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    Kevin Trudeau's Natural Cures Agrees to Missouri Refunds

    Consumers complained they were billed for newsletters they didn't order

    The Missouri Attorney General's Office has reached an agreement with two companies that sell health-related products through TV infomercials featuring Kevin Trudeau.

    Under the agreement, Missouri consumer will receive almost $1,100 in refunds. The companies also agreed to change their business practices.

    Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon reached the agreement on Wednesday with Natural Cures, which also uses the name ITV Global Inc. The settlement resolves complaints that the companies repeatedly charged consumers for products they did not order.

    Natural Cures uses infomercials to sell books that claim to promote healthy lifestyles.

    But many consumers who purchased the books said they also received a subscription for a newsletter they did not order. Consumers then received repeated bills for that newsletter.

    ConsumerAffairs.com has received scores of similar complaints.

    "I ordered a book from Kevin Trudeau (Weight Loss Cures)," wrote John C. of Indianapolis, Indiana. "They tried to sell me several other items while we were on the phone, but I told them I just wanted the book. This was in March of 2007."

    John said ITV Global then charged his credit card $5.95 a month for the next several months.

    "When I called them, they said this was for a newsletter," John told us. "I told them I did not order this and wanted the charges removed. Without even researching to see if I ordered this, they refused to credit all my money back.

    "I did not order this product, nor did I receive a newsletter. The billing practices used by this company should be criminal," John said.

    Some consumers are being charged even more for the newsletter.

    "In July 2007 I ordered 3 books from a TV commerical," said Chuck of Franklin, NC. "When I placed my order I was persuaded to receive a monthly newsletter at $9.95 per month with the provision that I could cancel at any time.

    "Before the 30 days was up, I called numerous times trying to reach someone to cancel the newsletter. Finally, I reached someone who stated that it would be canceled. I also sent an email on August 15, 2007, which I have a copy of, to cancel the newsletter," he said. "I did receive one newsletter but I have not received any more since I canceled it in August 2007, however the Company keeps billing my bank each and every month."

    ConsumerAffairs.com also received complaints that Natural Cures refused to refund consumers' money even after they returned the weight loss book.

    "I sent the books back after speaking with a customer service representative, who assured me that I would receive a full refund," wrote Jean R. of Lemon Grove, California. "I have never been given a refund."

    Instead, the company continues racking up charges on her credit card.

    "I cannot stop this monster from trying to get more and more money from me," Jean said. "I have been charged over limit fees. This and all the other fees charged to my credit card have wrecked my credit. It is absolutely ridiculous that this man can continue to destroy so many lives with no penalties."

    Legal action may be the only way to stop these outrageous business practices, Jean said.

    "I think there is more than substantial evidence that this is a consumer scam and the public should be protected and compensated for these actions by Trudeau."

    Consumers in the Show-Me State -- at least -- should be protected from such unscrupulous tactics.

    Under the settlement Missouri officials reached this week, Natural Cures agreed to stop:

    • Charging consumers for items they did not request;

    • Billing consumers' bank or credit cards for unauthorized products;

    • Charging consumers more than the amounts advertised;

    • Delaying delivery of consumers' products.

    More Scam Alerts ...

    Kevin Trudeau's Natural Cures Agrees to Missouri Refunds...
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    Glucosamine Doesn't Work, Study Finds

    Popular arthritis treatment has no apparent effect

    If you're taking glucosamine sulfate to treat arthritis in your hip, save your money. It doesn't work, according to researchers writing in the February 19 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

    People in middle to old age have long taken the dietary supplement in the belief it would ease pain and inflammation in joints. Dr. Rianne M. Rozendaal at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, headed the research team that concluded the supplement was mostly ineffective as a means to treat hip pain.

    The study followed more than 200 patients for two years. All were suffering osteoarthritis of the hip. Half the people in the study took 1,500 milligrames of Glucosamine once a day, the others took placebo.

    The researchers said glucosamine sulfate had no apparent effect on hip arthritis. Those with very mild arthritis noted some slight improvement when taking the glucosamine, but the improvement was very small.

    "The differences between the glucosamine and placebo group were all very small. For these patients with hip osteoarthritis, glucosaminei sulfate does not seem to be an effective treatment on the basis of our results," the authors wrote.

    Glucosamine is a natural compound that is found in healthy cartilage. Glucosamine sulfate is a normal constituent of glycoaminoglycans in cartilage matrix and synovial fluid, according to the Mayo Clinic.

    Writing before the current research was public, cllinic scientists said available evidence from randomized controlled trials supports the use of the supplement in the treatment of osteoarthritis, particularly of the knee. Doctors widely prescribe it for patients hoping to slow or prevent cartilage loss.

    The new research did not address glucosamine sulfate's effectiveness in any joint other than the hip.

    Twenty percent of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and that number is expected to rise as the Baby Boomers enter old age.


    If you're taking glucosamine sulfate to treat arthritis in your hip, save your money. It doesn't work, according to researchers writing in an issue of the ...
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      Web Surfers Seek Justice Online

      Dispute resolution Web sites offer quick settlements

      Shakespeare wasn't thinking of the Internet when he suggested killing all the lawyers. But the bard's idea has staying power and some Web surfers are coming up with novel ways to seek justice -- without ever having to drag themselves to the steps of a courthouse with a pricey lawyer in tow.

      Ironically, it was a retired judge in suburban Maryland who dreamed up a way for warring factions to resolve their petty issues online. The judge started what he calls VirtualCourthouse.com, a Web site that allows parties to work out their differences online with an arbitrator or mediator. You might call it "Judge Judy.com."

      The judge estimates that about 70 percent of civil cases can be resolved this way, in less time and at lower cost than traditional litigation.

