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    New Orleans: Three Years Later

    A Katrina refugee pays a return visit

    After The Storms of 2005, we found rooms in Lafayette, "The Hub City" of Acadiana, but kept Squalor Heights, our Faubourg Marigny garret on the edge of the..

    Comcast to Cap Internet Usage for Customers

    Residential users top out at 250 gigabytes per month under new policy

    The era of unlimited Internet usage for a flat monthly price is one step closer to its end, as cable giant Comcast officially announced today that residential subscribers would top out at 250 gigabytes (GB) per month of data bandwith availability, beginning October 1.

    The new policy, announced on Comcast's network management site, codifies the company's practice of canceling or limiting customers' access once they go over a specific amount of usage. Comcast had previously refused to disclose its caps for fear of driving customers to competitors who still offered flat-rate prices for Internet access.

    "This is the same system we have in place today," Comcast said in the announcement. "The only difference is that we will now provide a limit by which a customer may be contacted. As part of our pre-existing policy, we will continue to contact the top users of our high-speed Internet service and ask them to curb their usage."

    According to the company, in order to exceed a cap of 250 GB, a user would have to:

    • Send 50 million emails (at 0.05 KB/email)

    • Download 62,500 songs (at 4 MB/song)

    • Download 125 standard-definition movies (at 2 GB/movie)

    • Upload 25,000 hi-resolution digital photos (at 10 MB/photo)

    Comcast spokesperson Charlie Douglas emphasized that the policy change would be "not relevant to 99 percent of our customers...only the less than 1 percent who use an extreme amount of bandwith."

    "We are calling people and letting them know when they are going over the limit, and most people voluntarily moderate their usage on the first call," Douglas said. Those who continued to exceed the cap after being warned would face suspension of their account for one year, he said, "but that hasn't really been a factor...most people change their habits after the first warning. They really just wanted to know the number [of the cap]."

    Douglas also emphasized that the network policy change would be advertised on several Comcast sites, including the Comcast.net customer portal, and that mailed announcements would be sent to customers along with their next bill.

    Karl Bode, editor of BroadbandReports.com, was among the first to report Comcast's plans to officially cap users' bandwith. Bode told ConsumerAffairs.com that the 250 GB cap was "more than generous for the majority of users."

    "For going on half a decade Comcast customers have complained that the company employed a glass ceiling limit while marketing their service as 'unlimited.'," Bode said. "When customers crossed this limit they were told they could see their connection terminated if they didn't scale back usage, but were never told how much consumption was too much. This new approach looks to simply clarify an existing but murky monthly consumption limit, and in that sense is actually good for consumers."

    Several Internet providers, such as Time Warner and Frontier Cable, have been testing or implementing "metered" broadband plans, where users would pay excess usage charges if they went over a specific caps--many of which are considerably lower than Comcast's 250 GB.

    Critics of metered broadband say that the plans offer too little bandwith for too high a price. Customers will shy away from using high-speed Internet's full potential, such as uploading or streaming videos, if they are afraid of going over their limits in doing so, and that companies who are supporting metered plans do so to protect their own video channels and hamstring competitors such as YouTube.

    Comcast's plan was originally rumored to include charges for exceeding the bandwith cap, but the official announcement did not do so. The company had previously announced that it would employ new network management systems to slow down Internet speeds for the heaviest users in order to prevent congestion.

    "While I think caps are fair if reasonable (the 5GB or even 40GB limits being tested by Time Warner Cable are absurd), I've generally been strongly opposed to the overage fee system and metered billing, given the potential for abuse by carriers looking to protect TV revenues," Bode said. "I think there's strong pressure from the investment community to begin metered billing."

    Comcast's policy changes come in the wake of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s ruling penalizing the company for its blocking access to the BitTorrent file-sharing service. Under the terms of the FCC's order, Comcast must provide detailed explanations of how it will manage its networks without denying customers access to services.

    Media watchdog group Free Press, which had pushed the FCC to rule against Comcast, said that while the cap was a better solution than blocking customers' access, "[i]t remains unclear how the cap announced today helps solve Comcast's supposed congestion problems -- or how the cap will work with other usage limits Comcast has been considering."

