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Working at Home: An Impossible Dream?

Work-at-home jobs exist but finding them's not easy

In fact, its been estimated that for every one legitimate home-based business opportunity, there are over 40 scams waiting to take your money....


You would like to work from home but youve heard only horror stories about work-at-home scams? That's good. They're all true. Many people who have the desire to work from home have had their dreams shattered by crooks and con men.

Take for example, Robert, of Durham, North Carolina, who wrote: [The] company guaranteed employment and technical training materials. Took our money, provided nothing, then offered refund checks which bounced.

Randy, of Springfield, Oregon, found his work-at-home directions very unappealing: They needed $32.95 to send the materials I would need. What I got was a letter telling me to basically do the same thing to other people.

From envelope stuffing to assembly work, consumers have been ripped off to the tune of millions of dollars. In fact, its been estimated that for every one legitimate home-based business opportunity, there are over 40 scams waiting to take your money.

Not very good odds, you say?

True, but the way to turn the odds in your favor is to forget about the advertisements on the Web or in the back of magazines and newspapers, and turn your attention to companies that normally have no need to advertise or create your own opportunities in your community.

First, lets be honest. Whether as an employee or an independent contractor, not everyone is suited for the work-at-home environment. Many people who dream of working from home, end up back in an office building because their personality is simply not suited to the at-home environment.

For instance, are you lazy or immature? To be motivated, do you need a boss looking over your shoulder? Do you need the camaraderie of other workers?

A yes answer to any of those questions means that working from home might not be right for you.

Hate to say it, but you should also consider whether you are even remotely qualified for a work-at-home job. Generally speaking, you will have to perform as well -- or even better -- when working at home as you would if you were working in an office.

If you can't type, spell, write and speak grammatically, if you can't do simple math and have no patience with difficult customers and co-workers, an orange apron or a McDonald's cap may be in your future.

If you have a strong regional or ethnic dialect, you may not be suited to deal with the public on the telephone. Sorry, it may not be fair but that's the way it is.

I know, by this time you're saying, Shut up, David, and tell me where I can get a real job! OK, here are some legitimate ideas and companies that can help your work-at-home dreams become reality.

Virtual assistants

If you enjoy administrative work and are good at it, you may be a good candidate for a virtual assistant (VA) job.

The best VAs come from administrative backgrounds, but anyone who is detail-oriented, loves to work in a support role, and has a well-rounded work history would possibly do well in a career as a VA, said Stacy Brice, one of the founders of the VA industry.

Brice, who provides help and training through AssistU.com, said the pay could be rewarding, based on how well you do your job.

Because VAs are business owners, they set their own fees, based on the value they can create for their clients. You'll see fees all over the place, but AssistU-trained VAs generally have fees that are $30.00 + per hour, Brice said.

Why would someone hire a virtual assistant?

Many small business owners, sole-practice professionals and entrepreneurs hire VAs so they can concentrate on what they do best, rather than getting bogged down in administrative details.

Oh, and also so they can work at home. You'll find graphic artists, Web designers, technical consultants and all kinds of independent professionals working at home and using virtual assistants these days.

I use a virtual assistant so that I dont have the responsibility of overhead, payroll, etc., said Jonathan Pool, a Michigan-based mechanical consulting engineer. In a way, its like having a consultant of my own, someone with their own expertise.

In addition to AssistU, you can find valuable information at the International Virtual Assistants Association and at Staffcentrix.

Call centers

Or you could become a call-center professional, without moving to India.

There are legitimate companies that hire at-home customer service workers. Most positions are as an independent contractor, however, there is some companies that hire home-based employees, JetBlue being perhaps the best known.

Another is Alpine Access. Founded in 1998, it provides call-center solutions to various well-known companies, as well as to some of the largest financial institutions in the country. Agents who work for Alpine Access receive health benefits and a matching 401k plan, and are paid for the time they spend in training.

While being a call-center worker can mean juggling calls for many different companies, Alpine Access says that is not the case with them.

Alpine Access employees only work on one account, so if you train to take calls for J. Crew, you only take calls for them. In many other companies, you take calls for a variety of clients, which can be confusing, said spokeswoman Stefanie Jones.

In addition to Alpine Access, the following companies hire remote agents.

  •  Arise Arise hires remote agents to support almost 40 companies, including 14 Fortune 500 companies.
  •  National Telecommuting Institute, Inc. An organization that helps to assist Americans with disabilities. NTI prepares qualified individuals with disabilities primarily for work as customer service representatives, but also as technical support agents and in the medical transcription field.
  •  Working Solutions Established in 1997, Working Solutions has a network of over 20,000 remote agents who serve corporate and Fortune 500 clients.

Questions to ask

Before jumping on the home-based bandwagon, you must ask many questions or you might find yourself right back where you started.

  •  Are there startup or membership fees? Its usually a sure sign of a fraud if you must pay to work. However, we know of one legitimate company (LiveOps) that will ask you to pay for the cost of the background check.
  •  What equipment will you need and who pays for it? Youll typically need a landline phone, high-speed Internet access, and possibly a wireless headset. Also, ask about any special computer programs you might need.
  •  How often are you paid and who pays you? If you're working as an independent contractor, it's standard practice to be paid only once per month. An employee might be paid more often.
  •  Will you be taking incoming calls or making outgoing sales calls? If you dont like the idea of making cold calls to people you dont know, a telemarketing position might not be your thing.
  •  Are you paid per minute? This is important. Many legitimate companies will pay you based on how long you are actually on the phone. For instance, if you are sitting at your desk for an hour but are on the phone for 20 minutes of that hour, youll be paid for only 20 minutes.

Brain surgery

It goes without saying that there are some jobs you just have to show up for. You can't be a work-at-home bus driver. But, if you already have specific work skills or professional qualifications, the field is wide open.

The Internet, while it may be the new Scam Central, also makes it possible for many professional and technical types to work from home for the first time. If you are an accountant, lawyer, software engineer, journalist or architect, there are ample opportunities to work from home, or wherever else you happen to be.

You can find out about these from your professional or trade association.

Other prospects

The best job of all, of course, is the one you create yourself. If you're qualified to be a virtual assistant, your city or town may be the best place to get your start. You could try contacting the business owners and professionals you already know, offering to take over some or all of their back-office functions.

If you're computer-literate, able to set aside time to handle telephone chores and can be trusted with such essential tasks as billing and collections, chances are there are plenty of prospective clients close to home.

Most of your potential clients would rather deal with someone they can deal with personally when the need arises. Is that you? Well, I can't tell from here. Only you know the answer.

More Scam Alerts ...

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FDIC Closes NetBank, ING Assumes Deposits

Competition, mortgage slowdown, delinquent loans blamed

FDIC Closes NetBank, ING Assumes Deposits...

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has closed NetBank, one of the first Internet banks, and its parent company has filed for bankruptcy. Its deposits have been assumed by ING Bank.

Over the weekend, customers can access their money by writing checks, or by using their debit or ATM cards. Checks drawn on the bank that did not clear before Friday, Sept. 28, will be honored up to the FDIC insured limit.

Starting on Monday, October 1, customers will have full access to their insured deposits via the Internet and for the foreseeable future should continue to utilize NetBank's current Website to transact banking business.

"Since we began insuring banks in 1934, not a single depositor has lost a penny of insured deposits. Customers of NetBank should have confidence and security knowing that they will have access to their insured funds in a timely and orderly manner," said FDIC Chairman Sheila C. Bair.

Customers with questions about how deposit insurance works or who would like more information concerning the failure can visit NetBank's Website, the FDIC's Web site or call toll-free at 1-888-256-6932.

Scam alert

The FDIC stressed that all of NetBank's deposit records have been transferred to ING Bank.

Neither the FDIC nor ING bank will email NetBank customers asking them to validate their deposits or to request personal, confidential information, such as account numbers, Social Security Number, driver's license number, etc.

If customers receive e-mails asking for such personal information, they should assume the messages are fraudulent and should not respond.

Web-based

NetBank, which was a "pure" Internet bank, had no physical branches. It's the first U.S. savings and loan to fail in three years.

NetBank was founded in 1996 and went public in 1997. It had 286,000 customers and $4.8 billion in assets in 2005 before online competition from national and regional banks eroded the business.

In its bankruptcy court filing, the bank's parent company said the bank's failure resulted from fewer mortgage originations and demands to repurchase delinquent loans, among other factors.

Large Depositors

NetBank had approximately $109 million in 1,500 deposit accounts that exceeded the $100,000 federal deposit insurance limit. While these customers will have access to their insured deposits, they will become creditors of the receivership for the amount of their uninsured funds.

In addition to continued access to their insured deposits, depositors of NetBank with deposits in excess of the insurance limits will also receive an immediate payment of 50 percent of their uninsured balance from the FDIC as receiver.

The savings-and-loan subsidiary had $2.5 billion in assets and $2.3 billion in total deposits as of June 30, according to the FDIC.

 

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Toyota Recalls Floor Mats, NHTSA Warns Prius Owners

Not all Priuis owners buy the floor mat theory

Toyota Recalls Floor Mats, NHTSA Warns Prius Owners...

The Toyota Motor Corp. and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have agreed that faulty floor mats are the cause of runaway acceleration in the Toyota Prius hybrid as well as several other Toyota vehicles.

Toyota announced it will conduct a recall of 55,000 floor mats which are used in the 2007/2008 Lexus ES 350 as well as the 2007/2008 Camry.

At the same time, NHTSA is strongly urging owners make sure the driver-side, all weather floor mat is properly secured before driving the vehicles.

NHTSA and Toyota noted that, if unsecured, the mats being recalled can slip forward and trap the accelerator pedal, causing the vehicle to accelerate uncontrollably.

The floor mats in the Prius are not part of the recall but NHTSA urged drivers of Toyota Avalons and Prius hybrids to check the driver-side floor mats to make sure they are properly installed.

Of course, depending on vehicle design, it is possible for unsecured floor mats to interfere with accelerator or brake pedals in a wide range of vehicles, NHTSA said in a press release.

Therefore, NHTSA reminds all drivers of all makes and models to check the driver-side floor mats for secure installation and to follow manufacturer instructions for installing the mats.

For more information on the floor mat recall, consumers can contact the NHTSA Hotline at 888-327-4236 or their Toyota or Lexus dealer.

NHTSA has also reported complaints of unintended acceleration in the RAV 4 and Tacoma pickup.

Earlier this month, NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson told ConsumerAffairs.com that regulators at NHTSA were "aware of" complaints of runaway acceleration in the popular Toyota Prius hybrid and were in a "monitoring mode."

Prius owners skeptical

Prius owners who have reported the unintended acceleration problem with their Prius hybrid to ConsumerAffairs.com remain wary that the problem can simply be traced to floor mats.

Here is the rub, one California reader told us. If it truly were the mat catching the accelerator, why did turning the car off solve the problem? There is nothing with the power button that would do this. And yet each time when I restarted the Prius it was fine. If the accelerator were caught under the mat once the car was turned off the problem did not persist, she wrote.

The California consumer said her test of the Prius will continue.

"I've decided to remove the mat and drive the car for a month to see if the problem occurs without the mat. If this does turn out to be the problem then one has to ask why Toyota would sell a Toyota Prius specific mat that would have any potential of causing this problem. If this does not turn out to the problem then that is bad and others should know.

On August 22, Dan in San Dimas, California reported an unintended acceleration problem with his Prius.

I was almost stopped for a red light, my foot was on the brake (NOT on gas), the car was surging forward being held back by brakes. I quickly checked for anything under the accelerator including the floor mat, foot on the gas, or any other cause. All were negative.

Dan pulled into a gas station on the corner with the engine still revving at maximum rpms. He turned the Prius off, double checked for external causes and found none. He then turned the hybrid back on and it behaved normally, Dan told us.

When Dan reported the unintended acceleration problem to his Toyota dealer, he said there was a service bulletin on the 2004-2005 models but not on the 2006. He offered to re-flash the computer. Dan told us.

Other incidents

Karen in Los Gatos, California has a 2007 Prius she has driven since December of 2006.

After driving the car approximately 1,000 miles, Toyota Prius hybrid had an uninitiated full-throttle acceleration while driving on an expressway, she told ConsumerAffairs.com.

Startled, I slammed on the brakes. The accelerator fought my braking as I pulled over and turned off the car, shocked and taking a deep breath, Karen wrote us.

Karen did not think about the problem with unintended acceleration again until it happened with about 13,000 miles on the odometer.

I had been stopped at a traffic light. It changed to green and I started to move forward. The Prius took off charging toward the car in front of me. Standing on the brakes, I pulled over and turned off the car. Very frightened, I sat wondering what I should do next. What happens if I turn the car on and it takes off again? she asked herself.

Karen said that all was normal when she re-fired the hybrid engine.

I called Toyota and talked to a sales person and explained this dangerous experience. He confirmed that he was familiar with the problem and also experienced this himself when driving one of the earlier models of the Prius, Karen wrote.

Karen took the runaway Prius to her Toyota dealer and listened as the service manager blamed everything that occurred on "nothing more than a carpet jamming the accelerator pedal."

As I explained to him, I didn't have floor mats when this happened the first time, Karen wrote.

A concerned friend sent Karen a link to earlier stories published by ConsumerAffairs.com.

"I forwarded the link to the owner of the Toyota dealership. He too expressed concern and asked me to keep the loaner for a few more days while they get someone for Toyota to look further into this, Karen said.

About the same time that Janet was crashing into a garage wall with her Prius, Lois in Las Vegas was wrestling with her 2005 Toyota hybrid's tendency to accelerate suddenly.

It has hesitated several times on me. This last time I almost got in an accident. It chugged along several times in a row. No lights went on. It has 99,000 miles and has a warranty to 100,000 miles. It has bee at the Toyota dealership 5 days. they cannot find any problems, Lois said.

In Tustin, California, Lupe reported this problem with her 2006 Prius. Three weeks ago I went to pick up my daughter from school, I decided to back up my car and wait for her to come out. Suddenly my car accelerated while I had my foot pressing the brakes, it was going too fast I had no time to do anything, I crashed onto a wall about 10 fees in front of me.

Lupe said the wall was not damaged and she was not hurt but the Prius suffered $14,000 in damages.

An engineer's theory

In Los Lunas, New Mexico, Marvin had a similar experience.

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

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 ConsumerAffairs.com, 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's advice

Toyota spokesman Sam Butto said owners who encounter a an unintended acceleration problem can contact our Customer Experience Center Monday thru Friday from 6:00 AM -6:00 PM Pacific time at 1-800-331-4331 to have their concern documented so the Center can look into it.

Butto also advised that customers can consult any Toyota dealer for an inspection or diagnostic test. If an abnormal condition is found repairs will be covered by the Prius warranty of 8 years/100,000 miles or in California and states adopting California standards 10 years/150,000 miles, he said.

If no problem is found Toyota may charge a fee for the inspection or diagnostic test.

 

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28 Days of NutriSystem

Trick or treat? Time will tell.

28 Days of NutriSystem...

 


A box sitting in my apartment contains nearly all the food I will be consuming for the next 28 days ... starting tomorrow.

Nearly one year after I wrote a story about the terrible experience of many NutriSystem customers, it is still one of the most often read stories on ConsumerAffairs.com. And as for the company, the complaints have become more numerous.

Many say the food is so disgusting, it makes it impossible to follow the diet.

Upon receiving the boxes of product, I tried a lunch of beef stew which tasted like I imagine bad dog food would taste, and sampled a bite from 12 of the snacks, all of which were stale, broken and tasted absolutely horrible, wrote Sue of Republic, Mo. The chocolate tasted like ex-lax squares, the snack cakes dry and old, the popcorn stuck together and stale, all inedible.

Others complain that NutriSystem substitutes dishes frequently, even though customers pay a premium to pick their menu items.

I am in my third month of ordering from NutriSystem," wrote Cate of St. Louis. "I order online and pay extra for the privilege of ordering the meals I want rather than doing the automatic ship where they choose the meals. For two of the three months I have ordered, they have shipped me substituted items, and I quote here from the letter that arrives with my order:

Due to unusually high demand for our weight loss program, we are experiencing temporary shortages of some of our food products. Because of this, we may have had to substitute some items which you ordered that were out of stock with others of comparable value. We apologize for this temporary inconvenience, and thank you for your understanding in this matter.

Of the 112 items in my last order (28 days worth), 32 items, (29%) were substitutes, Cate continued. It is unconscionable to me that they would arbitrarily opt to substitute almost a third of my entire order.

Although I haven't had the opportunity -- or, more accurately, the nerve -- to look at the contents of the box in my apartment, I received the same letter.

Finally, others say the food is extraordinarily salty, possibly a side effect of pre-packaged foods. However, according to the NutriSystem's ingredient labels, the food has less than the approved percent of daily sodium intake.

Story continues below video

Millions try it

Before: Our well-fed reporter (left)

Millions of dieters have tried the 35-year-old NutriSystem program, according to the company's website. But still the complaints come in.

Are these the words that often accompany the love/hate relationship many Americans have with diets? Or is the food so disgusting that it's not feasible to base an entire diet on it? By the end of these next 28 days, I expect to have answers to those questions and more.

Although I'm pretty worried about the disgusting smell, taste and texture of the foods that hundreds have complained to ConsumerAffairs.com about, I think what most concerns me is the huge calorie deficit. At less than 1500 calories per day, I will be cutting my estimated current intake nearly in half.

I've never considered myself overweight and I've generally eaten like I have nothing to worry about. So it will be difficult living the same active lifestyle on what will probably feel like a bottomless pit.

On that note, I plan to stay as active after I start the diet as I am now. That means walking about four miles every day and running about four miles every week.

Medical OK

This afternoon, Dr. Henry Fishman, ConsumerAffairs.com's consulting physician, inspected me and said that at 188 pounds and six feet I'm healthy in nearly every regard but could afford to lose a few pounds.

My NutriSystem counselor told me most men in the program lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. At that estimate, I should be four to eight pounds lighter 28 days from now. If the food is as revolting as its severest critics claim, I may lose more than that.

Well, I'm off to have my final regular meal and glass of beer.

Check back with ConsumerAffairs.com frequently as I will be regularly posting written and video blogs detailing my one-month adventure with the NutriSystem diet.

 



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Topps Beef Recall Expanded

Hamburger patties may be infected with E. coli

Topps Beef Recall Expanded...


Topps Meat Company has expanded its recall of ground beef that may be tainted with the virulent 0157:H7 strain of the E. coli bacteria. The company said it is voluntarily recalling approximately 331,582 pounds of ground beef products.

The following products are subject to recall:

Retail Products

• Two-pound boxes of Topps 100% Pure Ground Beef Hamburgers, 8 Quarter Pounders. Each box bears a sell-by date of JUL 12 08. UPC #74701-00065
• Two-pound boxes of Topps 100% Pure Ground Beef Hamburgers, 3 OZ., 10 COUNT. Each box bears a sell-by date of JUL 12 08. UPC #74701-00125
• Three-pound boxes of Topps 100% Pure Ground Beef Hamburgers, 6 OZ. PUB Burgers. Each box bears a sell-by date of JUN 22 08. UPC #74701-00045
• Three-pound boxes of Topps 100% Pure Ground Beef Hamburgers, 16 Hamburgers. Each box bears a sell-by date of JUL 23 08. UPC #74701- 00005.
• Five-pound boxes of Topps 100% Pure Ground Beef Hamburgers, 20 Quarter Pounders. Each box bears a sell-by date of JUN 22 08, JUL 12 08 or JUL 23 08. UPC #74701-00055.
• Eight-pound boxes of Topps 100% Pure Ground Beef Hamburgers, 32 Quarter Pounders. Each box bears a sell-by date of JUN 22 08, JUL 12 08 or JUL 23 08. UPC #74701-00185.
• Three-pound boxes of Topps 100% Pure Ground Beef Hamburgers, 12 Quarter Pounders. Each box bears a sell-by date of JUN 22 08, JUL 12 08 or JUL 23 08. UPC #74701-00025.

Foodservice Products

• Ten-pound boxes of BUTCHERS BEST 100% ALL BEEF PATTIES 75/25, 6 OZ. FLAT, 27 PIECES. Each box bears a sell-by date of JUL 23 08.
• 10-pound boxes of BUTCHERS BEST 100% ALL BEEF PATTIES 75/25, 4 OZ. (4-1), 40 PIECES. Each box bears a sell-by date of JUL 23 08.
• 10-pound boxes of KOHLER FOODS 4 OZ. FLAT HAMBURGER, 40 PCS. Each box bears a sell-by date of JUL 23 08.
• 10-pound boxes of KOHLER FOODS 6 OZ. FLAT HAMBURGER, 27 PCS. Each box bears a sell-by date of JUL 23 08.
• 10-pound boxes of KOHLER FOODS 8 OZ. FLAT HAMBURGER, 20 PCS. Each box bears a sell-by date of JUL 23 08. 10-pound boxes of SAND CASTLE FINE MEAT, 100% PREMIUM BEEF HAMBURGERS 80/20, 8 OZ. FLAT, 20 COUNT. Each box bears a packedon date of JUN 22 08.
• 10-pound boxes of SAND CASTLE FINE MEAT, 100% PREMIUM BEEF HAMBURGERS 85/15, 6 OZ. FLAT, 27 COUNT
• 10-pound boxes of Topps 100% PREMIUM HAMBURGERS 5 OZ.
• 10-pound boxes of Topps HAMBURGERS, 3.2 OZ, 50 COUNT. 1
• 10-pound boxes of Topps 100% PREMIUM HAMBURGERS, 8 OZ
• 10-pound boxes of Topps 100% PREMIUM HAMBURGERS, 4 OZ. (4-1) 10-pound boxes of WESTSIDE, 100% PREMIUM HAMBURGER, 8 OZ.
• 10-pound boxes of WESTSIDE, 100% PREMIUM HAMBURGER, 6 OZ on date of JUN 22 07.

Each box bears a sell-by-date of JUN 22 08.

The packages also bear the establishment number Est. 9748 on the back panel and it may be inside the USDA mark of inspection as well. These products should no longer be available in grocery stores. However, they may be in consumers' freezers and it is important that consumers look for these products.

If you have a product marked with the above information, the company says you should remove the sell-by date and UPC code and send it to: Attn: Recall Coordinator, Topps Meat Company LLC, P.O. Box 219, 1161 E. Broad Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07207 for a full refund.

The products were produced on June 22, 2007, July 13, 2007 and July 23, 2007 and were distributed to retail grocery stores and food service institutions nationwide. The problem was discovered through sampling done by the New York Department of Health as part of their coordinated investigation with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention into several reported illnesses.

Topps says this is its first recall in its 65-year history. However, its just the latest in a series of recalls prompted by concerns over E. coli contamination. They come at a time when critics of the U.S. food safety inspection system have called for more resources devoted to protecting the U.S. food supply.



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Mixing Acetaminophen and Caffeine May Cause Liver Damage

It's not just coffee -- some medications also contain caffeine

Mixing Acetaminophen and Caffeine May Cause Liver Damage...

A strong cup of coffee and a handful of Tylenol the morning after a night of imbibing may do as much, or more, damage to your liver as the imbibing you did the night before, a new study finds.

The toxic interaction could occur not only from drinking caffeinated beverages while taking the painkiller but also from using large amounts of medications that intentionally combine caffeine and acetaminophen for the treatment of migraine headaches, menstrual discomfort and other conditions, according to researchers writing in the Oct. 15 print issue of Chemical Research in Toxicology.

Health experts have warned for years that consuming excess alcohol while taking acetaminophen can trigger toxic interactions and cause liver damage and even death. However, this is the first time scientists have reported a potentially harmful interaction while taking the painkiller with caffeine, the researchers say.

While the studies are preliminary findings conducted in bacteria and laboratory animals, they suggest that consumers may want to limit caffeine intake -- including energy drinks and strong coffee -- while taking acetaminophen.

Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle tested the effects of acetaminophen and caffeine on E. coli bacteria genetically engineered to express a key human enzyme in the liver that detoxifies many prescription and nonprescription drugs.

