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New York Stops H&R Block's Deceptive Sweepstakes Ads

Company will pay $245,000 penalty for not playing by the rules

New York Stops H&R Block's Deceptive Sweepstakes Ads...

H&R Block's sweepstakes promotions might have been all about fun and games, but New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says the tax preparer didn't play by the rules. Cuomo's office has settled a suit against Block in connection with the allegedly deceptive advertising practices..

As part of the agreement, Block must pay $245,000 in penalties and costs for failing to post rules and regulations of its promotions at its offices and using false and deceptive advertising material to promote two sweepstakes games. The company also must disclose that the purchase of H&R Block products is not necessary to enter any promotional contest.

"H&R Block has agreed to implement the necessary changes so that all future promotions are in full compliance with New York state law," said Cuomo. "This settlement, while directed at H&R Block, serves as a warning to companies to make sure that all sweepstake rules and regulations are clearly spelled out with absolutely no ambiguity."

The Kansas City, Mo.-based company conducted two sweepstakes games: "Double Your Refund Instant Win Game" from January through April 2006 and "Toss Out Your Bills Instant Win Game" from January through April 2007. In both games, consumers could win by means of a scratch-off card, which was given to customers who purchased H&R Block tax preparation services.

New York state law requires companies conducting sweepstakes to give consumers an opportunity to enter and win without purchasing a product. H&R Block did not provide this opportunity for non-paying consumers.

The company's television, radio and print ads announced the ability to play if consumers had their taxes done by the company, and then directed consumers to H&R Block offices or hrblock.com for official rules on how to enter without a purchase.

However, the "no purchase necessary" qualification was either: flashed on screen briefly with no verbal announcement in television ads; announced with rapid-fire language at the end of radio ads; or buried in a small footnote in print ads. Cuomo's investigation found that no such information about entering the contest without purchasing a product was available at H&R block tax offices.

In addition to paying $245,000, H&R Block also must:

• Cleary post contest rules and regulations at participating H&R Block retail offices to enable non-purchasers to obtain the information for entry in contests

• Conduct training to ensure that sales employees are able to direct consumers to the information regarding non-purchase methods of entry

• Comply with all rules and regulations of promotions

• Clearly disclose the availability of alternative methods of entry in all advertising that refers to the purchase of an H&R Block product or service as one of the means to enter the contest.

Consumers are urged to consider the following guidelines before entering a sweepstakes:

• No purchase necessary: It is illegal for a sweepstakes to require you buy a product or make a donation.

• Be wary of claims of huge cash awards and prizes: If it looks to good too be true, it probably is too good to be true

• Don't be swayed by celebrities: They are paid to appear and they don't guarantee a sweepstakes is reputable.

• Be cautious: By participating in a sweepstakes, your name, address, and phone number might be sold to other solicitors

• Never give away your credit card, bank account or social security numbers on entry forms.

• Completely avoid any prize award that requires you first send money to cover taxes and other costs before the prize can be shipped to you.

• Be skeptical of letters and post cards claiming to be "official" or "urgent." If the envelope is sent "bulk rate" or costs less than 33 cents to send, you can certainly bet that thousands of people are receiving the same notice.

 

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Energy Drinks Can Lead To Caffeine "Overdose"

Drinks often contains lots of sodium & sugar too

Energy Drinks Can Lead To Caffeine ...


Anheuser-Busch's recent decision at the prodding of eleven state attorneys general to discontinue its two energy drinks, Tilt and Bud Extra, has won nods of approval from health care professionals.

But despite Busch's action, there are an estimated 200 energy drinks still on the market. That's a lot of energy.

"There was a time when we would get our caffeine intake from coffee and cola, but now there are a number of caffeine containing beverages and we need to be careful because over a period of 24 hours that caffeine intake is cumulative," said Dee Rollins, R.D., PhD, dietitian with Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine, Texas.

In fact, experts say energy drink consumers should keep careful track of the amount of caffeine they get in a day.

"If you know that 400 milligrams a day is the upper limit you can check the back of the labels and make sure that you don't get more than that," Rollins said.

It may sound like a lot, but 400 milligrams is roughly the equivalent of just one energy drink and two cups of coffee. Getting more than that can lead to jitteriness, nausea, heart palpations and in extreme cases more severe symptoms.

"It can be so bad that if you take too much caffeine you can end up in the hospital thinking you have flu-like symptoms and really it's caffeine overdose."

So remember as you're sipping take it slow or it may not just be energy you end up with.

"We don't think of caffeine as being a drug that we need to monitor, but we can overdo it," Rollins said.

For most people if they're not getting more than around 400 milligrams of caffeine a day these energy drinks are safe. But Rollins says there are some important things to remember:

• Don't drink energy beverages while exercising. It can lead to severe dehydration.

• Don't ever mix these drinks with alcoholit's popularbut doing so can not only mask how intoxicated you really are, it again can be extremely dehydrating.

In addition to caffeine, most of these energy drinks contain very high amounts of sugar and sodium which can be dangerous for diabetics or those with high blood pressure, Rollins said.

Under fire from the attorneys general of 11 states, Anheuser-Busch has agreed to discontinue its popular alcoholic energy drinks, including Tilt and Bud Extra, and vowed it will not produce any caffeinated alcohol beverages in the future.

Anheuser-Busch, the largest brewing company in the United States, has taken an important action to protect young people from attractive alcohol advertising and marketing, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said. Other major alcohol manufacturers should follow Anheuser-Buschs lead and eliminate dangerous combinations of caffeine and alcohol from the marketplace.

Alcoholic energy drinks are prepackaged beverages that combine alcohol and caffeine, guarana, taurine, ginseng and other ingredients associated with non-alcoholic energy drinks. Brown asserts that Anheuser-Busch marketed Bud Extra and Tilt in violation of state consumer protection statues by:

• Making misleading health-related statements about allegedly energizing effects of Bud Extra including increased strength and increased ability to stay up all night after drinking the products

• Failing to disclose its effects on consumers, and ignoring potential consequences of drinking alcoholic beverages that are combined with caffeine or other stimulants

• Directing advertisements of Tilt and Bud Extra to consumers under the age of 21

In November 2007, researchers at Wake Forest University of Medicine found that the combination of caffeine and alcohol sends mixed signals to the nervous system, causing the effect of a wide awake drunk.

Students who consumed these energy drink cocktails were twice as likely to be involved in alcohol-related accidents and injuries than when drinking alcohol alone. The combination of alcohol and caffeine can be dangerous because individuals may not feel impaired even when blood alcohol levels are very high.

California, along with ten other states, asserted that Anheuser-Busch made misleading health-related statements about the energizing effects of its caffeinated alcohol beverages. Marketing that promoted the alleged energy component of the drinks made the drinks appealing to teens.

The company advertised Bud Extra with taglines such as You can sleep when youre 30 and Say hello to a night of fun and utilized MySpace, YouTube, and other Internet sites popular with underage youth.

In addition, the packaging for many of the alcoholic energy drinks was similar to that for non-alcoholic energy drinks, leading to retailer and parent confusion.

Anheuser-Busch cooperated during the investigation and agreed to reformulate its products to exclude caffeine. As part of the agreement, Anheuser-Busch will discontinue two of its popular alcoholic energy drinks, Tilt and Bud Extra, and will not produce any caffeinated alcohol beverages in the future. Under the agreement the company will:

• Stop manufacturing and marketing all caffeinated alcoholic beverages, including Bud Extra and Tilt as currently formulated

• Reformulate its alcoholic energy drinks so that they do not contain caffeine or other stimulants that are metabolized as caffeine, such as Guarana

• Eliminate all references in advertising to caffeinated formulations and remove any reference to using Bud Extra and Tilt as mixers for other drinks.

Anheuser-Busch also agrees to immediately discontinue the current Tilt website www.tiltthenight.com without hyper linking or directing visitors to a new site. Any new Website may only to promote the reformulated Tilt without caffeine.

Other states which joined California in reaching an agreement with Anheuser-Busch include: Arizona, Conneticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York and Ohio. A copy of the multi-state agreement is attached.



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New Guide Lists Calories in Beer, Wine, Cocktails

Government doesn't require listings on drink labels

Alcohol Facts further explains what constitutes a "standard drink" -- 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (40%) distille...


Want to know how many calories you're consuming when you drink a couple of glasses or wine or a cocktail or two before dinner? Sorry, the government doesn't require that kind of information to be displayed on the label.

But the Consumer Federation of America says consumers who drink alcohol should have that information. It's assembled Alcohol Facts, a side-by-side comparison of the alcohol, calorie and carbohydrate content per serving of the 26 top selling domestic and imported alcohol brands.

Designed to help consumers follow the advice that men limit their consumption to two drinks a day and that women restrict their consumption to one drink per day, Alcohol Facts further explains what constitutes a "standard drink" -- 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (40%) distilled spirits.

According to the government's dietary guidelines, these amounts represent moderate drinking. Public health officials warn that consuming too much alcohol contributes to dependence, obesity and a range of diseases, such as liver cirrhosis and cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract.

"Right now, consumers really have no way of knowing the most basic information about alcoholic beverages," said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. "It's time to end the confusion so consumers can make informed and responsible purchasing and consumption decisions. We're making information available today on some of the top selling brands, but the federal government needs to require standardized and complete alcohol labeling on all alcoholic beverages."

Based on liquor industry sales data compiled by Adams Beverage Group, CFA's analysis focused on 26 top-selling alcohol brands, comprising 13 beers and flavored malt beverages, 8 spirits products (vodka, rum, whiskey, gin and tequila), and 5 brands of wine.

Using the standard serving size for each category, CFA found the alcohol per serving ranged from 0.42 fluid ounces to 0.70 fluid ounces depending upon the specific brand and type of alcoholic beverage. In contrast, calorie and carbohydrate content varied significantly among the categories and bands as follows:

• Among spirits, calories per serving ranged from 86 calories for spiced rum to 120 calories for gin. The average (not including mixers) was 98 calories per serving;

• For wines, calories per serving ranged from 105 calories for a merlot to 125 calories for a cabernet sauvignon. The average was 118 calories per serving;

• The greatest variation in calories occurred among beers and flavored malt beverages. Light beers (5 brands) averaged 100 calories per serving, regular beers averaged 140 calories (5 brands) per serving, and the flavored malt beverages (3 brands) ranged from 190 calories per serving to 241 calories per serving;

• Variations were greatest when analyzing carbohydrate levels. Compared to no carbohydrates in spirits, wines ranged from 0.8 grams per serving for chardonnay to 5.0 grams per serving for cabernet sauvignon. Among different beers and malt beverages, carbohydrates ranged from 3.2 grams per serving for light beer to 38 grams per serving for a flavored malt beverage.

"Consumers should not have to search out information on website pages to figure out what is in their drink," Waldrop said. "The fact that this information wasn't readily available underscores why Americans need the same helpful and easily accessible labeling information on alcoholic beverages that is now required for conventional foods, dietary supplements, and nonprescription drugs."



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Whats Really Fueling Those Sky-High Oil Prices

There are lots of theories; most of them are right

Ask any number of experts about whats causing the current run-up in oil prices, now around $140 a barrel, and youre likely to get several different answers...

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Salmonella Outbreak is Biggest Ever Tied to Produce

Investigators still aren't sure of the source of the outbreak

Tomatoes are back on grocers' shelves and on McDonald's hamburgers, but federal investigators still haven't identified the source of the salmonella outbrea...

Tomatoes are back on grocers' shelves and on McDonald's hamburgers, but federal investigators still haven't identified the source of the salmonella outbreak tentatively linked to certain types of tomatoes and they concede that the outbreak may be continuing -- meaning consumers may still be getting sick.

In its latest report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised the number of salmonella cases linked to raw tomatoes to 810 people in 36 states, making this biggest U.S. salmonella outbreak linked to fresh produce.

The actual number is likely much higher. The CDC estimates that for every case that is reported, there are 30 cases that go unreported.

Symptoms of salmonella include bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever.

While CDC scientists say the link to tomatoes still appears "strong," investigators are looking at other culprits as well.

"We always keep an open mind," CDC official Patricia Griffin said.

Not only have investigators not pinpointed the source of the outbreak, they're not sure it's over.

The latest known salmonella victim became ill on June 15, more than two months after the first reported illness and weeks after the first warnings about tomoatoes were issued.

Investigators have looked at farms in Florida, Mexico and elsewhere and they've examined packing houses and other facilities but have so far come up empty-handed.

Officials caution that the source may never be found.

The task is made more difficult because many tomato fields are no longer in production. Also, tomatoes from various sources are routinely mixed together at packing houses and other transit points, making it nearly impossible to say for sure where a given tomato came from.

Tomatoes thought to be the riskiest include raw red Roma, raw red plum, raw red round tomatoes, or products that contain these types of raw red tomatoes.

 



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Forget Tomatoes; Feds Focus on Jalapeños

Salmonella outbreak may be tied to salsa, sleuths suspect

Hundreds of millions of dollars later, federal health officials say that maybe tomatoes weren't to blame for the odd strain of salmonella that has sickened...

Hundreds of millions of dollars later, federal health officials say that maybe tomatoes weren't to blame for the odd strain of salmonella that has sickened hundreds of consumers after all.

Stores pulled tomatoes off the shelves, restaurants filled dumpsters with them and shoppers shunned them, all as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said they were trying to find the tomatoes that were causing the problem.

But now, the CDC thinks that perhaps it's been something else causing trouble all along, the Wall Street Journal reports. Jalapeño peppers, maybe. Or maybe cilantro and Serrano peppers.

The current theory making the rounds is that salsa prepared in restaurants may be the common thread that ties all the incidents together. After all, salsas is made with tomatoes. And jalapeño peppers. Cilantro too, come to think of it.

The reason the CDC thinks this is that it has been interviewing people who got sick, asking them what they ate and when, and then looking for a common element that might explain the outbreak of the Saintpaul strain of salmonella, a relatively rare and rather virulent version of the disease.

Consumer advocates have been irate for years with the apparently declining state of food safety in the U.S. Now restaurants and tomato growers are angry as well. They've lost millions of dollars and thrown away mountains of what may have been perfectly good produce.

The FDA has been hedging its best for the past few weeks, saying it couldn't be certain tomatoes were the problem. The biggest clue? Although tomatoes had been taken off the table, people were still getting sick.

So now, the prevailing theory is that maybe it's something that is commonly eaten with tomatoes. Salsa, after all, is made with tomatoes and other produce like, oh, jalapeño peppers.

CDC is hedging its bets this time around, saying it is looking at "certain restaurants" but refusing to name them. It's dropping little hints, though, saying it's not looking at chain restaurants.

All of this frustrates restaurateurs no end.

"To blame salsa brings nothing to the table," a Texas Restaurant Association executive told the Journal. "There's all kinds of salsas."

Symptoms of salmonella include bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever.

It can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections particularly in young children, frail or elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems. Healthy people often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, the organism can get into the bloodstream and produce more severe illnesses.



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Unexpected Problems Confront Prius Owners

Pleasure turns to pain for many purchasers

Standing room only may be the rule as hybrid hunters line up outside Toyota showrooms to join the ever-growing waiting list for a new Prius....

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Study: Parents Often Source of Liquor for Underage Drinkers

Few teen drinkers pay for alcohol; many get it at home

Study: Parents Often Source of Liquor for Underage Drinkers...


The vast majority of underage drinkers aren't buying alcohol from a careless liquor store clerk, but are getting it for free from Mom and Dad. A new study released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also finds underage drinkers usually drink at their, or someone else's, home.

The report marks the first time the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health asked detailed questions about the behavior and social situations involved in underage drinking.

"In far too many instances parents directly enable their children's underage drinking -- in essence encouraging them to risk their health and well-being. Proper parental guidance alone may not be the complete solution to this devastating public health problem -- but it is a critical part," said Acting Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, M.D., M.P.H. in releasing the report.

Some of the key findings include:

• Ninety percent of underage drinkers were either given alcohol for free or had someone else purchase it for them.

• Eighty-four percent (84%) of underage drinkers were in their own home or someone else's home when they had their last drink; 9.4 percent were at a restaurant, bar or club.

• Among all underage current drinkers, 31 percent paid for the alcohol the last time they drank, including 21.6 percent who gave money to someone else to purchase the alcohol and 9.3 percent who purchased the alcohol themselves. The remaining 69 percent of underage drinkers did not pay for the alcohol on their last drinking occasion.

• Of the 9.3 percent of underage individuals who purchased alcohol for themselves, 5.2 percent of individuals bought it at a liquor, convenience or grocery store and 2.8 percent bought it at a restaurant, bar or club.

• Over 40 percent of underage drinkers received alcohol for free from adults over 21 including 25.8 percent who were given alcohol by an unrelated person aged 21 or older, 6.4 percent who were given alcohol by their parent or guardian, and 8.3 percent who were given alcohol by another family member aged 21 or older.

• Past month alcohol use dropped 11 percent (from 7.4 percent in 2002 to 6.6 percent in 2006) for youth aged 12 to 14; declined 8 percent (from 28.3 percent in 2002 to 26.1 percent in 2006) for youth aged 15 to 17; and remained flat at around 51 percent for 18 to 20 year olds in the same time period.

Distilled Spirits Council President Peter Cressy said that this study's findings on sources of youth alcohol access are mirrored by research by the National Academy of Sciences and the Federal Trade Commission, which both found that youth primarily obtain alcohol from social sources including parents or adult family members and friends.

"While parents may believe they have no impact on their teens' behavior, this study once again underscores that parental involvement is key to the decisions underage make about drinking or not drinking," said Cressy. "Our country is making important progress in preventing and reducing underage drinking but much more needs to be done. Parents and the entire community working together can make a difference."



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Payday Loan Lead Generators Settle FTC Charges

Ads didn't display annual percentage rate, as the law requires

Two companies that generate payday loan leads have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that their Internet advertising misled the public. Spe...

Two companies that generate payday loan leads have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that their Internet advertising misled the public. Specifically, the FTC said the ads stated what the loans would costs and when they would have to be repaid, but didn't show the annual percentage rate information as federal law requires.

Since the APR on the typical payday loans can run several hundred percent, consumers who realize they are being charged 350 percent interest on that $200 loan might think twice before taking it out. At least, that's the idea behind the law.

The settlements require the advertisers to disclose APR information in similar payday loan ads in the future and to comply in all other respects with the Truth in Lending Act. APR information helps consumers compare the costs of these payday loans with others and with alternative forms of short-term credit.

In typical payday loan transactions, consumers receive cash in exchange for their personal checks or authorization to debit their bank accounts, and lenders and consumers agree that consumers' checks will not be cashed or their accounts debited until a designated future date.

Payday loans have high fees and short repayment periods, which translate to high annual rates, and they often are due on the borrower's next payday, usually about every two weeks.

The two companies, We Give Loans, Inc. and Aliyah Associates, LLC, d/b/a American Advance, are lead generators based in Minnesota and Arizona, respectively. They advertise payday loans on their Web sites and collect information from consumers through their online applications. They then sell this "lead" information to lenders that ultimately offer payday loans to consumers.

The Truth in Lending Act requires that those who advertise the cost of credit must disclose the APR of the loans to help consumers make better-informed decisions, including assisting them in comparison shopping among loans.

According to the FTC's complaints, the two firms stated loan costs on their Web sites -- a $20 fee for a $100 loan, for example -- but failed to disclose the APR. For a typical 14-day pay period, consumers who obtained payday loans advertised by We Give Loans, Inc. would pay an APR from 260 percent to 521 percent or higher, and consumers who obtained payday loans advertised by Aliyah Associates would pay an APR of 782 percent.

The proposed consent orders prohibit We Give Loans, Inc. and Aliyah Associates, LLC from advertising certain credit offers without providing consumers with key disclosures, such as the APR, and bar them from violating the Truth in Lending Act in any other manner.

 

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Consumer Bankruptcies Up 47% from Last Year

It can take 10 to 20 years or more to fully recover, researchers find

Filing bankruptcy is a growing option for many struggling Americans, but a new study suggests it takes a long time to recover from such a setback. Research...

Filing bankruptcy is a growing option for many struggling Americans, but a new study suggests it takes a long time to recover from such a setback. Researchers at Ohio State University conclude that it can take 10 to 20 years or more for those who file bankruptcy to reach the same financial status as their peers.

"Bankruptcy is not a lifelong curse, but it doesn't provide an immediate fresh start either," said Jay Zagorsky, co-author of the study and a research scientist at OSU's Center for Human Resource Research.

Compared to those who have similar social and economic backgrounds, people who declare bankruptcy catch up to non-filers in terms of savings in about 12 years, total income in 14 years, home ownership in 14 years, and net worth in 26 years.

However, on some measures, those who go through bankruptcy do as well as or slightly better than those who never filed, the researchers found.

For example, 90 percent of those who went bankrupt have a car less than a year after bankruptcy, compared to 89 percent of those who never filed. About 74 percent of bankruptcy filers have full time jobs after one to five years, compared to 73 percent of non-filers.

"Along some dimensions, such as access to a car, bankruptcy doesn't seem to have any negative effect at all," Zagorsky said. "But on most measures, bankruptcy does set people back quite a bit."

Zagorsky conducted the study with Lois R. Lupica, the Maine Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Maine. Their research will appear in a forthcoming issue of the ABI Law Review, published by the American Bankruptcy Institute.

The results of the study are important because it is one of the few studies that has looked at how Americans fare after bankruptcy, Zagorsky said. The main reason for the lack of studies has been a lack of good data.

However, for this study, the researchers had good data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which has questioned the same group of randomly selected Americans 22 times since 1979. The NLSY is conducted by Ohio State's Center for Human Resource Research.

This study focused on data from the 2004 survey, when respondents were asked about possible bankruptcy filings. The survey included 7,661 respondents who were in their mid-40s in 2004, of which 13.5 percent said they had declared bankruptcy.

In general, the study showed that people who file for bankruptcy are more likely to be divorced, female, less educated, have lower income, live in urban areas and have bigger families than people who have never filed.

What's measured

What happens after bankruptcy depends on what is being measured.

While those undergoing bankruptcy do better than others in car ownership, they are saddled with more car debt. The percentage of respondents with car debt declines over time from 52 percent just after bankruptcy to 46 percent among those who filed more than 15 years ago. But it never reaches the 42 percent level of those who never filed.

