Current Events in August 2007

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    Kerry Vows Action to Get Flaming Fords Off the Road

    Senator: "Unacceptable" that numerous recalls have not solved problem

    In response to a ConsumerAffairs.com series, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is calling on Ford and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to get fire-prone vehicles off the road. 


    "It's unacceptable that these dangerous cars remain on the road and it's obvious that NHTSA needs to do more and work with Ford to fully fix this problem," Kerry, who sits on the subcommittee that has jurisdiction over NHTSA, wrote in an e-mail.

    In a series of stories, ConsumerAffairs.com has detailed the repeated government recalls of Ford vehicles in response to a rash of fires in Ford cars, trucks and vans.

    After each recall, NHTSA and Ford representatives cheer "mission accomplished" while hundreds of consumers continue to file complaints with ConsumerAffairs.com

    "NHTSA can try to declare this issue solved as many times as they want, but it doesn't change the fact that there's a lack of resources and will to deal with serious consumer issues like this one," Kerry wrote. "Consumers need more than a passive '9 to 5' approach from the very agency that is supposed to keep them safe."

    Since 1999 Ford and NHTSA have recalled more than a dozen models totalling 10.5 million vehicles.

    The problem is thought to be centered in a cruise control switch which can short-circuit when it comes in contact with engine fluids. The switch is always powered, which explains why many of the complaints are from consumers whose vehicles catch fire in their driveway or garage. The explosive fires often spread to nearby vehicles and buildings.

    "On Oct. 30, 2004, my 2002 Crown Victoria caught fire and burned itself, my husband's truck (parked behind it) and our home to the ground," wrote Stacey of Martin, Ga.

    Most consumers are left with nothing but ashes and many say Ford won't even return phone calls, let alone make restitution.

    Action Promised

    But Kerry, who responded quickly despite a Congressional recess, vowed to look closer into NHTSA'a involvement.

    "I'll work with my colleagues to push NHTSA to aggressively tackle this problem until an appropriate standard of safety on our roads is achieved," Kerry wrote.

    Other senators who sit on the Senate Surface Transportation subcommittee with Kerry did not respond to requests for comment. Those not responding include the committee's chairman, Frank Lautenberg, (D-N.J.) as well as members Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), ranking member Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

    Representatives from the House Transpotation Committee, which has NHTSA jurisdiction on the House side, also failed to respond to a request for comment on what they plan to do to resolve the problem and protect consumers from similar incidents.

    Latest Recall

    The latest recall will begin on August 13. Vehicle owners will have the cruise control switch, also called the speed control switch, deactivated as an interim repair. When new parts are available, which is expected in October.

    Recalled Models

    Models recalled in the latest round-up include:

    • Bronco, 1993
    • Crown Victoria, 1992-1998
    • E150, 1992-1993 and 1997-2002
    • E250, 1992 -1993 and 1997-2003
    • E450, 2003
    • Explorer, 1991-2001
    • Explorer Sport, 2001-2002
    • Explorer Sport Trac, 2002-2002
    • F150 Lightening, 2003-2004
    • F150, 1993
    • F250, 1993
    • F350, 1003
    • F450m 1995-2002
    • F53 Motor Home, 1995-2002
    • Ranger, 1995-2002
    • Taurus, 1993-1995
    • Lincoln Mark VII, 1993-1998
    • Lincoln Town Car, 1992-1998
    • Mercury Capri, 1994
    • Mercury Grand Marquis, 1992-1998
    • Mercury Mountaineer, 1999-2001

    Black Eye

    The long-running series of destructive fires -- and Ford's stonewalling of its customers -- has given the company a black eye as it struggles to remain in business.

    No one really knows how much property damage, catastrophic financial loss and personal deaths and injuries have been caused by the fires.

    On Friday, April 6, 2007, at around 850 in the evening, my 18-year-old daughter had gotten into our 1994 Ford Explorer, cranked it up, turned on the heater, backed up in the driveway, and called my wife complaining about smoke coming out of the air conditioning vents, 1994 Ford Explorer owner Shelton of Parrish, Fla., wrote ConsumerAffairs.com.

    "She said something was glowing from under the right front of the car. She got out of the car while it was starting to catch fire, he wrote.

    After the local fire department extinguished the blaze, the 1994 Ford Explorer was a complete loss, with damage to the driveway as well.

    Ford told Shelton in a letter that there was nothing the company could or would do beyond the warranty period, according to a copy of the letter provided by Shelton:

    Dear Shelton,

    Our records indicate that you contacted the Ford Customer Relationship Center and our Customer Care Representative advised you that there is no assistance beyond warranty and there is no recall pertaining to the fire.

    At this time we are unable to provide you with an alternate response. If any additional information regarding this matter should become available in the future, please let us know.

    Shelton said he is not a greedy man. He was only asking Ford for the value of his 1994 Ford Explorer and damages to the driveway.

    "My daughter narrowly escaped the fire," he wrote. But he considers himself lucky. "If she had been driving down the road minutes later, she would have died as a result of the fire."

    After more than 150 reports to ConsumerAffairs.com of Ford trucks catching on fire for no apparent reason, many readers and owners of the Ford trucks have adopted a new self-defense tactic: they no longer park the vehicles near their house or in their garage.

    Finally, in Flower Mound, Texas at 12:00am June 13, 2007 Charlene was woken up by a strange sound and a glow in my home. I looked out the front door to see what it was. I was not prepared for the inferno of fire that had in gulfed my 2000 Ford Expedition in my driveway, she said.

    I then woke my husband by screaming that we had to get our 3 year old daughter from upstairs and get out of the house because the flames were reaching our eaves of the house.

    Thank God for the Flower Mound Fire Department, Charlene said.

    Kerry Vows Action to Get Flaming Fords Off the Road...

