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    Yamaha Halts Sales of Rhino ATVs Pending Repairs

    Feds count 46 fatal accidents involving the Rhino

    By Truman Lewis

    March 31, 2009
    It's not being called a recall but Yamaha Corp. is offering a free repair program for three of its accident-prone Rhino off-road recreational vehicle models. The company has also halted sales of those models until the repairs are completed.

    There have been at least 46 deaths attributed to the Rhino 450, 660 and 700 models, most of them involving rollover accidents, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which advised consumers to stop using the ATVs until the repair is completed.

    The CPSC staff has investigated more than 50 incidents involving 46 driver and passenger deaths in the Rhino models. More than two-thirds of the cases involved rollovers and many involved unbelted occupants. Of the rollover-related deaths and hundreds of reported injuries, some of which were serious, many appear to involve turns at relatively low speeds and on level terrain.

    About 120,000 of the 450 and 660 model Rhinos have been distributed nationwide since Fall 2003. Some units have been equipped by Yamaha with half doors and additional passenger handholds, either before or after sale.

    Yamaha's repair includes the installation of a spacer on the rear wheels as well as the removal of the rear anti-sway bar to help reduce the chance of rollover and improve vehicle handling, and continued installation of half doors and additional passenger handholds where these features have not been previously installed to help keep occupants' arms and legs inside the vehicle during a rollover and reduce injuries.

    Owners of the affected Rhinos should stop using them and call their dealer to schedule an appointment to have the repairs made and to take advantage of a free helmet offer.

    Yamaha is also implementing the same repair program and suspension of sale for the Rhino 700 model. About 25,000 Rhino 700s are included.

    Once the repairs have been made, Rhino users should always wear their helmet and seatbelt and follow the safety instructions and warnings in the on-product labels, owner's manuals and other safety materials. The Rhino is only recommended for operators 16 and older with a valid driver's license. All passengers must be tall enough to place both feet on the floorboard with their back against the seat back.

    For additional information, contact Yamaha at 800-962-7926 anytime, or visit the firm's Web site at www.yamaha-motor.com

    Lengthy record

    The two-seat Rhino has long been a topic of concern for the CPSC as well as other consumer, safety and parent organizations. It resembles a cross between a golf cart and an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). It's a popular design that enthusiasts say makes the Rhino fun to drive but critics say the design increases the rollover danger.

    Because of its unique design, the Rhino isn't subject to ATV safety standards, which aren't exactly five-star anyway. A report last year found that for the eighth year in a row, serious injuries caused by all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) increased in 2007, and children under age 16 continued to suffer a significant portion of those injuries.

    Instead of classifying it as an ATV, the CPSC calls the Rhino a "utility terrain vehicle," or UTV. There are no official standards for UTVs, but that may change as the safety agency continues its probe.

    The Rhino falls into what the CPSC calls the "emerging hazard" category -- a niche sometimes created by crafty manufacturers who find ways to work around existing safety regulations.

    The Rhino, for example, has a steering wheel instead of the handlebars usually found on ATVs. That and other relatively minor differences leave it in category limbo -- neither car nor ATV -- and thus unregulated and unlicensed.

    Since they're not regarded as cars, UTVs don't need licenses and can generally be operated by anyone, including children, which is a large part of the problem as regulators and consumer advocates see it.

    "Every year, more and more families are devastated by deaths and injuries caused by ATVs. This tragic problem continues to be in dire need of an aggressive and immediate solution," said Rachel Weintraub, Director of Product Safety for the Consumer Federation of America.

    Yamaha says the criticism is unwarranted and insists the Rhino is safe. Accidents are caused by careless operation and ill-advised modifcations, such as removing the roll cage and failing to use a helmet and seat belt.

    Unlike ATVs, which are used almost entirely for recreational riding, the Rhino and other UTVs are often used for such utilitarian chores as hauling gardening and maintenance supplies. The first Rhino models were introduced in 2003, offering such new conveniences as bucket seats and a steering wheel. Some even have doors. A base model costs about $11,000.

    ATV dangers

    While the Rhino may not be an ordinary ATV, it's still no toy and parents should not let children or adolescents treat it like one, experts warn. Here's what consumers have told us about ATVs, in their own words:

    tom of jackson, TN August 16, 2009

    My 36 year old son was a victim of the Rhino. He was a passenger traveling at estimared speed of 12-15 mph. My 38 year old son in law was driving. They were making a gradual left turn on absolutely flat terrain. Suddenly the Rhino flipped for no apparent reason. Results; compound fracture to fibula, tibia and broken hand. Now after 2 years and 8 surgeries he is still unable to work. Lost his job; lost health insurance, lost new home, permanently disabled, permanently disfigured, hasn't worked since July of 2007. Now he has a Staph infection.

    Sometimes the collateral damage caused by an accident is worse than the accident. Oh, by the way because of this incident his wife recently filed for divorce. The accident occured in the middle of a hot summer day. No drinking no drugs no horseplay. The rhino is a death trap.

    Joyce of Mccurtain, OK April 13, 2009

    first i want to say these small towns like the one i live in have fines and laws against atvs,they know nothing of rhinos. they town or police just tell the kids to go home and they do nothing. the kids naturally come back out and just try to avoid being caught. there should be stiffer fines and also include the parents in the fines. the parents are just as guilty as the children. how many more injuries or deaths does there have to be?

    Cynthia of Fairview, NC March 1, 2009

    Cynthia of Fairview NC (03/01/09)
    My son, 15, was driving an ATV on someone else's property along with some other boys. He came aroud a corner and a 18 yr ld boy driving a dirt bike hit him head on and he died almost instantly. He was not wearing a helmet and we will always wonder if he would've, if he would stil be here for us. He had been driving for years and didn't realy know the dangers. He owned a helmet and my last words were Where's your Helmet

    A piece of my hisband and my heart are gone along with his brothers and sisters

    Stephanie of East Prairie, MO February 24, 2009

    Stephanie of East Prairie MO (02/24/09)
    I have 3 boy's. zach age 5/Andrew age 10/Christopher age 12.Drew and Chris are 17 months apart, one year differance in school.Drew was pitcher and Chris was catcher in baseball.They played all sports on the same team.

    Feb.27th,2008 Andrew was killed instantly while riding a ATV.Christopher (Drew's brother)found him in a field with the 4-wheeler and his friend that was on the back.

    Christopher got the 4-wheeler off of the boy's. He made sure Drew's friend was ok and told him to stay by the back of the ATV.Chris did not want him to see Drew. Christopher said his brother's lips were blue. He checked to see if Drew was breathing. He was not. Chris took off Drew's helmet and shirt because gas had been leaking on the shirt. He then road his motorcycle home,came in the house and said MOM DREW IS DEAD. THANK GOD uncle Paul had stopped by that day.I told Paul to go with Chris while I called 911 and AIR-VAC.

    I grabbed Zach put him in truck.When I got there all I could see was my dead baby lying there and he was purple.I ask Drew's friend how he was ,his leg was hurting and that was all.I told the boy's to get into the truck with Zach and PRAY for DREW. We tried CPR even though I knew my baby was dead. The result of all this is my family and my self totally heart broken,there are no words to explain.A person would have to go through this tragedy to understand.Christopher can not sleep at night he is very depressed and lost without his brother.Zach lays on Drew's bed yelling I WANT MY OLD LIFE BACK!I WANT MY BROTHER BACK.

    It's not being called a recall but Yamaha Corp. is offering a free repair program for three of its accident-prone Rhino off-road recreational vehicle model...
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    Chase to Refund $4.4 Million in Credit Card Fees

    Monthly fee was added to balance-transfer accounts

    Chase Bank USA, the credit card-issuing subsidiary of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., has agreed to stop charging a $10 per month service charge that it added to over 184,000 of its credit card accounts for customers who transferred balances to their Chase cards.

    And as the result of an investigation by New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, the company has refunded or will refund approximately $4,400,000 to those consumers it had charged under a unilateral change in terms imposed in January.

    Chase also faces at least one class-action lawsuit contesting the monthly charges.

    Consumers across the U.S. carry over 100 million Chase credit cards. For a number of years, Chase has offered some of its cardholders very attractive promotional rates for balance transfers or other loan amounts put onto their Chase credit card accounts. The offers made clear that a one-time transaction fee, usually three percent, would be charged for this low promotional rate.

    Despite the promises Chase made in its offer, in November 2008 Chase notified over 300,000 consumers nationwide, that the terms of the prior offer had been changed. Chase told its cardholders that, in January 2009, it would start charging an additional flat fee — a $10 service charge — each month. This extra $120 per year in additional fees significantly raised the effective APR on these balances, in some cases more than doubling the effective interest rate.

    Among those complaining to ConsumerAffairs.com was Peter of Los Angeles: "Transferred balances to Chase at a low rate. Made all payments on time and above minimum. Suddenly found myself paying $10/month service fee forever whether I carry a balance or not, with no notification (but try to prove that you did not get a letter!!).

    "The only explanation, 'We did not make enough money off you in the past, so we're making up for it,'" Peter said. "'You have a lifetime offer? Sorry, you just died!'"

    In January of this year, responding to consumer complaints, Cuomo's office contacted Chase and requested a meeting with representatives to address these concerns. Upon meeting with Chase, the attorney general's office demanded that Chase cancel the $10 monthly service charges and refund all those that it had collected. On March 26th, Chase agreed to comply.

    "My office will not sit back and allow banks to promise one thing in its solicitations and agreements with consumers, and then when times get tough, change the deal, leaving consumers holding the bag, said Cuomo. Truth-in-lending laws prohibit this very conduct. I am glad that Chase has now reconsidered its ill-advised, illegal decision, and will now live up to the terms it originally offered and agreed to.

    Under the agreement, Chase will be sending out letters to consumers nationwide telling them that as of April 1, 2009, Chase will no longer be charging them the $10 monthly service charge.

    In addition, Chase has refunded or will refund the service charges that it has been charging consumers for the last several months in total amount of approximately $4,400,000. In addition, these consumers will realize savings over the next 12 months of approximately $22,000,000.

