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Google Will Bid In Wireless Spectrum Auction

Tech giant will "put our money where our principles are," CEO says

Google Will Bid In Wireless Spectrum Auction...

Google has committed to bidding in the upcoming FCC auction of 700mhz of the wireless spectrum, the company said today. "It's important to put our money where our principles are," Google CEO and chairman Eric Schmidt said.

"Consumers deserve more competition and innovation than they have in today's wireless world," Schmidt said. "No matter which bidder ultimately prevails, the real winners of this auction are American consumers who likely will see more choices than ever before in how they access the Internet."

As part of the shift from analog television to digital TV signals taking place in 2009, the FCC is auctioning off the 700mhz block to interested bidders.

Google agreed to put up $4.6 billion for the auction if bidders agreed to adhere to its proposed principles for use of the spectrum, including enabling any device to connect to any network using the spectrum.

Telecoms such as AT&T and Verizon, also interested in the spectrum, opposed Google's open access principles, and the FCC passed compromise rules that did not fully adopt Google's proposals, but did include the "open device" standard.

The Wireless Chess Game

Google's official commitment to bid in the auction comes several days after Verizon Wireless announced it would open its network to enable compatible devices and software to work with Verizon Wireless, even if the applications came from other providers or manufacturers.

Verizon, which had been one of the most ardent proponents of the "walled garden" approach to its network, had tried to sue the FCC in order to lift the "open device" requirement of the auction, but later withdrew the suit. Its reversal of policy in adopting an open network was hailed as an innovative move, but a closer look revealed that Verizon may not be changing its stance completely.

Verizon's network runs on the CDMA standard, as opposed to the more widely used GSM standard, meaning that only CDMA-enabled phones can work on the Verizon network. Although Sprint also uses the CDMA network, Verizon's biggest rival AT&T uses GSM, meaning the dream of an iPhone on Verizon is still far off.

TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld also reported that third-party applications developed for new phones compatible with the Verizon network would not be available to existing customers who bought phones through Verizon.

"Unless it figures that out, Verizon is not really building an open network," Schonfeld wrote. "It is building a two-tiered network: One for its preferred customers who play by its rules...and one for the rabble not satisfied with its choice of phones and apps."

The Next Move?

Insiders speculate that Verizon may have made the commitment to open networks chiefly to prevent the FCC auction from instituting tougher rules regarding open usage of devices, much as it led the wireless industry in committing to cutting termination fees to prevent Congress from passing laws outlawing the practice.

Google, meanwhile, has already raised the stakes with its Open Handset Alliance, a coalition of wireless and technology providers who are working together to support Android, Google's open mobile platform. Partners in the Open Handset Alliance include mobile players such as Sprint and T-Mobile and handset manufacturers such as Motorola, Samsung, and LG.

Given the dizzying twists and turns in the chess game over the wireless spectrum, the next moves are becoming increasingly difficult to predict--but they promise to be interesting.

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TJX Settles Visa Suit over Data Breach

Nearly 100 million consumers may have been affected

TJX Settles Visa Suit over Data Breach...

TJX Companies Inc., the corporate parent of retail chains T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, has reportedly agreed to a $41 million settlement with Visa in connection with a massive data security breach. The Associated Press reported the settlement Friday, without attribution.

The company announced earlier this year that it had been hit with an "unauthorized intrusion" that exposed customers' credit and debit card data to the hacker. The breach apparently occurred in mid 2006 but wasnt detected mid-December 2006.

The company claimed, at the time, it did not have a full estimate of the number of customers affected, or what the potential financial fallout might be.

The TJX breach promoted warnings by Visa to banks throughout Massachusetts, as well as a wave of reissues of ATM and debit cards to customers.

TJX faces suits by numerous banks and financial trade associations, who want to hold TJX liable for the costs of replacing the millions of credit and debit cards exposed as a result of the breach.

Although the TJX company's initial estimates were that 46 million customers may have been affected by the breach, internal court filings in the bank lawsuit showed the numbers closer to 94 million, with costs to card issuers such as Visa ranging from $65 to $80 million.

The hack itself involved the compromise of credit and debit card data from sales at TJX store chains in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico through 2003, and again in the latter half of 2006.

At the time of the disclosure, TJX said it had identified "a limited number of credit card and debit card holders whose information was removed from its system," and was in the process of providing this information to credit card issuers.

TJX said it also informed the Justice Department and local law enforcement agencies, as well as contacting IBM and General Dynamics to assist it with improving its security procedures and preventing further breaches.

"We are deeply concerned about this event and the difficulties it may cause our customers," Ben Cammarata, chairman and acting CEO of TJX, said at the time. "We want to assure our customers that this issue has the highest priority."

Class Action Settlement

Earlier this month, the Attorneys General of ten states objected to a special "Customer Appreciation Sale" proposed as part of the class action settlement of the TJX data breach.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley called the proposed three-day event "nothing more than a retail sale, which would primarily benefit the defendant, TJX Companies."

Coakley, writing on behalf of nine other state Attorneys General, petitioned U.S. District Court Judge William Young to reconsider the sale, or "at the very least, subject the Special Event to heightened scrutiny before approval."

Coakley argued that the sale would not offer any real benefit for members of the class-action suit, whether they were victims of fraud resulting from the breach or simply had their cards replaced.

Coakley, who was a victim of identity theft in an unrelated case last year, said that TJX should not abuse the public's good will "for a sale that enhances its bottom line, nor should the classs attorneys reap large fees for an unquantifiable and dubious benefit."

TJX proposed the settlement in September 2007 to ward off multiple class-action lawsuits against it for letting as many as 94 million customers be exposed to hackers in a data breach that occurred over several years. In addition to the three-day sale, TJX has offered store credit vouchers to victims of the breach who provide documentation to substantiate their claim.

 

 

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Social Security Errors Common

Consumers should carefully review their annual statements

The best way to keep an eye on your personal Social Security records is to carefully review your yearly Social Security statement, and dont be surprised if...

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States Get Poor Grades on School Food

Little progress seen since last year

States Get Poor Grades on School Food...


Kentucky and Oregon top the nation in healthy school food policies, but two-thirds of states have no or weak nutrition standards to limit junk-food and soft drink sales out of vending machines, school stores, and other venues outside of school meals, according to a school foods report card from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Over the last ten years, states have been strengthening their school nutrition policies, said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI. But overall, the changes, while positive, are fragmented, incremental, and not happening quickly enough to reach all children in a timely way.

No states received an A grade, though two states (Kentucky and Oregon) received an A-; six states received a B+ (Nevada, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Washington and New Mexico); nine states earned a B or B-; six states and the District of Columbia received Cs; seven states got Ds; and 20 states got Fs.

Most improved honors go to Oregon, which upgraded from an F in last years report card to an A-, and Washington state, which moved from an F to a B+.

Since CSPIs last report card in 2006, Oregon passed a comprehensive school snack and beverage policy that limits calories, saturated and trans fat, and sugars in snacks in K-12 schools and limits the sale of most sugary beverages in schools. Both states previously had no guidelines beyond USDAs bare-bones rules.

You would think that with all the concern about childhood obesity that getting junk food and soda out of schools would be easy. But, it took us six years of hard work to pass our school nutrition legislation, said Mary Lou Hennrich, executive director of the Community Health Partnership: Oregon's Public Health Institute, who led Oregons effort to improve school foods. We welcome national action to build on what we and other states have done and ensure that all children go to school in junk-food-free environments.

Few rules

CSPI found that only 11 states have comprehensive food and beverage standards that apply to the whole campus, the whole school day, for all grade levels. Thirteen states limit portion sizes for snacks, and only 11 states limit portion sizes for beverages.

Fifteen states limit the saturated-fat content of school snacks, and only ten address trans fat. Just five states set limits on sodium in school foods.

The majority of states still rely on the U.S. Department of Agricultures outdated school nutrition standards, said Wootan. Those national standards limit only the sale of jelly beans, lollipops, and other so-called foods of minimal nutritional value. Those standards dont address calories, saturated and trans fat, sodium, or other key nutrition concerns for children today.

CSPI based its grades on five key considerations:

• Beverage nutrition standards
• Food nutrition standards
• Grade levels to which policies apply
• Time during the school day to which policies apply
• Locations on campus to which policies apply

Childhood obesity

Over the last 20 years, obesity rates have tripled in children and adolescents, and only 2 percent of children eat a healthy diet, according to key nutrition recommendations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Despite that, about a third of elementary schools, 71 percent of middle schools, and 89 percent of high schools sell items such as sugary drinks, snack cakes, candy, and chips out of vending machines, school stores, or a la carte lines in the cafeteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions 2006 School Health Policies and Programs Study.

Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over school foods, and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have legislation that would require USDA to update its standards for foods sold through vending machines, a la carte in the cafeteria, school stores, and elsewhere on the whole campus for the whole school day. Harkin and Murkowski plan to offer their school nutrition bill as an amendment to the Farm bill.

Notably, the soft drink industry and many major food manufacturers are supporting, not opposing, the Harkin-Murkowski amendment.

The amendment also is supported by 100 organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, American Dental Association, National PTA, American Association of School Administrators, and the American Federation of Teachers.

The Harkin-Murkowski amendment would exclude sugary drinks from all schools at all times, but would allow low- or no-calorie drinks in high schools. So-called sports drinks such as Gatorade would be confined to athletic areas in high schools. The amendment also would set limits for calories, sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in school snacks.

After years of fighting us, the food and beverage industry are now working with us on strong national standards for school foods and beverages, Wootan said. We hope that Congress will listen to parents, health organizations, and the food and beverage industry and strengthen the national nutrition standards for school foods this year.

"Given the rising rates of childhood obesity, Congress cant afford to wait any longer.



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Ford Settles Explorer Rollover Lawsuits

Consumers will get discounts on new Fords

Ford Settles Explorer Rollover Lawsuits...


Ford Motor Co. has agreed to settle class-action lawsuits affecting 1 million consumers in four states who claimed that Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles were prone to rollover accidents.

The agreement covers the remaining lawsuits that were filed following the Firestone tire recalls which damaged Ford's image.

Owners of 1991 through 2001 Ford Explorers in California, Connecticut, Illinois and Texas will now be able to apply for $500 vouchers to buy new Explorers or $300 vouchers to buy other Ford, Mercury or Lincoln products, according to reports about the agreement.

As part of the settlement, Ford will be required to distribute information about the rollover dangers of SUVs as well as limit safety claims for the vehicles in advertising.

The settle was filed in Sacrament County Superior Court in Sacramento, California and is awaiting a judges approval. Ford will not disclose how much the company paid to settle the claims nor would Ford discuss terms of the deal other than to confirmed that an agreement was reached.

"We believe the agreement is fair and reasonable and is in the best interest of our customers," said a Ford spokeswoman.

The attorney would brought the lawsuit said that consumers will be able to apply for the Ford vouchers through a Web site as soon as Monday if the settlement is approved.

Final approval of the agreement will be delayed until April so that people covered by the settlement have time to apply for the vouchers, according to Kevin Roddy, a co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

Once the preliminary settlement is approved, Ford will publish a toll-free number and Web site for consumers as well as mail notices to Explorer owners.

The lawsuits were filed in the following a federal investigation in 2000 after more than 250 people were killed and hundreds more injured in accidents involving tread separation on tires produced by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. Most of those accidents involved Ford Explorers.

Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone each blamed one another for the accidents. Ford accused the tire manufacturer of producing an inferior tire. The tire maker charged that the design of the Explorer was the cause of the rollovers.

In 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declared that the Explorer was no more rollover-prone than other SUVs.

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Smokers Cost Taxpayers $10 Billion

If all Medicaid beneficiaries quit smoking, taxpayers would be $10 billion richer

Smokers Cost Taxpayers $10 Billion...

Five years after all current smokers who receive Medicaid benefits quit smoking, program expenditures would be an estimated $9.7 billion lower, according to a new report by researchers at RTI International.

The report, funded by the American Legacy Foundation, found that Medicaid expenditures attributable to current smokers account for 5.6 percent of total national Medicaid expenditures.

"Reducing the number of smokers in the United States could save taxpayers billions of dollars in Medicaid costs," said Justin Trogdon, Ph.D., an RTI health economist. "Policy makers looking for ways to reduce health care costs in America would be wise to look at areas of health behaviors that both improve health and reduce health care costs."

According to the research, New York smokers top the list, costing Medicaid $1.5 billion each year. Wyoming had the least Medicaid expenditures due to current smokers, but they still cost the program $15 million each year. The report showed that North Carolinians who smoke cost Medicaid $294 million each year.

The researchers also looked at the cost of Medicaid over the lifetime of 24-year-old smokers because nearly all smokers begin smoking before age 24.

"The benefits of preventing smoking initiation accrue over a longer time horizon," Trogdon said. "Life-cycle estimates are important in gauging the long-term impact of youth smoking prevention on state Medicaid programs. These estimates take into account the differences in life expectancy for smokers and nonsmokers as well as payments into the Medicaid system by smokers."

"This study underscores the need for strong and effective smoking prevention and cessation campaigns," said Cheryl G. Healton, Dr. PH, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation. "We hope that this report will serve as a tool for states to use when setting both long- and short-term goals for reducing Medicaid expenditures associated with tobacco use."

Women smokers more costly

The results showed that, over the course of their lifetime, today's 24-year-old smokers will cost Medicaid almost $1 billion. However, most of those costs are due to female smokers, not males.

The researchers found that over the course of their lifetime, tax payments by young male smokers make up for most of their extra Medicaid expenditures from smoking, but the expenditures for female smokers cost Medicaid about $1,300 per person.

This impact is highest in Texas, where the lifetime costs of 24-year old smokers to Medicaid is estimated to be $125 million. In North Carolina, those costs are expected to reach almost $37 million.

"The lifetime costs of young smokers are for one cohort of 24-year-olds," Trogdon said. "Every year a new group of young people will turn 24. Based on these findings, preventing and reducing youth smoking, especially among females, could lower Medicaid costs by billions of dollars."

The research is based on data from the 2000 through 2004 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys.

 



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Latex Allergy Can Be Life-Threatening

Fast-growing but little-known allergy is a major menace

If you develop symptoms of latex allergy, get immediate medical attention or head for the emergency room. If your symptoms are severe, call 911. ...

November 29, 2007
Imagine. Youre trying to write a note with a pencil. You touch the rubber eraser, and all of a sudden, you break out in a rash and have trouble breathing. Your lips swell and you know you are in big trouble. It is time for 911.

Millions of Americans live with this reality thanks to latex allergy. Latex allergy is one of the fastest growing, least known, and most dangerous allergies in the country. How come?

Latex is everywhere, at home, work, in the hospital and in the doctor's office. Its in little daily things like bandages, balloons, erasers, bicycle handles, rubber toys, paints, shoes, condoms and the elastic band in your underwear.

It is incredibly common in health care settings, like blood pressure cuffs, catheters, IV equipment, sterile gloves, tourniquets, bandages, and more.

Latex is made from milky white sap which drips from rubber trees when the bark is cut. Manufacturers turn it into crepe rubber, the kind of hard rubber found in tires, which does not generally cause allergy.

They also turn it into liquid latex, the kind which does cause allergies. They stretch it into rubber bands, balloons and surgical gloves.

Latex: it's everywhere

Since liquid latex blocks germs like staph and the AIDS virus, its use has skyrocketed in the last decade and so has latex allergy. Millions of Americans have allergies to latex, including nearly 10% of health care workers.