      "That's a process that takes probably three to four years from the time that dispute first started until it's concluded, involving many, many man hours, a lot of expense, a lot of time and a lot of repetition, mainly paper repetition," said Retired Judge Arthur M. Ahalt, who lives in Annapolis. "In a vast majority of those disputes, the results are fairly predictable, but the parties don't realize that."

      Virtual Courthouse is part of a movement toward online dispute resolution, or ODR, of basic alternative dispute resolution cases. The trend includes sites like Cybersettle.com, where a computer, not a person, determines the value of the case, and eBay's in-house ODR system.

      Many lawyers and ADR professionals are enthusiastic about ODR, but some say its utility is limited. Others question whether disputes may be settled fairly without the arbitrator or mediator -- the "neutral," in Virtual Courthouse parlance -- seeing the parties.

      Ahalt, 65, began developing Virtual Courthouse in 2001, two years after taking early retirement from the circuit court. He had some experience in Internet business, having helped develop an electronic filing system called JusticeLink that eventually merged with another company and was bought by Lexis-Nexis.

      That experience, combined with his time on the bench, including a stint as manager of the civil docket, led him to create Virtual Courthouse. In 2004, after a few years of development, Virtual Courthouse went live.

      In the past four years, the site has handled about 1,000 cases -- 80 percent of them from Maryland and another 10 percent from the District of Columbia, Ahalt said. Virginia, Delaware and other mid-Atlantic states account for most of the rest.

      At first, Ahalt did most of the dispute resolutions himself. Now he is a neutral in less than 20 percent, with his goal to handle only 5 percent of cases.

      The ideal case for Virtual Courthouse has only two parties, involves a dispute over money (as opposed to other forms of relief) and is not emotionally charged, he said. Fender-bender lawsuits fit the bill; custody cases and nasty disputes between neighbors do not.

      A plaintiff starts the process by registering with Virtual Courthouse, which e-mails the defendant to see if he or she will agree to ODR. If so, the parties pick a neutral from Virtual Courthouse's list of more than 100 in Maryland and 12 other jurisdictions.

      Ahalt lets neutrals list themselves in Virtual Courthouse's directory for free and doesn't qualify them in any way; when the parties sign on to use the site, they take responsibility for checking out their neutral, he said.

      After choosing a neutral, each party types in a statement of the case and uploads scanned images of any necessary documents, such as doctor's bills. The neutral then decides what the case is worth.

      The process usually takes less than 45 days and Virtual Courthouse's record for the fastest case resolution is a blistering 15 minutes from start to finish. But that doesn't mean the neutrals are making slipshod decisions, Ahalt said.

      "How long does it take to read that an individual suffered a soft tissue injury in a rear-end automobile accident and went to a chiropractor 15 times and incurred bills of $2,600?" Ahalt asked. "How long does it take a neutral to read that? I mean, there's no dispute as to who's responsible. It's just an issue of how much is reasonable compensation for this individual."

      Plaintiff's lawyer Rick Jaklitsch of the Jaklitsch Law Group in Upper Marlboro, Md., said he has used Virtual Courthouse to settle 20 cases. Although his clients tend to get slightly lower awards through Virtual Courthouse than they would if they went to Prince George's County District Court, they get their money a lot sooner, he said.

      Defense lawyer Karen Sussman of Sussman & Simcox Chartered in Gaithersburg, who has participated in Virtual Courthouse as both a neutral and an attorney, said her clients are happy with her when she is able to resolve their cases quickly online.

      Virtual Courthouse "probably wouldn't be recommended for cases with huge stumbling blocks and issues that are time consuming, but it's a great place for parties to present their arguments when they feel like they want to get something in front of somebody but they don't want (the) delay and the expense of getting it resolved," Sussman said.

      For online arbitration and mediation decisions and for simple online case evaluations, Virtual Courthouse charges each party a filing fee of $50 and the arbitrator or mediator charges the parties $300 total. Out of that $300, the neutral keeps $250 and pays Virtual Courthouse a $50 administrative fee.

      Lawyers can also elect to start online but have an actual hearing in person. About one-quarter of the cases that go through Virtual Courthouse end in a flesh-and-blood mediation or arbitration, Ahalt said.

      For more complicated online case evaluations and all face-to-face ADR, the neutral sets the rate. Even in those cases, however, Virtual Courthouse handles the neutral's billing. Neutrals tend to like that idea, as well as the idea of having all the case documents online, Ahalt said.

      As for the attorneys, some attorneys say they charge their clients the same 40 percent of the award to settle their case via online arbitration as they do if the case is resolved by in-person arbitration.

      Ahalt said face-to-face contact isn't all it's cracked up to be. He said that minor injuries are generally not visible to a judge, jury or arbitrator, so it doesn't matter if the decision-maker sees the victim or not.

      And there are ways to overcome the impersonal nature of ODR, Jaklitsch said. For example, when he has particularly sympathetic victims in a Virtual Courthouse case, he has the clients swear to affidavits explaining how their injuries have affected their lives. Although it is not common, Virtual Courthouse also can handle video and audio so lawyers can upload footage of clients or witnesses.

      The judge started what he calls VirtualCourthouse.com, a Web site that allows parties to work out their differences online with an arbitrator or mediator....
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      Cataract Surgery Options Can Eliminate Bifocals

      New implantable lenses let patients see near, far and in between

      There's good news for the millions of bifocal-wearing baby boomers and seniors who will eventually need cataract surgery. New types of implantable lenses are now available that allow cataract patients to see near, far, and in between without wearing glasses or contact lenses.

      Heres what you should know.

      Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most successful surgical procedures that has recently gotten better. In a typical cataract surgery, a patients aging and cloudy natural lens is removed and replaced with an intraocular lens (IOL) to restore the eyes focusing power.