    Chase to Refund $4.4 Million in Credit Card Fees...
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      Congress Moving Toward National Cap On Payday Loans

      High-interest loans trap low-income consumers in 'spiral of debt'

      The payday loan industry has been fairly successful in turning back attempts on the state level to impose tight restrictions on payday loans. But some members of Congress are pushing legislation that would impose a nationwide limit on what these businesses can charge.

      Such a cap has been introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House as one strategy for helping to restore the health of the U.S. economy and financial systems. Senator Dick Durbin, (D-IL) introduced S500 in late February and Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) followed suit in the House last week, introducing H.R. 1608.

      The measures are strongly backed by industry critics, who have long complained that these short-term loans trap low-income consumers in a downward spiral of debt. One of these critics, the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), commissioned a poll that it says shows wide spread support for capping loan rates at 36 percent. According to the poll, 72 percent of those questioned favor the cap.

      A 36 percent cap on annual interest for consumer credit is a quick, common-sense way to restore protections that have been severely compromised in the consumer credit market, said CRL president Michael Calhoun. It would cost taxpayers nothing and plug a $5 billion hole in the wallets of working families.

      Congress passed a 36 percent cap in 2006 to protect active members of the military after the Pentagon testified that payday loans were affecting military readiness.

      Ohio, Arkansas, New Hampshire, and Arizona are among states that recently revoked exemptions from usury caps their lawmakers had given payday lenders.

      The industry defends itself by arguing that it serves a group of borrowers who don't have access to bank loans or credit cards. Generally, their customers have little or no established credit. Their loans are secured by an advance dated check, to be cashed after their next payday hence the term payday loans.

      However, fees charged on these typically short-term loans can amount to 400 percent or greater on an annual percentage rate basis. Capping the rate at 36 percent would make the payday loan industry much less profitable.

      The federal measure would give all consumers an equal measure of protection from what critics like CRL describe as legal loan-sharking, and also would allow state lawmakers to set even stronger protections if they deemed it necessary.

      Arkansas limits interest to 17 percent within its state constitution, New York makes interest above 25 percent a criminal offense, and Ohio passed a 28 percent cap last year, which was affirmed by voters in a ballot measure in November.

      A federal cap would not alter these state protections.

      CRL and other critics contend the terms of these small payday loans keep borrowers paying high interest payments over long periods of time without paying off the loan or even paying down the principal.

      Recent research links predatory products like payday lending to bankruptcy, closed bank accounts, credit card delinquency and a long list of other financial hardships, Calhoun said. There is really no excuse for failing to stop these abuses now, for the sake of working families across the nation, and for the sake of our economic stability. We see where lax consumer protections led us in the mortgage market. We should learn from that hard-taught lesson.

      Congress Moving Toward National Cap On Payday Loans...
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      Judge Dismisses Amex Class Action

      Cardholders' travel insurance gripes don't hold up, judge finds

      American Express has scored a big victory, turning aside a class action lawsuit by aggrieved cardholders who said they were scalped on travel insurance.

      A California judge dismissed the case, ruling that the plaintiffs had failed to prove their case. The suit alleged that Amex cardholders who used their cards to buy airline tickets were overcharged for insurance, and that advertising about the program was misleading.

      According to the suit, Amex tacked insurance costs onto any airline-related purchase in excess of $45, including things like baggage handling fees and seat upgrades. The plaintiffs argued that insurance should have been added only to ticket purchases. The plaintiffs also alleged that Amex failed to refund insurance to customers with airline tickets that were later cancelled, or to those who didnt quality for the insurance under its terms.

      Amex countered that the contract explicitly disclosed the fees and the manner in which they were added to the bill.

      According to Amex attorney David Shapiro, consumers could seek a refund of the fees by filling out a company-provided form or placing a phone call. In support of his claim, he cited data showing that about $140 million had been issued in refunds over the past 13 years.

      After 11 weeks of testimony from the plaintiffs, California Superior Court judge George Hernandez ruled that the plaintiffs had not sustained their burden, and dismissed the case.

      His decision was the second blow to the class; in February, he ruled that the contract outlining the insurance charges was unambiguous, thereby eliminating the plaintiffs claim for breach of contract. The judge noted that some class representatives had contacted Amex for refunds or credits, thus demonstrating their understanding that this term was a condition precedent to obtaining a refund. Last weeks ruling came at the end of the trials second phase, and turned aside the classs claims that the programs marketing campaign was deceptive.

      The lawsuit was filed in 2001 on behalf of Amex cardholders who paid for the travel insurance between 1995 and 2008; the class consisted of about six million consumers. A related suit in the Eastern District of New York was stayed pending Judge Hernandezs ruling. The fate of that action remains unclear, although the courts decision likely doesnt give the consumer attorneys much reason to be optimistic.

      Welcome respite

      Judge Hernandezs ruling was surely a welcome respite for Amex, which has suffered a few adverse decisions in recent months.

      In January, the Second Circuit ruled that the company couldnt necessarily enforce class action waivers against small merchants, if the vendors could prove that individual litigation would cost more than their potential recovery. Then a New Jersey court held that some class action waivers were unconscionable and thus unenforceable under New Jersey law.

      The current case was unusual for two reasons. First, it was dismissed before Amex even presented its side of the story; the entire trial consisted of testimony from the plaintiffs. More significantly, very few class actions even go to trial in the first place; most settle out of court or are dismissed on summary judgment.

      Indeed, a recent study found that less than one percent of class actions brought in California make it to trial. This suit was argued during a bench trial, or one decided solely by the judge; class actions can also be heard by juries, if the parties so choose.

      American Express has scored a big victory, turning aside a class action lawsuit by aggrieved cardholders who said they were scalped on travel insurance....
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      Internet Crime Hit Highest Levels Ever in 2008

      New report documents massive jumps in fraud, complaints

      By Lisa Wade McCormick

      March 31, 2009
      Internet crime and the financial havoc it plays on consumers' pocketbooks continued to rise in 2008, according to a new report from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

      The "2008 Internet Crime Report" revealed consumers lost more than $264 million last year to various Internet crimes. That represents a loss of $931 for each of the 274,284 complaints the IC3 received in 2008.

      The latest figures also reflect a 33 percent increase in the number of complaints the IC3 received in 2007 — and $25 million jump in losses. In 2007, consumers filed 206,884 complaints with the IC3 and their losses totaled $239 million.

      The latest IC3 reports shows scam artists used Web pages and e-mails as the two main vehicles to dupe consumers in Internet crimes.

      "This report illustrates that sophisticated computer fraud schemes continue to flourish as financial data migrates to the Internet," said Shawn Henry, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Cyber Division.

      The IC3 is a partnership between the FBI and the nonprofit National White Collar Crime Center. The organization collects and analyzes data about computer crime and then refers complaints to law enforcement agencies nationwide. The IC3's annual reports are a snapshot of the most common Internet crimes, where they occur, and who is victimized in these schemes.

      The report included a breakdown by percentages of the Internet scams that received the most complaints, and the average dollar loss per complaint:

      • Non-delivery of merchandise/payment: $800 (32.9%);

      • Auction fraud: $610 (25.5%);

      • Credit/debit card fraud: $223 (9%);

      • Confidence fraud: $2,000 (7.9%)

      • Computer fraud: $1,000 (6.2%)

      • Check fraud: $3,000 (5.4%)

      • Nigerian letter fraud: $1,650 (2.8%)

      Other highlights of the IC3's 2008 report reveal:

      • 77.4 percent of the perpetrators identified in the IC3's complaints were male. Half of those perpetrators lived in California, New York, Florida, Texas, and the District of Columbia. The report, however, also cited a case involving a Virginia woman, Rachel Trent, who duped many consumers on the eBay auction site. According to authorities, Trent advertised rare baseball and football cards on eBay. Once a consumer paid her for the cards, she sent them a worthless card or nothing at all. The Cyber Task Force arrested Trent, who is now serving four years in prison;

      • Worldwide, the perpetrators identified in the IC3's complaints lived in the U.S. (66.1%), the United Kingdom (10.5%), Nigeria (7.5%), and Canada (3.1%);

      • 55.4 percent of the consumers who filed complaints with the IC3 were men. Nearly half of them were 30-50 years old. One-third of those complainants lived in California, Florida, Texas, and New York.

      • 92.4 percent of the IC3's complaints came from the United States. The organization also received complaints from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and France;

      • Men lost more money in Internet crimes than women. The ratio is $1.69 lost per male to every $1.00 lost per female;

      • 74 percent of the fraudulent Internet contact came by e-mail; 28.9 percent came from Web sites;

      "Care must be taken to avoid drawing conclusions about the 'typical' victim or perpetrator of these types of crimes," the report states. "Anyone who utilizes the Internet is susceptible, and IC3 has received complaints from both males and females ranging in age from ten to one hundred years old. Complainants can be found in all fifty states, in dozens of countries worldwide, and have been affected by everything from work-at-home schemes to identity theft."

      A copy of the report is now posted on The National White Collar Crime Center's Web site. The report includes tips on ways consumers can protect themselves from getting taken in these various Internet schemes.

      Internet Crime Hit Highest Levels Ever in 2008...
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      Computer Worm Set To Evolve April 1

      DownAd worm morphs, dives more deeply below the surface

      Computer security experts say they expect a troublesome worm to become even harder to deal with on April Fools Day. That's when the DownAD worm, also known as Conflicker, is set to morph into an even harder-to-detect virus.

      Much has been said about the DownAD worm and its enigmatic payload that will supposedly be unleashed on April 1st, Trend Micro said in a statement on its Web site. But online threat history tells us that trigger/activation dates of equally hyped malware have come and gone without much fanfare. Whether or not April 1 will play out to be D-Day indeed, the security industry will be keeping an eye out for any malicious activity — like it should.

      Don't look for an explosive growth of the worm on April 1. In fact, the program is already lodged on millions of computers and networks worldwide. As security experts have worked to improve ways to detect and eradicate it, DownAD's creators have come up with more clever ways to avoid detection. On April 1, that plan goes into effect.

