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    Battat Recalls 'Magnabild' Magnetic Construction Sets

    January 23, 2008 
    Battat Inc. is recalling about 125,000 'Magnabild' magnetic building sets.

    Small magnets inside the building pieces can fall out. Magnets found by young children can be swallowed or aspirated. If more than one magnet is swallowed, the magnets can attract each other and cause intestinal perforations or blockages, which can be fatal.

    CPSC and Battat have received 16 reports of magnets coming out of the long flexible rods, 1-inch rods, and of the corners of square building pieces. No injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves the 293-piece (item number BB1502H) and the180-piece (item number BB1431H) Magnabild Magnetic Building System sets.

    Both sets come in rotating display cases that contain 1-inch and 4-inch rods with magnets, curved 1-inch rods, triangle and square pieces with magnets, square-shaped plastic building pieces, triangles and 5-sided pieces, and metal balls. The pieces come in different colors. All of the plastic building pieces, except the 4-inch flexible rods, have the word Magnabild in raised lettering on them. The item number is found on a hang tag attached to the set. The product is designed for children older than three years.

    The sets, manufactured in China, were sold at various retailers nationwide and online sellers from 2005 through 2007 for between $30 and $40.

    Consumers should immediately take the recalled Magnabild Magnetic Building System away from children and contact Battat to receive a pre-paid mailer to return the toy and to receive a free replacement product.

    Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Battat at (800) 247-6144 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or visit the firms Web site at www.battaco.com.

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

    Battat Recalls 'Magnabild' Magnetic Construction Sets...
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    De Beers Settles Class Action Suit

    Consumers, diamond merchants to split $297 million


    De Beers, the world's largest diamond importer, settled a class action lawsuit Monday worth $297 million, which would be divided roughly in half between consumers and diamond merchants and resellers.

    The lawsuit charged that De Beers and its subsidiaries violated antitrust, unfair competition and consumer-protection laws by monopolizing diamond supplies, and conspired to control the diamond prices by fixing and raising them as per their discretion.

    The South African company, which controls 40 percent of the world's diamond trade. was also charged with false advertising.

    Under the settlement, De Beers would pay $22.5 million to the "direct purchaser class members and $272.5 million to "indirect purchaser class members."

    Consumers who purchased diamonds from De Beers directly or indirectly between 1994 and 2006 will be eligible to receive a rebate. The rebate amount will be determined based on the quality of the diamond.

    The case is being heard in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey. The next hearing in the case is set for April 14.

    Diamond buyers have until May 19 to file a claim by going to www.DiamondsClassAction.com.

    The lawsuit charged that De Beers and its subsidiaries violated antitrust, unfair competition and consumer-protection laws by monopolizing diamond supplies...
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      Florida Sues Two Website Marketers

      'Business opportunities' deceptive, suit charges


      Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has filed a lawsuit against two Utah companies for allegedly using deceptive practices to get consumers to buy expensive website-creation products and services.

      Imergent, Inc., and StoresOnline, Inc., run seminars in Florida and other states at which they tell consumers they can make a fortune doing business on the internet with the companies' software and related services.

      According to the lawsuit, the companies mislead consumers into thinking their products are easy to use and that they will provide technical support and business partners.

      "Many Florida consumers have been victimized by these types of get-rich-quick schemes and this type of behavior will not be permitted to continue," McCollum said.

      Imergent and StoresOnline lure consumers to seminars at local hotels and other venues with offers of "free training," free meals and free gifts, the complaint alleges. Teams from the companies were in Central Florida late last year and are expected to be in North Florida in the near future.

      More than 80 Florida consumers have complained to the Attorney General about the companies, which frequently make sales presentations in Florida. The complaints state that after paying thousands of dollars, consumers found the software and services were impossible to use and they couldn't get the technical assistance that was promised.

      Instead of providing help, Imergent and StoresOnline referred buyers to other companies with which they have contracts and, according to the lawsuit, these companies wanted consumers to pay thousands more. The lawsuit further alleges the companies failed to deliver on helping consumers find business partners whose products could also be sold.

      The companies also have lawsuits pending against them by Attorneys General in North Carolina, Illinois and California. Other complaints have led to consumer protection agreements in Indiana, Louisiana, Texas and Utah, as well as Australia.

      McCollums lawsuit is seeking compensation for buyers and penalties under the states Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. The lawsuit also calls for changes in the companies' practices including full disclosure of the limited scope of technical assistance.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      Bill McCollum has filed a lawsuit against two Utah companies for allegedly using deceptive practices to get consumers to buy expensive website-creation pro...
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      Keeping Teens Safe Online

      Navigating the treacherous streets of MySpace


      There is one thing about being a teen that every generation experiences. A teen must have a place to hang out, a place to meet and socialize with friends.

      For some of us it might have been the malt shop, for others the mall.

      For today's teen, it's the Internet, especially MySpace, Facebook and other networking sites. These sites generally offer an excellent way for teens to keep up with their friends while making new friends along with the way.

      MySpace has grown to be the behemoth of the social networking websites, thanks in part to its openness that allows teens to be, well, open. But it's this openness that has created a headache for parents, teachers, teens, while raising serious issues of privacy and safety.

      Trying to restore its good name -- and to relieve mounting legal pressure from 49 states and the District of Columbia -- MySpace recently agreed to implement new measures to protect young users from sexual predators. Earlier MySpace had deleted the profiles of approximately 29,000 known sex offenders and predators.

