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Current Events in October 2007

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    Bombardier Recalls Snowmobiles

    October 31, 2007
    Bombardier is recalling about 2,700 Ski-Doo model year 2008 snowmobiles. The snowmobiles fuel tanks can crack allowing liquid fuel and fuel vapor to leak, posing a fire and burn hazard to consumers. In addition, a problem with the throttle cable can lead to loss of speed control, posing a crash hazard.

    Ski-Doo Model Year 2008 MXZ Adrenaline 800R, MXZ X 800R, MXZ TNT 500SS, MXZ Trail 500SS, Summit Everest 154 800R snowmobiles are included in this recall. The model name is located on the side panels. They were sold in black/yellow, yellow, or black/slate.

    They were sold by Ski-Doo dealers nationwide from August 2007 through October 2007 for between $9,700 and $11,200 and were made in Canada.

    Consumers should stop using these snowmobiles immediately and contact a local Ski-Doo dealer to schedule a free repair.

    Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact BRP at (888) 638-5397 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firms Web site at www.ski-doo.com.

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

    Bombardier Recalls Snowmobiles...
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    Can Acupuncture Help Knee Pain?

    The Healthy Geezer

    Q. I have arthritis in my knee. Im thinking about trying acupuncture, but my friends think Im nuts. What do you think?

    A. Several recent studies show osteoarthritis symptoms can be relieved with acupuncture. One Scandinavian study reported that 25 percent of patients canceled their plans for knee surgery after acupuncture.

    About 15 million Americans have tried this needle therapy. The World Health Organization recommends it for more than 40 conditions as diverse as asthma and nausea from chemotherapy. The Food and Drug Administration regulates acupuncture needles.

    So, no, I dont think youre nuts.

    By the 3rd century B.C., the Chinese had documented a medical system that is based on qi (pronounced chee), a concept of vital energy that is believed to flow throughout the body.

    Qi is said to regulate a person's physical, spiritual, emotional and mental balance. Advocates of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), say qi is affected by yin (negative energy) and yang (positive energy). When the flow of qi is disrupted and yin and yang are unbalanced, the condition leads to pain and disease, according to TCM.

    Treatments that are integral to this ancient system are herbal and nutritional therapy, restorative physical exercises, meditation, acupuncture and remedial massage.

    To correct the flow of qi, acupuncture uses superfine metal needles inserted into the skin at more than 2,000 acupoints along pathways known as meridians.

    It is believed that there are 12 main meridians and 8 secondary meridians. The points can also be stimulated with heated herbs, magnets, mild electrical current, manual pressure, low-frequency lasers, or even bee stings.

    Most acupuncture patients feel little or no pain as the needles are inserted. Some people are energized by treatment, while others feel relaxed. Improper needle placement, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment.

    Relatively few complications from acupuncture have been reported to the FDA.

    However, inadequate sterilization of needles and improper administration have led to complications. When done improperly, acupuncture can cause serious problems such as infections and punctured organs.

    Western scientists don't know how acupuncture works. However, studies show that stimulating acupoints causes multiple biologic responses. For example, this stimulation can prompt the release of the body's natural pain-killing endorphins.

    If you are interested in acupuncture, ask your doctor about it. Healthcare practitioners can be a resource for referrals to acupuncturists. More medical doctors, including neurologists, anesthesiologists, and specialists in physical medicine, are becoming trained in acupuncture.

    About 10,000 acupuncturists practice in the United States. Most are state-regulated. About 4,000 doctors have completed a recognized acupuncture training program.

    Look for an acupuncture practitioner who is licensed and credentialed. And, check with your insurer before you start treatment to see whether acupuncture will be covered for your condition.

    Several recent studies show osteoarthritis symptoms can be relieved with acupuncture. About 15 million Americans have tried this needle therapy. ...
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    California Gears Up For Fire Scammers

    Stings set up to nab crooked contractors, phony charities, other scam artists

    It happens after every major disaster. Scammers swoop in to take advantage of people who have lost just about everything. In the wake of the San Diego wild fires, California officials say it isnt going to happen on their watch.

    California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said his office already has deployed 100 fraud investigators into areas surrounding the fire-damaged areas. These undercover operatives will be waiting to pounce on criminals planning to fleece fire victims.

    The plan, outlined by state officials, is to conduct sting operations to catch fake contractors, phony charity promoters, and others who would seek to benefit from a disaster.

    We're going to arrest these people, highly publicize these arrests and nip this kind of criminal behavior in the bud, Poizner said at a news conference in San Diego.

    The San Diego County Sheriffs office will also take part in the sting operation. Undersheriff Bill Gore said his department would commit whatever resources needed to help the task force stop fraud schemes.

    San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said people arrested for trying to take advantage of fire victims should expect to be prosecuted at the full force of the law.

    Unlicensed contractors who offer their services during this state of emergency will face up to three years in state prison and we will show no mercy, Dumanis said. This is a felony crime, not a misdemeanor.

    Earlier, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said the California Department of Justice is prepared to investigate and prosecute businesses that attempt to wrongfully profit from the devastating fires.

    Brown pointed out that Californias anti-price gouging statute became immediately effective after the state of emergency was declared on Sunday, October 21, 2007. Brown issued a warning to those who might try to illegally raise prices for goods, services, or hotels.

    "Anyone who tries to wrongfully profit from the suffering of others will be investigated by the California Department of Justice, he warned.

    Penal Code Section 396 prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10%, the price of an item before the declaration of emergency. This law applies to those who sell food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials, and gasoline.

    The law also applies to repair or reconstruction services, emergency cleanup services, transportation, freight and storage services, and housing and hotel accommodations.

