Current Events in August 2007

Browse Current Events by year


Browse Current Events 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.

    Thanks for subscribing.

    You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Many Facebook Users Compromise Own Identities

    Careless consumers make identity theft easy, study finds

    Not all case of identity theft come from stolen notebook computers or vulnerable computer networks. Computer security firm Sophos says many members of the social networking site Facebook fail to take simple steps to guard against identity theft.

    Compiled from a random snapshot of Facebook users, Sophos's research shows that 41 percent of users, more than two in five, will divulge personal information - such as email address, date of birth and phone number - to a complete stranger, greatly increasing their susceptibility to ID theft.

    The Sophos Facebook ID Probe involved creating a fabricated Facebook profile before sending out friend requests to individuals chosen at random from across the globe.

    To conduct the experiment, Sophos set up a profile page for 'Freddi Staur' (an anagram of 'ID Fraudster'), a small green plastic frog who divulged minimal personal information about himself. Sophos then sent out 200 friend requests to observe how many people would respond, and how much personal information could be gleaned from the respondents.

    Freddi may look like a happy green frog that just wants to be friends, but actually he's happy because he's just encouraged 82 users to hand over their personal details on a plate, said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

    While accepting friend requests is unlikely to result directly in theft, it is an enabler, giving cybercriminals many of the building blocks they need to spoof identities, to gain access to online user accounts, or potentially, to infiltrate their employers' computer networks.

    Among the findings of the Sophos Facebook ID probe:

    • 87 of the 200 Facebook users contacted responded to Freddi, with 82 leaking personal information (41% of those approached)

    • 72% of respondents divulged one or more email address

    • 84% of respondents listed their full date of birth

    • 87% of respondents provided details about their education or workplace

    • 78% of respondents listed their current address or location

    • 23% of respondents listed their current phone number

    • 26% of respondents provided their instant messaging screenname

    In the majority of cases, Freddi was able to gain access to respondents' photos of family and friends, information about likes/dislikes, hobbies, employer details and other personal facts.

    In addition, many users also disclosed the names of their spouses or partners, several included their complete rsums, while one user even divulged his mother's maiden name - information often requested by websites in order to retrieve account details.

    What's worrying is how easy it was for Freddi to go about his business. He now has enough information to create phishing emails or malware specifically targeted at individual users or businesses, to guess users' passwords, impersonate them or even stalk them, Cluley said.

    Most people wouldn't give out their details to a stranger in the street, or even respond to a spam email, yet several of the users Freddi contacted went so far as to make him one of their 'top friends'. People need to realise that this is still unsolicited communication, despite it occurring within Facebook, and users must employ the same basic precautions - such as not responding in any way - to prevent exposure to wrongdoers.

    As well as the successful friend requests, a number of users unwittingly enabled Freddi to gain access to their profile information simply by sending response messages such as "Who are you?" and "Do I know you?" back to his Facebook inbox.

    Sophos experts note that users' profiles can be protected from such exposure by adjusting the privacy controls within their Facebook account settings.

    It's important to remember that Facebook's privacy features go far beyond those of many competing social networking sites, Cluley said. This is about the human factor - people undoing all that good work through carelessness and being preoccupied with the kudos of having more Facebook friends than their peers, which could have a serious impact on business security, if accessed in the workplace.

    Computer security firm Sophos says many members of the social networking site Facebook fail to take simple steps to guard against identity theft....

    Internet Addiction Redefined, Treatment Outlined

    Study finds 10% of all Internet surfers suffer from addiction

    Is your first craving in the morning for your computer mouse instead of a cup of coffee? Do you obsessively check email in the middle of the night?

    If so, you may be among the ten percent of all Internet surfers afflicted with Internet addiction disorder, a pathological condition that can lead to anxiety and severe depression.

    To better diagnose and treat Internet addiction, Dr. Pinhas Dannon, a psychiatrist from Tel Aviv Universitys Sackler Faculty of Medicine, recommends that it be grouped with other extreme addictive disorders such as gambling, sex addiction, and kleptomania.

    A senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University, Dr. Dannon is known for work in the area of gambling and addiction, a major research focus for him since 1995. His first article on kleptomania was published in 1996.

    He will present his new research findings on addiction at the National Gambling Councils meeting in Las Vegas this November.

    Internet addiction is currently classified by mental health professionals as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a mild to severe mental health condition that results in an urge to engage in ritualistic thoughts and behavior, such as excessive handwashing or, in the case of the Internet, Web surfing.

    But we are saying that we need to look at Internet addiction differently, reports Dr. Dannon on behalf of his colleagues from Tel Aviv University and the Be'er Ya'acov Mental Health Center.

    Internet addiction is not manifesting itself as an urge. Its more than that. Its a deep craving. And if we dont make the change in the way we classify Internet addiction, we wont be able to treat it in the proper way, he said.

    Two groups are at greatest risk from Internet addiction disorder, Dr. Dannon warns. The first are teenagers. But more surprisingly, the second are women and men in their mid-50s suffering from the loneliness of an empty nest.

    The symptoms of Internet addiction in both groups are vague and are often difficult to diagnose. Sufferers may experience loss of sleep, anxiety when not online, isolation from family and peer groups, loss of work, and periods of deep depression.

    Treating Internet addiction can be done effectively, believes Dr. Dannon, only if the condition is treated like any other extreme and menacing addiction.

    For example, a clinician could use talk therapy or prescribe medication such as Serotonin blockers and Naltrexone, which are also effective against kleptomania and pathological gambling.

    No less important, Dr. Dannon stresses, is that mental health practitioners in schools and workplaces should be made aware of the risks of Internet addiction. Workshops on these risks should be held in both milieus, he advises.

    Dr. Dannon and his colleagues have recently reported their findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology; and have since waged a mini-campaign around the world to warn doctors about the dangers associated with excessive Internet use.

    Their research on gambling addiction has been used to educate American doctors taking the annual Continuing Medical Education test taken before the doctors can renew a license to practice medicine.