      But deleting known predators doesn't solve the problem of young people who inadvertently give away too much information about themselves, or who, like 13-year-old Megan Meier, fall victim to hoaxes or harrassment.

      While recent research suggests that posting personal information is only one type of behavior that is linked to victimization, there is no doubt that a teen girl who posts too much information makes it much easier for anyone -- cyber-bully, ex-boyfriend or predator -- to find her.

      The acid test

      So, just how effective is MySpace's latest attempt to safeguard teens? We decided to find out for ourselves how difficult it would be to track down teens or their parents. Turns out, it wasn't difficult at all.

      We began by browsing profiles of 18-year-old females in the Midwest, something that any non-MySpace member can do. Out of the first 50 profiles, 36 were set on "public," which meant that we could see the information even though we were not a MySpace member.

      Amazingly, many profiles included details such as where the girl worked, where she went to school, and her first and last name. Additionally, some included cell phone numbers.

      After contacting the local police departments to let them know what we were doing, we called the girls, either at their work or cell phone numbers. Every girl was shocked that we found her.

      We asked a very simple question: What were you thinking when you posted all of your personal information? We heard the same answers each time: "I thought that only my friends would see it," or "I didn't think anything, I just did it."

      Unfortunately, this behavior is not uncommon. You might ask how anyone can be so open and naive as to post an abundance of personal information to the world, especially when it involves a teen girl.

      While it is sometimes argued that the problem is a lack of parental involvement, there are also some profound developmental issues to deal with.

      Teenagers' brains aren't fully developed yet," said Anne Collier, co-director of ConnectSafely.org, and co-author of MySpace Unraveled: A Parent's Guide to Teen Social Networking.

      "The frontal lobe -- the executive part of the brain that controls impulses and thinks through the implications of actions -- isn't developed until people reach their early 20s," Collier said.

      This explains a lot about why teen-aged boys get in as much trouble as they do, but while girls may be generally better behaved, that doesn't mean they aren't also at risk of thoughtlessly putting themselves in danger.

      A profile

      For our next experiment, we created a MySpace profile and did a random search for 16- and 17-year-old girls. We clicked on each of the first 100 profiles that appeared.

      Out of the 100, not one profile was set on "private," a feature that would have required the teen to add us to her "friends" list before we could view her entire page.

      Many of the profiles included so much personal information that a reader would probably know more about the girl than her own parents would. It was markedly worse if the teen included a third-party "survey" on her profile. These surveys are in a question-and-answer format and will ask everything from middle and last name to shoe size.

      Although we did not contact any of these girls directly, we did easily track down some of their parents. Most were upset about what their teen had posted, while one mother said that she had previously disconnected the home Internet connection because of this very problem. Her child had simply created and updated the profile from school or elsewhere.

      Many adults will remember the days of writing in a diary, and there is a good chance you wanted that diary to include a lock. The only way to read your diary was to use the little key that you had hidden away from the world.

      Today's teens use MySpace and other social networking sites as their diaries, but instead of trying to lock their diary (by putting their profile on private), many teens simply leave their diary open to the world.

      "Part of the problem is that the Internet makes it hard to visualize the breadth of our exposure," said Daniel J. Solove, author of The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet.

      "Placing information on a website and writing blog posts and comments feels more akin to chatting with friends, writing a diary, or talking on the telephone than like broadcasting live on television, publishing a novel, or addressing a crowded auditorium," Daniel said.

      What to do

      What's a parent to do?

      Solove recommends that every parent and educator needs to fully understand the potential dangers and problems, then pass that information on to their kids.

      "It is very difficult to force MySpace or Facebook, which have hundreds of millions of profiles, to monitor each one," stated Daniel. "Parents should know what MySpace and Facebook are; they should know what a blog is; they should find out what their children are posting online; and they should teach them about the consequences and how to post responsibly."

      Online safety expert Collier agreed.

      "I'd tell parents to keep those lines of communication with your teenager as open as possible," she said. "Don't overreact or try to ban the Internet, because that's what sends teenagers underground, where they can run into even more trouble than if they're socializing online more openly, with you around."

      A parent can't monitor a child's every online move when their son or daughter is away from home, but every parent has a choice of tools that can be used on their home computer. While filtering software will block certain sites, a teen can easily access the blocked site from another location.

      However, monitoring software can track what your child is saying and seeing, at least on your home computer.

      From chat rooms to MySpace, monitoring software can record the keystrokes and online activities of your child and can send you a "log" of your child's activities online.

      Check out GetNetWise for a list of tools.

      Most of all, parents can't give up.

      "Parents who care enough to ask how to keep their kids safe are the very parents who most probably -- statistically -- have little to worry about," advised Collier.


      Keeping Teens Safe Online...
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      IRS May Limit 'Instant Refund' Loans

      No reason to give money away, consumer groups advise


      With the opening of another tax season, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) and Consumer Federation of America (CFA) are warning taxpayers to steer clear of refund anticipation loans (RALs), one of the most avoidable tax-time expenses.

      New figures reveal that RALs drained the refunds of nearly 9 million American taxpayers in 2006. This figure has declined from a high of 12.4 million in 2004, but still represents $900 million in loan fees, plus over $90 million in other fees.