    Violations of the price-gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecutions, which can result in one-year imprisonment in county jail or a fine of up to $10,000. Violators are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties, injunctive relief and mandatory restitution.

    California Gears Up For Fire Scammers...
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      eBay: Where Recalled Items Live Forever

      A test search finds 100% of the recalled toys on our 'shopping list'

      October 30, 2007
      Much attention has been paid to the recent recalls of high-profile middle-class toys like the Fisher-Price "Go Diego Go" boat toy or Mattel's Barbie Doll and Tanner.

      News crews rush out to find stores that still have the offending items on their shelves. Politicians and government appointees huff and vow to enact new laws that will make life safer for children and their parents.

      But the truth is, many recalls accomplish little. The recalled items may disappear, at least for awhile, from store shelves but there is at least one place where recalled goods live forever, uninterrupted by fears of lead paint, strangulation or ingestion of magnets.

      That wonderland of e-commerce is eBay, the original darling of the online age.

      eBay's highly-paid executives are quoted breathlessly by the trade press and lionized as visionaries who are single-handedly building a brave new e-community where happy consumers blissfully buy and sell forever.

      The reality is somewhat different. Leaving aside for a moment the never-ending tales of skullduggery involving goods that are never sent, arrive broken, etc., the simple truth is that eBay seems to be the place where recalled products live forever.

      We paid eBay a visit yesterday, looking for dangerous children's products recalled this year. We picked six items more or less at random from ConsumerAffairs.com's children's products recalls page and entered their descriptions in the eBay search box.

      Shopping list

      Sure enough, we found all six -- still on sale, many described as brand new. Here's our shopping list:

      Football Bobble Head Cake Decorations Recalled Oct. 25; excessive lead. Still for sale on eBay Oct. 29.

      'Hannah Montana' Boots Recalled Oct. 18; zippers can tangle, causing falls. Still for sale on eBay Oct. 29.

      Fisher-Price GeoTrax Train Set Recalled Sept. 4; excessive lead. Still for sale on eBay Oct. 29.

      Parents Magazine Cell Phone Recalled May 3; choking hazard. Still on sale on eBay Oct. 29.

      Mattel's Barbie Doll and Tanner Recalled Aug. 14; excessive lead. Still on sale on eBay Oct. 29.

      Unfair to eBay?

      An unfair test, you say? There's no way eBay could be expected to monitor all the thousands of recalled products?

      The computer experts we consulted don't agree. The eBay Web site, like most Web sites, is database-generated. Product names and descriptions are entered by sellers and located by potential buyers through the site navigation and search functions.

      It took us about three minutes to verify that all six items we were checking for were indeed in the eBay database -- and we did it the old-fashioned way, by hand. The database engineers we consulted agreed that eBay could automate the process of checking government recall databases against items submitted by sellers.

      "Entries that rang the "Watch It!" gong could then be examined briefly by a human," said one engineer we talked to. "Nobody wants to use humans but we are talking about children's life, after all, so perhaps eBay could make an exception, just this once."

      Some critics would even go so far as to suggest that the attorneys general and federal agencies that so fervently track down sex offenders who dare to peruse public profiles on Facebook or MySpace should take a look at the deadly items being brazenly sold to unwary consumers.

      EBay said recently that it was placing links on various product category pages that will link to the company's recalled items policy. According to the announcement, "eBay also messages sellers directly when they are selling items that may be affected by recent recalls."

      It said the procedure was intended "to ensure a safe and successful buying experience online."

      eBay: Where Recalled Items Live Forever...
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      Feds: Fraud Hit 13% of U.S. Adults

      30 million U.S. fraud complaints last year

      October 30, 2007
      The latest Federal Trade Commission statistical survey of fraud in the United States shows that 30.2 million adults -- 13.5 percent of the adult population -- were victims of fraud during the year studied.

      More people -- an estimated 4.8 million U.S. consumers -- were victims of fraudulent weight-loss products than any of the other frauds covered by the survey.

      Fraudulent foreign lottery offers and buyers club memberships tied for second place in the survey. Lottery scams occur when consumers are told they have won a foreign lottery that they had not entered. Victims supplied either personal information such as their bank account numbers or paid money to receive their winnings.

      In the case of buyers clubs, victims are billed for a membership they had not agreed to buy. An estimated 3.2 million people were victims of these frauds during the period studied.

      Fraudulent prize promotion schemes ranked fourth in the fraud survey, with an estimated 2.7 million victims reporting making a purchase, a payment, or attending a sales presentation to receive a prize that either was never delivered or was not what the consumer expected.

      Work-at-home programs, in which the purchaser earned less than half of the income the seller had promised, ranked fifth among the fraudulent schemes covered by the survey. An estimated 2.4 million individuals fell victim to these schemes, and many purchased more than one fraudulent work-at-home program.

      Twenty percent of blacks and 18 percent of Hispanics are estimated to have been victims, while the rate for non-Hispanic whites was 12 percent. In addition, the survey found that younger consumers, those who did not complete college, and those with high levels of debt were more likely to be victims of fraud.

      Consumers between 65 and 74 years of age were 32 percent less likely to report having experienced fraud than those between 35 and 44.

      The top 10 frauds listed in the report include:

      1) Fraudulent Weight-Loss Products (4.8 million victims)
      2) Foreign Lottery Scams (3.2 million victims)
      3) Unauthorized Billing - Buyers Clubs (3.2 million victims)
      4) Prize Promotions (2.7 million victims)
      5) Work-at-Home Programs (2.4 million victims)
      6) Credit Card Insurance (2.1 million victims)
      7) Unauthorized Billing - Internet Services (1.8 million victims)
      8) Advance-Fee Loans (1.7 million victims)
      9) Credit Repair Scams (1.2 million victims)

      10) Business Opportunities (.8 million victims)

      Consumers also reported falling victim to other specific scams, including pyramid schemes.