    According to Dr. Dannon, Internet addicts are inevitable and a product of modernization.

    They are just like anyone else who is addicted to coffee, exercise, or talking on their cellular phone. As the times change, so do our addictions.

    Internet Addiction Redefined, Treatment Outlined...

    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.

      Thanks for subscribing.

      You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      'Work at Home' Scams Spreading

      What sounds like an easy way to make extra money usually is anything but that

      An Arkansas court has fined a woman $1.3 million for running an envelope stuffing scam one of a number of work at home schemes that target people looking for a little extra income.

      Customers paid $99 to be part of the program and were led to believe they would receive $10 for every advertisement they mailed out for the company. Arkansas officials say some were not paid at all, or were paid much less than they expected.

      Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said work at home schemes are becoming an increasing problem and urged consumers to use caution when considering any such offer.

      What to Look For

      While these scams can take many forms, McDaniel said they have some common characteristics.

      Bogus job offers almost always require the "employee" to deposit checks, money orders, or accept funds wired into his or her own personal bank account or credit card account, then keep a commission and wire the balance somewhere else, often to places outside of the United States.

      Some victims of these scams have also been asked to process packages or perform certain tasks, such as envelope stuffing.

      Whether the task is stuffing envelopes or forwarding checks, the net result is the same for the consumer, who almost always ends up losing a lot of money and getting a lot of trouble for their effort, said McDaniel.

      Victims, who are promised big returns for performing tasks, often pay up front costs and never receive a dime in return; while others later learn that the money they are transferring is stolen, making them party to illegal activities.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      'Work at Home' Scams Spreading...

      Pfizer Hit With Second Data Breach In Two Months

      Outside contractor loses laptops containing personal data

      by Martin H. Bosworth

      August 16, 2007
      In its second disclosure of a data breach in as many months, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer revealed that laptops containing personal data on 950 contractors for Pfizer were stolen from the car of employees for outside contracting firm Axia.

      The theft took place on May 31, but Axia did not inform Pfizer until June 14.

      The missing laptops contained names, complete home and business addresses, land and cellular telephone numbers, and Social Security numbers.

      Attorney Bernard Nash, representing Pfizer, revealed the breach in communications with Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, copies of which were posted publicly by New London, Connecticut newspaper The Day.

      The package also included copies of the breach disclosure letter Pfizer sent to affected individuals.

      Pfizer did not offer an explanation in the letter as to why the Axia employees had the information, though Nash said the laptop data was backed up to Axia's main computer system.

      Predictably, Pfizer said that the stolen laptops were password-protected, and that there was no indication that the stolen data had been used for fraud or identity theft.

      Pfizer and Axia are also providing a year of free identity protection services to affected customers through Identity Safeguards, an identity protection and recovery company based in Oregon.

      "Pfizer and Axia are committed to maintaining the confidentiality and security of data," Nash wrote. "Pfizer is working with Axia to improve data security protections, and will apply the lessons learned from this incident to its work with other contractors, and its own employees as well."

      The Axia data breach follows Pfizer's disclosure that an employee had accidentally shared data on 17,000 current and former Pfizer workers over a peer-to-peer file sharing network. Attorney General Blumenthal had criticized Pfizer for not disclosing the breach to consumers until June 1, even though the breach itself took place on April 18.

      In follow-up correspondence on the earlier breach, Blumenthal reiterated his concern that the slow pace of notification would increase consumers' risk of exposure to identity theft.

      "The sooner consumers are notified that their personally identifying information is at risk, the sooner they can respond to prevent further harm," Blumenthal wrote.

      Pfizer claimed that the breach investigation was "complex and multifaceted," and differing "work streams" of the investigation prevented it from providing a specific timeline of the investigation and why it took so long to notify consumers.

      Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer revealed that laptops containing personal data on 950 contractors for Pfizer were stolen from the car of employees for outside ...

      Common Flame Retardant May Be Killing House Cats

      Houshold furniture, canned cat food implicated in thyroid disease

      A mysterious epidemic of thyroid disease among pet cats in the United States may be linked to exposure to dust shed from flame retardants in household carpeting, furniture, fabrics and pet food.

      Humans may also be at risk, although more research is needed to determine if there is a link.

      Thats the conclusion of scientists who are reporting their study in Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal from the American Chemical Society.

      Janice A. Dye, DVM, Ph.D., at the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and colleagues from there as well as Indiana University and the University of Georgia, report evidence linking the disease to exposure to environmental contaminants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which the researchers found to be elevated in blood samples of hyperthyroid cats.

      Their findings were based on analysis of blood samples from 23 pet cats, 11 of which had the disease, termed feline hyperthyroidism (FH). PBDE levels in the hyperthyroid cats were three times as high as those in younger, non-hyperthyroid cats.

      Concerns about the possible health effects of PDBEs arose in the late 1990s, and studies have reported that PDBEs cause liver and nerve toxicity in animals.

      FH is one of the most common and deadly diseases in older cats, and indoor pets are thought to be most at-risk. For starters, cats ingest large amounts of PBDE-laden house dust that the researchers believe comes from consumer household products.

      Dye, a toxicologist, began by hypothesizing that prolonged contact with certain polyurethane foams and components of carpet padding, furniture and mattresses would pose the greatest hazard for developing FH.

      In addition, the researchers suspected that diet might be another risk factor for developing FH. To see if a link existed, they analyzed PBDE content in several cat food brands.

      Canned Food Higher in PBDE

      Their analysis found that PBDE content of canned fish/seafood flavors, such as salmon and whitefish, was higher than dry or non-seafood canned items. Based on the analysis, they estimate that diets based on canned food could have PBDE levels 12 times as high as dry-food diets.

      The researchers indicate that pet cats might be receiving as much as 100 times greater dietary PBDE exposure than American adults.

      With their meticulous grooming behavior, cats may ingest large amounts of dust that collects on their fur.

      Our results showed that cats are being consistently exposed to PBDEs, Dye said. Because they are endocrine-disrupting agents, cats may well be at increased risk for developing thyroid effects.