      In addition, another 10.8 million taxpayers spent $324 million on other types of financial products to receive their refunds.

      The price of RALs has declined significantly for some of the biggest players in the industry, introducing new price competition. Even with lower prices, however, consumer advocates urged taxpayers to avoid RALs.

      Taxpayers can save themselves loan fees altogether by just saying no to quick refund loans, advised NCLC Staff Attorney Chi Chi Wu. Taxpayers shouldnt forget that these are loans, and they carry the risk of loans, including unmanageable debt if your refund doesnt arrive as expected.

      RALs are bank loans secured by the taxpayers expected refund -- loans that last about 7-14 days until the actual IRS refund repays the loan. Thats the first indicator of just how unnecessary most RALs are: Most taxpayers could have their refund in two weeks or less even without the costly loan.

      For a free quick refund, file electronically and have your refund direct deposited to your own bank account, says Jean Ann Fox, Director of Financial Services for CFA, Youll generally receive an e-filed, direct deposit refund within 8 to 15 days.

      Using the most recent data available from the IRS, NCLC and CFA calculate that approximately 9 million taxpayers received RALs in the 2006 tax-filing season (for tax year 2005). For that year alone, about 1 in 14 tax returns involved a RAL.

      Although high, that 9 million figure is much lower than the high of 12.4 million RALs reported for 2004. Part of the 2006 decline, however, is probably due to better reporting.

      In 2006, the IRS required tax preparers for the first time to separately report RALs versus non-loan refund anticipation check (RACs) products. Thus, prior data may have included RACs that were erroneously reported by tax preparers as RALs.

      The IRS data for the first time help determine the amount taxpayers paid for RACs. In 2006, nearly 10.8 million taxpayers received a RAC, at a cost of about $324 million. Taxpayers who have a bank account can avoid the expense of a RAC (generally about $30) by having their refunds direct deposited into their account, which is just as fast.

      In addition, Block customers who received the Emerald Card last year can have their refunds direct deposited onto those cards, and avoid a RAL or RAC.

      The price of a RAL includes several components

      • A loan fee ranging from $32 to $130, which is usually broken down into a Refund Account fee and a Bank Fee.

      • A separate fee charged by the tax preparer, often called an application or processing fee, of about $40. H&R Block does not charge this fee. Jackson Hewitt does not charge the fee in its company-owned stores, but some franchisees might charge a fee.

      In general, the effective annual interest rate (APR) for a RAL can range from about 50% to nearly 500%. If application fees are charged and included in the calculation, the effective APRs range from about 80% to nearly 1,200%.

      Block and JPMorgan Chase have lowered their RAL fees, claiming that these loans bear an effective APR of 36%, which is the traditional small loan rate cap in many states.

      However, these figures do not include the Refund Account fee, which they claim is for the temporary account into which the taxpayers refund is later deposited to repay the RAL. If the Refund Account Fee is included, it more than doubles the APR.

      Nonetheless, Block and JPMorgans price reductions do represent a real and significant reduction in cost to consumers. For example, a RAL in the amount of $2,600, which is the average refund, costs from $57.85 to $110. Taxpayers should avoid RALs in the first place; but if they insist on getting one, they should shop around.

      Tax preparers and their bank partners also offer an instant same day RAL for an additional fee, from $25 to $85. Some of the APRs for an instant RAL of about $1,500 are 168% (Block) and 192% (Chase). Santa Barbara Bank & Trust offers an instant RAL of $1,000, which if the taxpayer applies for a traditional RAL, may be repaid from the proceeds of the second loan. In that case, the instant RAL could be a 1-day loan that carries an APR of over 1400%.

      On January 3, 2008, the IRS issued a request for comments regarding whether it should develop rules restricting the sharing of tax return information to market RALs, RACs, audit insurance and other financial products typically sold to low-income taxpayers.

      It appears that the IRS has taken a modest, but positive step, toward RAL reform. However, the critical question is whether the IRS will actually take action after receiving comments, and write tough rules governing RALs.

      IRS May Limit 'Instant Refund' Loans...
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      States Gear Up to Fight Foreclosure Rescue Scams

      'Rescue' schemes often make matters worse for troubled homeowners

      The wave of foreclosures has brought even more pain to some strapped homeowners a wave of mortgage rescue scams. Some attorneys general are gearing up to counter these fraudulent operations.

      In Iowa, Attorney General Tom Miller has drafted a package of legislation providing new safeguards to people taking out mortgages.

      Miller's package also contains a bill that directly addresses mortgage foreclosure rescue fraud scams that prey on people facing foreclosure by asking them to pay hundreds of dollars for so called assistance or "rescue" from the danger of foreclosure.

      "The problem is these 'rescue scams' just take people's money and fail to do almost anything to help them avoid foreclosure," Miller said. "And they take precious funds from people who are vulnerable and who can least afford to be cheated. This is the definition of adding insult to injury."

      Dan and Patricia Potter, Des Moines residents who were the victims of a questionable foreclosure "rescue" scheme, joined Miller at a news conference last week.

      The Potters were in danger of foreclosure, and paid $795 to a company that claimed it would set up arrangements to help them stay out of foreclosure. But Miller said the company made no attempt to make the arrangements, and then insisted on another $500 payment. The Potters were able to recover about half of the $795.