This makes sense, because the more frequently and intensely you come in contact with latex the more likely you are to develop the allergy. Having other allergies may contribute as well. Hayfever sufferers and folks who are allergic to foods like bananas, avocado and chestnuts are more likely to develop latex allergy.

How do you know if you have latex allergy? Well, if you have a reaction when you touch latex, simply breathe near latex, or touch something which came in contact with latex you may have latex allergy.

For example, some folks are allergic to the corn starch in latex gloves or to IV fluids, which have touched latex in the IV line.

Symptoms

Latex allergy can cause breathing problems like stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing or shortness of breath. It can cause skin rashes like hives or send you into anaphylactic shock, which can kill you.

Doctors diagnose it by taking your history, doing a physical exam, and sending a blood test. There is no accurate skin test. Unfortunately the blood test misses a lot of people with latex allergy.

The best way to treat latex allergy is to avoid latex and wear an allergy identification bracelet.

If you develop symptoms of latex allergy, get immediate medical attention or head for the emergency room. If your symptoms are severe, call 911. You may need oral and/or topical antihistamines and/or steroids, inhaled asthma medicines and a shot of adrenaline to save your life.

Most latex allergic patients carry adrenaline -- like the Epi-Pen or Twinject -- and other emergency medicines with them, just in case. Taking antihistamines every day may not prevent all reactions, but can take the edge off them. Taking extra precautions with latex allergy, a growing national health problem, makes a lot of sense.

 



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FTC Finds 8 Million Identity Theft Cases

Costs, types of fraud vary widely

FTC Finds 8 Million Identity Theft Cases...

November 28, 2007 
Identity theft is still going strong in America, according to a new survey from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The agency said 8.3 million Americans, or nearly 4 percent of the population, were victims of identity theft in 2005.

Of those victims, 3.2 million experienced fraud or misuse of their existing credit card accounts, 3.3 million suffered fraud or theft from non-credit card accounts, and 1.8 million were defrauded when thieves stole their personal information to open new accounts in the victims' names, known as "new account fraud."

"Whether you're from Malibu or Manhattan, Tacoma or Tallahassee, no one is immune to identity theft," said Lydia B. Parnes, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

"The important thing is that people learn how to deter identity thieves, detect suspicious activity on their financial records, and defend against the crime, should it happen," she added.

The survey, prepared for the FTC by the Synovate polling and research firm, also looked at the costs of identity theft, finding that the value of goods stolen and the costs of recovering from the theft varied according to the type of fraud involved. Where the ID theft was limited to the misuse of existing accounts, the average loss was less than $500, although much higher losses were reported in some cases.

But when the fraud was extended to "new account fraud," the losses were much higher--the median value of goods and services obtained by the thieves was $1,350. Ten percent of new account fraud victims reported losses of $15,000 or more in goods and services, with the top five percent of victims reporting losses of $30,000 or more in goods and services.

Recovering from new account fraud was more time-consuming and costly to the victims as well. Ten percent of all victims reported out-of-pocket expenses of $1,200 or more. But for new account fraud, the top 10 percent of the victims incurred expenses of at least $3,000, and the top 5 percent incurred expenses of at least $5,000.

Thirty-seven percent of victims reported experiencing problems such as harassment by debt collectors, being unable to get loans, having their utilities cut off, being subject to a criminal investigation or civil suit, being arrested, and having difficulties obtaining or accessing bank accounts.

In cases of new account fraud, victims were more than twice as likely to report having one or more of these types of problems than when thieves misused only existing accounts, according to the survey.

The unfamiliar enemy

The survey also found that 84 percent of the identity theft victims polled did not know the thief, contradicting other studies that claimed the majority of identity theft crimes were committed by friends or relatives.

Sixteen percent claimed some personal knowledge of the thief in their case, with six percent of victims reporting a family member or relative as the thief, eight percent claiming a friend or neighbor, and two percent claiming a colleague on the job was the thief. The victims who reported knowing the identity of the victim were also more likely to identify how the information was taken than those who did not.

Thirty eight percent of the victims polled said the most trying part of the experience was dealing with authorities or agencies in order to get the effects of the theft reversed, including dealing with credit bureaus and lenders, and replacing credit cards and existing accounts.

The study was conducted through interviews with 4,917 people between March 27 and June 11, 2006.

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ExxonMobil Claims New Hybrid Battery Technology

Could be good news for next-generation hybrids

ExxonMobil Claims New Hybrid Battery Technology...


Oil giant ExxonMobil claims its chemical subsidiary has developed new film technologies for lithium-ion batteries that the company says has the potential to improve the energy efficiency as well as cost of next-generation hybrid and electric vehicles.

ExxonMobil said the technologies could significantly enhance the power, safety and reliability of lithium-ion batteries. The project is a joint effort with ExxonMobil's Japanese affiliate, Tonen Chemical.

By developing new film technologies that allow lithium-ion batteries to meet hybrid and electric vehicle requirements, ExxonMobil Chemical is helping to make next-generation vehicles more energy- and cost-efficient, as well as lighter, said Jim P. Harris, senior vice president, ExxonMobil Chemical Company.

We are currently working with industry-leading battery manufacturers to expand the boundaries of current hybrid and electric vehicle applications, Harris added.

Separator film is an integral part of the battery system design and critical to overall performance, according to the oil company statement. The Exxon technology reportedly combines advanced polymer to tailor products to battery manufacturer requirements.

The Toyota Motor Co. recently postponed use of lithium-ion batteries in the third generation of the Prius hybrid.The Japanese automaker said the technology still raises safety concerns and requires additional research.

General Motors Corp. is also developing lithium-ion technologies for use in a future plug-in hybrid.

ExxonMobil will present the new film technologies at the Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exposition in Anaheim, California on December 2-5, 2007.

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Verizon Wireless Opens Network to All Devices, Software

The 'walled garden' will be no more

Verizon Wireless Opens Network to All Devices, Software...

Verizon Wireless rocked the technology world today by announcing that it would open its wireless network for use by all devices and applications beginning in 2008.

Verizon, long a proponent of the "walled garden" approach that forced customers to use software and handsets approved by the company, said in a statement that any device that meets the minimum technical standard will be activated on the network.

This is a transformation point in the 20-year history of mass market wireless devices one which we believe will set the table for the next level of innovation and growth, said Lowell McAdam, Verizon Wireless president and chief executive officer.

Verizon Wireless is not changing our successful retail model, but rather adding an additional retail option for customers looking for a different wireless experience, he said.

The company will publish the technical standards for operating on its network early in 2008, with an eye towards rolling out interoperability by the end of 2008. Any device or software application that meets the technical standards will be usable on Verizon's network, the company said.

Verizon's network will not be completely open, however.

Its phone network runs on the CDMA communications standard, whereas its largest competitor AT&T; uses the more widely adopted GSM standard. GSM phones cannot work on a CDMA network, so the idea of using AT&T;'s iPhone on the Verizon network is still a ways off. Sprint, however, uses the CDMA network, enabling the possibility of using a phone from Sprint on the Verizon network.

Changing the game

Industry analysts claimed Verizon's sudden reversal was a response to moves made by Google to enter the wireless network space.

Google and Verizon have sparred over the upcoming principle of open devices by the FCC, which could be used to open up new networks for wireless cellphone use or broadband. Google agreed to put up $4.6 billion for the auction if the FCC agreed to support its proposed principles for "open access," including letting any device connect to any network.

Although the FCC did not meet all of Google's demands, it agreed to support the principle of open devices for the auction. Google has said it may bid in the auction, but has not officially confirmed its position.

Verizon opposed the open-access requirements so heavily that it filed a lawsuit with the FCC demanding the overturn of the open device conditions, but later dropped the suit.

Consumer pressure

Verizon may also be responding to pressure from consumers and legislators to end the "walled garden" approach to wireless networks, where consumers are forced to sign contracts for several years to get a particular phone, and until recently were punished with harsh termination fees if they wanted to switch providers.

Because phones were locked or crippled by the carriers into only working with specific providers, switching your wireless provider often meant your phone would turn into an expensive paperweight.

Verizon was the first carrier to prorate contract termination fees, and a year later changed its policy to enable customers to change plans without having to renew contracts.

All of the major carriers have since changed their policies to prorate cancellation fees and enable plan changes.

 

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Canadian Lottery Scam Resurfaces

Victims get phony check, lose real money

Canadian Lottery Scam Resurfaces...

The fake lottery scam is making the rounds again, trying to lure consumers at holiday time with promises of more than $200,000 in winnings.

The scammers claim to represent Canadian-based Atlantic Lottery Company, a legitimate company that is warning Americans not to fall for the ruse.

To be eligible for a lottery monetary prize from Atlantic Lottery, you must have purchased a ticket from an authorized retailer in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland & Labrador, or on our PlaySphere website, the company said in a statement.

ConsumerAffairs.com has received nearly a dozen complaints about this particular lottery scam from readers in the last month. They all describe similar circumstances.

I received a letter and an official check for $4,985 from Chase Bank. It has the watermark and looks real, Lisa, from Somerset, Ky., told ConsumerAffairs.com. The letter stated I had won a promotional sweepstakes lottery from Atlantic Lottery Corporation held on May 30th, 2007. It has a claim number and says that I have won $262,000.00.

Lisa was told that her name was selected through a random computer ballot system. There was a check for nearly $5,000, which she was told had been deducted from her winnings, and which she should use to pay taxes. She was instructed to wire $3,985 via MoneyGram at Wal-Mart, and not cash the check until after speaking with Cindy Hughes, at Atlantic Lottery.

Rick, of Phoenix, got an identical check for $4,985 with instructions to wire $3,985 to pay taxes. Unfortunately, he did.

Cindy Hayes said the rest of the money would be sent to me by Federal Express, Rick told ConsumerAffairs.com. When I called her back she said Customs was holding my money.

The $4,985 check Rick deposited in his bank account was fake. The money he wired to the scammer was real. Once the bank discovers the check is a counterfeit, the deposit will be deleted and the $3,985 will be deducted from his account. If there was not $3,985 in his account at the time, he will have to get the money and pay back the bank.

Unfortunately for Rick and other victims of this scam, U.S. authorities have, in the past, shown little interest in pursing the perpetrators running Canadian scams. Victims best hope is to contact PhoneBusters, a Canadian organization that investigates these crimes. Their toll-free number is 888-495-8501.

 

More Scam Alerts ...

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Keeping Santa Solvent

Report picks best & worst of this year's batch

Keeping Santa Solvent...

November 26, 2007
More consumers than ever before are expected to turn to gift cards this year, seeking a quick and easy one-size-fits-all present.

But a report from Montgomery County, Maryland, consumer protection officials finds that there's nothing easy about picking a gift card. The report contains valuable information and recommendations regarding gift cards issued by 22 stores and restaurants and 20 banks and financial institutions.

With consumers annually spending over $80 billion nationwide to purchase gift cards, it is important for them to have good information so they can buy the best cards and avoid the worst, said Evan Johnson, author of the report.

Consumers looking to prepaid gift cards to assist in their holiday shopping are confronted with understanding and comparing a variety of fees, charges, time limits and rules, Johnson notes. In addition, more sellers this year are offering bank cards carrying the logo of American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa, which can be used at more than one store.

Johnson's report analyzes cards based on several criteria, recommends cards with the most attractive features, and warns consumers about purchasing other gift cards. Among its findings:

Top picks Out of the 22 retail cards studied, the 18 recommended are: Abercrombie & Fitch, Best Buy, Blockbuster, Circuit City, Crate & Barrel, Gap, JC Penney, KB Toys, Kohls, Lowes, Nordstroms, Old Navy, PetSmart, Sears, Sports Authority, Starbucks, Target and Wal-Mart.

Thumbs down The four retail cards not recommended are: Bloomingdales, Claires, Macys and Shell. Bloomingdales and Macys have expiration dates, while Shell and Claires may impose monthly dormancy fees. Note that some states and localities now prohibit expiration dates and dormancy fees.

Hidden costs All the bank cards studied impose a purchase/processing fee above the initial value of the cards. They also deduct post-purchase fees and have expiration dates. In addition, the report found that some bank cards, their packaging, or their websites do not adequately disclose the cards terms. Terms differ from state to state.

Sellers certainly do not make it easy for consumers to comparison shop for these cards, said Office of Consumer Protection Director Eric Friedman. This report is intended to give consumers a fighting chance to make wise selections.

The report is available online.

Read the fine print

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, meanwhile, urges consumers to read the fine print before buying gift cards.

We have worked to create protections from hidden fees and expiration dates that drain the value of gift cards before consumers have the chance to redeem them, Madigan said. But even with legal protections, a consumers number one protection this holiday season is to read the fine print and find out about any expiration dates or fees before purchasing gift cards.

Little noted, soon forgotten

It's also worth remembering that gift cards are easily forgotten.

A study conducted for Consumer Reports found that 27 percent of gift card recipients have not used one or more of the cards, up from 19 percent at the same time last year. And among consumers with unredeemed cards from last season, 51 percent have 2 or more.

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Feds Probe Ford F-250, F-350, Five Hundred and Freestyle

Loss of control plagues trucks, cars have instrument problems

Feds Probe Ford F-250, F-350, Five Hundred and Freestyle...


The National Highway Traffic Administration is investigating the Ford Motor Company's 2005 to 2007 model F-250 and F-350 trucks as well as Ford Five Hundreds and Freestyles to determine whether the vehicles have defects that will require recalls.

NHTSA reports at least 78 complaints about steering and suspension oscillations in the two trucks. Some of the problems were so severe as to cause loss of control of the truck. The agency has no estimate of the number of Ford trucks on the road that could be affected by the steering and suspension fault.

NHTSA also reported investigating nine complaints of instrument cluster failures in the 2005 Ford Five Hundreds and Freestyles.

Consumers reported that the instrument panel illumination fluctuated, gauges stopped registering information, and turn signals failed.

Roughly 174,000 of the Ford Five Hundreds and Freestyles are on the roads, according to the agency.

NHTSA opened the investigations November 15 and 16, almost a week before the agency released information about them to the public.

The agency routinely waits to publicly announce important recalls and safety investigations until late on a Friday afternoon are just before a holiday weekend, observers have noted.

Reports of the two new Ford investigations was released Wednesday just before the Thanksgiving Holiday.

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Attorneys General Oppose TJX Data Breach Settlement

Special sale said to help stores more than victims

Attorneys General Oppose TJX Data Breach Settlement...

The Attorneys General of ten states are objecting to a special "Customer Appreciation Sale" proposed as part of the class action settlementof the TJX data breach.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley called the proposed three-day event "nothing more than a retail sale, which would primarily benefit the defendant, TJX Companies."

Coakley, writing on behalf of nine other state Attorneys General, petitioned U.S. District Court Judge William Young to reconsider the sale, or "at the very least, subject the Special Event to heightened scrutiny before approval."

Coakley argued that the sale would not offer any real benefit for members of the class-action suit, whether they were victims of fraud resulting from the breach or simply had their cards replaced.

Coakley, who was a victim of identity theft in an unrelated case last year, said that TJX should not abuse the public's good will "for a sale that enhances its bottom line, nor should the classs attorneys reap large fees for an unquantifiable and dubious benefit."

TJX proposed the settlement in September 2007 to ward off multiple class-action lawsuits against it for letting as many as 94 million customers be exposed to hackers in a data breach that occurred over several years. In addition to the three-day sale, TJX has offered store credit vouchers to victims of the breach who provide documentation to substantiate their claim.