    Videos May Not Be Good For Baby

    "Educational" videos may dumb down baby, researchers warn


    Many a dutiful parent plops their infant in front of educational DVDs in the belief they are giving them a leg up on getting into Harvard. But a new study suggests they could be having the opposite effect.

    Researchers at the University of Washington and Seattle Childrens Hospital Research Institute say parents should probably limit the amount of time they expose their children to DVDs and videos such as Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby.

    Rather than helping babies, they say, the overuse of such productions actually may slow down infants eight to 16 months of age when it comes to acquiring vocabulary.

    The scientists found that for every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants understood an average of six to eight fewer words than infants who did not watch them.

    Baby DVDs and videos had no positive or negative effect on the vocabularies on toddlers 17 to 24 months of age. The study was published today in the Journal of Pediatrics.

    The most important fact to come from this study is there is no clear evidence of a benefit coming from baby DVDs and videos and there is some suggestion of harm, said Frederick Zimmerman, lead author of the study and a UW associate professor of health services.

    The bottom line is the more a child watches baby DVDs and videos the bigger the effect. The amount of viewing does matter.

    Co-authors of the study are Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrics researcher at Seattle Childrens Hospital Research Institute and a UW professor of pediatrics, and Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the UWs Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

    The paper is part of a larger project looking at the trajectory of media viewing in the first two years of life and examining the content of what is being watched and its effects on young children. A paper published last spring by the same researchers showed that by 3 months of age 40 percent of infants are regular viewers of television, DVDs or videos and by the age of 2 this number jumps to 90 percent.

    For both papers, the researchers conducted random telephone interviews with more than 1,000 families in Minnesota and Washington with a child born in the previous two years.

    Television, DVD and video viewing were divided into four categories: baby DVDs and videos; educational TV programs, DVDs and videos such as Sesame Street, Arthur and Blues Clues; childrens non-educational television shows and movies such as Sponge Bob Square Pants, Bob the Builder and Toy Story, and adult television such as The Simpsons, Oprah, and sports programming.

    The researchers found no positive or negative effects on infants of either age group from viewing educational and non-educational media or adult television programs.

    The results surprised us, but they make sense. There are only a fixed number of hours that young babies are awake and alert. If the alert time is spent in front of DVDs and TV instead of with people speaking in parentese that melodic speech we use with little ones the babies are not getting the same linguistic experience, said Meltzoff, who is the Job and Gertrud Tamaki endowed chair in psychology at the UW.

    Parents and caretakers are the babys first and best teachers. They instinctively adjust their speech, eye gaze and social signals to support language acquisition. Watching attention-getting DVDs and TV may not be an even swap for warm social human interaction at this very young age.

    Old kids may be different, but the youngest babies seem to learn language best from people, Meltzoff said.

    In my clinical practice, I am frequently asked by parents what the value of these products is, said Christakis. The evidence is mounting that they are of no value and may in fact be harmful. Given what we now know, I believe the onus is on the manufacturers to prove their claims that watching these programs can positively impact childrens cognitive development.

    As part of the telephone interviews, which took about 45 minutes to complete, a standard inventory for measuring infant language development was used. Parents of the 8 to 16 month olds were asked how many of a list of about 90 words their child understood. Typical words on this list included choo choo, mommy and nose. Parents of the 17 to 24 month olds were asked how many words on a similar list they had heard their child use. Typical words from this list were truck, cookie and balloon.

    Parents also were asked about how often they read books or told stories to their children. Daily reading and storytelling were associated with slight increases in language skills, not a surprising finding since both activities foster language development, Zimmerman said.

    The researchers believe the content of baby DVDs and videos is different from the other types of programming because it tends to have little dialogue, short scenes, disconnected pictures and shows linguistically indescribable images such as a lava lamp. By contrast, childrens educational programs, which make up the largest viewing category at this age, are, crafted and tested to meet developmental needs of preschool children.

    We dont know for sure that baby DVDs and videos are harmful, but the best policy is safety first. Parents should limit their exposure as much as possible, said Zimmerman. Over the course of childhood, children spend more time watching TV than they do in school. So parents need to spend as much time monitoring TV and other media viewing as they do in monitoring their childrens school activities.

    The researchers believe more research is required, particularly to examine the long-term effects of baby DVDs and videos on childrens cognitive development.

    Zimmerman and Christakis are the authors of the book The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Kids and Meltzoff is co-author of The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us about the Mind.

    The study was primarily funded by the Tamaki Foundation with additional support by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Science Foundation.



    Videos May Not Be Good For Baby...

    Flaming Ford Scandal Disgraces Ford, Feds

    Ford Stonewalls Its Devastated CustomersNHTSA Fails In Its Mission to Protect the Public

    With its latest recall, the Ford Motor Co. has recalled almost 11 million cars and trucks since 2005 because of a clear danger that the vehicles could erupt in flames without warning.

    But as the piecework recalls trickle out from the federal agency charged with the responsibility of protecting consumers from faulty automotive products, Fords keep burning, sometimes destroying homes and other vehicles while Ford denies responsibility and tells its customers to call their insurance company.

    Federal regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have repeatedly closed the books on Ford fires, declaring their mission accomplished.

    In the massive recall of August 2006, NHTSA proclaimed: With the three recalls Ford has announced, all of the models that Ford built ... that exhibit the factors that can cause the switch to fail resulting in a fire while the ignition is in the off position will be candidates for a free remedy.'

    On May 10, 2007, Mathew saw his Ford erupt into flames in Carmel, California.

    It started under the hood and spread throughout the rest of the vehicle, our carport and other vehicle. The fire department was called and responded immediately. The result was the complete destruction of the Ford as well as our adjacent 2001 Cheverolet Tahoe.

    Not far away in Walnut Creek, Michael saw his Ford on fire.

    I looked out the front window and a thick cloud of smoke was coming out from under the hood. I grabbed a fire extinguisher and rushed out to the vehicle. I could not open the hood or get too close to the vehicle due to the flames and smoke that was pouring out, he said.