      The danger of contracting feline hyperthyroidism might be greater in America, where people have the highest reported PBDE levels worldwide, the study said.

      Also, by the late 1990s, North America accounted for almost half of the global demand for PBDEs from commercial materials like furniture or upholstery, the report added.

      The epidemic of hyperthyroidism in cats began almost 30 years ago, at the same time that PBDEs were introduced into household materials as a fire-prevention measure. Although the disease was first discovered in the U.S., it has since been diagnosed in Canada, Australia, Japan and many parts of Europe.

      Humans Also at Risk

      Hyperthyroid disorders have also increased in humans former President George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush have the disorder, and even Millie, their Springer Spaniel, contracted it.

      Symptoms of the syndrome in cats include weight loss, an increase in appetite, hair loss and irritability. Cats and humans are the only mammals with high incidences of hyperthyroidism, Dye said.

      The study concludes that hyperthyroid cats could serve as modern-day versions of the canaries in the cage that alerted coal miners to poisonous gas.

      While the link between hyperthyroidism in cats and their elevated PBDE levels requires additional confirmation, it is clear that house cats may be able to serve as sentinels for indoor exposure to PBDEs for humans who share their houses, said Linda S. Birnbaum, Ph.D., a co-author of the study.

      No link between human hyperthyrodism and PBDE exposure has been established, Birnbaum noted, adding that some ongoing studies do suggest such a connection. Although several states have banned use of certain PBDEs in commercial products, there are no regulations limiting PBDE content in foods, according to Birnbaum.

      A mysterious epidemic of thyroid disease among pet cats in US may be linked to exposure to dust shed from flame retardants in household carpeting, furnitur...

      Nokia Joins Battery Recall

      Cell phone batteries can overheat and catch fire

      Its not just overheating batteries in notebook computers you have to worry about. Lithium-ion batteries in cell phones also pose a potential fire hazard, and phone maker Nokia has recalled 46 million such batteries.

      The batteries, identified as BL-5C, were produced by Matsushita Battery Industrial company of Japan from December 2005 to November 2006. Nokia said a fire hazard potentially exists when the batteries short circuit during recharging. Nokia is offering its customers replacement batteries.

      A year ago Sony was forced to recall more than 10 million notebook computers after it was determined the lithium-ion batteries that powered them could present a fire hazard. In some cases consumers posted videos online showing their laptops bursting into flames.

      A year ago reported on two outdoorsmen whose vehicle was destroyed by fire when a Dell laptop computer in the vehicle burst into flames.

      Twelve months later the computer battery recalls continued, with Sony recalling another 1,400 laptop batteries made for Toshiba.

      As for the cell phone batteries, Nokia says the chances of a fire are remote. A spokesman notes there have been 100 reported problems out of 300 million batteries sold.

      To see if your cell phone is included in the recall, check the Nokia Web site..

      Nokia Joins Battery Recall...

      Whose Fingers Are Doing the Walking?

      Small businesses targeted by Yellow Pages advertising scams

      Every business owner considers whether an advertisement in the Yellow Pages is needed and will be worth the cost. But while advertising is essential, no business wants to be billed for an ad it didnt need or authorize.

      Just ask Dee, of Phoenix, Arizona. Her Hallmark store received a call from a sales representative of The Official Yellow Pages, owned by Thompson Hill Publishing, Inc.

      Our assistant manager was emphatic that she was not authorized to make advertising decisions, says Dee. Two months later we received a call from the Thompson Hill Publishing collection agency telling us that we owed $487.95 for an ad.

      Dee continued, We asked to see a contract and they advised us that they can legally charge us without a contract if the amount is less than $500.00. They insisted we pay the bill or they would use it to hurt our credit rating.

      According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Thompson Hill Publishing has a pattern of complaints from consumers who report misleading sales calls.

      For instance, the Buffalo, New York, BBB processed over 400 complaints against Thompson Hill Publishing in just a 12-month period. The majority of the complaints relate to sales tactics used by the company.

      Dee joins a long list of business owners who have reported Yellow Page problems. I had my own issue when a salesman from Yellow Book USA called about advertising for my personal consumer advocacy site,. I told him that I did not want to place an ad.

      So imagine my surprise when a display ad appeared in their book.

      This was followed by monthly bills and finally a call from Tiffany, a collections coordinator for Yellow Book USA.

      Tiffany calmly explained that they had a contract with my signature, and now there were late fees because I hadnt made a payment. I kept Tiffany on the phone while she e-mailed me a copy of the contract.

      I asked her to open the attachment so that she could see what I was seeing. It was obvious that there was no signature. Additionally, although the signature line was blank, someone else had filled in the remaining portion of the contract.

      How does an unsigned, unauthorized contract lead to a $500 advertising bill?

      We dont know how it happened, said Maria Mitchell, Assistant Vice President of Yellow Book USA. It certainly isnt the norm, but with over 8,000 employees, mistakes do happen. Our goal is to help business owners, not harm them.

      In my case, Yellow Book USA quickly responded to my complaint, apologized, and wiped out all the charges.

      Dont cash that check

      Yellow Page companies are notorious for using activation check schemes. Typically the business receives a small check that, when deposited, triggers a monthly payment for advertising.

      The "contract" is in the fine print on the back of the check. Endorsing and cashing the check validates the supposed contract.

      In many cases, the advertising is described as an Internet ad and the business owner has no idea where they can even see it.

      Numerous states including Kentucky, Missouri and Oregon have taken action against such companies.

      Travis Ford, Consumer Education Coordinator of the Office of Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, told "We are very interested in any complaints businesses may have about directory advertising, their billing practices or their collections tactics. Any suspicious behavior should be reported to your state's attorney general."

      Misleading mailers

      Cheri of Santa Cruz, California, received what she thought was a notice from her local AT&T Yellow Pages.

      The mailer asked if I wanted to renew my ad, so I signed and returned it. Shortly after that, I received the legitimate renewal notice from AT&T and realized my mistake, Cheri said.

