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Current Events in September 2007

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    Southwest Airlines Sticks With Open Seating

    New system assigns passengers to a boarding group

    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.

    Southwest Airlines Sticks With Open Seating...
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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...

    Congress Considers Legislation To Help Homeowners In Trouble

    Bills would raise limits on federal loans for homebuyers

    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.

    Congress Considers Legislation To Help Homeowners In Trouble...
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      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).

      REI Recalls Childrens Trailer Bicycles...
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      August Foreclosures Up 115% Over Last Year

      Nevada, California, Florida the Foreclosure Big 3

      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.

      August Foreclosures Up 115% Over Last Year...
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      New F150 Erupts in Flames as Ford Truck Fires Rage On

      More than 10 million vehicles recalled but fires continue

      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.

      New F150 Erupts in Flames as Ford Truck Fires Rage On...
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      Bank of America Takes Bigger Bite with $3 ATM Fee

      How can you avoid lining the pockets of big banks?

      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.

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

      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.

      Wal-Mart Reviewing Results of Tests on China-Made Pet Toys...
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      Study Finds Too Many Parking Spaces

      Parking spaces outnumber drivers 3-1, Purdue study finds

      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.


      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.

      Study Finds Too Many Parking Spaces...
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      Feds Sue Infomercial Maestro Kevin Trudeau Again

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

      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 ...

      Feds Sue Infomercial Maestro Kevin Trudeau Again...
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      Hackers Steal Information On 6.3 Million Ameritrade Customers

      'Unauthorized code' enabled thieves to breach database

      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.

      Hackers Steal Information On 6.3 Million Ameritrade Customers...
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      Quechup Spills Spam Into Email Boxes

      Social network hijacks user accounts to send unauthorized invites

      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.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      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....
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      FTC Warns Many Mortgage Ads Are Deceptive

      Claims about "incredibly low rates and payments" are often false

      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.

      FTC Warns Many Mortgage Ads Are Deceptive...
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      Lithium Ion Batteries to Power Mercedes Luxury Hybrid

      Mercedes confident the batteries will be safe

      By Joe Benton

      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.

      Lithium Ion Batteries to Power Mercedes Luxury Hybrid...
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      Study: Kids Getting Too Much Sodium

      Popular snacks contain way too much salt, set kids up for hypertension

      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).

      Study: Kids Getting Too Much Sodium...
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      Phishing Scam Targets Xbox Live Users

      Email claims to be about changes in the target's account

      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.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      Phishing Scam Targets Xbox Live Users...
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      Feds Aware of Prius Runaway Acceleration

      Car seems OK after a "reboot" but the problem often recurs later

      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.

      Feds Probe Prius Runaway Acceleration...
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