      "Foreclosure rescue scams are just starting to appear in Iowa," Miller said. "It's a symptom of the overall climate of an avalanche of foreclosures here and all over the country. We need this legislation to prevent the problem flaring up here as it has in many other places," he said.

      In Indiana, Attorney General Steve Carter filed a lawsuit against Indianapolis-based Capital Foreclosure, Inc. seeking nearly $20,000 in restitution for customers and an injunction to halt the company and its operators from illegal practices.

      "Some people lost their homes after placing their trust with this company," Carter said. "The company exploited the vulnerability of its customers who faced foreclosure."

      Carter says nearly 20 people sought "foreclosure rescue" and credit counseling services from Capital Foreclosure and its operators, Eriq Brye, Kenneth Brye and Sallie Brye. Individuals paid fees and other costs that ranged from $40 to as high as $4,100.

      The attorney general's office is seeking customer restitution totaling $19,176 and penalties and costs of up to $5,500 per violation.

      Miller, meanwhile, says foreclosure rescue scams take money people desperately need to address their foreclosure situation, and they may cause people to delay authentic efforts to modify a mortgage and come to terms with lenders that the borrower can afford.

      "Some rescue scams specifically tell people not to contact their lender or loan servicer, and that can just make matters worse," he said.

      Wave of foreclosures has brought even more pain to some strapped homeowners a wave of mortgage rescue scams. Some attorney general are ready to counter the...
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      650,000 Retail Customers Exposed In Data Breach

      Lost data storage tape contains info from JC Penney, others


      A data tape containing information on 650,000 retail customers went missing from the Iron Mountain data storage company's vaults in October, the company reports. The missing tape contains personal information from customers of J.C. Penney and 100 other retailers, including 150,000 Social Security numbers.

      The loss was discovered when GE Money, the financial services branch of General Electric and payment processor for many retail operations, requested the tape from Iron Mountain.

      According to Iron Mountain, the tape was never checked out but could not be found. Representatives of the company claim that there was no evidence the information had been used for identity theft, and that accessing the information on the tape would be difficult without "specialized knowledge."

      An accidental loss of a back-up tape is not an identity theft issue or a crime; it is distinctly different from previous cases of malicious hacking or PC theft," the company said. "Since we notified GE Money of the missing back-up tape in October, there has been no evidence to suggest that any person's identity has been compromised as a result. And we don't know of any incident, ever, when a lost back-up tape has resulted in identity theft."

      Iron Mountain boasts on its Web site that it is "the leader in records and document management, so we know how to protect personal information. We use the strictest safeguards, including encryption, access controls, firewalls, intrusion detection, virus protection, and secure data destruction. We also have redundant systems, to ensure fast recovery in the event of a disaster."

      "You can absolutely depend on Iron Mountain to secure your backup data and ensure quick recovery of your vital information in the event of a loss," the company advertises.

      GE Money has offered to pay for a year's worth of credit monitoring for affected customers.

      Since the discovery of the tape and investigation of the incident, the company has sent letters to customers informing them "We have no reason to believe that anyone has accessed or misused your information. The pieces of information on the tape would not be enough to open new accounts in your name, and we have implemented internal monitoring to protect your account number from misuse due to this incident."

      Covering the tracks

      Exact links between data breaches and identity theft can be difficult to trace, due to many factors, such as the amount of lost or stolen records, what kind of information was lost, and "synthetic identity theft."

      Synthetic identity theft involves taking pieces of different people's personal information and combining them into a new identity, making its misuse harder to distinguish as fraudulent.

      A 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that law enforcement agencies often could not track cases of identity theft back to data breaches, as some instances of fraud did not occur until a year or more after the breach.

      And the amount of exposed personal information continues to grow apace. According to the watchdog Identity Theft Resource Center's 2007 data breach report, there were 448 data breaches last year, exposing over 127 million personal information records to potential identity theft or fraud.

      The missing tape contains personal information from customers of J.C. Penney and 100 other retailers, including 150,000 Social Security numbers....
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      Kids Cough Medicine Recalled Over Dosing Issue

      Warning doesn't go far enough, Public Citizen charges


      This just in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an advisory on cough and cold products for children, three months after the drug manufacturers themselves warned the products might be harmful to children under age two.

      In a Public Health Advisory for parents and caregivers, the agency recommends that over-the-counter cough and cold products should not be used to treat infants and children less than 2 years of age because serious and potentially life-threatening side effects can occur.

      Most U.S. pharmacies began to remove those products after the drug company's warning, issued on October 12, 2007. However, the recall was voluntary and not all of the products were immediately removed.

      The consumer organization Public Citizen said the FDA's warning is not only late but inadequate.

      "By simply warning parents not to administer over-the-counter cough and cold remedies to children under the age of two, the FDA has failed to properly address the glaring risks presented by this category of drugs," Public Citizen said.

      In fact, the group said, there is no evidence that these products are safe and effective for children over the age of two the group said. The agency didnt even follow the recommendation of its own advisory committee, which voted on Oct. 19 to limit these products to children over the age of 6, Public Citizen charged.

      Drugmakers have long claimed that pediatric cough and cold preparations, made popular through heavy marketing of a dizzying variety of combination products in child-friendly flavors, provide relief for cough and cold symptoms but Public Citizen said the products have never been proven to be effective.