      Until recently, the only option was a fixed-focus lens, typically designed for faraway distances, which left the patient needing bifocals or reading glasses to see up close. But now, there are new multifocal and accommodating lenses that can restore sight at all distances so patients can go glasses-free.

      New lenses

      The new lenses all FDA approved have been available in the U.S. for around three years and so far doctors and patients are pleased with how well they work. While these new lenses dont guarantee 20/20 vision, they can reduce the need for glasses for most people by as much as 90 percent.

      Its estimated that around 20 percent of cataract patients nationally are now choosing these new multifocal lenses. However, some doctors have been hesitant to adopt the new technology, owing to scattered reports of halos, glare, and problems with night vision and blurring. Because these lenses have been available for only a short time, most of these doctors are waiting for more data on patients long-term experience.

      Also keep in mind that as with any surgery, lens implantation comes with some risk of complication. Infection, bleeding, retinal detachment, and an increase in eye pressure, while rare, do occur but can almost always be successfully treated.

      Finding a doctor

      Since the multifocal lenses are relatively new, not all cataract surgeons are trained to implant them. So if you would like to find out whether youre a candidate for one of these lenses, you may need to call several surgeons in your area to find out who uses them. After you locate a few, ask lots of questions and choose one who has significant experience with these lenses and is prepared to deal with any problems that could arise.

      You also need to know about the additional cost. While Medicare, Medicaid and most health insurance plans cover cataract surgery and the traditional lens implants, they dont yet pay for new multifocal and accommodating implants.

      That means if you opt for the newer lenses youll have to pay the difference of what Medicare or insurance doesnt cover, which will be around $2,000 to $2,500 per eye.

      Savvy Tips: To learn more about these new cataract lens implants visit www.allaboutvision.com click on Cataracts. And for more information about cataract in general, the National Eye Institute offers a free publication called Cataract: What you should know. To get a copy, call 301-496-5248 or visit www.nei.nih.gov.


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

      Cataract Surgery Options Can Eliminate Bifocals...
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      Toy Industry Needs Import Safety Checklist

      Safety recalls frighten, repulse consumers, JPMorgan analyst warns

      Recent waves of import product bans, alerts, recalls, and news headlines have generated extreme consumer shock around the world. The global media frenzy impacts all companies that source products abroad for domestic consumption by challenging their import safety practices.

      Consumers are horrified by the alarming headlines including As More Toys Are Recalled, The Trail Ends In China, China Toy Boss Kills Self After Recall, China Executes Former Head Of Drugs Safety Agency For Bribery, Why The West Must Regulate Chinas Exports, Wider Sale Is Seen For Toothpaste Tainted In China, F.D.A. Issues Alert On Chinese Seafood, China Shuts Plants That Produced Tainted Medicine, Pet Food, US Calls On China To Improve Export Safety, and The Little Engine That Could Poison.

      The torrential problems facing todays exports from China should serve as a wake-up call for all importers that the time to act is now be proactive and not reactive. Do not wait to be the media subject of the next consumer product recall, scandal or catastrophe.

      While todays focus may be on China-made or sourced products it is not the only goods and materials source for large-scale importers. Make no mistake unsafe and hazardous imports can originate from anywhere around the world and companies need to focus on their entire global supply chain, layer-by-layer, to know all that is necessary to ensure that the safety and quality of those products is not inferior or somehow compromised.

      Import Safety Working Group

      On July 18, 2007, President Bush issued Executive Order 13439 establishing an interagency working group on import safety. Chaired by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the group includes members from key agencies such as Secretary of State, Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, Homeland Security, Attorney General, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Trade Representative, Environmental Protection Agency, and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      The group is tasked to identify actions and appropriate steps that can be pursued, within existing resources, to promote the safety of imported products. The groups focus will include: foreign governments, foreign manufacturers, private sector exporters, U.S. importers, and federal, state, and local government agencies. The working group has to report to the President within 60 days (by mid-September) unless extended.

      Well be working with companies that import goods from around the world, to make sure that their practices meet the high standards that we set for the United States, stated President Bush. Under the groups radar is the identification of best practices utilized by U.S. importers in:

      • Selection of foreign manufacturers
      • Inspecting manufacturing facilities
      • Inspecting goods produced before export or distribution in U.S.
      • Identifying origin of products
      • Safeguarding the supply chain

      Import Czar Position in the Making

      Major U.S. business leaders recently gathered to discuss the import quality crisis and recognized the need to do more as the explosion in the volume and diversity of goods has overwhelmed even the biggest companies tasked with evaluating dozens of supply chains, many of which run two or three suppliers deep reported a July 5 article in Fortune Magazine.

      One of the ideas being circulated is to create an import czar position - a chief imports officer who can oversee global sourcing. Most companies lack a central figure to reign over global operations its all about accountability, coordination, and the need to focus internally to ensure that someone is keeping watch over the shop.

      What Are You Doing?

      As the U.S. government looks for ways to step up enforcement of import safety, the question of all companies should be: WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MAKE SURE YOUR IMPORTS ARE SAFE?