Home ownership increases steadily from 50 percent of those who recently filed to 68 percent of those who filed more than 15 years ago. But no matter how long ago the bankruptcy occurred, the homeownership rate never reaches the 73 percent level of those who have never filed.

The percentage of bankruptcy filers with savings increases from 60 percent immediately after bankruptcy to 74 percent among those who filed more than 15 years ago. About 81 percent of people who have never filed have savings.

Those who go bankrupt also eventually regain use of credit cards. Just 18 percent of recent filers had a credit card, but that increases to 68 percent after 15 years, nearly the same percentage as those who never filed.

The study also compared consumers who filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 (in which much of the filer's assets are sold to pay off creditors) with those who filed under Chapter 13 (in which the filer pays off all or some of his debts over time).

In general, results showed that those who filed under Chapter 7 took longer to catch up with their non-filing peers than did those who went the Chapter 13 route, Zagorsky said.

Predates new law

Zagorsky noted that the data from this study came before a new federal bankruptcy law was enacted in October 2005 which made it more difficult for consumers to file for bankruptcy protection.

"This means that the numbers discussed in this research might underestimate the length of time the average person needs to catch up under the new law," Zagorsky said.

Data on people who filed under the new law will eventually become available, he said. Earlier this year, the NLSY began the 23rd round of interviewing respondents. That data will be available in 2010.

But this study offers a glimpse at what life may be like for financially troubled people today who may be considering bankruptcy.

"Many people are finding themselves in financial straits, given the price of gas, food and housing, coupled with high levels of debt, particularly if they have an adjustable mortgage," Zagorsky said.

"The bankruptcy discharge offers debtors immediate relief from current debts, but to experience what people may heard of as a 'fresh start,' that may take longer than they expect or would like."

 

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Mongoose Youth ATVs Recalled

Mongoose Youth ATVs Recalled...

June 26, 2008
About 1,700 Mongoose youth ATVs are being recalled by KYMCO. A manufacturing defect in the carburetor can cause the throttle to stick open, posing a risk of serious injury or death to the rider.

This recall involves model year 2008 Mongoose 50cc, 70cc and 90cc Youth ATVs. KYMCO is printed on a label located on the front of the vehicle, and the model name is printed on a label located on each side of the fuel tank.

The ATVs were sold by KYMCO dealers nationwide from August 2007 through June 2008 for between $1,700 and $2,100. They were made in Taiwan.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact any authorized KYMCO dealer to schedule a free repair. Registered owners were sent direct mail notification of this recall.

For additional information, contact KYMCO USA toll-free at (888) 235-3417 anytime, or visit the firms Web site at www.kymcousa.com

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

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Kawasaki ATVs Recalled

Kawasaki ATVs Recalled...

June 26, 2008
Kawasaki is recalling about 6,000 2008 Model Year KFX 50 and KFX 90 Youth ATVs. The throttle can fail to return to the idle position when released or could fail to be at idle on start-up. This could result in loss of vehicle control, posing a risk of serious injury or death to the rider.

The recall includes 2008 model year KFX 50 (50cc) and KFX 90 (90cc) youth ATVs. The affected models are green or white with black trim. The model name is located on either side below the handlebars.

The ATVs, made in Taiwan, were sold by Kawasaki dealerships nationwide from August 2007 through June 2008 for about $1,750 (KFX 50) and $2,200 (KFX 90).

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact any authorized dealer to schedule a free repair. Registered owners were sent direct mail notification of this recall.

For additional information, contact Kawasaki toll-free at (866) 802-9381 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, or visit the firm's Web site at www.kawasaki.com.

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

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Anheuser-Busch Ends Alcoholic Energy Drink Sales

Drinks create 'wide-awake drunks,' states charged

Anheuser-Busch Ends Alcoholic Energy Drink Sales...


Under fire from the attorneys general of 11 states, Anheuser-Busch has agreed to discontinue its popular alcoholic energy drinks, including Tilt and Bud Extra, and vowed it will not produce any caffeinated alcohol beverages in the future.

Anheuser-Busch, the largest brewing company in the United States, has taken an important action to protect young people from attractive alcohol advertising and marketing, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said. Other major alcohol manufacturers should follow Anheuser-Buschs lead and eliminate dangerous combinations of caffeine and alcohol from the marketplace.

Alcoholic energy drinks are prepackaged beverages that combine alcohol and caffeine, guarana, taurine, ginseng and other ingredients associated with non-alcoholic energy drinks. Brown asserts that Anheuser-Busch marketed Bud Extra and Tilt in violation of state consumer protection statues by:

• Making misleading health-related statements about allegedly energizing effects of Bud Extra including increased strength and increased ability to stay up all night after drinking the products

• Failing to disclose its effects on consumers, and ignoring potential consequences of drinking alcoholic beverages that are combined with caffeine or other stimulants

• Directing advertisements of Tilt and Bud Extra to consumers under the age of 21


In November 2007, researchers at Wake Forest University of Medicine found that the combination of caffeine and alcohol sends mixed signals to the nervous system, causing the effect of a wide awake drunk.

Students who consumed these energy drink cocktails were twice as likely to be involved in alcohol-related accidents and injuries than when drinking alcohol alone. The combination of alcohol and caffeine can be dangerous because individuals may not feel impaired even when blood alcohol levels are very high.

California, along with ten other states, asserted that Anheuser-Busch made misleading health-related statements about the energizing effects of its caffeinated alcohol beverages. Marketing that promoted the alleged energy component of the drinks made the drinks appealing to teens.

The company advertised Bud Extra with taglines such as You can sleep when youre 30 and Say hello to a night of fun and utilized MySpace, YouTube, and other Internet sites popular with underage youth.

In addition, the packaging for many of the alcoholic energy drinks was similar to that for non-alcoholic energy drinks, leading to retailer and parent confusion.

Anheuser-Busch cooperated during the investigation and agreed to reformulate its products to exclude caffeine. As part of the agreement, Anheuser-Busch will discontinue two of its popular alcoholic energy drinks, Tilt and Bud Extra, and will not produce any caffeinated alcohol beverages in the future. Under the agreement the company will:

• Stop manufacturing and marketing all caffeinated alcoholic beverages, including Bud Extra and Tilt as currently formulated

• Reformulate its alcoholic energy drinks so that they do not contain caffeine or other stimulants that are metabolized as caffeine, such as Guarana

• Eliminate all references in advertising to caffeinated formulations and remove any reference to using Bud Extra and Tilt as mixers for other drinks.

Anheuser-Busch also agrees to immediately discontinue the current Tilt website www.tiltthenight.com without hyper linking or directing visitors to a new site. Any new Website may only to promote the reformulated Tilt without caffeine.

Other states which joined California in reaching an agreement with Anheuser-Busch include: Arizona, Conneticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York and Ohio. A copy of the multi-state agreement is attached.



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Congress Reaches Agreement on Parts of Consumer Safety Bill

Fierce behind-the-scenes battle rages over increasing the power of the Consumer Product Safety Commission

Congress Reaches Agreement on Parts of Consumer Safety Bill...

By Joseph S. Enoch
ConsumerAffairs.com

June 26, 2008
After three and a half months of secretive backroom bickering and intense lobbying, U.S. senators and representatives agreed late yesterday on 21 uncontroversial items of what many have called the most sweeping consumer legislation in a generation.

The bill, the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act, would greatly increase the beleaguered safety agency's funding, staff and authority. Both the House and the Senate passed their versions of the bill earlier in the year and since March 6, the two sides have been in conference trying to find agreeable compromises between the skeletal House version and the Senate version, which consumer advocates believe is far better suited to protect consumers and reinvigorate the CPSC.

Despite the differences, the two sides were able to agree on 21 items out of a total of about 30.

While many of the specifics are still being worked on and no official documents have been released, of those 21 items, the most notable are:

Required tracking labels for children's products, which would probably make recalls easier and more effective. This also would make it easier to track the source of manufacturing.

A return to a five-member commission and reinstatement of interim quorum. In August 1986 two commissioners resigned and their seats were never filled, leaving the agency for the past 22 years with three commissioners to vote on rules and fines. Two years ago, then-chairman Hal Stratton, a George W. Bush appointee, abruptly resigned to become a lobbyist and Bush has not filled the vacancy. There is a good chance Bush will never fill that vacancy, said Rachel Weintraub, director of Product Safety at the consumer advocacy group, Consumer Federation of America. This legislation would give the agency a temporary quorum with the remaining two commissioners until the new president fills the three vacant posts.

More transparency in the agency. This includes more submissions of documents to Congress while requiring the agency to submit annual reports something almost every agency does -- yet the CPSC stopped doing it in 2003.

More effective recalls by way of requiring manufacturers to send recall notices to customers and advertise the recall on the Internet and in catalogs and enhancing the agency's authority to order recalls.

Expedited rulemaking. The CPSC often takes two years or more to pass rules.

Ban industry-sponsored travel. This comes after The Washington Post reported that Stratton and the acting chairwoman, Nancy Nord, another Bush appointee, went on many expensive trips, including one to China, on the tab of companies the commission regulates.

Increased civil penalties. Currently the agency can fine companies that knowingly break rules a maximum of $1.8 million a paltry sum for many of the multi-million and -billion dollar companies the agency regulates. An exact figure has yet to be released but it is believed to be $15 million a compromise between the House bill's proposed $10 million and the Senate's $100 million.

There are about eight more controversial items the senators and representatives did not have time to fully address yesterday afternoon due to votes on the House floor.

While they were not specifically addressed, they are believed to be:

Preemption expansion. This is easily the most controversial and complicated item in the bill. Manufacturers and their lobbyists are pushing hard to include language that would make it nearly impossible for consumers injured by dangerous products to sue while consumer advocates would like all preemption language removed from the bill.

Authority of state attorneys general. This is also a very controversial and complicated item. The Senate bill allows attorneys general to act essentially as mini CPSCs -- a move that would allow the agency to expand its overall power and effectiveness, consumer advocates argue. The House Bill gives some authority to attorneys general, but on a considerably more limited basis. Industry lobbyists argue that increased state authority will make it harder for them to manufacture their products to code.

Publicly searchable database. This would allow consumers to read the thousands of complaints the agency receives every year instantly on the Internet, similar to what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers on its Web site. Currently, one must file a Freedom of Information Act request to view those complaints a process that frequently takes many months for the agency to fulfill. The senate bill's author, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), argued that this clause would be important because it takes the agency too long to pass rules and thus consumers will be safer by reading about the potential hazards of any product long before the agency does anything about it. Manufacturers say this process will lend itself to competing companies filing false complaints with the agency. Currently, millions of readers read complaints from the ConsumerAffairs.com database every month.

Mandatory all-terrain vehicle rules. The rules for ATVs expired in 1998 and although larger manufacturers have continued to abide by them voluntarily, less scrupulous foreign manufacturers have imported cheaper ATVs that do not follow the voluntary rules. Manufacturers want the rules to become mandatory while consumer advocates would rather the rules be withheld so much stronger ones can be implemented. ATVs are among the most deadly products under the CPSC's jurisdiction.

Phthatlate restrictions. In recent years, scientists have identified a possible connection to the plastic components known as phthalates and cancer and genital defects. The European Union, California and some retailers, including Wal-Mart, have banned some types of phthalates. Many Democrat conferees want rules similar to the EU ban included in the legislation, while some Republicans, most notably Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), believe the fears to be overstated.

Whistleblower protections. Consumer advocates believe the marketplace will be safer if employees can release information proving a company knowingly makes defective goods without fear of being sued. Manufacturers believe this will pave the way for trial lawyers and disgruntled employees to make frivolous accusations.

Lead levels in children's products. Very few details are known yet except that a deal on a figure is close, Pryor said. The current standard is 600 parts per million and the new standard is expected to be less than half that.

Regardless of the outcomes of these controversial items, we will have a much safer marketplace if the bill becomes law, Pryor said.

Many senators and representatives present at the conference meeting said that completing the conference before August would be an aggressive goal.

It is unknown whether President Bush will sign the impending bill into law. He has not threatened a veto, but in a memo from the White House, has indicated that he disagrees with many of the more aggressive clauses.

The staff members of the House and Senate Commerce Committees were told to work over the upcoming July 4 recess, starting Friday, to continue to try and find workable compromises on the controversial items. The next public meeting has been tentatively scheduled for soon after the recess, said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who co-chairs the conference.



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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Bring Hope, If Not Relief

Honda is first out of the gate, closely followed by scam artists

Talk about timing. Honda's rollout of its first hydrogen fuel cell car couldn't have come at a better time. Introducing a vehicle that basically runs on wa...

 

Honda Motor Co., Ltd. president and CEO Takeo Fukui takes some of the initial FCX Clarity customers for a quick drive during a ceremony at the world's first dedicated fuel cell vehicle manufacturing facility, located in Tochigi, Japan.

Talk about timing. Honda's rollout of its first hydrogen fuel cell car couldn't have come at a better time. Introducing a vehicle that basically runs on water instead of gasoline quite predictably caught the world's attention.

But these cars, called Fuel Cell Vehicles, or FCVs, are highly complex, and to say they run on water greatly oversimplifies the subject and, understandably, has already led to some consumer confusion.

FCVs are actually electric cars, running on a set of super-strong batteries. But unlike normal batteries that have to be plugged in to be recharged, FCVs use a hydrogen-based fuel that constantly recharges them. So, far from running on water, these engines require a hydrogen-mix fuel, which combined with oxygen from the air, create a chemical process that powers the batteries.

The first FCVs are very, very expensive in the price range of an Italian sports car. And since you can't just fill the tank with water, fueling stations have to begin providing the hydrogen fuel mix, so that motorists can confidently drive from one point to another, knowing they will be able to fill up when they need to.

But even with those problems, petroleum-dependent motorists have reason for excitement. Here is a vehicle that doesn't require oil to operate. While it doesn't run on water, its hydrogen fuel is made from water. There are no carbon emissions, only water vapor.

Before most consumers can trade in their hybrid for a FCV, a lot more research and development must take place. The biggest task is to reduce the cost and improve performance. Being able to mass produce the cars will likely bring down the cost, but it will remain an expensive technology for quite some time.

But Honda has not been alone in developing its FCV. Other automakers, along with governments, fuel cell developers, and component suppliers, have been working to make FCVs cheaper and more practical.

In 2003, President Bush announced a program called the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative during his State of the Union Address. The initiative, supported by legislation in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Advanced Energy Initiative of 2006, aims to develop hydrogen, fuel cell and infrastructure technologies to make fuel-cell vehicles practical and cost-effective by 2020. The United States has dedicated more than one billion dollars to fuel cell research and development so far, according to DOE.

The Japanese government has also been highly supportive of this effort, and Honda researchers have beat everyone out of the gate. Its FCX Clarity fuel-cell car goes on lease in California this year, but for all practical purposes, it will be a plaything for the rich and famous.

Honda says its Clarity will have a range of 270 miles between refueling, a top speed of 100 miles per hour, and be able to go from 0-60 in ten seconds. While that sounds good, Honda says it plans to only turn out 300 of the cars in the next three years.

With the publicity and excitement surrounding the FCV, scammers are already seeking to cash in. A Google search of "hydrogen fuel cell" produces dozens of sponsored links to Web sites that promise "Yes, you CAN run your car on water," and offer to sell "conversion" kits.

It goes without saying, no such kits exist.

 

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California Sues Countrywide For Mortgage Deception

Nation's largest mortgage lender used 'deceptive scheme,' states charge

California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today sued Countrywide Financial, its chief executive Angelo Mozilo, and president David Sambol, for engagi...

California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today sued Countrywide Financial, its chief executive Angelo Mozilo, and president David Sambol, for engaging in deceptive advertising and unfair competition by pushing homeowners into mass-produced, risky loans for the sole purpose of reselling the mortgages on the secondary market.

Countrywide exploited the American dream of homeownership and then sold its mortgages for huge profits on the secondary market, Brown said. The company sold ever-increasing numbers of complex and risky home loans, as quickly as possible.

"Countrywide was, in essence, a mass-production loan factory, producing ever-increasing streams of debt without regard for borrowers. Todays lawsuit seeks relief for Californians who were ripped off by Countrywides deceptive scheme, he said.

Illinois' complaint is similar to California's.

"Countrywide used egregiously unfair and deceptive lending practices to steer borrowers into loans that were destined to fail," said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Her suit was filed on behalf of thousands of people in the Chicago area who Madigan says are in danger of losing their homes. Some 35 percent of Countrywide's sub-prime mortgages are reportedly in default.

Brown alleges that Countrywide Financial used deceptive tactics to push homeowners into complicated, risky, and expensive loans so that the company could sell as many loans as possible to third-party investors. According to the lawsuit, the company marketed complex and difficult to understand loans with very low initial or teaser interest rates or payments.

Countrywide employees, including loan officers, underwriters, and branch managers -- who were under intense pressure to process a constantly increasing number of loans -- misrepresented or obfuscated the fact that borrowers who obtained certain types of loans would experience dramatic increases in monthly payments.

In the past, lenders like Countrywide sold home loans to customers and held the loans in their own portfolio, an incentive to maintain strong underwriting standards. Countrywide, however, sold its loans to third-parties in the form of securities or whole loans, often earning more profit for riskier loans. The business model generated windfall profits for Countrywide.

Teaser rates

The company pushed these loans by emphasizing a low teaser or initial rate, often as low as 1 percent for pay option ARMs.

Countrywide obscured the negative effects -- including rising rates, prepayment penalties and negative amortization -- which would inevitably result from making minimum payments or trying to refinance, Brown charged. He said the company misrepresented or hid the fact that borrowers who obtained its home loans -- including exploding adjustable rates and negatively amortizing loans -- would experience dramatic increases in monthly payments.

In an effort to rope in as many customers as possible, Countrywide greatly relaxed and liberally granted exceptions to its mortgage lending standards. Traditionally, lenders required borrowers to document income and assets but Countrywide offered reduced or no documentation loan programs to increase its loan sales. Angelo Mozilo and David Sambol actively pushed for easing underwriting standards and granting exceptions to documentation requirements.

In Countrywides 2006 annual report, the company touted the massive growth of its loan production from $62 billion in 2000 to $463 billion in 2006 -- three times the increase of the U.S. residential loan production market, which tripled from $1.0 trillion in 2000 to $2.9 trillion in 2006. 26 percent of Countywide loans were for California properties.

The company sold an ever-increasing number of loans in an effort to gain a 30 percent market share of loan originations and then sell its loans on the secondary market, as mortgage-backed securities or pools of whole loans. Countrywides securities trading volume increased from $647 billion in 2000 to $3.8 trillion in 2006.

Countrywide routinely sold loans based upon a borrowers stated income and without verifying the information, Brown's suit alleges. Loan officers memorized scripts that marketed low payments by focusing on the potential customers dissatisfaction, saying, for example, Which would you rather have, a long-term fixed payment, or a short-term one that may allow you to realize several hundred dollars a month in savings? The loan officer did not state that the payment on this new loan would exceed the payment on the current loan.

Countrywide paid greater compensation to brokers for loans with a higher interest rates, as well as prepayment penalties, because it could sell those loans for higher prices on the secondary market. Countrywide also paid rebates to brokers who originated loans with prepayment penalties, adjustable rates and high margins.

Countrywide operated an extensive telemarketing operation in which it touted its expertise and claimed to find the best financial options for customers. Customer Service representatives at Countrywide call centers were required to complete calls within three minutes, often processing sixty-five to eight-five calls per day. Employees who did not meet quotas were terminated.

The lawsuit charges that the companys deceptive marketing practices, designed to sell costly loans while hiding or misrepresenting the terms and dangers, included:

• Encouraging borrowers to refinance or obtain financing with complicated mortgage instruments like hybrid adjustable rate mortgages or payment option adjustable mortgages

• Marketing complex loan products by emphasizing a very low teaser rate while misrepresenting the steep monthly payments, increased interest rates and risk of negative amortization

• Dramatically easing underwriting standards to qualify more people for loans

• Using low or no-documentation loans which allowed no verification of stated income

• Hiding total monthly payment obligations by selling homeowners a second mortgage in the form of a home equity line of credit

• Making borrowers sign a large stack of documents without provider time to read the paperwork

• Misrepresenting or hiding the fact that loans had prepayment penalties

As the secondary markets appetite for loans increased, Countrywide further relaxed its standards to finance borrowers with ever-decreasing credit scores. Countrywide employees routinely overrode the companys computerized underwriting system, known as CLUES, which issued loan analysis reports recommending or discouraging loans based on factors such as a consumers credit rating.

As the pressure to produce loans increased, Countrywide set up an entire department in Plano, Texas, at the direction of Mozilo and Sambol, where employees could submit requests for underwriting exceptions. In 2006, 15,000 to 20,000 loans a month were processed through this exception process.

Countrywides deceptive sales practices resulted in a large number of loans ending in default and foreclosure, Brown said. According to Countrywides February 2008 records, a staggering 27 percent of its subprime mortgages were delinquent. Overall, approximately 20,000 Californians lost their homes to foreclosure in May 2008 and 72,000 California homes were in default, roughly 1 out of 183 homes.

Despite receiving numerous complaints from borrowers claiming that they did not understand their loan terms, Countrywide ignored loan officers deceptive practices and loose underwriting standards. Countrywide also pushed its borrowers to serially refinance, repeatedly urging borrowers to obtain home loans to pay off their current debt.

Todays lawsuit, filed this morning in Los Angeles Superior Court, redacts confidential information Countrywide provided during the attorney generals investigation. The attorney general is seeking the companys consent to file an amended complaint that removes the redactions.

During the course of its investigation into Countrywide, state investigators reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents and interviewed scores of witnesses including consumers and former employees.

Consumers who believe they have been victimized by Countrywide Consumers should file a complaint by contact the Attorney Generals Public Inquiry Unit in writing at Attorney General's Office California Department of Justice Attn: Public Inquiry Unit P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, California or through an online complaint form.

Madigan's suit says that Countrywide knowingly put people in unaffordable loans by falsifying their income. Madigan's suit not only seeks restitution from Countrywide, but also seeks damages from Mozilo.