    "If the United States had genuine broadband competition, Internet providers would not be able to profit from artificial scarcity -- they would invest in their networks to keep pace with consumer demand," said Free Press' research director S. Derek Turner. "Unfortunately, Americans will continue to face the consequences of this lack of competition until policymakers get serious about policies that deliver the world-class networks consumers deserve."

    Comcast to Cap Internet Usage for Customers...
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    College Students Prefer Simple Cell Phones

    Practicality reigns over high tech on campuses

    Apple and other manufacturers of multi-faceted cell phones (aka "smartphones") perhaps should not count on tech-savvy young people as their principal market. When it comes to cell phone usage at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), a study shows practicality is in and high tech is out.

    A marketing research class at the UNH Whittemore School of Business and Economics conducted a survey of 707 undergraduate students. When asked about the top three uses for their cell phone, 91 percent said talking, 87 percent said text messaging and 80 percent said alarm clock.

    "UNH students want pragmatic and practical feature on their cell phones," said Chuck Martin, adjunct professor of marketing at UNH who taught the marketing research class. "Students use their cell phones to make phone calls, text message, and as an alarm clock. Features such as music, global positioning satellite (GPS), email, and video messaging were among the lowest used features on current cell phones, and the research indicates that this isn't changing anytime soon."

    Regarding cell phones of the future, 68 percent of students said the top feature they would like is longer battery life, while 58 percent said they want it to be waterproof. The features that the fewest number of students want are video surveillance, video projection and video editing.

    However, price is a major stumbling block for students. While the majority of students want a longer-lasting battery life, they are not willing to pay a high price. Eighty-six percent of students said that price is the top reason for not purchasing cell phones in the future.

    Other interesting results include:

    • First-year students are more likely to use their phone as a camera while seniors are more likely to use it as a calculator: 63 percent of first-year students use the camera feature regularly, compared with 51 percent of seniors. In contrast, 61 percent of seniors use the calculator feature regularly, compared with 51 percent of first-year students.

    • Students at the College of Engineering and Physical Science are significantly less interested in voice-to-text capabilities compared with their peers in other schools. Only 8 percent of CEPS students are interested in the feature, compared with an average 20 percent of respondents from other schools.

    • Business school students were the most interested in the future feature of voice to text. They were the only school to have more than 50 percent of respondents interested in the feature.

    College Students Prefer Simple Cell Phones...
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      GM Recalls Buicks, GMCs, Saturns to Fix Wipers

      The buildup of snow or ice on the windshield or wipers could restrict the movement of the wiper arm.

      General Motors is recalling 88,809 of the 2008 Buick Enclaves, 2007 to 2008 GMC Acadias and Saturn Outlooks to repair the windshield wipers...

      Feds Step Up Rusting Hyundai Investigation

      Recall possible as Sonata and Santa Fe scrutinized

      Some models of the Hyundai Sonata can rust so severely along the sub-frame that the front wheels collapse or separate from the vehicle, according to reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

      NHTSA has elevated an initial evaluation of rusting in the Korean made economy car to an "engineering analysis." The analysis could eventually lead to the recall of 197,906 Sonatas to repair the rusting frames.

      The Hyundai Sonatas that are the focus of federal safety attention are the 1999 Sonata GLS, the 1999 Caribbean Sonata and the 1999 to 2004 Sonata.

      The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) at NHTSA has received 84 complaints from consumers about sub-frame rust in the Sonata. The agency reported that "approximately on-third of the complaints to ODI allege that the sub-frame corrosion resulted in a loss of control and or a vehicle disablement due to wheel collapse or separation."

      There are two reports claiming Sonatas crashed because of the rusting sub-frame.

      In the first report, the lower front control arm of the Sonata broke away from the frame of the car while the Korean car was traveling at 55 mph. The driver, according to the report, lost control of the vehicle and the Sonata came to rest in the yard of a house.