      Based on our collective technical analysis, weve determined that systems infected with the latest version of Conficker will begin to use a new algorithm to determine what domains to contact, Trend Micro said. We have not identified any other actions scheduled to take place on April 1, 2009.

      The latest variant, which was detected as worm DownAD.KK, first detected on March 4, 2009, includes an algorithm to generate a list of 50,000 different domains. Five hundred of these will be randomly selected to be contacted by infected PCs beginning April 1, 2009 to receive updated copies, new malware components, or additional functional instructions.

      Infected computers can download malware that can steal data or turn control of the infected computers over to hackers, who operate them remotely as a vast zombie computer army.

      Some security experts say DownAD's real threat is its potential ability to harness computing power of a botnet to crack passwords. Microsoft has modified its free Malicious Software Removal Tool to deal with DownAD and the software company has offered a $250,000 to reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for it.

      Not only is the worm hard to detect, it's also hard to get rid of. Most victims are never aware their computer is infected. One way to tell if you computer has the worm is that it will prevent you from connecting with security firm Websites like Symantec or Trend Micro, which have online tools capable of detecting and removing the virus.

      "The FBI is aware of the potential threat posed by the Conficker worm. We are working closely with a broad range of partners, including DHS and other agencies in the U.S. government, as well as throughout the private sector, to fully identify and mitigate the threat," said Shawn Henry, assistant director of the FBI's Cyber Divison.

      Computer Worm Set To Evolve April 1...
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      West Virginia Sues Online Payday Lenders

      'Loan sharks of today'

      West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw has filed two lawsuits against 12 Internet payday lenders and their collection agencies, with the aim of preventing them from doing business in the state.

      Both suits ask the court to order compliance with McGraws investigative subpoenas and to enjoin the companies from the continued making or collection of payday loans in West Virginia.

      Payday loans, which have never been legal in West Virginia, are short-term loans or cash advances, typically for 14 days, secured by a post-dated check or, when offered over the Internet, secured by an agreement authorizing an electronic debit for the full loan amount plus interest from the consumers account.

      Internet payday loans are electronically deposited into consumers accounts and typically require payment of interest with annual percentage rates ("APR") ranging from 600 to 800 APR, more than 45 times greater than the maximum allowable rate — 18 percent APR — for such loans in West Virginia.

      "Internet payday loan providers are the loan sharks of today," said McGraw.

      McGraw says Internet payday loans are the industrys most recent attempt to skirt consumer protection laws. He complains that the payday lending industry has historically sought to evade state usury laws through a number of ruses, such as partnering with national and state-chartered banks and by offering the loans over the Internet.

      McGraws office began its investigation of the Internet payday lending industry in earnest in 2005. As of this date McGraws office has successfully concluded 75 investigations of Internet payday lenders and their collection agencies, which have netted a total of $1,784,772.82 in cash refunds and cancelled debts for 6,612 West Virginia consumers.

      The payday lenders named in the latest filings include the following:

      • Cash Advance Now d/b/a PeoplesPayday.com of Miami, FL
      • Debt Doctor, LLC d/b/a Magnum Z, LLC of Wentzville, MO
      • Direct ROI d/b/a Cashwest Payday Loans of Mesa, AZ
      • E Smart Credit Network d/b/a www.YourLoanServices.com of Miami, FL
      • Island Payday, LLC d/b/a www.islandpayday.com of Ogden, UT
      • Platinum Finance Company, LLC d/b/a www.PaycheckNow.com of Wilmington, DE
      • Sonic Cash, LLC d/b/a Sonic Cash Online Payday of Boise, ID

      Collection agencies named in the suits are:

      • A.C.A Recovery, Inc. of Ridgewood, NJ
      • Capital Collections, LLC of Miami, FL
      • Covenant Management Group, LLC of Gainesville, GA
      • Oasis Financial Solutions, LLC of Orange Park, FL
      • Westbury Ventures of Wilmington, DE

      West Virginia Attorney General filed 2 lawsuits against 12 Internet payday lenders and their collection agencies, with the aim of preventing them from doin...
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      Can't Find Work? Look Abroad

      The foot-loose lifestyle offers employment options often overlooked

      As the economic crisis deepens and Americans everywhere are facing the prospect of unemployment, a steady source of income would seem hard to come by. Employers are pessimistic, competition for new jobs is tough and small businesses are struggling to turn a profit. Meanwhile the rent is still high, the bills are coming in and the banks are in no mood to talk about loans.

      So why not just leave?

      When I hit the road at the age of 18 and announced my intention to travel forever, my friends and family just laughed: "How do you expect to make a living?" they asked.

      I had no idea but I reasoned there were a million jobs out there waiting for me. Since then I've taught English, run a jewelery stall in the street, exported incense, been a tour guide, translated documents, sold hammocks on the market, taught guitar, worked on festivals and currently run niche websites and write freelance articles.

      Working abroad allows you to live somewhere exotic, get to grips with another culture in a more meaningful way than a vacation could ever allow and generally help you expand your horizons. You can make good money while living cheaply and when you come home your resume will look just that much more interesting than the rest.

      You might think you lack the skills to get a job abroad but the chances are that if you're reading this you're already qualified — become an English teacher! All across the world there's a huge and growing demand for native English speakers to come and teach in schools and kindergartens. Globalization means that the ability to speak English is increasingly considered essential for anyone in places like Asia and Latin America who wants to get ahead.

      The big money teaching English is in South Korea and Japan, the former being so desperate for English speakers to come and conjugate verbs that they'll even pay for your flight and sometimes provide an apartment. Both countries require that you have a college degree but it could be in industrial design for all they really care. At the end of the day all they really want is a certified American, Canadian or Brit to convince the students it's worth handing over the course fees.

      Teaching certificate

      Having said that, there's no harm doing an English teaching course before you go and you might even get a better job as a result. Most TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificates aren't worth the paper they're printed on, however, and only a Cambridge/RSA CELTA or Trinity TESOL qualification will open doors to high-paid positions in universities and the like.

      Most English teaching in East Asia, though, is based around crowd control — the chances are you'll be teaching kids. The work ethic in places like Korea, Japan and Taiwan is so intense that parents fret about their children falling behind at the age of 5. To make sure they stand every chance of winning the rat race they send their kids off to "cram schools" after regular school hours to be terrorized by hairy white foreigners in cheap suits.

      I lasted 3 days in the Taiwanese kindergarten that hired me on a trial basis. There were 30 infants in the class, half of whom cowered at the back with one eye on the door, others still ignored everything I said and gazed out the window with one finger up their nose while another 3 or 4 brats screeched out the answers before I finished each question.

      My colleague, Matt from Ohio, had a class full of adolescents to deal with. When I asked him how he managed to keep order he just grinned.

      "If they give me any trouble I just make 'em do push ups."

      English teachers can find work pretty easily also in Thailand, Cambodia and, closer to home, Mexico and Costa Rica. You can check out job postings and advice on the spectacularly useful www.daveseslcafe.com.

      Tour guide

      If managing classes of screaming Asian kids isn't exactly your dream job, you can always make the most of your new expatriate status to run your own tour company. Sure, you might not know much about your new country but if you can pick up enough of the language and make some local friends to actually do the work for you then there's a living to be made looking after folks on vacation.

      When living in Rio de Janeiro a few years ago, I set up www.anythinginrio.com, where I pretended to have an established package tour company. I offered to meet clients at the airport, find them apartments, take them around town to see the sights and then show them the best of the Rio nightlife. The beauty of having a website is that the clients imagined I ran a busy office with secretaries and fax machines rather than just being a scruffy expatriate who checked in a couple of times a day at an internet cafe.

      As it happened, by the time the site began to really pick up traffic I had already left Brazil but my Brazilian ex-girlfriend was happy to play the role of tour guide. She had a car and knew the city like the back of her hand and ran all the tours for me. I asked her how much she wanted for each custom package and then added 25% on for myself, making my cut through a few emails.


      If you have some business savvy but can't be bothered setting up a website and dealing with tourists, then there's always the import/export route. Head somewhere like India or Indonesia and it's jaw-dropping how little things cost. Labor is so cheap that it's almost free and you can get your own range of clothing designed, package your own brand of incense or, if you know what you're doing, buy quantities of merchandise to supply the shops back home. Just remember that it's far easier to buy than sell.

      On my first trip to India I had a few hundred bucks set aside to invest in an export enterprise and my eye settled on a handicrafts shop with the words Professional Exporters written above the door.

      "Aha," I thought, "This is the place for me!"

      I walked in, bought 30 pounds of beautiful clay pots, ashtrays and pipes, instructing them to sculpt marijuana leaves on each to increase their market value back home. Although eager to please, the Indian craftsmen didn't seem to know the difference between a cannabis leaf and a branch of sage but time was running out and so off to the post office we went.

      This is the first time I've done this! the owner merrily confided in me as we attached over a couple hundred 10 rupee stamps to the parcel, making sure each one was rubber-stamped so they wouldn't get stolen en route. The seeds of foreboding sewn then were confirmed 2 months later when the postman arrived at my doorstep back home with a box full of shattered clay. While the professional exporters had thoughtfully included a sheet of newspaper between the pots as a protective measure, it might have been better had I packed my investment myself.

      I could fill an article with the disasters of my successive export plans over the years but I hung around enough with successful merchants to learn the basics: either you buy lots of something cheap or, if you know what you're doing, a few specialty items at a high price— get stuck in the middle and you'll fill your parents' garage with your unsold stock for years to come. And whatever you do, don't buy gems — the 'sell a tourist an emerald' scam is the oldest in the book.

      Fruit picking

      For those looking for a little more adventure with their travels there's always a steady demand for fruit picking. While in America it might be considered the domain of Latin immigrants without papers, in Europe and Australia itinerant workers can make good money by working 12 hours days for the fortnight or so it takes to pick the crop. There's nowhere to spend the money you earn and you should make enough to pay for the physiotherapy sessions you'll need afterwards.