      Ineffective, unsafe

      The advisory committee declared the products were ineffective in younger children, but we were not able to identify a single adequately designed study that compared the efficacy of these products in older and younger children, Dr. Peter Lurie, deputy director of Public Citizens Health Research Group. Thus the products efficacy remains unproven in all children under the age of 12.

      The companies have known for decades that their products are unproven, yet they have continued to foist them on concerned parents who believe that the FDA protects them and their children from ineffective medications, said Lurie.

      Simply because these drugs are well-tolerated by many children is not an adequate rationale for allowing them on the market. The law is clear that ineffective medications are not to be sold, no matter how safe they appear to be, he said.

      Adverse effects

      This week's FDA advisory stated that there are a wide variety of rare, serious adverse events reported with cough and cold products. They include death, convulsions, rapid heart rates, and decreased levels of consciousness.

      "The FDA strongly recommends to parents and caregivers that OTC cough and cold medicines not be used for children younger than 2," said Charles Ganley, M.D., director of the FDA's Office of Nonprescription Products. "These medicines, which treat symptoms and not the underlying condition, have not been shown to be safe or effective in children under 2."

      The announcement does not include the FDA's "final" recommendation about use of OTC cough and cold medicines in children ages 2 to 11 years. The agency's review of data for 2-to-11-year-olds is continuing, according to the FDA. The agency said it would issue its recommendations on use of the products in children ages 2 to 11 years as soon as the review is complete.

      The FDA said that pending completion of the FDA's ongoing review, parents and caregivers that choose to use OTC cough and cold medicines to children ages 2 to 11 years should:

      • Follow the dosing directions on the label of any OTC medication,

      • Understand that these drugs will NOT cure or shorten the duration of the common cold,

      • Check the "Drug Facts" label to learn what active ingredients are in the products because many OTC cough and cold products contain multiple active ingredients, and

      • Only use measuring spoons or cups that come with the medicine or those made specially for measuring drugs.

      The FDA recommends that anyone with questions contact a physician, pharmacist or other health care professional to discuss how to treat a child with a cough or cold.

      October recall

      In October, Wyeth Pharmaceutical recalled some childrens cough medicine because the bottle caps, used to measure dosage, dont accurately mark the half-teaspoon level recommended for children ages 2 to 5.

      The recall affected several Robitussin products and Childrens Dimetapp Cold & Chest Congestion.

      While the company said there was nothing wrong with the medicine, dosage can be critically important when administered to young children. Public health officials, including the City of Baltimore Health Department, recently asked the Food and Drug Administration to ban cough medicines for kids because overdosing can cause serious injury and even death.

      A taste of honey

      A natural solution to the problem may be at hand.

      A study published in December found that a single dose of buckwheat honey before bedtime provided the greatest relief from cough and sleep difficulty compared with no treatment and an over-the-counter cough medicine in children with upper respiratory tract infections.

      The study was published in the December issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

      Kids Cough Medicine Recalled Over Dosing Issue...
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      Researchers Accuse Pharmas of 'Disease Mongering'

      Drugs for 'pre-osteoporosis' unnecessary and potentially harmful, researchers charge

      Pharmaceutical companies push a number of drugs to treat pre-osteoporosis or "osteopenia," but are they really necessary?

      New research published in the British Medical Journal suggests millions of low risk women are being encouraged to seek treatment and take drugs they don't need.

      The authors don't mince words, calling it "a classic case of disease-mongering: a risk factor being transformed into a medical disease in order to sell tests and drugs to relatively healthy people."

      Osteopenia or "pre-osteoporosis" is said to affect around half of all older women and, in at least one country, drug companies have already begun to market their drugs to women with osteopenia, based on re-analyses of four osteoporosis drug trials.

      But the authors, led by Pablo Alonso-Coello of Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona, argue the move raises serious questions about the benefit-risk ratio for low risk individuals, and about the costs of medicalizing and potentially treating an enormous group of healthy people.

      "These re-analyses tend to exaggerate the benefits of drug therapy," the researchers write. "For example, the authors of one reanalysis cite a 75 percent relative risk reduction, though this translates into only a 0.9 percent reduction in absolute risk.

      In other words, up to 270 women with pre-osteoporosis might need to be treated with drugs for three years so that one of them could avoid a single vertebral fracture.

      Most of the re-analyses also play down the risks of drug therapy, they add. For example, the reanalysis of data for the drug raloxifene focuses solely on the potential benefits, with no mention of an increased risk of blood clots.

      "Finally, like much of the published literature on osteoporosis, these analyses have potential conflicts of interest, the authors write. "For instance, all of the original drug trials being re-analyzed were funded by industry and, in three out of four cases, drug company employees were part of the team conducting the reanalyses."

      The World Health Organization is currently developing guidance on how to deal with women categorized as having osteopenia.

      "We need to ask whether the coming wave of marketing targeting those women with pre-osteoporosis will result in the sound effective prevention of fractures or the unnecessary and wasteful treatment of millions more healthy women," the authors conclude.



      Researchers Accuse Pharmas of 'Disease Mongering': Drugs for 'pre-osteoporosis' unnecessary and potentially harmful, researchers charge....
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      Ford Fire Hazard Recall Creeps Along

      Parts shortages delay repairs of fire-prone Fords

      More than 1.8 million Ford Motor Co. cars and trucks remain at risk of erupting into flames 5 months after the automaker recalled an additional 3.6 million vehicles because of a fire hazard in the cruise control system.