"Countrywide's unfair lending practices have harmed tens of thousands of borrowers who've been placed in unaffordable loans and, as a result, our communities are now being de-stabilised by a skyrocketing number of home foreclosures," Madigan said.

Countrywide is a shell of its former self, but is in the process of being acquired by Bank of America. The lawsuits were filed on the same day that Countrywide stockholders were voting on the BOA sale.

 

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California Court to Rule on Dex-Cool Settlement

GM could pay millions in repair claims

Millions of consumers could collect repair costs from General Motors for engine damage caused by the coolant Dex-Cool following a hearing in California sch...

Millions of consumers could collect repair costs from General Motors for engine damage caused by the coolant Dex-Cool following a hearing in California scheduled for late August.

Two class-action lawsuits are pending in California state court involving GM customers who claim Dex-Cool damaged engines, formed a brown sludge in the radiator and caused coolant leaks.

More than 30 GM cars and trucks built from 1995 to 2004 are involved.

The hearing to consider a settlement is scheduled for August 29 in the California Superior Court in Alameda to consider the suits which affect GM customers in 49 states. The only state not included, Missouri, has a hearing scheduled for September 5.

As many as 20 million GM customers could be covered by the settlement with GM owing up to $800 to current and former customers for repair cost reimbursements.

GM customers with Dex-Cool engine damage who are eligible for reimbursements have until October 27 to submit a claim.

The settle requires GM to pay up to $27 million in attorney fees and expenses.

The automaker would also be required to pay for the notice of the settlement, including all mailings and advertisements throughout the U.S.

GM claimed Dex-Cool would last five years or 150,000 miles, almost twice as long as conventional coolants. The automaker placed labels under the hoods of cars and trucks containing Dex-Cool warning consumers not to mix other coolants with Dex-Cool. GM added an advisory to its 1995 owner's manual advising consumers and service technicians to use Dex-Cool only.

The first lawsuit claiming Dex-Cool damaged engines and cooling systems was filed in April 2003. GM argued that customers neglected maintenance instructions for their vehicles and caused the problems with engine or cooling systems.

GM vehicles covered by the lawsuits are:

Buick: LeSabre, Park Avenue, Regal, Riviera, Century, Rendezvous, Regal, and Skylark Chevrolet Camaro, Impala, Lumina, Monte Carlo

Chevrolet: Camaro, Impala, Lumina, Malibu, Monte Carlo, Venture, Corsica, Beretta, Lumina APV

Oldsmobile: Alero, Cutlass (Supreme and Ciera), Silhouette, Bravada, Eighty-Eight, Intrigue, LSS, Ninety-Eight

Pontiac: Aztek, Grand Am, Grand Prix, Montana, Trans SportBonneville, Firebird, Grand Prix

GMC: Envoy, Jimmy, S15

 

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Seniors Should be Wary of Reverse Mortgage Scams

Scams involving reverse mortgages becoming common

Seniors Should be Wary of Reverse Mortgage Scams...


Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is warning senior citizens about scams involving reverse mortgages, a type of home equity loan frequently abused by con artists and scammers.

 

These loans are often popular options for senior citizens because they offer a cash source which can help meet unexpected medical expenses, supplement Social Security and more.

When our senior citizens are concerned about finances and are seeking a legitimate option for financial relief, they should not have to worry about predatory lenders or brokers trying to capitalize on their precarious position, said Attorney General McCollum. Consumers should take every precaution to avoid scams and situations which could leave them in even worse financial shape.

Reverse mortgages are a special type of home loan that allow homeowners who are 62 and older to borrow against their home equity without having to repay the money until the home is sold or the borrower passes away or moves out permanently.

When the home is sold, lenders recover their principal plus interest. The remaining value of the home goes to the homeowner or to his or her survivors.

Unfortunately, as the popularity of reverse mortgages grows, so does the potential for fraud. Predatory lenders, unscrupulous loan agents and dishonest brokers may target senior citizens who may be anxious about their financial security.

Deceptive practices and allegations of high-pressure sales tactics are being more frequently encountered as senior citizens are being taken advantage of under the guise of a helpful and legitimate reverse mortgage. Borrowers also run the risk of being steered into inappropriate loans and annuities by sales agents and insurance brokers who could be working together without disclosing that relationship to the borrower.

McCollum noted that reverse mortgages can serve a purpose when financed through legitimate lenders.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), homeowners who take out a reverse mortgage can receive payments in a lump sum, on a monthly basis, or on an occasional basis as a line of credit. Homeowners whose circumstances change can restructure their payment options.

HUD-approved housing counseling agencies are available for free, or at minimal cost, to provide information, counseling, and free referral to a list of HUD-approved lenders. HUD does not recommend using an estate planning service or any service that charges a fee just for referring a borrower to a lender.

This information can be obtained by calling HUD at 1-800-569-4287.

More Scam Alerts ...

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Jardine Cribs Sold by Babies R Us Recalled

Jardine Cribs Sold by Babies R Us Recalled...

June 24, 2008
About 320,000 Jardine Cribs sold by Babies R Us stores are being recalled. The wooden crib slats and spindles can break, creating a gap, which can pose an entrapment and strangulation hazard to infants.

There have been 42 incidents of crib slats and spindles breaking. Four children became entrapped in the space created by a broken slat or spindle. Two of the children had abrasions and bruising.

Jardine wooden cribs in various styles and finishes, as listed below, are included in this recall.

The model number is printed on the inside of the bottom rail of the headboard or footboard.

The cribs were sold at KidsWorld, Geoffrey Stores, Toys'R'Us, and Babies'R'Us stores nationwide, and at babiesrus.com, from January 2002 through May 2008 for between $150 and $300, with one model, 0309K00 Mahogany Positano Lifetime Crib, which sold for $450. They were made in China and Vietnam.

Model #DescriptionFirst Sold
BC-23Drop Side Blue Spindle Crib8/2004
BC-36BDrop Side Light Blue Spindle Crib8/2005
BC-36GDrop Side Sage Spindle Crib7/2005
BC-36PDrop Side Pink Spindle Crib7/2005
BC-007Hilton Drop Side Cherry Single Crib1/2002
BC-010Windsor Drop Side Cherry Flat Panel Crib1/2002
BC-010CWindsor Drop Side Cherry Flat Panel Crib11/2003
BC-010HPWindsor Drop Side Oak/Honey Pine Crib11/2003
BC-010WHilton Drop Side White Full Panel Crib7/2002
BC-017Windsor Drop Side Dark Pine Single Crib1/2002
BC-107CHilton Drop Side Cherry Single Crib 3/2005
BC-107CRWindsor Cherry Single Sleigh Crib4/2007
BC-110CBerkley Drop Side Cherry Flat Panel Single Crib3/2005
BC-110HPWindsor Drop Side Honey Pine/Honey Single Crib3/2005
BC-110WBerkley Drop Side White Flat Panel Single Crib3/2005
DA617BCWicker 3-in-1 White Crib1/2002
DA620BCHaven 3-in-1 Oak/Dark Pine Crib5/2002
DA770BC4-in-1 White Convertible Crib1/2004
DV730NNatural Lifetime Crib9/2003
DV730WWhite Lifetime Crib8/2003
DV830-NNatural Lifetime Crib11/2004
DV830-WWhite Lifetime Crib11/2004
0113B00Drop Side Natural Spindle Crib7/2006
0113K00Drop Side Mahogany Spindle Crib6/2006
0303B00Berkley Natural Lifetime Crib9/2005
0303C00Berkley White Lifetime Crib8/2005
0303G00Berkley Cherry Lifetime Crib5/2005
0309K00Positano Mahogany Lifetime Crib4/2006

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cribs and contact Jardine to receive a full credit toward the purchase of a new crib.

For additional information, contact Jardine at (800) 646-4106 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET Monday through Friday and between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET Saturday, or visit the firm's Web site at www.jardinecribrecall.com



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

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$2 A Gallon Gas Possible, Analysts Tell Congress

Eliminating 'excessive speculation' could bring back 'good old days'

You've heard the doomsday scenarios of $4 a gallon gas rising to $7 as oil prices continue their surge. A Congressional committee Monday heard the flip sid...

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Feds Probe Saturn Timing Chain Problems

More than 400,000 L-Series cars could be affected

The engine timing chain used in the Saturn L-Series equipped with a 2.2 liter engine is under investigation again at the National Highway Traffic Safety Ad...

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Poll Finds Google Most Reputable U.S. Company

Oil companies, domestic automakers take a beating

Poll Finds Google Most Reputable U.S. Company...

If you're searching for the most reputable company in America, it's Google, according to a Harris poll. The Web search giant took the top spot away from Microsoft, which plunged to tenth place. The bottom-dwellers? Royal Dutch/Shell, Chevron Texaco, ExxonMobil, Citgo and Halliburton.

The top 10 companies on this year's list in order of ranking include:

1) Google;
2) Johnson & Johnson;
3) Intel Corporation;
4) General Mills;
5) Kraft Foods;
6) Berkshire-Hathaway Inc.;
7) 3M Company;
8) The Coca-Cola Company;
9) Honda Motor Co.;
10) Microsoft.

It's perhaps not surprising that Google came out on top. Its search service and most of its other consumer services are free and are presented in a modest, no-hype format. Even its fabulously successful search advertising is relatively low-key and unassuming.

But what really sent a shiver through the advertising business when Harris released its latest reputation study is Google's almost unheard-of advertising policy -- namely, none. While Google occasionally runs ads for itself on its search ad network it does not purchase traditional advertising in other media.

"Google is the perfect example showing reputation does not correlate with ad spending," said Robert Fronk, senior VP-senior consultant, reputation strategy, at Harris Interactive. "The positive perception of how you treat your employees, your corporate-social-responsibility efforts, and your products and services and the amount of media that can generate probably trumps any ad spend they would ever want to make."

But no one should think that Americans are feeling good about big business; 71% said that as far as they're concerned, the reputation of corporate America is either "not good" or "terrible."

Airlines took a beating in the survey. Positive perceptions of the airline industry fell five percentage points from the last survey, and insurance and financial services were down four percentage points. Technology ranked first in terms of an overall positive rating among consumers, followed by travel and tourism, retail, consumer products, telecom and -- perhaps surprisingly, given high gas prices -- automotive.

Honda's ninth-place ranking put it far in front of the pack. Toyota was No. 15 on the list, while Detroit's Big Three -- Chrysler (No. 51), GM (No. 52) and Ford (No. 54) -- were bringing up the rear.

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Coming Soon: Generic Drugs from China

Safety concerns temper enthusiasm over increased competition

If you liked the heparin, dog food, lead-painted toys toothpaste and truck tiresfrom China, you'll be happy to hear that Chinese-made generic drugs are mak...

If you liked the heparin, dog food, lead-painted toystoothpaste and truck tiresfrom China, you'll be happy to hear that Chinese-made generic drugs are making their way to the U.S.

While the development raises some safety concerns, it also holds out the prospect of even fiercer competition in the generic field. Manufacturers in the U.S., Europe, India, Israel and elsewhere are already competing for market share and more retail drug stores and supermarkets are offering discounts on popular generics.

The U.S. drug industry is watching the development with interest.

Roger Williams, chief executive of U.S. Pharmacopeia, the official standards-setting authority for all prescription and over-the-counter medicines, said China is capable of manufacturing safe and effective drugs but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will have to be cautious before it approves the sale of any Chinese-made generics.

"We should be concerned, because the U.S. safety nets are frayed, and China has become a poster child for problems," Williams told the Newark Star-Ledger.

The use of generics continues to grow in the U.S., as brand-name prescription drugs lose their patent protection. More than 67 percent of all prescriptions in 2007 were for generics.

Teva, an Israeli company, has the biggest U.S. market share for generics, with 19 percent. It is followed by Sandoz, a company owned by European-based drugmaker Novartis; Mylan; Watson Pharmaceuticals; and Barr Pharmaceuticals, according to IMS Health.

China is already a big supplier of active ingredients used in both generic and brand-name drugs, and many over-the-counter medicines sold here are made in China..

 



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Illness, Death Dog Nutro Pet Food

Company denies a link to scores of sudden illness

The dogs' owners all say their pets were in good health and they're convinced that Nutro's food is somehow connected to their animals' deaths....

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Giant Food Intros $9.99 Generic Drug Plan

Washington-area chain responds to Safeway, Wal-Mart

Giant Food is the latest supermarket chain to announce a $9.99 discount program for generic drugs....

Giant Food is the latest supermarket chain to announce a $9.99 discount program for generic drugs.

The Washington, D.C.-area chain says it has lowered the price of 350 commonly prescribed generic drugs to $9.99 for up to a 90-day supply. Safeway made similar price cuts at its Washington-area stores earlier this month.

Giant is the largest grocer in the Washington region with 184 stores throughout the District, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. The company said 165 of its stores have full-service pharmacies.

Andrea Astrachan, Giant's consumer adviser, said the new prices were designed to attract customers who want to shop for groceries and fill their prescriptions at the same time. Giant's sales have been declining recently, as more chains have opened stores in the Washington area.

Food Lion said it has changed the prices of many prescription drugs to $4 for 30-day supplies and $10.99 for 90-day supplies.

Wal-Mart shook up the pharmacy business when it introduced its program two years ago. Target quickly followed but other stores have been slow to do so.

Kroger unveiled its $4 program in February, modeled closely after Wal-Mart's. Walgreen Co. sells a 90-day supply of generics for $12.99, and some regional supermarket chains have discounted some generic prices.

Wal-Mart has been keeping the pressure on.

On May 6, Wal-Mart expanded its program to include orders for 90-day supplies and additional drugs to treat osteoporosis and breast cancer as well as cutting the price of more than 1,000 popular over-the-counter drugs in half, setting off competitive responses by many grocery chains, including Sweetbay Supermarkets, Hannaford Bros., Food Lion and Harveys Supermarkets.

Shop around

But consumers should be sure to shop around. The most publicized programs are not always the cheapest.

A survey released by Consumer Reports last week found that price fluctuations can be dramatic -- sometimes more than $100 for the same prescription even within the same chain, depending on whether consumers are filling their prescriptions in, say, Omaha, Nebraska, or Billings, Montana.

Costco was the cheapest for the four drugs CR sought quotes for, followed by AARP.com and Wal-Mart. Walgreens and Rite-Aid were among the priciest for the four drugs.

Consumer Reports said it placed more than 500 calls to 163 pharmacies nationwide to gauge price differences among four prescription drugs, three name brand medicines and one generic.

Read more about the CR study ...

 



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Avoiding Foreclosure Takes More Than Hope

Lender-supported workout groups don't always present all the options

Month after month, the foreclosures mount. One in every 483 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing last month, the highest monthly rate since the re...

Month after month, the foreclosures mount. One in every 483 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing last month, the highest monthly rate since the real estate tracking firm RealtyTrac began issuing reports.

"If you look at a map, the highest rates of foreclosure are in areas where subprime lending has been the heaviest," said David Petrovich, Executive Director of the Society for the Preservation Of Continued Homeownership , a New Jersey-based non-profit group that tries to help consumers avoid foreclosure.


May 2008 foreclosures, with red and pink highest in number of foreclosures. Source: RealtyTrac, Inc.

Petrovich formed SPOCH 10 years ago after a long career in real estate finance, where he worked in everything from appraisals to the servicing of loans.

"During that time I personally saw the devastating effect foreclosure has on a family," he said.

Petrovich says his group works with distressed homeowners to help them avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes. Since his group receives no support from banks or lenders, he says he's free to present all the options available to the homeowner.

"We bring truth to the table," he told ConsumerAffairs.com.

All the options

Homeowners, he says, don't always hear about all their options when they turn to lender-supported workout groups like HOPE NOW, which was established last year to assist homeowners in danger of foreclosure. He says HOPE NOW is not really about helping homeowners so much as it is about protecting lenders' interests.

HOPE NOW has been criticized by a number of consumer groups who say lenders should be doing more to help homeowners. Earlier this month HOPE NOW issued new guidelines that it said would make its services more helpful.

Petrovich says distressed homeowners should talk with HOPE NOW, but should understand that any help they receive will come at a cost: they'll have to waive their right to sue their lender.

"Not all loans that are in default are predatory or illegal, but many are, and in those cases homeowners need to preserve all their options, and that includes the right to take their lender to court," Petrovich said.

Petrovich has written a book, Fight Foreclosure!, which offers homeowners practical advice for keeping their homes out of foreclosure, while avoiding the many foreclosure rescue scams that prey on homeowners in trouble.

A cornerstone of that advice is to communicate directly with the lender to see what can be worked out. Another key piece of advice is to act quickly.

"Foreclosure is a time-sensitive problem. There is very little time between the first missed payment and a foreclosure filing," he said.

Perfect storm

Petrovich said he foresaw the "perfect storm" of the foreclosure crisis years ago, because of "ridiculous" loans and escalating prices that made real estate attractive to speculators. With foreclosures saturating the market with unsold houses, homeowners who need to sell can't find a buyer who will pay what they owe for the property. All too often, the unsellable house becomes another foreclosure statistic.

In years past a real estate agent might work out a "short sale," with the buyer paying less than what is owed the lender. The lender would get less than the full amount of the loan and the homeowner would avoid foreclosure, and the deal might be done in as little as 90 days, avoiding having a home sit empty for months, dragging down surrounding property values.

Petrovich says it's much harder to persuade lenders to agree to a short sale now, for a number of reasons. Many mortgages have been "securitized," meaning more parties have to agree to accept a loss. Because of lenders' huge financial losses, many people who service loans have been laid off. And the huge increase in the number of requested short sales, because of the foreclosure crisis, has led to big backlogs.

"Perhaps the most obvious obstacle is the lenders' reliance on historic comparable sale values which do not reflect current values," Petrovich said. "Lenders are fierce in their quest to maximize net recovery and seem to be willing to proceed to foreclosure auction in hopes of higher recovery, which ain't happening."

So the foreclosures continue, month after month.

Where does it end? Petrovich thinks we have a long way to go yet, with as many as three million more people losing their homes. However, he says lenders have become more proactive, seeking to help homeowners before their loans go bad. That, he says, will pay off in the future.

In the meantime, he says homeowners should educate themselves about foreclosure and their rights. Having an attorney look over your mortgage papers could be money well spent. Often legal aid services will do it at no charge, if you qualify.

And don't wait. Petrovich says time is of the essence for homeowners who want to fight foreclosure.

 

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NHTSA to Hear 'Silent Killer' Complaints

Hybrids pose risk to visually impaired

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) plans a day of public hearings to look at the dangers quiet-running hybrid vehicles pose for vis...

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) plans a day of public hearings to look at the dangers quiet-running hybrid vehicles pose for visually impaired pedestrians and bicyclists.

Four states and the U.S. Congress are considering legislation to set minimum sound levels as a warning for pedestrians of an approaching hybrid running on electric power only.

The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008 proposes a two-year study to determine the most practical way for hybrid and electrical vehicles to provide non-visual cues for pedestrians.

The National Federation of the Blind, with 50,000 members, will speak at the NHTSA hearing. The Federation advocates a minimum sound standard for all new vehicles sold and licensed in the U.S.

A child in Minneapolis was hit in May by a Toyota Prius that the 8-year-old bicyclist did not hear. The child was not seriously injured.

The Federation of the Blind has reported several close calls invovling blind pedestrians and hybrids.

Six blind pedestrians were killed by moving vehicles in 2007, according to NHTSA. None of the vehicles involved was a hybrid, according to the agency.

At low speeds, particularly near intersections, the gasoline-powered engine in a hybrid may shut down, eliminating most of the noise coming from the car.

Hybrid sales rising

Hybrid sales are increasing. They were up 38 percent in 2007 to 350,000 vehicles and are running ahead of that pace this year. The risk of stepping in front of a silent-running hybrid is likely to be on the rise.

A University of California study by Lawrence Rosenblum, an adviser to SAE International which is an association of automotive engineers, concludes that hybrids operating at 5 mph need to be 74 percent closer than a conventional vehicle before they make enough noise for their location to be heard.

Above 20 or 25 miles an hour, hybrid or electric car tires make enough noise for people to hear them.

A California start-up company, Enhanced Vehicle Acoustics, is developing a system called the Pedestrian Awareness Noise-Emitting Device and Application.

The system puts a small speaker near each front wheel of a hybrid and emits the sound of an internal combustion engine to warn pedestrians. The system requires no more power than a car radio and shuts off at speeds above 25 mph.

Called PANDA by its developers, the system "allows drivers, companies or municipalities to potentially establish their own external automobile sound identities, all within a recognizable and respectful soundscape," according to the company.

Now what sound should a Prius make while slowly passing a Hummer?

 

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California Prods CVS to Stop Selling Expired Products

Chain also agrees to improve customer privacy protection

California Prods CVS to Stop Selling Expired Products...

California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. wants CVS Pharmacy to stop selling expired products, including baby food and over-the-counter medications, which were discovered during a recent undercover shopping investigation in Southern California.

He also asked the chain to comply with California laws requiring proper storage and disposal consumer's confidential medical and financial information.

"State investigators found that dozens of CVS pharmacies in Southern California have old and expired products, including medicines and baby food," Brown said. "CVS Pharmacy should immediately pull these expired products from its shelves and ensure that these consumer safety violations do not occur again."

During a recent undercover shopping operation, state investigators found 48 expired products on the shelves of 26 CVS Pharmacies in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties.

Some -- which included baby formula, toddler food, and over-the-counter medications -- were between four and six months old. Investigators also discovered expired food products including milk and eggs. Some of the "sell by" dates were hidden with price tags or other store stickers.

Recent investigations by the New York Attorney General have found that CVS stores in New York have engaged in similarly unlawful selling practices.

Although California law does not explicitly prohibit the sale of certain expired products, federal laws require that products contain expiration dates. The attorney general contends that placing expired items on its shelves violates false advertising and unfair business practices statues because CVS falsely implies that its products meet national quality control standards.

Brown also asked the company to disclose its formal policies regarding the collection, retention and destruction of such information to determine whether the company is complying with California law.

The attorney general said he has reason to believe CVS may not have properly safeguarded or disposed of consumers' private health and financial information, in violation of state consumer protection laws.