      Print advertising -- direct mail, including catalogs, newspaper and magazine advertising, and posters and flyers -- was used to pitch fraudulent offers in 27 percent of reported incidents. The Internet, including Web sites, auction sites, and e-mail, was used to make 22 percent of the fraudulent pitches. Television or radio accounted for 21 percent of the pitches, and telemarketing accounted for nine percent.

      The FTC offers these tips for consumers:

      • Know with whom youre dealing: Do business only with companies that plainly provide their name, street address, and phone number.

      • Protect your personal information: Share credit card and other personal information only with companies you know and trust; never share it in email, regardless who is asking for it.

      • Take your time: Resist the urge to act now. Most any offer thats good today will be good tomorrow, too.

      • Read the small print: Get all promises in writing and read all paperwork before paying any money or signing any contracts.

      • Free means free: Throw out any offer that says you have to pay to get a gift or for something thats called free. If something is free or a gift, you shouldnt have to pay for it.

      • Report fraud: If you think youve been a victim of fraud, report it. Its one way to get even with a scam artist who cheated you. Complain online at www.ftc.gov or by phone at 1-877-FTC HELP.

      The FTC uses a one-two punch to fight fraud, said Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTCs Bureau of Consumer Protection. Our enforcement program stops the most widespread and egregious practices, and our education program helps alert consumers to the tricks of the fraud trade. We encourage everyone to click on our Web site www.ftc.gov -- not only to find out how to recognize a scam, but also to report it. Thats the best way to help end rip-offs of all kinds.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      Feds: Fraud Hit 13% of U.S. Adults...
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      Outsourcing, Regulatory Sloth Blamed for Unsafe Toys

      Report faults globalization, political appointees indifferent to children's safety

      The mass outsourcing of manufacturing to China and other nations with low safety standards, combined with the rollback of consumer protections and gutting of regulatory agencies such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), has directly led to the explosion of "toxic toys," a report finds.

      The Campaign For America's Future, a Washington, D.C. think tank, today released "Toxic Trade," a report detailing the parallel trends of increased offshoring of product manufacturing by big box retailers such as Wal-Mart, and the steady erosion of the CPSC's ability to police manufacturers due to budget cuts and industry-friendly or passive commissioners.

      "Our children are at risk in a new global economy," said campaign co-director Robert Borosage in a conference call. "Conservatives have cut the budget of the CPSC to the point where it's a burlesque of its former self."

      The report, co-authored by Borosage, details how 80 percent of toys sold in America are manufactured in China, accounting for $7.4 billion in imports in 2006.

      Meanwhile, the CPSC, which was founded in 1972 with 786 employees and a budget of $34.7 million ($146.6 million in 2007 dollars), has had its roster slashed to 420 employees and a comparative budget of $62.3 million. President Bush has proposed more cuts to the agency budget, including reducing its employees to 401.

      Budget increases opposed

      Borosage noted that acting CPSC head Nancy Nord publicly opposes budget increases and improving enforcement powers for her agency. "On this issue, she's more Catholic than the Pope," Borosage said.

      Borosage was joined by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)/ Both favor new legislation that would expand the CPSC's regulatory authority and strengthen penalties for manufacturing or selling unsafe products.

      Brown discussed his own personal testing of unsafe products he'd bought for lead contamination, criticizing Nord for "showing more inaction than action" on enforcing recalls.

      "Nancy Nord must step aside" in favor of a permanent chairperson who better represents consumer interests, Brown said. "We want more trade, but we also want more protection of our children's safety."

      DeLauro reiterated that "national policies have not kept pace with a changing global economy," and that "trade should never trump public health or consumer safety."

      Nord's resignation demanded

      DeLauro also called for Nord to step down, citing her support of CPSC policies that enable industries to vet reports discussing them for final approval. "We're long past the point of industry self-regulating and self-policing," she said.

      DeLauro introduced a bill in the House last month that would expand the CPSC's authority to investigate and recall products, and require all children's toys to undergo mandatory third-party testing for unsafe defects or chemical contamination.

      A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Mark Pryor (D-AK) in June.

      Online loophole

      One major loophole in current recall procedure is the ease with which defective products end up on online auction sites such as eBay, even after recall notices have gone out.

      The DeLauro bill would make it illegal to knowingly sell any recalled product, regardless if the seller is a retailer, reseller, or auction site.

      "Robbing Children's Potential"

      Also on the call was author and columnist David Sirota, who criticized the expansion of imports made without public safety while simultaneously "weakening our domestic systems that are supposed to protect us against hazardous products and chemicals."

      Testimony was also heard from Marilyn Furer, a 66-year-old grandmother from Illinois who tested her own grandchildren's toys for lead contamination, and criticized both industry and government for not paying closer attention to the long-term affects of chemical exposure on children.

      "[Lead poisoning] robs children of their potential," Furer said. "It can turn happy children irritable and angry...why aren't we looking at the possibility of all of these behavior disorders coming from lead in their bodies?"

      "Why do we have political appointees from the presidency to the CPSC?" Furer asked. "We should have scientists and researchers" that can better handle and address issues in the consumer interest.

      Furer's situation is apparently the only course consumers have to address unsafe products, the Campaign's report concluded.

      "At this point, when it comes to imported products, Americans are basically on their own," the authors wrote. "Concerned parents can test their own childrens toys or bibs. Or they can hope that the companies are more responsible in the wake of the scandals than they have been before."

      The report is available as a free PDF download.

