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    Chrysler Files for Bankruptcy, GMAC Takes Over Financing

    Obama urges consumers to consider buying a new Chrysler product

    After months of bailouts and attempted retooling, Chrysler is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, President Obama announced at the White House.

    Later in the day, Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli said he would resign after the company emerges from bankruptcy.

    "Now is an appropriate time to let others take the lead in the transformation of Chrysler with Fiat," Nardelli said in a statement. Nardelli, who formerly headed Home Depot, said he would return to a position at Cerberus, the private investment firm that bought Chrysler in 2007.

    Efforts to head off a bankruptcy collapsed after the carmaker and government officials were unable to reach an agreement with Chryslers senior bondholders. The bondholders said the plan diluted their investment in the number three U.S. automaker more than some junior lenders.

    Obama blasted the bondholders, charging they held out for what he called a government bailout while dealers, suppliers and employees made concessions for the good of the company and the overall economy. The bondholders said they had already agreed to a 40 percent cut.

    Before the announcement, members of the White House auto task force expressed confidence that Chrysler would emerge from Chapter 11 within 60 days. A speedy process is considered critical to preserving Chryslers perception as a viable car company. In fact, President Obama went out of his way to present the bankruptcy in a positive light, and urged consumers to consider buying a new Chrysler.

    If you buy a Chrysler, your warranty will be safe because it will be backed by the federal government, the President said.

    Obama also announced that Chrysler and Italian carmaker Fiat had successfully completed merger talks and that the partnership would be part of the new, post-bankruptcy Chrysler.

    Obama also said that GMAC, which finances GM car purchases, would take over financing Chrysler purchases as well, phasing out Chrysler Financial, Inc., which he said is not viable. In addition, the number of Chrysler dealers will be consolidated.

    Its a bittersweet conclusion, Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli told CNBC following the Presidents announcement. But breathing new life into Chrysler is what its all about.

    Chryslers bankruptcy will be filed in New York, where the final outcome will be determined. Whats likely is a fight between the holdout bondholders and the government, which is seeking a speedy conclusion.

    Four major banks that own 70 percent of the Chrysler debt agreed to terms with the government. However, a number of smaller lenders, that have not received government bailout money, balked.

    GMAC

    Besides providing financing for new-car purchasers, GMAC will provide wholesale financing for Chrysler dealers. A senior White House official was quoted as saying that the Barack Administration's auto task force had determined that Chrysler Financial "did not have the resources" to meet Chrysler's needs.

    Both GMAC and Chrysler Financial had turned to the federal government for help during the recent credit crunch. GMAC got $6 billion in federal funds, Chrysler $1.5 billion.

    The lack of credit has been frustrating both would-be new car purchasers and dealers. Even buyers with good credit have found it difficult to find affordable loans for new cars, while dealers have lost "floorplan" financing, the short-term loans that enable them to maintain inventory and keep their doors open.

    GMAC had earlier said it would ease wholesale finance charges for dealers and earmark $5 billion for consumer auto loans over the next 60 days, hoping to jump-start domestic auto sales, which are critical to both Chrysler and GM's recovery plans.

    GMAC is a bank holding company with operations in North America, South America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. General Motors, the near-bankrupt car maker, is only a minority stockholder in the company.

    Chrysler Files for Bankruptcy, GMAC Takes Over Financing...
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    Can the Right Mask Prevent Swine Flu?

    Consumer Reportsexperts say the answer may be yes

    People covered with facemasks are a common sight in news reports from Mexico about the swine flu outbreak. Do people in the U.S. now need to consider wearing masks, and can they really help?

    The Mexican government has been handing out face masks to its citizens. In areas where the flu has already reached epidemic proportions, it may be advisable to wear masks in all public places.

    In the U.S., where most infections are now clustered in communities, it makes sense to wear a high-grade mask in situations where youre likely to be exposed to the virus. For example, if youre sick with the flu, wearing a mask can help prevent spreading it to others. And if youre caring for someone who is sick, wearing a mask yourself can also help reduce exposure to the droplets from a cough or sneeze that spread infection.