      She now has a bill for $298.00 for an ad somewhere on the Internet.

      Rogue companies and fly-by-night directories often use mailers that appear to be an invoice or renewal notice from your local Yellow Pages. However, even if the mailer includes a dollar amount there is a huge difference between an invoice and a solicitation, especially when it involves the U.S. Postal Service.

      According to U.S. Postal Department regulations, any solicitation must include the following:


      But, even if the mailer says, THIS IS NOT A BILL, if you sign and return it, you can be billed later.

      Whose fingers are doing the walking?

      Business owners often fall victim because they associate their local Yellow Pages with the walking fingers logo.

      I paid $304.50 to what I thought was the local yellow pages, complained Hal of South Beach, Florida. The walking fingers emblem with the Yellow Pages name was the same as what is on our local phone book.

      What Hal and many others didn't know is that the walking fingers logo is in the public domain and can freely be used by anyone in the U.S.

      As for the phrase, Yellow Pages, that is a generic term that can be used by your local phone company, a website, or a scammer sitting in an apartment.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      Every business owner considers whether an advertisement in the Yellow Pages is needed and will be worth the cost but no business wants to be billed for an...

      Mattel Recalls Millions of Chinese-Made Toys

      Hazards include lead paint, magnets that can be swallowed

      For the second time in a month, U.S. toy maker Mattel, Inc. is recalling millions of Chinese-made toys because they contain lead paint or small magnets that can be swallowed by children.

      Mattel today recalled 9.5 million magnetic toys in the United States --18.2 million worldwide -- and more than two-hundred thousand die-cast toys. Some of the magnetic toys included in todays massive recall include Polly Pockets play sets and Batman action figures.

      The action comes less than two weeks after the toy giant recalled nearly one million Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, and other toys made in China that contained lead paint.

      The United States banned the use of lead paint in toys nearly 30 years ago because its toxic if ingested by young children.

      This is also the latest in a string of recalls involving tainted or defective Chinese-made products, including tires, toothpaste, seafood and ingredients used to make pet food.

      An investigation by earlier this summer also revealed that 96 percent of all toys recalled during the first part of the year were made in China.

      The toys included in todays recall are:

      • About 253,000 die-cast Sarge toys from the CARS vehicle line that contain lead paint. These are 2 inch toy vehicles that look like military jeeps. They were sold individually or in sets of two at retailers nationwide from May 2007 through August 2007. Mattel said it has not received any reports of injuries associated with the toys;

      • About 7.3 million Polly Pocket play sets sold nationwide from May 2003 through November 2006. These play sets have small magnets inside the dolls and accessories the can come loose and choke young children. Mattel recalled about 2.4 million of these play sets on November 21, 2006. Since that time, the company has received more than 400 reports of magnets in the toys coming loose. It also received three reports of serious injuries involving children who swallowed more than one magnet. All three children suffered intestinal injuries that required surgery;

      • About one million Doggie Day Care play sets. These play sets have small magnets inside the toys that can fall out and pose a choking hazard to children. The recalled play sets include: Doggie Day Care Coco, Doggie Day Care Crockett and Baby, and Doggie Day Care Ice Cream with Ranger. They were sold nationwide from July 2004 through August 2007. Mattel has received two reports of magnets coming loose, but no injuries have been reported;

      • About 683,000 Barbie and Tanner play sets. These plays set have a small magnet inside the scooper accessory that can come loose and choke a child. Mattel has received three reports of magnets coming loose, but no injuries have been reported. The recalled play sets are model numbers J9472 and J9560 and were sold nationwide from May 2006 through August 2007;

      • About 345,000 Batman and One Piece magnetic action figure sets sold nationwide from June 2006 through June 2007. The action figures have magnets inside the accessories that can fall out and be swallowed by a child. The recalled toys include: The Batman Magna Battle Armor Batman figure with model number J1944; The Batman Secret ID figure with model number J5114, and One Piece Triple Slash Zolo Roronoa figure with model number J4142. Mattel has received 21 reports of magnets falling out of the toy figures. There are no reports of injuries associated with these toys.

      Mattels Chairman and Chief Executive Office apologized to parents.

      "The safety of children is our primary concern, and we are deeply apologetic to everyone affected," Robert A. Eckert said in a written statement. "Mattel has rigorous procedures, and we will continue to be vigilant and unforgiving in enforcing quality and safety.

      "We don't want to have recalls, but we don't hesitate to take quick and effective action to correct issues as soon as we've identified them to ensure the safety of our products and the safety of children," he said.

      The company said it discovered the lead paint in the Sarge vehicles during an ongoing investigation that followed its recall earlier this month.

      Mattel learned the Chinese company that made the die-cast toy -- Early Light Industrial Co., LTD, (Early Light) -- subcontracted the painting to another Chinese vendor. That company, Hong Li Da (HLD), used paint supplied from an unauthorized third-party supplier instead of the products supplied by Early Light.

      Mattel said its taken steps to prevent that from happening again.

      "We have immediately implemented a strengthened three-point check system, Jim Walter, senior vice president of Worldwide Quality Assurance for Mattel, said in a written statement. First, we're requiring that only paint from certified suppliers be used and requiring every single batch of paint at every single vendor to be tested. If it doesn't pass, it doesn't get used.

      "Second, we are tightening controls throughout the production process at vendor facilities and increasing unannounced random inspections. Third, we're testing every production run of finished toys to ensure compliance before they reach our customers."

      He added: We've met with vendors to ensure they understand our tightened procedures and our absolute requirement of strict adherence to them.

      Mattel said the company has stopped selling the recalled products, told its retailers to pull them from the shelves, and made a production change.

      The company said parents should immediately take the recalled toys away from their children and call its toll-free number for a free replacement product. That number is (888) 597-6597.

      A complete list of the recalled toys is posted on Mattels Web site or the Consumer Product Safety Commissions Web site:

      Chinese Suicide

      In related news, the co-owner of the Chinese company that made the Sesame Street and other recalled toys that contained lead paint apparently committed suicide over the weekend.

