significantly reduced the levels of reactive carbonyl species in a dose-dependent manner when added to the carbonated soft drinks studied. In some cases, the levels of reactive carbonyls were reduced by half, the researchers say.

      People consume too much high-fructose corn syrup in this country, says Ho. Its in way too many food and drink products and theres growing evidence that its bad for you.

      The tea-derived supplement provides a promising way to counter its potentially toxic effects, especially in children who consume a lot of carbonated beverages, he says.

      But eliminating or reducing consumption of HFCS is preferable, the researchers note. They are currently exploring the chemical mechanisms by which tea appears to neutralize the reactivity of the syrup.

      Hos group is also probing the mechanisms by which carbonation increases the amount of reactive carbonyls formed in sodas containing HFCS.

      They note that non-carbonated fruit juices containing HFCS have one-third the amount of reactive carbonyl species found in carbonated sodas with HFCS, while non-carbonated tea beverages containing high-fructose corn syrup, which already contain EGCG, have only about one-sixth the levels of carbonyls found in regular soda.

      In the future, food and drink manufacturers could reduce concerns about HFCS by adding more EGCG, using less HFCS, or replacing the syrup with alternatives such as regular table sugar, Ho and his associates say.



      Researchers have found new evidence that soda pop sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup may contribute to the development of diabetes, particularly in ch...

      Honda's Immaculate Airbag Deployment

      Lemon of the Week


      It was a pleasant evening and a nice conversation. A young woman and her boyfriend were sitting in a nearly-brandpnew 2006 Honda Civic.

      The driver started the Honda, shifted the transmission into reverse, the passenger door closed and the Honda airbags exploded into the faces of the two young people sitting in the front seats.

      That is the stuff that the ConsumerAffairs.com Lemon of the Week award was designed to honor.

      Rosemary, the mother of the young woman driving the Honda Civic, told us that daughter's boyfriend was talking to his brother, his brother closed the passenger side door and the airbags went off.

      Honda first said the airbags went off because the door was shut too hard, Rosemary told ConsumerAffairs.com. Then they said it was an immaculate deployment and they don't know why they went off. Either way, they are not covering it, she said.

      When she bought the Civic for her daughter, Rosemary paid $7,500.00 for a down payment and wrote a monthly payment check for $299.

      After the immaculate airbag deployment, she asked for a new Civic, having the same balance as we have right now with the same payments.

      Honda offered to sell us a 2007 Accord for a good price because they redesigned the 2008. What a deal. Our balance will be higher, we will have an additional year of payments and our payment would be $16.00 more per month, Rosemary complained.

      The 2006 Civic now has a record because of the airbag deployment that will cause interested buyers to look elsewhere. We are fully aware it will have a ding on Carmax because of the deployment, other dealers have confirmed this, she said.

      Numerous other consumers have reported problems with Honda airbags.

      But all is not lost. Rosemary's daughter's 2006 Honda Civic wins the ConsumerAffairs.com lemon of the Week award for the immaculate deployment of the car's airbags.

      Honda first said the airbags went off because the door was shut too hard, Rosemary told ConsumerAffairs.com. Then they said it was an immaculate deployment...

      Data Breaches Endanger NY, CA Retirees

      Consultant's bungling, printer's errors put retirees at risk

      by Martin H. Bosworth
      ConsumerAffairs.com

      August 24, 2007
      The last thing you want to worry about when enjoying your golden years is the possibility of identity theft or fraud, but two data breaches this week have left thousands of pensioners and retirees in that exact position.

      A laptop containing data on 280,000 New York City retirees was stolen from a consultant to the city's Financial Information Services Agency (FISA) on August 23. The unidentified consultant reported that the laptop was stolen when he brought it to a Korean restaurant at roughly 8:20 pm, and could not confirm that the data was encrypted.

      The consultant was employed by CGI AMS, a Canadian information and technology services company hired by the city to evaluate the city's pension payments system.

      City Comptroller William Thompson, who oversees the city's pension payroll, said he was "outraged" by the theft and that CGI AMS should foot the bill for notifying and protecting any affected city retirees.

      "Our pensioners should not be victimized by an absence of judgment by this consultant," Thompson said in a statement. "Providing these credit protection measures, no matter what the cost, will give our pensioners the peace of mind they deserve that we are employing all means possible to protect their assets."

      FISA also said it was conducting an internal investigation of the incident, and police are currently looking for the suspected thief.