    At the time of the 2006 recall, a NHTSA spokesman described the probe as "one of the most exhaustive investigations that we've ever done" and said the agency did not expect any additional recalls.

    Flaming Fords

    • Last Friday, August 3, Ford announced it was recalling as many as 3.6 million cars, truck, and vans because a switch that deactivates the speed control can overheat and catch fire according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (Unfavorable news often is released on Friday afternoon, when it is least likely to be noticed by a public focused on the upcoming weekend).

    • In August 2006, Ford and NHTSA recalled the 1994-2002 F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 F-Super Duty trucks, 2000-2002 Excursion SUVs, 1994-1996 Econoline vans and 1996-2002 E-450 vans, and 1998 Explorers and Mountaineers.

    • In September 2005, Ford recalled 3.8 million pickups and SUVs from the 1994-2002 model years, including the top-selling F-150 pickup, because of the concerns over engine fires. The recall was the fifth-largest auto industry recall in U.S. history.

    • In January 2005, Ford recalled nearly 800,000 pickups and SUVs from the 2000 model year because of similar issues.

    Roughly 20 million of the defective switches are installed in vehicles but investigators said they did not detect similar problems in non-Ford vehicles.

    Wrong Again

    But the bureaucrats at NHTSA have been wrong each time they proclaimed the problem solved. None of the earlier recalls included every Ford that might catch fire.

    On March 13, 2007 David was driving through Lynchburg, Virginia.

    I was driving down the road when the 1991 Ford Explorer I was driving caught fire. The door locked and I had to climb out the rear window. It burned and cracked the windshield the heat was so intense, he wrote ConsumerAffair.Com.

    The most recent recall covers 16 models and brands of Ford cars, sport utility vehicles and trucks from model years 1992 to 2004.

    The models include the Ford Ranger, Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car, Lincoln Mark VIII, Ford Taurus SHO, Mercury Capri, Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer, Ford Explorer Sport and Explorer Sport Trac, Ford E-150-350, Ford E-450, Ford Bronco, Ford F-150 Lightning, some models of F-Series trucks and Ford F53 Motor Home chassis.

    The recall brings the total number of Ford vehicles identified as potential fire hazards to almost 11 million since 1999.

    Ford's spinmasters proclaimed that the latest recall was needed "to address customer concerns" stemming from previous recalls involving the switch.

    Gail saw her Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer erupt in flames on March 29, 2007. My son brought it home from work, and 10 minutes later a neighbor came to our door saying it was on fire.

    We were barely able to get out of our house because of the thick, black smoke blowing up our driving and into the house. I ran out with my son, and the fire was coming out of the hood and then from under the hood. Gail wrote.

    Another few minutes and our house would have been gone. Our garage door caught on fire but the Firemen put out the fire before it went into the rest of the house.

    The steering column is melted, she said.

    Ford claims that none of the vehicles involved in the latest recall have experienced an abnormal number of fires. That may be but ConsumerAffairs.com has received more than 150 complaints of fires in Ford trucks and cars since the recall last August that was supposed to remedy the problem once and for all.

    One Small Switch

    The culprit in all this is a small switch that shuts off the cruise control when the driver firmly steps on the brakes. The switch is located under the hood of the vehicle and is attached to the brake master cylinder on one end and wired to the cruise control on the other.

    The switch is powered at all times, even when the vehicle is turned off. In some cases fluid leaking the switch could cause it to short-circuit, which can cause a fire. Most of the fires occur when the vehicle is parked and unattended.

    A Mercury Grand Marquis caught fire on June 11, 2007 in Fallbrook, California.

    Well my 1994 Mercury Grand Marquis burst into flame after sitting idle for about 3 hours destroying the car and damaging one next to it, Ivan told ConsumerAffairs.com.

    The latest recall will begin on August 13. Vehicle owners will have the cruise control switch, also called the speed control switch, deactivated as an interim repair. When new parts are available, which is expected in October.

    Recalled Models

    Models recalled in the latest round-up include:

    • Bronco, 1993
    • Crown Victoria, 1992-1998
    • E150, 1992-1993 and 1997-2002
    • E250, 1992 -1993 and 1997-2003
    • E450, 2003
    • Explorer, 1991-2001
    • Explorer Sport, 2001-2002
    • Explorer Sport Trac, 2002-2002
    • F150 Lightening, 2003-2004
    • F150, 1993
    • F250, 1993
    • F350, 1003
    • F450m 1995-2002
    • F53 Motor Home, 1995-2002
    • Ranger, 1995-2002
    • Taurus, 1993-1995
    • Lincoln Mark VII, 1993-1998
    • Lincoln Town Car, 1992-1998
    • Mercury Capri, 1994
    • Mercury Grand Marquis, 1992-1998
    • Mercury Mountaineer, 1999-2001

    Black Eye

    The long-running series of destructive fires -- and Ford's stonewalling of its customers -- has given the company a black eye as it struggles to remain in business.

    No one really knows how much property damage, catastrophic financial loss and personal deaths and injuries have been caused by the fires.

    On Friday, April 6, 2007, at around 850 in the evening, my 18-year-old daughter had gotten into our 1994 Ford Explorer, cranked it up, turned on the heater, backed up in the driveway, and called my wife complaining about smoke coming out of the air conditioning vents, 1994 Ford Explorer owner Shelton of Parrish, Fla., wrote ConsumerAffairs.com.

    "She said something was glowing from under the right front of the car. She got out of the car while it was starting to catch fire, he wrote.

    After the local fire department extinguished the blaze, the 1994 Ford Explorer was a complete loss, with damage to the driveway as well.