      A second consumer claimed in a report to NHTSA, "that while driving around a slight curve at 65 mph on a freeway, the vehicle sub-frame fractured and the driver lost control of the vehicle and went off the road."

      No injuries were reported to the federal safety agency in either of the crashes.

      When NHTSA opened the initial inquiry of excessive rust on the Sonata sub-frame in April, the agency reported that some consumers had complained of "fist-sized holes in the frame" that could cause the suspension control arm to detach from the vehicle.

      The failure could result in "wheel collapse or separation, half shaft detachment resulting in sudden vehicle disablement and or steering anomalies," NHTSA reported on its Web site. The federal agency also received reports of corrosion in the engine cradle and front cross-member of the Hyundai Sonata.

      Most of the complaints arose in states where large amounts of salt are used on roads during snowy months, according to NHTSA.

      The "salt belt" states according to NHTSA are Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

      NHTSA said that "there appears to be an increasing trend in failures, with 10 reported so far in 2008, 19 in 2007, 11 in 2006 and 1 in 2005."

      One consumer told NHTSA that his Sonata was so badly rusted the vehicle was declared a total loss by the insurance company after the lower control arm separated from the vehicle "causing the half-shaft to detach from the transmission."

      A Maryland Sonata owner recently reported to ConsumerAffairs.Com that a Hyundai service technician noticed a softball-sized hole in the front right hand side of the sub-frame of their 2002 Hyundai Sonata GLS.

      "I am afraid to drive this car," the Hyundai owner said.

      Another consumer reported that the sub-frame on his Sonata is so badly rusted that the sub-frame needs to be replaced and the dealer will provide no assistance.

      In Fairfax, Virginia, a consumer told us that his 2000 Sonata fell apart with the "sudden collapse of the right front suspension system," while he was in a parking lot.

      Santa Fe

      NHTSA is also investigating excessive rust and corrosion in the Hyundai Santa Fe. Federal safety investigators reported in July that they were examining consumer complaints of suspension failure, some at high rates of speed, in the 2001 model year Hyundai Santa Fe. The investigators want to know if the Santa Fe suspension rusts to the point of breaking.

      Three people have reported to NHTSA that they lost control of their Santa Fe while traveling at speeds of 55 mph or more.

      The safety agency investigation of the Santa Fe is still in the "preliminary evaluation" stage.

      At least one report to ConsumerAffairs.Com demonstrates the urgent need for the safety evaluation. A Michigan woman reported that her Santa Fe is "rusted so bad underneath that the frame dropped down and caused a tire to blow."

      Feds Step Up Rusting Hyundai Investigation...
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      New College Students Face Money Management Challenges

      Counselor urges discipline, budgeting, and using cash


      Whether or not economics 101 is on their course schedule, most college freshmen get a quick lesson in finance, and not all of them get a passing grade. And some learn the hard way about the dangers of credit cards.

      Doug Borkowski, director of Iowa State University's Financial Counseling Clinic, says students should do a little prudent planning before using a credit card. In his face-to-face meetings with ISU students regarding their financial matters, he often tells them to start the planning process by making a budget and tracking spending for at least a month.

      "They need to know what they are spending their money on," he said. "This is the start of a budget. Now they have some more accurate numbers to work with."

      He says setting goals related to finances is also very important.

      "It certainly can help to show how saving to make a purchase -- and not just spending impulsively -- can help in the long run," he said.

      Borkowski says students have to also understand wants versus needs.

      "If you are considering buying something, ask yourself, 'Do I need it or is it just a want?' Do not buy it right at that moment," he said. "Leave the store and think about it and see if you decide to come back and purchase the item at a later date."

      Borkowski advises students to use a debit card first, when it is not a line of credit, to see how they can manage their spending habits. "If you overspend with a debit card and get an overdraft, you are not ready for a credit card," he said.

      Since most people find it harder to actually hand over the money rather than just swipe a credit card, he recommends that students try cash first instead of plastic.

      "I have found that if a young person understands that the same amount of money they pay every month for a minimum payment on their credit card could potentially make them a millionaire by the time they reach 65, they might think twice about using that credit card," he said.