      A state-run newspaper reported that Cheung Shu-hung -- co-owner of Lee Der Industrial Company -- committed suicide at a warehouse apparently by hanging himself.

      The paper reported that shortly after the recall, Chinese officials temporarily banned Lee Der Industrial from exporting products. The newspaper said its common for disgraced officials in China to commit suicide.

      Mattel Recalls Millions of Chinese-Made Toys...

      Kentucky Woman Blames Purina for Her Dogs' Deaths

      Company defends its actions but breeder cites autopsy results

      For the past year, professional dog breeder Julie N. has waged a one-woman campaign against pet food giant Nestl Purina.




      Shes convinced the companys food contributed to the recent and mysterious deaths of three of her healthy dogs -- two Bichon Frise and a Labrador Retriever.

      And this spunky Harlan, Kentucky woman has evidence that suggests Purinas products might be the culprit in the death of at least one of her dogs.

      Im not going away, says Julie, who fed her dogs Purina One, Purina ProPlan and Purina Dog Chow. I want justice for my dogs and peace of mind for myself.

      Julies nightmare started last July when her 12-year-old Labrador Retriever, Stryker, suddenly died of liver complications.

      He was a healthy dog, she says, but then his liver just shut down.

      One month later, Julies puppy, Beeble, unexpectedly died.

      She was a healthy 12-month-old Bichon Frise. But then she suddenly started drinking excessive amounts of water, was vomiting, and became very lethargic.

      Julie immediately took Beeble to the veterinarian.

      He put her on antibiotics, but that night she had a seizure. She also had a difficult time breathing. She was so weak that she couldnt hold up her head.

      Julie rushed Beeble back to the vet.

      And he admitted her and put her on IVs. Beeble also had some nasal discharge and our vet checked her for canine flu. But she passed those tests.

      Beeble died on August 17 four days after she started IV treatments.

      Theres no reason that puppy should have died, Julie says. Her parents had genetic clearance. She was a perfectly healthy dog.

      Deaths Come In Threes

      Theres an old saying that deaths come in threes. And thats what happened with Julies dogs.

      On October 26 -- two months after Beebles death -- another one of her dogs died. In this case, it was Julies eight-year-old Bichon Frise, Kayla.

      Kayla was a healthy female who did pet therapy. But then she started drinking enormous amounts of water. At first, I thought she might have diabetes. But the tests were negative on that.

      What caused Kaylas death?

      What about Beeble and Stryker?

      And what role did Purinas foods play in their deaths?

      Julie says she may never know why Stryker died. At the time, we didnt do an autopsy because we just thought it was old age. But she vowed to found out why Beeble and Kayla died.

      I dont want anybody else to go through the same pain that Ive gone through, she says. These are my children. They were here after my dad passed away and when my brother was ill. They were my babies all my dogs are my babies.

      Julie, however, didnt test Purinas food for possible toxins.

      Her dogs died months before Menu Food recalled 60 million containers of melamine-tainted food. That action -- the largest pet food recall in U.S. history -- occurred in March 2007.

      Thousands of dogs and cats that ate the contaminated food suffered kidney disease or died.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered melamine in the imported wheat gluten and rice protein used to make the pet food. FDA officials traced the source of that chemical contamination to two now-defunct companies in China.

      It didnt dawn on me to save the food so I could have it tested, Julie says, unable to hide the regret in her voice. And Purina told me to throw the food away.

      She did, however, have autopsies performed on Beeble and Kayla at the University of Tennessees Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Knoxville.

      I wish we would have done the same with Stryker, she says of the Lab that was titled in obedience. But like I said, we just thought he died from old age. I dont think that anymore ... I think theres something wrong with the dog food.

      According to Beebles autopsy report, thats possible.

      Pathologists at the University of Tennessee discovered problems with the puppys liver that were consistent with exposure to a hepatotoxin such as aflatoxin.

      Aflatoxins are poisons produced by fungus or mold. These toxins are often found in corn and other agriculture crops and commonly cause liver disease.

      But how could Beeble become exposed to -- and ingest -- aflatoxins?


      The aflatoxins could have come from the (dog) food, Beebles veterinarian, Douglas Mickey, told He reviewed Beebles and Kaylas autopsy reports and -- with Julies permission -- agreed to discuss them with us.

      Aflatoxins are known to be found in moldy grains, like corn that would be in dog food, he said, adding: If youre asking me if theres a possible connection between the pet food and Beebles death, the answer is: you cant rule that out.

      Aflatoxins in pet food have contributed to the deaths of more than 100 dogs in recent year, including:

      • The deaths of 25 dogs in 1999. In that case, Doane Pet Care recalled more than one million bags of corn-based dry dog food tainted with aflatoxins. Fifty-four brands of dog food, including OlRoy, were part of that recall;

      • The deaths of 100 dogs in 2005. In that instance, Diamond Food recalled some of its pet food because the moldy corn in the products contained aflatoxins.

      Kaylas Death Remains A Mystery

      Aflatoxins, however, did not play a role in Kaylas death, Dr. Mickey said. That dog didnt die from anything in her food.

      Her death remains a medical mystery.

      Kaylas autopsy report revealed she had multiple organ mineralization, which Dr. Mickey said was likely caused by an adrenal problem.

      But (the pathologists) couldnt pinpoint on the autopsy what caused the mineralization of all those organs, Dr. Mickey said. It would be consistent with adrenal or kidney problems, but her adrenal glands and kidneys were fine.

      Kaylas death has puzzled everyone who has looked at it.

      Everyone, that is, except Julie.

      Despite the autopsy report, shes convinced Purinas dog food contributed to Kaylas death.

      And she says a recent investigation -- about the mysterious reproductive problems several Newfoundlands across the country have encountered -- confirmed her belief.

      Our investigation revealed that healthy Newfoundlands -- in Idaho, Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- had suddenly stopped getting pregnant or -- if they conceived -- delivered deformed and dead puppies.