Toxic byproducts

They found that caffeine triples the amount of a toxic byproduct, N-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine (NAPQI) that the enzyme produces while breaking down acetaminophen. This same toxin is responsible for liver damage and failure in toxic alcohol-acetaminophen interactions, they say.

In previous studies, the same researchers showed that high doses of caffeine can increase the severity of liver damage in rats with acetaminophen-induced liver damage, thus supporting the current finding.

People should be informed about this potentially harmful interaction, chemist Sid Nelson says. The bottom line is that you dont have to stop taking acetaminophen or stop taking caffeine products, but you do need to monitor your intake more carefully when taking them together, especially if you drink alcohol.

Megadoses

Nelson points out that the bacteria used in the study were exposed to megadoses of both acetaminophen and caffeine, much higher than most individuals would normally consume on a daily basis. Most people would similarly need to consume unusually high levels of these compounds together to have a dangerous effect, but the toxic threshold has not yet been determined, he says.

Certain groups may be more vulnerable to the potentially toxic interaction than others, Nelson says. This includes people who take certain anti-epileptic medications, including carbamazepine and phenobarbital, and those who take St. Johns Wort, a popular herbal supplement.

These products have been shown to boost levels of the enzyme that produces the toxic liver metabolite NAPQI, an effect that will likely be heightened when taking both acetaminophen and caffeine together, he says.

Likewise, people who drink a lot of alcohol may be at increased risk for the toxic interaction, Nelson says. Thats because alcohol can trigger the production of yet another liver enzyme that produces the liver toxin NAPQI.

The risks are also higher for those who take large amounts of medications that combine both acetaminophen and caffeine, which are often used together as a remedy for migraine headaches, arthritis and other conditions.

The researchers are currently studying the mechanism by which this toxic interaction occurs and are considering human studies in the future, they say.

 



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Facebook Has 'A Long Way to Go,' Investigators Say

States probing social networking site's safety and security measures

Facebook Has 'A Long Way to Go,' Investigators Say...

Two state attorneys general say the popular networking site Facebook has "a long way to go" before they're satisfied it is adequately protecting children and young adults from sexual predators.

Earlier this week, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo subpoenaed Facebook documents and revealed that his office has been conducting an undercover investigation of Facebook's security procedures.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper have been conducting a 50-state investigation into Facebook, which may become the target of a bidding war between Microsoft and Google. Facebook has stolen much of the limelight from Rupert Murdoch's MySpace, which has instituted a new database method of tracking sexual predators and blocking them from the site.

"This step complements and advances our common effort to protect children from predators, as part of our multi-state investigation into Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites," Blumenthal said "We are negotiating with Facebook -- including a productive, face-to-face meeting with Facebook representatives last week in my Hartford office.

"Facebook has a long way to go before we are satisfied," Blumenthal said.

"We presented to them some of the more graphic and unacceptable material found on portions of their site, but also design aspects that must be changed to protect minors against predators. We will continue to consider all options, including possible legal action, to assure that Facebook and other social networking web sites better protect children from sexual predators and adult material," Blumenthal added.

"The bottom line is that we must find the best way to make sure parents have the tools they need to protect their children when they're on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace," said Cooper, who also met with Facebook last week.

New York probe

The New York probe has involved the use of undercover investigators posing as underage girls. Cuomo said the agents were repeatedly solicited by adult sexual predators on Facebook and could easily access a wide range of pornographic images and videos,

Cuomo also alleges that there are significant defects in the sites safety controls and the companys response to complaints - deficiencies that stand in contrast to the reassuring statements made on the website and by company officials.

My office is concerned that Facebook's promise of a safe website is not consistent with its performance in policing its site and responding to complaints, Cuomo said. Parents have a right to know what their children will encounter on a website that is aggressively marketed as safe.

Cuomo said his team set up several undercover Facebook profiles representing users between twelve and fourteen years old. Consistent with its current open policy, Facebook did not require verification of a high school email address or any other identifying information in order to register the account.

Within days of opening these accounts, the investigators received numerous sexual solicitations from adults sent to several of the underage profiles, including:

• u look too hot....... can i c u online (webcam)? im avl at . . .
• i'd love to get off on cam for you hun ; P
• do you like sex?
• if u want call me [number deleted] or u can give me ur number?
• call me if u want to do sex with me [number deleted] ok

Underage profiles set up by the investigators received several other solicitations of a more graphic nature.

Complaints ignored

When the undercover investigators lodged complaints with Facebook regarding the inappropriate - and illegal - solicitation of the underage users, Facebook in many instances ignored the complaints and took no action against the reported sexual predators, Cuomo said.

The investigators also lodged several complaints with Facebook about inappropriate content or communications on the website. In response, Facebook took down many inappropriate images within a week of receiving the complaints, Cuomo reported.

"On the other hand, other complaints reporting user groups that hosted hardcore pornography were ignored by Facebook, and the content remains available to all users - including underage users - to this day," he said.

"Perhaps most alarmingly, Facebook ignored several - and repeated - complaints from our undercover investigators concerning persons who made inappropriate sexual advances to underage users," Cuomo said.

For instance, on August 30, an investigator created a profile for a 14-year-old female high school student from New York. Approximately a week later, she received a Facebook message from a 24-year-old man, asking do you have any nude pics?

The investigator lodged a complaint with Facebook as the students mother complaining that her daughter was being solicited by older men. The next day, Facebook sent a response saying that Facebook will review the reported material and remove anything that violates our Terms of Use.

To date, however, Facebook has taken no further action, and the 24-year olds profile is still available on the Facebook site, Cuomo said.

In subpoenaing the company, Cuomo has asked for complaints received by Facebook regarding inappropriate solicitation of underage users and inappropriate content on the site, as well as any responses by the website. The subpoena also calls for all Facebook policies on user safety and all representations made to consumers about the safety of the site.

Hot item

Online publishers like social networking sites because users esssentially provide free content. Also, users tend to stay on the sites for longer periods of time than other types of sites, enabling publishers to display more ads per visit.

Microsoft has been widely reported to be negotiating for up to five per cent of Facebook for as much as $500 million. Google is also reported to be interested in acquiring a piece of the fast-growing online social network company.

 

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Cuomo Charges Facebook Ignores Sexual Predators

New York investigation could cool Microsoft's ardor

Cuomo Charges Facebook Ignores Sexual Predators...

While Microsoft and Google kick Facebook's tires, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is accusing the fast-growing Web site of making misleading claims about its safety measures.

Microsoft has been widely reported to be negotiating for up to five per cent of Facebook for as much as $500 million. Google is also reported to be interested in acquiring a piece of the fast-growing online social network company.

Besides bidding against each other, the Internet titans now must consider the possible fall-out of Cuomo's allegations.

In a letter accompanying a subpoena for documents, Cuomo warned the company that a preliminary review conducted by his office revealed significant defects in the sites safety controls and the companys response to complaints - deficiencies that stand in contrast to the reassuring statements made on the website and by company officials.

Cuomo said that in recent weeks, investigators from his office have conducted a number of undercover tests of Facebook's safety controls and procedures.

Posing as underage users, the investigators found they were repeatedly solicited by adult sexual predators on Facebook and could easily access a wide range of pornographic images and videos, he said.

Slow to respond

Even worse, said Cuomo, Facebook often did not respond, and at other times was slow to respond to complaints lodged by the investigators - posing as parents of underage users - asking the site to take action against predators who had harassed their children.

My office is concerned that Facebook's promise of a safe website is not consistent with its performance in policing its site and responding to complaints, Cuomo said. Parents have a right to know what their children will encounter on a website that is aggressively marketed as safe.

Cuomo said his team set up several undercover Facebook profiles representing users between twelve and fourteen years old. Consistent with its current open policy, Facebook did not require verification of a high school email address or any other identifying information in order to register the account.

Within days of opening these accounts, the investigators received numerous sexual solicitations from adults sent to several of the underage profiles, including:

• u look too hot....... can i c u online (webcam)? im avl at . . .
• i'd love to get off on cam for you hun ; P
• do you like sex?
• if u want call me [number deleted] or u can give me ur number?
• call me if u want to do sex with me [number deleted] ok

Underage profiles set up by the investigators received several other solicitations of a more graphic nature.

Complaints ignored

When the undercover investigators lodged complaints with Facebook regarding the inappropriate - and illegal - solicitation of the underage users, Facebook in many instances ignored the complaints and took no action against the reported sexual predators, Cuomo said.

The investigators also lodged several complaints with Facebook about inappropriate content or communications on the website. In response, Facebook took down many inappropriate images within a week of receiving the complaints, Cuomo reported.

"On the other hand, other complaints reporting user groups that hosted hardcore pornography were ignored by Facebook, and the content remains available to all users - including underage users - to this day," he said.

"Perhaps most alarmingly, Facebook ignored several - and repeated - complaints from our undercover investigators concerning persons who made inappropriate sexual advances to underage users," Cuomo said.

For instance, on August 30, an investigator created a profile for a 14-year-old female high school student from New York. Approximately a week later, she received a Facebook message from a 24-year-old man, asking do you have any nude pics?

The investigator lodged a complaint with Facebook as the students mother complaining that her daughter was being solicited by older men. The next day, Facebook sent a response saying that Facebook will review the reported material and remove anything that violates our Terms of Use.

To date, however, Facebook has taken no further action, and the 24-year olds profile is still available on the Facebook site, Cuomo said.

In subpoenaing the company, Cuomo has asked for complaints received by Facebook regarding inappropriate solicitation of underage users and inappropriate content on the site, as well as any responses by the website. The subpoena also calls for all Facebook policies on user safety and all representations made to consumers about the safety of the site.

 

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TJX Offers Settlement For Data Breach, But With Strings Attached

Company offers credit monitoring, store credit and discounts as compensation for losses

TJX Offers Settlement For Data Breach, But With Strings Attached...

The TJX retail store chain has unveiled the terms of a settlement it's offering to the 46 million customersaffected by a data breach that lasted nearly two years.

The company says it wants to offer three free years of credit monitoring and identity theft insurance to those affected by the breach, but a closer look at the terms of the settlement shows that only a select few will qualify for the benefit.

The 455,000 TJX customers who were originally confirmed as having had their data stolen in the breach and who returned merchandise to a TJX store without receipts are eligible for the credit monitoring service, provided by Equifax, to total two years on top of the original one-year offer TJX provided.

TJX will also reimburse customers who had to replace driver's licenses as a result of the breach, if they submit written documentation verifying the time and money spent to the settlement claim administrator.

Other customers who submit documentation proving they lost time and money to deal with the effects of the breach are eligible for a TJX store voucher of $30, based on a calculation of $10 lost per hour. The average individual loss from identity theft is $6000 and 600 hours of time.

The company will also hold a special three-day "Customer Appreciation Sale" with a 15 percent discount on all items, sometime in 2008.

The settlement, which still needs to be approved by the court, absolves both the TJX company and its bank, Fifth Third Bancorp, of any wrongdoing or failure to secure customer data."TJX has concluded that further conduct of the Litigation would be protracted and expensive, and that it is desirable that the Litigation be fully and finally settled in the manner and upon the terms and conditions set forth in this Settlement Agreement," said the company.

TJX also offered to have both its own retained independent security expert and the lawsuit plaintiffs' expert conduct examination of TJX's security systems to validate the company's attempt to improve its procedures. But the settlement terms forbid the results of the examination from being made public, "and shall be subject to such confidentiality restrictions as TJX may reasonably require to protect the security of its computer system."

The class action settlement is only directed at lawsuits from customers. TJX still faces lawsuits from banks that had to absorb the costs of cancelling and replacing thousands of credit and debit cards due to the breach.

The TJX breach is alleged to have been caused by hackers using laptops with wireless connections to decode data between payment scanners at stores, a technique called "wardriving." Once inside the TJX database, the hackers purloined the data and sold it in the underground economy that specializes in the selling of stolen personal information across the Internet.

The breach went on for nearly 18 months before being detected in mid-December 2006. Even then, the breach was not publicly disclosed to consumers and the media until January 2007, and the true size of the data breach was not disclosed until February 2007.

Personal data stolen in the TJX breach turned up in an $8 million fraud case in Florida. The thieves used the data to create fake credit cards, then used the credit cards to purchase gift cards from Wal-Mart and buy high-end electronics and other goods. The ringleader of the counterfeiting group, Irving Escobar, was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison, as well as paying $600,000 in restitution for the fraud.

 

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Economists Warn Debt Crisis Could Hammer Consumers

Shockwaves could spread from Wall Street to Main Street

Economists Warn Debt Crisis Could Hammer Consumers...

While the subprime mortgage crisis has sent a shock wave through Wall Street, its effects, so far, have yet to show up on Main Street.

But two economists warn that once debt problems spill over into the consumer economy, the economy could be in for the most severe downturn in economic activity seen since at least the 1980s and possibly since the Great Depression.

"For the past 25 years, America has experienced a period of rising consumer debt," said Steven Fazzari, an economics professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "Up to now the high debt levels have had a positive influence on the economy. In fact, it was a stimulus to economic growth. But now it's likely to become a source of economic contraction."

While the sub-prime mortgage loans have caused a great deal of market volatility, the current situation could be a harbinger of difficulties ahead.

"Many people think that trouble in the housing market won't have that big of an impact on the overall economy because construction accounts for only 5 percent of the economy. They predict a soft landing from the current troubles," Fazzari said.

"Our research suggests that we're facing a much more serious problem due to our consumption habits, that could have a much bigger impact," he said.

We're already seeing credit dry up in housing. But this may not affect just home building. Going forward, the inability to get home loans could affect consumer spending. It will become more difficult to shop at the rate we're used to, and at the rate the economy has come to depend on. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the economy. That's a much bigger portion than construction, which means the potential impact is much greater.

Increasing debt

Fazzari along with Barry Cynamon, a WUSTL graduate who is now pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, studied the impact American consumers have had on the economy over the past 25 years, as well as the impetus behind the people's spending and borrowing habits.

Their analysis leads them to conclude that various factors are responsible for the increase in consumer debt during the latter half of the 20th century.

"We are social animals who learn behaviors from those around us, both 'real' people and the characters we identify with in the media. The media, as well as friends, family and co-workers, have a big influence on people's willingness to buy more," Fazzari said. "The message we all hear is that it's OK to spend more money, it's patriotic to buy more and that it's perfectly normal to take on debt to do so."

Combine that pressure with a loosening of institutional constraints to accessing credit, and you wind up with the current situation. The risk comes into play because with so much debt, the source of financial instability is now in the consumer sector.

"We're already seeing what happens to the markets from a weakened mortgage market. Many people who received loans who would not have qualified with previous credit standards are now unable to afford those loans as 'teaser rates' expire interest rates go up," Fazzari said.

"What will people do when offers for new credit cards don't show up in the mail three times a week? People won't be able to simply pay off old loans with new lines of credit. They'll be forced to service their debt, if they can."

 

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Scammer Claims To Be 'Verified By Visa'

Phishing emails try to trick consumers into revealing passwords

Identity thieves are constantly looking for new ways to trick consumers into revealing personal information in response to phishing emails. ...

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Credit Card Theft Takes Many Forms

Merchants often the big losers; consumer vigilance essential

Credit Card Theft Takes Many Forms...


Betsy, from England, was visiting family in the southern U.S. in early August when GM Mastercard, her credit card company, contacted her. There was, she was informed, suspicious activity on her account, a $333 charge for an EZPass New York toll pass.

It was a service they offered when I signed up for the card, she told ConsumerAffairs.com. I checked a box that requested them to notify me by email anytime more than $200 was charged to my account.

Because that was the only unusual charge, Betsy said she concluded the purchase was just a mistake in the system. GM Mastercard removed the charge but Betsy did not cancel her card.

Ten days later, she received another email from the credit card company, informing her that a big screen TV, valued at more than $1,000, had been purchased from an online site and charged to her account.

Now realizing that she was indeed a victim of credit card fraud, Betsy immediately called the credit card companys fraud division and reported the charges as unauthorized. The company instantly closed out the account and began the process of issuing her a new card.

Informed that the TV set had been purchased from a merchant called Just FTA.com, based in Glendale, California, Betsy called the store and reported the purchase as fraudulent.

We were very lucky that she called, said David, the stores owner. We had shipped the merchandise the day before and it was one day away from being delivered. We called Federal Express and put a stop on the order and had it returned.

Merchants take the hit

In this case, JustFTA.com was spared the loss of a big screen TV, but in the world of credit card fraud, it is merchants like David who usually take the real hit. The consumers liability is limited to $50 and the credit card company withholds payment in cases of fraudulent purchases, so it doesnt lose money.

But if a merchant ships merchandise in what turns out to be a fraudulent purchase, hes stuck with the loss. David says that in 2006, JustFTA.com lost over $20,000 to credit card fraud.

There are systems in place designed to prevent fraudulent purchases like this from taking place, but clever thieves have found ways around them. When a credit card purchase comes in, the merchant can link up with the bank to verify that the billing address and the shipping address match the information in the banks file. But in this case, it wasnt much help to JustFTA.com.

In the case of this consumer, the system worked, David said. When we verified her billing address with the shipping address, it came back from the bank 100 percent verified.

Thats because Betsys case was a much more serious instance of credit card fraud. Not only had a thief stolen her account information, he had somehow gained access to her personal, identifying information so that he could change her billing address.

By calling the credit card company and providing her mothers maiden name or her Social Security number, the thief was able to change Betsys real address to one in Louisville, Kentucky, most likely a safe house or drop point.

So how, Betsy wanted to know, could this have happened?

Personal information

In most cases of credit card fraud, a criminal has hacked into an e-commerce site and stolen the credit card information, said Dan Clement, president of CardCops.com, a Malibu, California-based security firm. Its becoming so common that we see a couple of hacks each week now.

Clement said accounts are also compromised in some retail locations where security cameras are in use. Unscrupulous employees, he said, sometimes direct the cameras at credit card data entry points and later review the tapes to capture account numbers and PINs.

But in Betsys case, Clement says that scenario is highly unlikely.

Someone hacking into an e-commerce site could have gotten the information they needed to use her credit card, but not to change her billing address. That information could have been acquired only by two methods, he said.

The first is some type of phishing scam. The thief might have sent her an email, made to look like it was from her credit card company, asking her to click on a link and enter personal information. Did she respond to such an email in the days before the theft?

Absolutely not, Betsy said.

The only other way, said Clement, is that someone learned some personal information about her and physically gained access to her credit card. An unsettling prospect, but in this case, concludes Clement, the likely scenario.

Clement took Betsys old account number and, using his sophisticated software, conducted a sweep of Internet chat rooms to see if it showed up. Often, he says, he can find where a particular account has been sold, in sort of an eBay for credit card thieves.

In Betsys case, there was no match, indicating that the thief either did not sell the stolen card or else sold it in a face-to-face transaction on the street. If her account was in fact sold, it in all likelihood brought a higher price than a typical pilfered account, because of the change of billing -- cob in the vernacular of the street.

Longer shelf life

If a thief can change the billing information associated with the card, the stolen account has a longer shelf life. It may be weeks before the consumer learns the account has been compromised. It also allows the thief to more easily have shipments sent to the new address.

Though theres no conclusive proof to establish exactly how Betsys account was stolen, the anti-fraud feature of her credit card account and her prompt action combined to minimize losses. By asking to be notified in the event of a large credit card purchase, Betsy was able to head off the thief. And her quick response was greatly appreciated at JustFTA.com.

Most consumers dont bother to call, David noted. They have three months to contest an authorized change, and most take their time. Because she acted so quickly it saved us big time.

Fraud alert

Clement says more banks should offer these kinds of fraud alert services and consumers should take advantage of them. He also says consumers can take other steps to protect themselves from the growing threat of credit card fraud.

When credit card companies issue you a new card each year, ask them to assign you a new account number as well, he said. Your credit card information is sitting in databases maintained by banks, hotels, rental car companies and other places, year after year, and could be the source of compromise.

Debit cards, he says, are especially dangerous, since a thief can take all the money in a compromised account. Clement suggests consumers change their debit card PIN every six months.

Its a hassle, but it provides another layer of protection, he said.

Check your bill

Consumers should also closely review their bill each month. Clement says often a thief will ping a compromised account by entering a $1 charge to a charity. If the charge goes through uncontested, the thief then orders up a big-screen TV or other expensive item.

The consumer is the best line of defense, Clement said. Ive seen statistics showing that consumers find 52 percent of all credit card fraud.

And theres plenty of it. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission estimates that 10 million consumers have their personal information stolen or misused each year, costing businesses like JustFTA.com as much as $48 billion.

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Pet Industry Agrees on Need for Toxicity Standards

Wal-Mart relies on spin doctors, while others call for research and stricter standards

Pet Industry Agrees on Need for Toxicity Standards...


An Illinois pet owner -- worried about the safety of the chew toys her Shelties played with -- recently hired a laboratory at the Illinois Department of Agriculture to test 24 Chinese-made dog toys for lead.

The only reason I tested these dog toys is because I have lost three Shelties in the last four years and I can only figure out why one of them died, said Nancy R. of Orland Park, Illinois. When all the news came out about pet food and the tainted ingredients from China, I got concerned.

"Then my 83-year-old mom noticed that my dogs toys were all made in China. I went to Petco and PetSmart and couldnt find any toys not made in China -- except one rope knot that was made in Mexico.

I was doing this personally for the safety of my dogs and only tested for lead because thats what theyre finding in the toys from China, she said.

But Nancys lab results -- and the interpretation of those findings -- has again pitted a forensic toxicologist against veterinarians and others in the pet industry about what are safe and acceptable levels for lead and heavy metals in toys for dogs and cats.

The results also illustrate why many in the pet industry want acceptable national levels for lead and other toxins -- specifically for dog and cat toys.

Heres the latest development in this debate, which surfaced in the wake of recent ConsumerAffairs.com story.

Illinois findings

The Illinois Department of Agricultures lab released its findings late last week on the 24 dog toys Nancy had tested for lead.

All the toys had lead levels that fell within that states acceptable limits for lead paint in childrens toys, according to the lab.

The levels also fell far below the amount of lead paint in childrens toys thats allowed by federal law 600 parts per million.

The lab found the highest levels of lead in a PetSmart tennis ball -- 335.7 parts per million. It detected the lowest levels of lead in a Hartz Rubber Percival Platypus 0.02 parts per million.

These are all within the acceptable limits for lead content in childrens toys in Illinois, said the labs director, Dr. Gene Niles. The veterinarian is a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology (DABVT). There are no levels for lead content in pet toys. Are these numbers high or low? All I can tell you is that in Illinois, the state allows up to 600 parts per million for lead in kids toys and these are all within that guideline.

But the lead levels in the PetSmart tennis ball are 335 times higher than the amount of lead a Texas laboratory -- hired by ConsumerAffairs.com to analyze four Chinese-made pet toys for heavy metals and other toxins -- found in one of the products.

That product -- a latex dog toy that looks like a green monster -- had what the labs forensic toxicologist called elevated levels of lead -- 907.4 micrograms per kilograms.

Thats almost one part per million, said ExperToxs director and forensic toxicologist Dr. Ernest Lykissa, Ph.D. With that kind of concentration, if a dog is chewing on it or licking it, hes getting a good source of lead.

The green monster toy also had what Dr. Lykissa considered high levels of chromium -- 334.9 micrograms per kilogram.

With that kind of chromium in there you have what can be an extremely toxic toy if they (animals) put it in their mouths. And dogs put things in their mouths. If a dog puts this in his mouth, he runs a big chance of getting some type of metal toxicity that may shorten his life.

The lab also found other toxic metals in the green monster toy.

Theres cadmium, arsenic, and mercury in there, Lykissa said. This is not a clean toy. This is toxic. Bank on it.

ExperToxs tests also detected what Lykissa called worrisome levels of cadmium in a catnip toy -- 236 micrograms per kilogram.

Thats a big number, Lykissa said. Its a good dose of cadmium.

ConsumerAffairs.com purchased all four pet toys it hired ExperTox to test at a Wal-Mart store in Kansas City, Missouri. All the toys had a tag attached that read Marketed by Wal-Mart stores and Made in China.

Wal-Mart attacks

Wal-Mart has attacked ExperToxs finding and said Dr. Lykissa severely misinterpreted the results.