      While farmers couldn't generally care less about whether you're legally entitled to pick fruit in their country, there are other risks; friends in Australia told me that the tedium of picking plums was fortunately offset by the constant paranoia of encountering a poisonous red-back spider. Fruit-picking is also pretty hard work which is why the closest I've ever come was clipping marijuana in California — but the less said about that the better.

      If you prefer not to get your hands dirty you might prefer a glamorous job like being a trip leader, visiting the most beautiful sites in the world with a group of colorful travelers in tow as you astonish them with your vast repertoire of anecdotes from the road. Or so you might think.

      Ha, being a trip leader is an uncertain cross between guide, organizer, baby sitter, nurse and entertainer, a friend in the profession laughed at me. Yes, he was paid to run trips to Peru, Tibet and Paris but he also had to wake up at 2 a.m. when his clients needed to know how to make a long-distance telephone call home or plug in an adapter for their digital camera.

      A tour leader needs to be an efficient person capable of getting 20 retired holiday makers into buses, restaurants, hotels and around tourist sites without anyone getting lost, having a nervous breakdown or getting ripped off. The pay would seem to be miserable (averages at $30 a day) but all your expenses are taken care of and there's always the chance to make commission on the restaurants, theaters and hotels where you steer your clients.

      Less lucrative but more rewarding are jobs working on yachts. In harbors across the world there are rich people with yachts who need help sailing around the world or who need their boats delivered across oceans while they take the plane. Naturally, it would help if you knew something about sailing but that didn't stop a friend of mine from New Jersey who landed in Sydney, Australia and just started chatting up yacht owners at the harbor.

      It was only once we were out at sea that I had to ask how to tie knots, my friend grinned, Then they'd swear at me a bit and show me what to do. I learned in no time.

      For the next 6 months he worked taking out tourists on yachts to see the whales that were mating not far off the coast.

      No limits

      There's no real limit to the jobs you can find abroad. If you've got some initiative and a positive attitude you can always find a way. Like a girl I knew who made a fortune in London going from office to office giving shoulder massage. Or a guy I met in Mexico who bought silver rings and necklaces in Tasco and then sold them on the beaches of Cancun making $100 a day.

      And if you're not in it for the money, there are a million places where a little enthusiasm and good will can make a huge difference. From kids in orphanages who need someone to organize activities, to families in refugee camps who need to learn English, volunteering abroad can be one of the most fulfilling things you could ever do. And you really will be saving the world — one world at a time.

      Idealist.org is a good place to start.

      And if you do manage to make some money abroad in whatever job you eventually find, the profits can pay for months of lying on the beach living on $8 a day somewhere in the tropics. At least that's pretty much been my strategy for the last 14 years and I've only had to work jobs 13 months in that time as a result.

      Which means that the next time I do find myself in need of employment I'm going to have to get really creative with my resume.


      Tom Glaister writes more about work abroad and hopes to never work again if www.twitterists.com takes off.

      Can't Find Work? Look Abroad...
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      Realtors Group Warns Of Rental Scam

      Victims instructed to send money to 'agent' in UK

      March 30, 2009
      Scammers have learned that using the name of a legitimate business or organization often helps deceive victims. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is now warning that its name is being used as part of a property rental scam in which rental property is offered to consumers.

      Victims targeted by scammers are led to believe that NAR is functioning as an intermediary to receive rental deposits from prospective tenants. NAR says nothing could be further from the truth.

      NAR is not involved in this business and has contacted law enforcement officials to request that the matter be investigated. We encourage any consumers who may be affected to file a complaint, said NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth.

      The scam claims that on receipt of a deposit, NAR will deliver the keys to the property to the tenant. Prospective tenants are instructed to send money via Western Union to NARs purported agent in the United Kingdom.

      Some of the listings have been posted on Craigslist, which reportedly has had difficulty in tracing the original listings. NAR does not have an escrow service, or function as an intermediary to receive rental deposits.

      Some of the scam listings also refer to or propose using a Residential Lease Package that includes a form lease that purports to be a document prepared by or otherwise associated with NAR. NAR was not involved in creating or producing the Residential Lease Package or other lease form, and does not recommend, support, or encourage use of those documents.

      Consumers who have encountered this scam may file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center.

      Our mission is not only to protect consumers in the real estate transaction, but also guard them against fraud, McMillan said.

      Realtors Group Warns Of Rental Scam: Scammers have learned that using the name of a legitimate business or organization often helps deceive victims....
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      Federal Government Guarantees GM, Chrysler Warranties

      Feds Oust GM CEO, Issue Overtime Parking Warning to Chrysler

      The federal government is underwriting GM and Chrysler warranties, effective immediately. President Obama made the unprecedented announcement hours after his automotive task force demanded — and got — the head of GM CEO Rick Wagoner. Chrysler, meanwhile, said it has reached agreement on an alliance with Italian automaker Fiat.

      Obama pledged to work with Congress to offer consumers tax credits if they turn in their old cars and buy new, cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

      "Let me say this as plainly as I can," Obama said in a speech today. "If you buy a car from Chrysler or General Motors, you will be able to get your car serviced and repaired just like always. Your warranty will be safe. In fact, it will be safer than it has ever been. Because starting today, the United States will stand behind your warranty."

      The move is intended to erase any doubts consumers might have about whether their warranties will be honored if either of the automakers winds up in bankruptcy court, as seems increasingly likely.

      Funds for the warranty program will come from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) provided by Congress, the White House said earlier.

      At a news conference, Obama outlined these additional measures the administration hopes will spur U.S. auto sales, presently at their lowest point in 27 years:

      • Federal purchases. Obama said federal agencies will step up their purchase of new vehicles;
      • More credit. The administration will work to increase the flow of credit to car purchasers and dealers;
      • Tax benefits. The Internal Revenue Service will start a campaign to educate consumers about the tax breaks available for those who buy new U.S. vehicles between Feb. 16 and the end of the year.

      Over the weekend, the Obama automotive task force demanded Wagoner's resignation as the price of further federal aid, a stark reminder that one should be careful what one wishes for. The feds also delivered a stiff warning to Chrysler that it needs to accelerate its talks with Italian automaker Fiat if it hopes to avoid driving off a cliff.


      By midday Monday, Chrysler LLC said it had reached a formal agreement with Fiat and said the U.S. Treasury Department had given its blessing to the deal. Obama had given Chrysler 30 days to conclude the deal or forfeit as much as $6 billion in additional U.S. aid.

      The Fiat-Chrysler deal is expected to bring to U.S. highways a fleet of fast, fun and stylish little cars built by Fiat, the Italian giant that also owns the Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo lines. The sudden explosion in models should also be a blessing to struggling Chrysler dealerships.

      The task force said in no uncertain terms that neither company has yet done enough to map a road to survival and may need a quick scrub in bankruptcy court. Though unpleasant — and very expensive to stockholders, suppliers, creditors, employees and retirees — a pre-planned "quick rinse" bankruptcy could remove enough rust to give the companies a fighting chance of turning a profit before the next millenium.

      Obama is still dangling the $21.6 billion in new loans the companies have requested — but he's not expected to deliver the money until all parties, including labor, shareholders and dealers, agree to make the sacrifices necessary to get the companies back on track.

      "We think we can have a successful U.S. auto industry, Obama said Sunday on CBSs Face The Nation. But it's got to be one that's realistically designed to weather this storm and to emerge at the other end much more lean, mean and competitive than it currently is.

      Federal Government Guarantees GM, Chrysler Warranties...
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      California Sues Charities For Stealing Donations To Public Servants

      Multiple lawsuits agains telemarketers, donors for deceptive practices and fraud

      As part of a nationwide crackdown on fraudulent charities, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. is filing today eight lawsuits against 53 individuals, 17 telemarketers and 12 charities that "shamelessly exploited" people's generosity and squandered millions of dollars of donations intended to help police, firefighters and veterans.

      Brown's suits are intended to permanently stop the charities' deceptive practices and require the repayment of all funds raised under false pretenses. Brown is seeking involuntary dissolution of eight of the charities.

      "These individuals shamelessly exploited the goodwill of decent citizens trying to help police, firefighters and veterans," Brown said. "In point of fact, a shockingly small portion of donations went to those in need, while millions went to pay for aggressive telemarketing and bloated overhead — and in one case — to purchase a 30-foot sailboat."

      Brown filed these suits in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission and 48 other states as part of a nationwide sweep called "Operation False Charity."

      In California, just as in the other participating states, the so-called charities raised millions of dollars based on false claims that donors' contributions would benefit police, firefighters and veterans organizations. But in reality, these charities rarely benefit public safety personnel. And, in most cases, 85 percent to 90 percent of donations are used to pay the fees of for-profit telemarketing firms.

      Last year, Brown launched an investigation into 12 of the worst offenders, resulting in the eight cases filed today in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and San Mateo counties. It is estimated that since 2005, hundreds of thousands of Californians have been deceived by the solicitation campaigns these charities and their fundraisers have conducted.

      Law Enforcement Apprenticeship Program

      Brown today sued Los Angeles-based Law Enforcement Apprenticeship Program, its directors and its for-profit fundraiser, Rambret, Inc., for falsely promising contributors that their donations would be used to operate an apprenticeship program for at-risk youth. The program was never operated and no students were ever enrolled in it.

      Instead, donations were used to pay for fundraising expenses, the personal expenses of the charity's directors and the purchase of a 30-foot sailboat.

      In 2003, Law Enforcement Apprenticeship Program raised $529,863, but only $31,501 — just 6 percent — was spent on its program services. In 2004, the charity raised $372,623, but spent only $5,615 — 1.5 percent — on program services.

      Brown seeks to dissolve the charity, to prevent the directors from operating a charity in California again, and to prevent the fundraiser from soliciting funds for a charity in California until it complies with state law.

      Brown also seeks a court order requiring the charity to file a report of its receipts and expenses, to recover the funds misappropriated by the directors and civil penalties in excess of $150,000.

      California Police Youth Charities

      Brown today sued Sacramento-based California Police Youth Charities, its executive director and its for-profit fundraisers — National Consultants, Inc. and Public Appeals, Inc. — for falsely promising contributors that 100 percent of donations would go to support the charity's programs to help at-risk youth. In reality, less than 20 percent of the $9 million raised in 2006 and 2007 was spent on charitable programs.