      All these gentle giants had previously delivered healthy litters, their breeders said. They were all two to five-years old, which veterinarians say is the best age for dogs to deliver healthy litters.

      None of the dogs were related a factor that could have caused genetic problems. And nothing in the breeders protocols had changed.

      The only factor the Newfoundlands had in common was their food: They all ate Purina dog food.

      After I read your story, I was convinced that there was a link between the deaths of my dogs and what happened to those Newfoundlands, Julie says. What got me with your stories was how those breeders talked about the mummified fetuses (deceased puppies) their dogs had delivered. In Kaylas autopsy report, it talks about the mineralization of all her internal organs.

      That made me think that theres a connection with those stone puppies and my dogs internal organs turning to stone.

      Dr. Mickey, however, said theres no correlation.

      Its not the same thing, he said. Kayla apparently had adrenal problems ... thats a metabolic disease.

      I think they now realize something is wrong with their food.

      If thats the case, Julie wonders why Purina is finally taking her concerns seriously.

      In just the past two weeks, the pet food makers insurance company has requested copies of her dogs medical records and autopsy reports.

      But when they called, they wanted me to know that my dogs deaths had nothing to do with the recall because they died before that action was announced, she says. I told them that stuff from China (melamine) could have been in the food long before anyone knew.

      Purina, she says, downplayed her concerns when she first contacted the company last fall right after Kayla became sick.

      One lady kept saying shed never heard of any adverse effects from the companys food. Purina also kept sending me letters (of condolences) and samples of their stinking food. That made me ever madder. I dont want their food. Ill never feed Purina again to my dogs. I cook for my dogs now and theyre much healthier.

      Julie no longer recommends Purina to her customers, either.

      Ive gone as far as to state in my puppy contract that if you feed Purina products, I have a right to void the health guarantee on the dogs, she says, adding her pups cost $1,000 to $1,500.

      Of Purinas latest interest in her dogs deaths, Julie says: I think they now realize something is wrong with their food.

      Purina Defends Its Products and Actions

      A spokesman for Purina denied that assertion, saying theres nothing usual about his companys recent actions in Julies case.

      He says it demonstrates Purinas commitment to its customers.

      Weve been in contact with this consumer since last September and since weve worked with her that long, we like to follow up on the process, said spokesman Keith Schopp. We would want to gather the appropriate documents and any other records that we could look at and then take the appropriate action.

      As part of our standard operating procedure, he added, we would initiate a claim and investigate a matter further if a consumer requested compensation above product replacement.

      Schopp said he hadnt seen Beebles autopsy report, which stated the puppys liver problems were consistent with exposure to aflatoxins.

      But there are no aflatoxins in our products in the United States, he said. Our veterinarians, however, would like to look at that autopsy report and talk her vet.

      What about a possible connection between Julies concerns and those raised by the Newfoundland breeders?

      Schopp said theres no link. This consumer is not reporting any reproductive issues.

      He also defended his companys response to Julies concerns.

      Weve expressed our sympathy for the loss of her dogs and told her that we want to find out more about her situation, he said.

      What does Julie want from Purina?

      The main reason I contacted them was because I didnt want any other dogs to die, she says. I wanted them to test the food and to apologize.

      Julie says she didnt wage this battle against the St. Louis-based company for financial gain even though her vet bills total more than $2,750.

      Im not out for money. I just dont want anyone else to go through a dogs mysterious death.

      Kentucky Woman Blames Purina for Her Dogs' Deaths...

      Gilchrist & Soames Recalls Toothpaste

      Small tubes were given away to guests at hotels worldwide

      Another company has recalled Chinese-made toothpastes because the products contain the poisonous chemical, diethylene glycol (DEG).

      Indianapolis-based Gilchrist & Soames, which supplies toiletry products for the hotel industry worldwide, today recalled its 0.65 ounce tubes of toothpaste manufactured in China by Ming Fai Enterprises International Co., LTD.

      The action comes after independent tests showed some samples of the toothpaste contained DEG, which is found in antifreeze and can be toxic to the kidneys and liver.

      Its also the latest in a series of recent recalls involving Chinese-made products, including other brands of toothpastes that contained DEG, toys made with lead paint, shoddy tires, and melamine-tainted ingredients used to make pet food.

      Gilchrist & Soames said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was not aware of any reports of poisonings in the United States from the tainted toothpaste.

      The company said it's notifying guests around the world who received the complimentary toothpaste -- including those in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom -- to immediately throw away the product. It also ordered its hotels around the globe to destroy any remaining tubes of the toothpaste.

      The company said it started testing the products for possible DEG contamination after receiving an FDA alert on June 1 about contaminated toothpastes made in China.

      The fifth round of our independent lab tests showed the presence of DEG in some samples at levels exceeding FDA guidelines from one of our China suppliers, Kathie De Voe, president of Gilchrist & Soames, said in a written statement.

      We immediately began the process of initiating a voluntary recall of our complimentary-sized (.65oz/18ml) Gilchrist & Soames toothpaste. We want to ensure that any contaminated toothpaste is safely disposed of and/or destroyed.

      De Voe said Gilchrist & Soames also stopped all outgoing shipments and quarantined all of its Made in China toothpaste after it received the FDA alert.

      The company said its working with the FDA and authorities in Europe on the recall.

      Hotel guests with questions about this action can contact the company at 1-866-587-6542.

      Gilchrist & Soames Recalls Toothpaste...

      FDA Warns Against Red Yeast Rice Products

      Dietary supplement promoted on the Internet contains dangerous substances

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to buy or eat three red yeast rice products promoted and sold on Web sites.

      The products, promoted as dietary supplements for treating high cholesterol, may contain an unauthorized drug that could be harmful to health.

      The potentially harmful products are: Red Yeast Rice and Red Yeast Rice/Policosonal Complex, sold by Swanson Healthcare Products, Inc. and manufactured by Natures Value Inc. and Kabco Inc., respectively; and Cholestrix, sold by Sunburst Biorganics.

      FDA testing revealed the products contain lovastatin, the active pharmaceutical ingredient in Mevacor, a prescription drug approved for marketing in the United States as a treatment for high cholesterol.