    Ford told Shelton in a letter that there was nothing the company could or would do beyond the warranty period, according to a copy of the letter provided by Shelton:

    Dear Shelton,

    Our records indicate that you contacted the Ford Customer Relationship Center and our Customer Care Representative advised you that there is no assistance beyond warranty and there is no recall pertaining to the fire.

    At this time we are unable to provide you with an alternate response. If any additional information regarding this matter should become available in the future, please let us know.

    Shelton said he is not a greedy man. He was only asking Ford for the value of his 1994 Ford Explorer and damages to the driveway.

    "My daughter narrowly escaped the fire," he wrote. But he considers himself lucky. "If she had been driving down the road minutes later, she would have died as a result of the fire."

    After more than 150 reports to ConsumerAffairs.com of Ford trucks catching on fire for no apparent reason, many readers and owners of the Ford trucks have adopted a new self-defense tactic: they no longer park the vehicles near their house or in their garage.

    Finally, in Flower Mound, Texas at 12:00am June 13, 2007 Charlene was woken up by a strange sound and a glow in my home. I looked out the front door to see what it was. I was not prepared for the inferno of fire that had in gulfed my 2000 Ford Expedition in my driveway, she said.

    I then woke my husband by screaming that we had to get our 3 year old daughter from upstairs and get out of the house because the flames were reaching our eaves of the house.

    Thank God for the Flower Mound Fire Department, Charlene said.

    Flaming Ford Scandal Disgraces Ford, Feds...

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      Consumers Want Allstate Records Kept Public

      Insurer Asks Court to Seal Documents in Katrina Lawsuit

      Consumer advocates are asking a New Orleans federal court to keep public key documents from a Hurricane Katrina-related lawsuit against Allstate Insurance Company.

      The groups want to ensure that Allstate cannot seal court records that reveal the claims practices and policies it used to leave homeowners empty-handed after Hurricane Katrina.

      Representing Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR), a consumer watchdog group, Public Justice, a national public interest law firm headquartered in Washington D.C., today filed an opposition to Allstate's motion to "seal" the trial exhibits in Weiss v. Allstate, the case of a New Orleans couple who earlier this year won a $2.8 million verdict against Allstate for illegally refusing a hurricane-related claim. The parties subsequently settled; the terms are confidential.

      The insurance company has asked the court to either return or seal the trial exhibits. Those documents include Allstate's manual for handling claims and an operational guide for subcontractors engaged to work on Katrina-related damage.

      Opposing Allstate's request, FTCR says the trial exhibits "provide insight into Allstate's decision-making process" and that denying public access to them "would directly impede FCTR's mission of educating the public about insurance practices and abuses."

      FTCR, which has fought for comprehensive insurance reforms in California and nationwide, says Allstate and other insurance companies have accepted premium payments from customers like the Weisses for years, only to deny or drastically reduce property owners' claims when catastrophe strikes.

      "It appears that Allstate devised its claims-handling process to avoid paying claims to homeowners and did so at the very same time homeowners were, quite literally, stranded and desperate due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina," said Michael Lucas, a Public Justice attorney.

      "These records shed light on Allstate's behavior after Hurricane Katrina and Allstate is afraid of the public scrutiny," Lucas said.

      "Allstate doesn't want anyone to know the internal procedures by which it delays and denies the claims of Katrina survivors and other policyholders in the wake of a disaster," said FTCR's Harvey Rosenfield, author of California's insurance reform initiative, Proposition 103.

      "These documents may embarrass Allstate, but that's no reason to keep them secret. The law says they must remain public."

      Last month, the Consumer Federation of America criticized AllState Insurance, accusing the carrier of unjustifiably raising home and automobile insurance rates relative to the amount paid out in claims, using questionable practices to settle claims, and attempting to shift costs to taxpayers.

      Consumers Want Allstate Records Kept Public...

      Stolen Laptop Leads To Data Breach At VeriSign


      A laptop containing extensive personal information on an undisclosed number of VeriSign employees was stolen from an employee's car on July 12. The information included names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, telephone numbers, and salary records.

      VeriSign, which manages the usage and sale of Internet addresses such as ".com" and ".net," and offers security certification for Web sites, has not publicly disclosed the breach as of yet.

      But a writer for the WizBang blog obtained a copy of the letter sent to VeriSign employees informing them of the theft, and published excerpts on the site.

      "We have no reason to believe that the thief or thieves acted with the intent to extract and use this information; the police have indicated that there may be a connection to a series of petty thefts in the neighborhood," the letter reads in part. "The laptop was fully shut down and requires a username and password to log on to the Windows application. To our knowledge, the thieves do not have the password."

      Of course, if the laptop's sole protection is requiring a password and username to get through, that pretty much guarantees hackers will have access to the data in short order, since anyone with even the most basic computer skills can extract data in such an instance.

      The data was also unencrypted, apparently violating VeriSign's security policies. The Register's John Leyden obtained a statement from VeriSign that claimed the unidentified employee had "left the company."

      "The Company has a policy on how to manage laptops that contain sensitive information and company data - which in this case was not followed," the company said in its statement. "Going forward, we will continue to review our security procedures to prevent future human errors of this type."

      Although data breaches caused by laptop thefts are an embarrassment for any company, it's a particular cross to bear for VeriSign, as the company's security certifications are used by millions of Web sites the world over.

      The Mountain View, California-based company recently disclosed that it spent $570,000 in the first six months of 2007 to lobby Congress on issues of Internet security, privacy, and taxation issues.

      In its employee letter, VeriSign offered a year of free credit monitoring from Equifax for any affected individual, and recommended placing fraud alerts on credit accounts to watch for signs of fraud or identity theft.

      A laptop containing extensive personal information on an undisclosed number of VeriSign employees was stolen from an employee's car on July 12....