      Companies must put consumer protection first and above any other motivations. In the end, we are all consumers and should expect nothing less! Before the U.S. government comes knocking on your door, here are some areas to consider as you evaluate your current business:


      I    Inspections Do you inspect your foreign factories (announced/unannounced)?
      M    Management Do you have commitment and corporate objectives
      P    Policies Do you have procedures to ensure corporate objectives are followed
      O    Origin Do you identify and verify product origin
      R    Recalls Do you have a program to inform consumers and agencies of defects
      T    Testing Do you test products (internally/externally) and document/track results
      S    Suppliers Do you have quality/safety requirements in writing/acknowledged
      A    AuditDo you have a product safety audit plan
      F    Follow Do you follow or benchmark what your competitors are doing or recommending
      E    Examine Do you examine whats going on with your product outside the U.S.
      T    Training Do you train internal units and suppliers on product safety
      Y    You Know your product and must exercise reasonable care to protect consumers

      Planning and Action

      While import safety is finally receiving the U.S. Presidential treatment it deserves and consumers expect, companies should take note of the good practices suggested by one U.S. federal agency committed to protecting consumers - CPSC:


      A July 2006 CPSC document titled Handbook For Manufacturing Safer Consumer Products discusses the basic concepts in a comprehensive systems approach for the design, production and distribution of consumer products. It is worth reviewing for further guidance as product safety ultimately depends on purposeful planning and action.


      A famous American, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), once stated: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Manufacturers, importers, exporters, distributors and retailers take the proper precautions now and exercise reasonable care relating to products intended for U.S. consumption. Ultimately, those that put quality and safety first will succeed in the global arena and achieve consumer confidence.


      About the author: Despina Keegan is a Senior Trade Advisor for JPMorgan Global Trade Services in New York. As a licensed attorney admitted to federal and state courts, Despina has extensive experience in customs and international trade law matters including, developing customized compliance and auditing programs, formulating training seminars and advising on product safety, recalls and the requirements of federal and state agencies.

      Recent waves of import product bans, alerts, recalls, and news headlines have generated extreme consumer shock around the world. The global media frenzy im...
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      Verizon Rolls Out Unlimited Calling

      Can wireless providers hear their customers now?

      Is it time for the cell phone industry to get over itself?

      When it rolled out the technology in the 1980s, you have to admit it was pretty exotic. Suddenly, you could make phone calls without being tethered by wires. Why, you could even make a call from your car!

      As with any bold new technology, early users paid through the nose. The phones were big, clunky and expensive, as were the calls. Subscribers paid a fee for monthly service, and then were charged a hefty per-minute rate when they made or received calls.

      Most early users were businesses who were able to absorb the cost but the wireless providers wanted the cell phone to become ubiquitous, so they adopted various rate plans that included a set number of calling minutes.

      If you didn't use your phone very much, you could opt for a plan with fewer minutes. If you had a teenage daughter, you went for the high-minute package.

      But in exchange for the privilege of carrying a cell phone, consumers not only had to keep track of their minutes, they had to buy whatever type of phone their provider happened to be selling. They had to sign a one-year contract that carried a hefty early termination fee and was automatically extended another year if they replaced their phones or otherwise altered their service.

      They had to pay additional charges for receiving or sending text messages charges that in some families with teenagers can mount up to hundreds of dollars each month. And until recently, they had to get a new phone number if they changed cell phone providers.

      Since cell phones were introduced we have the Internet, iPods, DVDs, and GPS systems, not to mention Internet telephone service, including wireless WiFi, that's free or close to it.

      So more and more consumers are asking, "what's so hot about cell phones and why is wireless being sold like long-distance service was in the 1950s?"

      Lately, cracks have begun to appear in the mobile phone industry's unified front. Both Verizon and AT&T have liberalized their contracts, making it easier to cancel. Last fall Verizon announced that it would open its wireless network for use by all devices beginning in 2008.

      Unlimited calling

      Now, Verizon Wireless has taken the first step toward placing wireless communications on a comparable footing with landline services, at least when it comes to pricing. The second-largest U.S. mobile-phone carrier has rolled out a flat-rate subscription for unlimited calls.

      The plans give customers all their calls anytime to anyone in the U.S., including landline phones at a flat rate of $99.99 monthly access. The company said its BroadbandAccess Plans are also being enhanced so customers now have two choices for Internet browsing, e-mail access and downloading files. The new BroadbandAccess plans, available on March 2, will offer customers monthly data plan options of 50 Megabytes (MB) or 5 Gigabytes (GB) (5,120 MB).

      "Verizon Wireless is changing the way customers think about wireless," said Mike Lanman, Verizon Wireless chief marketing officer.

      Perhaps a more accurate statement would be that customers are changing the way wireless providers think about wireless.

      Verizon Rolls Out Unlimited Calling...
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      Nissan and Infiniti Recall 16,000 SUVs

      February 19, 2008
      Nissan is recalling 16,365 Murano and Infiniti EX 35 SUVs to fix a software program that may cause passenger air bags to fail.

      The recall affects 11,511 Muranos from model year 2009 and 4,854 Infiniti EX35s from 2008, according to a February 12 letter from Nissan to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

      NHTSA reported on its web site that the software problem could result in the passenger air bag not inflating in a crash increasing the risk of injury if the vehicle battery is significantly discharged.

      Nissan dealers will reprogram the air bag control unit when the recall begins.

      Owners can contact Infiniti 1-800-662-6200 or Nissan at 1-800-647-7261. Owners can contact NHTSA at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153).

      Nissan and Infiniti Recall 16,000 SUVs...
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      Spanish Language TV Linked To Latino Child Obesity

      Children bombarded by fast-food commercials

      February 19, 2008

      TV can be a negative influence on children's health, whether the message is in English or Spanish, according to research led by pediatricians from the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

      Their study concludes that Spanish-language television is bombarding children with so many fast-food commercials that it may be fueling the rising obesity epidemic among Latino youth.

      Latino children, who make up one-fifth of the U.S. child population, also have the highest obesity and overweight rates of all ethnic groups. A report on the study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was released online ahead of print in the Journal of Pediatrics.

      "While we cannot blame overweight and obesity solely on TV commercials, there is solid evidence that children exposed to such messages tend to have unhealthy diets and to be overweight," said study lead investigator Darcy Thompson, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician at Hopkins Children's.