      The charity also filed false documents with the IRS and the Attorney General's Office. In 2006, the charity reported that it made almost $1 million in grants, when it actually made grants totaling only $110,000.

      Brown seeks a permanent injunction to end these deceptive solicitation practices. He also seeks to recover misappropriated charitable funds and civil penalties in excess of $100,000 from the charity and its for-profit fundraisers.

      American Association of Police Officers, Police Protective Fund, and Junior Police Academy

      Brown today sued Los Angeles-based American Association of Police Officers, Police Protective Fund, and Junior Police Academy, their officers David Dierks and Philip LeConte, and their for-profit fundraisers for misleading donors into thinking that their solicitors were volunteer police officers and that contributions would benefit donors' local police departments.

      The for-profit fundraisers include: West Coast Advertising (known as Professional Communications Network) and Mark Christiansen (doing business as Charitable Fundraising Services).

      Additionally, the charities violated both state and federal law when they filed reports with the IRS and the Attorney General's Office that under-reported fundraising and administrative expenses and over-reported the amount spent on charitable programs.

      In 2007, for example, Police Protective Fund raised $6.8 million and claimed in its tax returns that it spent $1.7 million on its charitable program. However, that $1.7 million improperly included fundraising expenses, a $350,000 judgment paid to the State of Missouri and other administrative expenses.

      Likewise, in 2007, American Association of Police Officers reported in its tax returns that it spent $493,798 on its charitable program. However, out of that amount, $425,000 was paid to the charities' officers and other administrative and fundraising personnel. David Dierks and Philip LeConte were each paid $168,000 in salary, and were also provided with vehicles such as a $45,000 Range Rover and a $25,000 Jeep Cherokee.

      Brown seeks injunctive relief to prevent defendants from operating any charities in California and to stop future fraudulent solicitation and reporting practices. Brown also seeks to recover misappropriated funds and civil penalties in excess of $150,000.

      Association for Firefighters and Paramedics

      Brown filed suit today against Santa Ana-based Association for Firefighters and Paramedics, its president, Michael F. Gamboa and its for-profit fundraisers — Public Awareness, L.L.C., Community Support, Inc., and Courtesy Call, Inc — for falsely claiming that it used donations to assist local firefighters, paramedics, and burn victims.

      Brown's office discovered that from 2005-2008, only 3 percent of approximately $10 million dollars was spent on assistance to burn victims. No funds were ever used to assist firefighters and paramedics.

      The remainder — some $9.7 million — went to pay for the charity's fundraising expenses and overhead.

      In addition, the charity sent fraudulent invoices to people who had not made a pledge and sent letters to donors who had never given, asking them to mail in their "usual" annual donation.

      Brown is seeking to dissolve the charity. He also seeks a permanent injunction against the charity's president to prohibit him from any future involvement with a California charity, and civil penalties in excess of $150,000.

      Association for Police and Sheriffs, Inc.

      Brown today sued Fullerton-based Association for Police and Sheriffs, Inc., its directors and its for-profit fundraisers, Public Awareness, LLC, and Courtesy Call, Inc., for falsely claiming that the majority of donations would be used to help the victims of domestic violence.

      Brown's investigation revealed that of the $2.6 million raised in 2005 and 2006, 90 percent of the donations went to pay the for-profit fundraisers. Most of the remaining donations were used to pay salary and other personal benefits for its president, Lloyd Jones, and others.

      In violation of federal law, the fundraisers blocked donors' Caller ID. Once on the phone, the fundraisers engaged in aggressive and abusive conduct.

      The investigation also found that the charity and its for-profit fundraisers sent pledge confirmation cards to people who never agreed to donate and that some of the charity's fundraisers represented that they were police officers, when they were not.

      Brown seeks to dissolve the charity, recover improperly diverted funds, recover civil penalties in excess of $150,000, and to obtain a permanent injunction preventing all defendants from any involvement with a California charity until they comply with California law.

      Coalition of Police and Sheriffs, Disabled Firefighters Fund, American Veterans Relief Foundation, et al.

      Brown today filed a lawsuit against Santa Ana-based Coalition of Police and Sheriffs, Disabled Firefighters Fund, and American Veterans Relief Foundation, their directors and for-profit fundraisers for falsely claiming that donations would be used for programs to help injured police and firefighters, and homeless veterans.

      The for-profit fundraisers include Campaign Center, Inc., KWS Productions, Inc., Tel-Mar Productions, Inc, Community Publications, Inc., and Roman Promotions, Inc. Through 2005, the charities raised $17 million, but only $351,000 — approximately 2 percent — was spent on programs for cops, firefighters, and veterans. The vast majority of donations went to paid telemarketers.

      The President, Jeffrey Duncan, used charitable funds for his personal expenses, including trips to Hawaii and to Las Vegas, and for meals, including one for $1,200 at Medieval Times.

      Joseph Shambaugh, who founded all three of these charities, was indicted by federal authorities on charges of mail fraud and money laundering. He is currently at large.

      Brown seeks to dissolve the charity, to prevent the directors from operating a charity or being involved in charitable fundraising in the future, and to prevent the fundraisers from soliciting on behalf of a charity in California until they comply with state law.

      He also seeks to recover misappropriated charitable funds and civil penalties in excess of $100,000 from the charities, their directors and for-profit fundraisers.

      Homeless and Disabled Veterans

      Brown today sued Washington, D.C.-based Homeless and Disabled Veterans, and its for- profit fundraiser, Atmost, Inc. for falsely representing to donors that their charitable contributions would be used to assist homeless and disabled veterans in California with food, shelter, and self-help programs. Yet no donations were used for these purposes.

      Instead, the vast majority of the donations — over 70 percent — were used for fundraising expenses, and the rest went for administrative expenses at its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

      Brown seeks to dissolve the charity, to prevent the directors from operating a charity in California again, and to prevent the fundraiser from soliciting on behalf of a charity in California until it complies with state law.

      He also seeks to recover misappropriated charitable funds and civil penalties in excess of $150,000 from the charity, its directors and its for-profit fundraiser.

      Organization of Police and Sheriffs

      Brown today sued San Bernardino-based California Organization of Police and Sheriffs, its directors, officers and its for-profit fundraisers — Civic Development Group, LLC and Rambret, Inc. — for falsely representing that donations would be used to benefit law enforcement officers and that 100 percent of each donation would be received by the charity.

      Donors were told that their contributions would be used to purchase bullet-proof vests, make grants to families of officers killed or injured in the line of duty, provide veterinary treatment for service animals injured in the line of duty and mentoring of at-risk youths.

      Out of the $30 million raised from 2005 to 2007, over $25 million was spent on fundraising.

      No money was spent on bullet-proof vests, no grants were made to families of officers, $6,600 was spent on veterinary treatment for service animals, and $16,500 was spent on mentoring.

      Brown seeks to dissolve the charity, to prevent the directors from operating a charity in California again, and to prevent the fundraisers from soliciting on behalf of a charity in California until they comply with state law.

      He also seeks to recover misappropriated charitable funds and civil penalties in excess of $150,000 from the charity, its directors and its for-profit fundraisers.

      The Attorney General's Office offers the following tips to potential donors to help them avoid being the victims of charity fraud:

      • If you receive an unsolicited call asking for a donation, it is most likely from a paid telemarketer who may keep a substantial part of your donation as payment of fundraising fees.

      • Recognize that the words 'veterans' or 'military families' in an organization's name don't necessarily mean that veterans or the families of active-duty personnel will benefit from your donation.

      • Donate to charities with a track record and a history. Charities that spring up overnight may disappear just as quickly.

      • If you have any doubt about whether you have made a pledge or a contribution, check your records. If you don't remember making the donation or pledge, resist the pressure to give.

      • Check out an organization before donating. Some phony charities use names, seals and logos that look or sound like those of respected, well-established organizations.

      • Ask the soliciting charity or the paid fundraiser what percentage of your donation will go towards fundraising expenses and what percentage will go towards the charity's charitable purpose.

      • Do not send or give cash donations. For security and tax record purposes, it is best to pay by check made payable to the charity.

      • Ask for a receipt showing the amount of your contribution.

      • Be wary of promises of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. You never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.

      California Sues Charities For Stealing Donations To Public Servants...
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      California Cancels "Big Bad Student Travel" For Student Ripoffs

      Agency pocketed money and didn't provide promised Spring Break trips

      March 27, 2009
      Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced that special agents from the California Department of Justice today arrested Abel Moses Somilleda, the owner of a vacation travel agency, who "ripped off" $55,000 from high school and college students whose 2006 trip to Cancun, Mexico was cancelled.

      "Dozens of high school and college students paid hundreds of dollars for a spring break trip to Cancun, but instead of a week of vacation, these students were ripped off by the owner of Big Bad Student Travel," Brown said. "Abel Moses Somilleda promised a vacation to Mexico, but when the trip was cancelled, he pocketed the students' money instead of providing refunds."

      Abel Moses Somilleda, 35, of Hawthorne, Calif., was arrested in Hawthorne by California Department of Justice Special Agents. He is charged with:

      • Nine counts of grand theft in violation of Penal Code section 487(a);

      • One count of failure to return moneys in violation of Business and Professions Code section 17550.14; and

      • Nine counts of failure to deliver on ticket or voucher in violation of Business and Professions Code section 17550.17(b).

      Somilleda opened Big Bad Student Travel in 2004 after working for ten years in the student travel business and coordinating several trips of his own.

      In 2006, Somilleda organized a spring break trip to Cancun, Mexico, for dozens of high school and college students. Students paid approximately $700 for the flight, hotel room, and expenses.

      Three months before the trip, however, Somilleda learned that it would be cancelled. But instead of immediately informing those who had signed up, Somilleda continued to accept payment for the trip. It was only two or three days before the trip was scheduled to take place when Somilleda notified students that it had been cancelled.

      Somilleda promised the students that they would receive a refund within several days. The students, however, never received refunds.