TJX also proposed reimbursing claimants who had to replace drivers' licenses as a result of the breach, but the claimants must provide written documentation of the claim.

The proposed settlement would not affect separate lawsuits filed against TJX by numerous banks and financial trade associations, who want to hold TJX liable for the costs of replacing the millions of credit and debit cards exposed as a result of the breach.

Although the TJX company's initial estimates were that 46 million customers may have been affected by the breach, internal court filings in the bank lawsuit showed the numbers closer to 94 million, with costs to card issuers such as Visa ranging from $65 to $80 million.

 

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Experts Offer Toy-Buying Safety Tips

How to identify and avoid hazardous toys

Experts Offer Toy-Buying Safety Tips...

November 21, 2007
With so much scrutiny on the toy industry, some consumer advocates say toys may actually be safer this holiday season than they have been for years, but they are still warning that there are almost certainly dangerous toys on store shelves.

Given all the attention that has happened over the last few months with recalls, I am assuming and I gather that manufacturers, retailers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and consumer groups are all redoubling focus on the consumer marketplace, said Alan Korn, director of public policy at Safe Kids USA, a nonprofit that aims to protect children from consumer dangers.

I'm fairly certain that this year is not going to be perfect but a lot of the lead-related toys and other dangerous toys are going to be washed out of the marketplace, Korn continued.

Sally Greenberg, director of the nonprofit National Consumers League, agreed with Korn.

I think the heightened level of scrutiny suggests to me that the testing from retailers in combination with all the toys that have been recalled suggest that toys are likely to be safer, she said.

Jean Halloran, product safety expert at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, was not as optimistic.

At this point I wouldn't say they're safer, Halloran said. I think what we had is a trend as our toy industry has moved overseas which has happened in the last 10 years or so. I think there's probably been a growth in unsafe products.

We've now moved to a situation where 80 percent of toys sold in this country are made in China, Halloran continued. There are obviously risks with those products that we haven't seen with domestic-made toys.

Parents should be cautious

All three agreed that parents still need to be cautious.

There's still reason to be concerned, Korn said. There's still reason to exhibit caution and to use due diligence in buying toys. But I'm hoping that all this attention in the perfect storm focused on toy safety translates into a perfect marketplace.

This year has seen an unprecedented number of recalls, most of which involved products imported from China, but the experts said it may not be feasible for parents to completely ban toys from that country.

You don't have many (toys) to choose from if you rule out all the ones from China, Halloran said.

Korn said, I have a seven-year-old. Am I personally not going to buy toys from China? My answer is 'no.'

Greenberg suggested that if parents buy any toys from China they ensure the product has no painted surfaces, pieces of metal or magnets that could be swallowed.

What to do

The Consumers Union and Safe Kids USA gave these toy-buying tips:

• Before shopping for toys, consider the childs age, interest and skill level.

• When shopping, read labels. Look for well-made toys and follow age and safety information on the warning labels.

• Keep toys with small parts away from children under age three. They can choke on small toys and toy parts. Korn said asphyxiation is the most common toy-related death.

• Carefully read instructions for the assembly and use of toys.

• Remove and discard all packaging from a toy before giving it to a baby or small child.

• Although the CPSC insists that home lead tests are not accurate, Consumers Union encourages parents to use them to test suspicious toys. Lead Check and Lead Inspector are their preferred brands.

• Avoid no-name products and be careful of toys purchased at dollar stores, street fairs, vending machines, thrift stores or yard sales.

• Any toy or part of a toy that can fit through a toilet paper tube should be considered a choking hazard.

• Beware of toys that can be broken into smaller pieces such as chalk, crayons, or caps from markers. They can pose choking hazards to toddlers and babies.

• Do not give a bike without a bike helmet. Many states mandate that children wear a helmet while riding a bike.

• Sign up for the CPSC's product safety alerts and cross-reference any toy purchased with the list of toys already recalled because occasionally those toys are not pulled off store shelves. All recalled toys can be found at ConsumerAffairs.com's categorized recalls page.

Both Greenberg and Korn said that they expect toy safety will improve even more so next year but that parents always need to be cautious when purchasing toys.

CPSC's advice

Although part of its charter is to respond to requests for information, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) did not return six phone calls and two e-mails to answer specific questions, but in a news release the agency offered these shopping tips:

Ride-on Toys Riding toys, skateboards and in-line skates go fast and falls could be deadly. Helmets and safety gear should be sized to fit.
Small Parts For children younger than age three, avoid toys with small parts, which can cause choking.
Magnets For children under age six, avoid building sets with small magnets. If magnets or pieces with magnets are swallowed, serious injuries and/or death can occur.
Projectile Toys Projectile toys such as air rockets, darts and sling shots are for older children. Improper use of these toys can result in serious eye injuries.
Chargers and Adapters Charging batteries should be supervised by adults. Chargers and adapters can pose thermal burn hazards to children.

To choose appropriate toys for children:

• Be a label reader. Look for toy labels that give age and safety recommendations and use that information as a guide.
• Select toys to suit the age, abilities, skills and interest level of the intended child. Look for sturdy construction, such as tightly-secured eyes, noses and other potential small parts.
• For all children under 8, avoid toys that have sharp edges and points.

Once the gifts are open:

• Immediately discard plastic wrappings on toys before they become dangerous play things.
• Keep toys appropriate for older children away from younger siblings or neighbors.
• Pay attention to instructions and warnings on battery chargers. Some chargers lack any device to prevent overcharging.



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Senior-Friendly Holiday Gift Gadgets

Everybody likes gadgets, even your grandparents

For technology-adverse seniors who like things big and simple, there's a variety of electronic gadgets on the market that make great gifts. ...

Gadgets make fantastic presents! Everyone loves to receive gifts that make their life a little easier or more fun, and today there are thousands of gadgets for boomers and seniors that can accommodate almost any need. Here are some popular items to consider.

Senior-Friendly Electronics

For technology-adverse seniors who like things big and simple, theres a variety of electronic gadgets on the market that make great gifts.

Some of the most popular include the no-frills Jitterbug cell phone (www.jitterbug.com), which has features like large buttons, simple functions, easy-to-read text, voice dialing, and a cushion that cups around your ear to improve sound quality for $147. Also see the new Coupe cell phone ($50) designed for older adults at www.verizonwireless.com.

How about a senior-friendly camera? Check out Hewlett-Packards Photosmart R927 ($279; www.shopping.hp.com). An 8.2-megapixel digital camera that has simple functions, a 3-inch-wide color screen that makes it easy to see what youre shooting, an image advice feature, which offers suggestions on how to improve your pictures, along with a menu that provides written explanations on the cameras screen. Or, if youre interested in a camcorder, the Flip Video ($150; www.theflip.com) is a wonderful product and simple to use.

What about an easy-to-navigate GPS system? The TomTom One XL ($350; www.tomtom.com) and TomTom Go 910 ($500) are dandy with a large 4.3 inch color screen thats easy to see in bright daylight and its touch-screen controls are smartly designed and easy to learn.

And for the computer-less seniors out there, put a Celery (www.mycelery.com) on your shopping list. The Celery device that prints out e-mails and pictures sent via the Web, and gives seniors the ability to send handwritten letters as e-mails, all without a computer. It uses a color fax/printer ($99) connected to a standard phone line instead of a computer. Service fees are $140 per year. Also check out the HP Presto at www.presto.com.

Healthy Living Gifts

Staying healthy as we age is a huge priority for most seniors. Thats why exercise gadgets like pedometers (step counters) make wonderful gifts.

For around $20, a pedometer can help supply motivation to get moving, and the Digi-Walkers (www.new-lifestyles.com) and Omron HJ-150 and HJ-151 (www.omronhealthcare.com) are nifty little devices that are accurate and simple to use.

Another great gift idea to help keep your elder loved ones healthy and strong is the Resistance Chair ($240; www.continuingfitness.com). This all-in-one, home strength training tool is designed for seniors because it allows them to exercise in a safe seated position, using low-impact resistance bands, which minimizes the risk of exercise-related injuries.

And dont forget that seniors need to keep their noggins sharp too! For this, see Nintendos Brain Age and new Brain Age 2 (www.brainage.com). These are senior-friendly electronic games that offer mind-boosting games that are fun and mentally stimulating. Each game cost $20, but to play them, youll need to buy a palm-sized DS Lite game unit which costs $130.

Helpful Household Gifts

Believe it or not, magnifiers are a favorite gift idea among older boomers and seniors, and Great Point Light (www.biggerandbrighter.com) offers a variety of styles in a rainbow of colors to meet almost any need, all for under $20.

For help in the kitchen, garden or tinkering around the house, you cant go wrong with OXO (www.oxo.com) who makes a fabulous line of good grip products that are easy on aging hands. Everything from kitchen utensils to hardware and garden tools, OXO makes over 500 different products at prices, starting at around $5 per item. Two other great kitchen gadgets are the new One Touch Can and One Touch Bar openers ($20 each; www.onetouchopener.com and www.onetouchjar.com). As the name implies, these small devices open-up any can or jar at the push of a button.

And finally, because seniors are prime targets of identity theft, a Fellowes P-57C ($59. www.fellowes.com) home power-shredder makes a smart gift.

Savvy Tip: If you dont like these ideas, you can find thousands of other gadgets at www.abledata.com, a Web portal that lists whats available and where you can buy it.

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Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior books.

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Quality Auditor Charges Toyota Cover-Up

Toyota denies safety was compromised

Quality Auditor Charges Toyota Cover-Up...

A quality control inspector with 20 years of experience is suing New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. which is a joint venture between Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Corp.

She claims managers harassed and demoted her for reporting production defects, including faulty seat belts and brakes.

Katy Cameron, 54, an employee since 1985 of NUMMI in Fremont, California alleges that NUMMI managers altered her reports to delete references to defects that might harm the automakers image with consumers.

Cameron claims that the cover-up included minor flaws and major mistakes that could have resulted in physical harm and injury to purchasers.

The lawsuit says her reports included defective seat belts, non-functioning headlights, turn signals, inadequate brake, steering and transmission fluid.

A spokesman for Toyota said the company would not discuss the lawsuit while insisting that quality has never been compromised in the California plant.

NUMMI builds the Toyota Corolla sedan and Tacoma pickup as well as the Pontiac Vibe.

Cameron claims in the lawsuit that she reported between nine and 15 defects per vehicle during 2005 and 2007. The lawsuit alleges that managers became concerned that she might send copies of her reports to Toyota officials and tried to fire her as a result.

She claims the company demoted her to the assembly line and ordered her to undergo mental fitness evaluations because of her quality control reports.

 

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Nissan Recall Expanded to 654,000 Sentras and Altimas

Nissan Recall Expanded to 654,000 Sentras and Altimas...

November 21, 2007
Nissan Motor Co. is expanding a U.S. recall of Sentra and Altima sedans to repair a defective crankshaft sensor in 2002 and 2005 to 2006 models. The faulty sensor could cause the engine to shut off.

Nissan reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that the recall covers about 653,910 vehicles with 2.5-liter engines.

The sensor's location may expose it to temperature changes that would interrupt signals the sensor sends to the engine control module, according to Nissan. Without those signals, the control module may shut off the engine in low-speed driving, Nissan said.

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Chase to Stop Raising Rates Based On Credit Reports

'Clear and simple' program debuts next year

Chase to Stop Raising Rates Based On Credit Reports...

If you're a Chase customer you may be tired of seeing your credit card rate skyrocket if you miss a payment on your other bills -- even if you pay your credit card in full each month.

Well, good news.

Chase Card services says it will end the practice of raising customers' interest rates based on credit report information, beginning in March 2008.

Chase Card Services CEO Gordon Smith announced the change as part of Chase's "Clear And Simple" plan, designed to "build lasting, loyal relationships between ourselves and our customers."

The practice of using missed bill payments as an excuse to trigger interest rate hikes -- commonly referred to as "universal default" -- is widespread throughout the credit industry.

Consumer advocates have long criticized the practice as unfair, noting that missing a single bill payment does not immediately indicate financial irresponsibility, and that positive bill-paying records were not used to raise a customer's credit score.

Although Chase ended its usage of universal default in 2005, it continued to monitor credit reports and scores for excuses to raise interest rates. Under the new system, a Chase customer will only get hit with a rate hike if they make late payments, go over their balance limit, or bounce payments.

Curtis Arnold, founder of credit card comparison site Cardratings.com, called the change "a major step forward for consumers." "I commend Chase for being serious about making their cards more consumer friendly," wrote Arnold on the CreditBloggers personal finance blog.

Chase's move follows a similar action by Citigroup, which announced in March that it was ending its practice of "universal default" and "any-time-for-any-reason" rate increases.

The industry's sudden consumer-friendliness is widely perceived as an effort to fight off further regulation by Congress. The Senate held hearings on abusive credit card practices in March 2007 and threatened to more closely scrutinize lenders.

Two Senators introduced legislation in May that would prohibit punitive fees levied on cardholders and restrict charging of interest on fees for certain transactions.

 

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The Healthy Geezer -- Shingles

The Healthy Geezer

I heard a comedian make a reference to "shingles" as if there was something funny about them. I had shingles and I didn't find any humor in the experience....


Q. I heard a comedian make a reference to "shingles" as if there was something funny about them. I had shingles and I didn't find any humor in the experience. Am I missing something?

A. Shingles is a painful skin disease caused by the chickenpox virus awakening from a dormant state to attack your body again.

Some people report fever and weakness when the disease starts. Within two to three days, a red, blotchy rash develops. The rash erupts into small blisters that look like chickenpox. And it's very painful.

Does this sound funny? I don't think so....

Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. Half of all Americans will get shingles by the time they are 80. Shingles occurs in people of all ages, but it is most common in people between 60 and 80. Each year, about 600,000 Americans are diagnosed with shingles.

The virus that causes chickenpox and shingles remains in your body for life. It stays inactive until a period when your immunity is down. And, when you're older, your defenses ain't what they used to be.

The inactive virus rests in nerve cells near the spine. When it reactivates, it follows a single nerve path to the skin.

The shingles rash helps with its diagnosis; the rash erupts in a belt-like pattern on only one side of the body, or it appears on one side of the face. It usually begins as a patch of red dots which become blisters.

Physicians treat shingles with antiviral and pain medications. The antivirals don't cure shingles, but they weaken the virus, reduce the pain and accelerate healing. The antiviral medications work faster if they are started early -- within 72 hours from the appearance of the rash.

The disease's name comes from the Latin word cingulum, which means belt. The virus that causes shingles is varicella-zoster, which combines the Latin word for little pox with the Greek word for girdle. In Italy, shingles is often called St. Anthony's fire.

If you have had chickenpox, shingles is not contagious. If you have never had chickenpox, you can catch the virus from contacting the fluid in shingles blisters. However, you will not get shingles, but you could get chickenpox.

The pain of shingles can be severe. If it is strong and lasts for months or years, it is called postherpetic neuralgia.

Persistent pain is a common symptom in people over 60. However, most victims of shingles overcome their symptoms in about a month. And the odds are against them getting shingles again.

Outbreaks that start on the face or eyes can cause vision or hearing problems. Even permanent blindness can result if the cornea of the eye is affected.

In patients with immune deficiency, the rash can be much more extensive than usual and the illness can be complicated by pneumonia. These cases, while more serious, are rarely fatal.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health are now working on a shingles vaccine to prevent the disease in people who have already had chickenpox. It is designed to boost the immune system and protect older adults from shingles later on.