      Ford initially promised parts would be available for the massive recall to repair the vehicles by October 2007. The automaker then said the parts will not be available until later in 2007.

      An Oregon family's F-150 burst into flames in the driveway. Reader photo.

      When Ford first announced the delay because of a parts shortage, the automaker said there have been no supply problems for parts for SUVs. That is no longer true.

      The badly needed parts are still in short supply and discouraging some Ford truck owners from responding to the recall. Because Ford dealers are unable to accomplish the required repairs, as a temporary fix they disconnect the cruise control system when consumers respond to their notice from Ford.

      A Ford spokesman insists the automaker is doing all it can to complete the fire hazard recall.

      This was a large recall, and we're working with the supplier to meet the volume challenge as soon as possible, said Ford spokesman Dan Jarvis.

      Devastating consequences

      The continuing parts delay adds to mounting confusion in an already troubling situation for many Ford consumers faced with the cruise control recall. The consequences are sometimes devastating.

      An Oregon family lost their truck and almost lost their home to a fire that originated in their Ford truck.

      Friday January 11, 2008 my husband came home from work at 5:30 and parked his 2001 F-150 Supercrew in the driveway, they wrote. Just 45 minutes later the truck was fully engulfed in flames.

      Our garage door and siding on the front of our house was damaged but not destroyed. The truck on the other hand is a total loss, the wife said.

      The Oregon truck was part of the Ford recall, according to the owner.

      When we got the letter regarding the recall we called Ford and they said that they didn't have the part that was required to fix it but that since our cruise control wasn't working (It had stopped working about 2 months before the fire) it must already be disconnected and we should be fine, said the truck owner, who asked not to be publicly identified.

      The truck owner reports that Ford told them fires are rare so I wouldn't worry. From the sounds of all these stories they are not as rare as they would like the consumer to believe.

      The struggling automaker continues to insist the company is responding adequately in an effort to notify Ford customers to return their vehicles to a Ford dealership for repair of the fire hazard.

      We have sent multiple mailings to customers, based on current vehicle registrations, asking them to bring in vehicles. I dont have an exact figure, but about half of the total have done so to date. We have one of the highest return rates in the industry, based on update registration info, and sending multiple mailings, Ford spokesman Jarvis said in an email response to ConsumerAffairs.com.

      Liability waiver

      Some Ford dealers now require customers who decline to disconnect the cruise control system to sign a waiver of liability.

      A Florida woman with a Ford Econoline Van equipped with hand controls for a wheel chair faced the demand that she sign the waiver. I need my cruise control if I have to travel any amount of distance, she wrote.

      It has been since September 7 I have been waiting to get my van fixed, said this Ford owner. I tried to get Ford to fix the problem but they just want to plug it back in and if I sign the waiver and something happens they will no longer be responsible for any damages, she said.

      A Ford Explorer owner in Bainbridge Island, Washington is not satisfied with the automakers explanation.

      They say the part is back ordered. I also understand that this part was originally found unsafe back in 2005 although I was only notified in August 2007, he said.

      In San Jose, California another Ford owner encountered similar treatment.

      My local Ford dealer disconnected my cruise control in November 2007, saying that it was required if I was to get the defective part replaced but he could not replace the part because of a backlog on the part and that it would take one month, the owner wrote.

      Now it's been over 2 months and my dealer has no estimate on a replacement part. The dealer said that I could reconnect the cruise control but if the car caught on fire it would be my problem, he said.

      Back in Bainbridge Island, Washington that explanation has a hollow ring. I would like someone to put a fire under them, because they are not motivated to replace the item once they've disconnected it, the Explorer owner concluded.

      Ford Fire Hazard Recall Creeps Along...
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      Time Warner To Test Metered Pricing For Broadband

      Leaked memo reveals testing of new price scheme in Texas town

      Broadband Internet users in the United States are used to a great many things, including slow speeds, high prices, and bad customer service, but they're also used to paying a flat fee for all the bandwith they can handle.

      But heavy downloaders and bandwith hogs may soon be paying more for the privilege, if one cable company has its way.

      Broadband Reportsobtained a memo from Time Warner Cable detailing its plans to test out a metered pricing plan for broadband service in Beaumont, Texas.

      According to the report, new customers will be offered one of several "tiers" of broadband service, and the ability to track how much bandwith they consume on the plan via a special Web site. If users consume too much bandwith, they can be upgraded to a higher, more expensive, tier.

      "Following the trial, a determination will be made as to whether or not existing subscribers should be charged...We will use the results of the trial to evaluate results for possible future nationwide rollouts," the memo said.

      Time Warner initially did not verify the memo's veracity, but later confirmed the test plan to Reuters.

      "Largely, people won't notice the difference," said a Time Warner Cable spokesman. "We don't want customers to feel they're getting less for more."

      Although other countries' Internet service providers regularly offer tiered pricing structures, the United States' largest telecom and cable companies heavily advertise "unlimited" broadband access for one fee. Companies shy away from listing hard limits on the amount of bandwith a customer can use for fear of losing them to competitors.

      Instead, customers who use large amounts of bandwith suddenly find their connections crippled or terminated without explanation, as was the case with several Comcast subscribers. Comcast denied that it had any "bandwith caps," even as customers complained that any caps or limits on their service should be disclosed in contracts and advertising.