      And once parents send their kids off to school, they're not excused from the money management education discussion.

      "Parents need to take the time to talk to their children," Borkowski said. "If parents are spenders, they should tell their children 'You do not want to live paycheck to paycheck like we do.' If they are savers, let them know how that has worked for them."

      Borkowski says that students need to be educated to the fact that if they have too much credit card debt or miss credit card payments, they can ruin their credit scores and have a very difficult road to credit repair over their lifetime.

      "A bad credit score can mean not being able to buy a car or home. It also can mean higher interest rates and future credit costing you more," he said. "I think the credit card issue is about scaring students some, but still letting them know that when they are used properly, credit cards can be a good financial tool."

      New College Students Face Money Management Challenges...
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      Average Airfare Rises 10 Percent In Second Quarter

      Fuel costs push carriers to raise fees


      It's not just the fee for extra baggage that's going up. The average cost of airfare rose 10 percent in the second quarter of 2008, according to American Express Business Travel.

      The company's Business Travel Monitor reports high fuel prices, which led many airlines to make capacity reductions and tighten ticketing restrictions, increased the average airfare paid, motivating companies to strengthen policy compliance strategies when managing travel and entertainment spending.

      "External market forces continue to pressure business travel budgets at the same time that high fuel costs push travel prices to new highs," said Herv Sedky, vice president and general manager, Global Advisory Services, American Express Business Travel.

      The second quarter of 2008 marked a seven-year high in the average airfare paid by business travelers. Oil prices, capacity constraints and ticketing restrictions drove up airfare 10 percent year-over-year. The average one-way airfare paid was $260, up $24 from the same period last year. Compared to the first quarter of 2008, the fare was up $27, an increase of 12 percent.

      "During times when economic conditions are volatile, companies step up efforts to stress the importance of purchasing tickets in advance in order to use discount tickets in a negotiated travel program," said Sedky. "Our data shows that during the second quarter of 2008, 89 percent of tickets purchased were domestic discount coach fares, this shows that more travelers purchased tickets in advance. These subtle changes can translate into significant savings -- 17 percent or more in some cases. Looking at the first six months of 2008, the companies that had travelers purchase 8-14 days in advance rather than 0-7 days in advance saved an average of $49 per segment."

      The average international one-way airfare paid during the second quarter of 2008 set a new record, at its highest level since the inception of the Business Travel Monitor in 1999. With an 11 percent increase in the second quarter of 2008, over the same period in 2007, international airfares reached nearly $2,000, with a final average of $1,980.

      American Express data also shows that the percentage of international business class tickets purchased was at the lowest level since the third quarter of 2004 at 49 percent. Increases in the percentage of tickets purchased in other classes of service show that companies are employing strategies to encourage travelers to trade down to other classes of service.

      "As globalization continues to pull business travelers to international destinations, we advise our clients to focus on international travel policy compliance," said Sedky. "Strategies including encouraging employees to take advantage of corporate discounts negotiated with preferred suppliers and trading down to lower classes of service when appropriate are driving savings for our clients despite the difficult travel market. Our recommended best practices also include using tools like the Pre-Trip Auditor to ensure greater compliance."



      Average Airfare Rises 10 Percent In Second Quarter...
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      Are Your Tax Dollars Paying for Excessive CEO Salaries?

      Groups charge tax code loopholes subsidize corporate heads

      Think it's none of your business what a corporate CEO earns? A study by two advocacy groups makes a case that when corporations pay their top executives millions a year, its taxpayers who end up subsidizing part of their paychecks.

      The study, by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy, calculates the annual cost to taxpayers at $20 billion per year, because of the following tax and accounting loopholes that they say encourage excessive executive pay:

      • Preferential capital gains treatment of carried interest ($2.6 billion)

      • Unlimited deferred pay ($80.6 million)

      • Offshore deferred compensation ($2.1 billion)

      • Unlimited deductibility of executive compensation ($5.2 billion)

      • Stock option accounting double standard ($10.0 billion)

      "These loopholes allow top executives to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. As a result, ordinary taxpayers wind up picking up the bill," said report co-author and IPS Associate Fellow Sam Pizzigati.