The vaccine is basically a stronger version of the chickenpox shot, which became available in 1995. The chickenpox shot prevents chickenpox in 70 to 90 percent of those vaccinated, and 95 percent of the rest have only mild symptoms. Millions of children and adults have already received the chickenpox shot.

Update: There is now a vaccine for shingles. It is Zostavax, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in people 60 years old and older to prevent shingles. Zostavax does not treat shingles or post-herpetic neuralgia (pain after a rash) once it develops. In a clinical trial, Zostavax prevented shingles in about half of the people and post-herpetic neuralgia in about two-thirds of those in the trial.

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College Students Warned Against Credit Card Trap

Cards promoted heavily to students but hazards outweigh benefits

Miller said studies indicate high debt is forcing some students to take on more paid work and reduce their academic load or even drop out of school. ...

November 19, 2007
Iowa's attorney general is warning college students to avoid the campus credit card trap.

Credit card companies badly want the business of college students, so students are flooded with credit card offers, Tom Miller said. Unfortunately, more and more students are slipping into high credit card debt with very serious long-term consequences.

Miller said studies indicate high debt is forcing some students to take on more paid work and reduce their academic load or even drop out of school. He noted that an administrator at Indiana University once said, We lose more students to credit card debt than to academic failure.

High debt or a poor credit record also can result in students paying higher rates for car loans or home mortgages, and lead to psychological problems from stress to suicide.

Whatever you do, dont be seduced into obtaining several credit cards and maxing-out on them with a high debt load, Miller said. And dont play the credit card shuffle using advances on one card to pay down another.

Miller said credit cards can serve a purpose they are good for emergencies, and national credit cards can help build a good credit record. But if you do get a credit card, determine what you can realistically afford to pay each month, and plan to pay off your bill completely each month.

Shop around

Miller said that before students choose a credit card, they should shop around carefully.

Some cards are highly visible on campus because they have marketing rights, Miller said, but students still should shop for the card with the best terms for them.

Customers should compare interest rates, stated as the APR or annual percentage rate of interest. Miller cautioned that some low teaser rates only apply for a few months as an introductory offer then much higher rates kick in. He also encouraged students to avoid cards with high penalty rates rates of 20% or even 30% if the card holder misses or makes a late payment.

Miller said customers should look for hidden fees such as late-payment charges and over-the-limit fees.

If a student does obtain a card, Miller said, it is crucial to avoid the revolving-debt trap.Dont think you can avoid trouble just by making the minimum payment each month, he said.

He gave an example: Say that you make only minimum payments and you run up a $1,000 balance on a card with a 13% APR (annual percentage rate of interest.) Even if you never use that card again, if you continue to make only minimum monthly payments you will still owe over $500 three and one-half years later -- and paying off the debt will take over six years. (It will be much worse still if you are late on some payments and the card issuer raises your rate to 21% APR or higher.)

What's the bottom line? Miller said. Consider whether you should just say no at this time to getting a credit card and taking on debt -- especially if you already have substantial student loans to pay off. If you do get a card, be extremely careful in selecting and managing your credit card account.

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Subprime Foreclosures will have Ripple Effect

Report finds major impacts on property values, tax revenues

Subprime Foreclosures will have Ripple Effect...

You think youre insulated from the subprime fallout just because your credit rating is good and you have a fixed rate mortgage? Think again.

Foreclosures on loans to those with shaky credit are resulting in a severe drain on property values -- even for families paying their mortgages faithfully every month.

According to the Center for Responsible Lending, such defaults will cause 44.5 million homes to lose a total of $223 billion in wealth over the next few years, most of it in 2008 and 2009.

In addition to foreclosed homeowners, the $223 billion drain -- which amounts to $5,000 per nearby household -- will have a severe impact on many cities and communities, because lower property values translate into less revenue to fund schools, hospitals, and other vital community organizations at the county level.

The Centers research finds that, as a result of subprime foreclosures, 42 counties and about half the states will suffer a loss of more than $1 billion each in reduced property values.

"These losses are particularly tragic when you consider that most subprime foreclosures never should have happened," said Martin Eakes, CEO of the Center and also head of Self Help, a credit union and non-profit lending fund.

"The subprime industry became intoxicated with large fees from dangerous loan products. Unfortunately, lenders and Wall Street aren't the only ones suffering through the hangover -- forty-four and one half million innocent bystanders are feeling the pain, too. The subprime problem has become everyone's problem," Eakes said.

Shanna Smith, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, noted that diminished property values would have a disproportionate impact on minority communities.

"Many of these [subprime] foreclosures are concentrated in African-American and Latino neighborhoods," said Smith. "This research documents the costs of lending abuses we see every day, resulting in the tragic theft of hard-earned wealth in communities that already have the lowest rates of homeownership."

The report is based in part on foreclosure projections that the Center released last December assessing how homeowners have fared with subprime home loans, as well as on data collected by the Federal Reserve and the Census Bureau along with other published research.

The report is being released as civil rights, consumer and housing advocates seek meaningful and lasting solutions to reckless lending and fair treatment for homeowners.

Congress is "considering proposals to address the subprime mess, both to try to help families now facing foreclosure because of abusive loans and to ban the practices that caused the problem in the first place.

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Winter is Prime Time for Heart Attacks

Risk of a heart attack doubles during the winter months

Winter is cold and flu season, but most people don't know that its also the prime season for heart attacks too. Even people who live in warm climates have ...

Everyone knows winter is cold and flu season, but most people dont know that its also the prime season for heart attacks too.

In the United States, the risks of having a heart attack during the winter months are twice as high as in the summertime. And, a heart attack in the winter is also more likely to be fatal than a heart attack during any other time of year.

Why? Lots of reasons, and theyre not all tied to cold weather. Even people who live in warm climates have an increased risk.

Wintertime Risks

Here are some reasons why heart attacks are more common during the winter than other months and some tips to help you combat them:

• Cold weather: When a person gets cold, the bodys automatic response is to narrow the blood vessels. Cutting down on blood flow to the skin means the body doesnt lose as much heat. But for people who already have arteries filled with plaque, the narrowing of the blood vessels raises the risk that one will become blocked, triggering a heart attack.

The narrowing also increases blood pressure, which can strain a diseased heart. So bundle up this winter, and keep your blood flowing freely.

• Snow shoveling: Believe it or not, studies show that heart attack rates jump dramatically in the first few days after a major snowstorm, usually a result of snow shoveling. Shoveling snow is incredibly strenuous causing the heart to work harder and raising your blood pressure. Couple that with the cold temperatures and heart attack risk soars.

If you must shovel, push rather than lift the snow as much as possible, stay warm and take frequent breaks or better yet buy a snow blower. And if youre over age 50, overweight or out of shape, or have suffered a previous heart attack, dont shovel at all.

• New Years resolutions: Its not just shovelers who run the risk of taxing their heart in the winter. Every Jan. 1, millions of people join gyms or start exercise programs as part of their New Years resolution to get in shape, and many may overexert themselves too soon.

If you have a heart condition or risk factors for heart disease like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about what may be appropriate for you.

• Stressful season: The holiday season for many people is a very stressful time, causing anxiety, loneliness and depression which are also linked to heart attacks. Check your mood at www.depressionscreening.org and get help, if needed.

• Holiday feasting: People tend to eat more, drink more, and gain more weight during the holiday season and winter months all of which are hard on the ticker and risky for someone with heart disease. Keep a watchful eye on your diet, avoid binging on fatty foods or alcohol, and remember. Everything in moderation!

• Less daylight: Its a fact that less daylight in the winter can worsen mood problems, increase depression risk, and can also affect the heart. Studies have looked at heart-attack patients and found they have lower levels of vitamin D (which comes from sunlight) than healthy people.

To boost your vitamin D intake during the dark winter months, everyone over 50 should take a daily vitamin that contains at least 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D. Those over age 70 need at least 600 IU.

• Flu: The flu is another culprit responsible for the winter surge in heart attacks. A flu infection can increase blood pressure, stir up white blood cell activity, and change C-reactive protein and fibrinogen levels in the blood all bad news for your heart. Get an annual flu shot. It can cut your heart attack risk in half.

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Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior books.

 



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Longevity Insurance: OK If You Live Long Enough

New type of annuity kicks in at a predetermined age

It's basically insurance that pays you for living a long life. Its called longevity insurance, and like an annuity, it pays you income for life. ...

Outliving ones retirement savings is a financial nightmare that haunts many retirees. Thats why a handful of insurers have recently introduced a new type of annuity that caters specifically to that fear.

It's basically insurance that pays you for living a long life. Its called longevity insurance, and like an annuity, it pays you income for life, but only if and when you make it to a certain age.

How does it work? You give an insurance company a lump-sum of money when you retire (say age 60 or 65), in return for monthly income starting at age 80 or 85.

Advantages

The advantage of choosing longevity insurance over an annuity is that the payouts are much higher.

For example, a 65-year-old man who puts $50,000 into a longevity policy can expect to receive around $3,400 per month (that comes to $40,800 per year) starting at age 85. With a traditional income annuity, hed get only around $640 per month.

Why such a big difference?

Because the insurance companies are betting you wont be around to collect. National statistics show that a 65-year-old male will live, on average, to 82, and a 65-year-old woman to 85. Another great benefit with longevity insurance is it gives you the freedom to spend down your nest egg, knowing youve locked up an income stream for your later years.

Drawbacks

As tantalizing as those big payouts may be, longevity insurance has its drawbacks.

For starters, a basic longevity policy offers no escape hatch for you to retrieve your money during the 20 years or so youre waiting for benefits to start. And your heirs wont get death benefits if you die before you begin to collect.

Recognizing that many people might balk at these limitations, insurers are also offering add-ons to the basic policy that include a death benefit to be paid to heirs, early payments for nursing home care, cash withdrawal options and inflation protection.

The downside, however, is that every piece you add on reduces your monthly benefit.

When to Buy

Most people purchase longevity insurance at or just prior to the time they retire. Figure out how much of your essential expenses you can cover with Social Security, pensions, and other forms of guaranteed income and consider buying coverage for the rest.

But dont overdo it!

Experts recommend you use no more than 10 to 15 percent of your assets to purchase a policy, and leave the rest in your portfolio to provide income until it kicks in. Also, when choosing a product, remember that youre buying income that will not kick in for 20 years or more.

So be sure to go with a company with a good reputation and solid financials. Some major players offering this type of insurance are MetLife, Hartford, Integrity and New York Life.

Alternatives

If you dont like the idea of longevity insurance, you could always invest the money that you would spend on this type of insurance on your own and come up with a similar result.

If you took your $50,000 and invested it at age 65, for example, assuming a conservative 6 percent growth per year, you would end up with $160,000 in 20 years. At age 85, you could then begin spending the money or use it to buy an immediate annuity.

An 85-year-old man who invested $160,000 in an immediate annuity would get about $2,200 per month for the rest of his life. Thats a lot less than youd receive with a longevity policy, but youd have access to the money for emergencies or to leave to your heirs.

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Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior books.

 

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FDA Seizes 'Age Intervention' Cosmetics

Eyelash treatment could cause optic nerve damage

FDA Seizes 'Age Intervention' Cosmetics...

At the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Marshals have seized 12,682 applicator tubes of Age Intervention Eyelash, a product the FDA says could lead to decreased vision. Authorities said the sales value of the seized tubes is approximately $2 million.

Age Intervention Eyelash is sold and distributed by Jan Marini Skin Research, Inc., of San Jose, Calif.

The FDA considers Age Intervention Eyelash to be an unapproved and misbranded drug because Jan Marini Skin Research has promoted the product to increase eyelash growth. Before a new drug product may be legally marketed, it must be shown to be safe and effective, and approved by FDA.

FDA said it also considers the seized Age Intervention Eyelash to be an adulterated cosmetic. The product contains bimatoprost, an active ingredient in an FDA-approved drug to treat elevated intraocular pressure, or elevated pressure inside the eye.

For patients using the prescription drug, using the Age Intervention Eyelash in addition to the drug may increase the risk of optic nerve damage because the extra dose of bimatoprost may decrease the prescription drug's effectiveness.

Damage to the optic nerve may lead to decreased vision and possibly blindness.

In addition, the agency warns use of Age Intervention Eyelash may cause other adverse effects in certain people due to the bimatoprost, including macular edema - swelling of the retina- and uveitis, which is an inflammation in the eye. Both may lead to decreased vision.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California filed the complaint requesting the seizure, and coordinated with the FDA. The California Department of Public Healths Food and Drug Branch had previously embargoed the seized products at the San Jose facility.

Jan Marini Skin Research has notified FDA that the company ceased manufacturing and shipping any Age Intervention Eyelash product containing bimatoprost last year.

The FDA recommends that consumers, dermatologists, and estheticians who may still have Age Intervention Eyelash discontinue using it and discard any remaining product. FDA also recommends that consumers consult their health care provider if they have experienced any adverse events that they suspect are related to the product's use.

 



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Wells Fargo CEO Invokes Specter Of Great Depression

Many more foreclosures lie ahead as higher interest rates kick in

Wells Fargo CEO Invokes Specter Of Great Depression...

Add the voice of Well Fargo CEO John Stumpf to those who are warning the mortgage crisis will get worse before it gets better. Stumpf says he believes the U.S. housing collapse, brought on by massive defaults of subprime mortgages, is the worst since the Great Depression.

Though Wells Fargo has so far managed to avoid most of the turmoil that has gripped other lenders, Stumpf says hes concerned that the frightening downward spiral in housing has not played itself out.

"We have not seen a nationwide decline in housing like this since the Great Depression," the banker told a Merrill Lynch banking conference in New York.

Stumpf had reassuring words for his companys stockholders, saying his bank is well positioned to weather the storm. However, he cautioned that losses from home equity loans will be higher than normal well into 2008.

Wells Fargo made more than $200 billion in home loans from January to September of this year, making it the second largest home loan lender, following Countrywide Financial, which is cutting 12,000 jobs after losing $1.2 billion in the third quarter.

Stumpf says Wells Fargo remains in a more stable condition because it never altered its lending policies to include more exotic mortgages, such as 100 percent, interest-only loans, and adjustable rate loans that allow borrowers to pay less than the principal due.

Foreclosure record

Home foreclosures have reached a record level in 2007 and Stumpf is not alone in his worries that the worst could be ahead. Earlier this month, Federal Reserve Board Governor Randall Kroszner told the Consumer Bankers Association that two considerations suggest that conditions for subprime borrowers have the potential to get worse before they get better.

The first problem, he said, is that all indications show that housing activity is continuing to weaken. Incoming data in recent weeks show that sales and new residential construction have continued to fall. In such an environment, house prices are likely to remain flat, if not actually decline.

More to come

But a bigger problem, he said, is that most of the adjustable rate mortgage resets have yet to occur. That means many more homeowners could face unaffordable increases in their mortgage payments and this year's record foreclosure rate could quickly be eclipsed.

On average, in each quarter from now until the end of next year, monthly payments for more than 400,000 subprime mortgages are scheduled to undergo their first interest rate reset, Kroszner said.

That number is up from roughly 200,000 per quarter during the first half of 2007. Delinquencies and foreclosures are therefore likely to continue to rise for a number of quarters.

 

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Feds Scam Vets, Lawsuit Charges

AAFES illegally calculating military credit card payments

The AAFES is breaking the law by taking money from soldiers and veterans who have military credit card debts that were either improperly calculated, too ol...