      Outsourcing, Regulatory Sloth Blamed for Unsafe Toys...
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      FCC Set to Outlaw Exclusive Cable Deals

      Telecoms win; landlords, cable companies lose

      In what it says will be a blow for freedom from rising cable television rates, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to issue a new rule this week that would outlaw contracts giving cable companies exclusive rights to provide service in apartment buildings and other multi-family dwellings.

      On the other hand, critics say the move is another in a long string of FCC decisions favoring AT&T and Verizon, which have been lobbying for just such an action.

      FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says the exclusive contracts are a primary factor in the rapid rise of cable prices. Many consumer groups, satellite television companies and some smaller rivals support the measure.

      Industry insiders note that many, though not all, non-profit consumer groups have become accustomed to large grants from telecom companies. Such grants have been known to color the groups' perspective, these individuals suggested.

      AT&T and Verizon have spent billions of dollars upgrading their networks to carry digital television and high-speed Internet services. Meanwhile, their army of lobbyists has successfully lobbied the FCC to allow the telecoms to invade local cable markets without going through the franchise application process required of cable companies.

      In effect, the FCC has been steadily "federalizing" telecommunications, taking away regulatory powers previously held by state and local governments, promising that rampant competition will break out as soon as AT&T and Verizon are allowed to crush their rivals.

      Minority appeal

      The big telephone companies and the FCC are portraying the looming decision as a victory for minority and low-income families. With 40 percent of Hispanic and African-American households living in apartment buildings, the new rule will supposedly bring them relief from the high cable rates that are said to result from exclusive contracts.

      The exclusive contracts were originally intended to encourage the wiring of older residential buildings by cable and satellite companies.

      Many landlords were wary of allowing antennas, distribution panels and extensive cabling to be installed in their buildings. In some cases, landlords were permitted to charge a fee in exchange for granting the contracts.

      In arguing for the exclusive contracts a decade or two ago, the cable television industry used the argument now being used by the telecom companies -- the contracts were necessary to entice the cable companies to make the investment required to wire multi-family buildings.

      Now the telecom companies say that, besides supposedly encouraging competition, outlawing the exclusive contracts will give them the incentive they would otherwise lack to begin wiring the buildings and poaching the cable companies' customers.

      Inside out

      "Nothing in the world of telecommunications is what it seems, or maybe everything is," said one longtime Washington consultant who has worked on telecom issues for decades.

      "Basically, every argument can be applied to almost any situation, so you hear the warring parties using the same arguments their opponents used. Everything simply gets turned inside out and used over and over again," he said. "It's recycling at its best and, other than hot air, it doesn't contribute to global warming."

      "It's your basic three-card monte game. Where's competition? Here it is. No, wait, it's over here."

      Telecom welfare

      Under Martin, the FCC has been quick to do the telecoms' bidding, always promising that its actions on behalf of AT&T and Verizon would benefit consumers.

      Besides virtually eliminating the local franchise process for telephone companies -- but not for cable companies -- Martin's FCC last month approved a measure that requires the big cable companies to allow the telephone companies to buy the rights to programs produced by the cable companies or their affiliated firms.

      The commission is also considering a measure that would require cable companies to lease channels to independent producers while at the same time considering rules that would allow the telephone companies to jack up the rates they charge to independent competitors who use their circuits.

      Each of the seemingly conflicting measures is being promoted as a boon to competition.

      FCC Set to Outlaw Exclusive Cable Deals...
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      Parents Bash Bumbo 'Recall'

      Does a new warning label make the seat safe?

      Last week's "recall" of about 1 million South African-made Bumbo "baby sitter" seats has parents fuming.

      The recall was announced following 28 reports of children falling out of the seats that had been placed on tabletops. At least three skull fractures were reported.

      But like many recall campaigns officially sanctioned by the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Bumbo effort is little more than a lukewarm publicity campaign, critics say.

      That's because, like many recalls, it isn't what most people think of when they hear the word "recall." The seats are not being called back for retrofitting or disposal. Instead, parents are being asked to contact Bumbo to get a new safety sticker.

      The sticker cautions parents not to leave their child unattended and to use the seat only at ground level. But some parents say the seats are not safe even when used on the floor.

      "I feel that this item should be taken off the market, as a new warning label is not going to reduce the hazard this product poses," said Wendy of Hawthorne Fla., in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com.

      Wendy said her child was injured while her Bumbo was on the floor.

      "I have a Bumbo Baby Seat and have always used it as suggested. I keep it on the floor and keep a close eye on my daughter," Wendy said. "She weighs way less than the 22 lbs suggested maximum weight. She still managed to come out of the seat landing on her head resulting in a large bruise."

      Kevin of Santa Rosa, Calif., had an even more harrowing experience.

      "My 4-month-old son arched his back and the product tipped over," he said, resulting in skull fractures and a ruptured artery. "I had him on the table right next to me. There was no safety label on the product itself."

      Kevin said his son's skull cracked and began filling with blood. He was rushed to the hospital and airlifted to another hospital where emergency surgery saved his life.

      Besides there being no safety warning on his seat, Kevin noted that the seat's packaging showed children sitting in Bumbo seats that had been placed on tables.

      Still being sold

      Despite the safety recall, the seats are still being prominently advertised on major Web sites, with no mention of the recall or the hazards surrounding the seat.

      As usual, eBay is at the top of the list. The popular auction site has no known system for weeding out recalled products and has never bothered to respond to inquiries from ConsumerAffairs.com asking if it plans to develop new safety measures.

      "The Bumbo infant seat is manufactured to the highest safety standards from low-density foam material ... [It] can be used safely and conveniently anywhere on any level surface," gushes BabyAge.com

      "Babies can sit comfortably on any flat surface ... Baby can sit happily while you make dinner!" said the PassportBaby Yahoo! store.