      Pizzigati says members of Congress have attempted to plug each of these five loopholes, but their efforts have stalled in the face of strong opposition from corporate lobby groups.

      The presidential race is shining a brighter spotlight on the issue, as both candidates have attacked excessive executive compensation on the campaign trail. And yet the report points out that neither Barack Obama nor John McCain has yet endorsed all the major reforms needed to eliminate subsidies for executive pay.

      "It's outrageous that our tax dollars are inflating executive paychecks," says Institute for Policy Studies fellow Sarah Anderson, a lead author of the annual Executive Excess reports for the past 15 years. "Surely in these troubled economic times we can find better ways to spend our nation's wealth."



      Are Your Tax Dollars Paying for Excessive CEO Salaries?...
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      Housing Market Still Favors Buyers Over Sellers

      Condo market remains glutted, while single-family homes sell faster

      There's good news for both sellers and buyers in the July home sales report. Sales were up 3.1 percent from the previous month, but there were also a record number of homes to choose from, and prices continue to fall. A closer look at the numbers suggests it's still a buyers' market, however.

      The monthly report from the National Association of Realtors shows existing-home sales including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops increased 3.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.00 million units in July from a downwardly revised level of 4.85 million in June. That number is down 13.2 percent from the 5.76 million-unit pace in of July 2007.

      The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $212,400 in July, down 7.1 percent from a year ago when the median was $228,600.

      Total housing inventory at the end of July rose 3.9 percent to 4.67 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 11.2.-month supply at the current sales pace, up slightly from June. The rise in supply results from a sharp increase in condo inventory; the single family supply declined.

      "Sales have picked up significantly in several Florida and California markets," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. "Home prices generally follow sales trends after a few months of lag time. Still, inventory remains high in many parts of the country and will require time to fully absorb. We expect more balanced conditions in 2009 and will eventually return to normal long-term appreciation patterns."

      According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 6.43 percent in July from 6.32 percent in June; the rate was 6.70 percent in July 2007.

      Single-family home sales rose 3.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.39 million in July from 4.26 million in June, but are 12.4 percent below the 5.01 million-unit level a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $210,900 in July, down 7.7 percent from July 2007.

      Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 3.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 units in July from 590,000 in June, but are 18.6 percent below the 749,000-unit pace in July 2007. The median existing condo price4 was $223,400 in July, which is 2.7 percent below a year ago.

      Regionally, existing-home sales in the West jumped 9.7 percent in July to a level of 1.13 million and are 0.9 percent higher than July 2007. The median price in the West was $273,200, down 22.2 percent from a year ago.

      In the Northeast, existing-home sales rose 5.9 percent to an annual pace of 900,000 in July, but are 11.8 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $278,700, which is 4.9 percent lower than July 2007.

      Existing-home sales in the Midwest increased 0.9 percent to an annual rate of 1.12 million in July, but are 17.0 percent lower than July 2007. The median price in the Midwest was $175,400, up 1.0 percent from a year ago.

      In the South, existing-home sales slipped 0.5 percent to an annual pace of 1.85 million in July, and are 18.1 percent below a year ago. The median price in the South was $179,300, down 3.5 percent from June 2007.

      Housing Market Still Favors Buyers Over Sellers...
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      Data Breaches Exceed 2007 Record

      Higher numbers include breaches reported by Attorneys General

      The number of data breaches hit a record high in 2007, but it appears this year will be significantly more dangerous, when it comes to potential identity theft. More than four months before the end of 2008, the total number of breaches on the Identity Theft Resource Center's (ITRC) breach list has surpassed the final total of 446 reported in 2007.

      As of 10 am on August 22, the number of confirmed data breaches stood at 449. The actual number of breaches is most likely higher, due to under-reporting and the fact that some of the breaches reported, which affect multiple businesses, are listed as single events, the group said.