The conclusions drawn in this article appear to have been based on incorrect interpretations of the data, and based on the opinions of a person (who is) not an expert in consumer product testing, Melissa OBrien, who identified herself as representing Wal-Marts corporate communication, wrote us in an e-mail. Other news organizations said O'Brien told them she worked for a public relations firm called Edelman.

After reviewing these test resultsthe results of these tests actually prove the products are VERY safe," the hired publicist said.

If these measurements are in fact the results, as you have reported, they have been severely misinterpreted by the director of ExperToxs lab, if he is reporting these levels to be high or dangerous," O'Brien argued. To the contrary by this lab's own report, these levels are considered very low and actually much lower than what is acceptable by regulatory bodies in the U.S. and Europe for products, including childrens toys.

OBrien referred to the Consumer Product Safety Commissions (CPSC) limit of 600 parts per million for the total lead in surface coating.

By comparison, the highest concentration of lead found in any of the ExperTox tests is a very low 907.4 parts per million more than 600 times less than the CPSC limit for surface coatings.

Two veterinarians who reviewed ExperToxs findings said the levels of heavy metals found in the chew toys do not pose a threat to dogs or cats. Whether the chew toys ExperTox tested are a hazard to children and adults who handle them is unclear.

I dont see any of those numbers being a toxicity concern for dogs or cats, Dr. Mike Murphy of the University of Minnesotas College of Veterinary Medicine told us. Latex paint can contain one-half to one percent of lead, which is 10,000 parts per million. What he (Dr. Lykissa) is saying is that one part per million is a risk. But latex paint is 10,000 times higher than that and we dont recognize latex paint as a toxicity risk to dogs and cats.

I disagree with the interpretation thats being made (by Lykissa), added Dr. Murphy, who holds a Ph.D. in toxicology. I consider these to be extremely low numbers and they are not a toxicological concern for pet owners.

Dangerous? It depends

Dr. Fred Oehme at Kansas State Universitys College of Veterinary Medicine said the risks to dogs and cats from these toys depends on how much of the heavy metals are absorbed in their bodies.

Could they be harmful? The poisoning depends on how much is taken into their systems. Most animals require 30 parts per million of their total daily diet before you get into a problem with lead. Cadmium is more than that.

Im more concerned about the lead than the other two (heavy metals), he added. Lead accumulates and if it gets into the body, it builds up.

Dr. Niles, at the Illinois Department of Agricultures lab, agreed that one part per million of lead is not a health risk to pets.

Thats my personal opinion, not the opinion of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, he said. Youd find very few things that you would let anybody play with if that (one part per million) was your benchmark.

Lack of standards

PetSmart told us earlier this week that it routinely tests its products -- including dog and cat toys -- for lead and other toxins.

The companys spokesman reiterated those safety protocols today.

The products we sell must meet a variety of safety and quality standards and protocols, said Bruce Richardson, the companys director of external communication. These are based on federal regulations and standards (such as those found in the Code of Federal Regulations), state and provincial regulations, as well as commonly accepted standards established by highly respected institutions such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

"In addition, we have established our own stringent standards of quality and safety for areas not necessarily covered by those groups named above, he said.

Richardson took exception with our comparison of the levels of lead in the PetSmart tennis ball to those found in the green monster toy.

He said its not fair to use ExperToxs benchmark of one part per million as a safety measure for lead or other toxins in pet toys.

The terms high and elevated are relative terms and must be used carefully and given proper context to avoid confusion and alarm, he said. Its not fair to pit a (forensic) toxicologist against a veterinary toxicologist on this issue. I dont think he (Dr. Lykissa) has a leg to stand on. Hes not a veterinary toxicologist and has no point of reference when he talks about elevated levels. Elevated against what? I dont think his results bring any value to this discussion. And his comments will not change anything were doing.

Richardson added: To our knowledge, we are not selling any products that have compounds that have tested above levels of toxicity established by the various entities named above and are not posing any health threat to pets or humans.

ExperTox isnt swayed by its critics.

The lab stands by its findings and calls them rock solid.

The labs manager also disagrees that the levels of lead in PetSmarts tennis ball are safe.

Those are a lot higher levels than what we found in the green monster toys, and I dont see how 600 parts per million is acceptable, said ExperToxs Donna Coneley. We dont agree that (335.7 parts per million of lead) is a safe level.

Coneley -- who pointed out that ExperTox and Dr. Lykissa are experts at consumer product testing -- said she wouldnt let a dog chew on a toy that had those levels of lead.

Not from what I see here at the lab. We have differing opinions on what is safe and acceptable.

ExperTox, however, doesnt look at CPSC or ASTM limits during its testing procedures, Coneley said.

We simply pour out our results as we receive them, she said, adding her lab uses state-of-the-art technology. We dont look at the limits on products.

Coneley questioned the validity of using the same acceptable levels for lead and other toxins in pet toys that are used in childrens toys.

Weight is always a factor, she said. If youre dealing with a teacup-size dog you cant assume that whats safe for a 20-pound child is safe for a three- to ten-pound dog. Cats are light as well. Their little bodies are not able to spread out the toxins. Animals also tend to chew things off more aggressively than kids.

Everyone seems to concentrate on humans with this type of testing, but maybe more scrutiny is needed on what limits are safe for pets.

Thats the one point where nearly everyone involved in this debate is on the same page.

"Huge question"

There clearly is an absence of regulations for pet toys, Richardson said. Maybe the guidelinesthe levelsfor human standards are not so good based on the exposure for dog (or cats). Thats a huge question that needs to be addressed.

PetSmart, he said, would not object to having national acceptable standards and levels for lead and other toxins in pet toys.

The president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association said his members -- who represent more than 900 pet product makers, importers, and livestock suppliers worldwide -- would welcome such standards.

Theyre looking for a benchmark that everyone can follow, said Bob Vetere, president of the non-profit organization. Maybe what we need is to have everyone sit down at a table and talk about what makes sense.

"Its not going to be easy to find an answer, but its a process that has to start. The CPSC is certainly somebody that needs to be sitting at that table, and wed (APPMA) certainly be willing to work with them and help them on this issue, he said.

The CPSC, however, said its agency currently has no regulatory control over pet products.

We only have jurisdiction over a pet-related product (that is not food), if evidence is presented that the product has put the safety of consumers at risk, said spokesman Scott Wolfson. He did not address the potential danger to children and adults exposed to the pet toys.

Dr. Niles with the Illinois Department of Agriculture joins those who favor national acceptable levels for lead and other toxins in pet toys.

We have to use human data now in the absence of pet data, he said. Work needs to be done to get standardized levels for pets. But you have to have the data. And Im fully in favor of scientific data to support those guidelines. Once we get those guidelines, we can interpret this data in relationship to animals instead of humans.

Until that happens, Vetere said members of the APPMA will triple-checking their products to be sure theyre tested for lead and other toxins.

That action, he said, is the result of our story that revealed what Dr. Lykissa said were elevated levels of lead, chromium, and cadmium in the two pet toys sold at Wal-Mart.

Everyone (in this industry) is well aware of your story, Vetere told us. And the reaction from virtually everyone Ive talked to about the story is: Wait a minute. We didnt know about this. Hello, whats going on? And theyve called their vendors and suppliers to be sure theyre testing the products.

Its good that you got this out there so they (our members) could know, and they are pushing very hard on their vendors now to get those test results. If nothing else, everyone is now aware of this in the industry.

No U.S. toys?

Meanwhile, Nancy told us shes relieved by test results on her dog toys.

Dr. Niles convinced me that these are all within safe limits, she said. My first reaction when I heard these results was a deep sigh of relief. I had lost dogs and then I thought oh, no, theyre chewing on toys that may be dangerous. So when I found out these results, I was relieved that these toys are safe.

Nancy, however, is still troubled that she cant find pet toys made in the United States.

What amazes me is that all these toys are made in China. I was going to dump out all my old toys and buy only ones made in the USA. But I couldnt find any that werent made in China. So I thought that if thats all I can get, Im going to make sure theyre safe. And the lab told me these toys are safe.

Whether pet owners agree or disagree with that interpretation, ExperToxs Coneley said this debate has given them the tools to make more informed decisions about the products they give their dogs and cats.

Thats what this is all about, giving people more information that I feel will help them make a better choice. If a vet says he think our results are extremely low numbers than people can take that information and balance it against what Dr. Lykissa said to make a better decision.

This has opened a Pandoras box and its good that people are now talking about this issue.



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Two Credit Bureaus Offer Consumers Credit Freeze in 50 States

Trans Union, Equifax reverse policy; Experian undecided

Two Credit Bureaus Offer Consumers Credit Freeze in 50 States...

In a surprise reversal and a major win for consumers, the Trans Union credit bureau announced that it would offer consumers the ability to "freeze" their credit files in all 50 states in order to protect themselves against identity theft and fraud.

The service will be available in the 11 states that do not already have credit-freeze laws, costing consumers $10 to set the freeze and $10 to unlock it, and will "meet or exceed the requirements" of states with existing freeze laws.

The freeze service will be free to victims of identity theft, and is scheduled to roll out Oct. 15. TransUnion is also offering a more expensive package that combines credit monitoring with the ability to lock and unlock credit freezes online, for $14.95 monthly.

"TransUnion understands that many consumers are concerned about identity theft and want access to tools that provide them with a personal level of comfort," said Trans Union's Mark Marinko.

"We're pleased to be in a position to empower all consumers with the extra measure of security and peace of mind that a file freeze can deliver under the right circumstances."

Consumer advocates hailed Trans Union's decision and urged the remaining bureaus to follow suit. For a security freeze to be effective to stop new account identity theft, it must be placed at each of the three major credit reporting agencies, said Consumers' Union's Gail Hillebrand. Thats why it is so essential for Experian and Equifax to offer the freeze nationwide.

Equifax followed suit, announcing yesterday that it too would offer credit freezes for customers in all 50 states, and would roll out its own plan sometime in October.

Experian undecided

The last of the "Big Three" credit bureaus, Experian, is still "studying the process," said spokesperson Don Girard. "We expect to make an announcement on our decision in the near term."

Credit freezes prevent new credit accounts or loans from being made in someone's name without their explicit authorization, such as a password or PIN code.

The freeze can reduce or prevent the most common form of identity theft, where someone's personal information is used to open new credit cards and take out loans in their name, without their knowledge.

Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia already have laws in place enabling consumers to freeze their credit, with varying rules and costs for usage. The credit and financial industries have aggressively lobbied against credit freeze laws, claiming they would reduce the availability of credit and discourage shoppers from making big-ticket purchases due to the time spent unlocking a credit account.

Efforts by the credit industry to push weaker national credit protection laws that would preempt state law stalled out in Congress. States such as Utah have passed laws enabling citizens to freeze and unfreeze their credit accounts in as little as 15 minutes.

Consumer advocates and identity theft protection companies such as TrustedID have also heavily advocated the passage of credit freeze laws in all 50 states, claiming that the availability of personal information combined with easy access to credit makes consumers too vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.

Just as the major credit bureaus began offering comprehensive -- and expensive -- identity theft protection services to customers in the wake of the explosion in high-profile data breaches, credit freezes and associated protection plans represent a potentially lucrative new revenue stream for the bureaus to make use of.

But as Consumers Union's Hillebrand notes, if the bureaus have the technical means to enable instant locking and unlocking of credit, they should not be charging high fees to use a service that can be turned on and off in minutes.

TransUnion and the rest of the credit bureaus should follow the lead of the states with the best security freeze laws and provide this protection to all consumers for no more than $5, Hillebrand said. All three credit bureaus should make it fast, affordable, and easy for consumers nationwide to take advantage of this important identity theft safeguard.

 

 

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Mattel, Not China, To Blame For Toy Recall, Company Admits

But U.S. manufacturers, consumer advocates all for stronger government oversight

Mattel, Not China, To Blame For Toy Recall, Company Admits...

 


Chinese manufacturers have taken plenty of heat in the U.S. over recent widespread toy recalls, but U.S. toy maker Mattel says it's mostly to blame. The company says there were flaws in some of the toys' designs.

The admission comes as reports circulate in the retail industry that additional large toy recalls are pending and may be announced today. Actions that can result in adverse publicity are often announced late Friday afternoon, in hopes they will not receive much attention over the weekend.

The issue of Chinese responsibility came up in Beijing this week where Mattel executives were meeting with their Chinese subcontractors. A top Mattel executive took the opportunity to apologize to his Chinese colleagues, saying they were being blamed for simply following flawed design plans.

Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys, said Thomas Debrowski, Mattel's executive vice president for worldwide operations, in meetings with Li Changjiang, head of China's product quality watchdog.

Action needed

Mattel's apology may have been crucial to the company's efforts to maintain good relations with its Chinese suppliers, but in the U.S., manufacturing interests and consumer advocates said there's plenty of room for improvement by all involved.

J.P. Fielder of the National Association of Manufacturers said, "it's clear that China has to establish some sort of safety network for its manufacturers."

He said that China should be willing to learn about the U.S. safety network and what the U.S. does to protect consumers. But regardless of what China and private companies may do, a stronger safety agency in the U.S. is a "good step toward protecting our own consumers."

Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety for the Consumer Federation of America, said Mattel's apology "must be part of a broad strategy to improve relations in China."

But she also said that the U.S. needs a stronger safety agency.

"It's certainly good to apologize, but we need regulation that is going to protect consumers," Weintraub said.

More than 20 million Chinese-made toys were recalled in the U.S., mostly because they contained excessive levels of lead paint. Coming on the heels of recalled tainted pet food and toothpaste, the recall applied increase political pressure in Washington to more closely monitor and control imports from China.

Over-reacted?

Debrowski also said he believed his company probably reacted to the crises by recalling more toys than necessary, and that some perfectly safe toys were taken off store shelves.

Mattel has responded to the recent heightened concerns about import safety by ramping up independent audits and testing of all products coming out of the region.

Other toy manufacturers and large retailers are also stepping up inspections, admitting they have done too little in the past.

Wal-Mart, on the other hand, has launched a public relations offensive to counter lab tests that found potentially harmful levels of lead, chromium and other heavy metals in pet toys sold in its stores.

Employees of Edelman, a large publicist, have attacked the lab that conducted the tests and the Web site that reported them but have not made any of their own test results or scientific authorities available.

Toy industry responds

Yesterday, companies other than Wal-Mart that make and import dog and cat toys said they will be triple-checking their products to be sure theyre tested for lead and other toxins.

That action -- according to the president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) -- is the result of a ConsumerAffairs.com story that revealed two Chinese-made pet toys sold at Wal-Mart stores contained what a forensic toxicologist said were elevated levels of lead, chromium, and cadmium.

Earlier this month, the Walt Disney Company said it will start conducting its own testing of toys featuring Disney characters. Toys 'R' Us said it has hired a corps of engineers who will test toys on its shelves.

Disney said it would inform Mattel that it will be "looking over their shoulders," Andy Mooney, Disney's consumer products chairman told the New York Times.

Toys 'R' Us, the nation's largest toy retailer, said it has engineers in the field this week, randomly selecting toys from store shelves around the country.

Mattel spokespeople say the company has stepped up efforts to examine all toys manufactured past and present.

Disney-branded toys are no strangers to the recall lists. This year alone, recalls have included magnetic puzzles, Easter baskets and footed pajamas bearing the Disney name.

For Toys 'R' Us, the problem is even more far-reaching, since its stores sell products carrying its own brand as well as those from nearly every major manufacturer.

Recalls of Toys 'R' Us-branded products this year include its Elite Operations toy set and wooden coloring cases, both containing lead-based paint.

With the holiday shopping season approaching, there is growing concern among retailers, manufacturers and companies like Disney that license their brands and characters for use on toys and children's items.

Toys at sea

While last week's recall of 800,000 Mattel toys could result in better oversight by manufacturers, one child safety expert warns that more lead-contaminated toys are likely to infest the U.S. market and that the safety agency charged with filtering unsafe toys cannot handle the load.

Allen Korn, director of public policy and general counsel for Safe Kids USA, a nonprofit that works to prevent child injury, said he expects other major toy manufacturers to do the same before the Christmas shopping season.

But while these major recalls of Chinese toys appear to have yielded some positives, Korn said many smaller foreign toy manufacturers may not care about hurting their brand image and it's possible they will continue to use the cheaper lead-based products in their toys.

He also warned that the agency charged with filtering dangerous toys is incapable of doing so.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is withering on the vine and needs a shot of water and fertilizer, Korn said.

Among many of the agency's publicized woes, is a shrinking, demoralized staff. Nowhere is this more evident than at the ports where hundreds of millions of truckloads of products that the agency inspects are imported into the U.S.

No-Shows

Although the CPSC would not confirm it, reliable reports indicate the agency only has 15 inspectors for the entire nation. According to The New York Times, at least one of them almost never shows up to work.

When an agency has jurisdiction over so many products, there needs to be a vigorous inspection network and clearly there isn't, Korn said.

Korn said the agency is particularly weak because it has a very limited ability to fine companies that withhold information about a recalled product. Mattel has been accused of doing this at least twice.

According to the agency's governing statute, the Consumer Product Safety Act, a company has 24 hours to inform the CPSC if it believes one of its products could be dangerous. If it does not do so in that time frame, the most the agency can fine any company is $1.8 million, which often is far less financial damage than what most recalls would cost in consumer reimbursements, lost inventory and negative press.

Often, that small fine is negotiated down, too, Korn said. It's an economic disincentive to do the right thing.

The agency's remaining two commissioners have submitted reauthorization proposals to Congress. If Congress adopts the proposals, the agency would have greater authority to impose fines..

What to do

Until then, Korn warns that parents should take some precautions:

• Sign up for the CPSC's recall alerts, which are also published on ConsumerAffairs.com's recalls section and included in our free daily and weekly newsletters.

• Check past recalls.

• If any toys in a home have been recalled due to lead, you should consider taking your children to a pediatrician to be checked since lead poisoning symptoms are often not immediately noticeable.

• If a product comes with a recall registration card, fill it out so the manufacturer can contact you directly in the case of a recall.

• For smaller, less expensive toys, reconsider just throwing them away. Instead, get a refund or a replacement to test whether the recall works and also to hold the manufacturer responsible. If you have any problems getting a refund, file a complaint with ConsumerAffairs.com.

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Simplicity & Graco Cribs Recalled After Infant Deaths

Nearly 1 million cribs on recall list

Simplicity & Graco Cribs Recalled After Infant Deaths...

Simplicity Inc. is recalling nearly one million cribs, including some that may have been recalled previously, after reports of three infant deaths.

The drop-side can detach from the crib, which can create a dangerous gap and lead to the entrapment and suffocation of infants.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said it is aware of two deaths in Simplicity manufactured cribs with older style hardware, including a 9-month-old child and a 6-month-old child, where the drop-side was installed upside down.

CPSC is also investigating the death of a 1-year-old child in a Simplicity crib with newer style hardware, in which the drop-side was installed upside down. CPSC is also aware of seven infant entrapments and 55 incidents in these cribs.

 

Correct installationIncorrect

 

The drop-side failures result from both the hardware and crib design, which allow consumers to unintentionally install the drop-side upside down. This, in turn, can weaken the hardware and cause the drop-side to detach from the crib. When the drop-side detaches, it creates a gap in which infants can become entrapped.

CPSC is warning parents and caregivers to check all Simplicity cribs to make sure the drop-side is installed right side up.

To do this, check to see that the slightly rounded rail with the decorative groove is installed at the top and the plain rail is on the bottom. Next, consumers should make sure the drop-side is securely attached to the tracks in all four corners.

CPSC said it is also aware of two incidents that occurred when the drop-side was correctly installed with older style hardware, though the upside down installation greatly increases the risk of failure.

It's the second Simplicity recall this year. In June, the company recalled t 40,000 of its Nursery-in-a-Box Cribs because of a choking and fall hazard.

Consumer confusion

Consumer advocates were critical of the CPSC's announcement, saying it did not make clear that some of the cribs had already been recalled for other problems.

"This crib recall is very confusing for consumers because many of the products involved have previously been recalled and it doesn't explain that anywhere in the agency's press releases," said Consumer Federation of America Director of Product Safety Rachel Weintraub.

"A crib is one of the few products that's actually designed for a parent to leave a child unattended. When there's a problem of this magnitude with a crib, there's a huge breach of trust with the manufacturer," she said.

Others noted the CPSC's release referred only to Simplicity cribs in its headline and did not mention the Graco brand until the fifth paragraph of its news release.

"CPSC does this constantly -- they build their release around the corporate name of the manufacturer or importer instead of a brand name that consumers might recognize," said ConsumerAffairs.com President and Editor in Chief James R. Hood.

"A big part of the CPSC's mission is alerting the public to safety hazards. To do that, it needs to use readily-recognized brand names, not obscure corporate identities that mean nothing to the consumer," Hood said.

The recalled Simplicity crib models include: Aspen 3 in 1, Aspen 4 in 1, Nursery-in-a-Box, Crib N Changer Combo, Chelsea and Pooh 4 in 1. The recall also involves the following Simplicity cribs that used the Graco logo: Aspen 3 in 1, Ultra 3 in 1, Ultra 4 in1, Ultra 5 in 1, Whitney and the Trio.

The recalled cribs have one of the following model numbers, which can be found on the envelope attached to the mattress support and on the label attached to the headboard: 4600, 4605, 4705, 5000, 8000, 8324, 8800, 8740, 8910, 8994, 8050, 8750, 8760, and 8996.

The cribs, which were made in China, were sold in department stores, children's stores and mass merchandisers nationwide from January 1998 through May 2007 for between $100 and $300.

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

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Industry Responds to Reports of Lead in Wal-Mart Pet Toys

'Poison is poison,' toxic metals specialist warnsWal-Mart calls out its spin doctors

Industry Responds to Reports of Lead in Wal-Mart Pet Toys...

Copyright © 2007 ConsumerAffairs.com Inc. All Rights Reserved
Companies that make and import dog and cat toys are now triple-checking their products to be sure theyre tested for lead and other toxins.

That action -- according to the president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) -- is the result of a ConsumerAffairs.com story that revealed two Chinese-made pet toys sold at Wal-Mart stores contained what a forensic toxicologist said were elevated levels of lead, chromium, and cadmium.

Everyone (in this industry) is well aware of your story, AAPMAs President Bob Vetere said. His non-profit association represents more than 900 pet product manufacturers, importers, and livestock suppliers worldwide.

And the reaction from virtually everyone Ive talked to about the story is: Wait a minute. We didnt know about this. Hello, whats going on? And theyve called their vendors and suppliers to be sure theyre testing the products.

Its good that you got this out there so they (our members) could know, and they are pushing very hard on their vendors now to get those test results. If nothing else, everyone is now aware of this in the industry.

ConsumerAffairs.com hired ExperTox Analytical Laboratory in Texas to test four Chinese-made toys -- two for dogs and two for cats -- for heavy metals and other toxins. We purchased the four pet toys earlier this month at a Wal-Mart store in Kansas City, Missouri. All the toys had a tag attached that read Marketed by Wal-Mart stores and Made in China.

We chose the toys at random at Wal-Mart. Two of them -- a latex toy for dogs that looks like a green monster and a cloth catnip one -- revealed what the labs forensic toxicologist called elevated levels of lead, chromium, and cadmium.

Two veterinarians told ConsumerAffairs.com the levels of heavy metals found in the toys do not, in their opinion, pose a threat to dogs or cats. Whether they are a hazard to children and adults who handle the chew toys is unclear.

"Poison is poison"

But a physician who specializes in the removal of metals from humans told us that its always worrisome if a toxin -- like lead -- gets into the body.

Poison is poison, said Dr. Rashid Buttar, head of the Center for Advanced Medicine and Clinical Research in Huntersville, North Carolina. Im a dog lover and, no, I dont want my dog to be chewing on dog toy that has lead.

Dr. Buttar described the levels of lead that ExperTox found in the green monster toy 907.4 micrograms per kilogram -- as bad.

Its absolutely worrisome to me if that green monster toy gets in a toddlers mouth, he said.

But he also pointed out that those levels are common: Kids are being exposed to lead left and rightlead is all over the place.