      This risk is even more serious because consumers may not know the side effects associated with lovastatin and the fact that it can adversely interact with other medications," said Steven Galson, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

      These red yeast rice products are a threat to health because the possibility exists that lovastatin can cause severe muscle problems leading to kidney impairment. This risk is greater in patients who take higher doses of lovastatin or who take lovastatin and other medicines that increase the risk of muscle reactions.

      These medicines include the antidepressant nefazodone, certain antibiotics, drugs used to treat fungal infections and HIV infections, and other cholesterol-lowering medications.

      FDA has issued warning letters advising Swanson and Sunburst Biorganics to stop promoting and selling the products. Companies that do not resolve violations in FDA warning letters risk enforcement actions, such as an injunction against continuing violations and a seizure of illegal products.

      The warning letters state that the products Red Yeast Rice, Red Yeast Rice/Policosonal Complex, and Cholestrix, sold on the firms websites, are unapproved new drugs that are marketed in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

      FDA advises consumers who use any red yeast rice product to consult their physician if they experience problems that may be due to the product.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers not to buy or eat three red yeast rice products promoted and sold on Web sites. ...

      Prius Owners Report More Unintended Acceleration Incidents

      Toyota denies the problem exists, but consumers say otherwise

      The Toyota Prius Hybrid continues to generate complaints of unintended acceleration episodes suggesting the possibility of a serious flaw in the vehicle's computer system, electronic controls or software program.

      Toyota service technicians have dismissed the dangerous events as driver error or nothing more than a floor carpet jamming accelerator pedal.

      ConsumerAffiars.Com readers who have experienced these harrowing events disagree.

      Last week, we reported the story of a brand-new Prius with only 600 miles on the odometer that suffered from uncontrollable acceleration on a freeway near Everett, Washington.

      Now, Ben in Walnut Creek, California writes: I had a very similar case with the Prius owner you mentioned in your lemon of the week. Ben said he was coming up on a red light and there was a large crease or bump in the road."

      "When my Prius hit the bump in the road the traction control systems kicked in, and at the same time the brakes felt unresponsive and the car felt as if it was accelerating or lunging forward, he said.

      Ben said the he almost rear-ended the car in front of him. first reported the unintended acceleration problem with the Prius early last year, when one of the popular hybrids rampaged out of control on a Michigan highway, endangering the driver as well as those nearby.

      At the time, the incident was the second known incident involving uncontrolled acceleration in the computer-controlled Prius. The driver of the 2005 Prius, Herbert of Battle Creek, Michigan, experienced a probable software problem.

      He found it necessary to speed up while passing a slower vehicle on the highway. The problem began after he passed the slower car and tried to slow down.

      "I let off the accelerator and pressed the brakes several times, but the vehicle continued to accelerate under full power," Herbert said at the time.

      Toyota recalled the Prius hybrids to examine the software but the unintended acceleration reports are continuing.

      Twice, on July 29, 2007, our 2006 Toyota Prius took off like a rocket in circumstances just like Herbert's wild ride in Michigan last October, Irwin in Studio City, California writes.

      His Toyota service manager told Irwin that no one has ever had this problem before and Toyota is unable to recreate the unintended acceleration.

      The service technician was either uninformed of intentionally misleading his customer, since has received -- and published -- numerous such complaints.

      And while the Toyota service manager may not be familiar with the problem, Marvin in Los Lunas, New Mexico certainly is.

      I have had an incident of acceleration, beyond what was commanded, in my Toyota Prius two times. The cause is unknown, he wrote.

      "In each case, the vehicle was accelerating at a rate below maximum and went to and stayed at maximum without driver command. Marvin told

      A simple touching of the lever that disengages the cruise control caused the system to immediately go back to a normal condition with the cruise control off, Marvin told us.

      Marvin said he is a qualified professional engineer and systems analyst. His work has involved automobiles as well as aircraft and industrial systems.

      I can assure you, Marvin told, that the incidences that I had did not involve mechanical sticking or jamming of the accelerator pedal because of a piece of carpet. It was not driver error.

      In Marvins opinion, the problem may be in the cruise control system itself, either a mechanical, electronic or electrical problem in the cruise control system.

      The problem could easily cause a serious accident if the driver, caught unaware, did not take immediate remedial action, according to our reader in New Mexico.

      Toyota did not respond to requests for comment.

      Prius Owners Report More Unintended Acceleration Incidents...

      FDA Takes Action Against Iowa Dairy

      Illegal residues of drugs found in the dairy's cows

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it found residue of illegal drugs in cows at an Iowa dairy operation.

      The agency said it has filed an complaint and sought a permanent injunction against Ysselstein Dairy Inc., of Rock Valley, Iowa, and its owner and president, Sjerp W. Ysselstein.

      The FDA said it is concerned about the sale of animals for human food that may contain illegal levels of animal drugs because of the potential for adverse effects on human health.

      The FDA approves new animal drugs with requirements, including a specified time period to withdraw an animal from treatment prior to slaughter, to assure that a drug has been depleted from edible tissue to a level safe for humans.

      Ysselstein Dairy produces milk for human consumption and sells dairy cows for slaughter for human consumption.

      The injunction is based on nine illegal residues in the edible tissue of seven dairy cows sampled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service between July 21, 1992, and March 10, 2006. The drug residues found by FSIS included antibiotics such as tetracycline, sulfadimethoxine, flunixin, oxytetracycline, and penicillin at levels not permitted by the FDA.

      Under the terms of the Consent Decree, the dairy and Ysselstein must implement systems for identifying animals, keeping records, drug control, drug accountability, and drug residue withdrawal control.

      The decree also provides for the dairy and Ysselstein to pay a fine for each day they fail to comply with the decree and for each animal that they sell or deliver for sale in violation of the decree.

      FDA Takes Action Against Iowa Dairy...