      In the last few months, two subcontractors became examples of these "multiple" events. In one case, the customers and/or employees of at least 20 entities were affected by a breach that the ITRC reported as a single breach event.

      ITRC says it recognizes that 446 breaches in less than a year is a small number when compared with the total number of business, governmental, health, banking and educational entities that have databases. However, for the individuals whose information has been exposed, 446 data exposure events are still too many.

      It should be noted that the growth in the number of breaches from year to year can no longer only be attributed to required reporting laws and media investigative work.

      Linda Foley, ITRC Founder, attributes part of the growth of the ITRC's breach list to the ability to access state Attorney General notification lists that contain breaches that were not reported via media or other sources.

      "If more states would publish breach notification lists, there would be more information to study and to help us understand this growing concern," Foley said. "At this time, only three states publish such information. Additionally, more companies are starting to audit their security and network systems and use readily available security measures. This pro-active approach means that breaches are being identified that might otherwise have gone undetected."

      "The number of attacks, in addition to publicly disclosed breaches, continues to escalate as criminal networks mushroom around the world, while economies weaken," according to Avivah Litan, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner Inc. "A more concerted effort is required among companies to secure and protect customer data, regardless of regulatory oversight."

      In the last few weeks, the US Secret Service announced the investigation of a cybercrime group that may have hacked tens of thousands of credit and debit card accounts from Louisiana and Mississippi restaurants this year, allegedly leading to over $1 million in losses for the banks that issued them.

      Also, on August 5, 2008 the U.S. Attorney General's office announced the indictments of 11 defendants who tapped the computer networks of TJX Cos.' Marshalls, BJ's Wholesale Club Inc., Barnes & Noble Inc. bookstores, Sports Authority, Boston Market Corp., OfficeMax Inc., Dave & Buster's restaurants, DSW Inc. shoe stores and Forever 21.

      "These two cases highlight our increasing vulnerability to the theft of personal information. Unsecured networks are a friendly target for such groups. Additionally insider theft, data on the move and inadvertent posting of personal information to websites add to the problem. Breaches are not simply the affect of malicious attacks but also of human error and poor information handling procedures," said Rex Davis, ITRC's Director of Operations.

      "It is critical that law enforcement, governmental agencies, businesses, consumers and legislators understand the causes of breaches. With this in mind, the ITRC has continued to create new database tools to better analyze breach information. When we understand how data is exposed or stolen, we can avert many breaches because of improved security procedures and safe information handling," explained Jay Foley, ITRC Executive Director.

      It should be noted that the ITRC does not place an inordinate weight on the count of records exposed. While the ITRC breach list reflects compromised records of more than 22 million, in almost 40 percent of breach events, the number of records exposed is not reported or fully disclosed. This means the number of affected records is grossly incomplete and unusable for any statistic or research purpose. The use of potentially affected records generally causes more concern and is 'news-sexy'.

      The ITRC breach list is a compilation of breaches confirmed by various media sources and notification lists from state governmental agencies. ITRC uses several websites to help search for verifiable breaches, such as Pogowasright.org, Phiprivacy.net, and Attrition.com. To qualify, breaches must include personal identifying information that could lead to identity theft, especially the loss of Social Security numbers.

      The number of data breaches hit a record high in 2007, but it appears this year will be significantly more dangerous, when it comes to potential identity t...
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      West Virginia Warns About Phony Debt Collectors

      Scammers claiming to be authorities demand money transfers

      Consumers in West Virginia who at one time obtained payday loans over the Internet -- and even those who never borrowed money at all --have been getting threatening phone calls from alleged debt collectors.

      West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw says the debt collectors are actually scam artists. The "debts," he says, are not legitimate.

      Internet payday loans are short-term loans or cash advances, usually for 14 days, made over the Internet via interactive web sites and secured by an agreement authorizing debits of the loan and all fees owed from the consumer's checking account. These loans typically charge interest rates ranging from 600-800 APR and are unlawful in West Virginia.