The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) is breaking the law by taking money from soldiers and veterans who have military credit card debts that were either improperly calculated, too old to collect or both, according to a lawsuit suit filed by Public Citizen in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco.

Public Citizen filed the suit on behalf of veteran Julius Briggs and a class of soldiers and veterans nationwide.

For years, the AAFES has offered credit cards, known as Military Star cards, to military personnel to purchase uniforms and other items from the stores it operates on military bases.

If a service member is delinquent in paying a debt, the government has the right to deduct the money owed from the members government benefits or tax refunds. The government can add interest, penalties and administrative costs as permitted by the credit card contract or federal law.

AAFES, however, is not permitted by law to collect debts that have been outstanding for more than 10 years or amounts in excess of what the contract allows. In improperly collecting these debts, the AAFES has steadily appropriated millions of dollars from soldiers and veterans nationwide, Public Citizen says.

It is shocking that a U.S. government agency would illegally take this money from veterans who have served our country well, particularly from those veterans who may be depending on government benefits, said Deepak Gupta, an attorney for Public Citizen who is working on the lawsuit.

Briggs, the plaintiff, is a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Army and Army Reserves with an honorable record. He served in Germany and later in Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm.

While on active duty in 1977, he suffered a back injury that has since limited the number and types of jobs he can take.

Since 2004, the U.S. government has withheld more than $2,300 in federal payments to Briggs to pay an AAFES debt that was outstanding more than 10 years.

The withheld payments have caused Briggs to be unable to pay his housing costs, leaving him homeless for several periods over the past few years. Not only has the government collected money beyond the time limit, but it also has inflated the amount due through improper interest rate calculations.

With any luck, this lawsuit will force AAFES to stop collecting money that it has no right to take, said Briggs.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against further illegal collection of debts by AAFES and restitution of all funds inappropriately collected.

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Comcast Sued Over Internet Blocking

Lawsuit alleges deceptive marketing and misleading of customers

Comcast Sued Over Internet Blocking...

A Comcast customer in California has sued the cable giant over its practice of blocking and limiting access to peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing services such as BitTorrent.

The suit alleges Comcast misled customers by promising "unfettered access to all the Internet has to offer," then secretly preventing customers from using file-sharing services to upload video and audio content.

Jon Hart, the plaintiff in the suit, filed his claim after news reports about Comcast's blocking subscribers from using BitTorrent to upload files for sharing across the Web.

Associated Press reporter Peter Svensson said he conducted tests and noted that large file transfers would trigger messages blocking large uploads that appeared to be from one of the users involved in the file transfer, but were actually from Comcast itself.

The lawsuit claim, filed by the Lexington Law Group on behalf of Hart, states that Comcast has "materially and fundamentally breached the duty of good faith and fair dealing" owed to its customers by blocking file-sharing applications without notifying customers.

Comcast has repeatedly stated that it does not block access to P2P applications, even posting a statement on its Web site reiterating that claim. But observers have noted that blocking access to applications is not the issue -- rather, that the regular usage of the application is being interfered with.

Comcast has also been castigated for its practice of canceling customer accounts for excessive bandwith usage, often with no explanation given.

The company refuses to disclose its caps on usable bandwith, apparently for fear of giving advantages to competitors who don't use caps or who may disclose them upfront.

Net Neutrality At Stake

The discovery of Comcast's traffic blocking reignited debate over "net neutrality," the concept that Internet users should be able to access all content on the Web equally, and that providers should not block access to content or favor their own content over others' offerings.

Members of the SaveTheInternet.com coalition filed a complaint with the FCC on November 1, accusing Comcast of violating several of the FCC's policy principles for Internet usage, including accessing all content lawfully and legally, and using their choice of applications to do so.

"Comcast is secretly degrading peer-to-peer protocols, threatening to undermine the Internets open and interconnected character, discourage broadband use, and crippling the innovation the Internet has made possible," the coalition groups said in the complaint.

The generally industry-friendly FCC has been slow to support new regulations for net neutrality, preferring to investigate complaints and enforce rules after the fact.

FCC chair Kevin Martin has made a legislative priority of investigating cable business practices and applying new regulatory pressure on the cable industry during his tenure, while largely granting the every wish of telecom companies such as Verizon and AT&T, which are now competing with Comcast and other cable companies in the high-speed Internet and video fields.

The telecom-funded lobby group Hands Off The Internet recently announced its support for the complaint against Comcast, a move industry insiders largely considered an attempt to gain good press from net neutrality supporters at Comcast's expense.

As Media Access Project's Harold Feld pointed out, each side has claimed its network is better than its competitors, and "If Comcast can claim to have a network as good as the telco networks without actually spending the money to make that true, then the telcos just dropped a couple of billion in investment for no good reason."

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Canadians Crushed By Credit Card Debt

Loonie soars but so does unsecured debt

Canadians Crushed By Credit Card Debt...

The U.S. isn't the only nation buried by massive consumer debt.

Several recent studies have found that many Canadians are struggling with tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt, and 90 percent of those surveyed felt that they were deeper in debt than they were five years ago.

One survey of 4,000 Canadians found that 28 percent of the respondents had no idea what the interest rate on their credit card was; 25 percent of the respondents had consumer debt between $10,000 and $40,000, not counting debt from mortgages; 53 percent of Canadians surveyed said they had no budget for their income.

The top worry for the survey participants was having money saved for emergencies, but 53 percent of the respondents felt they would be able to retire between 60 and 65, despite having little or no money saved.

The surveys were conducted as part of "Credit Education Week," a nationwide event from November 13 to 16, co-sponsored by the global financial industry and Credit Canada, a nonprofit credit counseling service.

The findings substantiate the need for greater education on key personal finance issues including credit, savings, and retirement planning, said Credit Canada's Laurie Campbell.

It is critical for Canadians to have the knowledge and capacity to effectively manage their finances today in order to plan for and build a stronger future.

A study released in October by the Lafferty Group found that while Canadians had fewer credit cards, less debt on their credit cards, and paid their balances in full more regularly than Americans, the number of credit cards in Canada overall actually increased by 7 percent over the previous three years, compared to a yearly one percent decline for American credit cards.

Canada In Crisis

Although the slide of the American dollar against the Canadian loonie has boosted the spending power of Canada's consumers, the country is by no means insulated from the meltdown of the mortgage market and corresponding credit crunch.

The Financial Post reported this week that Canada's major banks were quietly cutting the discount rate on mortgages sold at "prime" interest rates, shoring up bank profits by passing increased costs on to the homeowner.

The Post quoted Monster Mortgage vice-president Vince Gaetano as saying "The banks are going to make their profits somewhere and that's what they are doing."

Royal Bank of Canada, the country's biggest bank, said Tuesday that it would take a fourth-quarter loss of 160 million Canadian dollars, or $167.3 million, as a result of its holdings in securities bolstered by U.S. mortgages. The Bank of Nova Scotia quickly followed suit with an announcement that it was writing down $135 million ($141 million in American dollars) as a result of exposure to the subprime mortgage market.

 

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Top Safety Awards Go to 34 Cars, SUVs and a Pickup

Number of top awards more than doubles this year

Top Safety Awards Go to 34 Cars, SUVs and a Pickup...


Honda and Ford led list the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for safest vehicles in 2008.

The Toyota Tundra is the first full-size pickup truck to make the "Top Safety Picks" of the insurance institute.

In all, 34 vehicles earned the IIHS safety award for 2008. The group recognizes vehicles which it considers do the best job of protecting people in front, side, and rear crashes based on crash.

Every vehicle on the list has electronic stability control (ESC), which IIHS research indicates can significantly reduce the risk of crashing.

The 34 vehicles from the 2008 model-year include eight from Ford Motor Co., the Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX, Taurus and Taurus X, Mercury Sable, and the Volvo unit's S80, XC90 and C70.

Honda Motor Co. had seven vehicles on the list. They are the Odyssey, Element, Pilot, Accord, CR-V and the Acura MDX and RDX.

Hyundai, Subaru and Audi all had three vehicles on the IIHS list. Chrysler LLC had none.

General Motors Corp.'s new Saturn VUE, which will be built starting in December, is included because of an improved head restraint system.

Also on the list are GM's Saab 9-3 and 9-3 convertible.

11 NEW WINNERS FOR 2008

Midsize cars
Audi A3
Honda Accord

Small car
Subaru Impreza equipped with optional electronic stability control

Minivan
Honda Odyssey

Midsize SUVs
BMW X3
BMW X5
Hyundai Veracruz built after August 2007
Saturn VUE built after December 2007
Toyota Highlander

Small SUV
Honda Element

Large pickup
Toyota Tundra

ALL 34 WINNERS

Large cars
Audi A6
Ford Taurus with optional electronic stability control
Mercury Sable with optional electronic stability control
Volvo S80

Midsize cars
Audi A3, A4
Honda Accord
Saab 9-3
Subaru Legacy with optional electronic stability control

Midsize convertibles
Saab 9-3
Volvo C70

Small car
Subaru Impreza with optional electronic stability control

Minivans
Honda Odyssey
Hyundai Entourage
Kia Sedona

Midsize SUVs
Acura MDX, RDX
BMW X3, X5
Ford Edge, Taurus X
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai Veracruz built after August 2007
Lincoln MKX
Mercedes M class
Saturn VUE built after December 2007
Subaru Tribeca
Toyota Highlander
Volvo XC90

Small SUVs
Honda CR-V, Element
Subaru Forester with optional electronic stability control

Large pickup
Toyota Tundra

A number of vehicles almost made the Best Pick list. Volkwsagen's Eos, Jetta, Passat and Rabbit, as well as Nissan's Pathfinder, Xterra, Quest and Infiniti M35/M45, would have made the list if they had better head restrains, according to says Institute President Adrian Lund.

Also close but not quite on the list are the Toyota Prius, Avalon, Camry, RAV4 and Sienna.

ALSO RANS
Twenty-three vehicles earn good ratings in front and side crash tests. They have ESC, standard or optional. They would be 2008 Top Safety Pick winners if their seat/head restraints also earned good ratings:

  • Acura RL, TL
  • BMW 3 series
  • Chrysler Sebring convertible
  • Infiniti M35/M45
  • Kia Amanti
  • Lexus IS 250/350, ES 350, GS 350/460
  • Nissan Pathfinder, Xterra both with optional side airbags
  • Nissan Quest
  • Toyota Avalon, Camry, FJ Cruiser, 4Runner, Prius, RAV4, and Sienna
  • Volkswagen Eos, Jetta, Passat, Rabbit

 

Lund said his organization would continue to toughen the "Top Safety Pick" program.

 

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Group Warns Of 10 Worst Toys Of 2007

Toxins, sharp objects, ingestion hazards galore

Group Warns Of 10 Worst Toys Of 2007...

November 14, 2007
Fisher-Price's "Go Diego Go" animal rescue boat tops the 10 Worst Toys of 2007 list assembled by a Boston consumer group. It was subject to a recall in October because of potential lead ingestion injuries.

World Against Toys Causing Harm, or WATCH a Boston-based consumer group says it had a hard time narrowing its list to 10 this year.

There is simply no excuse for the sale of toys containing known poisons such as lead. Research has shown that exposure to this neuro-toxin can have serious long-term effects, particularly for children, WATCH said in a statement.

Rounding out the top ten are

Sticky Stones, which have the potential for choking and internal injuries;

Jack Sparrows Spinning Dagger, flagged for its potential eye and other impact injuries;

Dora the Explorer Lamp, which WATCH points out is an electric appliance and not a toy;

Lil Giddy Up Horse, cited for its potential for ingestion or aspiration injuries;

Spider Man 3 New Goblin Sword, which WATCH says is too much like a real sword instead of a toy; Hip Hoppa, singled out for potential head and other impact injuries;

BLoonies Party Pack, cited for potential chemical ingestion and burn injuries;

My Little Baby Born, spotlighted for its potential to cause choking; and Rubber Band Shooter, making the list for its potential to cause eye injuries.

The alarming number of recent toy recalls is evidence of an industry that has put profits before child safety, WATCH said in a statement.

Many of the recalls issued were the result of lead and small parts violations both hazards are well known by manufacturers and have no place in childrens products. Yet, toxic toys with excessive lead content accounted for at least thirty toy recalls, representing over five million units, since W.A.T.C.H.s 2006 '10 Worst Toys' conference.



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Sony: Dust Voids PlayStation 3 Warranty

Dust damage falls under 'Act of God' clause, Sony claims

Digging in its heels, Sony refused to share the photos of the dusty machine with the consumer and said he would have to file a subpoena to get them....

Irate consumers say Sony is taking a hard line on PlayStation 3 warranty repairs, in one case refusing to honor the warranty of a consumer whose PlayStation 3 is too dusty.

Digging in its heels, Sony refused to share the photos of the dusty machine with the consumer and said he would have to file a subpoena to get them.

According to "Ive," who filed a complaint on The Consumerist, a consumer blog, his PlayStation 3 would not read a disc he inserted and then would not eject it.

Despite the fact that Ive no longer had the receipt, Sony customer care said the product would still be under warranty and gave him instructions on how to return the defective product.

Five days later he received a call from "Neil" at Sony who says they had taken pictures of the inside and outside of the case and that it is too dusty to be eligible for repair or replacement.

Ive explained to Neil that in the eight months he has owned his PlayStation 3 it has never moved from his entertainment center, which holds other functioning electronic devices, and that he wiped clean the exterior before he shipped it.

"I told him that someone needed to double check because I really took care of my PS3 and there was no way it was so dirty that they wouldn't replace it," Ive wrote on The Consumerist.

Neil said he would look into it and he called the next day to inform Ive that there was no error and that after reviewing photos of the excessive loads of dust on the exterior and interior of his console, he would have to pay a $150 out-of-warranty replacement fee.

When Ive asked to see the photos, he was transferred to a supervisor, "Daria Wu," who told him he would have to subpoena Sony for them. She said that his warranty was voided under the "Acts of God/Customer Abuse" clause of his warranty.

Ive asked Wu if he could record the conversation so he could educate other consumers and Wu "snapped" back at him that he could not and that his only options were to pay the $150, have his defective machine sent back or to do do nothing and Sony would automatically ship it back in 10 days.

"I'm not paying $150 for someone to use an air compressor to dust off my PS3 re-test it and send it back," Ive wrote. "Maybe Sony should let their customers know that excessive dust voids the warranty so that people can start selling air filter sets for it and air-sealed boxes for the PS3 to sit in."

Ive told Wu to keep the console so that he could build a defense by sending e-mails and making phone calls until his unit is fixed. She responded that all phone calls and e-mails go through her and that she'd make sure it doesn't get fixed.

Wu did not return two phone calls by ConsumerAffairs.com and Sony's press office did not return a phone call and an e-mail.

In a later phone call to Sony's customer service department, Ive recorded a customer service representative saying excessive dust does not void the warranty. The recording can be heard on The Consumerist and here is the transcript:

Ive: I'm calling just to pretty much clarify the PS3's warranty, if there's any clause in the warranty that makes it so that if the PS3 is too dusty that the warranty is void.

CSR: No.

Ive: No?

CSR: No. The only way that it, um, voided is if it was neglected, um, abused, dropped or anything like, modificated like if you opened it up, modification, if you didn't have your receipt, um, any power failures like mother nature or anything like that then that actually does void the warranty. Other than that any defective PS3s or anything like that is still, um, still under the warranty.