      ConsumerAffairs.com found out in 2006 that Verizon Wireless would cancel its EV-DO wireless broadband service for even slightly exceeding the company's extremely low caps on usage.

      Verizon was later forced to remove claims that it offered "unlimited" broadband service in order to settle a deceptive-marketing lawsuit brought against it in New York.

      Unintended consequences

      Although tiered pricing is often touted as a means to resolve fears of a "bandwith crunch" on the Internet, the model may also serve to constrain one of the Internet's biggest sources of innovation -- user-created content, particularly home videos and movies uploaded on sites such as YouTube and Joost.

      Bandwith-heavy services such as video hosting and sharing may never have gotten off the ground if users were concerned about exceeding caps on their bandwith, and if tiered services are adopted by cable and telecom providers on a nationwide basis, it may lead to slower usage of file-sharing services and video-sharing sites.

      While that might mean fewer videos of pets performing silly tricks, it could also severely restrict the many ways Internet users communicate and share information via the Web.

      Time Warner To Test Metered Pricing For Broadband...
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      Tax Breaks for Family Caregivers

      Elderly parents may qualify as dependents


      If youre supporting an elderly parent, you may qualify for some tax relief if you pass Uncle Sams tax test. Heres what you should know.

      If youre supporting your elderly mother (or father), to get a tax deduction, youll need to claim her or him as a dependent on your tax return. For the 2007 tax year, claiming an additional personal exemption would reduce your taxable income by $3,400. But to get this tax break, youll need to pass two tests:

      Income test: To qualify as a dependent, your parents 2007 income must be less than $3,400. Her income from Social Security does not count towards that total (disability payments dont count either). But if your parent receives more than $3,400 from other sources, such as pension benefits, interest and dividends from investments, or withdrawals from retirement savings plans, you cant claim him or her as a dependent.

      Support test: In addition to the income test, you must provide more than half of your parents costs for housing, food, medical care, transportation and other necessities. Even if all your mother's or dad's income is from Social Security, you cant claim him or her as a dependent unless you pay more than half your parent's living expenses.

      Note: Your parent doesnt have to live with you to qualify as a dependent, as long as she meets the income test and you provide more than half her financial support.

      If your mother lives with you, you can include a percentage of your mortgage, utilities and other expenses in calculating how much you contribute to her support. IRS Publication 501 has a worksheet that can help you with this.

      Shared support

      If you share the financial responsibility for your mother with other siblings, you may be eligible for the IRS multiple-support declaration.

      Heres how it works. If one sibling is providing more than half the parents financial support, only that sibling can claim the parent. But if each sibling provides less than 50 percent support, but their combined assistance exceeds half the parents support.

      In that case, any sibling who provides more than 10 percent can claim the parent as a dependent. But only one sibling can claim the tax break in any given year. Siblings can rotate the tax break, with one claiming the parent one year and another the next. The sibling who claims the parent as a dependent will need to fill out IRS Form 2120 and file it with his or her tax return.

      Medical deductions

      If you cant claim your mom as a dependent, you may still get a tax break for helping pay her medical costs. The IRS lets taxpayers deduct money spent on a parents health care and qualified long-term care services, even if the parent doesnt qualify as a dependent.

      To claim this deduction, you still must provide more than half your moms support, but your mom doesnt have to meet the income test. And the deduction is limited to medical, dental and long-term care expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. You can include your own medical expenses in calculating the total. See the IRS publication 502 Medical and Dental Expenses, for details.

      Savvy Tips: You can access, download and print any of the IRS publications and forms mentioned in this column at www.irs.gov. Or call 800-829-3676 and they will mail them to you.

      And for help preparing your taxes, dont forget about AARPs Tax-Aide program. A free tax preparation and counseling service available to all taxpayers, middle and low income, with special attention to those 60 years and older and you dont have to be an AARP member to get help. To locate a Tax-Aide site near you, call 888-227-7669 or visit www.aarp.org/taxaide.

      ---

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

      If youre supporting your elderly mother (or father), to get a tax deduction, youll need to claim her or him as a dependent on your tax return....
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      New Group Promotes Buckle-Up Laws for Pets

      Unrestrained dogs and cats a menace in moving vehicles

      California woman, who recently founded the Bark BuckleUp, wants to educate dog and cat owners across the country about the importance of buckling up their ..

      'Slim Coffee' Promoters Settle False Advertising Charges

      Weight-loss claims bogus, feds charged

      The marketers of Slim Coffee -- an instant coffee product purportedly containing hoodia -- have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that their advertising falsely claimed that their product would enable its users to lose significant amounts of weight without diet or exercise.

      Diet Coffee, Inc. and its principals, David Stocknoff and David Attarian, based in New York City, ran television ads claiming that drinking Slim Coffee had been clinically proven to cause weight loss of up to 5 pounds a week and up to 20 pounds a month.

      Theres no need to change your eating habits or what you eat, the ads claimed. Just replace your coffee with Slim Coffee and you will start to see results. Its that easy and all-natural.

      According to a complaint filed by the FTC in federal district court, the weight-loss claims for Slim Coffee were false and unsupported by any reliable scientific studies, in violation of the FTC Act.

      Among other things, the FTCs complaint alleged that neither Slim Coffee nor any of its individual ingredients, including hoodia, would enable its users to lose as much as two to five pounds per week, without reducing caloric intake or increasing physical activity.