      The scam artists, who speak English with a foreign accent, call themselves "U.S. National Bank," "Federal Investigation Bureau," "United Legal Processing" and numerous other phony names. They refuse to disclose real names and addresses and are believed to be operating "off the grid" from homes, automobiles, or from off shore locations or foreign countries, including India. Since the scammers have kept themselves purposely well hidden, McGraw says no law enforcement agencies have succeeded in locating or shutting them down.

      The scammers typically pose as law enforcement officers, investigators, lawyers, and bankers and threaten consumers that they will be arrested for "bank fraud" or other fictitious crimes unless money is wired immediately. They simultaneously scare and confuse consumers by using meaningless legalese gobbledygook phrases such as, "We are downloading warrants against you" or "We are filing an affidavit against you." Consumers who don't immediately fall for the scam are warned, "Only God can help you now."

      The scammers almost always call consumers at work several times a day, and tell their supervisors, "Your employee has committed fraud and is about to be arrested." Such threats have proven unsettling even to the most savvy consumers and employers who suspect the calls are fraudulent.

      "Ordinarily my office protects consumers from fraudulent activities by seeking injunctions in court. But legal action cannot be taken until the scam artists can be located," McGraw said. "Even then, it is unlikely that the persons behind the fraudulent calls and extortionist threats would obey a court order. In this case, the consumer's best defense is to be armed with the knowledge of the scam so that all demands for money can be resisted, despite the false but scary threats of arrest."

      More Scam Alerts ...

      West Virginia Warns About Phony Debt Collectors...
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      Color Blindness Isn't Black and White

      The Healthy Geezer


      Q. Do people who are color blind see everything in black and white?

      "Color blindness" is the common term used to describe color vision deficiency. The term is misleading, because total color blindness that turns the world into shades of gray is rare.

      The most common type of color blindness makes it difficult for people to discriminate between red and green. The next most common form of the deficiency affects the perception of blues and yellows. Those with blue-yellow blindness almost always have red-green blindness as well.

      Many people with color blindness don't know they have it. For example, they are taught at an early age that grass is green. They look at lawns and see yellow grass. Subsequently, if you ask them what color the grass is, they will tell you it's green.

      (Please don't ask me how they handle shopping for bananas.)

      Color blindness affects about ten percent of men, but only one percent of women. Most people with color blindness inherited it. There is no treatment to correct inherited color blindness. However, there are specially tinted eyeglasses that can help people with deficiencies to discriminate between colors.

      Another cause of color blindness is simple aging, which gradually diminishes our ability to see colors.

      Diseases can affect your color vision, too. Usually, diseases affect the perception of blue and yellow. Some conditions that can cause color blindness are diabetes, glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, leukemia and sickle cell anemia.

      Some drugs can alter color perception, too. These include drugs for heart problems, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, nervous disorders and psychological problems.

      Exposure to certain chemicals can cause color blindness. These include carbon disulfide, fertilizers, styrene and mercury.

      The eye is like a camera. There's a lens in the front that focuses images on the retina in the back. The retina contains nerve cells that react to light and transmit information to your brain. If the cells responsible for color don't work properly, you suffer from color blindness.

      If you think you are having a color-vision problem, see an eye doctor. You'll be asked to look at a book containing several multicolored dot patterns. If you have a color vision deficiency, you won't be able to pick out numbers and shapes from within the dot patterns.

      All Rights Reserved © 2008 by Fred Cicetti



      Color blindness affects about 10% of men, but only 1% of women. Most people with color blindness inherited it. There is no treatment to correct inherited c...
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      Three Years Later: Pyrex Dishes Still Go Boom

      Government safety agency mum, company blames victims for cuts, burns

      Many consumers still rely on Pyrex bakeware for everyday cooking chores, trusting that the baking dishes can safely go from the oven to the countertop to t..

      Signal Problems Plague iPhone 3G

      Apple issues firmware upgrade but analysts are skeptical

      By Truman Lewis
      ConsumerAffairs.com

      Problems with cracked iPhone screens have been getting lots of press but a potentially more serious and widespread glitch has to do with the 3G model's ability to pull in a strong signal — which, after all, is a pretty basic requirement of any cell phone, especially one loaded down with as many features as the iPhone.