      Some large retailers have, at least for now, withdrawn the product from their Web sites. It no longer appears at Amazon.com, Toysrus.com, Target.com and Kohls.com.

      Bumbo's explanation

      Bumbo says it has temporarily stopped selling the seat while it affixes new labels and covers up a photo on the packaging that, as a statement on Bumbo's Web site puts it, "could be confusing." This, presumably, is the photo Kevin cited, showing a Bumbo seat on a table.

      "We expect to have the seats back on store shelves in the next week or so. Our entire focus is on ensuring there is no confusion about the safe, proper use of the Bumbo Baby Seat," the company's statement continued.

      "Please understand that an independent analysis has determined that the Bumbo Baby Seat is not defective and therefore does not need to be returned and no refunds are being offered," the company said, without providing any information about the "independent analysis."

      "[T]he Bumbo Baby Seat is fine but the warnings, instructions and packaging need to be updated," said Bumbo spokesman Mark Buchanan.

      Parents Bash Bumbo 'Recall'...
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      Kids Spending More Time Playing Video Games

      Boys spend more time, gravitate towards console-based games

      October 26, 2007
      Think your kids spend too much time playing video games? You could be right.

      From toddlers to tweens to teens, more than one-third of kids in the United States are spending more time playing video games today than they did a year ago. And according to a report from The NPD Group, this trend is particularly pronounced for online game play.

      According to the report, PCs dominate as the top system used for gaming by kids of all age groups. They also dominate in terms of number or years used for gaming, with the average child starting to use a PC for gaming at age 6 and continuing on through age 17, which is longer than any other gaming system measured.

      The study, which analyzes the dynamics of kids ages 2 to 17 in the video gaming space, sheds light on system ownership and use, distribution of time, genres, sources of information for finding out about new games, purchase dynamics, parental involvement, and more.

      The gaming lifecycle starts with kid-oriented systems, moves into PCs for gaming, and continues with Plug & Play and the more established gaming systems. Then, at about age 10, cell phone gaming begins, and the gaming lifecycle culminates with Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable, and the three next-generation console systems (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii)

      Among all kid gamers, approximately half are light users (5 hours per week or less) and the other half are medium, heavy or super users (6 to 16 or more hours per week) -- the implication being that light use and casual content should not be linked exclusively to a younger user base.

      Boys are more inclined to play video game systems, especially consoles, while girls are more inclined to play games on PCs, cell phones and kid-oriented systems. Despite girls starting strong on kid systems, however, they eventually fall off the gaming wagon.

      When kids get to the 6 to 8 year-old age range is when we see them turn into more serious gamers, said Anita Frazier, industry analyst, The NPD Group. Not only does the amount of time they spend playing games increase the most dramatically, but they migrate from using kid systems to using more portable and console systems as well. This appears to be a critical age at which to capture the future gamers of the world.

      Although males and older kids are more likely to spend more time per week on gaming, the most significant jump occurs from ages 2 to 5 to ages 6 to 8. At this time, kids become more serious about gaming, reflected by spending 3 more hours a week, or 75 percent more time than they used to. Time spent on gaming plateaus at ages 12 to 17 at about 10 hours per week.

      Among kids ages 2 to 17 who play games online, an average of 39 percent of time is spent playing games online as opposed to offline. The average time spent gaming online is statistically higher among females, kids ages 15 to 17 and super users (those who spend 16 hrs/wk or more on gaming).

      However, it seems there is a disconnect between girls, older users and super users. Although these three groups are all in the same category of spending a higher percent of their gaming time on online, somewhere along the way girls, especially older girls, drop off.

      At 91 percent, the vast majority of online gaming among kids ages 2 to 17 is free. Boys and kids in higher income households are more likely to fall into the minority group (9 percent) that pays to play. In addition, the older the child, and the more time that child spends on gaming per week, the more likely that child is to pay for games.

      From toddlers to tweens to teens, more than one-third of kids in the United States are spending more time playing video games today than they did a year ag...
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      Sprint Settles Lawsuit, Will Unlock California Phones

      Customers will be able to use their phones with other carriers

      Sprint has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit that alleged it was unfairly restricting customers by locking its wireless phones to only work with Sprint's network.

      As part of the settlement, Sprint will provide the code to unlock the phone to former customers upon deactivating the phone or afterwards, and will incorporate information about how to unlock phones into its terms of service.

      Under the terms of the settlement, current and former Sprint customers in California who purchased phones between August 28, 1999 and July 16, 2007 are eligible to receive the unlock code, provided they do not have any outstanding bills due to Sprint.

      The settlement affects only California customers, who brought the lawsuit under California's consumer law, but it could represent yet another turn of the tide in favor of wireless subscribers who want the freedom to take their phones with them when they switch carriers.

      The California Supreme Court recently allowed a similar class action lawsuit against T-Mobile to go forward, and the Sprint settlement may cause T-Mobile to offer its own settlement terms to avoid the costs of litigation.

      Wireless customers have challenged the carriers' practice of locking handsets for several years, claiming it forces them to stay with one carrier or spend money to buy new handsets every time they switch from one provider to another. Wireless carriers defend the practice as enabling customers to enjoy lower costs for phones, which would cost considerably more if bought "unlocked."

      The U.S. Copyright Office, which administers the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) that governs technology-related copyright law, recently amended the act to allow consumers to unlock their phones and use them with different carriers for three years, until the next series of examinations of the DMCA for potential revision.