      Past research among English-speaking children has shown that TV ads influence food preferences, particularly among the more impressionable young viewers.

      Researchers reviewed 60 hours of programming airing between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., heavy viewing hours for school-age children, on Univision and Telemundo, the two largest Spanish-language channels in the United States, reaching 99 percent and 93 percent of U.S. Latino households, respectively.

      Univision content was recorded from its national network cable in Seattle, and Telemundo content was recorded on a local carrier in Tucson, Ariz. Tallying two or three food commercials each hour, the investigators said one-third specifically targeted children. Nearly half of all food commercials featured fast food, and more than half of all drink commercials promoted soda and drinks with high sugar content.

      To counter the effects of food commercials, the researchers suggest, young children should be restricted to two hours a day or less of TV viewing and parents should talk to them about healthy diet and food choices. Children younger than 2 should not be allowed to watch any TV, pediatricians advise.

      Other recommendations:

      • Pediatricians caring for Latino children should be aware of their patients' heavy exposure to food ads and the possible effects.

      • Public health officials should urge policy makers to limit food advertising to children, something many European countries are already doing.

      Spanish Language TV Linked To Latino Child Obesity...
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      OnStar Owners Bristle at Loss of Service

      Analog version of the popular service now officially defunct

      General Motors cut off OnStar service to customers with analog equipment on January 1 and after midnight February 18, the analog cellular network was shut down, rendering the equipment in consumers' cars useless.

      GM's analog customers who are now without the safety and convenience service are angry.

      Julie in Austin, Texas said she discovered her OnStar service disappeared while on a recent trip.

      I've since found out that it can't be upgraded, repaired, modified, adapted or anything else. Now I have a rear view mirror with buttons that continually remind me I have a broken part in my car that GM refuses to repair.

      Cellular telephone companies are no longer required to provide the analog service the older OnStar systems employ. This is the latest step in the transition from analog to digital communications sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission.

      If your car or truck is a 2002 model or older with an analog-only OnStar system you have probably already figured out the system is kaput. Now the analog-only systems are officially useless unless the consumer was able to purchase a system that GM could upgrade to a digital connection and the consumer paid for the upgrade.

      Cege in Dallas is one of those OnStar customers who are out of luck with a useless system: My OnStar doesn't work but my car still does, she wrote.

      General Motors made digital upgrade kits available to consumers who had active OnStar subscriptions. Roughly 90 percent of the GM analog OnStar systems were capable of being upgraded to a digital connection.

      Cege said she was not offered the upgrade.

      A Manassas, Virginia OnStar user bought an OnStar-equipped 2002 Chevy Silverado in 2003.

      I have found out from GM themselves that GM knew in November 2002 of the OnStar problem but did not change the OnStar analog model to analog/digital until 2003 models, he said.

      They did not choose to inform 2003 customers of the problem with 2002 models even after they knew the problem existed.

      The Silverado owner thinks G M should be forced to design an upgrade for the analog model for the 2002 truck or each owner of this truck should be compensated for the entire cost of the OnStar model and damages should be awarded to each truck owner for false advertisement."

      OnStar Owners Bristle at Loss of Service...
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      War on Plastic Toys Escalates

      Toys 'R' Us joins effort to eliminate PVC, phthalates and lead

      February 18, 2008    Spanish
      Following moves by some of its rivals like Wal-Mart and Target, Toys "R" Us has announced its own policy to reduce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, phthalates, and lead in children's and infant toys.

      The company said it is reducing PVC use and is moving towards a goal of offering PVC-free products.

      The toy retailer also announced that by the end of 2008, juvenile products must be produced without the addition of phthalates.

      "Toys"R"Us' new PVC-free goal is good news for our children's health, safety, and well being," said Michael Schade, PVC Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. "PVC toxic toys often contain dangerous chemicals such as phthalates and lead.

      "These toxic chemicals have no place in our children's toys and should be eliminated from store shelves everywhere they are currently sold so that no potential harm comes to any child who might otherwise come into contact with them. We call on Toys "R"Us to take the next step by setting clear benchmarks and timeframes for phasing out toxic PVC toys in order to prevent harm to our children's health," he said.

      CHEJ and other consumer groups have been applying growing pressure on Toys R Us to phase out PVC and other harmful chemicals in their toys. The groups say their efforts have been aimed at educating retailers about the dangers of PVC. Sears, Kmart, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, and Apple have recently announced initiatives to eliminate or reduce PVC in both products and packaging.

      Banned in Europe

      Some of the chemicals, including PVC, have been banned from toys in the European Union and California is also said to be considering a law making them illegal effective next year.

      The development comes on the heels of toymakers recalling millions of toys to protect consumers from lead paint exposure.

      What is interesting in this development is that the tradegroup that represents toymakers, The Toy Industry Association, has continued to maintain that PVC causes no harm to children, even as many of the group's members are quietly preparing to take such products off the shelves in the coming months.

      In fact the first indications of what toys without PVC would look like will be unveiled this coming weekend when manufacturers attending the world's largest toy trade show, the American International Toy Fair, start showing up New York.

      The Wall Street Journal reports that Green Toys Inc., a San Francisco-based start-up, will unveil several lines of toys made from organic and recycled plastics. The company has backing from several eco-friendly venture capital firms who see a huge marketing bonanza from the latest controversy and its offerings.

      "Depending on how it is made, PVC frequently contains lead or other toxic metals. Vinyl chloride, used to make PVC, has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a carcinogen. Certain chemicals in the phthalate family, which often are used to soften PVC in toys and other products, have been linked by researchers to developmental and other health problems in children," says the Journal in a report this week.