      CalPERS' Calamity

      A day earlier, officials at the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) announced that they had mistakenly published the Social Security numbers of 445,000 state retirees on brochures announcing an upcoming election. Some of the brochures contained full numbers, others only partial numbers.

      The breach occured when the printer accidentally added the numbers to the brochures' address boxes, even though the printing system had alerts designed to detect and prevent publication of Social Security numbers.

      CalPERS' spokepersons said the breach is causing them to perform a thorough top-to-bottom review of their security procedures to prevent another occurrence, but has not said it would provide credit protection to any affected individuals.

      CalPERS also downplayed the incident, saying that the numbers could not be easily identified, making them harder to use.

      Accidental printings of Social Security numbers have become a frequent cause of data breaches in recent months. In January 2007, Wisconsin's Department of Revenue accidentally printed up tax forms with visible Social Security numbers on the front page for 17,000 citizens.

      It was later revealed that the printing agency and the Department of Revenue tried to keep the breach quiet, but went public after angry residents contacted the media about the incident.

      And in November 2006, a printing contractor hired by Chicago's school system accidentally sent out personal information on 1,740 employees, mistaking them for health care providers. The information included names, addresses, and Social Security numbers, any combination of which could easily be used by thieves to steal someone's identity or gain access to their finances.

      Data Breaches Endanger NY, CA Retirees: Two data breaches this week have left thousands of pensioners and retirees in that exact position....

      FDA Proposes New Sunscreen Rules

      But critics say the new rules don't go far enough


      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed a new regulation that sets standards for formulating, testing and labeling over-the-counter sunscreen drug products with ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B protection, but stops short of addressing some longstanding consumer complaints.

      For more than 30 years, consumers have been able to identify the level of UVB protection provided by sunscreens using only sunburn protection factor or SPF values, said Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D., Commissioner of Food and Drugs.

      Under today's proposal, consumers will also now know the level of UVA protection in sunscreens, which will help them make informed decisions about protecting themselves and their children against the harmful effects of the sun.

      Sunlight is composed of the visible light that we can see, and ultraviolet light that we can not. There are two types of UV light, UVA and UVB. UVA light is responsible for tanning and UVB for sunburn. Both can damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer.

      The proposed regulation creates a consumer-friendly rating system for UVA products designed to help consumers identify the level of UVA protection offered by a product. The FDA proposal provides a ratings system for UVA sunscreen products on a scale of one to four stars.

      One star would represent low UVA protection, two stars would represent medium protection, three stars would represent high protection, and four stars would represent the highest UVA protection available in an OTC sunscreen product.

      If a sunscreen product does not provide at least a low level of protection, FDA is proposing to require that the product bear a "no UVA protection" marking on the front label near the SPF value.

      Ratings would be derived from two tests the FDA proposes to assess the effectiveness of sunscreens in providing protection against UVA light.

      The first test measures a product's ability to reduce the amount of UVA radiation that passes through it. The second test measures a product's ability to prevent tanning. This test is nearly identical to the SPF test used to determine the effectiveness of UVB sunscreen products.

      In addition, a Warnings statement in the Drug Facts box will be required of all sunscreen product manufacturers. The warning will say: UV exposure from the sun increases the risk of skin cancer, premature skin aging, and other skin damage. It is important to decrease UV exposure by limiting time in the sun, wearing protective clothing, and using a sunscreen. The warning is intended to increase awareness that sunscreens are only one part of a sun protection program.

      Many consumers incorrectly believe that the only way to protect themselves from skin damage caused by the sun is to apply sunscreens, said Douglas Throckmorton, M.D., deputy director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. The labeling being proposed today strengthens the existing labeling for sunscreens by educating consumers on the added importance of limiting their time in the sun and wearing protective clothing as part of a sun protection regimen.

      "Snake oil"

      The new rules follow a lengthy campaign by consumer advocates for more accurate labeling of sunscreen products. Last year major sunscreen makers were hit with a class action lawsuit by consumers who complained they were lied to.

      Sunscreen is the snake oil of the 21st Century and these companies that market it are Fortune 500 Snake Oil salesmen, said Samuel Rudman, a New York attorney. False claims such as 'sunblock' 'waterproof" and 'all-day protection' should be removed from these products immediately."

      Parents, especially, have been defrauded into believing the false labeling and advertising claims of these products. They have sent their children to play or swim in the sun, believing that slathering them with one of these products specifically marketed for children provides protection, when it does not, said Mitchell Twersky, another New York attorney. And the guys who are marketing these products know their claims are false, he added.