That does not lessen the risk, however. Since lead builds up in the body, it is the total accumulation over time that is harmful. Thus, even small amounts contribute to potentially devastating health effects in children who, like dogs and cats, are smaller than adult humans and thus more susceptible to small amounts of a toxic substance.

"Rock solid"

ExperTox stands by its findings and calls them rock solid.

The labs tests on the green monster toy revealed it contained 907.4 micrograms per kilogram of lead.

Thats almost one part per million, said forensic toxicologist Dr. Ernest Lykissa, Ph.D., director of ExperToxs lab. With that kind of concentration, if a dog is chewing on it or licking it, hes getting a good source of lead.

The green monster toy also had what Lykissa considered elevated levels of the cancer-producing agent chromium -- 334.9 micrograms per kilogram.

With that kind of chromium in there you have what can be an extremely toxic toy if they (animals) put it in their mouths. And dogs put things in their mouths. If a dog puts this in his mouth, he runs a big chance of getting some type of metal toxicity that may shorten his life.

The lab also found other toxic metals in the green monster toy.

Theres cadmium, arsenic, and mercury in there, Lykissa said. This is not a clean toy. This is toxic. Bank on it. ExperToxs tests on the catnip toys detected worrisome levels of cadmium 236 micrograms per kilogram.

Thats a big number, Lykissa said. Its a good dose of cadmium.

The forensic toxicologist said Wal-Mart should pull these pet toys off the market because of the levels of heavy metals.

Or put a warning label on them that says if you put this (toy) in your mouth you will get poisoned, Lykissa said. There is nothing good about the agents (in these toys) that Im reporting to you.

Wal-Mart calls the spinmasters

Instead of following the lead of other toy industry players by redoubling its inspections, Wal-Mart called out its publicists and spin doctors from Edelman, which calls itself the "world's leading independent global PR firm," to try to discredit Lykissa and to try to intimidate ConsumerAffairs.com. Wal-Mart, through its Edelman mouthpieces, also backed off an earlier pledge to re-inspect the toys.

While Wal-Mart claims to dispute ExperToxs findings, companies that manufacture pet toys are making sure their products are tested and safe for dogs and cats.

Im at the pet show at Las Vegas and the people Ive talked to at this show are concerned (by the labs findings), Vetere said. They want to make sure theyre not part of the problem and, are not affected by this problem. They do not want to do anything foolish to jeopardize the safety of pets.

Theres certainly cause for everybody to pay attention to this report, he added. Some people might say oh my goodness, how can this happen? And another group might say the results are bogus. But as with any crisis, everybodys got to take a deep breath, check the information, and check their products. And thats whats happening now.

Vetere said most companies that make pet toys routinely test their products. Certainly every large company is testing for toxins -- not just lead -- but all sorts of toxins.

PetSmart and the KONG Company told us earlier this week that they routinely test their dog and cat toys for lead and other toxins.

But what are the federal guidelines on acceptable levels of those materials in pet toys? And who makes sure the industry follows those benchmarks?

Industry seeks standards

While the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) tests all toys that come in contact with humans, theres not a similar organization that test products specifically intended for animals, and theres not a specific organization that controls pet toys, Vetere said. But any toys that is intended to come into contact with an animal is just as likely to come into contact with a child.

The makers of pet toys are smart enough to follow those same standards set for kids toys and apply them to pet toysbecause again, in most cases, pet toys are played with by children.

The CPSC is the obvious -- most common sense -- federal agency to oversee pet products, Vetere said.

And his members would welcome guidance from the commission on this issue.

Theyre looking for a benchmark that everyone can follow, he said. Maybe what we need is to have everyone sit down at a table and talk about what makes sense. Its not going to be easy to find an answer, but its a process that has to start. The CPSC is certainly somebody that needs to be sitting at that table, and wed (APPMA) certainly willing to work with them and help them on this issue.

The CPSC, however, remains on the sideline on this issue. A spokesman, in the agency's usual terse and legalistic style, told us the agency only concerns itself with products that harm humans. He did not address the potential danger to children and adults who might be exposed to the pet toys.

"Pet industry concerned"

During our interview with Vetere, he said he shares pet owners' concerns about ExperToxs findings.

And my message to pet owners is that the pet industry is very concerned when something like this happens. Our members are as on top of this as they can be and they are on top of making sure their products are safe.

Most people in the pet industry are in it because they love pets and they are as concerned as any pet owner out there.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart has gone on the defensive and attacked ExperToxs findings. Melissa OBrien, who identified herself as representing Wal-Mart's corporate communications department, said the lab severely misinterpreted the findings and demanded ConsumerAffairs.com retract the story. Other news organizations said O'Brien told them she worked for Edelman.

After reviewing these test results provided to us today on the pet products in your story . . . the results of these tests actually prove the products are VERY safe, OBrien told us in an e-mail. If these measurements are in fact the results, as you have reported, they have been severely misinterpreted by the director of ExperToxs lab, if he is reporting these levels to be high or dangerous.

To the contrary by this lab's own report, these levels are considered very low and actually much lower than what is acceptable by regulatory bodies in the U.S. and Europe for products, including childrens toys, she said.

OBrien referred to whats called the ASTM F-963 or the Standard Consumer Safety Specification on Toy Safety. She said that has a limit of 90 parts per million for accessible lead in toys.

She also said the CPSC has a limit of 600 parts per million for the total lead in surface coating. In fact, the CPSC has no standard for pet toys and has not determined what levels of toxins are safe for animals, its spokesman told us.

By comparison, the highest concentration of lead found in any of the ExperTox tests is a very low 907.4 parts per million -- nearly 100 times less than the ASTM limit for toys and more than 600 times less than the CPSC limit for surface coatings, she said.

Wal-Mart, she said, uses independent labs that specialize in consumer product testing and data analysis to avoid what she called such misinterpretations. She did not name any of those labs, and did not supply the names of any scientists who could refute the Expertox findings.

The conclusions drawn in this article appear to have been based on incorrect interpretations of the data, and based on the opinions of a person (who is) not an expert in consumer product testing, said O'Brien, who did not indicate that she had any scientific credentials.

O'Brien also demanded that ConsumerAffairs.com remove the story for its Web site and threatened legal action if we did not comply.

"Ms. O'Brien should go back to school and learn how to be a responsible and effective public affairs executive," said James R. Hood, ConsumerAffairs.com president and editor in chief. "Threatening the press with legal action is not a very good way to present your company's point of view.

"If Wal-Mart wants to sue us, we will meet them in any court in the land and we look forward to what we will find in the discovery process," Hood said. "Until then, they should act like responsible corporate citizens instead of trying to silence consumer outlets with playground-bully tactics."

Hood said ConsumerAffairs.com will continue to gather evidence -- and report stories -- about the harm inflicted on pets, children, and adults by toxic imports.

"America's largest retailer owes more to its customers than trying to goon-squad its critics into silence, he said. "It is being ill-served by its very expensive public relations firm. It should speak to the press directly."

Response to slurs

Despite Wal-Mart's slurs about his credentials, Dr. Lykissa is an expert at consumer product testing, according to ExperTox.

He has done so much testing on the Dow breast implants and thats a product, said Donna Coneley, ExperToxs lab manager. Wal-Mart can do its own research and see how long hes been involved in that testing. It goes back to the first claims on silicone breast implant poisoning.

We also do such a wide variety of testing in this lab because we have the latest technology for doing heavy metal analysis, she said, referring to the labs ICP-MS -- or Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.

Lykissa told us thats the machine his lab used to test our pet toys for heavy metals.

These (toxic) materials came off the toys freely, like with the lick of the tongue from a dog or cat, he told us. They were readily liberated from these toys. We didnt take a sledge hammer and pound on them. I just did what a dog or cat would do by licking it. Thats why this is so serious.

Toxicologists at the lab cut off a small piece from each of the toys, weighed the samples, and put them in acidic water.

We left the samples for a while and then heated them up to body temperature, Lykissa said. Then we put them in (the ICP-MS) and that machine told us this is lead and this is chromium ...

We didnt dissolve the toys, he added. These materials were leeching off the toys. Whatever leeched off the toys is what Im reporting to you. The material came right off. Somebodys saliva or the sweat in their hands would freely pick up these materials. And thats absorbing it. If you ate the materials, like a dog might, it would be worse.

But pet toys arent the only consumer products ExperTox has tested.

We have so many companies all over the world that come to us for tests, Coneley said. Weve tested Mexican-made medication to see if they have the same amount of medicine as those made in America. Weve also tested silicone breast implants, pet foods and treats, and we tested toys for kids a couple of years ago.

Consumers, she said, can trust ExperToxs findings: We stand by our results. We can guarantee theyre rock solid.

ExperTox, however, doesnt look at ASTM or CPSC limits during its testing procedures, Coneley said.

We simply pour out our results as we receive them. We dont look at the limits on products. If Wal-Mart says the limits are less, than I believe them.

Let consumers decide

But ExperToxs test results, Coneley said, give consumers the tools to make more informed decisions.

Thats what this is all about, giving people more information that I feel will help them make a better choice. If a vet says he think our results are extremely low numbers than people can take that information and balance it against what Dr. Lykissa said to make a better decision.

What about Wal-Marts argument that the CPSC limits for lead in surface coatings are 600 times less than the amount (of lead) detected in the green monster toy?

Ive never seen a dog lick lead paint, Coneley said. If someone wants to give a dog a toy with those levels (of lead) thats their choice and Im not going to argue with that.

But in our opinion, that level of lead (907.4 micrograms per kilogram) is considered elevated and there are other choices (for pet owners). My choice would be to go with a more natural treat. I would not go with one that had elevated levels of chromium, lead, or cadmium. What youre doing (with this testing) gives consumers more choices on what to purchase for their animals.

Coneley said Wal-Marts harsh criticism of the labs findings -- and its interpretations -- arent surprising.

Weve had that argument before from major companies that weve misinterpreted the results, she said. But weve never been found liable of that. We get this defensiveness every time there is a question about a sample we test. And the larger the company, the more aggressive and defensive they are. This is consistent with what Ive seen. Its textbook for a large corporation.

But the labs test results -- and the science behind them -- dont lie, Coneley said.

These are actual, valid numbers. Whether or not theyre toxic to a dog (or cat) is left to interpretation. All we can do is give our opinion and cooperate with the Food and Drug Administration or other governmental agency, which weve done many times.

As we reported, Dr. Lykissa said the heavy metals his lab found in the pet toys -- lead, chromium, and cadmium -- are potentially toxic.

Lead, he said, goes to the brain and causes learning disorders in children. Its also implicated in high instances of heart attacks. It is a very heavy metal.

Chromium, he said, is a cancer-producing agent. It can cause cancer in the bladder and kidneys, and if its inhaled, cause cancer in the lungs. Theres nothing good about chromium.

And cadmium is a horrible thing to get into the body. It creates havoc in the joints, kidneys, and lungs, he added. That catnip toy has 236 (micrograms per kilograms) of cadmium. Thats something that somebody out there ought to be worried about. In my business, if youre going to sit there and let dogs and cats play with a toy that has heavy metals freely released from it -- and put it in their mouths it becomes a concern.

Pet owners respond

Pet owners whove contacted us say theyre outraged by Expertoxs findings. One pet owner called on consumers to stop buying chew toys made in China. And another wants the federal government to take action.

After reading the horrifying article about dog toys being sold at Wal-Mart, I am very ticked off -- mainly at our government, wrote Bill Schroedle of Lockport, Illinois. The government should have control of what is being imported from China and any other country. All Wal-Mart sees is money.

I will never buy anything that is made in China or anywhere else but Made In The USA. Who knows what else is out there that is dangerous.

Kathy K. of Northville, Michigan, agrees that consumers should refuse to buy pet toys made in China.

The recent story that came out in ConsumerAffairs.com about pet toys from China purchased at Wal-Mart containing lead and other toxins is the 'tip of the iceberg', she said. It is likely that most pet toys from China contain things that are bad for our pets -- just as so many things from China are bad for humans. We have decided not to purchase any more pet toys made in China. We think everyone should pay more attention to this and refuse to purchase any pet toys that are made in China.

Kathy said her familys dog became sick after playing with a chew toy made in China.

Our Boston Terrier kept throwing up and we finally narrowed it down to the toy squirrel we had purchased for her. After looking at the label and noting it was Made in China we then looked at all the other pet toys we've purchased. Every single one said Made in China.

Once we took the toy squirrel away from her toy box, she stopped throwing up, Kathy added. We tried giving it back to her and she started throwing up again . . . pet toys from China are harming and perhaps killing our pets.



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Gamers Irate Over NFL Madden 2008 Glitches

Bugs make nation's most popular video game "unplayable," fans complain

NFL Madden 2008, the nation's most popular video game, has so many glitches that consumers are saying the Electronic Arts game is unplayable....

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Wal-Mart Attacks Lab Tests that Found Lead, Chromium in Pet Toys

Threatens legal action to silence independent lab's reports

Wal-Mart Attacks Lab Tests that Found Lead, Chromium in Pet Toys...

Copyright © 2007 ConsumerAffairs.com Inc. All Rights Reserved
Wal-Mart has gone on the attack, saying the independent laboratory ConsumerAffairs.com hired to analyze four Chinese-made pet toys severely misinterpreted the results by reporting that two of the products contained elevated levels of lead, chromium, and cadmium.

But ExperTox Analytical Laboratory stands by its findings on the chew toys sold at Wal-Mart and calls its report rock solid.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, already under attack in Congress for being weak and ineffective, remained on the sidelines. A spokesman said the agency only concerns itself with products that harm humans. A spokesman did not address the potential danger to children and adults exposed to the pet toys.

Meanwhile, the U.S. based KONG Co. -- maker of the well-known red rubber toys for dogs -- said it wasnt surprised by ExperToxs findings because there are many companies that view the pet industry as a profit center and seem to lose sight of ethical practices.

As we reported on Sunday, ConsumerAffairs.com hired ExperTox to test four Chinese-made pet toys -- two for dogs and two for cats -- for heavy metals and other toxins.

Toxic burden

Two of those toys -- a latex one for dogs that looks like a green monster and a cloth catnip one -- revealed what the labs toxicologist called high levels of the toxic metals lead, chromium, and cadmium.

Specifically, the lab reported the green monster toy contained 907.4 micrograms per kilogram of lead.

Thats almost one part per million, said forensic toxicologist Dr. Ernest Lykissa, Ph.D., director of ExperToxs lab. With that kind of concentration, if a dog is chewing on it or licking it, hes getting a good source of lead.

The green monster toy also had what Lykissa considered elevated levels of the cancer-producing agent chromium -- 334.9 micrograms per kilogram.

With that kind of chromium in there you have what can be an extremely toxic toy if they (animals) put it in their mouths. And dogs put things in their mouths. If a dog puts this in his mouth, he runs a big chance of getting some type of metal toxicity that may shorten his life.

The lab also found other toxic metals in the green monster toy.

Theres cadmium, arsenic, and mercury in there, Lykissa said. This is not a clean toy. This is toxic. Bank on it.

ExperToxs tests on the catnip toys detected worrisome levels of cadmium 236 micrograms per kilogram.

Thats a big number, Lykissa said. Its a good dose of cadmium.

Toys should be pulled

The forensic toxicologist said Wal-Mart should pull these pet toys off the market because of the levels of heavy metals.

Or put a warning label on them that says if you put this (toy) in your mouth you will get poisoned, Lykissa said. There is nothing good about the agents (in these toys) that Im reporting to you.

But two veterinarians who reviewed ExperToxs findings said the levels of toxic metals in the chew toys do not pose a health risk to dogs or cats. Whether the toys are a hazard to children and adults who handle them isn't clear.

ExperTox also analyzed two other Chinese-made pet toys a cloth hedgehog for dogs and a plastic dumbbell toy for cats. The lab detected cadmium in those toys, but said the levels were about the amount youd find in one cigarette and not considered significant.

ConsumerAffairs.com purchased the four pet toys earlier this month at a Wal-Mart store in Kansas City, Missouri. All the toys had a tag attached that read Marketed by Wal-Mart stores and Made in China.

On Friday, ConsumerAffairs.com sent a copy of the labs results to Wal-Mart. We re-sent those results on Monday after Wal-Mart requested additional information.

Wal-Mart fights back, threatens legal action

Late Monday afternoon, Melissa OBrien of Wal-Mart's corporate communication division, sent us an e-mail saying Wal-Mart disputed ExperToxs results. She also said we would be hearing from her company's lawyers.

She said ExperTox severely misinterpreted the findings.

After reviewing these test results provided to us today on the pet products in your story . . . the results of these tests actually prove the products are VERY safe, OBrien wrote. If these measurements are in fact the results, as you have reported, they have been severely misinterpreted by the director of ExperToxs lab, if he is reporting these levels to be high or dangerous.

To the contrary by this lab's own report, these levels are considered very low and actually much lower than what is acceptable by regulatory bodies in the U.S. and Europe for products, including children's toys, she said.

OBrien referred to whats called the ASTM F-963 or the Standard Consumer Safety Specification on Toy Safety. She said that has a limit of 90 parts per million for accessible lead in toys.

She also said the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has a limit of 600 parts per million for the total lead in surface coating.

By comparison, the highest concentration of lead found in any of the ExperTox tests is a very low 907.4 parts per million -- nearly 100 times less than the ASTM limit for toys and more than 600 times less than the CPSC limit for surface coatings.

Wal-Mart, she said, uses independent labs that specialize in consumer product testing and data analysis to avoid what she called such misinterpretations. She did not name any of those labs, however, and did not repeat her pledge that Wal-Mart would test the pet toys in question.

The conclusions drawn in this article appear to have been based on incorrect interpretations of the data, and based on the opinions of a person (who is) not an expert in consumer product testing, said O'Brien, who did not stiuplate that she has any scientific credentials.

Idle threats

O'Brien demanded the story be withdrawn and threatened legal action if it was not.

"Ms. O'Brien should go back to school and learn how to be a responsible and effective public affairs executive," said James R. Hood, ConsumerAffairs.com's president and editor in chief. "Threatening the press with legal action is not a very good way to present your company's point of view."

"If Wal-Mart wants to sue us, we will meet them in any court in the land and we look forward to what we will find in the discovery process," Hood said. "Until then, they should act like responsible corporate citizens instead of trying to silence consumer outlets with playground-bully tactics."

"Meanwhile, we will be gathering evidence on the harm inflicted on pets, children and adults by toxic imports," he said. "America's largest retailer owes more to its customers than trying to goon-squad its critics into silence."

Expert testimony

Despite Wal-Mart's slurs on his credentials, Dr. Lykissa is an expert at consumer product testing, according to ExperTox.

He has done so much testing on the Dow breast implants and thats a product, said Donna Coneley, ExperToxs lab manager. Wal-Mart can do its own research and see how long hes been involved in that testing. It goes back to the first claims on silicone breast implant poisoning.

We also do such a wide variety of testing in this lab because we have the latest technology for doing heavy metal analysis, she said, referring to the labsICP-MS -- or Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.

Lykissa said the lab used that machine to test the four pet toys.

These (toxic) materials came off the toys freely, like with the lick of the tongue from a dog or cat, he told us. They were readily liberated from these toys. We didnt take a sledge hammer and pound on them. I just did what a dog or cat would do by licking it. Thats why this is so serious.

Toxicologists at the lab cut off a small piece from each of the toys, weighed the samples, and put them in acidic water.

We left the samples for a while and then heated them up to body temperature, Lykissa said. Then we put them in (the ICP-MS) and that machine told us this is lead and this is chromium ...

We didnt dissolve the toys, he added. These materials were leeching off the toys. Whatever leeched off the toys is what Im reporting to you. The material came right off. Somebodys saliva or the sweat in their hands would freely pick up these materials. And thats absorbing it. If you ate the materials, like a dog might, it would be worse.

But pet toys arent the only consumer products ExperTox has tested.

We have so many companies all over the world that come to us for tests, Coneley said. Weve tested Mexican-made medications to see if they have the same amount of medicine as those made in America. Weve also tested silicone breast implants, pet foods and treats, and we tested toys for kids a couple of years ago.

Consumers, she said, can trust ExperToxs findings.

We stand by our results. We can guarantee theyre rock solid.

ExperTox, however, doesnt look at ASTM or CPSC limits during its testing procedures, Coneley told us today.

We simply pour out our results as we receive them. We dont look at the limits on products. If Wal-Mart says the limits are less, than I believe them.

Consumers decide

But ExperToxs test results, Coneley said, give consumers the tools to make more informed decisions.

Thats what this is all about, giving people more information that I feel will help them make a better choice. If a vet says he think our results are extremely low numbers than people can take that information and balance it against what Dr. Lykissa said to make a better decision.

What about Wal-Marts argument that the CPSC limits for lead in surface coatings are 600 times less than the amount (of lead) detected in the green monster toy?

Ive never seen a dog lick lead paint, Coneley said. If someone wants to give a dog a toy with those levels (of lead) thats their choice and Im not going to argue with that.

But in our opinion, that level of lead (907.4 micrograms per kilogram) is considered elevated and there are other choices (for pet owners). My choice would be to go with a more natural treat. I would not go with one that had elevated levels of chromium, lead, or cadmium. What youre doing (with this testing) gives consumers more choices on what to purchase for their animals.

Coneley said Wal-Marts harsh criticism of the labs findings -- and its interpretations -- arent surprising.

Weve had that argument before from major companies that weve misinterpreted the results, she said. But weve never been found liable of that. We get this defensiveness every time there is a question about a sample we test. And the larger the company, the more aggressive and defensive they are. This is consistent with what Ive seen. Its textbook for a large corporation.

But the labs test results -- and the science behind them -- dont lie, Coneley said.

These are actual, valid numbers. Whether or not theyre toxic to a dog (or cat) is left to interpretation. All we can do is give our opinion and cooperate with the Food and Drug Administration or other governmental agency, which weve done many time.

Results not surprising

Meanwhile, the Colorado-based company that makes KONG toys for pets said ExperToxs findings werent shocking.

It does not surprise me to hear of your laboratory results as there are many companies that view pet industry as a profit center and seem to lose sight of ethical practices, said Chuck Costello, director of marketing for the KONG Company.

There are no governmental controls over these products, he said.

As far as I know there is no U.S. regulatory body that oversees pet toy imports or domestic pet toys, he said, adding his companys products are made from FDA approved materials and routinely tested for product safety.

The companys safety standards, he said, are more rigorous for the three KONG toys made in China Air KONG (tennis ball toys), KONG Plush, and KONG Wubba.

All imported KONG product lines are tested by independent laboratories, once in China and again in the U.S. to prove they are safe and non-toxic, he said. Once products are received in the KONG warehouse they are again subjected to strict KONG quality control procedures.

PetSmart told us on Monday that it also routinely tests its pet toys for toxins.

We do a lot of random testing of toys and other products, said Bruce Richardson, the companys director of external communications. And to my knowledge we have never found any issues relative to this -- particularly with lead -- with the levels being above the ones established by the government. They fall well below those levels.

He added: We expect that the people who are providing us with supplies -- our vendors and manufacturers -- are meeting U.S. governmental regulations. But in addition to that, we randomly pick toys for dogs and cats and test them for lead and other toxins.

The CPSC told us late today that it only regulates products -- including toys -- that hurt humans. The agency didnt say if that includes pet toys that could be handled by humans.

The FDA also told us it has no regulatory power over toys for dogs and cats.

As we reported, Dr. Lykissa said the heavy metals his lab found in the pet toys -- lead, chromium, and cadmium -- are potentially toxic.

Lead, he said, goes to the brain and causes learning disorders in children. Its also implicated in high instances of heart attacks. It is a very heavy metal.

Chromium, he said, is a cancer-producing agent. It can cause cancer in the bladder and kidneys, and if its inhaled, cause cancer in the lungs. Theres nothing good about chromium.

And cadmium is a horrible thing to get into the body. It creates havoc in the joints, kidneys, and lungs, he added. That catnip toy has 236 (micrograms per kilograms) of cadmium. Thats something that somebody out there ought to be worried about. In my business, if youre going to sit there and let dogs and cats play with a toy that has heavy metals freely released from it -- and put it in their mouths it becomes a concern.