      In total, Somilleda pocketed some $55,000. A search warrant uncovered that Somilleda had spent most of the money on his own personal expenses — including rent, dinners, groceries, and utilities.

      If convicted of all charges, Somilleda faces eight years in prison.

      California requires all sellers of travel to register with the California Attorney General's Office and display their registration number on all advertising. To check the registration of a Seller of Travel visit the Attorney General's website at http://www.ag.ca.gov/travel/.

      To help prevent becoming a victim of travel fraud, the Attorney General's Office has offered a few tips and warning signs:

      • Before you pay any money, read all the terms and conditions relating to your travel services including cancellation conditions, fees and other restrictions.

      • You have a right in certain circumstances to have credit card charges reversed if you do not receive what you paid for. Check with your credit card company for details. This protection is not available when you make a payment with a check, money order, or cash.

      • Check beforehand with your local Better Business Bureau or California Department of Consumer Affairs, which may tell you how long the seller of travel has been in business, whether there have been any law enforcement actions brought against it in the past, and the nature of consumer complaints it has received, if any.

      • It is a good practice to confirm all of your travel arrangements directly with the businesses providing the transportation, hotel, or car rental.

      • While there are legitimate businesses that offer free trips, there are others that offer "free" trips to entice consumers into buying their products or services, which include hidden costs.

      There are many legitimate sellers of travel that provide great deals on the Internet, but if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

      • Sellers of travel must register every year with the Attorney General's office in order to do business or market in California. They must clearly display their registration number in all advertising materials. Do not deal with unregistered travel companies. While registration does not mean that the seller is reputable, you should avoid any seller who has not adopted the safeguards required by law to protect your payments.

      Taking money without delivering goods or services that are promised can be a crime. If you believe you have been a victim of a crime, call your local police agency. If your travel seller's main place of business is in California, and under certain other circumstances, you may be entitled to make a claim for restitution from the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund. For more information about how to file a claim, please go to http://ag.ca.gov/travel/consumer.php.

      "Abel Moses Somilleda promised a vacation to Mexico, but when the trip was cancelled, he pocketed the students' money instead of providing refunds."...
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      New Jersey Dodge Dealer Settles Fraud Charges

      Accused pays $50,000 over falsifying loan applications

      March 27, 2009

      A car dealership in Orange, New Jersey has settled charges with the state that it falsified consumer credit ratings on loan applications. The dealer, Compass Dodge, Inc., has agreed not to do it in the future.

      Compass Dodge will pay $50,000 in civil penalties and as reimbursement for the state's investigative and legal costs, under terms of the Consent Order between the parties. An additional $92,500 in civil penalties is suspended but will become due and immediately payable if Compass Dodge violates terms of the Consent Order during the next year.

      The dealership's future business practices must conform to state laws and regulations related to used motor vehicle sales and advertising.

      "We expect dealerships to adhere to our Consumer Fraud Act, Motor Vehicle Advertising regulations and Used Car Lemon Law and regulations when offering used vehicles for sale," New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram said. "We remain vigilant and ready to act against those who attempt to take advantage of consumers."

      Under the Consent Order, Compass Dodge agreed not to misrepresent consumer credit information when submitting such information to lending institutions for the purpose of securing financing for motor vehicle purchases. Compass Dodge also agreed to modify its advertising practices to ensure compliance with all disclosure requirements.

      Falsified mortgage applications led to many home loans that should never have been made, helping set up the recent mortgage meltdown. Some auto industry insiders have warned that similar practices in the auto industry could result in similar problems.

      "Purchasing a used car is a major expense for consumers, especially in these difficult financial times. Accurate consumer credit information ensures that buyers don't get in over their heads and obtain loans that they cannot afford," said David Szuchman, Consumer Affairs Director.

      During the next three years, the Division will forward any consumer complaints received about Compass Dodge to the dealership for its handling. The Division must be informed of how each complaint is resolved. Compass Dodge agreed to submit consumer complaints that it cannot resolve to binding arbitration.

      New Jersey Dodge Dealer Settles Fraud Charges...
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      Lawsuit Alleges Best Buy's "Price-Matching" Ignored, Violated

      Judge certifies New York consumer lawsuit as class action

      A federal court in New York has given the green light to a class action alleging that Best Buy violated its "price match" guarantee. Under the policy, the store guarantees consumers that it will match lower prices offered by local retail competitors. The lawsuit alleges, however, that Best Buy created an "anti-price-matching policy."

      The suit, led by plaintiff Thomas Jermyn, describes the electronics chain's brazen effort to encourage employees to "build a case against the price match." Using internal Best Buy documents and statements by current and former Best Buy employees, the suit describes the methods by which Best Buy tried to convince customers that the guarantee didn't apply to their purchase.

      An internal Best Buy memo, titled "Competition Insider Template," tells employees that the price match is disfavored and to be avoided whenever possible. The October 2006 memo sets forth the Best Buy policy that, when a customer presents a lower price from a competitor, "[w]e attempt to build a case against the price match.(Trust me, I've done it too)."

      The "I" in that sentence is Best Buy employee Phil Bratton, a member of the company's Competitive Strategies group. According to growth partnership firm Frost & Sullivan, Bratton is no bit player; he serves (PDF) as Best Buy's market intelligence lead, where he oversees a team of competitive managers, considered Best Buy's "'eyes and ears' in the competition."

      The memo gives employees a number of ways to convince customers that the policy doesn't apply to their purchase: the model numbers are different, the item isn't in stock at the competing store, the quoted price is from a warehouse (and thus subject to membership fees), or the competitor is "across town," just to name a few. According to the suit, however, none of these purported exceptions to the policy are spelled out in its terms.

      Indeed, Best Buy's website promises consumers that, if they find a lower price elsewhere, "let us know and we'll match that price on the spot." The policy even offers a refund of the difference to consumers who already purchased the item at the competing retailer.

      The suit is also bolstered by claims from Juan Ortiz, a former supervisor at three Best Buy stores in Connecticut. According to Ortiz, the store rejected over 100 bona fide price-match claims every week. In his order approving class certification, the judge also noted that, "Best Buy's own records reveal that the price match guarantee was applied inconsistently and 60 percent of customer requests to match warehouse club prices are wrongly denied."

      The suit, brought on behalf of New York consumers, is being litigated by Michael Braunstein of Kantowitz, Goldhamer and Graifman. In a statement, Best Buy claimed that plaintiff Jermyn's price difference was in excess of $700, and that such "huge fluctuations" set off "red flags" for employees. However, when pressed, the company conceded that there is no set price limit on the guarantee.

      Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who already has one suit pending against Best Buy, announced Monday that he may file another suit related to the price-matching scheme. Blumenthal's existing suit alleges that Best Buy maintained a separate website at in-store kiosks, in an attempt to deceive customers. The website looked like the company's standard page at BestBuy.com, but did not contain sales prices as the homepage did. When consumers clicked through to the store "Intranet" and found higher prices than they did on BestBuy.com, sales representatives would suggest that they had misread the price, or that the sale was no longer in effect.

      The string of allegations could harm Best Buy at a time it appears to be riding high in the industry. Despite the dismal economy, Best Buy was the prime beneficiary of Circuit City's recent bankruptcy, and is now arguably the biggest player in consumer electronics. To stay on top, however, they will need to show that they aren't using their formidable position to manipulate consumers.

      The suit, led by plaintiff Thomas Jermyn, describes the electronics chain's brazen effort to encourage employees to "build a case against the price match."...
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      Parties Settle Paxil "Split Pill" Class Action

      Alleged manufacturing defect in $28M settlement

      A proposed settlement has been reached in a case alleging a manufacturing defect in certain tablets of Paxil, the popular antidepressant drug manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). If approved, the settlement will provide up to $28 million to claimants and their insurance companies.

      The suit alleges that Paxil "controlled release" (CR) tablets made between April 1, 2002 and March 4, 2005, contained a manufacturing defect that caused them to split apart. In March 2005, armed marshals with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raided GSK plants in Puerto Rico and Tennessee after learning that some pills manufactured there had split apart. Two medications — Paxil and Avandamet, a diabetes medication — were being produced at the facilities. Although the investigation didnt conclusively show that anyone had been harmed by the pills, the FDA said the burden was on the manufacturer to ensure that the medication was safe.

      The FDA had originally discovered the problem at the Puerto Rico plant in February 2002, and the problem continued despite repeated warnings and inspections. GSK was unable to determine what was causing the problem, which concerned the FDA.

      Paxil CR is a "controlled-release" version of the antidepressant, meaning that it releases medication slowly and evenly, in an attempt to deliver more consistent effects throughout the day. However, the CR version has not been compared to standard Paxil in lab tests, and some believe that any added benefits are negligible at best.

      Split pills make it harder for patients to accurately estimate doses, and can render the "enteric coating," which controls the medication's time and rate of release, inactive. More importantly, the medically effective ingredients tend to remain in only one side of the pill after the split, making the other half comparable to a placebo. Taking a pill containing no medication could cause immediate withdrawal symptoms, as Paxil stays in the bloodstream for a shorter time than most other popular antidepressants.

      Under the settlement, GSK denies liability and all of the claims in the lawsuit. If approved, the $28 million settlement will be split between consumers who paid for their Paxil and insurance companies seeking to be reimbursed for their expenditures. The amount each class member recovers will depend on how many defective pills they bought, with a maximum recovery of $150 per person. For a pill to be "defective" under the settlement, it must have split before it was removed from the container.

      Potential class members who want to recover should fill out a claim form, available at the settlement Web site. Class members can also choose to exclude themselves from the settlement or object to its terms, but must do so by May 15 and July 1, respectively. A final approval hearing will be held on July 10, 2009. Plaintiffs are represented by the firms Strange & Carpenter and Salas & Co.

      Parties Settle Paxil...
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      Pistachio Nuts Subject Of Latest Recall

      Georgia company says products may be tainted with Salmonella

      In the wake of a massive recall of food products containing peanuts, the Georgia Nut Company says its recalling certain bulk wholesale and retail products containing shelled pistachio nuts for the same reason as the peanut recall — they have the potential to be contaminated with the Salmonella organism.