      In January, under pressure from Illinois authorities, Ty Inc., the maker of Beanie Babies, replaced its Jammin' Jenna dolls with a redesigned version using denim shoes instead of PVC ones. Testing had found the vinyl contained quantities of lead that exceeded the state's limit for children's products under a new law.

      Last month, tests by the Center for Environmental Health found high levels of lead in several products, including certain vinyl coolers used for storing breast-milk bottles. Michigan also has a new law restricting lead levels in children's products, according to the Wall Street Journal.

      However, pro-Vinyl groups are not giving up their campaign to prove their products are safe. The Vinyl Institute, a trade group, is launching a campaign to inform retailers that PVC is safe.

      War on Plastic Toys Escalates...
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      Anonymous E-mails Could Reduce STDs

      Be sure to read morning-after emails

      "About last night" may have a new meaning when you receive an e-mail with that subject line from a paramour or someone you befriended for a night.

      A web site based in New York says it has released an e-mail service, similar to an e-greeting, which enables people who may have sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to send anonymous email warnings to their partners so they can get themselves checked.

      The company says the service could help stem the rising ride of new infections, especially in cosmopolitan cities where e-mail is the preferred form of communication.

      The website, InSpot.org, uses the e-card model to send messages like "I'm So Sorry" to notify people that they may have been exposed to a disease. It also offers information about getting tested and treatment.

      The site was developed by Internet Sexuality Information Services, Inc. I.S.I.S. is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to developing and using Internet technologies to prevent disease transmission and enhance the sexual well-being of individuals and communities.

      "Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are more common than you know," says a spokesman for the web site. "In the U.S. alone, there are 15 million new cases each year. Talking to your sex partners, even virtually, helps take away the stigma associated with STDs and it's scientifically proven to reduce transmission."

      The site offers some tips to consumers who are sexually active:

      • Notify everyone you've had sex with in the past six months. Oral sex counts, too.

      • Try looking through your old emails and your online address book to complete the list.

      • If you decide to compose a personal message, put yourself in the other person's shoes. Think about how you were told what you liked and what you didn't and put the best of it into words.

      • You don't have to provide detailed medical infothis e-mail card will automatically provide links to what they need to know.

      • You can send postcards anonymously or from your email address. Historically, when you tell a sex partner(s) yourself, it's more likely s.he will "hear" the message and get tested.

      • No information will be collected or shared with any public or private agency.

      If you receive an ecard anonymously or from someone you know, it doesn't mean you have an STD. It simply means you may have been exposed to an STD, so go to your doctor or a neighborhood clinic and get checked out, says the web site.

      "If you don't have a regular doctor, are uncomfortable talking to your regular doctor or don't have insurance, our neighborhood clinic map can help you find a place nearby where you can get tested, and if needed treatment, for little to no cost." the site adds.

      "And if you do test positive for an STD, please come back to inSPOT.org and send ecards to your partners and/or hookups. The best way to keep yourself and our community healthy is to communicate with each other and get regular STD checkups. Many STDs are curable, although do know that if you are treated once, you can still get the STD from an infected person a second, third or fourth time. If you're sexually active with more than one partner, many doctors recommend STD checkups every three months. inSPOT.org is not a substitute for a doctor's visit or professional medical advice," the web site says.

      "Making use of some of the emerging technologies makes sense," said Sue Blank, of New York's department of health and mental hygiene.

      "We're getting the word out to the community."

      Blank hopes the site will help to reduce new syphilis infections in New York which rose by 56 per cent during the first half of the current fiscal year.

      Users of the site, which went online in San Francisco in 2004, can choose from a selection of messages.

      "It provides an easy, convenient, anonymous way for people to be responsible about notifying their partners about a possible exposure to an STD," said Deb Levine, of the San Francisco Internet Sexuality Information Services, which created InSpot with the city's department of public health.

      The rise in syphilis in New York mirrors a national trend that shows syphilis has risen sharply among gay and bisexual men in the United States this decade.

      Levine said that in San Francisco, syphilis rates have fallen since the site was introduced. In addition to New York and San Francisco, the web site is now active in six other US cities. It has also been launched in eight US states, as well as two Canadian cities and Romania.

      San Diego county's health agency is launching a radio and television ad campaign in an effort to reverse a spike in syphilis infections and other sexually transmitted diseases. The county's annual number of new syphilis cases rose from 23 in 1997 to 312 last year.

      Check out the site at inspot.org/gateway.aspx.

      -30- Reply Forward

      "About last night" may have a new meaning when you receive an e-mail with that subject line from a paramour or someone you befriended for a night....
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      Tax Rebate Goes Only to Those Who File

      Even taxpayers who don't normally file a return must do so

      Want your tax rebate check? You gotta file first!

      The economic stimulus package that President Bush signed into law on Feb. 13 means that around 130 million Americans will be eligible to receive a tax rebate check beginning in May. But theres a catch that lower-income seniors need to know about!

      Eligible Filers

      Those eligible to receive Uncle Sams tax rebate must have a valid Social Security number and have earned at least $3,000 in 2007 which includes earned income, Social Security, Railroad Retirement and veterans benefits (SSI does not count). But heres the catch. In order to receive it, you have to file a 2007 federal tax return.

      Even if you arent normally required to file a income tax return and around 20 million seniors and low-income workers arent you must file one this year if you want to receive your rebate. The reason for the mandatory filing is because the IRS will be using the information on your 2007 tax return to determine your eligibility and to calculate the amount of your payment. So no tax return means no rebate!

      Note: Wealthier taxpayers whose income tops $75,000 for single filers and $150,000 for married couples filing jointly will face phase-out rebates. This means that their rebates will be reduced by $50 for every $1,000 above the $75,000 and $150,000 income limits.