Consumers who believe they have been cheated by companies that bend warranty rules should file a complaint with ConsumerAffairs.com, their state attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission.

As of this writing, ConsumerAffairs.com has received no complaints regarding the PlayStation 3's warranty. However, we have received 1,049 complaints from consumers whose Microsoft Xbox 360 suffered from the famed red rings of death just before the 90-day warranty expired. Microsoft extended that warranty to one year Dec. 26, 2006 and on July 6, 2007 Microsoft promised to spend $1 billion fixing the machines, but still ConsumerAffairs.com receives almost daily complaints from consumers whose Xbox 360s continue to fail, often multiple times, during and after the one-year warranty.

ConsumerAffairs.com has received no complaints regarding Nintendo Wii's warranty and many industry professionals have heralded Nintendo's warranty program as one of the best in the business.

 

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FCC Chief Seeks New Restrictions On Cable TV

Stepped-up regulation comes as telecoms turn up the heat on cable

FCC Chief Seeks New Restrictions On Cable TV...

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin is advocating new regulations for the cable television industry that may level the playing field for smaller competitors -- but which may also leave cable incumbents vulnerable to challenges from big telecom companies.

Martin's plans are outlined in the commission's annual report examining the state of competition in the cable television market, according to an FCC official who got an early look at the report.

The strategy is built on an obscure section of the 1984 Cable Act called the "70/70 Rule." It provides that if 70 percent of American households can receive cable services, and 70 percent of those households subscribe, the industry is once again subject to greater federal control.

Martin's plans including slashing the "lease access" payments that smaller television programmers pay large cable companies to use spare channels, and to impose a national "ownership cap" that would prevent any single cable company from having more than 30 percent of available subscribers in a region.

Sources say Martin is confident that he has enough votes on the commission to pass the proposed changes.

Although the report will not be released until the FCC's November meeting, the leaked plans set the technology and communications world abuzz. Consumer groups largely hailed the plan as a welcome change for the largely monopolistic and anticompetitive cable industry, while cable executives were considerably less enthused.

"Twisting statistics in order to breathe life into this rule is simply another attempt to justify unnecessary government intrusion into a marketplace where competition is thriving and new technology is providing consumers more choices, better programming and exciting new interactive services," said Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA).

Cable crusade

Martin's proposed plans are the latest salvo in his crusade to change the cable industry. He has lobbied extensively for cable companies to carry "a la carte" programming, where customers only pay for the channels they want. The "a la carte" model, which won support from providers like Cablevision, was part of Martin's desire to appeal to religious conservatives who disapproved of cable providers' more sexually explicit channels.

Consumer groups also largely support "a la carte" models of programming, as it prevents subscribers from paying high fees to subsidize less popular channels that are bundled with better-known offerings.

More recently, Martin proposed rules that would outlaw apartment building managers and condominium associations from granting exclusive contracts to cable providers, claiming the practice harmed competition and subjected low-income families to high cable prices.

Challenges to cable's domination couldn't come at a worse time for the business, as aggressive competition from Verizon's FiOS service and AT&T's U-Verse are chipping away at cable's success. Time Warner Cable's earnings for the third quarter of 2007 showed its penetration rate in territories dropping to 50 percent, losing 83,000 subscribers in some of its biggest areas.

And cable heavyweight Comcast is under fire from consumer advocates and net neutrality supporters after the discovery that the Philadelphia-based company actively interferes with users' traffic, including blocking usage of the popular BitTorrent file-sharing service.

Hidden agenda?

Martin's pro-regulation stance towards the cable industry is unusual, given his marked tendency towards limiting government's role in business in almost every other respect.

Even as news of Martin's plan was leaked, the FCC chair was being criticized for rushing a planned vote on relaxing rules against media consolidation. Several Senators introduced legislation specifically designed to slow down the process and grant consumers more time to voice objections.

Martin has seldom crossed his friends in the telecom industry, doing his part to shepherd the mega-merger of AT&T and BellSouth late last year, creating the world's largest telecommunications company. Martin has also aggressively supported new video franchising rules that enable telecom companies to bypass state and local ordnances to roll out their video offerings--ordnances that cable competitors comply with.

Even when the major telecom companies were implicated in the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program, Martin declined to use the FCC's power to investigate, citing national security concerns and the fear of divulging state secrets.

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Think Twice Before Buying an Extended Warranty

Service contracts depend on the retailer's whims

Think Twice Before Buying an Extended Warranty...


Consumers continue to spend extra money on service contracts -- so-called extended warranties -- when they purchase a major appliance or piece of electronic equipment. But increasingly, consumers are frustrated when they try to use these insurance policies.

Complex terms can make the contracts difficult to enforce. And it also seems that many retailers who sell these contracts can just refuse to pay off. After all, they wrote the contract and know its loopholes intimately.

Case in point -- Ahron, of Lexington, Kentucky, tells ConsumerAffairs.com that he recently took his laptop computer to Best Buy for a repair under his three-year in-store warranty.

Cracked case

The computer casing had started to crack in three areas a manufacturing defect that Ahron says was clearly covered under the warranty. The casing on his computer had never been opened and no liquid had ever been spilled on the keyboard, he says, conditions that would have voided any warranty.

When I arrived at Best Buy I presented my problem to the technician. He told me this should definitely be covered but it would have to be shipped off for a couple of weeks for the casing to be repaired, Ahron said.

In less than a week Ahron says he received a call from Best Buy, informing him that parts had previously been removed from his computer, meaning the casing had been opened and the warranty, therefore, was void. Ahron said he asked to speak to a supervisor.

About an hour or more later I received a call back from the same technician, who told me he had spoken with a manager and that nothing could be done to help me because the liquid spilled on the keyboard had voided my in-store warranty, Ahron recalled. When I told the technician that nothing was mentioned about liquid before he denied ever telling me parts had been removed.

Ahron said he believes the company simply didnt want to pay for the repair to his computer and fabricated a reason not too. And hes not alone.

A matter of time

Mark, of San Diego, said he opted for a four-year extended warranty when he purchased a plasma TV in April 2003. Because he was traveling extensively in his job with the Department of Defense, Mark arranged to have the TV delivered in September, five months later.

The TV was delivered September 13, 2003 and the Best Buy installers attached it to my wall, hiding all the wires on Sept 17, Mark told ConsumerAffairs.com. The TV operated fine until Sept 4, 2007, when it suddenly went out. Although I thought I still had a few more days left on the extended warranty Best Buy informed me that the warranty had started 5 months before I received the TV.

Mark took Best Buy to Small Claims Court and won. In the process, he made some interesting discoveries.

I found out from Samsung that the TV was manufactured in Korea 17 days after Best Buy said the warranty started, he said.

Interestingly, Samsung showed the date of purchase as September 13, 2003, the date Mark received the set. Samsungs 24-month manufacturer's warranty began on that date.

The judge ruled that I am entitled to costs of Best Buys repair service visit on Sept 12, 2007 for $100 and to have the TV fixed or replaced, Mark said. Best Buy personnel are the only people that I speak to that cannot understand why. Even the judge spent most of the time explaining it to them.

Yet despite experiences like Ahrons and Marks, a recent J.D. Power and Associates survey shows consumers continue to buy service contracts when they purchase major appliances.

Among owners of refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers and laundry appliances, approximately 25 percent report purchasing an extended warranty, while approximately 15 percent of microwave oven owners do so.

Think twice

Extended warranties certainly provide a degree of peace of mind, said Dale Haines, senior director of the real estate and construction industries practice at J.D. Power and Associates. With some appliances -- particularly those with complex electronics and potentially high repair costs -- purchasing an extended warranty may make sense.

"However, major appliances tend to be very reliable, and consumers should consider very carefully -- depending upon their circumstances -- whether an extended warranty is worth the additional cost, Haines said.

Perhaps one other factor should be considered as well.

Will the retailer selling the extended warranty actually honor it, or will it try to weasel out of its obligations, requiring the consumer to drag them into a courtroom to gain satisfaction?

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Texas Sues Yellow Pages Directories

Charges Ad Telamerica defrauds small businesses, charities nationwide

Deceptive mailings, hidden charges and the deceptive use of a well-known corporate logo were all part of a complex scheme to defraud small business owners ...

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed an enforcement action against an allegedly fraudulent Yellow Pages company and its owner for deceiving business owners, nonprofits, churches and other organizations.

Barbara Sommer and her company, Ad Telamerica Inc., which does business as Yellow Pages Directories, are charged with sending misleading direct mail pieces to businesses across the nation.

The mailers suggest that the recipients had a pre-existing relationship with the defendants and therefore owed money to maintain their businesss Yellow Pages Directories advertisement. Although the word free appears in several locations, recipients who think they need to renew their advertisement are required to pay about $300 for the listing.

Deceptive mailings, hidden charges and the deceptive use of a well-known corporate logo were all part of a complex scheme to defraud small business owners and others, said Attorney General Abbott. Texas law provides important protections to shield businesses from false advertising schemes. The Office of the Attorney General will continue to enforce laws that protect small businesses.

Since March 2006, Sommer and her company have mailed more than 2 million deceptive solicitations in an effort to lure customers from across the United States.


Sample mailing, provided by Texas AG

More than 19,000 of those contacted responded to the solicitation forms, which were printed with the words Final Notice in all capital letters, as well as the bolded words listing confirmation form. The form alarms customers by stating that the customers Yellow Pages listing will be omitted if the form is not returned, giving the business the false impression that it previously maintained such a listing.

The customers confirmation form includes the word free in several locations, leading them to believe they will not be billed if the form is returned. However, the business is expected to pay almost $300 for the listing, a detail that unlawfully appears only on the reverse side of the form in tiny print.

State law requires that advertisers clearly and fully disclose advertising costs. The company also includes the familiar walking fingers logo in its correspondence, which falsely implies that customers are entering into a business relationship with AT&Ts Yellow Pages.

The Attorney Generals legal action, brought under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA), requests that the court order restitution to recipients who were harmed by this scheme. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties of $20,000 per violation of the DTPA, as well as reasonable attorneys fees.

 

More Scam Alerts ...

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Honda Lawn Mowers Recalled

Honda Lawn Mowers Recalled...

November 8, 2007
American Honda Motor Corp. is recalling about 22,000 lawn mowers because of a fire hazard.

Due to a manufacturing defect, a crack can occur in the fuel tank causing a fuel leak. If gasoline leaking from the fuel tank is ignited, a fire or explosion can occur.

American Honda Motor Corp. has received six reports of fuel leakage. No fires or injuries have been reported.

The recall involves HRX walk-behind lawn mowers with model numbers HRX217KHXA and HRX217KHMA. Only serial numbers from 1400001 through 1453714 are included in the recall. The model and serial number are printed on a label located on the upper rear of the deck. The lawn mower is dark gray with a red engine cover.

The mowers were sold at Honda Lawn and Garden dealers nationwide, including The Home Depot stores, from January 2007 through September 2007 for between $800 and $900. They were made in the United States.

Consumers should stop using these recalled lawn mowers immediately and contact any Honda Lawn and Garden dealer to have the fuel tank replaced. Registered owners of the recalled lawn mowers will be mailed a notice.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Honda at (800) 426-7701 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firms Web site at www.hondapowerequipment.com.

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

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Sprint, T-Mobile Prorate Termination Fees

Last of four major carriers to adopt customer-friendly policies

Sprint, T-Mobile Prorate Termination Fees...

Bowing to pressure from consumers and competition from rival telecoms, Sprint and T-Mobile say they'll lighten up on their contract terms.

Sprint announced yesterday that it would implement changes to its contract policies such as prorating early termination fees (ETFs) over the life of a customer contract. Sprint customers will also be able to make changes to their rate plans without having to renew existing contracts, the company said.

"Giving our customers a superior experience is our first priority," said Sprint executive Bob Johnson. "We are introducing programs to reward our customers and show our appreciation for their business. Rewarding their loyalty is a first step in gaining their trust."

The very same day, T-Mobile announced that it too would revise its contract policies to prorate ETFs. T-Mobile provided few details about its policy, beyond a rollout date sometime in the first half of 2008.

T-Mobile is widely recognized as the undisputed service leader in wireless. We want to do everything possible to create a great experience so customers want to stay with us for years, said T-Mobile senior vice-president Susan Nokes.

All four major wireless carriers in the United States now have policies that lower contract cancellation fees over the life of the contract. Early termination fees have been a longstanding bone of contention in the wireless market, with customers and consumer advocates arguing that the steep fees discourage subscribers from switching plans and lock them into a service they may not be happy with.

Verizon takes the lead

Perhaps sensing a rise in consumer dissatisfaction, Verizon Wireless was the first carrier to announce that it would prorate ETFs in June 2006, but customers would have to renew their agreements to take advantage of the new terms.

It was not until over a year later that Verizon changed its contract policy to enable customers to change their plans without renewing contracts.

The other wireless carriers continued to impose full termination fees, but the tide began to turn when both the FCC and Congress announced they would be looking into limiting termination fees and restricting carriers from forcing customers to renew contracts in order to change service plans.

California's Supreme Court ruled in October 2007 that a class action lawsuit against T-Mobile over the steep cost of the termination fees could proceed. T-Mobile may have changed its policies to preempt the suit and prevent other disgruntled customers from filing claims in other states.

And Sprint, already struggling with customer losses and the resignation of its CEO, most likely made the change just to stay in the game.

 

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Some Statins Linked to Sleep Disruptions

Study finds Zocor may interfere with sleep

Some Statins Linked to Sleep Disruptions...

A popular cholesterol-lowering drug appears to disrupt sleep patterns of some patients, researchers reported at the American Heart Associations Scientific Sessions 2007.

The findings are significant because sleep problems can affect quality of life and may have adverse health consequences, such as promoting weight gain and insulin resistance, said Beatrice Golomb, M.D., lead author of the study and an associate professor of medicine and family and preventive medicine at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers compared two types of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins -- simvastatin, which is soluble in fats, and pravastatin, which is soluble in water.

Because simvastatin, the generic name for Zocor, is fat-soluble it can more readily penetrate cell membranes and cross the blood brain barrier into the brain. The brain controls sleep, and many of the brains nerve cells are wrapped in a fatty insulating sheath called myelin.

The results showed that simvastatin use was associated with significantly worse sleep quality. A significantly greater number of individuals taking simvastatin reported sleep problems than those taking either pravastatin or the placebo, Golomb said. On average, the water-soluble statin had a greater adverse effect on sleep quality.

Earlier studies

In past studies and case reports, some people on statins reported having insomnia or nightmares.

Several small studies were done early on, including those focused on fat-soluble versus water-soluble statins, Golomb said. Most (researchers) didnt see a difference in sleep, but they had short durations of follow-up and enrolled just a handful of people -- often fewer than 20, which was not enough to see a difference unless it was very large.

One of these studies did report a significant difference between pravastatin and simvastatin. But without more and bigger studies, an effect was not considered to be established.

In this study, researchers tested 1,016 healthy adult men and women for six months in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial using simvastatin, given at 20 milligrams (mg), pravastatin at 40 mg, or a placebo.

They assessed outcomes with the Leeds sleep scale, a visual analog scale of sleep quality, and a rating scale of sleep problems. Both scales were measured before and during treatment.

Those who reported developing much worse sleep on study medication also showed a significant adverse change in aggression scores compared to others, Golomb said We should also point out that although the average effect on sleep was detrimental on simvastatin, this does not mean that everyone on simvastatin will experience worse sleep.

