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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.

    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.

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

    Patients 'Overdose' on Medical Debt

    Hospitals, doctors encourage patients to pay with plastic

    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.

    Patients 'Overdose' on Medical Debt...

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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 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.

      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...

      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 (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.

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

      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 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.

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

      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).

      Backyard Leisure Recalls Swing Sets...

      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.

      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.

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

      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 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.

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

      FDA Expands Tomato Warning

      At least 150 people sickened nationwide

      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.

      FDA Expands Tomato Warning...

      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 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).

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

      NYC Charges Milk Sellers With Price Gouging

      Reduced enforcement blamed for high prices

      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.

      NYC Charges Milk Sellers With Price Gouging...

      Thieves Steal AT&T Laptop with Employee Data

      Unencrypted computer contains personal information on management, staff

      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.


      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.

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

      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 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.

      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...

      FDA 'Reapproves' Heartworm Drug

      ProHeart 6 was recalled in 2004 because of serious reactions

      By Lisa Wade McCormick

      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 ...

      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...

      TSA's New Scanner Gets Up Close And Personal

      Modesty sacrificed to security in new see-through scanners

      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.

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

      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).

      Bassettbaby Cribs Sold at Babies R Us Recalled...

      FDA Warns Of Tomato-Linked Salmonella

      Agency probes outbreak in Texas, New Mexico

      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.

      FDA Warns Of Tomato-Linked Salmonella...

      Military Families Struggle with AT&T Calling Cards

      Company blames Afghanistan's phone system

      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.

      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...