      Capital One Hikes Interest Rates, Agrees to Disclose Credit Limits

      Watch What They Do, Not What They Say

      Like a three-card-monte dealer, Capital One is enticing consumers hoping to better their credit scores while jacking up interest rates for its long-time customers, even those with sterling credit and a good repayment record.p>

      Capital One says it will begin reporting its cardholders' credit limits to the three national credit bureaus -- a step that could boost the FICO credit scores of some of its 50 million customers by 40 to 80 points or more within a few months.

      The higher FICO scores would allow Capital One cardholders to qualify for lower mortgage interest rates when they buy or refinance homes and, one would think, help them get or retain a low interest rate on their credit card.

      Not so.

      Over the last few months, Capital One cardholders have been receiving notices that their interest rate is going up -- way up.

      "I have had a Capital One credit card for over 5 years that was supposed to be fixed at 9.9% FOR LIFE. Now they tell me they are changing it to 15.49% variable. Did I die or something?" Galen of McMinnville, Ore., complained to ConsumerAffairs.com.

      Galen's complaint is similar to those of hundreds of other consumers who received an impersonal card telling them that, for business reasons, Capital One was raising their interest rate.

      The notice makes no attempt to appear personalized and does not imply the customer is at fault. It's strictly a "business decision," the card states.

      "I have never been late, always paid well above the minimum every month and considered them a reputable company," Galen said. "What's in my wallet? Certainly not Capital One from now on. I just pulled my $15K balance and put it in B of A at 2.99% for the next few months."

      Galen is not alone. Many of the affected consumers have shown no hesitation in dropping Capital One and successfully applying for a card from another bank.

      An attorney who frequently writes for ConsumerAffairs.com had the same experience. She promptly applied for, and received, an Advanta card with 0% interest for 15 months and 7.99% thereafter. But, having read the fine print, she selected a pair of shoes from the Capital One premium catalog before canceling her account.

      FICO Fuss

      Whether or not Capitol One's sudden change of heart regarding credit scores was motivated by its desire to counter the uproar over its sudden interest rate hikes, the decision resolve an issue that has irked consumer advocates for years.

      Capital One has long been pilloried for withholding its customers' credit limits in its regular reports to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the three national credit bureaus.

      Many cardholders aren't aware of it but their credit scores can be artificially depressed if creditors do not report their maximum credit limits. That's because Fair Isaac assigns a heavy weight -- 30 percent of a person's entire score -- to what is known as "utilization" of available credit.

      In other words, those who have a high credit limit but don't actually charge all that much would get a higher FICO score than those who are chronically bumping into their ceiling.

      If Capital One hoped consumer advocates would bury it in garlands, the response may have been disappointing. The typical reaction could be summed up as, "About time."

      Or, as Travis Plunkett, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America, said in a San Francisco Chronicle article, it's a shame that "so many people were put at a disadvantage by their own credit card company."

      Capital One Hikes Interest Rates, Agrees to Disclose Credit Limits...

      Daimler Completes Sale of Chrysler

      What can you say? It just didn't work out

      The great 1998 merger between Germany's DaimlerBenz and the U.S.'s Chrysler that was going to change the auto industry forever is over.

      The German automaker, which became DaimlerChrysler A.G., has unloaded its unprofitable U.S. venture, which never lived up to its goal of leveraging the German company's reputation for quality with Chrysler's extensive dealer network in the United States.

      "It was an ill-fated partnership that didn't seem to make sense then or now," one analyst said. The company produced such trouble-prone models as the Dodge Durango and the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

      Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP has taken over 80.1 percent ownership of the Chrysler group and the German company DaimlerChrysler has retained 19.9 percent.

      DaimlerChrysler will work with Cerberus to loan Chrysler's automotive business $2 billion in order to keep the automaker in business. DaimlerChrysler will provide $1.5 billion of the loan and Cerberus $500 million. A DaimlerChrysler statement characterized the loan as a strong sign of overall determination to make sure that Chrysler has a good start as a successful standalone car company.

      DaimlerChrysler, however, has hedged its bet, retaining the right to sell the seven-year loan after the first year.

      Chrysler, plagued with slumping sales and quality issues, is trying restructure its way to profitability after a $680 million loss last year. It hopes to cut 13,000 jobs in North America, build more fuel-efficient vehicles and step up sales outside the U.S.

      The split comes as other automakers are ramping up development on a global scale. Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen, Peugeot Citroen and even Alfa Romeo are expanding rapidly into new markets, following the lead of such Asian manufacturers as Toyota, Honda and HyundaiKia.

      Chrysler officials plan a celebration at the company headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan to mark the change -- though whether there's anything to celebrate remains to be seen.

      "They can call it a celebration if they want. That's a term you hear more and more at funerals these days," a Wall Street analyst quipped.

      Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda said the newly-private company will bring a "laser-like focus" to its business, free of stock-market pressure to show short-term gains.

      DaimlerChrysler will continue to be officially known as DaimlerChrysler until a shareholders meeting in Germany when the company name is likely to be changed to Daimler AG. The shareholders are to decide on the change at an extraordinary shareholders' meeting in Berlin on October 4, 2007.

      Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of DaimlerChrysler AG and head of the Mercedes Car Group said "Today marks a new chapter in the history of our company. Based on the clearly defined strategies in our Mercedes Car Group, Truck Group, Financial Services business divisions and for vans and buses, and our company's healthy balance sheet, we have every reason to move confidently into the future."

      Daimler Completes Sale of Chrysler...

      States Recall Chinese Tires

      Federal Recall Stalled as Importer Runs Low on Cash


      Once again, states appear to be out in front of federal regulators when it comes to safety. Without waiting for Washington, 24 state attorneys general have issued recalls of an estimated 270,000 tires, imported from China, that may be unsafe.

      The tires are among those imported by Foreign Tire Sales, of New Jersey, and manufactured by Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Company Ltd. Sold under the brand names of Compass, Westlake and YKS, the tires are designed for use on SUVs, trucks and vans.