But veterinarians who reviewed ExperToxs results disagree.

I dont see any of those numbers being a toxicity concern for dogs or cats, said Dr. Mike Murphy of the University of Minnesotas College of Veterinary Medicine. Latex paint can contain one-half to one percent of lead, which is 10,000 parts per million. What he (Dr. Lykissa) is saying is that one part per million is a risk. But latex paint is 10,000 times higher than that and we dont recognize latex paint as a toxicity risk to dogs and cats.

I disagree with the interpretation thats being made (by Lykissa), added Dr. Murphy, who holds a Ph.D. in toxicology. I consider these to be extremely low numbers and they are not a toxicological concern for pet owners.

Dr. Fred Oehme at Kansas State Universitys College of Veterinary Medicine said the risks to dogs and cats from these toys depends on how much of the heavy metals are absorbed in their bodies.

Could they be harmful? The poisoning depends on how much is taken into their systems. Most animals require 30 parts per million of their total daily diet before you get into a problem with lead. Cadmium is more than that.

What to do?

Should pet owners be wary of these toys?

I think theyre a potential hazard just like a car can be a potential hazard, said Dr. Oehme, a professor of toxicology, pathobiology, medicine, and physiology. The hazard in this case implies how the compound is being used and its availability.

Im more concerned about the lead than the other two (heavy metals), he added. Lead accumulates and if it gets into the body, it builds up.

Pet owners whove read our story say theyre horrified by Expertoxs findings.

One pet owner even called on consumers to stop buying chew toys made in China. These lab results are very disturbing, said Doris B., of Columbus, Georgia. And she doesnt have a dog or a cat. Her pet is a ferret.

If I had a dog or cat, I would be mad as H-E-L-L.

Doris said pet owners arent the only ones who should be concerned about ExperToxs findings. Parents should be worried, too.

There are children playing with their pets and their pets toys, she said, and sometimes small children will put their pets toys in their mouths.

Somebody ought to care enough to do something about this.

Consumers can take action by refusing to buy pet toys made in China, said Kathy K. of Northville, Michigan.

The recent story that came out in ConsumerAffairs.com about pet toys from China purchased at Wal-Mart containing lead and other toxins is the 'tip of the iceberg', she said. It is likely that most pet toys from China contain things that are bad for our pets -- just as so many things from China are bad for humans. We have decided not to purchase any more pet toys made in China. We think everyone should pay more attention to this and refuse to purchase any pet toys that are made in China.

Kathy said her familys dog became sick after playing with a chew toy made in China.

Our Boston Terrier kept throwing up and we finally narrowed it down to the toy squirrel we had purchased for her. After looking at the label and noting it was Made in China we then looked at all the other pet toys we've purchased. Every single one said Made in China.

Once we took the toy squirrel away from her toy box, she stopped throwing up, Kathy added. We tried giving it back to her and she started throwing up again . . . pet toys from China are harming and perhaps killing our pets. More studies and investigations into pet toys made in China should be performed and warnings should go out to the general public to beware.



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Southwest Airlines Sticks With Open Seating

New system assigns passengers to a boarding group

Southwest Airlines Sticks With Open Seating...

While nearly all airlines assign seating, letting passengers chose a window or aisle seat when they get their boarding pass, Southwest Airlines has always made it first come, first served when grabbing a seat. And after a review of that policy, the airline says it will stay that way.

Our open seating has served us exceptionally well throughout our 36-year history, and, after much research, deliberation, careful evaluation, and significant feedback from our employees and customers, we've decided that it is here to stay, said Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines' Chief Executive Officer.

When we began our extensive exploration into the way our Customers board the aircraft, we set out to accomplish two things: improve the Customer Experience and increase Customer productivity. The new boarding delivers on both accounts and complements our legendary open seating.

However, the airline said it does plan to make changes to its boarding, saying goodbye to the perceived "cattle call" and eliminating the need for customers to camp-out in their boarding line at the gate.

The boarding transformation will enhance customers' Southwest experience, while maintaining the carrier's core values and maverick character, Southwest said in a statement.

Beginning in early November, customers will be assigned a letter and a number on their Southwest boarding pass when they check in for a flight. This unique combination, representing the customers' reserved spot in their boarding group-boarding positions, are separated into groups of five.

When a customer's boarding group is called, they simply find their designated place in line to board the aircraft.

The A group will queue first in two lines: A1-30 on one side of marked columns and A31-60 on the other side, followed by two groups of B, and then the remaining Cs.

After testing assigned seats in San Diego last summer, we quickly learned that the majority of our customers did not want us to abandon our open seating but they did challenge us to enhance the way we board our aircraft, Kelly said.

The airline began experimenting with several boarding processes last year at San Diego International Airport. Based on encouraging results, it says a new boarding option emerged using frontline Southwest employees and customer feedback.

Next, Southwest began constructing technology for a 2007 implementation in response to the initial San Diego results. In August 2007, the airline performed a dress rehearsal at San Antonio International Airport to confirm the carrier's preliminary findings and fine tune the process.

Feedback from our San Antonio Customers and Employees has been overwhelmingly positive, Kelly said. "One of our primary goals with the new boarding is to give Customers back what they value most -- time. All of our research proves that this new way to board does just that."

The carrier plans to introduce the new boarding at every airport it serves by early November 2007. Over time, Southwest also plans to modify its gates with columns and signage that reflects the new boarding groups.

Southwest Airlines announced a plan to enhance its product in late June 2007. Today's announcement is the first step in a laundry list of items the carrier will introduce over the next several months.

The company said the new style of boarding opens the door to future enhancements, allowing for product customization and additional incentives for the business and leisure traveler.

Southwest Airlines, at one time a regional discount carrier, has become one of the nations largest airlines, experiencing rapid growth as many legacy carriers struggled with financial issues, including bankruptcy.

 



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Congress Considers Legislation To Help Homeowners In Trouble

Bills would raise limits on federal loans for homebuyers

Congress Considers Legislation To Help Homeowners In Trouble...

Both the Senate and the House are considering legislation to help homeowners trapped in subprime mortgages.

Pending bills would raise the limits of loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), in order to reach higher-priced housing markets that may now be too expensive to qualify for government loans.

The Senate Banking Committee voted today to pass the "FHA Modernization Act of 2007," which would raise the limit of loans guaranteed by the FHA from $362,000 to $417,000.

The bill, cosponsored by Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), would also enable the FHA to support loans made with lower down payments, but would require counseling for prospective buyers who are putting little or no money down prior to the purchase.

Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said the Act was necessary because, "The mortgage markets -- particularly the sub-prime market -- are in the midst of a meltdown.

"We need to make sure that credit is available, including for sub-prime borrowers, on fair terms so that the people of this country have an opportunity to build wealth for the future," Dodd said in published reports.

The vote came a day after the House of Representatives voted to pass its own "Expanding American Homeownership Act of 2007," which would raise FHA loan limits to as high as $500,000 in the priciest housing markets.

The House bill, introduced by Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Barney Frank (D-MA) would also authorize FHA support for low or no down-payment loans, increased mortgage counseling, and approval for qualified borrowers who might otherwise be forced to use subprime loans to buy homes.

A revitalized FHA program will help future homeowners realize the dream of home ownership, and will prevent many first time and inexperienced home buyers from being pushed into loans that are unaffordable or difficult to understand, said Frank, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee.

The bill we passed today will help people all across America because we have enacted provisions to allow the FHA to insure loans in high cost areas.

The Bush administration has pledged its support to expanding the FHA's authority, but the White House said it was "strongly opposed" to the higher loan limits in the House version of the bill.

The administration said that it supports raising the maximum limit to $417,000, and the FHA "should remain targeted to traditionally undeserved home buyers, such as low-and moderate-income families."

The full Senate must pass the Banking Committee bill before the two bills are reconciled in committee and sent to President Bush to sign.

predatory lending

Both Dodd and Frank have previously called for legislation designed to combat predatory lending and impose stronger regulation on the mortgage market. Dodd's bill would penalize mortgage lenders for steering borrowers to subprime loans when they could qualify for traditional "prime" loans, and would give more power to federal agencies to investigate deceptive lending practices.

Frank supports legislation that would make investors in bonds backed by subprime loans liable if the loans fail.

Congress' actions to combat the mortgage meltdown got a shot in the arm yesterday after the Federal Reserve voted to cut its prime interest rate from 5.25 to 4.75 points. The move spurred high jumps in the stock market and oil prices, and is expected to entice consumers to take out more loans due to the lower rate.

But foreclosure tracking agency RealtyTrac also reported that foreclosures for August 2007 were up 115 percent from the previous year, the busiest month for foreclosures in the organization's history, and an indicator that the mortgage meltdown is far from over.

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REI Recalls Childrens Trailer Bicycles

REI Recalls Childrens Trailer Bicycles...

September 18, 2007
REI is recalling about 5,000 of its Novara Afterburner trailer cicycles. The childrens trailer bicycle can detach from the adult bicycle, posing a fall hazard to children.

REI has received one report of a childrens trailer bicycle detaching from the adult bicycle. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves the Novara Afterburner trailer bicycle, a single-wheel childrens bicycle that attaches to, and cannot be operated independently of, an adult bicycle.

The trailers were sold at REI stores nationwide from February 2007 through June 2007 for about $160. They were made in China.

Consumers should immediately stop using the bicycle trailer, visit the nearest REI store or contact REI for a free replacement part, a full refund or credit.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact REI at (800) 426-4840 between 4 a.m. and 11 p.m. PT seven days a week, visit the companys Web site at www.rei.com or contact your local REI store.

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

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New F150 Erupts in Flames as Ford Truck Fires Rage On

More than 10 million vehicles recalled but fires continue

New F150 Erupts in Flames as Ford Truck Fires Rage On...


Here is yet another horror story about an all-too-familiar sight -- a Ford truck erupting in flames. This Ford truck created a fire that could have turned deadly.

Julie from Willits, California tells the story of how her brother-in-law's 2007 Ford F150 caught fire in his driveway and burned to the ground.

He just brought his brand-new baby girl home 3 hours before, Julie wrote. We were all sleeping in the house, when my sister woke to some sort of lights outside. She went to the window she saw the Ford engulfed in 100-foot flames, Julie told ConsumerAffairs.com.

Julie's husband ran outside and tried to put the fire out with a garden hose.

By the time the fire department got there, the truck was a pile of ash, she wrote. If my sister would have never woke up, we could not even be here today because the truck would have caught the house on fire.

Julie said that Ford never sent a recall in the mail and her brother-in-law had just purchased the truck 6 months ago.

10 million recalls

Ford has recalled more than 10 million vehicles but reports of fires in Fords old and new continue to roll in.

Frank in Universal City, Texas lost his 2001 Ford truck to a fire just two days after the Willits fire.

My 2001 Ford F150 SuperCrew pick-up truck started on fire after having sat in my driveway for five hours. The fire, though attended to quickly by our fire department, consumed the engine, engine compartment, firewall, and front-end. The truck was in my driveway and the fire also affected my home, Frank wrote us.

His truck is a complete loss and there is approximately $5,000 damages to our house, Frank said.

In Lonedell, South Dakota, Susan was in her third-floor bedroom when her 1997 Mercury Grand Marquis caught fired and burned the garage. The car had only been moved out of the garage once that day for sweeping. Ended up being a 7-alarm fire, she wrote ConsumerAffairs.com.

Susan said she was not aware of the recall to fix a faulty cruise control switch in the Ford Motor Co. product.

In the latest recall in August, Ford recalled as many as 3.6 million cars, trucks and vans because a switch that deactivates the speed control can overheat and catch fire, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The agency warns in its recall notice that the switch problem can cause a fire under the hood, hardly news to the hundreds of Ford owners whose vehicles have done just that..

The latest recall covered 16 brands of cars, sport utility vehicles and trucks from model years 1992 to 2004.

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Bank of America Takes Bigger Bite with $3 ATM Fee

How can you avoid lining the pockets of big banks?

Bank of America Takes Bigger Bite with $3 ATM Fee...

The news that Bank of America is raising its ATM transaction fee from $2 to $3 for non-bank customers sends a shockwave through the wallets of anyone bothered by excessive bank fees eating into their savings.

Bank of America's ATM network is the largest in the country, and the fee hike is expected to result in millions of dollars in extra revenue for the bank -- all of it coming right out of the pockets of non-BOA customers.

The nationwide average for an ATM fee is still $2, but Bank of America's move may inspire other banks to follow suit.

Bank Of America's portfolio of tactics for hitting customers with extra fees, charges, and penalties is already a sore spot with consumers, as evidenced by a steady stream of complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com.

ATM fees, and bank fees in general, represent a lucrative and steady source of revenue for banks and lenders, particularly as the global mortgage meltdown and personal credit crunch continue.

Facing waves of losses from delinquent homeowners and foreclosed homes, banks are looking to increase their revenue by any means necessary, and charging fees for practically every transaction has become standard operating procedure in the financial industry, with no signs of letting up any time soon.

What to do

What can consumers do to avoid the ever-growing bite of bank fees every time they make a withdrawal? How can you hold on to more of your money? Here are a few suggestions:



Find a bank that reimburses your ATM fees. Many banks offer reimbursement for fees charged when you use a non-bank ATM, but only with specific accounts or savings plans. When looking for a new bank or considering changing your account plan, make sure to investigate their ATM fee structure thoroughly and don't be afraid to ask questions about the fees they charge.

Join a credit union. Credit unions are run by member-elected cooperatives, and depend on the financial health of their members, so they generally offer better financial terms for new accounts than banks. Most credit unions will not charge members for withdrawing money from non-credit union ATMs, or will reimburse any fees that are charged. This isn't a perfect solution, as you have to find a credit union you can qualify to join, and the credit union may require you to only use ATMs in its network, or a shared network with other credit unions, in order to avoid ATM fees. The National Credit Union Administration offers tips on how you can qualify to join a credit union, as well as a searchable database of credit unions.

Use your credit card for your shopping needs. Paying by plastic helps you avoid losing more money to ATM fees, but it can have its own set of problems. Make sure to pay your bill in full each month to avoid penalties or interest hikes on your purchases. Consider rewards card programs that reimburse your purchases with cash deposits, or those that offer "points" you can cash in for other goods down the line. Make sure to examine any rewards card program thoroughly to avoid any hidden traps that may end up costing you more money than you earn.

Get cash back when buying goods with your debit card. Most retailers and supermarket chains will offer you the opportunity to get cash back when making a point-of-sale debit purchase. This option is favored by Emily Davidson of Creditbloggers, as she "[hasn't] heard of a bank that charges an 'ATM fee' for this convenience -- mine certainly doesn't." You can get up to $200 in cash at most stores and you'll get the added benefit of completing two errands at once," Davidson says.

Set a budget for yourself. The best way to avoid getting stung with ATM fees is to limit the amount of available cash you're carrying. Figure out exactly how much money you need in the course of a day or week for necessities--food, transportation, emergency purchases, and take that out from your bank at the beginning of the week, and stick to that amount. Sticking to a budget will not only help save more of your money for bigger purchases, but it will help improve your financial smarts as well.

 

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August Foreclosures Up 115% Over Last Year

Nevada, California, Florida the Foreclosure Big 3

August Foreclosures Up 115% Over Last Year...

Foreclosure activity jumped in August, surging 115 percent over last August, 36 percent over July.

In its monthly report, RealtyTrac, an online marketplace for foreclosed properties, said August was the busiest month since it began issuing a monthly report in January 2005.

According to the numbers, the national foreclosure rate amounted to one foreclosure filing for every 510 households - the highest figure ever issued in the report.

The findings echo a report earlier this month from the Mortgage Bankers' Association (MBA), which found that incidents of foreclosure for the second quarter of 2007 were at their highest rates in the organization's 55-year history.

The MBA report found that homes entering foreclosure were at 0.65 percent of all outstanding loans, an increase from the previous high of 0.58 percent for the first quarter of 2007.

The jump in foreclosure filings this month might be the beginning of the next wave of increased foreclosure activity, as a large number of subprime adjustable rate loans are beginning to reset now, said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac.

Another significant factor in the increased level of foreclosure activity is that the number of REO filings (bank repossessions) is increasing dramatically, which means that a greater percentage of homes entering foreclosure are going back to the banks.

Big 3

Nevada, California and Florida were the top three states for foreclosures.

Nevada continued to register the nations highest state foreclosure rate, one foreclosure filing for every 165 households more than three times the national average.

The state reported 6,197 foreclosure filings during the month, a 21 percent increase from the previous month and more than triple the number reported in August 2006.

Californias foreclosure rate jumped to second highest among the states thanks to a 48 percent month-over-month spike in foreclosure activity. The state reported 57,875 foreclosure filings during the month, a foreclosure rate of one foreclosure filing for every 224 households more than twice the national average.

Florida foreclosure activity jumped 77 percent from the previous month, boosting the states foreclosure rate from seventh highest to third highest among the states. The state reported 33,932 foreclosure filings, a foreclosure rate of one foreclosure filing for every 243 households.

Other states with foreclosure rates ranking among the nations 10 highest were Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Indiana.

Sun Belt, Rust Belt

Seven of the top 10 states in terms of total foreclosure filings in August were located in the Sun Belt, and three of the top 10 states were in the Rust Belt.

After California and Florida, Ohio registered the third highest state total, with 17,793 foreclosure filings during the month. The state documented a foreclosure rate of one foreclosure filing for every 281 households, fifth highest in the nation.

Texas, Michigan and Georgia all reported more than 10,000 foreclosure filings for the month, documenting the fourth, fifth and sixth highest state foreclosure totals respectively, followed by Arizona, Colorado, Illinois and Nevada.

Top Metros

California cities once again accounted for six of the top 10 metro foreclosure rates in August, with the top three spots all taken by California cities.

Modesto documented the nations highest metro foreclosure rate, one foreclosure filing for every 79 households, followed by Stockton and Merced. Other California cities in the top 10 included Vallejo-Fairfield at No. 5, Riverside-San Bernardino at No. 6 and Sacramento at No. 7.

Detroit posted a foreclosure rate of one foreclosure filing for every 87 households, the nations fourth highest metro foreclosure rate and more than five times the national average. Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Las Vegas and Cleveland, Ohio, ranked Nos. 8, 9 and 10.

 

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Wal-Mart Reviewing Results of Tests on China-Made Pet Toys

Consumer Product Safety Commission ignores inquiries, FDA claims no jurisdiction

Wal-Mart Reviewing Results of Tests on China-Made Pet Toys...

Copyright © 2007 ConsumerAffairs.com Inc. All Rights Reserved
Wal-Mart said today that its reviewing the laboratory results on two Chinese-made pet toys sold at its stores that -- according to a forensic toxicologist whose company tested the products for ConsumerAffairs.com -- contain elevated levels of lead, chromium, and cadmium.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission -- which says it needs more money to protect consumers -- did not respond to our inquiries, either last week or today.

And a pet owner in Michigan called on consumers to stop buying pet toys that are made in China.

ConsumerAffairs.com hired ExperTox Analytical Laboratory in Texas to test four Chinese-made pet toys -- two for dogs and two for cats -- for heavy metals and other toxins.

One of the dog toys -- a latex one that looks like a green monster -- tested positive for what the labs toxicologist said are high levels of lead and the cancer producing agent chromium.

A cloth catnip toy also tested positive for a tremendous amount of the toxic metal cadmium.

But two veterinarians said the levels of toxic metals in the toys do not pose a health risk to dogs or cats. Whether the toys are a hazard to children and adults who handle them isn't clear.

ExperTox also analyzed two other Chinese-made pet toys a cloth hedgehog for dogs and a plastic dumbbell toy for cats. The lab detected cadmium in those toys, but said the levels were about the amount youd find in one cigarette and not considered significant.

ConsumerAffairs.com purchased the four pet toys earlier this month at a Wal-Mart store in Kansas City, Missouri. All the toys had a tag attached that read Marketed by Wal-Mart stores and Made in China.

ConsumerAffairs.com on Friday sent a copy of the labs results to Wal-Mart. Today, a company spokeswoman asked us for more information about the chew toys specifically the UPC codes.

As soon as this detail is received we will involve our Compliance Safety group who can initiate testing among a sample with the independent labs we use that are government approved for product testing, Melissa O'Brien, with Wal-Marts corporate communications division, wrote us in an e-mail.

After we provided that information, OBrien told us: We will follow up with our Compliance Safety group on this today and let you know our actions.

As ConsumerAffairs.com first reported on Sunday, forensic toxicologist Dr. Ernest Lykissa, Ph.D., director of ExperToxs lab, described the levels of heavy metals in the green monster and catnip toys as potentially toxic and said Wal-Mart should pull the products off the market.

Or put a warning label on them that says if you put this (toy) in your mouth you will get poisoned, he said. There is nothing good about the agents (in these toys) that Im reporting to you.

Lykissa said lead goes to the brain and causes learning disorders in children. Its also implicated in high instances of heart attacks. It is a very heavy metal.

Chromium a carcinogen

Chromium, he said, is a cancer producing agent. It can cause cancer in the bladder and kidneys, and if its inhaled, cause cancer in the lungs. Theres nothing good about chromium. And cadmium is a horrible thing to get into the body. It creates havoc in the joints, kidneys, and lungs.

ExperToxs tests on the green monster toy detected what Lykissa said are elevated levels of lead -- 907.4 micrograms per kilogram.

Thats almost one part per million. With that kind of concentration, if a dog is chewing on it or licking it, hes getting a good source of lead.

The green monster toy also had what Lykissa considered high levels of chromium--334.9 micrograms per kilogram.

With that kind of chromium in there you have what can be an extremely toxic toy if they (animals) put it in their mouths. And dogs put things in their mouths. If a dog puts this in his mouth, he runs a big chance of getting some type of metal toxicity that may shorten his life.

Which is worse?

Which heavy metal-- chromium or lead -- poses a bigger threat to dogs?

Toxic burden is toxic burden, Lykissa said. You are increasing the burden on the animal by having these in there. A dog is going to get a good dose of chromium and lead from this toy.

The lab also detected other toxic metals in the green monster toy.

Theres cadmium, arsenic, and mercury in there, Lykissa said. This is not a clean toy. This is toxic. Bank on it. ExperToxs tests on the catnip toy detected concerning levels of cadmium 236 micrograms per kilogram.

That one is worrisome to me, Lykissa said. Thats a big number. Its a good dose of cadmium.

Theres another reason Lykissa is concerned about the heavy metals in these chew toys.

These (toxic) materials came off the toys freely, like with the lick of the tongue from a dog or cat, he said. They were readily liberated from these toys. We didnt take a sledge hammer and pound on them. I just did what a dog or cat would do by licking it. Thats why this is so serious.

Lykissa said toxicologists cut off a small piece from each of the toys, weighed the samples, and put them in acidic water.

We left the samples for a while and then heated them up to body temperature, he said. Then we put them in a machine (called an ICP-MS- or Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry), and that machine told us this is lead and this is chromium . . .

We didnt dissolve the toys, he added. These materials were leeching off the toys. Whatever leeched off the toys is what Im reporting to you. The material came right off. Somebodys saliva or the sweat in their hands would freely pick up these materials. And thats absorbing it. If you ate the materials, like a dog might, it would be worse.

Lykissa said he wasnt surprised to find these levels of toxic materials in the toys.

I knew where they came from China. And anything from there seems to be made using very old manufacturing processes that are ripe with these types of problems. Unfortunately, its becoming routine in my business to see these types of results (on products made in China).

But we better be worried, he said of labs findings. Some of the toys you had were clean, like the hedgehog and the plastic dumbbell. They had small amounts of cadmium. But then you look at that catnip toy and it has 236 (micrograms per kilograms) of cadmium. Thats something that somebody out there ought to be worried about. In my business, if youre going to sit there and let dogs and cats play with a toy that has heavy metals freely released from it -- and put it in their mouths it becomes a concern.

Veterinarians disagree

But veterinarians who reviewed ExperToxs results disagree.