      In the meantime, consumer activists who support the industry-wide unlocking of cell phones for use with any carrier have joined the movement to support "net neutrality," the philosophy that content on the Internet should be accessible to all users equally, under the principle that cellphones should work similarly to computers--usable with any Internet service provider, rather than being locked into a single service.

      The FCC recently passed rules for its upcoming auction of the wireless spectrum mandating that companies that use the spectrum make their devices available for any customer to use on any network. The rules were supported by Google, which promised to put up $4.6 billion for the auction if its conditions for "open access" were met, and opposed by the major telecom companies such as Verizon and AT&T.

      Sprint Settles Lawsuit, Will Unlock California Phones...
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      TJX Data Breach Victims Reach 94 Million

      Numbers just keep climbing as court filings reveal extent of the theft

      New information from a lawsuit against the TJX Corporation over its breach of customer information revealed that as many as 94 million Visa and Mastercard holders were exposed to hackers.

      The new number was nearly double the initial estimate of 46 million affected customers that TJX reported in early 2007, when the breach was first revealed.

      Visa officials estimated losses of $65 million to $83 million as a result of the breach, the largest and most exact number provided yet. The new information may officially mark the TJX affair as the biggest data breach in history.

      The information came as part of a lawsuit filed by a coalition of banks against TJX, whom the banks hold responsible for not securing and protecting cardholders' data as they performed transactions and made purchases.

      If were successful against TJX, the nations major retailers will finally wake up to the fact that not protecting consumer data is an unfair trade practice and that investment in data management systems to protect consumers and shield consumers against fraud and identity theft is required, said Daniel Forte, president of The Massachusetts Bankers' Association.

      The bank lawsuit is separate from a consumer class action lawsuit also filed against TJX in Massachusetts. TJX recently offered a settlement that would provide consumers with cash vouchers and special shopping days in exchange for absolving TJX and its partner, Fifth Third Bancorp, of any liability in the breach.

      Although no arrests have been made in the TJX breach, investigations confirmed that hackers used wireless equipment to invade TJX's unprotected database of payment information while driving by or parking near stores owned by the TJX company, including TJ Maxx and Marshall's.

      Once the thieves had the information, the customer data found its way into the "underground economy" that specializes in selling and sharing stolen personal data.

      Credit card information from the TJX breach found its way into an $8 million fraud scam in Florida earlier this year. A ring of fraudsters used the stolen TJX data to create fake credit cards, which they used to purchase gift cards from Wal-Mart.

      The thieves then "loaded up" the gift cards to the maximum amount, and used the cards to purchase expensive equipment such as plasma TVs and computers. The fraud ring was broken up by local and federal authorities, and the ringleader was sentenced to five years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

      In the latest court filing, Joseph Majka, Visa USA's vice-president of fraud management and investigations, said that totals from the TJX breach would continue to increase as the stolen information found its way into more thieves' hands.

      "These are going to be sold off for a period of time in the future, so it's going to continue for some time out there," said Majka.

      TJX Data Breach Victims Reach 94 Million...
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      Daylight Savings Time Disrupts Circadian Rhythm

      Study finds humans don't adjust well to the annual time change

      With the switch from daylight saving time (DST) back to standard time fast approaching (it's November 4 this year), a new study finds that peoples bodies internal, daily rhythms dont adjust well to the change.

      The finding published online in Current Biology suggests that this regular time change -- practiced by a quarter of the human population -- represents a significant seasonal disruption, raising the possibility that (DST) may have unintended effects on other aspects of human physiology, according to the researchers.

      When we implement small changes into a biological system which by themselves seem trivial, their effects, when viewed in a broader context, may have a much larger impact than we had thought, said Till Roenneberg of Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich, Germany. It is much too early to say whether DST has a serious long-term impact on health, but our results indicate that we should consider this seriously and do a lot more research on the phenomenon.

      As in other animals, the human circadian clock uses daylight to stay in synchrony with its environment as the seasons change. In fact, Roenneberg said, this entrainment is so exact that human behavior adjusts to the east-west progression of dawn within a given time zone.

      Despite the fact that approximately 1.6 billion people experience DST, he continued, few studies have investigated its impact on human physiology and behavior. The results of the few, relatively small studies that have addressed the question have generally suggested that sleeping patterns adjust within days.

      In a large survey, which examined the sleep patterns of 55,000 people in Central Europe, Roennebergs group now shows that the timing of sleep on free days follows the seasonal progression of dawn under standard time, but not under DST.

      In a second study, they analyzed the timing of sleep and activity for eight weeks around each of the two DST transitions in 50 people, taking into account each individuals natural clock preferences, or chronotypes, ranging from morning larks to night owls.

      They found that the timing of both sleep and peak activity levels readily adjust to the release from DST in autumn, but that the timing of activity does not adjust to the start of DST in spring, especially in those who like to stay up late and sleep in.

      While we generally think that the time changes enforced by the DST transitions are only an hour, they have far more drastic effects if viewed in the context of the circadian clocks seasonal changes, Roenneberg said.

      This seemingly small hour translates to a repeat of 10 weeks in the annual progression of the relationship between our sleep-wake cycle and dawn -- four weeks in spring and six weeks in autumn. In effect, its as if the entire population of Germany, for example, is transported to Morocco in spring and back again in autumn.

      Indeed, after taking the seasonal adjustment into account, our results show that the human circadian clock does not adjust to the DST transition, Roenneberg said. This is especially obvious in the late chronotypes in spring when one looks at their daily activity patterns. Essentially, their biological timing stays on standard, winter time, while they have to adjust their social schedules to the advanced clock time throughout the summer.