    If there is an outbreak in your community, masks can be helpful tools to reduce your exposure to the virus in confined or crowded places, like buses, trains, and airplanes.

    But not all masks are created equal. To prevent the inhalation of most virus-bearing droplets from a cough or sneeze masks and respirators should be labeled N-95 or higher, which means they have been cleared by the FDA. They may also bear a label from the National Institute for Occupational Safety.

    How a mask fits is a big influence on its effectiveness. The mask should fit tightly over your nose and mouth, with no gaps. To get the full protective effect, youll need to wear it as long as youre in a high risk situation and replace it after each use.

    Masks can help, but are no replacement for basic preventative hygiene, which can go a long way in protecting you from the flu. Wash your hands vigorously for 20 seconds under warm running water before eating or preparing meals, after the using the bathroom, after blowing your nose, and after other potential exposures to the flu virus. Alcohol based hand sanitizer, like Purell, with an alcohol content of at least 60 percent, can be effective, when soap and hot water arent an option.

    See the Consumer Reports Health Blog for more information.

    Find out everything you need to know about swine flu.

    Can the Right Mask Prevent Swine Flu?...
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    Clearwire Slapped With Class Action

    Complaint alleges shoddy service and illegal cancellation fees

    Internet and phone service provider Clearwire has been hit with a class action lawsuit alleging shoddy service and unlawful early termination fees. The suit, filed in Washington state court, alleges that the company's internet service is slow and unreliable, in contrast to ads touting it as a reliable "always-on" alternative to cable and DSL. The suit further alleges that when customers try to cancel their service they are slapped with "early termination" fees, which can run up to $220.

    According to the suit, when customers sign up for the service, they are required to enter "'click through' online form contracts" that provide for a fee for early termination. The service agreement usually requires customers to commit to either a one- or two-year period of service. The suit says that the company charges termination fees "even where the customer moves to a geographical location in which [Clearwire] does not offer service, or where the consumer unexpectedly finds that the service does not function as originally anticipated and advertised."

    Clearwire's website touts the service as "the Internet as it was meant to be — easy." The site promises service that is "reliable," "fast" — purportedly up to 25 times faster than dial-up — and affordable — "only the Internet speed is high, not the price."

    These rosy promises stand in stark contrast to the service described in the complaint, which is described as "extremely poor, and no doubt far worse than DSL or cable internet, which are described by [Clearwire] as comparable alternatives." As the suit points out, a slow internet connection is especially problematic for Clearwire's phone service, since it is completely dependent on a reliable Internet connection.

    The complaint alleges that Clearwire's advertising "deceive[d] members of the class." Indeed, the suit notes that Clearwire acknowledged in its most recent 10-K filing that "subscribers may experience lower call quality" and "higher dropped-call rates" than they would with a traditional phone service.

    The suit seeks an injunction of all future termination fees and the creation of a constructive trust to reimburse consumers who have already forked over the money.

    The suit includes plaintiffs from Washington state, Hawaii, Minnesota, and North Carolina, and names Chad Minnick of Washington as the lead plaintiff. The suit defines a class of all Clearwire Internet or telephone subscribers who have paid a termination fee anytime from April 21, 2005 to the present. The complaint anticipates that there are "at a minimum, tens of thousands" of such individuals. The suit is being prosecuted by Tycko — Zavareei LLP of Washington, D.C., and Peterson Young Putra of Seattle.

    This is not the first time Clearwire has faced wrath from consumers. The website ClearwireSucks.com is full of postings from consumers going back as far as May 2007. Several consumers have also written to Consumer Affairs about their woes. Tracie of Robstown, TX, received horrible service and tried to cancel; she quickly found out that would be easier said than done. "We are now trying to cancel the service and are being told that there will be a cancellation fee of approximately $200 because we signed up for a 2-year contract," writes Tracie. "Not once in all of the phone calls I made to Clearwire was I ever informed that I was signing up for a 2-year contract or that there would be a cancellation fee charged."