      Apple released a firmware update today for 3G, claiming it will clear up the problems but some analysts aren't so sure about that.

      There's speculation among some Wall Street types that the reception problems are being caused by an antenna design flaw or an issue with the chipset and that a simple firmware upgrade won't be enough to get iPhone users the five bars they're hoping for.

      Financial analysts get angina whenever there's an indication of hardware problems that could force a massive — and costly — recall.

      Some users rushed to blame AT&T Wireless for the weak reception but cooler heads note that other portable devices in the same reception areas are working just fine, thanks — both cell phones and other Web-enabled devices that use the EDGE network.

      Adding fuel to the fire are reports from Europe, where users are encountering similar problems in locales where the signal strength has never been a problem before.

      Engineers quoted in the trade press are speculating that the antenna is the likely culprit. The iPhone 3G has no fewer than ten different antennas. That's a lot of antennas in a small place, and as any radiohead will tell you, having too many antennas in one place can cause interference and signal loss.

      Of course, most consumers could care less what the problem is, they just want the thing to work. When it doesn't, customers can find themselves facing a stiff termination fee if they want to throw up their hands and walk away.

      "Advertised twice as fast for half the price, but the twice as fast and the iPhone don't communicate," lamented Richard of Victorville, Calif. "AT&T is requiring customers who return their iPhones for this failure to pay a restocking fee; Apple Stores will replace the phones, but you are likely to end up with a replacement that has the same problem."

      "Apple has refused to acknowledge the issue: AT&T's spokespersons deny any widespread problems; iPhone 3G users have to pay for 3G service that many (most) are not able to access due to the faulty iPhone," he said.

      Likewise Mike of Waldwick, N.J. He bought an iPhone 3G on eBay but found he couldn't get a reliable signal.

      "Tried to cancel this contract since I was within my 30 days. It took me 2 days with AT&T after convincing them that one of the phone was purchased off ebay instead of having them making me take the phone back to an Apple store," Mike told us.

      "The iPhone is a nice item but as I found out it really isnt worth the headache," Mike concluded.

      More about the iPhone ...
      Signal Problems Plague iPhone 3G...
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      Researchers Claim Vioxx Safety Study Was Actually Marketing Plan

      Merck challenges researchers' assertions regarding painkiller

      Researchers studying Merck & Co internal documents conclude the drug giant's 1999 clinical study of possible side effects from its painkiller Vioxx was in actuality a pre-launch marketing campaign for the drug.

      Merck was forced to withdraw the prescription drug in 2004 after tests linked it to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The researchers outline their case against Merck in the latest issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

      "Documentary evidence shows that Advantage is an example of marketing framed as science," they wrote.

      The team gathered documents collected by plaintiffs' lawyers in the personal injury and liability lawsuits filed against the pharmaceutical company. The researchers claim the real purpose of the study, called Advantage, was to promote the drug as an arthritis treatment when it became commercially available.

      Vioxx received FDA approval not long afterward and it quickly became one of Merck's most profitable products.

      In their report, Kevin Hill of McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, and colleagues, said the practice of "seeding" the drug with a marketing study, disguised as science, raises a number of ethical issues.

      Merck takes strong exception to the researcher's conclusions, and denies Advantage was a "seeding" project. It said the study in question compared Vioxx with another medication in its effect on stomach upset. It also said the article contained "numerous inaccuracies."

      Merck faced a flurry of litigation over Vioxx. After insisting it would contest each of the thousands of product liability lawsuits over Vioxx, Merck agreed in November 2007 to settle claims over the withdrawn painkiller for $4.85 billion.

      The cases were filed in connection with Vioxx's removal from the market, with plaintiffs charging the company should have acted sooner. More than 27,000 consumers or their family members filed suit against Merck as a result. In the last three years, only a handful of the cases had gone to trial.



      Researchers Claim Vioxx Safety Study Was Actually Marketing Plan...
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