      The new FDA rules do not address the concerns highlighted in the suit.

      When finalized, the proposed regulation would amend the existing OTC sunscreen rule published in 1999 that established regulations related to UVB light and mandated that OTC UVB sunscreen products be labeled with a SPF. FDA also is amending its existing 1999 rule to increase the SPF from SPF30+ to SPF50+. Previously, FDA had recognized SPF values up to 30+. Under the proposed amendment, the range would be SPF2 to SPF50+. SPF50 provides more UVB protection than lower SPF values. Additionally, the proposed rule:

      • revises the existing SPF (UVB) testing procedures;

      • allows new combinations of active ingredients; and

      • asks for comments on the issue of nanoparticles.

      FDA is accepting comments on the new rule for 90 days until November 26, 2007.



      FDA Proposes New Sunscreen Rules...

      Class Action Against eBay

      Suit alleges deceptive auction practices

      A class action lawsuit alleges that eBay deceived customers whose auctions did not start when their listing was submitted and who paid for but did not receive the full duration of auction time that they selected.

      "eBay has been deceiving millions of consumers over the years by claiming their auctions start when submitted, when in reality they do not begin for at least several hours, and up to 24 hours," said attorney John Fabry.

      "However, the clock starts running on your selected auction time even though eBay hasn't posted it yet."

      The suit focuses on violations of various provisions of California statutes intended to protect consumers, as well as common law.

      The suit seeks injunctive relief and damages for the customers who make up the class. It is estimated that there are millions of eBay consumers that have been affected by eBay's course of conduct.

      Class Action Against eBay...

      Appeals Court Shreds Out AT&T Arbitration Clause

      Finds cell phone contracts that deny consumers the right to sue "unconscionable"

      In a major victory for consumers, the 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has allowed a class action lawsuit against AT&Tto proceed, labeling restrictions in the company's contracts "unconscionable."

      The court threw out the provision in Cingular/AT&T contracts that prohibits consumers from joining in class action suits, saying the waiver is unenforceable under California law.

      The ruling is the latest in a series of federal court decisions that have held the class action waiver to be unenforceable.

      The class action waivers -- also known as "forced arbitration clauses" -- are despised by consumer advocates who say their only purpose is to render consumers powerless to defend themselves against huge corporations.

      Or as Wired.com blogger Rob Beschizza put it, the contracts "represent, in black and white, everything that's rotten about the relationship between company and consumer."

      "These are often designed to deprive the buyer of as many rights as possible, and the argument over their legality goes on and on. This was one such example, seeking to replace the legal system with a corporate Monkey Court," Beschizza said.

      The ruling gives the go-ahead to a class action consumer suit claiming Cingular Wireless service deteriorated after the mobile phone carrier was fully acquired by AT&T Inc. in 2004.

      "Hopefully the trend will continue uninterrupted in the courts of other states, said William Weinstein, lead plaintiffs attorney in the case.

      The 9th Circuit said its decision is consistent with at least 10 other cases that have come before federal courts in the state. Several of them have involved AT&T/Cingular Wireless.

      A similar suit is currently pending in Washington state.

      Appeals Court Shreds Out AT&T Arbitration Clause...

      Capital One Shuts Down GreenPoint Mortgage Unit

      Mortgage meltdown claims another victim

      The mortgage meltdown has claimed yet another casualty, as Capitol One announced it is shuttering its GreenPoint Mortgage wholesale lending unit. GreenPoint will close all 31 of its branches in 19 states, and its headquarters in California, Capital One said.

      The McLean, Virginia-based lender also announced it was cutting 1,900 jobs across the board in an effort to cut costs. Capital One had already announced its plans to cut 2,000 jobs earlier in the year.

      Capital One bought GreenPoint Mortgage for $13.2 billion in 2006, at the tail end of a five-year housing boom that saw record home prices and loans across the country. The closing of the unit will cost Capital One $860 million after taxes, according to the company.

      Although Wall Street was expecting better trading today due to positive reports from retailers, the financial markets still showed nervousness in the face of another example of the mortgage meltdown's ripple effect across the global economy.

      Lenders who specialized in "creative" and "nonconforming" loans with higher interest rates and steep payment increases have been downsizing or declaring bankruptcy in droves, leading to a global "credit crunch" as the markets pull back from lending and consumers stop borrowing.