I dont see any of those numbers being a toxicity concern for dogs or cats, said Dr. Mike Murphy of the University of Minnesotas College of Veterinary Medicine. Latex paint can contain one-half to one percent of lead, which is 10,000 parts per million. What he (Dr. Lykissa) is saying is that one part per million is a risk. But latex paint is 10,000 times higher than that and we dont recognize latex paint as a toxicity risk to dogs and cats.

I disagree with the interpretation thats being made (by Lykissa), added Dr. Murphy, who holds a Ph.D. in toxicology. I consider these to be extremely low numbers and they are not a toxicological concern for pet owners.

Dr. Fred Oehme at Kansas State Universitys College of Veterinary Medicine said the risks to dogs and cats from these toys depends on how much of the heavy metals are absorbed in their bodies.

Could they be harmful? The poisoning depends on how much is taken into their systems. Most animals require 30 parts per million of their total daily diet before you get into a problem with lead. Cadmium is more than that.

Should pet owners be wary of these toys?

I think theyre a potential hazard just like a car can be a potential hazard, said Dr. Oehme, a professor of toxicology, pathobiology, medicine, and physiology. The hazard in this case implies how the compound is being used and its availability.

Im more concerned about the lead than the other two (heavy metals), he added. Lead accumulates and if it gets into the body, it builds up.

Governmental inaction

ConsumerAffairs.com contacted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about Expertoxs findings. A spokeswoman said the FDA does not regulate toys for pets, and she is not aware of any governmental agency with regulatory power over these products.

What about the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)?

Although its not in the fine print, the CPSC will regulate pet toys as they assume those toys would come in contact with children, according to a spokeswoman for the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association (APPMA).

We shared ExperToxs test results with APPMA --a non-profit trade group that represents more than 900 pet product makers. The groups president, however, was unavailable for comment.

We also contacted the CPSC last week and today, but the agency has not responded to our inquiries.

Pet owners irate

Meanwhile, a pet owner who read our report says the public should stop buying Chinese-made toys for their dogs and cats.

The recent story that came out in ConsumerAffairs.com about pet toys from China purchased at Wal-Mart containing lead and other toxins is the 'tip of the iceberg', said Kathy K. of Northville, Michigan.

It is likely that most pet toys from China contain things that are bad for our pets -- just as so many things from China are bad for humans. We have decided not to purchase any more pet toys made in China. We think everyone should pay more attention to this and refuse to purchase any pet toys that are made in China!

Kathy said her familys dog became sick after playing with a chew toy made in China.

Our Boston Terrier kept throwing up and we finally narrowed it down to the toy squirrel we had purchased for her, she said, adding her family buys most of its dogs toys at PetSmart. After looking at the label and noting it was Made in China we then looked at all the other pet toys we've purchased. Every single one said Made in China.

Once we took the toy squirrel away from her toy box, she stopped throwing up, Kathy added. We tried giving it back to her and she started throwing up again . . . pet toys from China are harming and perhaps killing our pets. More studies and investigations into pet toys made in China should be performed and warnings should go out to the general public to beware.

PetSmart tests

A spokesman for PetSmart told us today that his company appreciates customers concerns about the safety of the toys they give their dogs and cats.

Thats why PetSmart routinely tests its toys for toxins.

We do a lot of random testing of toys and other products, said Bruce Richardson, the companys director of external communications. And to my knowledge we have never found any issues relative to this -- particularly with lead -- with the levels being above the ones established by the government. They fall well below those levels.

He added: We expect that the people who are providing us with supplies -- our vendors and manufacturers -- are meeting U.S. governmental regulations. But in addition to that, we randomly pick toys for dogs and cats and test them for lead and other toxins.

ConsumerAffairs.com randomly chose the four Chinese-made pet toys we hired ExperTox to test.

We took that action after Doris B. of Columbus, Georgia, contacted us in late August with concerns about possible toxins in chew toys.

There is a lot of public outcry (and rightly so) over the Menu Foods and Mattel toy recalls, she told us. One overlooked area is the pet toy industry. It seems like every cat toy, dog toy, etc. says made in China. Has anyone tested these things to see if they are safe for our pets to chew?

Doris said shes horrified by ExperToxs resultseven though she doesnt have a dog or cat. Her pet is a ferret.

These lab results are very disturbing. If I had a dog or cat, I would be mad as H-E-L-L.

I had a sneaking suspicion this was the way it was going to come down, she added. Weve had these pet food recalls and the (melamine-tainted) ingredients came from China. And the childrens toys that have been recalled were also made in China.

But pet owners shouldnt be the only ones alarmed by ExperToxs findings, Doris said. Parents should be worried, too.

There are children playing with their pets and their pets toys, she said, and sometimes small children will put their pets toys in their mouths.

Somebody ought to care enough to do something about this.



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Study Finds Too Many Parking Spaces

Parking spaces outnumber drivers 3-1, Purdue study finds

Study Finds Too Many Parking Spaces...


It might not seem like it when youre late for an appointment and cant find a place to park the car, but the U.S. has an over abundance of parking spaces, creating serious land use issues, according to some urban planners.

Purdue University researchers surveyed the total area devoted to parking in a midsize Midwestern county and found that parking spaces outnumbered resident drivers 3-to-1 and outnumbered resident families 11-to-1. The researchers found the total parking area to be larger than 1,000 football fields, or covering more than two square miles.

Even I was surprised by these numbers, said Bryan Pijanowski, the associate professor of forestry and natural resources who led the study in Purdue's home county of Tippecanoe. I can't help but wonder: Do we need this much parking space?

Pijanowski said that his results are cause for concern, in part, because parking lots present environmental and economic problems. They are, for instance, a major source of water pollution, he said.

Tippecanoe County parking lots turn out about 1,000 pounds of heavy metal runoff annually, said Purdue professor Bernard Engel, who used a computer model to estimate changes in water-borne runoff caused by land-use changes. Engel, head of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, said lots are troublesome because pollutants collect on their non-absorbent surfaces and are then easily carried away by rain.

The problem with parking lots is that they accumulate a lot of pollutants - oil, grease, heavy metals and sediment - that cannot be absorbed by the impervious surface, Engel said. Rain then flushes these contaminants into rivers and lakes.

Heavy metals accumulate on parking lots from car batteries and even from airborne fumes, a phenomenon called dry deposition. Also, since rainfall cannot penetrate parking lots, they generate large amounts of flowing water, worsening flooding and erosion - and water pollution, Engel said.

Heat islands

Parking lots also add to the urban heat island effect, which can raise local temperatures 2 to 3 degrees Celsius, according to Indiana state climatologist Dev Niyogi.

Urban areas have a higher capacity to absorb radiation from the sun than surrounding areas, and these areas become warmer, Niyogi said. This effect could be even more dramatic in much of the Midwest because there are many urban areas immediately surrounded by cooler rural areas.

Pijanowski said his study has relevance outside of Tippecanoe County because his findings typify a troubling trend he's observed and studied: Generally, Americans pave an increasing percentage of land each year for their cars and trucks.

While parking spaces are necessary, Pijanowski said that businesses could be more creative about utilizing combined-use or shared parking lots, thereby saving construction and property costs while minimizing land use. This approach might benefit large churches and big-box retailers, which often feature parking lots that take up more than twice the area of their buildings, he said.

Parking lots at big-box stores and mega-churches are rarely filled, Pijanowski said.

A different approach to development planning could mitigate the monetary and environmental costs associated with parking areas, he said.

In many areas of the world, particularly Europe, cities were planned prior to automobiles, and many locations are typically within walking distance, Pijanowski said. This is just one different way to plan that has certain advantages.

Pijanowski counted 355,000 parking spaces in Tippecanoe County, home to about 155,000 residents. Farmers could produce 250,000 bushels of corn in the same space taken up by county parking lots, he said.

Pollution

The county's parking lots also produce 1,000 times the amount of heavy metal runoff and 25 times the total runoff that the same area of agricultural land would produce, Engel said. The computer model, a type of long-term impact assessment model, calculated predicted changes in runoff and compared them with runoff levels from land in agricultural production, which generally produces less runoff because soil is better able to absorb rainfall and contaminants than pavement.

Although Purdue University draws non-resident student drivers and visitors to Tippecanoe County, Pijanowski said the effect is negligible on his calculated ratios of lots to drivers and is typical of the manner in which mid-sized counties often attract non-residents and their cars for various reasons.

Pijanowski conducted his survey using digitalized aerial images of Tippecanoe County taken in 2005, which he then analyzed to count the number of total parking spaces and the land area they consume. Students Amlie Davis and Kimberly Robinson helped to collect and analyze data.

He presented the results of his work in May at a conference of land-use experts in the Netherlands.

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Feds Sue Infomercial Maestro Kevin Trudeau Again

'Natural Cures' weight-loss book misleads consumers, agency charges

Feds Sue Infomercial Maestro Kevin Trudeau Again...

Marketer extraordinaire Kevin Trudeau is in hot water with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission again. The agency has charged him with violating a court order that settled previous allegations that he misled consumers.

In 2004 the FTC charged Trudeau in connection with a series of TV infomercials promoting his book, Natural Cures They Dont Want You To Know About.

The FTC found that Trudeau had falsely claimed that his calcium product could cure cancer and other serious diseases, and that a purported analgesic called Biotape could permanently cure or relieve severe pain.

As part of the settlement Trudeau was banned from using infomercials to sell any product, service, or program. The ban contained a narrow exemption for infomercials for books and other publications, but specifically required that Trudeau not misrepresent the content of the books.

The FTC is now charging that he violated that narrow exemption.

Now, Trudeau has written another book, The Weight Loss Cure They Dont Want You to Know About. In several informercials for the book, Trudeau claims that the weight loss plan outlined in the book is easy to do, can be done at home, and ultimately allows readers to eat whatever they want.

However, when consumers purchase the book, they find it describes a complex, grueling plan that requires severe dieting, daily injections of a prescription drug that consumers cannot easily get, and lifelong dietary restrictions. The book has drawn critical reviews from a number of ConsumerAffairs.com readers.

The FTC complaint focuses on the content of three of Trudeaus new infomercials. To sell his newest book, which has made the New York Times Bestsellers List, he describes the weight-loss plan that the book outlines, stating that:

• ...its easy to do, you can do it at home...

•I can attest, it was the easiest, simplest, most effective thing Ive ever done.

•And when youre done with the protocol, eat whatever you want and you dont gain the weight back.

•I can eat whatever I want now, anything and as much as I want any time I want. No restrictions now. And the weights not coming back. You dont gain the weight back.

According to the FTC, when consumers buy and read the book, they find it actually describes a complicated, expensive system involving daily injections, specialized cleanses and supplements, and severe food restrictions, followed by a fourth phase of the protocol, which requires dietary restrictions and never ends.

The FTC alleged that Trudeau deceptively claimed that the book establishes a weight-loss protocol that is easy to follow and that once the protocol ends, consumers can eat what they want without regaining weight.

In court documents, the FTC pointed out that one required phase of the protocol requires that consumers get daily injections of a prescription drug that is not approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for weight loss. To obtain the drug, a consumer would need to either go overseas, or find a doctor in the U.S. who will prescribe the drug for off-label use.

The injections must be intramuscular, and Trudeau even instructs the dieter to do the injections under the care of a licensed physician. Besides the injections, this phase also requires a 500 calorie/day diet for 21 to 45 days, and the consumer cannot use any medicines, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs, most cosmetics, and no creams, lotions, or moisturizers.

During the required third phase, the consumer can eat as much as they want for 21 days, but the foods must be only 100% organic, with no sweeteners (natural or artificial), no starches (bread, pasta, potatoes, white flour, etc.), no nitrites, and no trans fats.

In addition, the book strongly recommends that consumers get massages, take saunas often, take homeopathic human growth hormone, and limit their exposure to air conditioning and fluorescent lighting.

The highly recommended first phase includes getting 15 colonics from a licensed colon therapist during a 30-day period, walking outside for one continuous hour each day, taking saunas as often as possible, eating six times a day, eating only organic meat and dairy, and eating 100 grams of organic meat right before bed.

Finally, the FTCs court documents state that the protocol is never actually completed.

Consumers must follow the fourth phase of the protocol for the rest of their lives, with severe dietary prohibitions, including: no brand name food; no fast food, regional, or national chain restaurants; no food that is not 100 percent organic; no super highly refined sugars; no artificial sweeteners; no trans fats; no monosodium glutamate; no food with nitrites; no meat, poultry, or dairy that is not 100 percent organic; no farm-raised fish; and no food cooked in a microwave.

It would be nearly impossible for a consumer to claim that he or she had followed all the steps in the program and still failed to lose weight, in other words.

The FTC first sued Trudeau in 1998, alleging that he made false and unsubstantiated claims for hair growth, memory, and weight loss products sold through infomercials.

In 2003, the FTC challenged Trudeaus marketing of Coral Calcium Supreme and Biotape, a purported pain-relief product.

To settle the FTCs charges, in 2004 Trudeau paid $2 million and agreed to a court order banning him from infomercials, with a narrow exemption for infomercials for books and other publications that specifically required that Trudeau not misrepresent the contents of the books or publications.

The contempt action alleges that Trudeau violated that court order by deceptively claiming in his infomercials that the book being advertised establishes a weight-loss protocol that is easy to follow, and that once the protocol ends, consumers can eat what they want without regaining weight.

The contempt action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

 

More Scam Alerts ...

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Hackers Steal Information On 6.3 Million Ameritrade Customers

'Unauthorized code' enabled thieves to breach database

Hackers Steal Information On 6.3 Million Ameritrade Customers...


Hackers broke into a database containing personal information on 6.3 million customers of online discount broker Ameritrade. The database breach was discovered during an investigaiton of an outbreak of spam e-mails sent to Ameritrade customers.

 

The information stolen included names, phone numbers, e-mail accounts, and addresses.

Although more sensitive information such as Social Security numbers and account numbers were included in the same database, Ameritrade claimed this information had not been breached, though it did not offer specifics.

"[Ameritrade] has discovered and eliminated unauthorized code from its systems that allowed access to an internal database," the company said in its statement. "The discovery was made as the result of an internal investigation of stock-related SPAM."

The 6.3 million customers comprises the vast majority of Ameritrade's client base, second only to Charles Schwab Corp., the biggest online discount brokerage.

"While the financial assets our clients hold with us were never touched, and there is no evidence that our clients' Social Security Numbers were taken, we understand that this issue has increased unwanted spam, which is annoying and inconvenient for them," said Joe Moglia, chief executive officer. "We sincerely apologize for that and any added concern this may have caused."

Ameritrade said there was no evidence that the information was being used for identity theft. The company hired security firm ID Analytics to perform forensics on the breach and investigate for signs of fraud or theft stemming from misuse of the information.

Although ID Analytics' chief operating officer Mike Cook said the investigation found no initial evidence of identity theft, the company would continue investigating signs that the stolen information may be used elsewhere.

"Just because a breached file is not misused today, it doesn't mean that it won't be misused in the future," Cook said, according to published reports.

Ameritrade claimed that the malicious code had been removed and that the company's security procedures had been upgraded to prevent similar incidents. The FBI and the Securities & Exchange Commission are also investigating the breach.

The Spam Trail

Ameritrade customers were apparently receiving spam e-mails touting pump-and-dump scams to their accounts for many months prior to the disclosure of the breach. Blogs and online forums such as Slashdot were filled with stories of Ameritrade customers receiving unsolicited e-mails, despite creating and using e-mail accounts solely for use with the online broker.

The spam e-mails were originally thought to be a result of the loss of a data tape containing information on 200,000 Ameritrade customers in April 2005, with speculation that the data may have been sold to hackers and spammers.

But bloggers and Ameritrade customers then reported being hit with spam blasts even after creating accounts subsequent to the 2005 breach.

"So it's pretty clear that some attacker has access to the AmeriTrade customer database on an ongoing basis, and the February 2005 tape theft probably had nothing to do with it," wrote one commenter on Slashdot. "Probably someone inside AmeriTrade is selling customer data to an outside spammer."

The "inside job" theory has new support in the wake of the disclosure of the breach.

Graham Cluely of IT security firm Sophos told CNet News that the breach could have only occurred if hackers took advantage of a vulnerability in the site's code--the story promoted by Ameritrade--or if someone had used a Trojan Horse virus to exploit the vulnerability from the inside.

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Verizon Wireless Challenges Spectrum Auction Rules

Telecom giant opposes "open access" conditions supported by Google

Verizon Wireless Challenges Spectrum Auction Rules...

Verizon Wireless has gone to court to overturn the rules for the Federal Communications Commission's upcoming auction of wireless spectrum.

The telecom giant opposes the FCC's "open access" rules, which mandate that any suscriber can use any wireless handset with any network, and that consumers should be free to download any software they want from the network.

In a filing with the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., Verizon charged that the rules adopted by the FCC exceeded the commission's authority, and were "arbitrary, capricious, unsupported by substantial evidence, and otherwise contrary to law."

The sparse filing did not detail Verizon's claims, and Verizon representatives did not provide further comment.

The "open access" conditions were part of a deal offered by Google, which promised to bid $4.6 billion in the spectrum auction if the FCC agreed to support principles for four types of open platforms to be used with the new spectrum.

When the FCC agreed to support only two of the four principles as rules for the auction, Google praised the decision and indicated it might bid in the auction nonetheless.

Google's Chris Sacca criticized Verizon's move on his company's public policy blog, saying that it was "regrettable that Verizon has decided to use the court system to try to prevent consumers from having any choice of innovative services."

"The nation's spectrum airwaves are not the birthright of any one company," said Sacca. "They are a unique and valuable public resource that belong to all Americans."

Net neutrality

The wireless spectrum auction represents a key front in the continuing battle over net neutrality, the principle that consumers should be free to access all content equally on the Internet without interference.

Major telecoms such as Verizon and AT&T wanted the auction to be held without any conditions, in the hopes that they would be the preeminent bidders and be free to buy up the spectrum for new services.

Consumer groups wanted the spectrum made available for entreprenurial companies to develop wireless broadband Internet networks--a fabled "third pipe" that would compete with existing cable and telecom Internet services.

Although the FCC's compromise rules fell short of the "third pipe" goal, they were still a significant step to challenging the wireless market's strict control over what software and systems consumers can use on their phone. Although both AT&T and Verizon staunchly opposed Google's "open access" platform, the tide turned when AT&T agreed to support the compromise rules championed by FCC chairman Kevin Martin.

Early termination

The FCC has also promised to investigate punitive "early termination fees" levied by wireless, cable, and Internet companies against subscribers who cancel their contracts early.

The move was spurred by legislation introduced in the Senate that would put an end to the fees and mandate clear disclosure of what fees companies can charge to consumers.

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Online Camera Stores: Take a Close Look

Rigged reviews, bait-and-switch tactics common

Bait-and-switch swindles can occur in any industry, but many online camera dealers seem to have made bait-and-switch their routine business model....

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Quechup Spills Spam Into Email Boxes

Social network hijacks user accounts to send unauthorized invites

U.K.-based Quechup has quickly garnered a less-than-tasty reputation for sending mass invite mailings that appear to be from the email of a trusted friend....


Online dating site Quechup bills itself as the "social networking site that's sweeping the globe," but what it doesn't tell you is that it does so by spamming every Web email address in a member's contact list with invites to join the network, often without their knowledge or permission.

 

U.K.-based Quechup has quickly garnered a less-than-tasty reputation for sending mass invite mailings that appear to be from the email of a trusted friend.

When a new user signs up with Quechup, they are offered the option to check if any of their friends are already in the network. If a user agrees to import their email contacts into the network, Quechup then automatically mails every Web email address with an invite to join from the user's email, claiming that the user has sent the invite.

Filmmaker and blogger CC Chapman tried out Quechup and found two people on it he knew.

"Fast forward a few minutes and my inbox starts filling up with auto return messages, out of office messages, and all sorts of other things," he wrote on his blog. I couldnt figure out what was going on and it turns out that this system just sent invites to my whole address book without my permission."

I received an invite to Quechup yesterday, which clearly states that "[your friend] has invited you as a friend on Quechup." The invite continues, "You received this because [your friend] knows and agreed to invite you."

As I was already aware of what the online world is calling "the Q virus," I declined the invitation and asked him if he meant to send it.

"No, I did not intend to spam my email list like that. Sorry about the inconvenience," he said.

Taking Advantage Of Trust

Although virtually all of the major social networks require personal information to create accounts, and many offer the ability to import address books and contact lists into user profiles, Quechup actively harvests this information in order to get more members signed up, and uses email accounts from trusted friends and colleagues to do it.

Glenn Finch, vice-president of Quechup's parent company iDate, defended the company's practices in a debate with a columnist for InfoWorld.

"[W]e have never used the words "Share address book"...it has always been check an address book for who is on Quechup," he wrote. Finch claimed that "[w]e have recently changed how our system works and the wording," but did not provide specifics.

Buried within Quechup's privacy policy are several points which could imply that the user may be agreeing to Quechup's practices when they sign up.

Under "How We Use Your Information," Quechup states that "You agree that we may use personally identifiable information about you to improve our marketing and promotional efforts, to analyse site usage, improve our content and product offerings, and customize our Site's content, layout, and services."

"You agree that in order to assist our members to meet each other we may feature members' profiles on our site and in our editorials and newsletters that we send out from time to time to our members," according to the company's policy.

iDate is also upfront about its efforts to aggressively market Quechup and other products.

"As we move into new markets and add new languages and features, we will launch targeted web sites aimed at new audiences," the company promised. "These will be made available via different domain names, details of all new sites, together with links and descriptions will appear on this website."

Although the connection between improving marketing efforts and sending mass spam emails seems dubious at best, Quechup's actions are marginally legal under British and European Union laws.

Although Quechup's spoofing users' email addresses may violate the EU's directives to protect privacy, actually enforcing the regulations is difficult due to differing regulations between each country regarding "opt-out" versus "opt-in" privacy practices.

What You Can Do

 


• Be Careful What You Sign Up For. Before giving away any personal information to any online business or social network, go over their privacy policy and terms and conditions with a fine-tooth comb. Don't be afraid to contact them and ask what they do with your data. If they sell it, share it, store it, or do anything you are not comfortable with, don't sign up.

• Check E-mails Carefully. If you receive an email that appears to be from a friend or family member soliciting you to join a network or try out a product, don't respond to that email or open any links in the email itself. Instead, write a separate email to your friend confirming that they sent you the message. If they did not, send the initial email to your "Spam" folder.

• Use Multiple E-mail Addresses. If you're worried about spam or want to retain some email privacy, use one email for friends, one for business, and a "disposable" account that you can use for signing up for online services, conducting banking or shopping online, and so on.

• Let People Know. Quechup's dubious advertising practice has gotten it mountains of bad online and print press. Don't hesitate to write a blog post, send an email, or contact a company to let them know you disapprove of their privacy practices.

 

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FTC Warns Many Mortgage Ads Are Deceptive

Claims about "incredibly low rates and payments" are often false

FTC Warns Many Mortgage Ads Are Deceptive...

The Federal Trade Commission is warning mortgage brokers and lenders, and media outlets that carry their advertisements for home mortgages, that some of the claims currently appearing in Web sites, newspapers, magazines, direct mail, and unsolicited e-mail and faxes may violate federal law.

Many mortgage advertisers are making potentially deceptive claims about incredibly low rates and payments, without telling consumers the whole story -- for example, that these low rates and payments apply for a short period only and can go up substantially after the loans introductory period, said Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTCs Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Home ownership is the American dream, but it can become a nightmare for consumers who dont have the information they need to understand the terms of their mortgage, she said.

In warning letters, the agency is advising more than 200 advertisers and media outlets that some mortgage ads are potentially deceptive or in violation of the Truth in Lending Act.

The ads, including some in Spanish, were identified in June during a nationwide review focused on claims for very low monthly payment amounts or interest rates, without adequate disclosure of other important loan terms.

For example, some ads touted rates as low as 1% but failed to disclose adequately:

• that the stated rate was a payment rate -- not the interest rate -- that applied only during the loans initial period;

• that low advertised payments applied for only a short period; and

• the loans Annual Percentage Rate, the uniform measure of the cost of credit that enables consumers to shop for and compare mortgage offerings.