      The head of the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told a Senate committee last month that federal safety regulations are not adequate to deal with motor vehicle equipment importers refusing to recall defective products.

      Tires made by Hangzhou Zhongce were imported to the U.S. by Foreign Tire Sales but the New Jersey company says it is unable to conduct a thorough recall because of a lack of money.

      State officials said they decided to act now, without waiting for federal regulators.

      We believe that some of these potentially dangerous tires were sold in Eastern Washington and encourage all Washington drivers to check their vehicles, said Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said.

      If you have any of these tires, immediately contact the dealer where you made your purchase and have them thoroughly inspected. Dont drive long distances and be careful not to overload your vehicle, he warned.

      Foreign Tire Sales filed a Defect and Non-compliance Report with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on July 2, 2007, saying the tires may not meet the minimum specifications provided to the tire manufacturer.

      Affected tires lack gum strips, an important part of a tire related to the prevention of thread separation. Tire treads could separate, creating a potential safety hazard on the road. At least one serious accident has been caused by such an occurrence with these tires.

      The potential for harm is great for consumers who may have purchased these tires, said Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler. Consumers who believe they own the affected tires should have them inspected by their tire dealer as soon as possible and contact our office.

      The tires were sold from 2002 to 2006. The states are still trying to determine whether additional potentially unsafe tires may have been distributed by other U.S.-based distributors or if other brand names were involved, McKenna said.

      What To Do

      Heres how to check your vehicle:

      Examine the sidewall of your tires for the brand name, size, model and DOT number. Brand names included in the recall are Westlake, Compass and YKS.

      Specific tire numbers and sizes affected by the recall:

      • LT235/75R-15 CR861 CR857
      • LT245/75R-16 CR860 CR861 CR857
      • LT225/75R-16 CR 861
      • LT265/75R-16 CR860 CR861 CR857
      • LT235/85R-16 CR860 CR861 CR857
      • LT31X10.5R-15 CR861 CR857

      The letters "DOT" certify compliance with all applicable safety standards established by the Department of Transportation. Adjacent to this is a tire identification or serial number. This serial number is a code with up to 11 digits that are a combination of numbers and letters.

      If the DOT number contains "FTS" as part of the number, the tire may be subject to recall. Affected tires also will contain a tire size starting with "LT," as well as a DOT number that starts with "7D" and ends in either "02," "03," "04," or "05."

      Importer Faces Bankruptcy

      The New Jersey importer earlier said it would be able to replace about ten percent of the tires before running out of money and declaring bankruptcy, the company's lawyer said.

      Once FTS has replaced as many of the tires as it can, the company will have to declare bankruptcy, according to Lawrence Levigne, the attorney representing FTS. He said the tire importer estimated that it has enough funds to replace about 10 percent of the 450,000 tires that may be defective.

      New Jersey authorities joined federal highway safety officials to demand information from the tire importing company about the tires it bought from a Chinese manufacturer and sold to U.S. distributors.

      Levigne said the company would comply with the subpoena issued by the state Attorney General's Office.

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ordered the recall, which includes light truck radial tires imported between 2002 and December 2005. The brands involved are Westlake, Telluride, Compass and YKS.

      The tires, made by China-based Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co., have an insufficient or missing gum strip, a rubber feature that helps prevent steel belts inside the tire from separating or from damaging the rubber.

      FTS alerted NHTSA to the problem in an official document filed in June. NHTSA responded by ordering a recall. Failure to recall the tires could result in fines for the importer, NHTSA reminded in a letter faxed to the company yesterday.

      "At the risk of putting ourselves out of business, this company did the right thing and we reported the problem," said Levigne, who faults NHTSA for not doing more to help the company correct the problem.

      Heather Hopkins, a spokeswoman for NHTSA, responded that NHTSA does not have the resources to help companies carry out recalls even if it puts the company at an extreme financial hardship.

      "We don't have the mechanism to pay for a business to continue being in business," she said.

      Associate Administrator for Enforcement Daniel C. Smith wrote FTS President Richard Kuskin stating that, The Safety Act does not provide for any exceptions to the notification and remedy requirements based on the financial impact on the manufacturer. A company that chooses to import motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment into this country accepts the same responsibility for compliance with the Safety Act as any other manufacturer.

      Owners of tires carrying the Westlake, Compass Telluride and YKS (or a combination of these names) should check the sidewall of their tires for the DOT number. If the DOT number contains FTS as part of that number, the tire may be subject to this recall.

      If the tire does not contain FTS in the DOT number it is not part of this recall.

      The affected tires will also contain a tire size starting with LT. If the tire size does not show LT, it is not part of the recall. The affected tires have DOT numbers that start with 7D and end in either 02, 03 04 or 05. No other tires are involved in the recall.

      State Subpoena

      The State of New Jersey issued a subpoena to FTS earlier. Assistant Attorney General Anne Milgram said New Jersey wants to coordinate with the offices of Attorneys General of other states and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

      We need to know exactly how many tires were sold, the identity of the purchasers and how consumers are going to be notified that they are riding around on tires that might fall apart and cause serious injury, or, in at least one instance, cause death, Milgram said. This is a critical public safety issue that affects consumers throughout New Jersey and the United States, and we will do everything we can to protect people from harm.

      The subpoena seeks information regarding the locations to which the tires were shipped, the identity of consumers who might be using them, FTS knowledge that the tires might be defective, and information about the recall.

      FTS bought light truck radial tires from Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd. of China from 2002 and 2006.

      Chinese Denial

      The Chinese manufacturer of the light truck tires has now denied it supplied faulty products and accused its FTS of making the claim to gain an advantage in an unrelated dispute.

      "We have not found the faults cited by FTS," Hangzhou Zhongce said in a written statement. It said its tires met U.S. safety standards and FTS' specifications.

      "We believe this is merely an effort by FTS to stir up a fuss due to this lawsuit," the tire manufacturer said.