      How Much

      Rebate checks will range from $300 to $600 for individuals and $600 to $1200 for joint filers. Some taxpayers with children will receive an additional $300 per child. Heres how it breaks down:

      • Individuals will receive a minimum of $300 if they paid $0 to $300 in federal income taxes in 2007.

      • Individuals who paid between $300 and $600 dollars will receive a rebate equal to the amount of taxes they paid.

      • Individuals who paid over $600 in taxes, they will receive a maximum rebate of $600. Note: All of these numbers double for married couples.

      Already Filed?

      Taxpayers who already filed a return do not need to do anything else. However, if you filed a return but reported less than $3,000 in income, you may need to file an amended return to be sure your qualifying Social Security or veterans benefits are counted. Adding these benefits on an amended tax return will not increase an individuals tax liability but will establish eligibility for the stimulus payment.

      Savvy Tips: If you have other questions about the tax rebate payments visit the IRS Web site -- www.irs.gov -- where youll find the most accurate and up-to-date information. Or if you dont have access to the Internet, call the IRS helpline at 800-829-1040.

      And for help preparing your taxes, dont forget about AARPs Tax-Aide program. A free tax preparation and counseling service available to older taxpayers, and you dont have to be an AARP member to get help. To locate a Tax-Aide site near you (there are more than 7,000 nationwide), 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.

      Tax Rebate Goes Only to Those Who File...
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      States Asked to Probe AT&T U-Verse Explosions

      Equipment cabinets a threat to life and property, real estate brokers claim

      A group of African-American real estate brokers wants the attorneys general of five states to investigate "a rash of explosions" involving AT&T's U-Verse service.

      U-Verse is AT&T's fiber-optic Internet, television and telephone service, now being rolled out on a limited basis to compete with cable television. It is similar to Verizon's FiOS service.

      The complaint comes from the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), which says the equipment boxes are hazardous and could affect housing values as well as causing property damage and injury if they explode.

      "These large U-Verse cabinets have been proven to be hazardous from their early rollout stages," said Maria Kong, President of NAREB. "We cannot afford to take chances when it comes to the livelihood of residents who live near these boxes, or their property."

      The incidents were blamed on batteries manufactured by Avestor, which has since gone out of business. AT&T has said it is replacing all of the batteries.

      According to published reports, there are 17,000 utility cabinets equipped with similar batteries. Sales of homes near such boxes, the association argued, will show a dramatic drop-off until their security is ensured, imperiling the livelihood of African-American real estate professionals.

      Problems were first reported with the cabinets back in October 2006. An AT&T U-Verse cabinet exploded near the home of a Houston-area elderly couple. A few months later, a second cabinet in the Houston area caught fire.

      After the second fire was reported, an AT&T spokesperson confirmed that a "similar battery produced a small fire in another cabinet," NAREB said. Then, a third AT&T U-Verse cabinet exploded and caught fire in the Wisconsin community of Wauwatosa. The explosion was so powerful that the cabinet door, estimated to weigh 50 to 60 pounds, was blown off.

      A group of African-American real estate brokers wants the attorneys general of five states to investigate "a rash of explosions" involving AT&T's U-Verse s...
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      Identity Theft Tops FTC Complaint List Again

      Consumers report more than $1 billion in fraud losses

      February 14, 2008
      For the seventh year in a row, identity theft was the number one source of consumer fraud complaints submitted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). According to the agency's yearly report on fraud complaints for 2007, of 813,899 total complaints received in 2007, 258,427, or 32 percent, were related to identity theft.

      According to the FTC, total consumer fraud losses totaled $1.2 billion, with the average monetary loss for an individual at $349. Credit card fraud was the most common form of reported identity theft at 23 percent, followed by utilities fraud at 18 percent, employment fraud at 14 percent, and bank fraud at 13 percent.

      The top form of credit card fraud was opening a fraudulent new account at 14.2 percent, followed by fraud on an existing account at 9.4 percent.

      The FTC compiled fraud data from consumer complaints in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and identified the 50 metropolitan areas with the highest incidence of fraud and identity theft. The metropolitan areas with the highest per capita rates of reported consumer fraud complaints were Albany-Lebanon, Oregon; Greeley, Colorado; and Napa, California.

      The FTC received 140,000 more consumer fraud complaints in 2007 than in 2006, when the agency received 674,354 complaints. The agency received 686,000 complaints in 2005, 255,000 of which were related to identity theft.

      The agency compiles the complaints and data from its Consumer Sentinel database, which has collected over 4.3 million consumer complaints since 1997. The agency offered a caveat in its report that the data was not from a survey, but from unverified self-reported complaints.

      According to an official FTC survey released in November, 8.3 million Americans were victims of some form of identity theft in 2005.

      The FTC's surveys and complaint reports have acted as a counterpoint to claims from the financial industry that identity theft and related fraud are on the decline. A new survey released by Javelin Research & Strategy, and funded in part by Visa, claimed that identity theft dropped by 12 percent from previous years, even as costs of individual cases rose to $691 per affected victim.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      Identity Theft Tops FTC Complaint List Again...
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      ATV Deaths, Injuries Climbing

      After 20 years, feds no closer to a solution

      At least 555 people including 111 children, died riding all-terrain vehicles in 2006, according to a government report released today and the agency charged with protecting consumers appears nowhere close to making the dangerous vehicles any safer.

      The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) expects the casualty figures to rise as more hospitals and coroners submit data to the agency.

      In the last year alone, the CPSC added 199 deaths to the 2005 total, raising it to 666. The agency also estimates every year that the figures are much higher than reported. While the 2006 death estimates were not included in the report, the agency estimates 870 people actually died since many deaths are not properly reported.