Some ads promoted only incredibly low monthly payments but failed to disclose adequately the terms of repayment, including payment increases and a final balloon payment.

Letters to advertisers are advising them to review their ads, and to read business and consumer education materials on the FTCs Web site to learn about relevant laws and requirements. Letters to media outlets are advising them about the potentially deceptive advertising, with guidance on screening ads for questionable claims.

Subprime loans

During the past decade, the FTC has brought 21 actions against companies in the mortgage lending industry, focusing in particular on the subprime market. Several of these cases have resulted in large monetary judgments, with courts collectively ordering that more than $320 million be returned to consumers.

These enforcement actions have targeted deceptive or unfair practices in all stages of mortgage lending, from advertising and marketing through loan servicing, by mortgage lenders, brokers, and loan servicers.

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Lithium Ion Batteries to Power Mercedes Luxury Hybrid

Mercedes confident the batteries will be safe

Lithium Ion Batteries to Power Mercedes Luxury Hybrid...

By Joe Benton
ConsumerAffairs.com

September 11, 2007
Mercedes-Benz will be the first automaker to offer consumers a hybrid vehicle powered in part by lithium ion batteries.

Mercedes plans to build a "mild hybrid" version of the S-class sedan in 2009. Details of when the car might be on sale in the U.S. are not available.

Toyota Motor Corp. had planned to equip its hybrids with the powerful lithium ion batteries but has delayed production because of safety concerns until 2010 or 2011.

Mercedes executives, speaking at the Frankfurt auto show, said the 2009 S 400 will have a mild hybrid powertrain with an electric motor that also acts as a starter-generator.

The said the batteries will be supplied by Johnson Controls-Saft, a joint venture formed last year by the U.S. interior supplier and the French battery maker, according to Mercedes executives.

Johnson Controls-Saft expects to complete a new plant to manufacture lithium ion batteries for its European customers this year. The plant is in Nersac, France.

Although the battery pack in the S 400 won't be under as much strain as batteries in a fully battery powered hybrid, engineers at Johnson Controls-Saft submitted the batteries to the same rigorous testing as those that will be used in full hybrids, according to the company.

"We're confident in our design and approach to safety management," said CEO Mary Ann Wright, who oversees the engineers designing and developing the batteries.

The hybrid version of the S 400 will be able to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, according to the German automaker. Mercedes also claims that the S 400 will be the most fuel-efficient luxury sedan in the world.

Lithium ion batteries are still under testing and development for use in most hybrid because the batteries can overheat and catch fire. There have been numerous incidents in recent years of laptop computers and cell phones suddenly bursting into flames.

Automobile engineers are working on technology to use the lithium ion battery, however, as a replacement for the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in hybrids like the Prius now.

Lithium ion batteries are any important part of the future of plug-in hybrids that will be charged overnight with household electrical current, reducing the need to consume gasoline.

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Study: Kids Getting Too Much Sodium

Popular snacks contain way too much salt, set kids up for hypertension

Study: Kids Getting Too Much Sodium...


Children who snack on chips and other salty treats run the risk of developing high blood pressure, according to British researchers.

Their study, reported in the Journal of Human Hypertension, found that most popular snacks contain higher sodium levels than those recommended by health experts.

The study followed more than two thousand children between the ages of four and 18. The study monitored their salt consumption, but did not include salt added in cooked meals or at the table.

According to the study, the average four-year-old consumed 4.7g of salt a day. Recommendations call for only 2-3g of salt per day in that age group.

Whats wrong with salt consumption? The study found that each extra gram of salt consumed raised blood pressure significantly, leading to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke when they are adults. The children who consumed the most salt also had the highest blood pressure levels.

Excessive salt consumption has also been linked to ailments such as asthma, osteoporosis, and stomach cancer, according to the report.

Experts call for action

Last July, two dozen leading hypertension experts, physicians, and health groups urged urging Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt to swing his agency into action to reduce Americans' salt consumption.

The high salt levels in countless processed foods and restaurant foods are a major factor in raising Americans' blood pressure, which in turn is a major contributor to heart disease and stroke. Blacks are disproportionately at risk for high blood pressure, the experts said.

"There is virtual unanimity within the scientific community regarding the contribution of excessive sodium consumption to cardiovascular disease," the experts wrote, pointing to various government-funded recommendations, including those of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Institute of Medicine, and the Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC-7).



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Phishing Scam Targets Xbox Live Users

Email claims to be about changes in the target's account

Phishing Scam Targets Xbox Live Users...


A new email scam is targeting a specific group -- video game enthusiasts who use Xbox Live.

The email is designed to look like it comes from Xbox Support, and bears the subject line Changes to your Xbox Live Account.

Those who open the email receive a message informing them that changes have been made to all accounts and that users should log in and check them out. The message contains a link that supposedly takes the recipient to their account log in page.

On closer inspection, however, the link is revealed to go to a duplicate site where the scammer can capture log-in information.

The scam was reported by an Xbox user identified as Whagi, who posted the details on an Xbox forum. The bogus emails have reportedly been received in both the U.S. and UK.

These people that produce these emails and duplicate sites are idiots, Whagi wrote. Do not fall for this as they will have full access to your Passport account.

Xbox Live is a Web site where members may play Xbox video games online against other members.

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Feds Aware of Prius Runaway Acceleration

Car seems OK after a "reboot" but the problem often recurs later

Feds Probe Prius Runaway Acceleration...

Federal safety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say they are "aware of" complaints of runaway acceleration in the popular Toyota Prius hybrid and are in a "monitoring mode."

"It is currently like dozens, or maybe hundreds, of other issues of this kind," an agency official said.

The Toyota Product Communications office has not responded to several requests from ConsumerAffairs.com to discuss the issue of unintended acceleration in the Prius.

Prius owners in the meantime continue to encounter incidents of unintended acceleration with the hybrid and the Japanese automaker seems unable to remedy the problem.

In a new wrinkle, one Prius owner whose hybrid was damaged in an unintended acceleration accident reports that her Toyota dealer is unwilling to accept the Prius in trade for another vehicle, even though the hybrid is almost new.

In Burnet, Texas, Janet slammed into a garage wall with her 2007 Prius.

I was pulling into my garage. Suddenly my Toyota Prius accelerated out of control and drove into the wall of the garage damaging my nerves, the car and the wall, she told ConsumerAffairs.com.

Janet's husband thought his wife was the cause of the accident.

My husband, thinking it was user error put the car in reverse and it accelerated again out of control, she said. We bought the Prius as our retirement car. My husband and I are 70 plus and have found ourselves without a car until someone can find what is happening.

They say it can't even be traded in, Janet told us.

Janet has reported the unintended acceleration problem to Toyota with no response.

I am very frightened of the car what if I had been approaching a group of pedestrians, Janet asked?

Similar reports

About the same time that Janet was crashing into a garage wall with her Prius, Lois in Las Vegas was wrestling with her 2005 Toyota hybrid's tendency to accelerate suddenly.

It has hesitated several times on me. This last time I almost got in an accident. It chugged along several times in a row. No lights went on. It has 99,000 miles and has a warranty to 100,000 miles. It has bee at the Toyota dealership 5 days. they cannot find any problems Lois said.

On August 22, Dan in San Dimas, California reported a similar Prius problem.

I was almost stopped for a red light, my foot was on the brake (NOT on gas), the car was surging forward being held back by brakes. I quickly checked for anything under the accelerator including the floor mat, foot on the gas, or any other cause. All were negative.

Dan pulled into a gas station on the corner with the engine still revving at maximum rpms. He turned the Prius off, double checked for external causes and found none. He then turned the hybrid back on and it behaved normally, Dan told us.

When Dan reported the unintended acceleration problem to his Toyota dealer, he said there was a service bulletin on the 2004-2005 models but not on the 2006. He offered to re-flash the computer. Dan told us.

Karen in Los Gatos, California has a 2007 Prius she has driven since December of 2006.

After driving the car approximately 1,000 miles, Toyota Prius hybrid had an uninitiated full-throttle acceleration while driving on an expressway, she told ConsumerAffairs.com.

Startled, I slammed on the brakes. The accelerator fought my braking as I pulled over and turned off the car, shocked and taking a deep breath, Karen wrote us.

Karen did not think about the problem with unintended acceleration again until it happened with about 13,000 miles on the odometer.

I had been stopped at a traffic light. It changed to green and I started to move forward. The Prius took off charging toward the car in front of me. Standing on the brakes, I pulled over and turned off the car. Very frightened, I sat wondering what I should do next. What happens if I turn the car on and it takes off again? she asked herself.

Karen said that all was normal when she re-fired the hybrid engine.

I called Toyota and talked to a sales person and explained this dangerous experience. He confirmed that he was familiar with the problem and also experienced this himself when driving one of the earlier models of the Prius, Karen wrote.

No floor mats

She took the runaway Prius to her Toyota dealer and listened as the service manager blamed everything that has occurred on nothing more than a floor carpet jamming accelerator pedal.

As I explained to him, I didn't have floor mats when this happened the first time, Karen wrote.

A concerned friend sent Karen a link to earlier stories published by ConsumerAffairs.com.

"I forwarded the link to the owner of the Toyota dealership. He too expressed concern and asked me to keep the loaner for a few more days while they get someone for Toyota to look further into this, Karen said.

At the moment, I'm still in the dealership loaner car. They still have my Prius, Karen told us.

---

Correction: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly said a NHTSA investigation had been opened.

 

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CANIDAE Denies Reports of Painkiller in its Pet Food

Independent Texas lab found acetaminophen; FDA "checking into" it

CANIDAE Denies Reports of Painkiller in its Pet Food...


Responding to a ConsumerAffairs.com report, CANIDAE Pet Food denies that its products contain the painkiller acetaminophen, saying the claim came from one report by one unconfirmed laboratory.

The company, however, said it takes such allegations seriously and is now testing samples of its products.

As we reported on Thursday, toxicologists at ExperTox Inc. Analytical Laboratory of Texas detected acetaminophen in a sample of pet food identified as CANIDAE dog food. The lab issued that report on September 4, 2007.

We also confirmed the findings with the manager of the Deer Park, Texas, laboratory. That is one of our reports, Lab Manager, Donna Coneley, told us.

Coneley, however, said the sample arrived in a Ziploc bag and ExperTox cannot confirm the pet food is a CANIDAE brand. The labs customer, who was not identified because of a confidentiality agreement, identified the sample as CANIDAE pet food on ExperToxs forms.

Coneley also confirmed the lab detected acetaminophen in the dog food, but pointed out that the report didnt show the amount of painkiller found in the sample.

ExperToxs report also revealed its toxicologists did not detect cyanuric acid or melamine in the dog food tested.

Melamine is the chemical that triggered this years massive pet food recall. In March, Menu Foods recalled more than 60 million containers of dog and cat food the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said were tainted with melamine. Thats a chemical used to make plastic and fertilizers. It is not allow in pet or human food.

Thousands of dogs and cats nationwide suffered kidney problems or died after eating the tainted food.

The FDA said it found melamine in the imported wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate used to make the pet food. FDA officials traced the source of that contamination to two now-defunct companies in China.

No CANIDAE pet foods were involved in that recall.

Acetaminophen Found In Other Brands

This latest finding of acetaminophen in dog food comes less than four months after ExperTox discovered the painkiller in about a half a dozen samples of pet food it tested.

The lab did not disclose the brands of pet food that tested positive for acetaminophen in May because of a confidentiality agreement.

But ConsumerAffairs.com learned two of those samples were Menu Foods Pet Pride "Turkey and Giblets Dinner" and Pet Pride "Mixed Grill.

Grieving cat owner Don Earl of Port Townsend, Washington, told us he paid ExperTox to analyze those brands of pet food. He said the samples tested were the same lots and styles of food that he fed his cat, Chuckles, before she died in January, 2007, after eating the Pet Pride food.

ConsumerAffairs.com confirmed those samples of cat food tested positive for acetaminophen. They also tested positive for the chemical cyanuric acid -- commonly used in pool chlorination.

But the samples of Pet Pride did not reveal any melamine contamination.

That finding didnt surprise Earl, who has asked a federal court to force the FDA to investigate other toxins -- besides melamine -- as the culprit behind the pet food recall.

Melamine has impressed me as being a red herring since day one, he said. The substance has been the subject of credible scientific tests and studies for decades. Nothing supports the theory it could be lethal even in amounts 10 times the highest reported to be present in the food. As to why no one is finding other toxins in the food, the simple explanation is no one is looking for other toxins in the food.

FDA Disputed Earlier Reports

The FDA refuted ExperToxs earlier findings of acetaminophen in the pet food, saying it didnt detect the painkiller in a handful of samples it tested.

But ConsumerAffairs.com learned the FDA couldnt confirm it tested the same lots and brands of pet food in which ExperTox found the pain medication.

ExperTox told us it tested 100 to 150 samples of pet food -- and detected acetaminophen in five of those samples. The FDA tested just a few samples of pet food for the painkiller.

Its easier to say that we cant confirm something by looking at a few samples than to really investigate and continue investigating until you know something for sure, Coneley told us.

CANIDAE also cast doubt on ExperToxs earlier findings of acetaminophen in pet food.

And the San Luis Obispo, California, company questioned the accuracy of the labs current report about detecting acetaminophen in a sample of CANIDAE dog food.

There is one report by one unconfirmed laboratory that has given rise these claims, the companys Jim Mantych said in a written statement faxed on Friday to ConsumerAffairs.com. That same laboratory also claimed acetaminophen contamination in other products that the FDA and the laboratory at the University of California examined as well and as to which those laboratories found that the claims could not be validated.

Mantych added: We do not put acetaminophen in our products in any way, shape or form, nor is it used in any of our ingredients.

Nevertheless, Mantych said his company is testing samples of its pet food for possible contamination.

CANIDAE takes any such allegations extremely seriously and is working hard to acquire as much factual information regarding these allegations as possible. We have already sent a battery of samples to be tested by the most current and reliable test methods available.

ExperTox told us on Thursday that it is not required to report its latest findings of acetaminophen in the dog food to the FDA. In previous cases, the lab said, its clients reported the test results to that federal agency.

We contacted the FDA on Thursday about ExperToxs latest findings. A spokesman told us he was checking into the matter.



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Caffeine Content Labels Suggested for Soft Drinks

Researchers find content varies widely among brands

Caffeine Content Labels Suggested for Soft Drinks...


Should nutrition labels on soft drinks also contain information about caffeine content? Two Auburn University researchers say such information would be helpful to consumers.

Some consumers want low levels of caffeine for health reasons, and others prefer the effects of higher caffeine, said food scientist Leonard Bell. The addition of caffeine contents to food labels would help them make better choices.

In their study, published in the August issue of the Journal of Food Science, Bell and fellow researcher Ken-Hong Chou described their evaluation of 56 national brands and 75 store brands of carbonated beverages.

According to the study, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sets the legal limit of caffeine in carbonated beverages at about 72 milligrans of caffeine for a 12-ounce can of soft drink.

Bell and Chou found the range of caffeine in 12-ounce cans of carbonated beverages to vary from a low of just under 5 milligrans for a store brand of cola to a high of 74 milligrams for Vault Zero, a citrus drink. Their study included cola, pepper-type and citrus beverages of both national-brands and private-label store-brands.

New flavors, formulas and brands of carbonated beverages are continually being introduced into the market, but since most do not provide caffeine content information in their labeling, consumers cannot make quick choices based on comparison at the point of purchase.

In their article, Bell and Chou conclude that if all manufacturers placed caffeine contents on food labels, consumers would have the ability to instantly compare products, enabling them to make more informed purchasing decisions.



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Lab Tests Find Painkiller in Samples of Pet Food

But tests don't find any melamine

Lab Tests Find Painkiller in Samples of Pet Food...


A sample of pet food -- identified as CANIDAE dog food -- has tested positive for the painkiller acetaminophen, ConsumerAffairs.com has learned.

The findings are contained in a report issued by the ExperTox Inc. Analytical Laboratory earlier this week, which reveals its toxicologists detected acetaminophen in a sample of pet food listed as CANIDAE dog food.

We also confirmed the findings with the manager of the Deer Park, Texas, laboratory. That is one of our reports, Donna Coneley, lab manager, told us.

Coneley, however, said the sample arrived in a Ziploc bag and ExperTox cannot confirm the pet food is a CANIDAE product. The lab's customer, who was not identified because of a confidentiality agreement, identified the sample as CANIDAE pet food on ExperToxs forms.

Coneley also confirmed the lab detected acetaminophen in the dog food, but she pointed out that the report doesnt show the amount of painkiller found in the sample.

No melamine

ExperToxs report also reveals its toxicologists did not detect cyanuric acid or melamine in the dog food tested.

Melamine is the chemical that triggered this years massive pet food recall. In March, Menu Foods recalled more than 60 million containers of dog and cat food the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said were tainted with melamine. Thats a chemical used to make plastic and fertilizers. It is not allow in pet or human food.

Thousands of dogs and cats nationwide suffered kidney problems or died after eating the tainted food.

The FDA said it found melamine in the imported wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate used to make the pet food. FDA officials traced the source of that contamination to two now-defunct companies in China.

Acetaminophen found in other brands

This latest finding of acetaminophen in dog food comes less than four months after ExperTox discovered the painkiller in about a half a dozen samples of pet food it tested.

The lab did not disclose the brands of pet food that tested positive for acetaminophen in May because of a confidentiality agreement.

But ConsumerAffairs.com learned two of those samples were Menu Foods Pet Pride "Turkey and Giblets Dinner" and Pet Pride "Mixed Grill.

Grieving cat owner Don Earl of Port Townsend, Washington, told us he paid ExperTox to analyze those brands of pet food. He said the samples tested were the same lots and styles of food that he fed his cat, Chuckles, before she died in January 2007 after eating the Pet Pride food.

ConsumerAffairs.com confirmed those samples of cat food tested positive for acetaminophen. They also tested positive for the chemical cyanuric acid -- commonly used in pool chlorination.

But the samples of Pet Pride did not reveal any melamine contamination.

Not surprised

That finding didnt surprise Earl.

Melamine has impressed me as being a red herring since day one, said Earl, who recently asked a federal court to force the FDA to investigate other toxins -- besides melamine -- as the culprit behind the pet food recall.

The substance has been the subject of credible scientific tests and studies for decades. Nothing supports the theory it could be lethal even in amounts 10 times the highest reported to be present in the food. As to why no one is finding other toxins in the food, the simple explanation is no one is looking for other toxins in the food.

FDA disputed earlier reports

The FDA disputed ExperToxs earlier findings of acetaminophen in the pet food, saying it didnt detect the painkiller in a handful of samples it tested. But ConsumerAffairs.com learned the FDA couldnt confirm it tested the same lots and brands of pet food in which ExperTox found the pain medication.

ExperTox told us it tested 100 to 150 samples of pet food -- and detected acetaminophen in five of those samples. The FDA tested just a few samples of pet food for the painkiller.

Its easier to say that we cant confirm something by looking at a few samples than to really investigate and continue investigating until you know something for sure, Coneley told us. I think this might have been a quick way to get everyone off their (FDA) backs.

Coneley said her lab is not required to report its latest findings of acetaminophen in the dog food to the FDA.

The clients consistently have done that, she said.

We contacted the FDA late Thursday about ExperToxs latest findings. We also contacted CANIDAE Pet Food, but the company did not return our calls.

CANIDAE Pet Food, which is headquartered in San Luis Obispo, California, states on its Web site that all its products are safe and not part of this years massive recall.

It appears from the latest news within our industry that all recalls were from protein concentrates imported from China, the companys Web site states. CANIDAE does not use any protein concentrates, or grain fractions and we do not import any ingredients from China or overseas.

All CANIDAE and FELIDAE ingredients are of U.S. origin . . . We pride ourselves on making only the highest quality, all natural pet foods using the finest ingredients available that meet or exceed the nutrient profiles as established by the AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles.



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Foreclosures Continue at Record Levels

One of every seven subprime borrowers is delinquent, report finds

Foreclosures Continue at Record Levels...

The foreclosure epidemic shows no signs of losing steam, as a new report from the Mortgage Bankers' Association (MBA) found that incidents of foreclosure for the second quarter of 2007 were at their highest rates in the organization's 55-year history.

The MBA report found that homes entering foreclosure were at 0.65 percent of all outstanding loans, an increase from the previous high of 0.58 percent for the first quarter of 2007.

The MBA's quarterly reports have been tracking a consistent increase in foreclosures across the country for the past several financial quarters.

Delinquent payments rose to 5.12 percent of all outstanding loans, an increase of 73 seasonally-adjusted points from the previous year. Delinquencies for subprime borrowers increased to 14.82 percent, roughly one of every seven outstanding subprime loans, according to the report.

MBA vice-president and senior economist Doug Duncan pointed to the continuing collapse of formerly hot housing markets in California, Nevada, Florida, and Arizona as responsible for extending the foreclosure epidemic.

"Were it not for the increases in foreclosure starts in those four states, we would have seen a nationwide drop in the rate of foreclosure filings," Duncan said.

"Thirty four states had decreases in their rates of new foreclosure and the increases were very modest in the states with increases, other than those four," Duncan said. "The four states of California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona have more than one-third of the nations subprime ARMs, more than one-third of the foreclosure starts on subprime ARMs, and are responsible for most of the nationwide increase in foreclosure actions."

RealtyTrac's regular foreclosure reports also show record-breaking foreclosures in those four states and other collapsing markets, with a 93 percent increase in overall nationwide foreclosures since July 2006.

The epidemic of foreclosures across the nation has triggered calls for help from consumer and civil rights groups such as ACORN, who called on lenders to impose a moratorium on foreclosures of homes bought with subprime loans.

The coalition wants greater protection for black and Latino families from predatory lenders, who often target minorities with expensive subprime loans, even when they could qualify for loans at "prime" rates.

A task force of several Federal agencies has asked lenders to work with borrowers in trouble, providing them leeway to defer payments or convert nontraditional loans to conventional fixed-rate loans.

The task force has also promised stronger oversight of subprime lenders and stricter rules under which they can offer mortgages.

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Feds Require Side Curtain Airbags by 2013

Smaller test dummies will provide more protection for petite females

The NHTSA will require automakers to equip all vehicles with side curtain air bags that provide head and torso protection in side-impact crashes by 2013....

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will require automakers to equip all vehicles with side curtain air bags that provide head and torso protection in side-impact crashes by 2013.

Safety advocates said it was a good start.

"NHTSA is definitely on the right track, but it still has miles to go before its job is done," said Robert Shull of Public Citizen.

NHTSA released the new standards stating that the air bags are expected to save 311 lives annually and prevent 361 serious injuries, especially brain injuries, in crashes that often occur when a vehicle runs a stop sign at an intersection.

This new standard will spare hundreds of families from losing a loved one in a side- impact accident, and will forever raise the bar on safety for drivers and passengers across America, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said.

NHTSA estimates that the rules will add about $33 to the cost of a vehicle.

Side-impact passenger vehicle crashes are often severe. They account for 28 percent of all fatalities, the majority of which involve a brain injury.

Safety advocates have long urged NHTSA to require automakers to do more to protect motorists in side crashes.

Rear seat protection

For the first time, NHTSA will also require automakers to provide head protection for rear seat passengers in any crash.

With these rigorous new requirements, we are building on the strength of innovative and life-saving side impact technologies that are already available to many new car buyers, NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason said.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has reported that its research demonstrates that head-protecting air bags reduced driver deaths by 52 percent in sport utility vehicles and 37 percent in passenger cars.

NHTSA initially first proposed side-impact standards in May 2004, roughly six months after automakers voluntarily agreed to install side air bags by 2009.

The agency reopened the regulatory process following questions about the crash test procedures automakers intended to use.

Important first step

Public Citizen's Shull said the new standards will help ensure that automakers design vehicles to protect more people from more types of side-impact crashes.

Automakers will now have to build vehicles to protect people from side-impact collisions not only with other vehicles but also with stationary objects (such as trees and other objects on the road).

Vehicles will be subjected to a tougher performance test that integrates two kinds of testing: dynamic pole tests, representing side-impact crashes with stationary objects, and movable deforming barrier (MDB) tests, replicating side-impact crashes with other vehicles. Previously NHTSA tested using only MDB tests.