      With the switch from DST back to standard time, a new study finds that peoples bodies internal, daily rhythms don't adjust well to the change....
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      Kawasaki Power Tool Kit Battery Chargers Recalled

      October 25, 2007
      Alltrade Tools is recalling about 800,000 battery chargers supplied with some Kawasaki power tool kits. When used with an incompatible charger, the battery pack can overheat and melt during charging, or can explode during use, posing burn, laceration and bruise hazards to consumers.

      Alltrade Tools has received 30 reports of incidents, including eight injuries from the battery packs melting or forcefully expelling plastic shards while in use. Injuries include minor acid burns from handling fractured battery packs, cuts, bruises and some temporary hearing loss from a loud noise that can occur if an internal battery cell ruptures.

      The recall includes battery chargers sold with certain model numbers of both 19.2 and 21.6 volt NiCad battery packs. The battery model number is located on a label on the bottom of the battery pack. The power tool's model number is stamped onto the inside lid of the tool set's plastic carrying case.

      Power ToolPower Tool ModelBattery Pack Model
      KW Black 19.2V Cordless Drill840128691034
      KW Black 19.2V 26 PC Drill Set840135
      KW Black 4 PC Power Tool Combo840338
      KW Black 2 PC Power Tool Combo840339
      KW Black 19.2V 26 PC Drill Set840135A 691240
      KW Black 21.6V Cordless Drill840266691221
      KW Black 21.6V Cordless Drill840267

      The chargers, made in China, were sold by national wholesale club retailers nationwide from September 2005 through September 2007 for between $40 and $100.

      Consumers should stop using the recalled battery chargers immediately and register at www.alltradetools.com to receive a free compatible battery charger. Alltrade Tools LLC is directly contacting consumers who purchased the power tools containing the recalled chargers. Consumers should not return the battery chargers to the store where purchased.

      Consumer Contact: For additional information, please contact Alltrade Tools LLC at (877) 231-9239 between 8:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, and between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, or visit the firm's Web site at www.alltradetools.com (pdf)

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

      Alltrade Tools is recalling about 800,000 battery chargers supplied with some Kawasaki power tool kits. When used with an incompatible charger, the battery...
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      NutriSystem Day 28: Mission Accomplished

      Joe is 13 pounds lighter and a lot smarter about dieting

      With NutriSystem, your daily calorie intake fluctuates very little and as long as you follow their strictly defined daily planner, you're sure to burn off..

      HR Firm Administaff Loses Laptop

      Data on 159,000 employees missing

      Administaff, a human resource firm that provides outsourced HR functions such as payroll and benefits to small companies is missing a laptop containing the names, addresses, and Social Security numbers of 63,000 current employees and 96,000 former workers.

      Affected individuals, including this writer, received a note from Administaff informing them that the laptop went missing on Oct. 3 from an undisclosed location, and through means not described in the letter.

      According to Administaff CEO Paul Sarvadi, the laptop was password-protected, but the "personal information was not saved in an encrypted location." Although that could mean any number of things, Sarvadi claimed that it was a violation of company policies.

      Sarvadi's letter also claims that there is no evidence that the theft was anything but random, or that the information has been misused. Nevertheless, the company has followed the standard practice of offering a toll-free 1-800 helpline for employees affected by the breach, and is offering a year's worth of free credit monitoring sponsored by Equifax.

      This marks the second data breach that has affected me personally in less than a year. I had to replace get my bank debit card replaced in December 2006 due to having shopped at a Marshall's department store during the TJX company database hack.

      Laptop thefts

      The loss or theft of personal information thanks to unsecured or stolen personal computers remains a primary source of data for the identity thieves and cyberhackers who frequent the "underground economy."

      Laptops, thumb drives and cellphones full of personal information--often poorly protected or not protected at all--are purloined and the information is traded back and forth in chat rooms for as little as $14.

      Although many companies offer technology solutions for protecting data stored on laptops, many businesses simply do not invest the resources needed to train employees to properly secure data, or outsource vital business functions to contractors that don't have strong policies about data security in place.

      For example, a third-party vendor hired by the Gap retail chain to process job applicant data lost a laptop containing personal information on 800,000 job seekers in October 2007.

      And a laptop containing personal information on an undisclosed number of employees for Internet domain registrar VeriSign was stolen from an employee's car in August 2007.

      Victims of data breaches often have a difficult time regaining lost money and receiving restitution for time spent fixing the problems caused by a company's negligence.

      Several recent court settlements have ruled against breach victims, finding that laptop thefts, hacks, and the like must be demonstrably linked with damage from identity theft in order to prove the case.

      HR Firm Administaff Loses Laptop...
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      Money Market Funds: No-Brainer, or No Brains?

      Be careful! Not all funds are insured.

      Sometimes having money is more worrisome than not having any. It means you have to find a safe place to keep it, and in today's turbulent economy, that's not always as easy as it sounds.

      Many moneyed souls have their bucks sitting in taxable money market funds, whose assets have reached a record $2.438 trillion, according to Reuters. It makes sense, since most consumers think of money market funds as unsexy, low-yield vehicles in which to park extra cash. They also think they'ree about as safe as that plastic piggy bank you kept on your dresser at age eight.

      But as George Gershwin once noted, It aint necessarily so.

      For one thing, all money funds arent created equal. There are two basic types:

      Interest-earning money market accounts, typically issued by banks, insured up to $100,000 each by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). (Coverage on qualified retirement accounts jumps to $250,000 per account.)

      These must be designated money market deposit accounts (MMDAs) to qualify for FDIC coverage. They operate like checking accounts, but have a minimum balance requirement and limit the number of transactions you can make in a month.

      Money market mutual funds (MMMFs,) are not FDIC-insured. Money market mutual funds invest in short-term securities issued by the U.S. Treasury, banks and corporations.