      Of the 555 deaths in 2006, 20 percent -- or 111 -- were children younger than 16. Fifty were younger than 12.

      Aside from deaths, the CPSC estimates that the total number of ATV-related injuries in 2006 is 146,600, the highest total yet and up 10,000 from 2005.

      While many of the totals are less than recent years, the figures are certain to surpass those numbers as death tolls trickle in, said Rachel Weintraub, Consumer Federation of America's director of product safety.

      This further documents that we have a major problem and shows how pervasive the problem is, Weintraub said.

      ATVs are one of the deadliest products under the CPSC's jurisdiction, agency spokesman Scott Wolfson said.

      Although the methodologies for gathering data on bikes and ATVs are different, those are two products that are among the deadliest, Wolfson said.

      The deadliest product of all? Stairs.

      20 years

      The agency has been working on proposed rules to make ATVs safer for more than 20 years and although it reached a consent decree in the '80s to ban the sale of the exponentially deadlier three-wheel models, little progress has been made. In an interview last month, agency spokeswoman Julie Vallese said the agency hopes to make some progress on the proposed rules this summer. Currently the agency cannot act on any new regulations because it does not have a quorum of three commissioners.

      The proposed rules mostly solidify many of the current voluntary standards and Weintraub said those rules are not now keeping riders safe and will not do so in the future.

      In August 2006, the CPSC denied a petition filed over six years ago by consumer and health groups demanding action on ATVs.

      A statement from the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA), the ATV industry's lobbying arm, places blame for the accidents on rider error.

      The vast majority of ATV-related accidents and fatalities involve behaviors that the ATV industry warns against in its rider education programs, in all its literature, and on vehicle labels, according to an SVIA statement. In fact, an analysis of ATV fatalities during 1997-2002 showed that 92 percent of the fatalities were associated with one or more of these warned against behaviors.

      But Weintraub said the industry response is inadequate.

      Unfortunately, instead of working to keep children off adult-size ATVs and creating meaningful standards to decrease ATV hazards, the ATV industry has been prioritizing the protection of their economic interest and seeking to shift the blame from their vehicles to the riders.

      Wolfson said many ATV-related deaths and injuries could be avoided if riders follow these rules:

      • keep the vehicle off paved roads;
      • avoid tandem rides;
      • wear a helmet;
      • do not drive under the influence of dugs or alcohol; and
      • children must not operate adult-sized ATVs.

      Parents control the key: from purchase, to training, to operation, according to the SVIA statement. Youth under the age of 16 must not operate adult-sized ATVs and parents need to fulfill their responsibility as guardians of their children by purchasing the right ATV for them, by not allowing their children to operate adult-sized ATVs, by taking advantage of the free rider training courses made available by the member companies of the SVIA, and by supervising their children at all times.

      The American Association of Pediatrics suggests that no children under 16 ride ATVs regardless of the model.

      ATV Deaths, Injuries Climbing...
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      Kevin Trudeau Now Offering 'Debt Cures'

      Consumers find it hard to avoid buying more than just the book

      Master marketer and infomercial maven Kevin Trudeau has a new book out, but he hasn't strayed far from his successful diet and health book formula, which critics say panders to consumer paranoia.

      His new book, coincidentally introduced at the height of the current credit crises, is "Debt Cures They Don't Want You To Know About."

      Consumers who call an 800 number to order a copy are reporting very similar experiences as when they called to order "Natural Cures They Don't Want You To Know About." They're finding it very hard to buy just the book.

      "I only wanted to order the book, but the young lady kept telling me about a trial for thirty days, and I kept telling her the book only, please," Cynthia, of Mexia, Texas told ConsumerAffairs.com.

      Cynthia said in frustration, she told the operator to just cancel the order. But she says the operator told her the book is coming anyway, and will be in her mailbox in three to five weeks. Cynthia is concerned about what else might show up on her charge card.

      The book is currently only available from Trudeau, either by calling a toll-free number or going to a Web site. The book, if purchased from Trudeau, costs $29.95 plus nearly $12 shipping and handling.

      "Debt Cures They Don't Want You To Know About" will be available from Amazon.com for only $17 but not until May 2008. And if you're even considering purchasing it, it might be wise to read a few reviews first and to consider Trudeau's previous record.

      In September 2004, Trudeau agreed to pay $2 million to settle charges that he falsely claimed that a coral calcium product can cure cancer and other serious diseases and that a purported analgesic called Biotape can permanently cure or relieve severe pain. In September 2007, the FTC sued Trudeau again, charging him with violating the 2004 court order.

      In October 2007, the FTC sued marketers of Kevin Trudeaus book, The Weight Loss Cure They Dont Want You to Know About, charging they made claims that were false and unsubstantiated.

      Don't just rely on the so-called reviews you'll find online. Many are shills for the book. They offer up some criticism of Trudeau and his business practices, but in the end conclude, grudgingly, that the book is actually pretty good, and therefore worth the price.

      To be fair to Trudeau, many of the "mainstream" reviews of his book say the information he provides is just fine, if a little outdated in some areas. However, as Chuck Jaffe, of the respected financial Website Marketwatch.com concludes in his review, almost all of it is available for free, online and from other sources.

      The real problem with the book, Jaffe concludes, is the gauntlet consumers like Cynthia must pass through when they place their orders.

      "If you call for the book, you will be offered a whole lot of other goods and services, and you'll be expected to subscribe to the monthly Debt Cures newsletter for $9.95 per month," Jaffee writes. "By the time you get off the phone, if you fall for the wide range of sales pitches, you'll be about $250 deeper in debt and will add to that debt every succeeding month."

      Kevin Trudeau Now Offering 'Debt Cures'...
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