In February, 2008 Brown reached a settlement with The Walgreen Company after state investigators discovered that that company had failed to properly retain, safeguard and dispose of confidential customer information, in violation of California laws. Under the terms of that settlement, Walgreens agreed to revise its disposal and retention policies, implement employee training, and review those policies annually.

 



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Arizona Sues Great Expectations

Dating service accused of fraud

Arizona Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against Sun West Video, Inc., alleging the company violated the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act and Dating Referral...

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard has filed a lawsuit against Sun West Video, Inc., doing business as Great Expectations for Singles, a dating service located in Scottsdale, alleging that the company violated the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act and the Arizona Dating Referral Services Act.

The lawsuit alleges that Great Expectations used coercive sales tactics, misrepresentations and other deceptive practices to sell expensive dating service memberships to Arizona consumers, typically costing thousands of dollars. The alleged illegal practices include:

• Misrepresenting to consumers the overall number of Great Expectations' participating members, the number of participating members in certain age groups and the number of new members joining the service each month. Great Expectations also told consumers that two to three marriages occurred between members every month when it had no credible basis for such statements.

• Misrepresenting to consumers that it had conducted a criminal background check on all of its members.

• Using membership agreements that illegally extended initial memberships beyond one year and were designed to mislead consumers to believe they had no right to cancel or rescind the agreements.

• Unlawfully obtaining consumers' credit information as soon as they arrived at the Great Expectations office to meet with a representative, before they received a sales presentation or agreed to purchase a membership.

• Misrepresenting to consumers that Great Expectations staff would help them prepare their profiles and select other singles.

• Using high-pressure sales tactics during one-on-one, hours-long presentations to consumers, during which:

  • Sales representatives urged consumers to contact their credit card companies to get an increased credit limit sufficient to pay for a membership.
  • Sales representatives encouraged consumers who wanted time to think about purchasing a membership to put down a deposit to hold a heavily discounted "first visit incentive" price, when doing so had the effect of obligating the consumer to pay for a membership.
  • Sales representatives showed potential new members written profiles and photographs of people they said were members of Great Expectations and were available for dates. In fact, many of the profiles and photographs were not of members or were of members on inactive status and unavailable for dating.

The lawsuit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court. The Attorney General's Office is asking the Court to:

• Prohibit Great Expectations from violating the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act and the Arizona Dating Referral Services Act.

• Require the defendants to return to all consumers any money or property they acquired through illegal acts.

• Impose a penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act.

• Require the defendants to reimburse the Attorney General's Office for costs of the investigation and reasonable attorneys' fees.

Also named in the lawsuit are Sun West Video's President John R. Meriggi, Great Expectations' Director Michael Buhler and sales representative Geri Schencker.

More Scam Alerts ...

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Public Citizen Sues FDA for Failure to Act on Darvon

Suit says Darvon is dangerous and no more effective than similar drugs

Public Citizen sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today for failing to act on its petition to withdraw Darvon, Darvocet and all drugs contain...

Public Citizen sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today for failing to act on its petition to withdraw Darvon, Darvocet and all drugs containing propoxyphene gradually from the market as is now required in the United Kingdom (U.K.).

Public Citizens complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, argues that the FDA is violating the law and putting patients at risk by not acting on Public Citizens Feb. 28, 2006, petition.

Propoxyphene is physically and psychologically addictive, is no more effective than safer alternatives and has been associated with more than 2,000 accidental deaths in America since 1981, Public Citizen told the FDA in its 2006 petition.

Despite the drugs health risks, however, it was one of the 25 most prescribed generic drugs last year, with 22 million prescriptions filled in pharmacies in 2007.

Top FDA drug officials, including Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Director Dr. Janet Woodcock and Dr. Robert Temple, are well aware that this drug has considerable human toxicity, addiction potential and abuse liability, but very limited therapeutic usefulness," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen.

"Given this extremely unfavorable ratio of risks to benefits, it is inexcusable that the FDA did not take propoxyphene off the market long ago. It is our hope that this lawsuit will force the agency to finally begin this desperately needed regulatory process.

The U.K. began a phased withdrawal of Darvocet from the British market in 2005, following the recommendation of the U.K. Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM).

In its report, the CSM stated that it could not identify any patient group in whom the risk-benefit [ratio] may be positive. The withdrawal was completed at the end of 2007.

However, three years after the British government began its action to withdraw the drug, and two years after Public Citizen petitioned for its phasing out, the FDA still has not done anything to protect Americans from propoxyphenes dangerous side effects.

A large proportion of the deaths from propoxyphene occurred because most of the drug is converted into a metabolite that is highly toxic to the heart, lasts longer in the body than the original compound and results in cardiac depression.

Adverse cardiac events associated with propoxyphene include an interruption of heart transmission of electrical impulses, slowed heartbeats and a decreased ability of the heart to contract properly.

Propoxyphene-acetaminophen, or Darvocet, is more dangerous than acetaminophen (the ingredient in Tylenol) alone, yet a study has indicated that Darvocet is no more effective in treating post-operative pain than acetaminophen, Public Citizen said.

Reports on propoxyphene dosage suggest addiction can occur at less than the maximum recommended daily dose and unequivocally confirm addiction at just twice the recommended daily dose.

In addition, propoxyphene has been deemed inappropriate for the elderly because of its adverse effects on the central nervous system - such as sedation and confusion - that have been found to increase the likelihood of falls and fall-related fractures.

Yet studies have shown that propoxyphene use is widespread in emergency rooms, institutionalized populations and retirement communities.

Public Citizen is asking the court to find that the FDAs delay in ruling on the 2006 petition is unlawful and to order the FDA to issue a decision on the petition.

 



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Feds Raid PETCO Warehouse in Illinois

Pet products stored in unsanitary conditions, FDA charges

U.S. Marshals have today seized various pet products stored under what the FDA called "unsanitary conditions" at PETCO's Animal Supplies Distribution Cente...

U.S. Marshals have today seized various pet products stored under what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called "unsanitary conditions" at PETCO's Animal Supplies Distribution Center in Joliet, Illinois.

That distribution facility provides pet food products and supplies to PETCO retail stores in 16 states throughout the Midwest.

Acting under a warrant issued by the Federal District Court in Chicago, U.S. marshals seized all FDA-regulated animal food susceptible to rodent and pest contamination, the FDA announced.

The action comes on the heels of an FDA inspection in April that uncovered widespread and active rodent and bird infestation at the distribution center.

The FDA inspected the facility again in May and found continuing infestation.

"We simply will not allow a company to store foods under filthy and unsanitary conditions that occur as a direct result of the company's failure to adequately control and prevent pests in its facility," said the FDA's Margaret O'K. Glavin, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs.

"Consumers expect that such safeguards will be in place not only for human food, but for pet food as well," she said.

The products seized violate the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act because they were held under unsanitary conditions, according a case filed by the United States Attorney.

The FDA said it had no reports of pet illnesses or deaths associated with food from PETCO's facility. It also said it has no evidence that the food is unsafe for animals.

The products seized, however, were in permeable packages and held under conditions that could affect the food's integrity and quality, FDA officials warned.

As a precaution, the FDA recommends that consumers who handled any PETCO products from the distribution center thoroughly wash their hands with hot water and soap.

FDA officials also said any surfaces that came in contact with packages from the PETCO facility should be washed, too.

Consumers are further advised to thoroughly wash products sold in cans and glass containers from PETCO stores in the 16 affected states, which include Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.

ConsumerAffairs.com contacted PETCO on Thursday. The company has not returned our call.

Pet owners should contact their veterinarian and report any illnesses to the FDA if their dogs or cats become sick after eating food from PETCO's distribution center

More about pets ...

 



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Fewer Americans on Diets but More 'Eating Healthily'

Consumers seeking out 'better-for-you' foods

Fewer Americans on Diets but More 'Eating Healthily'...


Fewer of us are dieting to lose weight these days but more of us say we're eating a healthier diet. So says a new report from NPD Group, a retail research organization.

NPD's National Eating Trends report found that the percentage of adults on a diet has decreased by 10 percentage points since 1990, while the number of Americans eating healthier has increased.

NPD found that at least once in a two-week period, more than 70% of Americans are consuming reduced-fat foods, and over half of them are eating reduced-calorie, whole-grain or fortified foods. In addition to these foods, other better-for-you items consumed include diet, light, reduced-cholesterol, reduced-sodium, caffeine-free, sugar-free, fortified, organic and low-carb foods.

Awareness of these nutritional food elements continues to grow. For example, in 2005, 36 percent of consumers surveyed said they were trying to get more omega-3 fatty acids in their diets, and the most recent NPD Dieting Monitor shows that number increasing to 46 percent.

The average American, according to National Eating Trends, has at least two better-for-you products a day.

Healthy eating to consumers today tends to boil down to basic mathematics, says NPD vice president Harry Balzer, who has been tracking consumers food consumption behavior for 30 years.

A generation ago it was about subtracting bad things from your diet, but today healthy eating is more a matter of addition and subtraction, he says.

The ongoing concern about health appears to be paying off, according to Balzer. Recent U.S. government studies confirm obesity leveling off, and most recently, childhood obesity stabilizing.

Even with concerns about the economic downturn, eating healthy still remains top-of-mind with consumers. According to a recent NPD Fast Check Survey on economic conditions, adults who identify themselves as financially worse-off compared to last year, said that eating healthy still had the greatest impact on the food and beverages their household selects. Saving money ranked a close second.

While dieting for both women and men remain huge markets, they are not growing markets, said Harry Balzer, vice president, the NPD Group, in a statement. The desire to lose weight really was a 90s trend. Today consumers appear to be making healthier food choices.



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'Do Not Call' List Entries Are Now Permanent

Consumers will not have to renew their entries

'Do Not Call' List Entries Are Now Permanent...


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) amended its rules yesterday to permanently honor registrations with the government's "Do Not Call" registry, bringing its rules into compliance with a law enacted by Congress earlier this year.

The new rule "prohibits the removal of numbers from the Registry unless the consumer cancels the registration or the number has been disconnected and reassigned or is otherwise invalid," the agency said in a statement.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin said that "The order we adopt ensures that consumers registered with the National Do Not Call Registry maintain the privacy they expect and deserve."

Previously, registration with the "Do Not Call" list only lasted for five years, forcing them to re-register or risk a renewed onslaught of unwanted calls from telemarketers or solicitors.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency charged with directly overseeing the registry, had initially said it would require consumers to re-register when their initial registrations expired, but later backtracked and committed to keeping registrations permanent. The FTC also regularly "scrubs" the list of invalid or disconnected numbers.

Congress passed the "Do Not Call Improvement Act of 2007" earlier this year, which barred removal of any number from the registry unless it was invalid or disconnected, or the number's owner specifically requested such. Legislation was passed that also empowered the FTC to collect fees from telemarketers to continue the "Do Not Call" program.

Since the registry was created, the FTC has initiated 27 cases of alleged DNC violations, resulting in a total of $8.8 million in civil penalties and $8.6 million in consumer redress payments. Perhaps most notably, DirecTV was fined over $5 million by the FTC in 2005 for multiple violations of the registry and its rules governing telemarketing sales.

To sign up for the "Do Not Call" registry, visit the registry Web site.

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Rental Car Companies Gouging Consumers with Refueling Fees

Maryland AG fights fill-up costs for rentals

Rental Car Companies Gouging Consumers with Refueling Fees...


Some rental car companies are charging as much as $13 a gallon when consumers return a car on empty, though not anymore in Maryland.

Most car-rental companies offer consumers the opportunity to buy a full tank in advance, then return the car with the same amount of fuel as when the vehicles was rented. Consumers can also choose to have the agency refill with gas priced at a premium over the market rate.

When the car come comes back to the rental company on empty, the gasoline bill can sometimes be be a shock, depending on the rental agency.

AAA found one rental company near Philadelphia International Airport charging $13.50 a gallon for refueling.

Budget Rent-A-Car has charged as much as $9 a gallon for a refill and Hertz has charged as much as $7.99. One consumer reported Rent-A-Wreck charged $7 a gallon plus $10 if the car came back on empty.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler negotiated an agreement with car rental companies in his state to reduce refueling charges following a six-month investigation of gasoline prices charged consumers by the rental agencies.

"Marylanders are already hurting at the gas pump, and paying $8.00 per gallon is just salt in the wound," Gansler said. "We have made it easier to visit and do business in Maryland, and these agreements can be a national model for states that want fair pricing."

The Maryland investigation included rental charges at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and disclosed that some rental car companies had increased refueling charges far in excess of gas prices found in the Baltimore/Washington/Philadelphia area.

Prior to the agreement, consumers would have paid an $8.00 per gallon refueling fee. Now the cost is a $5.85 per gallon refueling fee or 140 percent of the prevailing price of full service fuel.

AAA said car-rental companies across the country should cut refueling charges.

"It is ludicrous for a car-rental company to charge more than twice the price of a gallon of gas, especially when motorists are already paying a lot for gas," AAA spokeswoman Catherine Rossi said.

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Toyota Siennas Recalled to Fix Power Liftgate

Liftgate may fall on users

Toyota is recalling 196,222 Sienna vans from the 2004 through 2006 model years to repair the struts which hold up the power-assisted liftgate. Those struts...

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NHTSA Investigates 2,700,000 GM Trucks, SUVs

Fire hazard probed in 21 models

The NHTSA has intensified a investigation of 21 models of General Motors trucks and SUVS manufactured between 2006 and 2008 because of the possibility of a...

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J. K. Harris Settles Deceptive Ad Charges

Company took consumers' money, did nothing, states charged

J. K. Harris Settles Deceptive Ad Charges...

 


JK Harris airs a national TV ad campaign promising consumers it can settle consumers' debt with the IRS for "pennies on the dollar." Eighteen states sued, claiming the ads are deceptive.

In a settlement J.K. Harris has agreed to stop misleading consumers about its services and to pay $1.5 million in restitution.

"This company took advantage of people who paid for tax assistance and, in some instances, profited by taking their money and not giving them any help at all," said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. "This agreement will ensure that this firm is honest with its clients and provides refunds if they are unable to assist them."

The 18 state attorneys general entered into a consent judgment with JK Harris and Company, L.L.C of Charleston, South Carolina, and its president, John K. Harris. According to the complaint, JK Harris did not help consumers with their tax problems as advertised and refused to give refunds when consumers complained that promised services were never completed.

The complaint alleges that JK Harris regularly advertised that it could help people who owed back taxes to the IRS by filing an Offer in Compromise (OIC) on their behalf and consumers would only have to pay a small percentage of what they owed. An OIC is a program implemented by the IRS to assist consumers who owed back taxes as a legitimate alternative to declaring a case not collectible.

JK Harris charged money upfront for this service without actually determining if consumers qualified for an OIC or while knowing that consumers in fact didn't qualify. The IRS accepts only a small number of these kinds of cases. In many cases, JK Harris did not even apply to the IRS to assist consumers as promised, but still refused to give those consumers their money back, the complaint alleged.

The complaint detailed other issues; it said JK Harris regularly advertised that it had more than 450 offices nationwide. Typically, however, the person handling a consumer's OIC was actually located at the JK Harris home office in Charleston, South Carolina. If a consumer wanted to meet with a JK Harris representative about their file they had to physically travel to Charleston.

The other offices were reportedly staffed by sales representatives who could not assist consumers with their tax problems.

JK Harris also claimed that consumers' files would be handled by "tax experts" or "ex-IRS agents" when in fact, the states charged, the individuals handling the cases did not fit those descriptions and did not have tax expertise. JK Harris case managers changed frequently, and consumers complained that they often had to provide the same information to the company several times.

Under the terms of the consent judgment, JK Harris must make clearer disclosures to consumers and refund them if the company is not able to work out a compromise with the IRS. The company must tell consumers under what circumstances they might qualify to reach a compromise with the IRS on back taxes and provide an accurate percentage of how many OIC offers the IRS accepts. The company must also refund consumers' money if the IRS does not accept their case.

 

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Record Gas Prices Move Higher

California moves towards $5

Feds See No Relief from High Gas Prices...

The national average price for gasoline continued to push higher setting a record of $4.080 with 28 states and the District of Colombia now above the $4 mark.

Diesel also moved higher to $4.797, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.

Mid-grade gasoline averages $4.333 and premium $4.488 a gallon.

One year ago regular self-serve gasoline sold for an average price of $3.008.

Gasoline prices have surpassed $4 a gallon for more than a week following a year of $3-plus gasoline prices.

The average pump price for regular has increase more than 35 percent in the last 12 months.

Gas is most expensive in California, according to AAA, averaging $4.600 a gallon. Missouri has the lowest average price at $3.834 a gallon.

$5 this year?

Most analysts don't expect gas to hit a statewide average price of $5 in California or elsewhere in the contiguous 48 states, but some aren't so sure. But that doesn't mean it won't happen next year.

"Maybe not by the end of the year, but certainly within a year we'll get there," said Rod Diridon, head of the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The latest Gallup poll finds that many Americans blame President Bush for not doing enough to deal with rising prices. Only 17% say President Bush is doing enough to solve the country's energy problems, a significant decline from already low figures in 2006.

Of the seven government and business institutions tested in the poll, the Bush administration ranks second on the blame list, behind U.S. oil companies (60%). Oil companies have topped the list each time Gallup has asked the question, and -- like Bush -- are blamed more now than they were in 2006.

In California, drivers have been doing their part, driving less and switching to hybrids in greater numbers than elsehwere. Gasoline sales in the nation's largest state have been falling for more than two years, although they appeared to jump almost 7 percent in February, according to the State Board of Equalization. The board, which tracks gas sales through tax receipts, blamed the apparent increase on an accounting fluke and the addition of an extra day in February for leap year.

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May Foreclosure Filing Rate Highest Ever

Rate of increase slows slightly

Ed McMahon is not alone. One in every 483 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing last month, the highest monthly rate since the real estate tracking...

Ed McMahon is not alone. One in every 483 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing last month, the highest monthly rate since the real estate tracking firm RealtyTrac began issuing reports.

The company said foreclosure filings default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions were reported on 261,255 properties during the month, a seven percent increase from the previous month and a 48 percent increase from May 2007.

"May was the third straight month where we've seen a month-to-month increase in foreclosure activity and the 29th straight month we've seen a year-over-year increase," said James J. Saccacio, RealtyTrac's CEO.

But there may be a hint of good news in the grim numbers.

Saccacio says the rate of filings may be at its highest level, but at least the rate of increase is slowing down. Default notices were up just one percent from the previous month and auction notices were actually down three percent from the previous month.

However, bank repossessions continued to surge in May posting a double-digit percentage increase from the previous month and more than twice the number reported in May 2007 which pushed the total inventory of bank-owned REOs in our database to more than 700,000.

Nevada has highest rate

With one in every 118 households receiving a foreclosure filing in May, Nevada posted the highest state foreclosure rate for the 17th consecutive month. Foreclosure filings were reported on a total of 9,009 Nevada properties, an increase of nearly 24 percent from the previous month and a 72 percent increase from May 2007.

California foreclosure activity in May increased 11 percent from the previous month and 81 percent from May 2007, helping the state continue to register the nation's second highest state foreclosure rate. One in every 183 California households received a foreclosure filing during the month, a rate that was 2.6 times the national average.

Arizona's May foreclosure rate one in every 201 households received a foreclosure filing during the month ranked third highest among the states for the second month in a row. Arizona foreclosure activity increased nearly 12 percent from the previous month and almost 119 percent from May 2007.

One in every 228 Florida households received a foreclosure filing in May, giving it the fourth highest foreclosure rate among the states. Michigan foreclosure activity in May increased nearly 25 percent from the previous month, helping the state's foreclosure rate to jump to fifth highest among the states after ranking No. 9 the previous month. One in every 353 Michigan households received a foreclosure filing in May.

Other states with foreclosure rates ranking among the top 10 were Georgia, Colorado, Massachusetts, Ohio and New Jersey.

California has highest total

Foreclosure filings were reported on 71,930 California properties, 37,364 Florida properties and 12,959 Arizona properties, the three highest state totals in May. Michigan was not far behind Arizona, with 12,792 properties receiving foreclosure filings during the month.

Foreclosure filings were reported on 12,295 Ohio properties in May, the fifth highest state total despite a nearly 7 percent decrease from May 2007. With one in every 410 households receiving a foreclosure filing, Ohio's foreclosure rate ranked No. 9 among the states and was above the national average.

Georgia foreclosure activity increased 11 percent from the previous month and 23 percent from May 2007, giving the state 10,241 properties with foreclosure filing in May the nation's sixth highest total. And with one in every 378 Georgia households receiving a foreclosure filing during the month, the state's foreclosure rate also ranked No. 6 among the states.

Other states in the top 10 for total properties with filings were Texas, Illinois, Nevada and New Jersey.

Top metros

For the second month in a row, California and Florida cities accounted for nine out of the top 10 metropolitan foreclosure rates among the 230 metropolitan areas tracked in the report.

Seven California cities were in the top 10, led by Stockton in the top spot. One in every 75 Stockton area households received a foreclosure filing in May more than six times the national average. Other California cities in the top 10 were Merced at No. 3, Modesto at No. 4, Riverside-San Bernardino at No. 5, Vallejo-Fairfield at No. 7, Bakersfield at No. 8, and Sacramento at No. 9.

The Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area in Florida registered the second highest metro foreclosure rate in May, with one in every 79 households receiving a foreclosure filing during the month. The other Florida metro area in the top 10 was Port Lucie-Fort Pierce at No. 10.

Las Vegas was the only city outside of California and Florida with a foreclosure rate ranking among the top 10. One in every 96 Las Vegas households received a foreclosure filing in May, more than five times the national average and No. 6 among the metro areas.

Metro areas with foreclosure rates among the top 20 included Phoenix at No. 12, Detroit at No. 14, San Diego at No. 17 and Miami at No. 19.

 

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Golf Cart Injuries Increasing

Adolescent, elderly males have high injury rates

"A lot of people perceive golf carts as little more than toys, but our findings suggest they can be quite dangerous, especially when used on public roads."...


Who ever heard of a golf cart crash?