      Under the proposed settlement, Diet Coffee, Inc. and its principals are prohibited from claiming that any product enables users to lose substantial weight without reducing caloric intake or increasing physical activity.

      The order also prohibits them from representing that any product or service causes weight loss, causes users to lose any specified amount of weight, reduces or eliminates fat, reduces or curbs appetite, or increases metabolism, or making any other health-related benefit or efficacy representation unless it is true, not misleading, and substantiated by reliable scientific evidence.

      In addition, they are prohibited from misrepresenting the existence, contents, validity, results, conclusions, or interpretations of any test or study concerning such products.

      Slim Coffee was advertised on the Internet, radio, and television, including on Oxygen, Fox Reality Channel, A&E Television, The CW, WE, and Bravo. Ads also have appeared in magazines and Sunday newspaper supplements, including SmartSource by News America Marketing FSI, Inc.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      'Slim Coffee' Promoters Settle False Advertising Charges...
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      FDA To Allow Cloned Animals In Food Chain

      Agency finds no reason not to eat cloned critters

      After years of study, the Food and Drug Administration says it sees no reason cloned livestock and their offspring cannot be used for food. The ruling comes in spite of opposition from some consumer groups and concerns by the food industry.

      The decision was not unexpected, as the agency had telegraphed its intentions as it completed work on the seven-year study.

      According to a summary of the final report posted on the FDA Web site, the government is not advocating or requiring any special labeling for products from cloned animals. Left unclear is when a voluntary moratorium on the use of cloned animals will be lifted.

      More than 30,000 people ranging from consumers to industry trade organizations -- filed comments with the FDA on the proposed lifting of the moratorium. Many lawmakers also expressed reservations, with Congress passing a measure urging the FDA to carry out more studies before making its decision.

      The agency, apparently, saw little reason for further study.

      Safe to eat

      "The FDA has concluded that meat and milk from clones of cattle, swine and goats, and the offspring of clones from any species traditionally consumed as food, are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals," the FDA concluded in its report.

      But the report appeared to be cause for concern among dairy processors, who fear a consumer backlash against dairy products that might contain milk from cloned animals. Connie Tipton, President and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, said the FDA needs to take its time on the matter.

      "Nothing is more important to milk processors than the trust people have in milk and milk products," Tipton said. "That is why we urge the FDA to listen to the more than 30,000 comments the agency has received over the last year and take the time to respond to their comments and concerns before allowing milk from cloned cows into the food supply."

      By approving a "niche technology" too soon, Tipton argues, the government agency risks unintended negative economic, trade and public health impacts.

      Consumer groups also appear overwhelmingly against allowing cloned animal products into the food supply. Last month when the Senate added language to the Fall Bill instructing the FDA to slow down on the issue, Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety, applauded the move.

      "The FDA's flawed and cavalier approach to cloned food and its potential impacts called for a truly rigorous scientific assessment," Mendelson said. "At a time when the FDA has repeatedly failed the public, this amendment will ensure that the American consumer is considered before any special interest."



      FDA To Allow Cloned Animals In Food Chain...
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      Study Casts Doubt on Cholesterol Drug Vytorin

      Critics claim drug makers delayed releasing bad news

      Bad news for consumers with high cholesterol levels: A long-delayed study shows the expensive new drug Vytorin had no benefit on the buildup of artery plaque over the older drug Zocor and could even put users at greater risk, even though Vytorin cut bad cholesterol 40% more.

      Patients on Vytorin actually had more heart attacks, cardiovascular deaths and heart procedures than those who got Zocor, although researchers said the differences were small and could be due to chance.

      In addition, patients on Vytorin ended the study with slightly more plaque in their arteries, a result that could also be due to chance.

      Critics were quick to pounce. Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizens Health Research Group, said drug makers Merck and Schering-Plough and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lagged in warning the public about the drugs' risks.

      "We first warned against using Vytorin, a combination of Zetia and the cholesterol drug Zocor (now generically available as simvastatin), in December 2004 on our Web site, WorstPills.org," Wolfe said.

      "At the time, we said the FDA's own pharmacology reviewer recommended against approval of Vytorin, warning that tests showed serious toxicity in laboratory animals, regardless of how small of an amount of this combination drug was used.

      Wolfe said the delays in releasing the study results were suspicious.

      "It is disturbing that the companies completed the trial in April 2006 but found excuse after excuse not to release the unfavorable results to the public until today," he said.

      Wolfe noted that the FDA's own pharmacology reviewer recommended against approval of Vytorin, warning that tests showed serious toxicity in laboratory animals, regardless of how small an amount of the drug was used.

      "Now, a clinical trial by Merck and Schering-Plough adds to our concerns. It is disturbing that the companies completed the trial in April 2006 but found excuse after excuse not to release the unfavorable results to the public until today," Wolfe said.

      Despite the worse outcomes experienced by some patients in the trial, some physicians are likely to ignore the study, arguing that cholesterol is a better measure of a drug's effectiveness than the measurement of plaque buildup.

      "Physicians should only use ... Vytorin as a last resort," Steven Nissen, head of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, said in a Forbes story. "It should not be used as a routine therapy for high cholesterol unless we see some additional evidence of benefit."

      The Vytorin Study: A Doctor's Advice



      Patients on Vytorin actually had more heart attacks, cardiovascular deaths and heart procedures than those who got Zocor, although researchers said the dif...
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