New dummy

For the first time, NTSA will require that a dummy representing a small adult female to be used in side-impact performance testing. A new and more technically advanced dummy representing an adult male of average height will also be used in crash testing.

Automakers had wanted to exclude the heaviest vehicles from the side-impact requirements along with convertibles.

The new rules require vehicles that weigh less than 8,500 pounds to comply with the new crash tests by September 1, 2012. Vehicles that weigh between 8,500 and 10,000 pounds must comply by September 1, 2013.

While NHTSA does not require specific technologies to meet its new performance requirements, manufacturers likely would meet this upgraded rule with various types of innovative head, chest and pelvis protection systems, such as side curtain air bags and thorax air bags.

Miles to go

Now that NHTSA has taken these first steps, it must immediately address some unfinished business to protect the public, Shull said.

"First, the agency must address the incredibly important issue of compatibility, or the catastrophe of fatal mismatches between passenger cars and much larger light trucks and SUVs," he said.

Shull said the occupant of a car is three times more likely to be killed when struck by an SUV instead of a car and five times more likely to be killed when struck by a pickup truck.

The upgraded side-impact standard essentially tests for a collision with a mid-size passenger car, not an SUV.

"To fully replicate crash scenarios and prevent the most injury, NHTSA needs to use a moving deformable barrier that is higher, stiffer and mimics a collision with a heavier, bigger SUV," Shull said.

Safety for children

Second, Shull said NHTSA needs to improve safety for children.

"The dummies used in the upgraded testing, even in the back seat, do not adequately represent a child under the age of 12, leaving child occupants vulnerable and unaccounted for in safety testing," he said.

Third, the standard does not protect against side-impact collisions so intense that the striking vehicle or object intrudes into the vehicle, Shull noted.

He said a strict limit on the amount of acceptable amount of cab intrusion would better prevent injury to occupants in side-impact crashes.

 

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Apple Cuts Price Of iPhone

Offers $100 credit to early adopters

Apple Cuts Price Of iPhone...

Just two months after introducing its iPhone, Apple has cut the price of its most expensive model by $200. In what it called a holiday promotion, Apple said the 8 GB model will sell for $399 instead of its original price of $599.

That's good news for would-be iPhone buyers but it infuriated those who had paid full price for the devices. In an unusual bit of backtracking, Apple CEO Steve Jobs offered a backhanded apology and said the company would offer a $100 credit to most of those who paid full price.

Jobs' letter, posted on Apple's Web site, said that anyone who bought the Apple cellphone in an Apple or AT&T store and who is not eligible for a rebate, can receive a $100 Apple store credit. Details remained sketchy.

While striking a somewhat apologetic tone, Jobs made it clear early adopters shouldn't be surprised if they don't get the best price.

"This is life in the technology lane," he wrote. "If you always wait for the next price cut or to buy the new improved model, you'll never buy any technology product because there is always something better and less expensive on the horizon."

It's a somewhat more combative tone than Jobs had adopted the day before, when he announced the price cut.

The surveys are in and iPhone customer satisfaction scores are higher than weve ever seen for any Apple product, he said Tuesday. Weve clearly got a breakthrough product and we want to make it affordable for even more customers as we enter this holiday season.

The 8GB iPhone is available immediately for $399 in the US through Apples retail and online stores and AT&T retail stores. Apple said the iPhone 4GB model will be sold while supplies last, apparently indicating the lower priced model will be phased out.

The price cut was predicted back in January 2007, almost six months before the iPhone was introduced.

iSuppli, a market research firm, predicted Apple would quickly cut iPhone's price because at the introductory price of $599, each unit carried a huge profit margin.

New iPod

Apple this week also introduced the new iPod classic, featuring 80GB or 160GB of storage. The new device is priced from $249 up, a significant reduction from earlier models.

 

 

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Dodd Offers Legislation To Stop Predatory Lending

Bill would tighten subprime lending guidelines, stop unscrupulous practices

Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) says he will introduce legislation that would crack down on predatory lenders and give homeowners more protection against e...

Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) says he will introduce legislation that would crack down on predatory lenders and give homeowners more protection against expensive loans.

Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and a candidate for the 2008 Presidential election, said that "predatory lending needs to be stopped."

Let me be clear: affordable home loans are a good thing; predatory lending is not," Dodd said. My bill will end prepayment penalties which only exist in the subprime market, and which penalize homeowners for trying to do the right thing by refinancing their mortgage.

"It will prohibit brokers and lenders from 'steering' homebuyers to a more costly loan. Most importantly, my bill will help keep Americans in their homes while also helping to restore public confidence in our mortgage and capital markets.

Dodd's legislation would also clarify and supplement state laws regarding brokers' fiduciary duties to homebuyers, limiting the fees lenders can charge borrowers for late payments, and expand the authority to investigate deceptive lending practices to more federal agencies.

The major focus of Dodd's bill is ensuring lenders and brokers act in good faith towards borrowers, an approach that won praise from consumer groups.

The centerpiece of Senator Dodd's bill will establish in federal law the principle that all lenders have an obligation of good faith and fair dealing when making a home loan," said Margot Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center. "This approach will help restore a long-awaited measure of fairness to the mortgage market.

Dodd has been critical of the Bush administration's response to the housing market crash. When several federal agencies offered guidance for lenders to help delinquent homeowners, Dodd said the statement "comes very late."

Not only is todays statement late in coming, but it will not in and of itself ensure that as many people as possible remain in their homes," Dodd said. We cannot tolerate short term modifications that put off the day of reckoning until a time when the press attention is turned elsewhere. Lenders and servicers must modify loans for long-term affordability."

Dodd previously flexed his muscle as Banking Committee chairman by holding hearings on abusive credit card lending practices.

His calls for predatory lending crackdowns have been echoed in the House of Representatives, where Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank wants lenders who traded heavily in investments backed by subprime loans to be held accountable for their collapse.

 

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Connecticut Sues Brokers, Realtors in Alleged Subprime Scam

'Vast predatory lending scheme' targeted low-income homebuyers

Connecticut Sues Brokers, Realtors in Alleged Subprime Scam...

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has filed suit against several mortgage brokers and realtors alleging an extensive statewide predatory lending scheme that devastated dozens of consumers.

Blumenthal alleges that through a multi-layered scheme, the defendants misled consumers and mortgage lenders into property purchases that financially destroyed dozens of homebuyers, while benefiting only the defendants, their associates and family members.

This pervasive predatory lending scheme left a trail of shattered lives and lies false promises to first-time homebuyers about property values, loan terms, and income levels, Blumenthal said. Our investigation has uncovered consumers who sought the American Dream but bought a financial nightmare."

The lawsuit charges that homebuyers were victimized by a "vast scheme" with multiple layers of lies and co-conspirators.

"We allege that this predatory lending scheme enticed consumers with false promises of profits from investment rental properties and nonexistent management services for tax and mortgage payments and other expenses," Blumenthal said.

Inflated values

Blumenthal said homebuyers were purposefully encouraged to buy properties whose values were inflated, using mortgages with concealed costs that they could never realistically afford, because their incomes and assets were falsified with bogus bank and employer records. And he said the buyers were discouraged from seeking outside assistance from independent home inspectors and lawyers.

"These practices preyed on the most vulnerable citizens many of them first-time unsophisticated low-income homebuyers who spoke little or no English. The conspirators were illegally enriched by profits from inflated prices for properties, and fees and commissions," he said.

The defendants are Royal Financial Services, LLC, of Trumbull; First Source Mortgage Solutions, Inc. of Branford; Elizabeth Athan Real Estate, LLC, of Shelton; J.G. Property Management & Investment, LLC, of New London; Brian Guimond, d/b/a Cutting Edge Contracting of Norwich; and Jose Guzman and Mauricio Lancia for allegedly managing the schemes on behalf of the defendant companies.

Blumenthal sued on behalf of Department of Banking Commissioner Howard F. Pitkin and the state in coordination with Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell, Jr.

Relief sought

Financially battered and blindsided, some consumers face foreclosure and years of damaging credit ratings. They deserve relief immediately," Blumenthal said.

Our legal action seeks money back to consumers and severe penalties for practices that undermine an entire industry, endangering not only consumers directly involved, but the economic welfare of the region. This case is only the beginning of a challenging time in the real estate and lending industry.

"This turmoil and calamity, only one in numerous emerging cases, has revealed the worst of the lending industry, he said.

Blumenthals lawsuit seeks restitution for every consumer harmed; an order preventing further violations; and civil penalties to the state.

How it worked

Blumenthal described how the alleged scheme worked:

J.G. Management and Guzman, who were not licensed by the state to engage in real estate transactions, and Elizabeth Athan Real Estate, solicited low-income consumers, including renters receiving federal housing assistance, to buy through them multiple or multi-unit residential properties. They promised consumers, among other things, favorable mortgage terms, cash back at closing, and diminished monthly housing expenses, Blumenthal said.

J. G. Management and/or Guzman also pledged to provide property management services for rental properties that the consumers purchased through them services including maintenance, finding renters, collecting rent and making mortgage and tax payments.

Once a consumer agreed to work with the defendants to purchase properties, the defendants referred consumers to Royal Financial or First Source to act as the mortgage broker.

J.G. Management, Guzman and the Elizabeth Athan agency would then select the property or properties for purchase from a stock of properties owned by the defendants, their family members or associates. The properties were sold to consumers at inflated prices often tens of thousands of dollars more than what they were purchased for months earlier. The defendants substantiated the inflated prices to consumers and lenders through bogus and artificially inflated appraisals.

When consumers inquired about hiring a home inspector, the defendants often convinced them it was unnecessary or potentially adverse to the consumer, Blumenthal charged.

 

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Purina Denies Claim on Bichon Frise Deaths

ASPCA opens investigation into unexplained dog deaths

Purina Denies Claim on Bichon Frise Deaths...


The insurance company that represents pet food giant Nestle Purina has denied any liability in the deaths of two Bichon Frise with champion bloodlines.

Meanwhile, ConsumerAffairs.com learned the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is now reviewing the dogs medical records and their unexpected deaths.

The dogs suddenly died last year within two months of each other. Their owner, Julie N. of Harlan, Kentucky, blames the deaths on Purinas dry dog food specifically Purina One, Purina ProPlan and Purina Dog Chow.

I think theres something wrong with the food, she says. Theres no other explanation for these dogs to suddenly die.

They were both healthy. They were bred from champion bloodlines. And one of the dogs -- Beeble -- was just a puppy.

She was a healthy 12-month-old Bichon Frise, says Julie, who breeds and shows 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.

But she died four days after he put her on antibiotics and started I.V. fluids.

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

Two months later -- On October 26 -- another one of Julies healthy dogs unexpectedly died. In this case, it was her eight-year-old Bichon Frise, Kayla.

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

Autopsy Reveals Possible Link

Heartbroken and baffled by the dogs death -- and determined to find answers -- Julie had autopsies performed on Beeble and Kayla at the University of Tennessees Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Knoxville.

The autopsy report on Beeble revealed a possible connection between the puppys death and the food she ate.

Pathologists discovered problems with Beebles 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?

Simple.

The aflatoxins could have come from the (dog) food, Beebles veterinarian, Douglas Mickey, told ConsumerAffairs.com. 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 added: 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.

Aflatoxins, however, are not linked to Menu Foods massive recall in March of 60 million containers of dog and cat food. That pet food recall -- the largest in U.S. history -- is blamed on melamine contamination in the imported wheat gluten and rice protein used to make the food.

Thousands of dogs and cats nationwide suffered kidney problems or died after eating the melamine-tainted food.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) traced the source of the melamine contamination to two now-defunct companies in China.

Kaylas Death Remains a Mystery

Aflatoxins also didnt play a role in Kaylas death, Dr. Mickey told ConsumerAffairs.com

That dog didnt die from anything in her food, he said. What caused 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, he 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 also contributed to Kaylas death.

Purina Denies Claim

Purinas insurance company, however, disagrees.

In a letter Julie received from Sedgwick Claims Management Services, a claim examiner states: After careful review of the records from the University of Tennessee Veterinary Teaching Hospital, I must respectfully deny liability on behalf of Nestle Purina PetCare Company for this claim . . . neither Beedles (sic) nor Kaylas medical problems would result from their diets.

The insurance company, which misspelled Beebles name, concluded the puppy died from severe hemorrhagic bronchopneumonia. It also stated Kaylas death appeared to be steroid induced and most likely the result of Cushings syndrome.

But Julie says the company reached that conclusion -- and sent its letter in mid-August -- without reading the entire autopsy reports.

I immediately called the insurance company after I received the letter and asked them how they could disregard the pathologists finding that the problems with Beebles liver were consistent with exposure to aflatoxins, Julie says. And the claims adjuster told me she didnt see that in the reportshe admitted that she didnt have a copy of the last page of the autopsy report.

Julie re-sent that report.

But a claim examiner called me later and said the company had reached the same conclusionit wasnt Purinas fault. I asked them again about the aflatoxins and they just said Beeble died from pneumonia. They also said Kayla died from steroid induced Cushings syndrome, but she was never on steroids.

No Comment

A spokesman for Purina declined to comment on the insurance companys finding.

In a previous interview, spokesman Keith Schopp defended Purinas handling of Julies concerns and said there were no aflatoxins in the companys products in the Untied States.

ASPCA Reviewing Records

Meanwhile, ConsumerAffairs.com confirmed today that Julies case has captured the attention of the ASPCA.

We learned an ASPCA veterinarian is now -- at Julies request -- reviewing the medical records and autopsy reports on Beeble and Kayla. A spokeswoman said its too early to comment on any findings because the organization just received the documents on Tuesday.

Fighting For Justice for Her Dogs

Julie is also considering legal action, saying shell do whatever it takes to get justice for her dogs and other pets that might be at risk.

Im not doing this to make a profit, she says. I never wanted to pursue legal action in the first place. All I wanted was for Purina to take my information and check its food. But now they need to acknowledge that this has happened and make sure no one elses pets die. I dont want any other animals to die like mine.

She adds: You know that old (Shakespeare) saying that something is rotten in the state of Denmark? Well, something is definitely rotten at Purina.



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Secondhand Smoke Bad for Pets

Smoking just as dangerous for pets as contaminated food

Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, an Oklahoma State University Coop Extension Service veterinarian, says if secondhand smoke is harmful to people, it stands to rea...

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Researchers Link Smoking To Dementia

Another good reason not to smoke

Researchers Link Smoking To Dementia...

There are many good reasons not to smoke. You could get emphysema or cancer. You could catch cold standing with all the other smokers in front of your building in the winter time.

And, it turns out, you could be at a higher risk of developing dementia.

According to researchers writing in the current issue of Neurology, people who smoke are more likely to develop Alzheimers disease or dementia than nonsmokers or those who smoked in the past. Their study followed nearly 7,000 people age 55 and older for an average of seven years.

Over that time, 706 of the participants developed dementia. People who were current smokers at the time of the study were 50 percent more likely to develop dementia than people who had never smoked or past smokers.

Smoking could affect the risk of dementia through several mechanisms, according to study author Monique Breteler, MD, PhD, of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and member of the American Academy of Neurology.

Smoking increases the risk of cerebrovascular disease, which is also tied to dementia, Breteler said. Another mechanism could be through oxidative stress, which can damage cells in the blood vessels and lead to hardening of the arteries. Smokers experience greater oxidative stress than nonsmokers, and increased oxidative stress is also seen in Alzheimers disease.

Oxidative stress occurs when the body has too many free radicals, which are waste products produced by chemical reactions in the body.

Antioxidants in the diet can eliminate free radicals, and studies have shown that smokers have fewer antioxidants in their diets than nonsmokers, Breteler said.

The researchers also looked into how smoking affects the risk of developing Alzheimers disease for people who have the gene that increases the risk of Alzheimers, called apolipoprotein E4, or APOE-4.

They found that smoking did not increase the risk of Alzheimers for those with the APOE-4 gene. But for those without the APOE-4 gene, smoking increased the risk of Alzheimers. Current smokers without the Alzheimers gene were nearly 70 percent more likely to develop Alzheimers than nonsmokers or past smokers without the Alzheimers gene.

The study was supported by Erasmus Medical Center and several governmental health organizations in the Netherlands.

 



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BMW Automatic Transmissions Prone to Failure

Owners face repair bills up to $7,000

The BMW automatic transmission that is failing through the country wins this week's "Lemon of the Week" Award. Consumers from all over the U.S. are reporti...

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Latest Spam Scam Targets Bank Of America Customers

Bogus email warns of "invalid login attempts"

Latest Spam Scam Targets Bank Of America Customers...


Identity thieves continue to exploit consumers growing concerns about identity theft to steal their identities. Their latest email phishing scheme targets Bank of America customers.

The email looks official enough. It bears the Bank of America logo and the heading Security Update Alert.

Because of unusual number of invalid login attempts on you account, we had to believe that, their might be some security problem on you account, the advisory states. So we have decided to put an extra verification process to ensure your identity and your account security. Please follow the link below and fill in the necessary requirements.

The fractured syntax and problematic grammar quickly reveal this to be a fake. Those unwary enough to click on the provided link will be taken to a bogus site where they will be asked to enter their account user name and password.

If they do, the scammer captures it and uses it to clean out the account.

Consumers who happen to be Bank of America customers are the most likely to think this email is legitimate. However, BOA and other legitimate companies say they never ask customers to reveal sensitive information in response to an email.

More Scam Alerts ...

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Number of Children Injured by Dangerous Products More than Doubles

Study blames lax enforcement, corporate foot-dragging

Number of Children Injured by Dangerous Products More than Doubles...


A new study finds that the number of children injured by products recalled for fire- and burn-related hazards more than doubled in the last five years, in comparison with the preceding decade.

The study, conducted by the nonprofit organization Kids in Danger (KID), examined the 40 childrens products recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in the last five years for risk of fire and burns, and analyzed the recall process and its participants.

The fact that 40 products were recalled in the last year, compared to 42 products in the ten years before that means that somewhere along the way, childrens product safety is getting sacrificed, Emma Rosenberg, the reports author said.

Technological advancements should correlate with a decrease in injuries and a decrease in recalls, not the opposite.

The report found that products were recalled for electrical failure, battery failure, flammability, and exposed heat surface/substance. A total of 5,400,014 units were recalled.

Easy-Bake

While the report found that the majority of the products, nearly 60%, were recalled due to battery and electrical failure, the product which caused the most injuries and had the second largest recall was Hasbro Inc.s Easy-Bake Oven, whose hazard was an exposed heat surface.

In redesigning the decades-old design that relied on a light bulb, the new Easy-Bake Oven had metal inside of the oven that children could access through the front opening.

While recent recalls of products contaminated with lead have focused attention on the manufacturing process and imports, this recall shows that faulty design contributes as well to injuries, said Nancy Cowles, executive director of KID.

Some of the most hazardous products recalled included:

• 1,000,000 units of Hasbro Inc.s Easy-Bake Oven, responsible for 82 burns, one so severe as to require the amputation of a five-year-olds finger,

• 180,000 units of Creative Innovation and Sourcing LLCs radio- control Pro-Flying Saucer, responsible for burning 7 children,

• 233,000 units of Fisher-Prices Crib Mobile Toy, responsible for dripping battery acid on six infants, chemically burning them.

Other findings of the report include:

• Elkton Sparkler Inc. had the largest recall at 1,700,000 units of Bamboo Stick Sparklers.

• Thirty percent of the products recalled failed to pass the Federal Flammable Fabrics Act; all were articles of clothing.

Big contributor

Two manufacturers were responsible for four of the forty recalls in one year alone.

In February 2006 Creative Innovations and Sources LLC recalled 8,000 of its Thunder Spin R.C. Road Rage Stunt Machine Trucks. Over a month later, it recalled 180,000 radio- controlled Pro Flying Saucers.

Spin Master Toys waited even longer between recalls: nearly three months between recalling 7,500 radio- controlled airplanes and 46,200 remote-controlled helicopters.

The nearly 300,000 units recalled in total all shared a similar problem: a power source that overheated. In total, 10 children were injured.

Ultimately, the focus should not be on removing hazardous childrens products from the market, but making sure that they arent sold in the first place, Cowles said. No matter how effective recalls become, mandatory pre-market testing is the only way to ensure that no child gets injured.

CPSC found lacking

These recalls demonstrate the Consumer Product Safety Commission lacks the leadership, the money, the staff and the legal authority it needs to protect children from dangerous products, said Brian Imus, State Director for Illinois PIRG. Consumers and parents deserve better than after-the-fact, ineffective recalls.

At best, burns are mild but painful. At worst they can be disfiguring or fatal. From the product injury perspective, toys that burn and pajamas that don't meet flammability standards are inexcusable, added Dr. Robert Tanz, physician at Childrens Memorial Hospital and professor at Northwestern Universitys Feinberg School of Medicine.

It is long past time to build safety in to children's toys and other products.

KID was founded in 1998 by University of Chicago professors Linda Ginzel and Boaz Keysar after their 16-month-old son Danny died in a recalled portable crib.



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Bush, Bernanke Pledge To Stabilize Mortgage Meltdown

But no bail-outs for speculators; higher FHA limits possible

Bush, Bernanke Pledge To Stabilize Mortgage Meltdown...

Attempting to get ahead of the deepending credit crisis, President Bush has unveiled a plan to help homeowners trapped by subprime mortgages refinance into better loans, while Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says that the central bank would "act as needed" if further measures are needed to stabilize the ailing mortgage market.

Both men rejected calls for a wide-scale bailout of lenders and borrowers, with Bush saying during his press conference that, "It's not the government's job to bail out speculators or those who bought a home they knew they could not afford."

While giving a speech at a Federal Reserve economic symposium in Kansas City, Bernanke reiterated his belief that "[i]t is not the responsibility of the Federal Reserve--nor would it be appropriate--to protect lenders and investors from the consequences of their financial decisions."

Under Bush's plan, homeowners with subprime adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) would be able to refinance their mortgages with loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

In order to qualify for the plan, homeowners would have to verify they were current on their mortgage payments before the rate reset, and that they had 3 percent or more equity in their homes. Roughly 80,000 homeowners currently qualify for the assistance under current regulations.

FHA Reform

Bush's plan is an opening move in his larger agenda to reform the FHA, including expanding the limits of loans the FHA will support.

The FHA's current maximum limit for backing a loan is $362,000, which has made it unusable in "bubble" markets such as California, New York, and Washington, D.C. Bush has proposed raising the maximum limit to $417,000.

Although the mortgage meltdown is chiefly affecting borrowers with subprime loan terms, even homeowners with "jumbo" mortgages--those above the $417,000 limit--are having a harder time selling their properties or getting lenders to back new big loans. High-end properties in the million-dollar range are moving more slowly and buyers are hesitating, causing a ripple effect that may lead to lower overall prices.

Bush's tax advisory panel had previously recommended limiting the tax deductibility of jumbo mortgages in order to reduce home prices and increase tax revenue, but the recommendations were never adopted.

Smoke Signals

Meanwhile, Bernanke's remarks placated a jittery Wall Street, which ended the day trading higher on hopes that the Fed may consider a cut in its prime lending interest rate when it next convenes.

But Bernanke also admitted that the effects of the mortgage meltdown and subsequent credit crunch were more widespread than he had anticipated.

"In particular, the further tightening of credit conditions, if sustained, would increase the risk that the current weakness in housing could be deeper or more prolonged than previously expected, with possible adverse effects on consumer spending and the economy more generally," Bernanke said.

"Consequently, we will pay particularly close attention to the timeliest indicators, as well as information gleaned from our business and banking contacts around the country."

In previous remarks since taking office in 2005, Bernanke has emphasized that the chief role of the Fed is to contain inflation and promote growth, and claimed that any problems rising from increased defaults on subprime loans were contained, and would not affect the larger economy.

His stance became more pessimisstic in recent weeks, as he admitted that the market's troubles were spreading worldwide.

However, should the Fed vote to lower interest rates in order to spur more lending and borrowing, it may send a dangerous signal to Wall Street to continue engaging in the kind of risky lending behavior that precipitated the housing boom--and subsequent bust--in the first place.

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