      The company said it identified the potential as a result of a rigorous sampling and testing regimen it conducted with respect to shelled pistachios provided by a third-party supplier. The company did not name that supplier, but did note that the recall is "not in any way related to the recent recall of peanut and peanut butter products."

      The salmonella outbreak linked to peanuts has killed at least nine people and sickened more than 600 others. The outbreak was linked to Peanut Corporation of America's Georgia processing plant.

      The voluntary pistachio recall includes the following products:

      Bulk Deluxe Mixed Nuts with shelled pistachios purchased at the Not Just Nuts store in Wauwatosa, WI from Dec. 5, 2008 through March 24, 2009;

      Bulk or custom packaged Deluxe Mixed Nuts with shelled pistachios purchased at Georgia Nut retail stores in Skokie and Glenview, IL, Georgia Nut's Chocolate House location in Greenfield, WI, and through the Company's website from Dec 11, 2008 through March 23, 2009;

      Bulk or custom packaged Dry Roasted Shelled Pistachios purchased at Georgia Nut retail stores in Skokie and Glenview, IL, Georgia Nut's Chocolate House location in Greenfield, WI, and through the Company's website from Dec 3, 2008 through March 23, 2009;

      Mixed Nuts Deluxe Roasted and Salted Bulk with shelled pistachios purchased from clear plastic bulk bins in the produce department at Dominick's Finer Foods stores in the greater Chicagoland area from Dec. 10, 2008 through March 25, 2009.

      The company said it had not received any reports of illness linked to these products, and the action is only being taken as a precautionary measure.

      The company said consumers should not consume the recalled product. Customers are urged to return any amount of product in their possession to the place of purchase for a replacement or refund.

      Georgia Nut Company has established a 24-hour consumer information line at (800) 914-4110 and a Web site at www.gncinfo.com for more information.

      Pistachio Nuts Subject Of Latest Recall: Georgia company says products may have the potential to be contaminated with the Salmonella organism....
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      Groups Call For Food Safety Overhaul

      Report wants increased oversight and coordination among responsible agencies

      Two advocacy groups are calling on the Obama Administration to move swiftly to address food safety issues, that have resulted in a number of high-profile foodborne illness outbreaks in the last two years.

      Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have compiled a new report, Keeping America's Food Safe: A Blueprint for Fixing the Food Safety System at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which examines problems with the current system, which they call "fragmented and antiquated."

      "Our food safety system is plagued with problems, and it's leading to millions of Americans becoming needlessly sick each year," said Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of TFAH. "The system is outdated and unable to effectively deal with today's threats. Its current structure actually prevents the kind of coordinated, focused effort that Americans need more than ever and have a right to expect."

      The report calls for the immediate. consolidation of food safety leadership within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and ultimately the creation of a separate Food Safety Administration within HHS.

      Currently, no FDA official whose full-time job is food safety has line authority over all food safety functions. A speedy effort by the Obama administration to consolidate leadership within FDA, followed by Congressional action to create a separate Food Safety Administration, would both ensure immediate progress on food safety and create a platform for long-term success in reducing foodborne illness, the report notes.

      "Food safety needs to be a priority on the prevention menu," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "We shouldn't have to worry about our children getting sick from their school lunch or from a family meal at a restaurant. And we shouldn't have to wait until people become sick to learn about food safety problems. We need modern, comprehensive ways of preventing and detecting problems before food gets to the table."

      Approximately 80 percent of the food supply is regulated by FDA — including millions of food producers, processors, transporters, storage facilities, grocery stores, and restaurants — and the vast majority of known foodborne illnesses are associated with products regulated by FDA. Some recent problems associated with products regulated by FDA include the 2009 Salmonella outbreak in peanut butter and peanut butter products; potential imports of the 2008 melamine-contaminated infant formula and related diary products in China; the 2008 Salmonella outbreak in peppers; and a 2008 Salmonella outbreak from imported cantaloupes.

      Some key problems with the current structure of food safety programs at HHS, identified in the report, include:

      • Inadequate leadership, prioritization, and coordination. FDA's three major food safety components are managed separately, hampering efforts to effectively prevent disease outbreaks.

      • Inadequate technologies and inspection practices. Current laws and practices are antiquated. Existing laws date back to 1906 and 1938, and policies are disproportionately focused on monitoring food after it has been produced, instead of trying to prevent and detect problems throughout the entire production process. And there is no system in place to keep inspection practices up-to-date with the constantly modernizing food production technologies and practices.

      • Inadequate staffing and resources. The FDA's Science Board found the agency is chronically underfunded. While the U.S. Government Accountability Office reports the turnover rate in FDA science staff in key areas, including food safety, is twice that of other government agencies.

      • Inadequate inspection of imports. Only one percent of imported foods are currently inspected, even though approximately 60 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables and 75 percent of seafood Americans consume is imported.

      "FDA certainly needs a modern food safety law and more resources, but to make good use of these tools, HHS needs a unified and elevated management structure for food safety that can implement a science- and risk-based food safety program dedicated to preventing foodborne illness," said Michael R. Taylor, JD, Research Professor of Health Policy at the School of Public Health at The George Washington University and Former Deputy Commissioner for Policy at FDA and Former Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Major organizational change requires careful planning and implementation and should not be rushed, but the time is ripe for building sustainable solutions to the problems in our nation's food safety system."

      The Keeping America's Food Safe report recommends:

      Increasing and aligning resources with the highest-risk threats;

      • Modernizing the mandate and legal authority of the HHS Secretary to prevent illness, which would include enforcing the duty of food companies to implement modern preventive controls and meet government-established food safety performance standards;

      • Immediately establishing a Deputy Commissioner at FDA with line authority over all food safety programs, including the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the Center for Veterinary Medicine, and the food functions of the Office of Regulatory Affairs, as an interim step toward creating a Food Safety Administration; and

      • Working through Congress toward the creation of a Food Safety Administration within HHS, strategically aligning and elevating the food safety functions currently housed at FDA and better coordinating regulation policies and practices with the surveillance and detection of outbreak functions at CDC and with food safety agencies at the state and local level.

      Groups Call For Food Safety Overhaul...
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      Class Action Claims Petland Supports "Puppy Mills"

      Pet store chain accused of deceiving owners as to origin of puppies

      A class action lawsuit filed by pet owners claims Petland Inc., the country's largest pet store chain, and a Missouri company that brokers dogs conspired to sell unhealthy puppy mill puppies to unsuspecting consumers.

      The suit alleges Petland and the Hunte Corporation deceived thousands of pet owners nationwide by falsely claiming their puppies came from reputable breeders when most were from commercial breeding operations called puppy mills.

      Six pet owners — including two members of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) — filed the lawsuit in Arizona federal court.

      Petland has approximately 140 stores in 31 states and is the country's largest retail chain that sells puppies. The Hunte Corporation calls itself the "world's leading licensed distributor of pure-bred puppies" to select pet stores.

      The action alleges Petland and the Hunte Corporation violated federal law and various state consumer protection laws by misrepresenting that the puppies sold in Petland stores are "the finest available" and come from reputable breeders, when the puppies actually come from puppy mills, and are bred and raised in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

      Puppy mills are commercial breeding operations that experts say churn out two to four million puppies each year.

      "To operate this puppy production line, female dogs are bred at every opportunity without sufficient recovery time between litters," the lawsuit states. "Once these breeding females are physically depleted to the point they lose the ability to reproduce, they are generally destroyed using inhumane methods."

      "While alive and forced to reproduce, the breeding female and her puppies are confined to a wire cage barely large enough to turn around in, sometimes exposed to the elements, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and three hundred sixty-five days a year," the lawsuit alleges. "[T]hese cages in which the breeding female spends her entire life, and the puppies' first several weeks of life, are floored with wire mesh to facilitate waste removal and cleanup without regard for the health and wellbeing of either the puppies or their mother."

      Puppy mill puppies often have health problems, genetic defects, and behavioral issues, according the lawsuit.

      The class action lawsuit describes several cases in which Petland sold sick and dying puppies — many of which came from puppy mills — to consumers nationwide, including the six plaintiffs in the case.

      Petland also requires each of its stores — which are either owned by the corporation or operated as a franchise — to buy their puppies from suppliers the company has approved. "And nearly every one is either a puppy mill or a puppy mill broker," the lawsuit claims.

      Companies: Allegations are "false and baseless"

      Petland and the Hunte Corporation denied what they called the "false and baseless" allegations in the class action lawsuit.

      "Petland Inc. is outraged and disappointed at the latest false accusations propagated by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), a radical animal rights group that has no affiliation with local humane societies," the company said in a written statement. "This new attack from HSUS is in the form of a class action lawsuit based upon vague and undefined legal arguments. This is a continuing public relations campaign to smear the good name of Petland and to increase HSUS donations by utilizing sensationalized media and legal attacks."

      Petland said at least two veterinarians certify that all its puppies are healthy, and that the company stores meet or exceed all state and federal requirements related to the health of each of the puppies it sells.

      "Petland only supports breeders that abide by the 'Humane Care Guidelines' developed by Petland in conjunction with the U.S. government," the company said. "It has been Petland's policy for more than 40 years to stand against substandard breeders."

      "I've read every word of the lawsuit and I can only see one puppy that even came through the Hunte Puppy Care program," said Hunte Corporation company president Steve Rook. "The other (puppies) don't have anything to do with us."

      "This lawsuit (was filed) to help the Humane Society of the United States reach its goal to receive publicity and increase its donations," he added.

      Rook said that puppies come into their only after it receives a complete health evaluation, and that most pet stores also have their own veterinarians examine the puppies upon arrival.

      "A puppy must have two to four veterinary examinations before it's sold," he said. "How does that make us a business model for conspiring to sell unhealthy puppies?"

      Meanwhile, Petland downplayed the complaints received from consumers, saying puppies, like babies, sometimes get sick.