      States Recall Chinese Tires...

      Skin Cancer Rates On The Rise

      Dermatologists Offer Tips on Protecting Yourself


      While overall cancer diagnosis has been declining for decades, doctors say the incidence of melanoma the most serious form of skin cancer has steadily increased in the United States.

      From 1995 to 2004, melanoma has increased by more than 1 percent per year in this country in sharp contrast to overall cancer rates that have steadily decreased by 0.6 percent per year during this time.

      Key findings from a program designed to increase sun-safe behavior in children could play an important role in decreasing melanoma in future generations, health professionals say.

      Researchers at a dermatology conference today presented a summary of recently published research on the rising incidence of melanoma and trends in sun exposure.

      While the increase in melanoma rates from 1995 to 2004 was not specific to one age group, we did notice an increase in the youngest age group (from ages 15 to 30) and in the age 60 and older age group, said Dr. Martin A. Weinstock, professor of dermatology and community health at Brown University.

      One possible explanation could be more exposure to UV radiation which we know is the most preventable risk factor for melanoma.

      What To Do

      Researchers recommend that people of all ages follow these tips:

      • Generously apply sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 that provides broad-spectrum protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Re-apply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating. Look for the AAD Seal of Recognition on products that meet these criteria.

      • Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, where possible.

      • Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the suns rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

      • Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun which can increase your chance of sunburn.

      • Protect children from sun exposure by applying sunscreen.

      • Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that includes vitamin supplements. Dont seek the sun.

      • Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like youve been in the sun, consider using a sunless self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.

      • Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin, see a dermatologist. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.

      According to current estimates, there will be about 108,230 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in 2007 48,290 noninvasive and 59,940 invasive.

      Youth and Sun Exposure

      One population-based study published in the September 2006 issue of the journal Pediatrics found that although there was not a significant change in the proportion of youths that reported getting sunburned from 1998 to 2004, there were some interesting distinctions between the younger and older youths.

      For example, the 16-18 age group had more sunburns during that time period compared to the 11-13 and 14-15 age groups including an increase in the reported number of sunburns over the six-year study period. In 2004, 70 percent of the 16- to 18-year-olds reported getting sunburned, an increase from 64 percent reported by this age group in 1998.

      In contrast, the study found that the younger age groups (ages 11-15) reported fewer sunburns and a decrease in the number of sunburns from 1998 to 2004.

      The study did not provide a definitive explanation as to why the younger age groups had fewer sunburns than their older counterparts, but one possible reason is that younger adolescents are more responsive to parental guidance than older teens who tend to be influenced more by their peers, Weinstock said. This trend, however, is worth noting in future public education campaigns geared toward teens and adolescents.

      Another study published in the January 2007 issue of the journal Pediatrics found that a multi-component community-based intervention successfully increased sun-protection behaviors in adolescents entering 6th to 8th SunSafe in the Middle Years program, designed as a randomized, controlled trial.

      The intervention used a broad range of role models including school personnel, coaches, pediatricians, teen peer advocates and lifeguards who actively encouraged adolescents to practice proper sun protection in different environments.

      The study found that there was significant improvement in the areas of the body protected by sunscreen, clothing or shade in the adolescents in the 10 communities randomly selected for the intervention versus those in the control towns, said Weinstock.

      From previous research, we know that compliance with sun-protective behaviors goes down between 6th to 8th grades. I think this study demonstrates that a multi-component program which involves a variety of people influential to this age group can have a positive impact on sun protection behavior and should be considered a model for future educational efforts aimed at adolescents.

      Adults and Sun Exposure

      Adults also failed to heed the warnings of dermatologists when it comes to practicing proper sun protection.

      A new article published in the June 1, 2007, issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDCs) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report presented data showing an upward trend in the incidence of sunburns in U.S. adults.

      From 1999 to 2004, there was a 2 percent increase in the number of adults 18 years and older who reported getting sunburned (32 percent to 34 percent, respectively). While this represents only a slight increase, Weinstock pointed out that the data demonstrates that the occurrence of sunburns in the adult population is not decreasing.

      Dermatologists are concerned that melanoma and other skin cancers will continue to increase as long as sun exposure does, said Weinstock. Since we know that overexposure to UV radiation is the most preventable risk factor for developing skin cancer, its critical for dermatologists to emphasize that people should practice proper protection when engaging in outdoor activities.

      For more information about skin cancer, visit www.skincarephysicians.com and click on SkinCancerNet.



      Skin Cancer Rates On The Rise...

      Runaway Acceleration Problem Plagues Prius Owners

      Lemon of the Week

      ConsumerAffairs.com has received repeated reports of the Prius hybrid running amok and this week a brand-new Prius with only 600 miles on the odometer wins our Lemon of the Week award.

      Much to the dismay of smug Prius owners, who refer to themselves as Prians, the little car can sometimes take off almost on its own, a lot like a horse in a high country meadow after chewing bad grass.

      That is just what happened to a reader in Washington state. Tina reported that her Prius suffered from uncontrollable acceleration on a freeway near Everett, Washington.

      As I attempted to merge into heavy traffic, Tina told us, I accelerated up the on ramp and was attempting to place the car between two vehicles going at a rate of approximately 50 miles per hour. The car lunged forward and would not slow down without repeated pumping of the brakes.

      Our reader left the freeway as soon as she could weave her way through heavy traffic still unable to disengage the Prius throttle.

      She turned the Prius off with the power button while sitting on the high speed freeway off ramp. Knowing that this was an unsafe place to leave the car, she headed for a nearby parking lot after regaining her confidence.

      Tina noticed a foul odor that she assumed was rising from the overheated Prius brakes and called her Toyota dealer.

      Despite the problems with uncontrolled acceleration, the Toyota service department asked Tina to drive the Prius to them.

      On the way to the dealership, the computer display malfunctioned.