      Cheap Jewelry: Hazardous to Children's Health

      Parents shouldn't rely on government inspectors

      While the Consumer Product Safety Commission continues to recall children's jewelry containing lead almost every week, consumer advocates are urging parents to use caution when purchasing any cheap jewelry and to consider discarding any that may already be in the home.

      A sample testing by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) revealed that 20 percent of children's jewelry contains unsafe levels of lead. Other tests by state officials in Maryland, Ohio and Massachusetts suggest even higher percentages.

      A June 29 article by revealed 96 percent of the toys recalled from January 2007 to July were Chinese imports and most were lead-laden trinkets.

      "Parents should stay away from cheap jewelry, absolutely. And I would advise parents to throw away any cheap jewelry unless they are sure it comes from the U.S. or a more developed country," Sally Greenberg, Senior Product Safety Counsel for the Consumers Union, the nonprofict publisher of Consumer Reports, wrote in an e-mail.

      Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety for the nonprofit consumer advocacy group, Consumer Federation of America, suggested parents obtain a home lead test if they want to purchase and keep any cheap jewelry.

      "I don't like to make blanket statements, but certainly, there's been a lot of relatively inexpensive jewelry that does contain high levels of lead," Weintraub said. "A parent needs to think very, very carefully if they do want to purchase such a product and what I would suggest is that if they do decide to purchase, you could buy lead test kits and you could swipe it and test it to see if there's a high level of lead."

      Lead test kits can be purchased online for about $10.

      "Parents need to get on the CPSC website and see if the product has been recalled or not," Weintraub continued. "If it does turn out that the jewelry does contain high levels of lead, they should confiscate it immediately and wipe down other toys or other jewelry that may have come in contact with it because it's possible that there is lead dust."

      Product recalls are also listed on

      Current Recalls

      Recalls of lead-tainted children's products this year include:

    • AAFES 'Soldier Bear' Toy Sets
    • AAFES Expands Recall of Lead-Contaminated Toys
    • "Accessories" Silver Stud Earrings sold at Kmart
    • Accessories Palace Children's Necklaces
    • Boyds Collection Toy Drums
    • GeoCentral Childrens Butterfly Necklaces
    • Children's Necklaces, Charm Bracelets
    • Children's Horseshoe, Dice Rings
    • Children's Metal Jewelry
    • Children's Turquoise Rings
    • Claire's Stores Necklaces
    • "Claudia Jublot" Rings Sold at Big Lots!
    • Dollar General Metal Key Chains
    • Dollar Store "Rachael Rose Kidz" Rings
    • "Essentials" Children's Jewelry
    • "Kidsite" Jewelry Sold at Kmart
    • Limited Too, Justice Stores Metal Jewelry
    • Mood Necklaces
    • Dollar Store "Rachael Rose Kidz" Rings
    • Religious Fish Necklaces
    • Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella Earrings
    • U.S. Toy Co. Children's Butterfly Necklaces
    • Lead poisoning can lead to respiratory failure, seizures, hearing loss and death.

      Long-term exposure has been linked to behavioral problems and other neurological deficiencies. If children suck on the jewelry, they are at particular risk because it's more likely for the lead to enter their bloodstream where even small amounts accumulate for many years.

      The CPSC is considering new rules that will require products contain no more than .06 percent lead.

      Acting CPSC Chairman Nord has "made it a priority that during this time of last week the staff work toward presenting a package to the Commission for a vote on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking," agency spokesman Scott Wolfson said.

      Congress last week gave the agency the authority to pass new regulations even though it has only two commissioners.

      "Ideally, we'd like to get it to zero," Weintraub said. "It's not always possible because of environmental factors and others. ... It's a very, very significant reduction that would greatly reduce harms caused to consumers."

      With the commission's last week to pass regulation, it's possible the proposed rule could be voted on and made law within the next six months.

      CPSC Not Equipped

      Weintraub and Greenberg agreed that even with more vigorous government rules, the agency is not equipped to tackle the inspections.

      "CPSC only has 15 people doing imports inspections," Greenberg wrote. "The big toy companies must impose third-party testing and frequent inspections, not leave it to Chinese factories to approve for safety. The government should have independent certification that toys and kids' products are lead free, and we need more inspectors at the ports."

      "These manufacturers need to test their products for lead and then have a certificate that it meets the standard and also a label saying that it meets the standard," Weintraub said. "A test also needs to be done by an independent third party."

      Many importers and local retailers have strict lead restrictions for children's jewelry. But a New York Times article on Monday suggested Chinese manufacturers, who are often chosen based on the lowest bid, submit an initial batch with very low levels of lead. Then in later batches, use dangerous levels of lead, which is often a cheaper substitute for more durable metals.

      "There needs to be tests at different stages in the manufacturing process," Weintraub said.

      She also said the manufacturer, local toy company and importer, to some extent, should all be held liable for selling potentially deadly toys.

      "They need to make sure that the products they sell meet the standards no matter where they are made or who makes them," Weintraub said.

      A sample testing by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) revealed that 20 percent of children's jewelry contains unsafe levels of lead. ...

      Lowe's Outdoor Lounge Chairs

      August 9, 2007
      Garden Treasures Cloud 9 Beyond Chairs sold at Lowe's stores are being recalled.

      The chair can break when in the reclined position, posing a fall hazard to consumers.

      L G Sourcing, Inc., the importer, has received seven reports of the chairs breaking when in the reclined position, resulting in minor injuries such as bruising to the back, hips, shoulders, arms and a torn ligament.

      This recall involves the Garden Treasures Cloud 9 Beyond outdoor lounge chairs. The chairs are tan in color, have a light steel frame, cloth seat, a pillow at the headrest and an adjustable sun visor.

      The chairs were sold at Lowe's retail outlet stores nationwide from December 2006 through April 2007 for about $60. They were manufactured in China.

      Consumers should stop using the chairs immediately and return them to any Lowe's retail outlet to receive a full refund.

      For additional information, contact L G Sourcing, Inc. toll-free at (866) 493-6560 anytime, or visit

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

      Lowe's Outdoor Lounge Chairs...