      "It's no different than a child being more conducive to colds or earaches," said Petland spokeswoman Lacey Clever. "And, all Petland puppies are screened and examined by at least two and often three or more licensed certified veterinarians. The veterinarians certify these puppies' health."

      Petland's warranty also protects puppies against congenital and hereditary disorders for up to a year after purchase, Clever said. "In other words, if a pet develops an issue at some point in their lives, this does not in any way indicate that the puppy came from a substandard breeder."

      Consumers who have complaints about their puppy's health should immediately contact their local Petland store, Clever said. She did not, however, say what consumers should do if the Petland store where they purchased their puppy goes out of business or if the corporate office does not respond to inquiries.

      The HSUS claims that it contacted the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) over Petland's claim of adherence to the "Humane Care Guidelines" developed in conjunction with the agency. The HSUS filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the USDA to verify that such guidelines existed, but the agency could not locate any records sufficient to answer their request.

      "Needs to be shut down"

      The class action lawsuit comes on the heels of an eight-month investigation by the HSUS , which revealed most of Petland's puppies came from puppy mills.

      Since news of the class action lawsuit has spread, the HSUS said it has received hundreds of calls from heartbroken pet owners.

      ConsumerAffairs.com has also received scores of complaints about Petland selling sick puppies or dogs with behavior issues. One reader even wrote in claiming that Petland employees mistreat animals. For example:

      • "On March 11, 2008, we purchased a black and tan, male Miniature Pinscher from Petland in Murfreesboro, Tennessee," says Don H. "Prior to the purchase we made several trips to Petland to play with him and observe his behavior. On each visit we were told by a Petland employee how all the puppies were breed by top breeders and guaranteed to be free of any major illnesses or deformities. When our puppy, Hans, was approaching his first birthday we noticed he was not using his one of his back legs as before. After having him examined by the veterinarian, we were told Hans had a very serious problem with his hip. Consequently, due to the increasing pain and limitations, Hans had to undergo a femoral head and neck ostectomy (FHO). The surgery was very painful for Hans, and very expensive. Hans is currently undergoing physical therapy. In addition, the surgeon informed us that he was confident that Hans had Legg's Perthes Disease. This is a disease our healthy puppy had when we purchased him. We attempted to contact Petland in Murfreesboro, but the store went out of business. We have contacted the cooperate office, with no response. We do not wish to return our puppy. We love him and consider him a part of our family. Because of the Petland guarantee, we expect the company to reimburse us for medical cost. Also, it is very disturbing to know this company continues to sell sick puppies. We have tried to find the breeder, with no luck;"

      • "We purchased a Cavalier King Charles (from Petland) back on 1/12/07 and from the day we got her home the health problems began," says Candace B. of Georgetown Texas. "She had kennel cough which then turned out to be pneumonia. We went to their (Petland's) recommended vet in Cedar Park, which did nothing for us. Then we found out our puppy had a hernia operation during the time she was at Petland...our new vet informed us that she has luxating patella or trick knee, so she carries her leg when she walks. Surgery would cost thousands, and after that, she still may not get better. This dog has had reoccurring ear infections as well as anal gland issuesthe dog also has food aggression, which is very uncommon to this breed. We also spoke with professional breeders of this breed and they determined she is not a pure breed Cavalier King Charles due to her long nose and size plus features. We love this dog so much and don't blame her for Petland's greedy business tactics. I feel this company needs to be shut down."

      • "I know not all Petland stores can be so bad, but I do know the one in Boardman is run horribly," Amber of Boardman, Ohio told us. "I personally know a few of the employees that have previously worked there, but got sick of supporting the animal cruelty and quit. I am aware of the fact that they keep rat poisoning out to punish any animal that gets out of his or her cage. I am also aware of the fact that the dogs mostly come from puppy mills (which is no surprise). I have heard from my friend that when the puppies come in they are dirty (and) they all have ear mites and worms. Some have fleas that are so bad the dogs are bleeding. However, they do test for medical problems by their vet and kill the ones that aren't accepted rather than to just give them away to a good home."

      The class action lawsuit seeks to end what it calls the misleading practices by Petland and The Hunte Corporation — and to recover monies for consumers nationwide "victimized" by what the plaintiffs call the companies' unscrupulous conduct.

      Consumers who have purchased a sick puppy from Petland since November 20, 2004, can join the class action lawsuit. A form is available on the HSUS Web site.

      Attorneys for the HSUS are serving as counsel to the three private laws firms that represent the plaintiffs in this case.

      Petland Inc., the country's largest pet store chain, and a Missouri company that brokers dogs conspired to sell unhealthy puppy mill puppies to unsuspectin...
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      Pet Food Class Action - Menu Foods

      One case is settled but controversy over destroyed pet food continues

      Recall-tainted Menu Foods destruction of a huge amount of evidence is having a potentially devastating impact on at least two ongoing court cases.

      The company last year settled a $24 million lawsuit that grew from the largest pet food recall in U.S. history. The case was heard in New Jersey and parties are still wrapping up various items on the docket, but now a Washington state litigant is charging that the company illegally destroyed thousands of samples of food, potentially leaving him without evidence to pursue his claim.

      During discovery for the New Jersey suit, the defendants collected thousands of cases of pet food — both recalled and non-recalled — in their warehouse. In December 2007, the defendants claimed that preserving all of these samples was an unnecessary waste of time and money. The court agreed, and allowed the defendants to destroy all but 500 units of recalled pet food.

      Relying on a research model compiled by their expert, a Purdue statistics professor, the defendants claimed that these units would provide sufficient evidence for any future suits relating to the recalled food. The courts order allowed the destruction of all other unorganized product, including food not implicated in the New Jersey recall but directly related to at least two other suits pending at the time.

      Donald Earl, a plaintiff in a Washington state suit against defendants Menu Foods and the Kroger supermarket chain, filed a motion objecting to the orders in January 2008. Earls suit involved cake style cat food, which does not contain gluten and was not implicated in the March 2007 recall. Laboratory tests of Earls food showed that it was contaminated with acetaminophen and cyanuric acid, nitrogen-based chemicals often used to artificially boost a foods apparent protein content. Neither chemical was discovered in the recalled food.

      Criminal prosecution

      Earls objection says that the defendants are highly motivated to destroy as much evidence as possible, to limit liability outside the recall period, as well as to avoid possible criminal prosecutions for violations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act.

      In his pleadings, Earl contends that the defendants grossly exaggerated the time and money it would take to organize and store all of the samples, and points out that it was defendants own lack of care which created the burden in the first place. Moreover, Earl asserts that he did not receive notice of the evidence-destruction agreement until January 2008, a full month after the court approved the plan. Despite his allegations, the court dismissed Earls objection without comment in February 2008.

      Earl also filed a motion in Washington state court, where his own suit was pending. That court rejected his claim in February 2008.

      Menu accuses Earl of pursu[ing] a protracted campaign of baseless appeals and of whipping up scurrilous allegations of misconduct against Menu Foods counsel. In October 2008, the Washington court awarded Menu almost $5,000 in attorneys fees and expenses relating to Earls litigation.

      Undeterred, Earl filed a second objection and motion to intervene in January 2009. Earl again claimed that the now-destroyed evidence was crucial to his own suit, and that he was substantially prejudiced by its disposal. Earls motion also alleged that Menu was well aware of the relevance of the non-recalled pet food when it asked for permission to destroy it.

      The companys first quarter 2007 financial filing specifically stated that several lawsuits were pending in North America, and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had commenced a criminal investigation to determine whether the company violated the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act. The company noted that additional actions or investigations may arise in the future. Moreover, Menu was served with a summons in Earls Washington action in July 2007, months before they filed their New Jersey motion to destroy evidence.

      Earls 2009 objection asserts that [a]n order permitting destruction of evidence is contrary to rule and law, is void, and must be vacated. The New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct, based on national ethics standards for attorneys, forbids a lawyer from altering or destroying a document having potential evidentiary value. Earls motion points out that while the unorganized product is no longer relevant to the New Jersey case, it is directly material to his own suit.

      Motion denied

      In a two-page order issued in February, Judge Noel Hillman denied Earls motion to intervene, holding that Earl has not demonstrated that he has an interest in the unorganized inventory requiring that this Court vacate its prior orders regarding that inventory.

      Model Rule of Professional Conduct 3.4(a) prohibits the destruction of any evidence with potential evidentiary value. Earl correctly notes in his 2009 objection that there is little case law relating to motions to destroy evidence, presumably because the overwhelming majority of practicing attorneys would prefer not to put their licenses at risk by filing such a motion in violation of the rule. However, most courts have adopted the rule that a party to a suit has the duty to preserve evidence when she is on notice of potential litigation.

      A landmark case in this area is Fire Insurance Exchange v. Zenith Radio Corporation, a 1987 decision from the Supreme Court of Nevada. There, an insurer sued a TV manufacturer, claiming that a faulty set was the cause of the insureds house fire. The insurance company had not saved the TV, however, and the court dismissed the case. The court ruled that there is a duty to preserve evidence even when an action has not been commenced and there is only a potential for litigation.

      With regard to Menus actions, the affected suit was more than potential — it had been occurring for some time. The company received notice of Earls lawsuit nearly six months before it filed its request to destroy evidence.

      The companys actions also have the potential to adversely affect another class action suit. Blaszkowski v. Mars, filed in Florida in May 2007, alleges that several brands of pet food — including some made by Menu — contained ground up roadkill, blood, hair, and euthanized animals, among other items. The destroyed evidence from the New Jersey suit would likely have been directly material to this action as well.

      The court undoubtedly had broad discretion to limit the amount of material produced during discovery, given the potentially vast amounts of possibly contaminated food. But Earl claims that it was another matter entirely for the court to order destruction of already-produced evidence, especially when it was potentially useful — and perhaps even critical — in at least two other cases involving a common defendant. Indeed, Earl contended that the evidence was unique and irreplaceable.

      In any event, the courts have sided decisively with the pet food manufacturers, and there is no evidence that they will change their minds anytime soon.

      Recall-tainted Menu Foods destruction of a huge amount of evidence is having a potentially devastating impact on at least two ongoing court cases....
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