      The Investment Company Act of 1940 (rule 2a-7) provides that at least 95% of money market mutual fund assets must be invested in first-tier investments (AA or AAA-rated securities.) Yields for both money market deposit accounts and money market mutual funds can vary with the market, unlike CDs, which have a fixed yield/interest rate.

      Why worry?

      So whats the problem with these plain vanilla investments? Chasing higher yields, some money market funds have ventured into hostile territory, jeopardizing investors calm expectations of no-sweat income.

      If the term structured investment vehicle (SIV) doesnt mean anything to you, listen up. SIVs borrow money short-term and use it to lend long-term, planning on profiting from the spread, or difference, between interest rates.

      Heres the rub: investors, scared of SIVs long-term investments in mortgage-backed securities, have stopped lending short-term money to SIVs. Blame the subprime mortgage debacle, for starters.

      Result: with SIVs shaky, many funds have trimmed SIV-related purchases or allowed instruments to mature without investing in new debt from the issuer. To shore up the market if SIVs show signs of tanking, the U.S. Treasury and Wall Street are attempting to assemble an SIV- bailout fund. Stay tuned and dont throw out the financial pages.

      Protecting your bucks

      The FDIC insures bank and savings bank deposits, and the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF) insures credit union accounts for the same amounts.

      Individual accounts are insured up to $100,000, while retirement accounts have a $250,000 limit.

      Here are some tips to make sure that your bank or credit-union holdings are fully covered:

      Break it up. If youre fortunate enough to exceed the $100,000 insurance limit, you can still ensure full FDIC coverage by either breaking the total amount into $100,000 increments (for example, for a $200,000 nest egg, putting $100,000 into a wifes name and $100,000 into a joint account for a husband and wife.) Most banks offer many types of accounts, including individual, joint, testamentary (pay on death or living trust accounts with a named beneficiary,) and retirement accounts (Roth IRA, Simplified Employee Benefit/SEP, Keogh, etc.)

      Split it. An alternative: split your savings among several institutions, keeping each account below the insurance maximum.

      Check it out. If you bank online, confirm that your bank is FDIC-insured. Read important information about the bank posted on its Web site. The FDIC maintains an online database of institutions it insures. (See www.fdic.gov) Be aware that online and bricks-and-mortar divisions of the same bank may have different names, but be considered one entity for insurance purposes.

      Ask EDIE. Use FDIC resources to tally your coverage, including EDIE, the FDICs Electronic Deposit Insurance Estimator. EDIE estimates your insurance coverage based on your answers to a series of questions about your accounts. Its simple to use and can be accessed at the FDICs Web site.

      Keep track. Check into your coverage regularly. Sometimes accumulated interest, a new deposit or a windfall (inheritance, insurance settlement, etc.) can push your funds over the insured limit. You then need to re-structure the account to ensure full coverage.

      Bank consolidation. If you maintain accounts at two banks that merge, and combined funds exceed $100,000, you have a six-month grace period during which all funds are insured. Be sure to review the situation before the grace period expires and adjust fund distribution, if necessary. Your banker can help with this.

      Pay attention!

      All money market funds are not alike. It's up to you to keep careful track of what type of money market your funds are in, and how each earns its interest. Know whats insured and what isnt. And a common-sense bit of advice: dont invest in anything you cant understand. If you're not comfortable being without insurance, don't leave your money in a money market mutual fund.

      If all this makes you nervous, have a talk with your financial advisor. If you don't have a good financial advisor, this might be the time to find one, but that's a subject for another day.


      Joan E. Lisante is an attorney who writes frequently on consumer issues.

      Money Market Funds: No-Brainer, or No Brains?...
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      World Not Ready For Bird Flu

      Not if but when, United Nations official warns

      Despite three years of massive preparation efforts, the world is not ready to deal with a potential Avian, or bird flu pandemic that could kill millions of people world-wide.

      Thats the assessment of David Nabarro, a senior United Nations official in charge of bird flu prevention efforts.

      Nabarro says most countries have made some progress on a preparedness plan, but that progress is spotty. And while some have actually been able to stockpile anti-viral vaccines, they have yet to plan for the enormous societal and economic impact a pandemic would bring.

      "Unfortunately, only a relatively small number are adequately prepared to keep going in the event that the pandemic has massive absenteeism associated with it, Nabarro said. We need hard work for at least two or three years more to make sure that the whole world is properly pandemic ready.

      No if, but when

      And a bird flu pandemic is coming, says Nabarro.

      To date the handful of humans who have contracted the disease have gotten the virus from infected birds. But once the deadly H5N1 virus mutates so that it is easily transmitted from one person to the next, Nabarro and other heath experts say it will spread quickly around the globe.

      Thats what happened in 1918, when an animal virus mutated and began to quickly spread from person to person. Before it ran its course in 1919, the Spanish Flu killed an estimated 40 million people more than died in the just completed World War. Health experts call it the most devastating epidemic in recorded history. So far.

      Nabarro says no one knows when the H5N1 virus will jump from birds to humans or how severe the resulting outbreak will be. But he says nations should be prepared for the worst, both in terms of human suffering and economic devastation.

      The World Health Organization is working with governments to develop rapid response systems, which include assembling stockpiles of Oseltamivir or Tamiflu, anti-viral medications. Nabarro says the agency is also working on trying to ensure that there will be a plan that can be put into place for rapid production of pandemic vaccines once the new virus appears.

      Bird flu has been reported in about 60 countries in the last three years, killing millions of birds. To date only about 350 humans have gotten the disease, but of that number, more than 200 have died, increasing fears of what a potential human pandemic could be like.

      World Not Ready For Bird Flu...
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