Researchers did not include patients with heart disease or diabetes due to concerns about assigning these people to placebos.

Patients taking simvastatin who are having sleep problems should consult with their doctor, Golomb said. Sleep deprivation is a major problem in a minor number of people.

 



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How Safe Is Your Prescription?

Wrong drugs, incorrect dosages are more common than you might think

The study, released in July 2006, showed that at a minimum, 1.5 million consumers annually are killed, injured, or made sick by drug errors....

As an expectant mom, Kendra of Brooklyn, New York wanted the best for herself and her baby. Part of that care was a prenatal vitamin.

My doctor gave me a prescription for the prenatal vitamin, Primacare One, wrote Kendra. I dropped off my prescription at the CVS pharmacy and when I returned to pick up the prescription, I was instead given Prednisone.

The problem Kendra encountered is one of the most common prescription errors -- the kind that occurs when a pharmacist cant read the prescription properly. Instead of contacting the authorizing physician to confirm the prescription, the pharmacist plays Russian roulette with someone elses life.

Kimberly, of Hudsonville, Michigan, ran into a similar problem at Walgreens.

Kim wrote that the pharmacist couldnt read the prescription and assumed it said Corgard, a blood pressure drug. However, Kimberlys husband didnt need a blood pressure drug. He needed Cortef, a drug to treat his brain tumor.

Walgreens was also the target of another complaint, this time from Elana, who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island.

Elana said that her five-year-old daughter spent a very uncomfortable and scary five hours in the emergency room due to lethargy and vomiting. The Walgreens pharmacist gave the correct medicine, but it was 10 times the prescribed dosage, complained Elana.

Light rings

How would you like to use an eye drop to help your vision and instead end up seeing rings around street lights? A Mount Laurel, New Jersey man knows exactly how it feels.

I talked with Earl, who visited his CVS pharmacy for a prescription eye medication. He carefully read the box which said to put a drop in the left eye every six hours.

No problem, Earl thought. But it was a problem, because when Earl later read the paper instructions, he saw that the medication was for ear use only.

I called CVS and found that they gave me the wrong medicine. Now I have only one good eye, and CVS didnt even say they were sorry, said Earl.

No apologies

Not hearing Im sorry after a pharmacy mistake is typical, according to one California-based pharmacist who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

We are told to never apologize for giving a wrong prescription because it automatically implies guilt. I suppose the company wants to leave that to the attorneys, the pharmacist said.

Unfortunately, pharmacy errors happen more frequently than you might think. The Institute of Medicine took a hard look at prescription errors, including those in hospitals and long-term care facilities. The study, released in July 2006, showed that at a minimum, 1.5 million consumers annually are killed, injured, or made sick by drug errors.

Then there are the errors that are never caught or reported, not to mention the debate as to what constitutes an error.

How they happen

ConsumerAffairs.com contacted pharmacists across the country in an attempt to learn how mistakes happen -- and what you can do to make sure it doesnt happen to you. Not surprisingly, many of those we contacted did not want their name or city published.

So how do mistakes happen?

There were common themes among pharmacists we interviewed. The first:

Unreadable prescriptions I dont know how some doctors ever passed med school with their lousy handwriting, commented one New Jersey pharmacist. I have to call the doctor to verify the script, then I cant reach the doc, and the whole time the customer is waiting for their medicine.

If I see one big problem, its with the doctors writing, said Dan Freund, owner of a Medicap pharmacy in Farmington, Missouri. If Im wrong about one little letter, it could change the name of the drug. Its even worse if its a first-time customer. And Im trying to read this chicken-scratch while working in a busy environment.

That busy environment leads to the second biggest issue for pharmacy employees:

Never-ending distractions Its nothing to have someone on the phone, someone at the drive-thru, all while youre trying to fill a prescription. And then someone walks in and starts asking questions, said Susan Freund, Dans pharmacist wife and partner at the Missouri pharmacy.

In pharmacy training, it is drilled into each student that before the prescription is given to the customer, that script needs to be checked three times for accuracy, Susan said. But, unlike a surgeon who is working in a relatively quiet atmosphere, were sometimes trying to verify things in the middle of a phone-ringing circus.

Working in a hectic pharmacy might come with the territory, but when it comes to reading a doctors handwriting, one possible solution might be to get rid of the paper prescription.

Some physicians are now moving to a paperless prescription process. One example is Dr. Raul Borrego, a Missouri internist.

Moving to paperless has slowed me down, but I have no doubt that the chance of a prescription error will lessen, noted Raul. Instead of just jotting down the drug and instructions, I have to input everything into a laptop computer.

Its a very precise system. Once I choose and verify the drug, I then must choose the dosage, frequency, etc. The pharmacy will receive it in text, so they dont have to read my writing. Even my wife says I have terrible handwriting, Borrego said.

"Dont trust us"

It might sound odd for pharmacists to say we shouldn't trust them, but that's what several told us.

I wish more people would ask questions, said one Illinois pharmacy tech. I consider myself good at what I do, but I know I have made a mistake in the past, she said. Customers have to realize we are as human as they are.

What you can do

There are measures you can take to help ensure your prescription isn't among the hundreds of thousands that go awry each year. They include:

Dont be naive. Stay up to date on your condition and medication. Ask your doctor the name of the drug and why it is being prescribed. Once at the pharmacy, ask them the same thing. One simple question from you could alert the pharmacy to a possible error.

Diagnosis If your doctor writes the prescription on paper, ask him or her to write why the drug is prescribed. For instance: "Toprol 100 Milligrams ... for blood pressure." Additionally, make sure you can read the prescription because if you cant, maybe the pharmacy cant either.

• Get a copy. If the physician sends the prescription electronically, ask for a copy.

Get the name. If the prescription is called in, ask the doctor the exact name of the drug. Example: Your doctor says he is calling in an antibiotic ... you ask for the specific name of the antibiotic. Make a note of it and compare it to what the pharmacist gives you.

Verify. Verify the name on the bottle and packaging. Many mistakes arise when the pharmacy gives the wrong prescription based on someone having the same last name.

Go off-peak. Are you filling the prescription at the beginning of the month? According to research, there is an increased chance of error at busy times.

Go online. Use the internet to your advantage. Before taking any medication, verify what the drug is, based on color, shape, or the imprint code. Two good resources are the Pill Identification Wizard from drugs.com, and the RxList Pill Identification Tool.

Mistakes do happen

So what happens when the pharmacy makes a mistake and you know it? ConsumerAffairs.com receives many complaints about drug errors and questions about how to handle the situation.

Suvithia, of Frisco, Texas, wrote that after she received the wrong prescription, the insurance company for Walgreens offered an apology compensation in the hopes of keeping the case out of court.

The insurance company offered $350.00, Suvithia said. My husband and I declined their offer and then we received a letter offering a $1,000.00 settlement.

So what should you do when mistakes happen to you? The answer depends on whether you have been seriously harmed or merely inconvenienced.

Serious harm

If you or a family member suffer grievous harm from an incorrect prescription, or if someone dies because of a pharmacy error, do not contact the pharmacy. You should never try to negotiate a settlement yourself and, just as your insurer tells you not to make any statements after a serious traffic accident, you should not communicate with the pharmacy in any way. You can only hurt your case.

Instead, collect all the evidence -- any remaining medication, hospital and doctor bills, receipts, death certificates, etc. -- and lock them up in a safe place, preferably a safe deposit box.

Also, take notes. Write down what happened and when, get the names of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and everyone else who played a role in the accident. Do it now, while your memory is fresh. Put the notes in the safe deposit box with the rest of the evidence.

Once you have secured all of the evidence, you must find the most accomplished and most experienced personal injury lawyer in your area. Forget everything you have heard about what a litigious society we are and how too many people are filing lawsuits.

The fact is that more than 90% of lawsuits are filed by businesses. It's not lawsuits filed by greviously injured consumers that are clogging the courts. If you have been harmed, the legal system is the place to go for justice. That's why it's there.

You must find the right lawyer. Most lawyers, like most of anything else, are just so-so and most never go to trial and do not aggressively represent personal injury cases. You need to find an accomplished lawyer in your state who: a.) only represents injured consumers and b.) whose practice consists largely of trial work.

Remember that most lawyers represent corporations. You want to find the local Johnnie Cochran, the attorney who defends the little guys -- because all of us are very little guys indeed when we are up against a major corporation.

Otherwise ...

If you are not seriously harmed or killed, there is no reason to hire a lawyer. There is also no reason to expect the pharmacy to do much of anything about the error. Pharmacies won't admit fault, even when no serious injury occurred.

If you believe the pharmacist should be held accountable for being negligent and putting your well-being at risk, you should file a complaint with your state pharmacy board, the entity that licenses pharmacists.

Each state's board has an established complaint procedure. You can find a list of the state boards at the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy Web site.

 



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People to People Invites Dead Girl ... Again

Student tour organization still using direct mail lists to sell its trips

People to People Invites Dead Girl ... Again...

The parents of a baby girl who died in 1992 say they are outraged by what they call the sham marketing tactics used by an organization that organizes educational trips overseas.

Eugene and Margaret Beil of Florida recently received a letter from People to People -- an organization founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower -- inviting their deceased daughter to join other high school students on the groups 2008 summer trip to China.

Their daughter, Katherine, died of multiple birth defects on July 31, 1992, at All Childrens Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.

She was 18 days old. And she never left the hospital, her father, Eugene Beil, told ConsumerAffairs.com.

But this isnt the first time People To People has invited the Beils deceased daughter on one of the organizations trips abroad.

In August, 2006, the couple received a similar letter from People To People stating Katherine was named for the organizations Student Ambassador trip to Europe.

It makes you very angry because it makes you wonder how they could do that to someone," Margaret Beil told WFTS in Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida, after receiving that letter from People To People. "When they die you never forget, I mean, every day you think of them there's no excuse ... it just re-opens the whole death all over again."

Eugene Beil says its outrageous that this has happened again.

Its a sham, says Beil, who lives in New Port Richey, Florida. When we got the first letter, I was extremely upset because not only was it sad to get something in the name of a deceased child, it was also so fraudulent. When they said a teacher recommended her (Katherine) for the trip, we knew that was a lie because our child only lived three weeks. Then I thought about all the people who believed it was an honor that their child received this letter and its not.

What People To People is really doing, he says, is selling expensive overseas trips.

Theyre just a bunch of salesmen. Id hoped they (People To People) were going to do something about this. But instead, all theyve done is tidy up the letter so there are no fraudulent statements. The letter no longer says someone was recommended by a teacherit says theyre invited.

Im very upset about this, adds Beil, who has three other children, ages 17, 13, and 7. Were a family that believes in the value of travel. We travel every year to Rotary conventions. Our kids have been to Denmark, Spain, and Australia.

Concept is OK

The concept behind People to People is worthwhile, Beil says. But the organizations marketing tactics are egregious.

The organization should have stayed as a true non-profit and not gotten involved with the for-profit group, Beil says.

People to People International is a non-profit organization founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Its headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. President Eisenhowers granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower, is the organizations president and chief executive officer.

After the Beils received their first letter from People To People, Eisenhower told us: We all feel very badly that this has happened. This was a matter of human error. It was a mistake and we're trying to make it right. Our intent is to spread happiness -- not to hurt people."

When asked what action her organization would take to prevent this from happening again, Eisenhower referred questions to the president and chief executive officer of the for-profit company that markets the Student Ambassador programs.

That publicly traded company is the Ambassadors Group, Inc. (EPAX) of Spokane, Washington, which sends letters to students nationwide on People To People letterhead.

Jeffery D. Thomas is the companys president and CEO. He also lists his title as CEO of People To People, which Eisenhower says he has authority to do under the companys contract -- even though it's not true.

We're trying to work out a solution with the family in Florida," Thomas told us after the Beils received their first letter from People To People. He declined to elaborate.

Thomas also told us that a list service his company used provided Katherine Beils name. But People To People, he said, may fire that service.

"We've told them that unless we know where you're getting these names -- and can assure us they're not deceased children -- we're not interested in working with you," Thomas said, adding the list service uses multiple sources to gather names.

We contacted Thomas again about the second letter the Beils received in September from People to People.

A spokeswoman for the Ambassadors Groups public relations firm, Meggan Needham of Purple Door Communications, said People to People is absolutely devastated that this happened again to the Beil family. Needham also sent us a written statement Thomas issued about this matter.

We sincerely regret that the parents of Katherine Beil received an invitation letter for their deceased daughter to travel on a People to People Student Ambassador Program again, Thomas wrote.

This time, Thomas blamed a new list service company for the error.

People to People receives the names of students through a variety of sources. One of those sources is Student Marketing Group. Unfortunately, Katherines name was misspelled on the list provided to us by Student Marketing Group and therefore didnt come up when we did our pre-mailing search.

His statement added: There is not a unified, regulated, national database of youth information. In addition there is no way of monitoring youth deaths. We do our best to cross reference the lists provided to us and our list of people that are classified as 'do not invite' for reasons including death. Katherine Beil was one of those names.

What is the Ambassadors Group doing to ensure this doesnt happen to the Beils for a third time? Thomas said his company is investigating the creation of a deceased child registry.

ConsumerAffairs.com contacted the Student Marketing Group, which provided Katherine Beils name. That company did not return our call.

Florida sanctions

Meanwhile, ConsumerAffairs.com learned the Florida Attorney Generals Office reached an agreement with People to People in 2006 to resolve questions about the manner in which the company developed its mailing lists.

Under that agreement, People to People paid $10,000 in costs and fees. It also donated approximately $26,000 in tuition to the Pinellas Foundation -- an educational organization in Florida -- for People To Peoples summer 2008 trips. Thats enough money to send approximately four students on the overseas programs.

The Beils filed a complaint with the Florida Attorney Generals Office after they received their first letter from People To People. Florida officials, however, would not say if the Beils complaint triggered this settlement.

The Beils werent the first parents of a deceased child to receive a recruitment letter from People to People.

In September 2005, a mother in Iowa received a letter from People To People stating her son was named for a Student Ambassador trip overseas. Her son, however, died in 1993. He was seven weeks old.

The Iowa Attorney General's Office criticized People to Peoples letter, saying it misled parents into "believing that their child was selected on merit when that is not the case, and that parents may be manipulated into making substantial expenditures they might otherwise decline to make."

Iowa officials also discovered the organization misled parents during its in-person presentations.

"(Those) also convey the message that students are specially selected as an honor," said Iowa Assistant Attorney General Steve St. Clair. "And we found that representatives with whom our investigator had phone contact described the program in the same manner."

Iowa officials didnt take any legal action against People to People in connection with its letters or presentations. After the incident, however, People to People donated $5,000 to Iowas SIDS Foundation and $20,000 to Blank Childrens Hospital in Des Moines. The organization also agreed to modify its letters and presentations.

But we heard from parents across the country who said People To People continued to send its misleading letter -- and duped students into believing they were hand-picked for the overseas trips that cost an average of $5,000.

ConsumerAffairs.com also discovered that anyone can nominate a student for one of People to Peoples Student Ambassador Programs on the companys Web site.

The online form doesnt ask for any information about the person making the nomination or any reasons why the student would be a good candidate for the program.

Baffled

Back in Florida, Eugene Beil says hes baffled by People to Peoples explanation for sending Katherine a second letter.