      But the Toyota service department diagnosed the problem with the runaway Prius as nothing more than a carpet jamming the accelerator pedal or driver error.

      The dealer insisted that he did not know of any other similar incident despite repeated reports and complaints of unintended acceleration with the Prius..

      Now Tina is stuck with a Toyota Prius she cannot trust and that makes her Prius the ConsumerAffairs.com Lemon of the Week.

      Runaway Acceleration Problem Plagues Prius Owners...

      Fisher Price Recalls 1 Million Toys

      Toys Made in China Contain Lead-Based Paint

      China is again at the center of a nationwide recall.

      This one involves nearly 1 million Fisher-Price toys pulled off the market late Wednesday because they may contain excessive levels of lead paint. Lead is toxic and can cause serious health effects if ingested by children.

      The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall of 976,000 Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, and other childrens toys imported from China by Fisher-Price. The East Aurora, New York, company sold the toys at retailers nationwide between May and August 2007.

      The toys -- sold alone or as part of a set -- have a date code between 109-7LF and 187-7LF on the product or packaging.

      The recalled toys include Elmo Light Up Musical Pal, Big Bird Light Up Musical Pal, Dora's Talking House, Go Diego Go Antarctic Rescue, and Sesame Street Birthday Figure Pack. (A complete list of the recalled toys is below).

      Examples of recalled products

      Recalled Products

      33662 Elmo Light Up Musical Pal
      33664 Big Bird Light Up Musical Pal
      39038 Elmo Tub Sub
      87946 Elmo Keyboard
      90609 Elmo Collectible
      90612 Zoe Collectible
      90614 Big Bird Collectible
      93068 Elmo Boom Box
      93307 Press N Go Elmo
      93492 Cookie Saxophone
      93615 Splash Tub Puzzle

      B7554 Count To Beat Elmo
      B7987 Elmo In The Giggle Box
      B9620 Dora's Talking House
      C6908 Dora, Backpack, Perrito Figure Pack
      C6909 Diego Figure Pack
      C6911 Boots, Tico Figure Pack
      G5112 Sing With Elmo's Greatest Hits
      H2943 Grow With Me Elmo Sprinkler
      H3344 Birthday Dora
      H5570 Elmo & Pals (Elmo, Zoe, Bigbird)
      H4628 Water Fun Tote
      H8237 Blue 3 Pack Figures In Tube
      H9124 Chef Dora
      H9186 Giggle Grabber Ernie

      J0338 Diego Talking Field Journal
      J0344 Go Diego Go Deep Sea Rescue
      J0346 Go Diego Go Talking Rescue 4 X 4
      J5936 Giggle Grabber Chef Cookie Monster
      J6537 Sesame Street Giggle Toolbelt
      J6763 Royal Boots And Tico
      J7983 Sesame Street Tub Pots & Pans
      J9692 Dora's Talking Pony Place
      K3414 Diego - Talking Gadget Belt
      K3580 Fairytale Adventure Dora
      K4140 Toucan Motorcycle Rescue

      L3194 Surprise Inside Diego Eggs
      L3488 Sesame Street Birthday Figure Pack
      L3507 Sesame Street - Super Boom Box
      L5202 Birthday Dora
      L8905 Pablo & Pals
      M0352 Dora Figures Diego & Bear
      M0527 Sesame Street Giggle Doodler
      M2051 Lets Go Rescue Center
      33663 Ernie Light Up Musical Pal
      34658 Elmo Stacking Rings
      39054 Sesame Street Shape Sorter
      90267 Ernie Splashin' Fun Trike
      90611 Cookie Collectible
      90613 Ernie Collectible
      90745 Construction Playset
      93107 Action Fire Engine
      93308 Rev & Go Cookie Monster
      93493 Elmo's Guitar
      93780 Music And Lights Phone

      B7888 Shake, Giggle & Roll
      B7989 Silly Parts Talking Elmo


      C6910 Swiper Figure Pack
      G3825 Dora Talking Vamonos Van
      G9717 Giggle Doodler
      H3343 Cousin Daisy
      H5569 Elmo & Pals (Elmo, Cookie, Ernie)
      H4187 Dora Figures In Tube
      H8236 Dora 3 Pack Figures In Tube
      H8238 Sponge Bob 3 Pack Figures In Tube
      H9125 Bedtime Dora
      H9188 Giggle Grabber Oscar The Grouch

      J0343 Go Diego Go Antarctic Rescue
      J0345 Go Diego Go Mountain Rescue
      J5935 Giggle Grabber Soccer Elmo

      J6762 Queen Mami
      J6765 Prince Diego
      J9518 Sesame Street Giggle Drill
      K0617 Twins Nursery
      K3571 Go Diego Go Mobile Rescue Unit
      K4139 Go Diego Go Dinosaur Rescue
      L0305 Dora Figure

      L3215 Sesame Street Elmo Jack-In-The-Box


      L5813 Diego Tub Trike
      M0351 Dora Figures Dora & Kitty
      M0524 Go Diego Go Talking Gadget
      M0732 Dora's Talking House
      M2052 Fairytale Castle

      The CPSC said it has not received any reports of injuries associated with these recalled toys, but warned consumer to immediately take them away from children.

      Wednesdays announcement comes on the heels of several recalled items imported from China this year, including melamine-tainted ingredients used to make pet food, tires, fish, and other toys.

      In June, for example, RC2 Corp. recalled about 1.5 million "Thomas & Friends" wooden railway toys because the surface paints contained lead.

      A ConsumerAffairs.com investigation also revealed that 96 percent of the recalled toys in 2007 were imported from China.

      Consumers with questions about this latest toy recall can contact Fisher-Price at (800) 916-4498 or visit the companys Web site at www.service.mattel.com.



      China is again at the center of a nationwide recall. This involves nearly 1 million Fisher-Price toys pulled off the market because they may contain excess...