      In Capital One's case, the GreenPoint mortgage unit specialized in "jumbo" mortgages that went well beyond the limits approved by government-backed lenders such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

      Capital One specifically targeted borrowers classified as "alternative-A" or "Alt-A," who had credit scores higher than those typically in the subprime lending bracket, but not quite good enough to qualify for prime lending interest rates.

      Alt-A borrowers accounted for 15 percent of all new mortgages in the first half of 2007.

      No Stranger To Strange Practices

      Capital One's focus on "alternative" lending practices isn't limited to its mortgage dealings. For many years, the company refused to report the available credit limits of cardholders to the credit bureaus, in order to keep customers who may have gotten better interest rates elsewhere stuck with their Capitol One card.

      The omission of credit limits would prevent lenders from knowing how much credit the borrower was using, depressing their credit scores and reducing their ability to qualify for better loans and rates.

      Capital One recently agreed to start reporting its borrowers' credit limits to the bureaus, but simultaneously raised the interest rates on many accounts, enraging longtime customers who were promised fixed interest rates for the life of their credit card balance.

      ConsumerAffairs.com has been flooded with complaints regarding the sudden interest rate hikes and general bad customer service of Capital One.

      The company is notorious for blitzing consumers' credit reports with inquiries in search of new customers, and time will tell if it chooses to follow a similar path back into the lending business once the mortgage meltdown comes to an end.

      The mortgage meltdown has claimed yet another casualty, as Capitol One announced it is shuttering its GreenPoint Mortgage wholesale lending unit....

      New Jersey Man Cited For Exploiting Foreclosure Victims

      Scam allegedly targeted consumers who had just lost their homes

      The State of New Jersey has filed suit against a Gloucester County businessman who allegedly collected tens of thousands of dollars in surplus funds after misleading homeowners who had just lost their homes to foreclosure.

      The state said the complaint against against Samuel E. Goodwin, III is the first action filed under the states Consumer Fraud Act to address deceptive practices in the area of surplus funds recovery.

      Surplus funds are the monies remaining after the foreclosure sale takes place and mortgage, tax and other legal obligations have been paid. Homeowners in foreclosure can claim surplus funds by filing a simple form available from the Superior Court Trust Fund Unit and after paying nominal fees totaling less than $100.

      Goodwin allegedly charged homeowners 15% to 65% of the total surplus funds to which they were legally entitled by misleading the homeowners into believing that the process to recover the funds was complicated and could not be filed by the homeowners on their own.

      The state alleges that in one instance, Goodwin received approximately $79,000 in surplus funds for making the application for release of such funds.

      Because of the ongoing subprime mortgage crisis, an increasing number of homeowners are facing foreclosure. These individuals can be a ripe target for those who would exploit their misfortune for profit, Attorney General Anne Milgram said. Consumers who have lost their homes in foreclosure need and deserve all of the surplus funds to which they are entitled.

      We continue to educate consumers about the surplus funds process and to alert them to deceptive practices, said Acting Consumer Affairs Director Stephen B. Nolan. The Division will vigorously pursue those who would take advantage of vulnerable consumers. Anyone going through the foreclosure process is urged to get all the facts about how the process works and to be suspicious if anyone unexpectedly offers to help with obtaining surplus funds.

      The states complaint, filed in State Superior Court in Gloucester County, alleges that Goodwin, who maintains business addresses in Gloucester City and Woodbury, violated the states Consumer Fraud Act by the following:

      • Misleading consumers into believing that he is a practicing attorney;

      • Leading consumers to believe that the surplus funds application is a complicated process that requires his expertise and assistance;

      • Leading consumers to believe that they could not make a pro se application for surplus funds;

      • Aggressively pursuing and pressuring consumers into retaining his services and executing documents;

      • Orally representing a surplus funds allocation between himself and the consumer, and then preparing written documentation that increases his share of the surplus funds recovery;

      • Charging consumers varying percentages for the recovery of surplus funds when the same application process applies to all consumers;

      • Recovering amounts ranging from $8,900 to $79,000 as a result of making a surplus funds application on behalf of consumers; and

      • Failing to disclose to consumers the actual charges incurred in connection with the filing of a surplus funds application.

      In addition, the state seeks restitution for affected consumers, maximum civil penalties, reimbursement of its attorneys fees and costs and compliance with the Consumer Fraud Act.

      New Jersey Man Cited For Exploiting Foreclosure Victims...