Misspelling? What misspelling? The only misspelling is the company left the e off end of Katherines name, he told us. Her last name was spelled correctly.

Beil also isnt convinced that People to People is serious about fixing its mailing list -- and ensuring his family wont receive another devastating letter addressed to Katherine.

The way big business works, money talks and People to People has no incentive to clean up its database unless someone brings legal action, says Beil, who is an attorney. His wife is also a lawyer. Im not sure I want to do that, but Im tempted. If they were hit with a class action lawsuit, they wouldnt do this again.

He adds: People to People needs to say OK, were not going to do all this mass marketing anymore. Were going to try and do this the way it should be done legitimately through recommendations and nominations. Were going to make this program what it purports to be. But unless theres some financial hammer, People to People will probably never voluntarily do that.

Beil also offered some advice to Mary Eisenhower advice he believes will protect the reputation of the organization her grandfather founded.

I would ask Mary to seriously consider stop letting the Ambassadors Group use the name of People to People. Theyre not a non-profit organization. People to People and the Ambassadors group need to go their separate ways.

 

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House Committee Passes Mortgage Reform Bill

Bill aims to save homeowners from foreclosure

House Committee Passes Mortgage Reform Bill: The House Financial Services Committee has passed legislation that would enact major changes to the mortgage l...

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White House Presents Its Consumer Safety Proposals Today

Cool response to Bush plan on Capitol Hill, where rival measures are already pending

White House Presents Its Consumer Safety Proposals Today...

By Truman Lewis
ConsumerAffairs.com

November 6, 2007
The Bush administration presented its plan to beef up product safety today, one week after a Senate committee passed a bill that would give the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) more power and money.

But on Capitol Hill, there were complaints that Bush had omitted the most important part of the proposal: funding.

"I am pleased the President finally recognizes the threat of tainted imports to consumers," said Rep. John D. Dingell, Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. "Unfortunately, there is little new information in today's announcement. In fact, the critical issue of funding is curiously absent from the proposal."

Noting that Congress is already considering legislation to provide increased funding and authority to the CPSC and other agencies, Dingell said his committee would soon hold hearings on Bush's proposals "to determine whether they respond to the problems our Committee has uncovered since the beginning of the year."

Politicians of all stripes have been scrambling to appear concerned about consumer safety following a recent wave of revelations about lead paint on toys, pet food poisonings, unsafe baby seats and other hazards.

It's a far cry from a few months ago, when no one on Capitol Hill or the White House could be bothered to talk about consumer safety. After they took control of Congress, Democrats brushed aside inquiries from consumer advocates about problems at the CPSC.

One prominent Democrat waved off a ConsumerAffairs.com reporter. "Not now, son, we've got a war to deal with," he huffed.

Now, with elections on the horizon and voters outraged about lax safety efforts, both Congress and the White House are hustling to look busy.

The White House proposal calls for a prevention-based regulatory system, meaning that it targets the riskiest products while relying on industry to police itself. Congress is leaning towards a more proactive system that would include stepped-up inspections at ports.

Bush's proposal would grant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) more power to require that importers certify their products meet U.S. standards and require them to take specified steps to prevent contamination.

The CPSC, meanwhile, would be given the authority to require companies to conduct tests to certify that their products meet safety rules. Penalties for violators would be increased. The Department of Homeland Security would have the authority to require that importers post bonds.

Senate action

Last week, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation unanimously voted for the "Consumer Product Safety Reform Act of 2007" and all of its amendments. The bill would boost funds and staff while introducing sweeping reforms to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's regulatory powers.

I think it's a major victory that we finally after years and years and years are starting to take consumer issues more seriously, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), one of the bill's outspoken co-sponsors. The agency's a shadow of its former self. Millions of toys have been recalled and kids have died and I think it's long overdue.

While consumer advocates heralded the vote as a victory, industry leaders are not as pleased about an agency that may soon have enough bite to force manufacturers into stronger consumer protection standards.

In its current form, we are unable to support (the bill) and urge you to make considerable changes to the bill at the mark-up, wrote a coalition of presidents and CEOs of 15 of the nation's largest industry lobbying organizations.

The committee did not make any notable changes at today's mark-up and completely ignored the proposals which those lobbyists submitted.

Those lobbyists are largely concerned with the whistleblower, increased fines and lead ban provisions.

The House is working on a similar piece of legislation which is not as harsh. Most notably, it increases the fines to only $10 million instead of the Senate's $100 million. That bill's mark-up has not yet been scheduled but will likely be before the end of the year.



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Tough Fuel Economy Demands from Senator Clinton

She joins other candidates in supporting 40 mpg by 2020

Senator Hillary Clinton says that, if she's elected president, she'll demand that automakers achieve hybrid-like gas mileage standards as part of her fight...

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Aspirin May Reduce Parkinsons Risk

Study finds NSAIDS may protective effect

The study found regular users of non-aspirin NSAIDs reduced their risk of Parkinsons disease by as much as 60 percent compared to non-regular users and non...

Like Cox-2 inhibitors, over-the-counter pain medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have become suspects in increasing risks of heart attacks and strokes.

But researchers now think NSAIDs may have a beneficial effect too, reducing a persons risk of Parkinsons disease.

The findings are in a study published in the November 6, 2007, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Given our results and the growing burden of Parkinsons disease as people age, theres a pressing need for further studies explaining why these drugs may play a protective role, said study author Angelika D. Wahner, PhD, with the UCLA School of Public Health in Los Angeles.

The study involved 579 men and women, half of whom had Parkinsons disease. The participants were asked if they had taken aspirin and if they had taken non-aspirin NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, once a week or more at any point in their life for at least a month.

Participants were considered regular users of aspirin or non-aspirin NSAIDs if they took two or more pills a week for at least one month. Non-regular users were those who took fewer pills.

The study found regular users of non-aspirin NSAIDs reduced their risk of Parkinsons disease by as much as 60 percent compared to non-regular users and non-users. Women who were regular users of aspirin reduced their risk of Parkinsons disease by 40 percent, especially among those who regularly used aspirin for more than two years.

Our findings suggest NSAIDs are protective against Parkinsons disease, with a particularly strong protective effect among regular users of non-aspirin NSAIDs, especially those who reported two or more years of use, said Wahner. Interestingly, aspirin only benefited women. It may be that men are taking lower doses of aspirin for heart problems, while women may be using higher doses for arthritis or headaches.

Its possible the anti-inflammatory agent in NSAIDs may contribute to the observed protective effect of the drugs, but the exact mechanism isnt clear and further research is needed, said the studys principal investigator Beate Ritz, MD, PhD, with UCLA School of Public Health.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the American Parkinson Disease Association.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 20,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Parkinsons disease, ALS (Lou Gehrigs disease), dementia, West Nile virus, and ataxia.

 



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Industry Paid For Safety Chiefs Trips

Revelations add to pressure for Nord's resignation

Industry Paid For Safety Chiefs Trips...

November 2, 2007
Acting Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Nancy Nord is under more pressure today in the wake of revelations that industries regulated by her agency have paid for her travel.

The Washington Post reports Nord has traveled to China and other destinations with various industries picking up the tab.

According to the report, both Nord and her predecessor, Hal Stratton, took dozens of trips paid for by the toy, appliance and children's furniture industries and others they regulate. The Post cited internal CPSC documents it said showed the connections.

The records reportedly show that Stratton, and then Nord, made nearly 30 trips since 2002 that were at least partially paid by trade associations or manufacturers. In some cases, the Post reports, some industries paying for travel such as the toy industry have been involved in huge recalls of dangerous products.

The Post revelations brought an angry response from Capitol Hill.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said such arrangements should be illegal. He said he would introduce legislation that would "prohibit officials at federal regulating agencies from taking travel funded by the industries under their jurisdiction."

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) he will offer an amendment to a reform bill that would add provisions along the lines suggested by Menendez.

"Regulators should not and must not accept travel from those they regulate -- period," Durbin said.

The new revelations may increase calls for Nords resignation. A leading consumer group, along with the Speaker of the House, have said she should be fired or forced to step down.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), a member of the House committee with key oversight of CPSC, also called for an end to the practice of regulatory officials accepting travel from regulated industries.

Under the Bush administration, the CPSC has become an industry lapdog, instead of an industry watchdog it is supposed to be, Markey said.

Public Citizen, yesterday called on Nord to step down.

Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said it's more than odd that, in a year that has seen an unprecedented number of recalls of unsafe products, the head of the agency designed to protect consumers is calling on lawmakers to reject legislation that would double its budget, beef up its authority and expand its staff.

She also says the CPSCs problems are nothing new.

For far too many years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has failed to properly protect consumers, hiding behind the excuse that it was underfunded and understaffed, Claybrook said. While there was some truth to that statement, it has been ineffective as a shield from criticism because of the very real connections between the CPSC and industry.

Claybrook says the ties between the agency and the industries it regulates were underscored by the administrations recent nomination of Michael Baroody for the CPSCs top job. Baroody was then the executive vice president for the National Association of Manufacturers.

The would-be new chairman had spent most of his professional life as a lobbyist and political operative on behalf of corporate interests, an unreasonable choice for a pro-consumer leadership position, Claybrook said.

The long-time consumer advocate says its apparent to her that the agency is now avoiding any strengthening of the commission if it means that it will interfere with serving corporate interest groups.

She points out that Nord was a corporate lawyer and an official at the United States Chamber of Commerce before joining the CPSC.

Nord drew consumer fire this week when she testified before the Senate Commerce Committee and withheld her support for S. 2045, a measure Claybrook says would greatly strengthen the agency. Claybrook says its apparent the administration doesnt want that to happen.

Nord has failed a critical litmus test by proving she is no friend to consumers, Claybrook said. She does not belong in a position of power and authority and should resign immediately or be relieved of her duties.



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Santa's Feeling Pinched This Year

Consumers say they'll shop later, many will spend less

Santa's Feeling Pinched This Year...


Tis the season to give, but thats not the case for all Americans this holiday season.

According to a new Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll, nearly one-quarter (23%) of respondents anticipate they will spend less than last year.

CRs poll also found that the shopping season may get off to a slower start this year. Only 22 percent of consumers anticipate finishing holiday shopping right after Thanksgiving, compared with 30 percent in 2006.

Forty-five percent of those asked said they do not anticipate finishing their shopping until the second week of December, and 20 percent said they would be pushing it right to December 24th. Approximately 6 percent are resigned not to complete their shopping until after the holidays.

Our findings suggest that consumers are tightening their wallets this year more so than last year, said Tod Marks, senior editor, Consumer Reports. The holiday shopping landscape is vast. Consumers need to make well informed decisions on their budget and on their purchases to alleviate the large bills and possibly disappointed gift recipients.

The poll finds:

Make a List and Check it Twice: Budgets

• If you want to control your spending over the holidays, consider making a budget before you begin to shop. Among the 33 percent of consumers who made a budget for last year, 43 percent managed to stay on budget, with only 8 percent going way over budget.

• Two-thirds of consumers (66%) did not make a budget last year nor do they plan on making one for this year (57%). The most likely candidates for making those budgets are women (47%) and households with young children (53%)

Do You Really Want to Buy That?

• The number one gift consumers are planning to buy for the 2007 holiday season is clothing (71%). That was the category of gifts received in 2006 that triggered the most disappointment among recipients (38%). Fifty percent of men said they were disappointed to receive various types of clothing for the 2006 holidays including socks, sweaters and shirts.

• The number two gift consumers are planning to buy for 2007 is gift cards (62%), followed by electronics (53%)

• This year, the Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll results suggest that gift-givers may want to opt for electronics. The poll found that consumers would most like to receive electronics gifts (19%), followed by gift cards (12%). Men, by far, wanted electronics the most (25%). The top gifts women want are gift cards (15%) and electronics (13%).

• Consumers should look closely at the gifts they receive this holiday they may have been re-gifted. Nearly one-quarter of those surveyed (24%) admitted to re-gifting a present for the 2006 holidays. The most likely suspects are women (27%). Only 21% of men admitted to ever re-gifting.

The Cyber Consumer

• Online shopping this season will continue to be a well-utilized alternative to going to a traditional brick-and-mortar store. The majority of consumers (65%) plan to do at least some holiday shopping online.

• Men (23%) are more likely than women (13%) to do more of their shopping online this holiday season.

Saying No to Extended Warranties Continues

• When buying home electronics or major appliances, 37 percent of consumers will opt for an extended warranty. This percentage is down 5 percent from 2006 when 42 percent of consumers said they would purchase one.

• Consistent with last years findings, shoppers aged 18-34 are more likely to opt for an extended warranty (69%) than others. Thirty-six percent of consumers aged 35-54 said they would purchase an extended warranty, while only 27% of those 55 and older said they would do so.

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New York Sues WaMu and its Appraisers

Companies conspired to inflate appraisals, suit charges

New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that he is suing one of the nations largest real estate appraisal management companies and its pa...

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Consumer Energy Costs Skyrocketing

Poll shows strong support for Congressional action

Consumer Energy Costs Skyrocketing...

As the price of oil rockets past $90 a barrel, consumers face the energy crunch on two fronts: typical winter relief at the gas pump is nowhere in sight, while home heating costs are increasing rapidly.

A new report from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) details the alarming costs that consumers and the country are bearing as Americas energy situation deteriorates.

CFA also released a new poll revealing deep concern among consumers about the worsening energy situation and strong support for three key policies to begin addressing it, including higher passenger vehicle fuel economy standards, the purchase of renewable energy by electric utilities and increased production of biofuels.

While politicians keep important solutions to our urgent energy problems bottled up in Washington, consumers are paying the price, said Mark Cooper, author of No Time to Waste, an economic analysis of three energy provisions passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. Our analysis is that the public has good reason to support these policies.

The report's findings include:

• Over the last five years, household energy expenditures (home heating and gasoline) have nearly doubled, and are now 50 percent more than health care expenditures and 23 percent more than spending on food.

• Americas energy situation has deteriorated dramatically over the past two decades increasing our reliance on hostile nations, and vulnerability to price spikes while U.S. energy policy has remained stagnant, failing to address these urgent problems.

• Three key energy provisions bottled up in Washington could save consumers more than $180 billion between now and 2020.

• Substitute amendment backed by the automobile lobby would achieve only one-quarter of the oil savings provided by the Senate-approved fuel economy provision, which translates into a delay of two vital decades.

The direct consumer pocketbook savings are the largest benefit, but national security and environmental benefits are substantial as well, Cooper added. Taken together, the value of these policies would be well over $400 billion between now and 2020.

The report finds that the public understands the nations dire energy circumstances and supports urgent and aggressive action to address the problem, according to CFA consumer attitude research, undertaken by Opinion Research Corporation in October.

Survey findings include:

• Concern over U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East has grown dramatically and now almost equals concern about prices. Seventy-six percent of those asked express concern over imports (56 percent express great concern). This is almost equal to the 78 percent who express concern about prices (63 percent express great concern).

• An overwhelming majority (84 percent) supports three requirements in Congressional energy legislation: l) higher fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles; 2) the purchase of renewable energy by electric utilities, and 3) expanded production of biofuels.

• An overwhelming majority (75 percent) still supports these proposals after hearing arguments from opponents of the legislation.

• Opposition to these policies is meager (between 13 and 22 percent).

Efforts to weaken or block these policies waste the most critical asset we have to solve our complex energy problem -- time, Cooper concluded. Consumers and the nation cannot afford the go low and slow approach being pushed by the auto manufacturers and electric utilities.

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