Apparently there are enough of them that they have become a concern. In fact, golf carts are becoming a popular means of transportation away from golf courses, and new research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Injury Sciences says injuries associated with their use may be under-appreciated, suggesting the need for the implementation of new safety measures.

In findings published in the June issue of the Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection and Critical Care, UAB researchers found that there were more than 48,255 golf-cart related injuries between 2002 and 2005, with the highest injury rates observed in males 10-19 years old and those over 80.

"Golf carts are becoming a popular way to get around in some neighborhoods, particularly for adolescents and teenagers who cannot yet drive a car," said Gerald McGwin, Ph.D., associate director for research at the Center for Injury Sciences and professor of epidemiology. "A lot of people perceive golf carts as little more than toys, but our findings suggest they can be quite dangerous, especially when used on public roads."

McGwin says fractures and head trauma are among the most common injuries associated with golf cart-related accidents.

"Some communities encourage golf cart use as a primary means of transportation because of their low emissions, quiet operation and presumed safety," McGwin said. "There is little federal regulation and most states do not require operators to be of a certain age, use any sort of safety equipment, or obtain an operators license."

McGwin suggests that safety standards are needed that manufacturers and sellers of golf carts should be required to include safety education materials at the time of sale.

Due to the high risk of rollover and ejection, the use of helmets and seatbelts is recommended, particularly if the golf cart is driven on public roads. And McGwin suggests that developers should reevaluate the design of golf cart paths, addressing gradient, sharpness of curves and proximity to other hazards.

"Golf carts are an attractive transportation solution due to their low emissions and cost effectiveness when compared to traditional motor vehicles," McGwin said. "But more stringent safety standards should be applied to the design and use of golf carts, particularly those operated on public roads."

 

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Congressional Report Faults FDA Inaction

Investigators say FDA has not implemented its own food safety plans

Grappling with another high profile food contamination, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is coming in for more criticism, this time from Congressional...

Grappling with another high profile food contamination, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is coming in for more criticism, this time from Congressional investigators.

The General Accountability Office told the House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday the agency has done little to implement its own revised food safety plan. The charges echo similar complaints from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Plum, Roma and round tomatoes are filling trash bins behind restaurants and grocery shelves as 167 people have been reported ill from eating salmonella-tainted tomatoes. The outbreak has been documented in at least 17 states so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which is still getting reports of people falling ill.

Since FDA's plan was first released in November 2007, FDA has added few details on the resources and strategies required to implement the plan, investigators report. FDA plans to spend about $90 million over fiscal years 2008 and 2009 to implement several key actions, such as identifying food vulnerabilities and risk. But to date, few steps have been taken.

From the information GAO said it has obtained on the Food Protection Plan, however, it is unclear what FDA's overall resource need is for implementing the plan, which could be significant.

For example, based on FDA estimates, if FDA were to inspect each of the approximately 65,500 domestic food firms regulated by FDA once, the total cost would be approximately $524 million.

In addition, GAO said, timelines for implementing the various strategies in the plan are unclear, although a senior level FDA official estimated that the overall plan will take five years to complete. GAO also said it is concerned that the FDA hasn't provided much information about its plan. FDA officials reportedly told GAO that they had prepared a draft report on progress made in implementing the Food Protection Plan, but as of June 4, 2008, FDA told GAO that the Department of Health and Human Services had not cleared the report for release.

"Concerns about food safety oversight are not new," said Lisa Shames, GAO Director Natural Resources and Environment, in testimony before the subcommittee. "GAO and others have consistently reported on a lack of adequate oversight of food safety by FDA, and have provided many recommendations for better leveraging FDA's limited resources and suggestions for additional authorities that would allow FDA to better fulfill its responsibilities.

"In 1998, we reported that limitations in FDA's authority and its need to more effectively target limited resources could adversely affect its ability to ensure food safety. A decade later, the story remains the same and has only taken on a greater sense of urgency due to changing demographics and consumption patterns."

In fact, Shames noted that FDA has implemented few of the GAO's past recommendations to leverage its resources and improve food safety oversight. Since 2004, GAO said it has made a total of 34 food safety related recommendations to FDA, and as of May 2008, FDA has implemented 7 of these recommendations.

For the remaining recommendations, GAO said the FDA has not fully implemented them, but in some cases has taken some steps. GAO said planned activities in the Food Protection Plan could help address several of the recommendations that FDA has not implemented, but the agency has yet to act.

CSPI's charges

The GAO's findings follow complaints from consumer groups that FDA moves too slowly to effectively ensure the safety of food products.

"Since 2006, CSPI has been urging FDA to require all farms that feed the American public to have written food safety plans, but the FDA has not done that," Klein said. "Instead, the agency and the Bush Administration rely on voluntary, and obviously ineffective, industry programs.

The result is yet another produce outbreak sickening consumers and dealing another setback to another important industry, which includes many growers who have implemented food safety measures, Klein said.

"Consumers can't afford to risk their health by eating tainted produce, and they can't afford the blow to their wallets when FDA tells them to throw out what may actually be safe food because the agency can't figure out the precise source of the contamination," she said.

Some published reports say that Florida and the eastern shore of Virginia have been the target of an ongoing FDA "tomato safety initiative."

FDA says the source of the contaminated tomatoes may be limited to a single grower or packer or tomatoes from a specific geographic area. The agency also notes that there are many tomato crops across the country and in foreign countries that are just becoming ready for harvest or will become ready in the coming months.

Klein said trying to track down contamination after the fact isn't getting the job done.

"Without food safety plans, on-farm inspections, and effective traceback systems, all consumers can do is cross their fingers and hope that the food they eat is safe," she said. "Even now, with 145 people in 16 states sick, FDA can't tell consumers whether the contaminated tomatoes were domestically produced or imported. The agency needs to overhaul its food safety system, and it needs to do it now."

Klein said that since 1990, more than 3,000 Americans have gotten sick from tomatoes contaminated in 24 known outbreaks. And she said those numbers don't take into account what must be countless unidentified tomato-related outbreaks.

"How many more consumers have to get sick before FDA gets serious about produce safety?" Klein asked.

 



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Missouri Sues 'Diabetic Partner Dog' Business

Heaven Scent Paws misrepresented its dogs' abilities, suit charges

Missouri authorities have collared a business owner who allegedly misrepresented that she could train diabetic alert service dogs and charged consumers tho...

Missouri authorities have collared a business owner who allegedly misrepresented that she could train diabetic alert service dogs and charged consumers thousands of dollars in advance.

Attorney General Jay Nixon sued Heaven Scent Paws (HSP) of St. Elizabeth, Missouri, and its owner Michelle Reinkemeyer for failing to refund consumers' money.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in Cole County, Missouri, Circuit Court, Nixon stated the company only accepted consumers for its program who raised a minimum of $,6000 and then required those funds to be turned over to HSP before participants could start the three-week course.

Nixon also stated that once consumers made that $6,000 payment, HSP required them to sign a contract that stipulated their participation in the program.

Nixon said his office has received several complaints about Reinkemeyer and HSP, including:

• They misrepresented that their trained dogs could alert diabetics to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), when some HSP-trained dogs could not;

• They misrepresented that HSP-trained dogs were service dogs, when some of those canines lacked the temperament to act as service dogs;

• They required consumers to sign contracts (after paying $6,000) that permitted HSP to dismiss them from the program -- at any time -- for reasons that were vague and subject to unilateral interpretation by HSP. The contracts also provided no recourse for consumers to challenge their removal from the program or to recover their money;

• They required consumers to sign contracts that permitted HSP to remove a dog from the participant's possession -- at any time -- at the company's discretion. The contracts, however, did not give consumers' any recourse to challenge such action or recover their money;

• They required consumers to sign contracts that allowed HSP to retain ownership of the dogs--even after completion of the program. The contracts also released HSP of any liability for the dogs, which they selected and trained, once the animals went home with consumers;

• They falsely claimed that consumers who finished their program had completed the training and testing required by the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP). But the IAADP does not have a program for diabetic alert dogs, its standards are not meant to certify assistance dog teams, and the IAADP has demanded HSP to remove any mention of the organization from its graduation certificates.

In the lawsuit, Nixon asked the court to bar Reinkemeyer and HSP from violating the state's consumer protection laws. The lawsuit also seeks full restitution for consumers, appropriate civil penalties, and all costs associated with the investigation and prosecution of the case.

ConsumerAffairs.com contacted HSP, but no one return our call.

The company's Web site , however, continues to tout its program, stating: "We specialize in Diabetic Alert Service Dogsupon completion of the 3 week classes, our clients will have the tools & skills needed to further, enhance, & strengthen the training started by HSP."

The Web site adds: "Our Diabetic Alert Service Dogs detect & alert their diabetic partner and support team (parents, spouse, friend, etc) to both low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) & high blood sugar (hyperglycemia)."

Consumers with concerns about HSP can file a complaint on the Missouri Attorney General's Web site or call its Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-392-8222.

More about pets ...

 



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Pomegranate Juice May Help Fight Arthritis

Study finds the fruit can reduce inflammation

A new study finds that pomegranate juice reduces inflammation and may help fight arthritis....

A new study finds that pomegranate juice reduces inflammation and may help fight arthritis.

The finding could point the way to a new treatment that avoids the side effects of current anti-inflammatory drugs, which can include nausea and bleeding in the stomach as well as more serious complications.

Scientists at Case Western Reserve University gave extracts of the fruit to rabbits. They then tested the level of activity of certain proteins known to trigger inflammation in the animal's blood.

They found that the pomegranate extracts had inhibited the activity of many of the proteins, some by almost half. It also raised levels of antioxidants, which can also reduce inflammation, in their blood system.

Previous experiments had shown that in laboratory tests pomegranate extract could reduce inflammation in samples of animal tissue, but it was not known whether the fruit could produce the same effects in living creatures.

The researchers believe that the study indicates that eating pomegranate or drinking the juice of the fruit could have a beneficial impact on arthritis.

Tariq Haqqi, who led the study, said such a treatment could also avoid the side effects that can come with long-term use of current anti-inflammatory drugs. But he said that further research was needed on how well the extract is absorbed into the blood stream.

Arthritis drugs

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced an investigation into a class of drugs used to treat arthritis, over concerns they might be linked to the development of cancer.

The agency said it has received 30 reports in the last ten years that the drugs, called tumor necrosis factor blockers, caused cancer in children and young adults.

Vioxx and other anti-inflammatory drugs have been linked to serious heart problems. The FDA has estimated that Vioxx may have contributed to 27,785 heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths between 1999 and 2003. The estimate is based on the number of prescriptions issued for Vioxx between 1999 and 2003.

The pomegranate study was published in the Journal of Inflammation.

 



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Patients 'Overdose' on Medical Debt

Hospitals, doctors encourage patients to pay with plastic

Patients 'Overdose' on Medical Debt...


The people who brought you the housing market collapse may be about to do the same thing for health care financing.

Some of the biggest names in the consumer credit business, including GE Money, Citigroup, and Chase, are pushing risky credit for financing medical procedures, according to the latest issue of Consumer Reports, which describes the new lending practices as akin to subprime mortgages.

Plastic is playing an increasing role in covering medical costs: at about $45 billion today, it could more than triple to $150 billion in 2015, the magazine says.

Overdose of debt

CR's July report, "Overdose of Debt," explains how credit cards and finance lines that are "interest free" can easily reach exorbitant rates -- up to 27.99 percent retroactively -- and they're being pitched to consumers with high pressure sales pitches, often catching them off guard in their doctors' offices or at the hospital.

The rise in doctors promoting cards and loans with unconscionable finance terms, says Consumer Reports, is cause for concern, blurring traditional lines of responsibility.

With consumers already sagging under record debt loads and soaring out-of-pocket medical costs, consumers likely will come under more pressure to pay for these expenses with credit cards or loans. What they may not understand, according to CR, is that many of these financing schemes carry dangerous pitfalls.

Big market

Lenders tout their offers as a way for patients to cover medical needs or elective procedures and they push risky credit for everything from cancer care to root canals to botox treatment. Meanwhile, the cards and financing are promoted to doctors, dentists, and veterinarians as a way for them to make more money and get paid promptly.

In addition, CR reports, hospitals are checking credit scores of patients and some are even offering their own cobranded credit cards.

But for consumers, these financing plans can turn out to be the medical equivalent of subprime mortgages, according to medical and credit experts CR spoke to.

They may appear attractive: Medical credit lines of up to $40,000 are being offered with no interest if the balance is paid off within the promotion time. If consumers fail to pay off some loans within the promotion time or miss a payment, they can be hit with retroactive interest rates of up to 27.99 percent.

Doctors or partners?

"Consumers have to be wary," said CR senior editor Andrea Rock. "Often they're in a vulnerable position when they receive these sales pitches in a doctor's office or a hospital - and they don't understand what they're signing up for. Furthermore, some consumers have said that they felt pressured by their medical providers while sedated or recovering from treatment."

By persuading patients to use these financing plans, doctors, dentists and hospitals benefit because they get paid right away. In fact, doctors and dentists have financial incentives under these arrangements to encourage patients to sign up for more expensive treatments and to steer them to extending financing plans that take a smaller cut of the practitioner's fee.

For example, if a patient were to finance $1,000 worth of dental work through GE Money CareCredit, the dentist would be paid by GE Money, minus 13.5 percent of the total as a "processing fee." Usually such fees for merchants are 2 percent or less.

But if the patient opted for a two-to-five-year plan, CareCredit would take only 5 percent of the dentist's fee, and the patient would pay an initial annual interest rate of 11.9 percent that could rise to 23.9 percent if he or she failed to pay the balance on time.

When hospitals persuade patients to pay for care with a credit card or loan, patients lose their power to bargain for discounts or even obtain charity care. "Ask questions first," Rock said. "It's always better to negotiate directly with the hospital."

In fact, as noted in CR's consumer tips, once a patient has paid an out-of-pocket medical bill with a loan or credit card, they lose their ability to negotiate the repayment amount and terms.

What to do

Consumers should be aware that hospitals are required by federal law to provide care in a medical emergency. But patients should not let themselves be pressured into using a credit card or loan to pay for out-of-pocket medical costs. Once they do, they lose their ability to negotiate the repayment amount and terms.

CR offers the following tips:

• Consumers should find out whether they qualify for free or discounted care from their hospital.

• When negotiating discounts or any payment terms, consumers should ask to speak to the manager of patient accounts, and get any agreements in writing.

• By paying at the time of service, providers may be willing to cut consumers' bills by more than 50 percent to avoid the expense of billing.

• Although hospitals generally structure payment plans for 24 months or less, consumers should try to negotiate a longer term if necessary to ensure that they can afford the monthly payment.

• Hospital billing errors are common. Consumers should always ask for an itemized bill and check it for accuracy.

• If consumers must rely on credit, they should shop for the best general-purpose credit card, ideally one with a low rate that can be locked in for the life of the balance.

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FCC Floats Washington Power Grab as Price of Lower Cell Phone Termination Fees

Telecos willing to give up a few dollars for one-stop lobbying in the town they know best

FCC Floats Washington Power Grab as Price of Lower Cell Phone Termination Fees...

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin Martin laid out his plan for reforming wireless companies' termination fees at the commissioners' monthly meeting today, even as consumer advocates and wireless industry representatives sparred over whether the fees are a necessity to subsidize cheap handsets, or a punitive measure designed to keep customers locked into their contracts.

"I am concerned that early termination fees are being used not as a means of recovering legitimate costs but as a means of locking consumers into a service provider," Martin said. "Early termination fees shouldn't function as a hindrance to consumers' ability to choose, or switch to, the service or provider they want."

Martin's plan strongly resembles the Verizon-sponsored termination fee plan proposed last month.

Under Martin's plan, termination fees would be prorated over the life of the contract, and more expensive phones would carry higher fees. Contracts would be for a "reasonable" length of time under Martin's plan, though Martin did not specify what that length of time would be.

Customers would have the ability to renew contracts without incurring fees, as long as they did not order new equipment.

In exchange, however, the many class-action lawsuits filed in several states over early termination fees would be blocked, and state regulators would lose the ability to govern wireless fees.

Martin indicated that he supported the industry position on the issue, and that he favored using central federal regulation to usurp powers traditionally reserved to the states. The telecom industry routinely presses for federal regulation, favoring one-stop lobbying in Washington over trying to satisfy regulators in 50 states.

"I do not believe a patchwork of 50 different sets of regulations with widely varying protections benefits consumers or the industry," Martin said.

"Recouping our investment"

Under pressure from consumer groups and disgruntled customers, the four major wireless carriers -- Verizon, AT&T;, Sprint, and T-Mobile -- have begun either prorating their fees or have announced plans to do so.

Tom Tauke, Verizon's executive vice-president for public policy, argued that "[t]his gives consumers the flexibility they said they want, while helping Verizon Wireless recoup its investment in the consumer."

Tauke said that such changes were evidence that the market was working and that no further regulation was needed, on the federal or state level: "Faced with the prospect of multiple state policies on this issue, Verizon believes that appropriate federal action to establish a national policy is preferable."

Some of Martin's fellow commissioners argued that state regulatory oversight was needed due to the difficulties of addressing consumer complaints at the federal level.

Commissioner Michael Copps referenced a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found the FCC's complaint tracking and response procedures were antiquated and flawed.

"Why then should we preempt state and local enforcement authorities with a federal process that has so little credibility?" Copps said.

"Consumers won't stand for that"

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who cosponsored legislation designed to restrict termination fees, testified that she opposed a Washington power grab that would jettison state regulatory power over termination fees.

"[C]onsumers also need the protection of state regulators, who have proven themselves good watchdogs on this industry, and strong federal legislation to level the playing field with the big cell phone companies," Klobuchar said. "The current negotiations seem designed to protect America's big cell phone companies, not to protect America's consumers. Consumers won't stand for that, and I won't either."

Chris Kenney, senior counsel for Consumers' Union, told the commission that "[we would be deeply disappointed if the FCC were to use the wireless industry's petition to eliminate state oversight of these contract provisions as the vehicle for 'reform' in this case...While we are sure that the FCC wouldn't eliminate state oversight without providing any corresponding consumer benefit, we question whether companies who have been charging potentially illegal fees should receive any relief whatsoever."

Molly White, an executive consultant from Portland, Oregon, provided the perspective of the average consumer. White testified that when she accepted a job at Nike, she canceled her Verizon service in favor of Nike's own wireless phone service, and was hit with a $175 termination fee on her last bill.

"I knew that when I signed up for cellular service with Verizon that I was obligated to agree to the early termination fee, and since every wireless carrier included the early termination clause and fee in their contract, it was clear to me that I didn't have a choice in the matter," White said. "I, like every other cellular customer I know, feel these fees are unreasonable and unjustified."

 

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Kia Owners Awarded $6 Million in Class Action

Defective Sephia brakes need frequent replacement

A New Jersey jury has awarded $6 million in a class action lawsuit against Kia Motors America Inc. Plaintiffs complained that the Kia Sephia sedan, sold in...

A New Jersey jury has awarded $6 million in a class action lawsuit against Kia Motors America Inc. Plaintiffs complained that the Kia Sephia sedan, sold in the late 1990s, had a defective brake system.

Consumers charged that the Sephia's brakes didn't dissipate heat properly, causing the pads and rotors to wear out at 10,000-mile intervals, causing motorists to incur expenses not covered by Kia's warranty.

The jury's verdict covers about 8,450 people who purchased the Sephia between 1997 and 2000. Each will receive about $750, the estimated cost of repairing the brakes.

The company said it would appeal the jury's verdict, which came after a three-week trial in Union County, N.J.

Alex Fedorak, director of public relations at KIA Motors America Inc., said in a statement that Kia honored its warranties and offered free coupons to Sephia owners for those with three complaints about the braking systems.

But Alan Feldman, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, said that 95 percent of the consumers covered in the suit paid for the repairs themselves and were denied reimbursement.

The Union County verdict follows a $5.6 million verdict in a suit against Kia in Pennsylvania in 2005. A 47-state settlement that same year provided only $60,000 for the class and exempted Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

 

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Glitches Abound in Digital Television Transition

Congress hears of coupon troubles, consumer awareness shortcomings

The digital television (DTV) transition took center stage at a House Commerce subcommittee hearing yesterday, just as the Government Accountability Office...

The digital television (DTV) transition took center stage at a House Commerce subcommittee hearing yesterday, just as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report indicating mixed progress in preparing households for the change.

The House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet used its fifth DTV hearing to focus on the results of the $40 coupon vouchers offered through the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The coupon program has been criticized for issuing vouchers that expire within 90 days, without opportunity for replacement or renewal.

Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) said that "As more coupons reach the 90-day expiration date we will have more and better data on the rate at which the coupons are being redeemed. This will shed additional light on the potential financial and administrative needs for the program."

Dr. Bernadette McGuire-Rivera, NTIA's assistant administrator, testified that "As of June 3rd, of the 16 million coupons requested, more than 14.6 million have been mailed to consumers. A coupon ordered today can be expected to be issued and mailed within 10 to 15 business days."

Rivera said the postage costs of sending out more coupons require attention.

"Given the statutory 90-day expiration date of each coupon and the resulting importance of timely delivery, NTIA is reaching out to the U.S. Postal Service to request that coupon mailings be given priority attention," Rivera said.

Rivera also noted that recent requested changes to the program, such as allowing coupons to be sent to P.O. boxes and senior care facilities, might require the NTIA to "access more funding" to cover the increased costs.

But the NTIA issued a statement after the hearing saying it "has no plans to ask Congress for any additional funds."

Lack of awareness

The level of consumer awareness -- or lack of it -- about what the DTV transition entails was also a hot topic, thanks to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) detailing various issues relating to the switchover. The GAO conducted a survey of American households to determine their level of information regarding the transition. Among the GAO's findings:

• 84 percent of respondents polled had heard of the transition, but a smaller percentage of people have more specific knowledge of the transition. date and why the transition is taking place. Households which were directly affected by the transition had more specific and direct knowledge than those that were not.

• Over 50 percent of the households polled had heard of the coupon subsidy program for converter boxes, but less than a third of the respondents knew where and how to obtain coupons.

• 30 percent of respondents who would be unaffected by the transition still indicated they would make plans for it, a symptom of misinformation and confusion among the public, the GAO said.

"35 percent of over-the-air only homes and 52 percent of homes with at least one unconnected analog television set are unprepared for the transition," said House Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-MA). "Those numbers suggest that much work remains to educate consumers, including seniors, non-English-speaking households, and other vulnerable populations."

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin Martin testified that while there was still room for improvement, "Numerous reports indicate that consumer awareness of the upcoming transition has risen significantly." Martin cited statistics from the Consumer Electronics Association reporting that the percentage of consumers surveyed who were aware of the DTV transition jumped from 41 percent in August 2006 to 74 percent in January 2008.

"That more and more viewers are aware of the transition is a step in the right direction," Martin said. The next phase of the consumer education campaign emphasizes the actions that consumers need to take to be prepared."

Catching the converters

Availability of set-top converter boxes to process the digital signals was also cited as a concern. Critics charge that even though many retailers have signed up to sell converter boxes, consumers were having difficult times finding and purchasing them before the coupons expired.

John Ripperton, Radio Shack's vice president for supply chain management, testified that "the demand for converter boxes is higher at this time than was anticipated," and that Radio Shack was implementing special programs such as direct orders from its shipping centers to cope with the growing interest from customers.

Ripperton also asked the NTIA to continue providing detailed coupon redemption data.

"This is particularly important right now so that retailers can appropriately target shipment of their inventory to the areas that have the most active coupons," Ripperton said.

Although several retailers have enabled the converter box coupons to be used online, the larger retail chains require them to be redeemed in person. Big-box retailers such as Best Buy, Circuit City, and Radio Shack itself were recentlyfined by the FCC for selling televisions without warning labels notifying consumers that the set would require a converter box to receive digital signals.

What to do

The following sites have more information about the analog-to-digital transition:

• Our Dawn Carlson provides a thorough overview of what you need to know.

• Visit the FCC's official DTV site to get more information.

• Apply for a converter box coupon at the NTIA's converter program Web site.

 

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Toyota Resists Possible Tacoma Recall

Feds probing unintended acceleration problems in popular pickup

Toyota has launched a lobbying offensive in Washington to limit the scope of a federal safety investigation into unintended acceleration in the Tacoma pick...

Toyota has launched a lobbying offensive in Washington to limit the scope of a federal safety investigation into unintended acceleration in the Tacoma pickup truck.

More than 400 consumers have complained to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about unintended and sudden acceleration in the Tacoma pickup. Reports to the agency document 51 crashes and 12 injuries.

Nevertheless, Toyota complained in a letter to the agency that the Tacoma is the focus of hostile media coverage as well as consumers exaggerating their problems.

"Toyota believes that it is likely that many of the consumer complaints about the general issue of unwanted acceleration as well as many of the complaints about this subject that have been received by Toyota were inspired by publicity," the automaker wrote NHTSA.

Toyota suggested in the letter to safety regulators that consumers are overstating the unintended acceleration problem with the Tacoma which the automaker described as minor engine speed changes.

A ConsumerAffairs.com reader and Toyota Tacoma owner in Weaver, Alabama reported a different story. "It was jumping forward toward my house at every engine turn. I pushed in the clutch and took out the key," he said.

Acceleration is controlled in the Tacoma by a drive-by-wire system with a computer replacing the traditional linkage between the accelerator pedal and the engine throttle-body which injects the fuel required for acceleration.

Toyota claimed the Tacoma computer can capture an error report if accelerator pedal and throttle are not working properly and the automaker said no error codes have turned up in vehicles inspected Toyota technicians.

Safety regulators at NHTSA are now investigating 775,000 of the pickups sold between 2004 and 2008. An upgrade of the investigation could lead to a recall of the trucks costing Toyota millions of dollars and adding another layer of tarnish to the automaker's deteriorating reputation for quality.

A Toyota spokesman insisted that the automaker remains confident in the safety of the Tacoma drive-by-wire system.

 

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Backyard Leisure Recalls Swing Sets

Backyard Leisure Recalls Swing Sets...

June 10, 2008   
Backyard Leisure is recalling about 11,000 Adventure Play Sets and Create N Adventure Wooden Play Sets. Hangers holding the chains for the gliders can break, causing a child to fall and suffer injuries.

Backyard Leisure has received 114 reports of glider hangers breaking, including three reports of minor injuries to children. Injuries included abrasions and a child being hit in the head by a chain that detached from a hanger.

The swing sets are made of wood and feature various types of gliders, slides and swings. The recalled models include:

Adventure Play SetsModel
Pathfinder Swing Set65008
Conqueror Swing Set65208
Create N Adventure Wooden Play Sets 
Cedar Ridge Wooden Swing Set30008
Windsor Wooden Swing Set30108

Adventure Play Set or Create N Adventure, and Pittsburg, KS 66762 is printed on a plaque in the middle of the swing sets upper beam. The name and model number is printed on the manufacturers instructions that come with the play set.

The swing sets were sold at Wal-Mart stores nationwide and Wal-Mart.com under the Adventure Playsets brand, and Toys R Us stores nationwide under the Create N Adventure brand from January 2008 through May 2008 for between $400 and $1,500. They were made in China.

Consumers should immediately remove the gliders from the swing sets and contact Backyard Leisure to receive free replacement glider hangers and repair instructions.

For additional information, contact Backyard Leisure at (866) 546-7902 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, visit the firms Web site at www.adventureplaysets.com, or email the firm at custservice@adventureplayets.com

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

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High Gas Prices Good For Kia, Honda

Fuel-sippers slide off lots as gas prices hover around $4

Two automakers known for small, fuel-efficient cars have reported record sales in May....

Two automakers known for small, fuel-efficient cars have reported record sales in May.

Kia Motors America reported its best sales month ever for the second consecutive month with record May sales of 31,047 units, an increase of nine percent over the same period last year, and year-to-date sales of 129,327 units.

May's record sales were led by Spectra and Optima, which both had their best months ever with 9,407 and 8,197 units sold respectively, increases of 10.5 and 120.8 percent over same period last year. Rio also continued with strong sales in its best month of the year at 4,474 units, a 28.6 percent increase over the same period last year.

"With gas prices continuing to rise, record sales of the fuel-efficient Spectra and Optima are proof that consumers are recognizing Kia's value now more than ever" said Byung Mo Ahn, group president and CEO of KMA and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG).

"Achieving the best month ever for two months in a row is the result of enhancement efforts to Kia's brand image and the Kia dealer network's total endeavors in a difficult market environment to sell more vehicles"

American Honda Motor Co., Inc., reported May sales of 167,997, up 11.3 percent on a daily-selling-rate basis, shattered the company's all-time sales record for any month as Civic sales reached 53,299, up 28.3 percent versus last May and surpassing the previous monthly record for any car in the lineup.

"The dramatic increase in car sales appears to be one of the most profound shifts in automotive buying patterns in more than a decade" said Dick Colliver, executive vice president of American Honda. "Record sales of the Honda Civic clearly demonstrate an accelerated trend toward fuel efficiency"

Honda Division sales of 153,104 increased 13.9 percent for the month as total car sales reached 105,548, up 30.7 percent. The Honda Civic, with sales of 53,299, set a new monthly sales record for any model in the Honda lineup, surpassing the previous record of 49,098 set in August 2003 by the Accord.

But overall, U.S. car sales were down in May, led by double-digit declines at General Motors and Ford. GM sales were down 30 percent while Ford sales declined 19 percent.

$4 Barrier

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline is now $4.023 throughout the country with regular selling well above that in many areas.

The price blew through the $4 mark over the weekend and climbed again as the June 9 workweek began. Mid-grade gasoline sells for $4.273 a gallon and premium sells for $4.426.

Diesel is selling for $4.773

"If crude oil prices stay at nearly $139 a barrel, a 30-cent rise for a gallon of gas over the next few weeks is possible," said Trilby Lundberg, editor of the nationwide Lundberg survey of about 7,000 gas stations.

One month ago a gallon of regular gasoline sold for an average price of $3.692 and one year ago a gallon sold for $3.091 on average.

Average prices are the highest in California at $4.445 a gallon. People in Missouri and South Carolina see the lowest average price at $3.825 and $3.829.

Soaring gas prices are crippling consumers and damaging businesses in an economy already facing higher food prices, job losses and plummeting home values.

Drivers in Woodbridge Hills, California, are paying the most for gas at $4.78 a gallon. Folks in Granite Falls, North Carolina can find the cheapest gallon at $3.62.

Prices at the pump vary across U.S. regions, with consumers paying an average $3.84 in the Gulf Coast area and $4.27 a gallon along the West Coast.

"We can expect some further increase at the pump," Lundberg warned. The Lundberg warning was echoed in a statement issued by the travel group AAA.

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FTC Sues Subprime Credit Card Lender For Deceptive Marketing

CompuCredit charged with violating both credit and debt collection laws

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a lawsuit against subprime credit card lender CompuCredit and its subsidiary debt collection company Jefferson...

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a lawsuit against subprime credit card lender CompuCredit and its subsidiary debt collection company Jefferson Capital Systems, on charges that it lured customers into purchasing high-fee, low-limit credit cards without disclosing the fees or restrictions.

According to the FTC complaint, CompuCredit, operating under its many brand names, including Aspire, Majestic, FreedomCard, and Fingerhut Credit Advantage, used direct-mail solicitations, extensive telemarketing, and Internet advertising to market its credit cards to "subprime" consumers.

CompuCredit and Jefferson Capital were charged with violating the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Among the charges:

• CompuCredit marketed to consumers with subprime credit ratings a Visa credit card with a $300 credit limit, and claimed that certain upfront fees were waived. "In fact, CompuCredit assessed approximately $185 in up-front fees and reduced the available credit to $115. CompuCredit's ultimate disclosure of the fees in its accompanying Summary of Terms did not cure the deception," the agency said.

• CompuCredit also marketed a Visa card with a credit limit allegedly up to $3,250 for customers with slightly better credit ratings. But the company did not disclose that half of the available credit would be withheld for the first 90 days. CompuCredit also failed to disclose that for the first 90 days, the company would monitor consumers' purchases, and might reduce their credit limit based on an undisclosed "behavioral" scoring model.

• CompuCredit and Jefferson Capital marketed a third type of card to consumers with "charged-off" debt, claiming that the debt balance would be transferred to the new card and immediately recorded as paid in full.

"In fact, consumers did not qualify for the new cards until they paid 25-50% of their old debt balances," the agency said. "Further, even if they paid the required portion of the old debt balances the credit lines received only equaled 5% of the original debt amounts."

The FTC complaint described how CompuCredit went to great lengths to hide the fees and restrictions attached to their card offers, such as burying the fee information in very small type on the backs of direct-mail solicitations, and having call-center operatives avoid the subject by discussing the card's APR during solicitation calls. Jefferson Capital would also call customers at all hours, as well as at their place of employment, and operatives would use abusive language.

"It is important for all consumers including those in the subprime market to have access to credit card product," said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "But the marketing of these products must be truthful; it should not and cannot be misleading about the true costs and terms of the credit card."

Old problems

CompuCredit's various cards and offers have been a regular source of complaints from ConsumerAffairs.Com readers.

Sylvia of Alamosa, Colorado wrote in to say that "I just received the fourth phone call about a past due balance. I have not bought any merchandise since December and it has all been paid off." Sylvia, who was solicited for an insurance policy through CompuCredit, operating as Fingerhut, said that, "I have a suspicion Fingerhut will keep billing me, harassing me at work and failing to make note of my reasons for not wanting the coverage."

Ryan, of New Hudson, Michigan was billed over $150 on his Aspire Visa card for a purchase of $30, which he paid. " I told them to cancel the card and send me an Itemized bill of my purchases, " he wrote. "Well, they never did. Now I am being sued for over $600.00 plus attorney and court fees."

The state of New York in 2006 sued CompuCreditCp and its partner Columbus Bank & Trust for failing to disclose hidden fees on the cards they sold, engaging in improper debt collection practices, and enrolling customers in third-party programs without their knowledge, then billing them for renewal fees.

Columbus Bank and CompuCredit agreed to pay restitution of $11 million to cardholders, and $525,000 in fees and court costs to New York.

Even with its legal headaches, CompuCredit and other subprime card lenders have continued to rake in healthy profits through incessant marketing of "fee harvester" credit cards--cards with many hidden fees and penalties that unwitting customers pay. A 2007 report from the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) found that CompuCredit alone had collected $400 million in fees from customers who, in turn, were saddled with $1 billion in debt.

 

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FDA Expands Tomato Warning

At least 150 people sickened nationwide

FDA Expands Tomato Warning...

The salmonella outbreak form tainted tomatoes, first reportedlast week, is bigger than it appeared, with nearly 150 people sickened nationwide.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expanding its warning to consumers that a salmonellosis outbreak has been linked to consumption of certain raw red plum, red Roma, and red round tomatoes, and products containing these raw, red tomatoes.

McDonald's and other restaurant chains hurried to pull certain types of tomatoes from their menus until the source of the outbreak is pinpointed. McDonald's said it has removed sliced tomoatoes from all of its sandwiches.

Chipotle Mexican Grill said it has temporarily halted sales of its tomato salsa. Wal-Mart directed stores in New Mexico, Texas and other locations to remove certain types of tomatoes and said it would make refunds to customers who purchased the affected tomatoes. Winn-Dixie said it was also removing potentially affected tomatoes from its stores.

FDA recommends that consumers not eat raw red Roma, raw red plum, raw red round tomatoes, or products that contain these types of raw red tomatoes unless the tomatoes are from the sources listed below.

Some published reports said that Florida and the eastern shore of Virginia have been the target of an ongoing FDA tomato safety initiative.

If unsure of where tomatoes are grown or harvested, consumers are encouraged to contact the store where the tomato purchase was made. Consumers should continue to eat cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached, or tomatoes grown at home.

On June 5, FDA published a list of states, territories, and countries where tomatoes are grown and harvested which have not been associated with this outbreak.

This updated list includes: Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands, and Puerto Rico. Tomatoes from any of these areas are thought to be safe.

FDA's recommendation does not apply to the following tomatoes from any source: cherry, grape, and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached.

FDA recommends that retailers, restaurateurs, and food service operators not sell or serve raw red Roma, raw red plum, and raw red round tomatoes unless they are from the sources listed above. Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached, may continue to be offered from any source.

Since mid April, there have been 145 reported cases of salmonellosis caused by Salmonella Saintpaul nationwide, including at least 23 hospitalizations.

States reporting illnesses linked to the outbreak include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Salmonella Saintpaul is an uncommon type of Salmonella.

Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections particularly in young children, frail or elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems.

Healthy persons often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, the organism can get into the bloodstream and produce more severe illnesses.

Consumers who have recently eaten raw tomatoes or foods containing raw tomatoes and are experiencing any of these symptoms should contact their health care provider. All Salmonella infections should be reported to state or local health authorities.

FDA says the source of the contaminated tomatoes may be limited to a single grower or packer or tomatoes from a specific geographic area. The agency also notes that there are many tomato crops across the country and in foreign countries that are just becoming ready for harvest or will become ready in the coming months.

 



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Ford Trucks Burn in Virginia, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina

Truck owners thought danger of fire was remote, ignored recall notices

The firestorm of Ford trucks burning across America has erupted again, destroying a Virginia home and spreading destruction in 3 other states....

The firestorm of Ford trucks burning across America has erupted again, destroying a Virginia home and spreading destruction in 3 other states.

The devastation follows strong warnings from federal safety regulators to millions of Ford truck owners that the vehicles are a clear and present fire hazard.

A 2005 Ford F-150 caught fire in the middle of the night in Waynesboro, Virginia April 24 destroying the truck, two other vehicles and burning the truck owner's home to the ground.

The Ford owner was awakened in the early morning hours by the family pet to "find our 2005 Ford F-150 engulfed in flames and to soon see our other two vehicles and our home destroyed by fire."

"A total of four investigators have concluded that the cause of the fire is the Ford F-150. The truck is presently under lock and key and the investigation continues," the Ford truck owner told ConsumerAffairs.Com.

The family was evacuated from their property with estimated losses of $225,000.

A similar fire occurred in Riviera Beach, Florida in May when a 2001 Ford Expedition caught fire. The truck owner reported that on May 15, "after driving my 2001 Ford Expedition around doing errands" he parked the truck in his driveway. "After about 15 minutes,someone was banging on my front door telling me my truck was on fire," he told ConsumerAffairs.Com.

The fire destroyed the Ford Expedition and the fire department reported to the owner that, "it appears the fire started in the front driver side of the engine compartment."

May 21 in Duluth, Georgia a Ford F-150 burned. The owner reported that he had received a recall notice from Ford about the defective speed control deactivation switch (SCDS) but the recall failed to emphasize the danger of a truck fire.

"I knew that I needed to get the recall for the defective SCDS and planned to go to the dealership this week. The recall notice mentioned a possibility of the truck catching fire even when the truck is off. There was no urgent warning in the recall. I even asked the Ford 800-number operator how serious this problem was after my truck went up in flames and he replied very, very remote."

The Georgia truck owner lost his F-150 to the blaze and the driveway was damaged because of the heat from the fire.

"This could have been real sad if I had parked my truck in the garage below my youngest boy's bedroom," he said.

The Ford recall of cars and trucks to repair the defective cruise control system covers more than 12 million vehicles, including the 1998 F-150 that burned in Georgia.

Danger downplayed

Nevertheless, the most recent recall notice posted on the Ford Web site downplays the possibility of a truck fire.

"The potential for fire is small. However, owners who are concerned should park their vehicle outside until the repair is completed. Ultimately, the best action for customers is to have their dealer perform the repair as soon as possible," Ford stated on its Web site.

The Duluth, Georgia school teacher seemed lulled into inaction by the attitude at Ford.

"Yes I did get a recall notice for the SCDS. I received it about three weeks prior to the fire. I teach, and I had it on my list of to-do items for this week, our first week out of school for the summer. I got the impression from the notice that this was not an extremely serious problem, he told ConsumerAffairs.com.

Just a week after the Ford truck fire in Georgia, a 1995 Ford F-150 erupted into flames in Gaston, South Carolina.

"Our 1995 4-wheel drive F-150 was sitting in our front yard turned off when it erupted into flames burning everything on the driver-side under-hood area. Ford promptly denied the claim citing 2 recall notices had been sent prior to the fire and they were not responsible," the owner said.

Ford has repeatedly denied liability for its fire-prone cars and trucks forcing some burned-out owners to take their complaints to court. At least four wrongful death suits have been filed against the automaker in fire-related incidents.

In the most recent recall notice posted on the Ford Web site, the automaker continued to refuse responsibility for vehicles that have burned. The automaker said owners "should work with their insurance company to address these concerns."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has warned owners of Ford cars and trucks that carry the defective SCDS to have the system repaired or disconnected immediately or risk the vehicle catching fire. "This condition may occur either when the vehicle is parked or when it is being operated, even if the speed control is not in use," the NHTSA advisory stated.

"Failure to have the switch disconnected could lead to a vehicle fire at any time, whether or not the key is in the ignition, and whether or not owners use the cruise control system," the strongly-worded NHTSA consumer advisory cautioned.

NHTSA concluded that the fire danger is present regardless of the age of the vehicle.

Recalled models

The recalled vehicles are:

1. 1993 2004 F150
2. 1993 1999 F250 (gasoline engine)
3. 1993 1996 Bronco
4. 1994 1996 Econoline
5. 1997 2002 Ford Expedition
6. 1998 2002 Lincoln Navigator
7. 1998 2002 Ford Ranger
8. 1992 1998 Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car
9. 1993 1998 Lincoln Mark VIII
10. 1993 1995 Ford Taurus SHO with automatic transmission
11. 1994 Mercury Capri
12. 1998 2001 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer
13. 2001 2002 Ford Explorer Sport and Explorer Sport Trac
14. 1992 1993 and 1997 2003 Ford E-150-350 gasoline or natural gas vehicles
15. 2002 E-550 gasoline engine vehicles
16. 1996 2003 E-450 gasoline or natural gas vehicles
17. 1994 2002 F-250 through F-550 super Duty trucks (gasoline engine)
18. 2000 2002 Ford Excursion (gasoline engine)
19. 2003 F250 F550 Super Duty, Ford Excursion
20. 1995 2002 Ford F53 Motor home chassis
21. 2002 2003 Lincoln Blackwood

Ford truck and SUV owners wanting more information about the fire danger in their vehicle or the recall may contact Ford at 1-800-392-3673 or NHTSA 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153).

 

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NYC Charges Milk Sellers With Price Gouging

Reduced enforcement blamed for high prices

NYC Charges Milk Sellers With Price Gouging...


The gas pump isn't the only place consumers sometimes feel gouged. The New York City Council has released a report charging consumers in the city are being overcharged for milk.

The problem, says Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Oversight and Investigations Chair Eric Gioia and Council Member Letitia James, is "significantly decreased" oversight of New York State's Milk Price Gouging Law, resulting in citywide milk prices that are above the state-determined legal threshold.

Tracy Shelton, a consumer attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group, calls the report's findings "disturbing." She says its outrageous that some consumers are paying more than the threshold price for milk.

Lucy Cabrera, president of the New York City Food Bank, said price gouging on necessities like milk should never be tolerated.

The prices that consumers must pay for milk as well as other commonly consumed items are rapidly increasing. The most recent survey from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (AGMKT) found that the cost of a gallon of whole milk in the New York metropolitan area increased nearly 30% between December 2006 and December 2007.

In 1991 New York State enacted the Milk Price Gouging Law, designed to protect consumers from food retailers who sell milk at a price that is "unconscionably excessive."

The law requires the AGMKT to set a monthly threshold for the price of milk for two regions of the state Upstate New York and the Metropolitan New York area to ensure that retailers are not charging consumers substantially more than what is paid to farmers.

The AGMKT Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services is responsible for enforcing the Milk Price Gouging Law. The Department currently conducts monthly supermarket surveys; however the same supermarkets are analyzed each month, allowing the AGMKT to obtain only a measure of milk prices over time.

"As food prices continue to rise, New Yorkers are finding it harder and harder to feed their families. We must ensure that the safeguards and thresholds for keeping milk affordable are effective and that retailers are following the letter of the law," said Quinn.

"Consumers should have the confidence that a staple such as milk which is critical for a child's healthy growth and development is available at reasonable prices," Quinn said.

In November 2007, investigators from the New York City Council's Policy and Investigations Division conducted a survey of milk prices at 50 retailers throughout the city, including ten per borough. Once the surveys were completed, the Council compared the milk prices at stores around the city to the respective thresholds that the AGMKT set for November 2007 to determine whether retailers in New York City were charging prices that might be classified as gouging.

This investigation found:

• Forty-three of the 50 stores surveyed (86%) charged a price that was higher than the threshold for at least one unit of milk.
• The 43 surveyed retailers that charged above the threshold for at least one unit of milk charged an average of $0.40 per unit above the threshold.
• Twelve (63.2%) of the 19 supermarkets surveyed charged above the threshold for at least one unit of milk.
• A total of 458 units of milk were surveyed, with 238 (51.9%) units priced above the threshold.

These findings suggest that reduced enforcement of the Milk Price Gouging Law has resulted in retailers who are essentially unencumbered by the law and able to set milk prices almost as if the law does not exist.

The report issues the following recommendations:

• The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets should recommence its oversight efforts by conducting more regular price-gouging enforcement.
• The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs and the State Department of Agriculture and Markets should work together to increase public awareness of the Milk Price Gouging Law and the monthly milk threshold.
• The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets should implement a more comprehensive system of notifying milk retailers of the upcoming month's price threshold.
• Milk retailers should stay abreast of changes to the monthly price threshold and adhere to the Milk Price Gouging Law when setting their prices.

Studies show that nationwide, milk is the second most commonly consumed beverage, and the most heavily consumed beverage among children ages 4-8. However, milk consumption has dropped significantly over the past half century, with consumers opting towards less nutritious and often less expensive soft drinks, fruit juices, coffees and teas.



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Thieves Steal AT&T Laptop with Employee Data

Unencrypted computer contains personal information on management, staff

Thieves Steal AT&T Laptop with Employee Data...


A laptop containing personal information on AT&T employees and management was stolen from an employee's vehicle last month, the company said.

The laptop, which had no encryption or security protection beyond a password lock, contained names, Social Security numbers, and salary information for an undisclosed number of workers.

Employees were notified of the theft on May 22, seven days after the theft, according to privacy watchdog PogoWasRight.org, which first reported the story. In a letter to employees, AT&T said that, "The measures and precautions we put in place to protect the security of company-owned property and our employees' personal information were not followed."

AT&T said that the responsible employee "has been disciplined."

"We believe that this was a random property crime and we have no reason to believe this personal information has been compromised," the company said. AT&T offered free credit monitoring from Equifax and has set up a toll-free number for employees to inquire if they were affected.

Disgruntled

AT&T employees were disgruntled at the thought of their personal information being at risk due to lack of basic computer security procedures. "It is pathetic that the largest telecom company in the world -- with more than 100 million customers -- doesn't encrypt basic personal information," one manager told NetworkWorld.Com.

Institutions from Boeing to Kaiser Permanente have suffered embarrassing data breaches when laptops belonging to the companies were stolen, all with valuable personal information such as names, Social Security numbers, payroll records, and addresses on them.

The granddaddy of all laptop-based data breaches was the theft of a laptop containing records on 26 million veterans from the home of an analyst for the Veterans' Administration in May 2006. The laptop was eventually recovered, and Maryland police charged two teenagers and an underage accomplice with the crime. The FBI claimed that the data on the laptop had not been accessed or misused.

Laptop theft or loss is one of the most common sources of data breaches, due to the continued practice of employees taking personal information away from the office, and companies not practicing comprehensive security solutions, such as encryption of the laptop hard disk or utilizing a virtual private network (VPN) to access information in other locations.

In addition to using whole disk encryption, a host of businesses now offer remote tracking and file deletion for stolen laptops, but only if they access the Internet. The best way to ensure personal, corporate, or government data is not exposed to theft is to not keep it on a mobile device, or to use full-disk encryption if there is no other option.

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Fed Clears Bank Of America-Countrywide Merger

BofA says it will tighten lending guidelines

The Federal Reserve has signed off on Bank of America's proposed merger with subprime lender Countrywide Financial. The deal is scheduled to be finalized r...

The Federal Reserve has signed off on Bank of America's proposed merger with subprime lender Countrywide Financial. The deal is scheduled to be finalized later this year, pending a vote by Countrywide shareholders.

The purchase of Countrywide would make Bank of America the nation's largest mortgage lender and loan servicer and would significantly expand the company's consumer real estate product offerings.

"This transaction represents a rare opportunity for Bank of America to significantly gain market share in the mortgage business, allowing it to expand in a cornerstone financial product," said Bank of America Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth D. Lewis.

The company said Countrywide customers would eventually gain access to a broad set of consumer financial products such as credit cards and deposit services.

"Mortgages continue to be a key consumer product for Bank of America, serving as a driver for adding new customers and deepening relationships with existing ones," Lewis said. "Countrywide, through its systems, distribution network and servicing platform, will give Bank of America greater ability to meet customers' credit needs."

In April 2008, Bank of America signaled that it planned to do business differently than Countrywide has conducted it in the past. In testimony before the Federal Reserve in Chicago, Bank of America Global Consumer Credit Executive Bruce Hammonds unveiled his company's new mortgage lending guidelines.

Following the purchase, the combined mortgage business plans to offer retail customers the following types of first-lien mortgages:

• Conforming loans underwritten to standard guidelines of government-sponsored enterprises and the government, including FHA and VA loans and other loans designed for low-and moderate-income borrowers.

• Interest-only fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) that are subject to a 10-year minimum interest-only period, which lessens the possibility of short-term payment shock.

• Fixed-period ARMs that provide borrowers low initial rates with the security of fixed payments, subject to protections against steep increases in payment amounts. One thing Countrywide will not be doing is originating subprime mortgages. Following the purchase, Bank of America said it will make other changes to the loan products offered by the combined mortgage business:

• Discontinue non-traditional mortgages where monthly payments may not cover all interest, or so-called option-ARMs.

• Significantly curtail other non-traditional mortgages, such as certain low documentation loans.

• Implement enhanced borrower protections soon after completion of the Countrywide purchase, including limits on prepayment penalties and protections on non-traditional loans such as interest-only and hybrid ARMs, which limit the risk of future payment shock and provide long-term affordability.

"We think it's important to clearly explain the changes in mortgage lending practices once we operate as a combined company," Hammonds said. "We recognize this tightening, by definition, restricts the availability of credit to some borrowers. However, this will help ensure that those who get loans can afford to repay them.

 

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FDA 'Reapproves' Heartworm Drug

ProHeart 6 was recalled in 2004 because of serious reactions

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed ProHeart 6 Sustained Release Injectable for Dogs, NADA 141-189, manufactured by Fort Dodge Animal Health, bac...

By Lisa Wade McCormick
ConsumerAffairs.com

June 8, 2008
A reformulated heartworm prevention drug for dogs is making a limited return to the U.S. market.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed ProHeart 6 Sustained Release Injectable for Dogs, NADA 141-189, manufactured by Fort Dodge Animal Health, back onto the market.

The medication had been withdrawn because of serious, life-threatening adverse reactions, including loss of appetite, lethargy; vomiting, seizures, difficulty walking, jaundice (a yellowish appearance); and bleeding disorders, allergies, convulsions, followed in some cases by death.

FDA is allowing the medication to be prescribed by veterinarians under a risk minimization and restricted distribution program designed to "manage the re-introduction of ProHeart 6 to provide for safe, appropriate use of the product while minimizing risk to dogs."

"This is the first veterinary drug to be marketed under a risk minimization and restricted distribution program. Numerous drugs for use in people have been successfully marketed under similar programs," said Bernadette Dunham, D.V.M., Ph.D., director, FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. "While we concur with the limited return of ProHeart 6 to the U.S. market, we strongly encourage veterinarians and pet owners to report any possible adverse reactions."

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition for dogs. The parasite that causes heartworm disease is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito.

The risk minimization and restricted distribution program is intended to educate veterinarians and pet owners regarding the possible risks associated with the use of ProHeart 6. Fort Dodge Animal Health is requiring veterinarians who wish to purchase ProHeart 6 to register with the company and participate in a Web-based training program prior to obtaining the product.

The return of ProHeart 6 to the market is based on results of additional toxicological and pharmacologic studies by Fort Dodge Animal Health coupled with the low adverse reaction frequency in international markets, the FDA said.

Recalled in 2004

In 2004, Fort Dodge Animal Health agreed to recall the product voluntarily based upon FDA's concerns regarding reports of serious adverse reactions in dogs following the use of ProHeart 6.

In response to FDA's concerns, the manufacturer conducted additional testing of its product, which indicated that residues of the solvents used in the manufacture of ProHeart 6 might cause allergic reactions.

The FDA said the manufacturer has improved the manufacturing specifications for ProHeart 6 to decrease the presence of those residues and has marketed the product in international markets. Few adverse events have been reported with this reformulated product.

The ProHeart 6 label and Client Information Sheet have been revised to include updated safety information. The new label includes warnings not to administer the drug within one month of vaccinations, and to use the product with caution in dogs with pre-existing allergic diseases including food allergies, allergic hypersensitivity, and flea allergy dermatitis.

The label also warns against administering the drug to dogs who are sick, debilitated, underweight, or who have a history of weight loss. In addition, the label's Post-Approval Experience section has been updated to include information about adverse reactions based on voluntary post-approval drug experience reporting.

Dog owners who suspect their dog is experiencing an adverse reaction to ProHeart 6 should immediately contact their veterinarian to initiate appropriate veterinary care. Veterinarians should contact Fort Dodge Animal Health to report any adverse events at (800) 533-8536

More about pets ...



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TSA's New Scanner Gets Up Close And Personal

Modesty sacrificed to security in new see-through scanners

TSA's New Scanner Gets Up Close And Personal...


Modesty takes a back seat to security with deployment of an experimental security scanner at ten of the nation's major airports.

The device, put in place by the Transportation Security Administration, performs a full body scan of random selected passengers, providing an image of the subjects' body, beneath their clothing.

TSA recently started using the "x-ray eyes"in Albuquerque, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Denver, Washington's Reagan National Airport and New York's JFK Airport. Airports in Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas and Miami are scheduled to get the new scanners before the end of this month.

TSA foresees the new body scanners as a more efficient replacement for the metal detectors passengers now walk through. James Schear, TSA security director at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, told USA Today the new full body scanners are "the wave of the future."

The scanners leave little to the imagination. Passengers who undergo a scan reveal contours of their body, and any items they may have in their pockets or attached to their bodies.

TSA says the only part of a person's body that is not shown in sharp detail is the face, which is purposely blurred "to protect privacy." The images reportedly are also deleted immediately, according to the agency.

The scanners were developed and deployed at the strong urging of many security experts, who say they represent a significant advancement in security a desirable trade-off for the embarrassing loss of privacy.

But some experts remain skeptical, saying the scanners may be able to look through clothing, they can't see through plastic. It's only a matter of time, they say before terrorists develop plastic or rubber body suits in which to conceal weapons.



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Bassettbaby Cribs Sold at Babies R Us Recalled

Bassettbaby Cribs Sold at Babies R Us Recalled...

June 5, 2008
Bassettbaby is recalling about 550 Wendy Bellissimo Hidden Hills Collection cribs sold at Babies R Us.

The space between the spindles on some cribs can fail to meet federal standards and can pose an entrapment hazard to infants.

This recall involves a full-size crib from the Wendy Bellissimo Hidden Hills collection, model number 5446-0521. The model number is located on the bottom rail of the headboard. The crib was sold in a Navajo Pine finish.

The cribs, made in China, were sold by Babies "R" Us stores nationwide from November 2007 through February 2008 for about $500.

Consumers should stop using the crib immediately and contact Bassettbaby to schedule an in-home inspection of the crib. Recalled cribs will be replaced. The firm has contacted consumers directly.

For additional information, contact Bassettbaby at (866) 618-5446 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET Monday through Sunday.

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

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FDA Warns Of Tomato-Linked Salmonella

Agency probes outbreak in Texas, New Mexico

FDA Warns Of Tomato-Linked Salmonella...

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cautioning consumers about a salmonellosis outbreak in New Mexico and Texas that it says appears to be linked to consumption of certain types of raw red tomatoes and products containing raw red tomatoes.

The consumer alert issued by the agency notes the bacteria causing the illnesses are Salmonella serotype Saintpaul, an uncommon type of Salmonella.

The specific type and source of tomatoes are under investigation. However, preliminary data suggest that raw red plum, red Roma, or round red tomatoes are the cause.

"At this time, consumers in New Mexico and Texas should limit their tomato consumption to tomatoes that have not been implicated in the outbreak," the FDA said in its alert. "These include cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached, and tomatoes grown at home."

Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections particularly in young children, frail or elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems. Healthy people often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, the organism can get into the bloodstream and produce more severe illnesses.

Consumers in New Mexico and Texas who have recently eaten raw tomatoes or foods containing raw tomatoes and are experiencing any of these symptoms should contact their health care provider, the FDA said. All Salmonella infections should be reported to state or local health authorities.

From April 23 though June 1, 2008, there have been 57 reported cases of salmonellosis caused by Salmonella Saintpaul in New Mexico and Texas, including 17 hospitalizations. Approximately 30 reports of illness in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, and Utah are currently being investigated to determine whether they are also linked to tomatoes. There are no reported deaths.

FDA says the source of the contaminated tomatoes may be limited to a single grower or packer or tomatoes from a specific geographic area. The agency also notes that there are many tomato crops across the country and in foreign countries that are just becoming ready for harvest or will become ready in the coming months.



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Military Families Struggle with AT&T Calling Cards

Company blames Afghanistan's phone system

Sarah Scheuring tried for two months to contact her husband stationed in Afghanistan using a multitude of the prepaid AT&T calling cardsavailable to milita...

 


Charles Bustamante
Charles Bustamante & Sarah Scheuring

Sarah Scheuring tried for two months to contact her husband stationed in Afghanistan using a multitude of the prepaid AT&T calling cardsavailable to military personnel and their families, only to have the minutes on her cards disappear, leaving her with about two minutes of talk time for each $27.50 card.

An AT&T spokesman said the company believed it was an isolated incident and credited Scheuring's account.

I have spent over $700 in the last two months because I have no other option to get a hold of my husband, Scheuring wrote to us in mid-May.

Her husband, Charles, was deployed to Afghanistan in March after a 12-month stint in Iraq in 2005 and 2006.

He is stationed in an area where there is not even running water let alone Internet or a call center, Scheuring said. His international cell phone is all I have to communicate with him.

When she tries calling Charles on the prepaid cards sold exclusively on the Army Air Force Exchange Service Web site, she said 99 percent of the time it won't connect. Rather than just disconnect and not incur any charges, the service makes a noise like a fax machine and then starts ringing.

Instead of someone picking up the line, the phone just keeps ringing and while it's ringing it incurs charges, Scheuring said.

How is constant ringing a connected call? she asked.

It took her a a handful of $27.50 phone cards the most expensive AT&T offers soldiers and their families before she learned the incessant ringing was draining her minutes so quickly and now she said she knows when I hear the ringing, I hang up immediately.

But, even when she does not hang up the phone as soon as it starts ringing, it still charges her connection costs, which quickly burn up her minutes.

Frustrated with the almost complete lack of connectivity through AT&T and missing Charles, Scheuring decided to use her cell phone to make the calls. Even though her cell phone provider charged her $3.05 per minute, it was cheaper than what she was paying through the AT&T cards and considerably more convenient since her cell phone calls always went right through to her husband.

Scheuring said AT&T offered her a $350 voucher and told her that it was because of Afghanistan's phone service that her calls didn't go through. They also said they cannot guarantee prepaid minutes made to cell phones even though that language is absent in their terms and conditions.

Scheuring said she'd rather have cash because AT&T's service is useless to her and she would like some assistance paying back her cell phone debt and to pay back all the wasted money on nearly useless phone cards.

Later, Sarah clarified that AT&T, which is also her wireless provider, credited her wireless account with $454 on top of the $350 phone card they gave her.

Fletcher Cook, an AT&T; spokesperson said he believes it is an isolated incident because of her husband's remote location in Afghanistan.

"We've worked with this customer at length," Fletcher said. "We want to keep her happy and retain her as a customer."

After a call from ConsumerAffairs.com, AT&T; called Sarah and converted her $350 phone card, which she said was useless since AT&T's service was spotty, into a $350 wireless credit.

In the past few days Scheuring found an even better solution: IDT). Since Charles' cell phone is provided by IDT, Scheuring can use IDT's prepaid cards and connect immediately. She said she pays $10 for about 55 minutes now.

It's still more than what AT&T advertises for its cards, which are the only options for soldiers using the call centers at bases overseas, but Scheuring said she's just happy she's found some way to keep in contact with Charles during his 15-month deployment.

AT&T advertises these cards to troops and their families knowing that we do not have any other option, Scheuring said. Then they turn around and rip us off.

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Simmons Kids Recalls Crib Mattresses

Simmons Kids Recalls Crib Mattresses...

June 5, 2008
Simmons Kids is recalling about 20,000 crib mattresses. Some of the crib mattresses can measure smaller than the 27 1/4 inch minimum width requirement for cribs, creating a gap between the mattress and crib side rails, posing an entrapment hazard to infants.

Simmons Kids and CPSC have received one report of a 6-month old baby becoming wedged between the mattress and crib's frame. The baby was removed from the crib by the parent without injury.

The recalled mattresses involve open coil crib mattresses manufactured between July 1, 2006 and March 23, 2008 with a color label attached to the top or side of the mattress that has the following model names:

  •   Pottery Barn Kids by Simmons Kids Lullaby
  •  Simmons Kids Slumber Time Evening Star Luxury Firm
  •  Simmons Kids Baby Mattress Series 400
  •  Simmons Kids Baby Mattress 234 Coil Count

The crib mattresses also have a "law tag" that is sewn into the edge of the mattress. The law tag has the date of manufacture and in most cases will contain one of the following model numbers: H59044.15.0014, M59082.15.0002, M59027.15.0002 or M59065.15.0006. Pocketed Coils and Simmons Kids or Simmons Juvenile Products crib mattresses manufactured before July 1, 2006 or after March 23, 2008 are not included in the recall.

The mattresses were sold at Pottery Barn Kids and nursery furniture retailers from July 2006 through May 2008 for between $100 and $150. They were made in the United States.

Consumers should measure the width of their mattress using a reliable measuring device, such as a yard stick or tape measure, by removing all outer coverings, placing mattress on floor and measuring the width near the middle, from the outside edge of the tape binding to the opposite side of the mattress. Consumers should immediately stop using the mattress if it measures less than 27 1/4 inches and contact Simmons Kids to receive a free replacement mattress.

For additional information, contact Simmons Kids at (800) 810-8611 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Thursday, and between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. ET, on Friday or visit the firm's Web site at www.simmonskids.com.

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

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Consumer Group Presses for Ban on Food Dye

Claims link to hyperactivity, behavior problems in children

Consumer Group Presses for Ban on Food Dye...


In a formal petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is asking that eight widely-used food dyes be banned from the food supply. The consumer group says the substances are linked to hyperactivity and behavior problems in children.

The food colorings in questions, according to CSPI, are Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, and Yellow 6. The group says several are currently being phased out in the UK.

CSPI points to work done in the 1970s by Dr. Ben Feingold, a San Francisco allergist, who reported that his patients improved when their diets were changed to remove food dye.

CSPI says numerous controlled studies conducted over the next three decades in the United States, Europe, and Australia proved that some children's behavior is worsened by artificial dyes, but the government did nothing to discourage their use and food manufacturers greatly increased their reliance on them.

"We spent years trying to figure out the cause of our son's behavioral problems," said Judy Mann, of Silver Spring, Md. "For a long time, we thought the culprit was sugar. But when we started carefully monitoring everything he ate we were able to see that artificial dyes and preservatives were the problem. Since eliminating them the change has been positively stunning."

CSPI Executive Director Dr. Michael Jacobson was critical of both food manufacturers and federal regulators for failing to act on the wide body of research done on food colorings.

"I was disappointed, but not surprised, that the Grocery Manufacturers of America would so reflexively ignore the science related to food dyes and behavior and assert that dyes are perfectly safe," Jacobson said. "It is far more distressing that a spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration, a public health agency, would assume a similar ostrich-like stance without reading the numerous studies that found that dyes impair children's behavior."

CSPI's petition asks the FDA to require a warning label on foods with artificial dyes while it mulls CSPI's request to ban the dyes outright. CSPI also wants the FDA to correct the information it presents to parents on its web site about the impact of artificial food dyes on behavior.

CSPI lists 19 psychiatrists, toxicologists, and pediatricians who co-signed a letter urging members of Congress to hold hearings on artificial food dyes and behavior, and to fund an Institute of Medicine research project on the issue.

Those doctors include L. Eugene Arnold, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Ohio State University; Bernard Weiss, professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry; and Stanley Greenspan, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at George Washington University Medical School.



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Verizon Wireless Snaps Up AllTel

Deal would make Verizon the largest wireless carrier

Verizon Wireless Snaps Up AllTel...

 

Alltel's 13.2 million cell phone subscribers are about to become Verizon Wireless customers. Verizon Wireless has agreed to buy its competitor for more than $28 billion, creating the U.S.' largest mobile phone company.

The new combined company will have more than 80 million customers, placing it slightly ahead of AT&T, currently the nation's largest cell phone provider.

Alltel currently operates its own network in 34 states, focusing mostly on serving small to medium sized U.S. cities. Verizon is purchasing Alltel from a unit of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which acquired it late last year.

The deal still must be approved, not only by shareholders, but also by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department. Analysts say Verizon will most likely have to sell off some of its regional assets in places where both companies currently complete.

Even so, executives at Verizon express confidence the deal can close by the end of 2008. Under the proposed terms, Verizon Wireless would aquire Alltel's assets for $5.9 billion and assume more than $22 billion in debt.

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Internet Providers Ponder Bandwidth Limits For Heavy Users

Comcast, Time Warner will experiment with metered usage

Internet Providers Ponder Bandwidth Limits For Heavy Users...

Airlines aren't the only ones tacking on fees for services customers have taken for granted for years. Two cable giants Comcast and Time Warner Cable say they intend to test plans that would charge extra fees for heavy Internet usage.

It's a throwback to the days when you had to deposit another quarter to talk for a few more minutes on a pay phone.

Comcast says it has selected two markets -- Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and Warrenton, Virginia -- to put its new system into place. The company would delay traffic for the heaviest users.

Last year Comcast warned its customers that the heaviest users could end up losing their service if they used too much of it. But consumers complained that the company never spelled out exactly what constituted too much.

In May a report found both Comcast Cable and Cox Communications were using technologies that block or slow customers' access to the BitTorrent file-sharing engine, raising howls of indignation from consumers who complained to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is currently investigating the matter.

Under its new plan, Comcast said it would not target users of any particular application.

Time Warner also plans to limit consumers' bandwidth, but is providing more options. Just as airline passengers may pay extra for a bag of pretzels, Time Warner subscribers who find their heavy usage has resulted in slower speed may pay an additional fee to be restored to normal service.

Time Warner said it will institute a metered usage system. It compares the system to how consumers are currently charged for cell phone minutes. It will begin test marketing the plan in Beaumont, Texas.

Ben Scott, head of policy for the public interest group Free Press, told the Washington Post that the new strategy reflects a decision to admit publicly what the Internet providers have been doing secretly all along. He also saidit won't provide the kind of relief that would result from larger investments in high-speed networks.

Comcast-Cox

In the Comcast-Cox dust-up, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany conducted their study through measuring the traffic of 8,175 Internet users across the world.

The researchers detected conclusive evidence of "traffic shaping" or blocking from only three Internet service providers -- Comcast and Cox in the United States, and StarHub in Singapore. The researchers said 599 users were blocked in the United States, 573 of them on Comcast or Cox networks.

Although Comcast originally defended its content blocking practices as "reasonable network management" that was concentrated on peak hours of Internet use, the Institute's report indicated that both Comcast and Cox blocked access to BitTorrent at all times of the day.

"The percentage of blocked connections remains high at all times of the day," the report authors said. "Our data suggests that the BitTorrent blocking is independent of the time of the day."

Supporters of "net neutrality," the principle that all Internet content should be accessed equally, pointed to the discovery as further evidence that cable and other Internet providers cannot be trusted to police their networks without infringing on users' rights. "Consumers have no reason left to trust their cable company," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press. "This independent study confirms that Comcast is still blocking its customers from using popular applications -- despite the FCC's investigation and widespread public outrage."

Comcast's content blocking, first confirmed in October 2007, also led to customer lawsuits, and several hearings into proper network management conducted by the FCC. Comcast's image was further tarnished by its paying people to fill seats at the first hearing in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Cox released a brief statement to the Associated Press claiming that "[t]o ensure the best possible online experience for our customers, Cox actively manages network traffic through a variety of methods including traffic prioritization and protocol filtering."

The renewed push for net neutrality protection against content blocking has led to the introduction of several pieces of legislation in Congress.

One bill, the "Internet Freedom Preservation Act" co-sponsored by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to include the principles of open access to the Internet as codified law. The "Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act," introduced by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), would use antitrust regulations to prevent price discrimination through forcing different customers to pay more for higher bandwith usage.

 

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Polaris Industries Expands Recall of ATVs

Polaris Industries Expands Recall of ATVs...

June 4, 2008    
Polaris Industries is expanding its recall of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The ATVs can have defective Electronic Control Modules (ECM) that overheat, posing a fire and burn hazard to riders.

Since the recall expansion announced in February 2008, Polaris has received four more reports of ECMs melting and two reports of smoke or fire contained to the ECM. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves the Polaris ATVs with model year 2004 and model numbers listed below that have been serviced for electrical problems and received a defective EMC during service work. The ATVs were sold under market names Scrambler 500 and Sportsman 400, 500, or 6 x 6. The model number is printed on a decal attached to the front side of the radiator (Sportsman) or the top of the front cab cover (Scrambler 500).

Model YearModelMarket Name
2004A04BG50AAScrambler 500 4x4
2004A04BG50FAScrambler 500
2004A04CH42AQSportsman 400
2004A04CH42ARSportsman 400
2004A04CH42ASSportsman 400
2004A04CH42ATSportsman 400
2004A04CH42AVSportsman 400
2004A04CH50AOSportsman 500
2004A04CH50AQSportsman 500
2004A04CH50ARSportsman 500
2004A04CH50ASSportsman 500
2004A04CH50ATSportsman 500
2004A04CH50AVSportsman 500
2004A04CH50AWSportsman 500
2004A04CH50AXSportsman 500
2004A04CL50AASportsman 6x6

The ATVs, made in the United States, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from July 2004 through January 2008 for between $3,800 and $7,900.

Consumers should disconnect the negative (black) battery cable from the battery when the ATV is not in use. Consumers should contact their local Polaris dealer to schedule a free repair. Registered owners received direct mail notification of this recall.

For additional information, contact Polaris toll-free at (888) 704-5290 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, or visit the firm's Web site at www.polarisindustries.com

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

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Safeway, Warner Bros. Introduce 'Eating Right Kids'

Cartoon characters will promote healthier food products on Safeway shelves

Safeway, Warner Bros. Introduce 'Eating Right Kids'...


Safeway is partnering with Warner Bros. Entertainment to launch a new line of Loony Tunes-festooned food and drink items for children, as an extension of the supermarket chain's Eating Right line of more nutritional foods.

Dubbed Eating Right Kids, the new line-up, which will roll out this summer, includes more than 100 food and drink products that will be promoted as helping moms pick more nutritious food for their children.

Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Barry Meyer said the deal is a way to turn its well-known cartoon characters into "ambassadors of health and fitness." He said the partnership "allows us to utilize the Looney Tunes characters' enduring popularity with kids and teens to promote a lifestyle choice that's healthier for them."

Both supermarkets and Hollywood have been pilloried by consumer groups for promoting and selling too much junk food to children, contributing to a nationwide epidemice of obesity and early health problems.

As part of the deal, Warner Bros. said it will no longer feature its Looney Tunes characters on less-healthy food packaging, other than certain ice cream products or birthday cakes.

"We've cleared the market of anything that might be considered unhealthy," said Brad Globe, prexy of Warner Bros. Worldwide Consumer Products. "Our Looney Tunes characters are our crown jewels. We said, 'Hey, we need to figure out how we can be part of some kind of solution and use our characters in a positive way that will improve the issues related to childhood obesity.'"

Safeway's Eating Right Kids packaging will exclusively feature such characters as Bugs Bunny, Tweety, Taz, Sylvester, Wile E. Coyote, Roadrunner, Marvin the Martian and Daffy Duck.

Included in the line-up are breakfast foods, portable meals, dairy, snacks and beverages.

Safeway said the products will be formulated based on the most recent dietary recommendations from several federal and state agencies, including the Dept. of Health and Human Services, the Dept. of Agriculture, Alliance for a Healthier Generation, as well as California's school nutrition guidelines.

Major Hollywood studios have been trying to push healthier eating. Disney no longer promotes its films through McDonald's and has recently stayed away from junk food manufacturers as promotional partners, Variety reported. DreamWorks Animation has featured Shrek in anti-obesity campaigns.



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Patient Information Exposed in Data Breach at Walter Reed

Army hospital says 1,000 patients may be affected

Patient Information Exposed in Data Breach at Walter Reed...


Patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals had their personal information exposed in a security breach, officials said. As many as 1,000 patients may have been affected.

Details are scarce but Walter Reed officials said that the breach, which included names, Social Security numbers, and birth dates, was discovered on May 21 by a third-party data mining company, which the hospital did not identify.

Officials said the company found the exposed file while on another assignment and contacted Walter Reed.

The Associated Press reported that Walter Reed officials would only confirm that the data was found on a "non-governmental, non-secure network."

Walter Reed is contacting patients who were affected by the breach, and has set up a toll-free hotline (1-877-854-8542, ext. 9) for patients to determine if they were affected. Individuals affected by the breach will have credit monitoring services provided for them, the hospital said.

Government and military installations have encountered numerous forms of data breaches in recent years, from lost laptops, to accidental posting of information online, to sharing data without proper security precautions.

The biggest known government data breach on record remains the loss of records on 26.5 million veterans when a laptop containing the data was stolen from the home of an analyst for the Veterans' Administration (VA).

The laptop was eventually recovered, but not before investigators admitted keeping the breach secret for several weeks, as well as hiding several other breaches that had taken place during the last few years.

Other breaches included the accidental unencrypted transmission of 580,000 military members' personal data by contracting company SAIC in July 2007. SAIC had been handling health care processing claims for TRICARE, the military medical network, and had been assisting multiple branches of the military as well as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The extensive outsourcing of many governmental and military functions to private contractors has been criticized as a potential threat to national security.

In 2006 a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the trend, particularly in cases when contractors who had received outsourced government information then subcontracted the data out to third-party companies, many of which were located outside the United States.



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Physicians Warn Lawn Mowers Pose Danger To Children

'Terrible, devastating injuries' can mark children for life

Physicians Warn Lawn Mowers Pose Danger To Children...


Active children can face a number of dangers during the summer, but doctors warn that lawn mowers pose a real, and often overlooked, threat.

In fact, nearly 210,000 people -- approximately 16,200 of them children under age 19 -- were treated in doctors' offices, clinics and emergency rooms for lawn mower-related injuries in 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports.

To help prevent injuries, the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have teamed up to educate parents, adults and children about the importance of lawn mower safety.

"Parents need to understand that lawnmowers can cause terrible devastating injuries to children's hands, feet or faces, which can impact the rest of their lives," said ASRM President Neil Jones, MD. "The tragedy is that most of these injuries are totally preventable by following some simple precautions."

The doctors offer the following tips to help prevent lawn mower-related injuries:

• Children should be at least 12 years old before they operate any lawn mower, and at least 16 years old for a ride-on mower.

• Children should never be passengers on ride-on mowers.

• Always wear sturdy shoes while mowing -- not sandals.

• Young children should be a safe distance from the area you are mowing.

• Before mowing, pick up stones, toys and debris from the lawn to prevent injuries from flying objects.

• Always wear eye and hearing protection.

• Use a mower with a control that stops it from moving forward if the handle is released.

• Never pull backward or mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary carefully look for others behind you when you do.

• Start and refuel mowers outdoors -- not in a garage. Refuel with the motor turned off and cool.

• Blade settings should be made only by an adult .

• Wait for blades to stop completely before removing the grass catcher, unclogging the discharge chute, or crossing gravel roads.

Many lawn mower-related injuries require a team of physicians from various specialties to properly repair them. Often, patients must endure painful reconstructive operations to restore form and function.

"Many children who sustain lawn mower injuries must undergo reconstructive surgery for months, sometimes years, after the initial accident," said ASPS President Richard D'Amico, MD. "The look on parents' faces can be truly heart wrenching. We are the physicians called to treat these devastating injuries, but would do anything to prevent them in the first place."

"Parents want to protect their children from accidents and injuries. But every summer we see children and teens using lawnmowers in an unsafe manner," said AAP President Renee Jenkins, MD. "It is our job as pediatricians to help get information to parents about how to prevent injuries that are common during summer months, and that includes injuries from lawnmowers."

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Soaring Egg Prices Blamed on Costs of Fuel, Feed, Chicks

Prices up more than 30% in many supermarkets

Soaring Egg Prices Blamed on Costs of Fuel, Feed, Chicks...

The price of the lowly egg has risen more than 30 percent over the last year in much of the country, but farmers say you shouldn't blame the chickens. Scratch around a little and you'll find that, like everything else these days, high gas prices are largely to blame.

The wholesale price for Grade A eggs currently hovers around $1.14 in much of the country, which translates to a retail price of about twice that much. At Pavilions on W. Olympic Blvd. in Beverly Hills, Calif., Lucerne cage-free A eggs were on sale for $4.79 a dozen this morning. A Safeway in Fairfax, Va., was offering Lucerne large AA eggs for $2.19 a dozen.

Like so many other food staples, eggs are found in a wide variety of prepared foods and are used extensively by do-it-yourself chefs, making it hard to avoid shelling out more for the nutritious ovoids. Egg substitutes are available but they usually cost more than the real thing.

Chicken ranchers say the cost of getting a hen ready to lay eggs is up 60 percent, thanks to chicken feed that, well, isn't chicken feed anymore. Feed costs a third more than last year. Then there's diesel fuel that's approaching $5 a gallon and packaging costs that are climbing nearly as fast. The plastic containers that hold the eggs have gone from 5 cents to more than 7 cents in many areas.

And don't forget those chilly mornings. Most chicken ranchers use propane to heat their chicken houses and provide hot water for washing the eggs. The cost of propane has risen 50 percent in the last year.

Ethanol gets the blame

So if chicken ranchers aren't to blame for the high prices, who is? Supermarkets say they're having trouble dealing with rising food and transportation costs while their customers become increasingly tight with a buck.

The National Retail Federation, the Washington-based trade association for grocery stores, chain restaurants and other retailers, puts a big part of the blame on Congress and its love affair with ethanol .

"We've seen a tremendous increase in food prices. I don't think there's any disagreement that our ethanol policy has played a role in that," said Erik Autor, a federation vice president, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We're very concerned about this. And it is one thing Congress can do something about."

Trying to cut imports of oil from the Middle East, Congress has mandated that Americans use 9 billion gallons of ethanol by year's end and 36 billion gallons by 2022. In addition, oil refiners who blend ethanol with gasoline receive a 51-cent-per-gallon tax credit.

Most of the nation's ethanol is produced from corn -- and corn is what makes the feed that fattens up not just hens but beef cattle, hogs and other creatures bred for human consumption. So as corn is diverted to gas tanks, there's less available for animal feed.

Rising demand for corn in China, India and other developing countries is also driving up prices.

Corn currently is going for about $5.99 a bushel but with fewer acres planted this year, prices could climb to $7 or even $8, some agriculture observers predict.



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Sharper Image Closing All Stores

Company challenged Consumer Reports and lost

Upscale retailer Sharper Image is closing all of its retail stores and liquidating $50 million in inventory, though it will live on as an online catalog an...

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Daiso Recalls Children's Bracelets, Zodiac Signs

Daiso Recalls Children's Bracelets, Zodiac Signs...

Daiso is recalling children's bracelets and zodiac signs. The jewelry contains high levels of lead. Lead is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health effects.

This recall involves children's bracelets and Zodiac-sign necklaces. The necklaces have a black, non-metal cord and a silver rectangular pendant. An abstract design and a zodiacal name is printed on the front. The bracelets have a black, non-metal cord and plastic beads. Silver pendants shaped as a knife, cupid, sun, heart and bird wings are sold with the bracelets. The jewelry has UPC numbers 984343144040 (necklace) and 947678164466 (bracelet) printed on the back label.

The items were sold at Daiso retail stores in Washington State from October 2007 through December 2007 for about $2. They were made in China.

Consumers should immediately take the jewelry from young children and return the item to the store where purchased for a full refund.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Daiso LLC toll-free at (866) 768-4620 between 9:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, or visit the firm's Web site at www.daisollc.com.

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

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Rewards Programs Not Always Rewarding

Rewards are often difficult if not impossible to collect

Everyone wants something for free and businesses cleverly exploit that desire with rewards, offering customers everything from a free night's stay in a hot...

Everyone wants something for free and businesses cleverly exploit that desire with rewards programs, offering regular customers everything from a free night's stay in a hotel to a free pizza. But Consumer Reportssays its review of rewards programs finds reaping real savings can be tough.

Consumers complain frequently to ConsumerAffairs.com about every imaginable problem with rewards programs. Take Joseph of Vacaville, Calif. He bought a washing machine from Best Buy, only to have his son--who lives 500 miles away--call to say that Best Buy was trying to deliver a washing machine to him.

"Everytime I buy something the information is wrong," Joseph complained. "I have not received rewards in over a year which I was getting on a regular basis until these problems starting happening."

Consumers frequently buy products or services based on rewards card promises that never come through. That's what happened to Michael of Seymour, Conn., who agreed to add AT&T's DSL service to his account based on a promise of a $50 credit to his phone bill and a $50 credit on a Visa rewards card.

"About 2 weeks later I received a letter saying my phone choice will cause my bill to go to $79 a month. I called and the rep assured me $50 a month. Two months later I received my first phone bill for $149. The $50 credit on the account appears on my bill but is NOT applied to any charges, they won't adjust the bill ... and I cant get my reward card. They said it got lost in the mail," Michael said.

About 85 percent of U.S. households participate in at least one rewards program. A recent poll of Consumer Reports Money Adviser subscribers found that 41 percent of the newsletter's subscribers carried three to five such membership cards, nine percent had six to nine of them, and 3 percent somehow found room on their key rings or in their wallet for 10 or more.

Dizzying number

Consumer Reports finds that along with the dizzying number of programs have come increasingly complex rules, restrictions, and limits on how much consumers can earn--making many of the programs not worth the bother.

"Carrying the right cards and ignoring the rest can save you a little money on your purchases, but consumers must choose programs that compliment their spending habits," said Amanda Walker, senior project editor at Consumer Reports.

Some rewards cards do double duty as credit cards. Cash-back, gas, and grocery rewards credit cards can offer some relief for costly essential items, but often carry higher Annual Percentage Rates than traditional credit cards. Looking at some of the more generous credit card rewards programs, CR found that rates varied from 9.74 percent to as much as 19.99 percent.

"If the rates are high, the cost to carry a balance will often erase any savings the rewards program may offer," Walker said.

What to do

There are ways to come out ahead with rewards programs and Consumer Reports offers the following advice:

Consider where you shop. Save your key ring or wallet space for cards that will earn rewards at stores you use most often.

Project your spending. Translate the amount you're likely to spend into cash back or points, depending on the program. If it's points, find out how many you need to get something you might want. If you're using a credit card, subtract the annual fee, if any. If that calculation shows you'd have to spend a fortune to earn a pittance in rewards, you might want to use another card.

Favor cash back. You might never redeem your points, so at least you will get something. Plus cash-back cards tend to be more generous in their rewards, CR's research has found.

Skip credit if you carry a balance. Rewards credit cards often charge relatively high interest rates, which will eat up your reward if you carry a revolving balance. The issuer can also hold points hostage or stop adding to them if your payment is late.

Do the math on do-good programs. Cards that give your reward to a charity usually pay only about 25 to 50 cents for every $100 you spend. And you can't write off the donation on your taxes. Both you and the charity might do better if you use a more generous rewards card, keep the money, and just write the charity a check.

Use airline miles fast. Cashing in frequent-flyer rewards has become more difficult because airlines have cut flights and now have fewer seats available. So rack them up and use them up as quickly as possible. Airlines also change their rules frequently, and several big carriers have recently gone bankrupt.

Avoid temptation. Research has shown that people who use rewards cards charge more. It's easy to overspend just to earn a new digital camera or set of golf clubs.

Business cards

The "use it fast" advice applies to more than just airline awards. Credit card awards can vanish in no time, as Marianne of Rockaway, N.J., learned.

"I closed my Citibank credit card last month. It turns out that I closed it within a few hours of my statement closing date. Because of that, I missed out on over $200 cash in rewards," she told ConsumerAffairs.com.

"I called Customer Service and was advised that I could not recoup my rewards for the statement. I asked to reinstate my card so that I could get these rewards returned to me and was told this is not an option. I was highly dissatisfied with this entire situation," she said.

Perhaps the most notorious rewards program at the moment is the one offered to unwary customers by Vistaprint.

"I ordered business cards through VistaPrint for my new business last April," said Mia of Brunswick, Ga. "In trying to rectify a strange charge on my account today, my husband noticed a charge for $14.95 for the VP Rewards program. He asked me about it, thinking it was a charge for a playgroup for our kids. Nope. Vistaprint. ... Once we went looking, he realized this charge had been occurring every month since May of 2007."

 



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Judge Approves De Beers Diamond Pricing Settlement

Consumers, diamond merchants to split $297 million

Judge Approves De Beers Diamond Pricing Settlement...


A federal court judge has given final approval to the settlement of a class action lawsuit against De Beers, the world's largest diamond importer, that would pay out roughly $297 million to consumers, 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.

De Beers said it had done nothing wrong. In a statement, the company said: We believe that settling these class actions has allowed us to put these matters behind us, and is in the best interests of our shareholders, our clients and, most importantly, consumers confidence in diamonds."

More information is available at www.DiamondsClassAction.com.

 

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TransUnion to Provide Credit Scores to Millions

Huge class action settlement could affect 160 million consumers

TransUnion to Provide Credit Scores to Millions...

A $10 billion class action settlement with TransUnion Corp.could give millions of consumers free access to their credit scores. Consumer advocates expressed surprise and delight. One called the settlement "astonishing."

The settlement, which still awaits final review in federal court, would cover some 160 million consumers in the United States. It's thought to be the largest number of class action plaintiffs ever included in a single case.

Consumers would get either six months of basic credit reporting services -- which normally retails for $59.75 -- plus a cash payment. Or they could choose nine months of enhanced service, which includes a mortgage rate simulator and an insurance score.

Though handy for just about anyone, the information would be especially helpful for consumers whose finances are in turmoil because of mortgage woes, sagging home values, high gas prices and other vexing economic issues.

The service would give consumers access to the latest information in their credit reports as well as their current scores at any time.

It would also would notify consumers by e-mail of significant changes to their files, including reports of late payments or accounts opened in their names. The latter information could help thwart attempted identity theft.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, charged that TransUnion had sold customized information about consumers to lenders and retailers, who may have used the information fo rmarketing purposes.

Federal law bars the sale of consumers' private credit information except under certain circumstances, such as when they have applied for a loan.

Ken McEldowney, executive director of Consumer Action, called the settlement "astonishing" and "mind-boggling."

"It's everything we tell consumers that they need to find out if they have problems with their credit," he told The Los Angeles Times. "They are getting information on how to improve it and information about whether they are creditworthy."

Federal law entitles everyone to a free copy of his or her credit report once a year from each of the three major credit-reporting companies, but it doesn't provide access to credit scores.

 

 

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