    Last year, under pressure from the FCC, AT&T;, Sprint, and Verizon all implemented less strict termination fee policies. At the time, the FCC said it wanted termination fees that more closely reflected what consumers actually paid for their phones.

    Internet and phone service provider Clearwire has been hit with a class action lawsuit alleging shoddy service and unlawful early termination fees....
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      FTC Charges Hoodia Claims Are Bogus

      Suppliers accused of deceptive claims

      The Federal Trade Commission has charged the suppliers of supposed Hoodia gordonii, also known as hoodia, with deceptive advertising for claiming that using their product would lead to weight loss and appetite suppression.

      In its complaint, the FTC alleges that the defendants not only made false and deceptive claims about what hoodia could do, but also, on one or more occasions, claimed that their product was Hoodia gordonii, a plant native to southern Africa, when it was not.

      The complaint names Delaware-based Nutraceuticals International, LLC, New Jersey-based Stella Labs, LLC, and four individuals as liable for these charges. The individual defendants are David J. Romeo, whom the complaint identifies as controlling both companies; and Deborah B. Vickery, Craig Payton, and Zoltan Klivinyi, who are officers or directors of one.

      The FTC has requested that the court order the defendants not to make false or deceptive statements or destroy documents pending trial. The Commission seeks to permanently bar the defendants from deceptively advertising hoodia, and to obtain disgorgement of the defendants' profits from their hoodia sales.

      The defendants allegedly made false and deceptive claims when advertising their fake hoodia to trade customers who manufactured and marketed supplements. The complaint further charges that the defendants provided trade customers with deceptive advertising and promotional materials — along with other materials that purported to substantiate their claims. These customers then had the means to deceive consumers who bought weight-loss products purportedly containing hoodia.

      The complaint charges that the defendants made these false and deceptive claims about their product: that it would enable consumers to lose weight and suppress appetites; that it was scientifically proven to suppress appetite, resulting in weight loss; that it was clinically proven to reduce caloric intake by 1,000 to 2,000 calories per day; that it was derived from South African Hoodia gordonii; and that hoodia was an effective treatment for obesity.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      FTC Charges Hoodia Claims Are Bogus...
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      Swine Flu: What You Need to Know

      Don't believe rumors; listen to the experts


      The number of known cases of swine flu in the U.S. rose to 40 Monday, with most of them in New York City. The Centers for Disease Control reports 28 cases in New York City, seven in California, two each in Kansas and Texas, and one in Ohio.

      With more outbreaks of the new strain of swine flu come outbreaks of misinformation and rumor. Below are 20 questions answered by infectious disease expert Charles Ericsson, M.D., professor of internal medicine and director of Travel Medicine at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

      Also, Robert Emery, DrPH, vice president for Safety, Health, Environment & Risk Management at UT Health Science Center and associate professor in the UT School of Public Health explains common sense preparedness and prevention of illness.

      1. How do symptoms of swine flu differfrom other types of flu?

      None, really, although this flu might include gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea and vomiting), as well as the usual respiratory symptoms. The basic symptoms for swine flu are similar to the seasonal flu we are vaccinated for each year, which may include:

      • Fever (greater than 100F or 37.8C)
      • Sore throat
      • Cough
      • Stuffy nose
      • Chills
      • Headache and body aches
      • Fatigue

      2. If I felt flu-like, how would I know if I had swine flu?

      You wouldn't really, nor would your physician know for sure without a respiratory specimen taken within the first 4-5 days. The specimen would then be sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

      The cases so far in the US have been relatively mild compared to the illness described in patients in Mexico. We do not yet know why the US cases have been milder.

      The important point is to call your doctor if you think you have the flu. Prescription anti-viral drugs such as TamiFlu or Relenza can be called in by your doctor. Unless you are:

      • exceptionally ill with flu-like symptoms
      • are chronically ill
      • immune-suppressed
      • quite elderly
      • or have a very young child, under age 2.

      It is best not to report to the hospital, clinic or doctor's office, where you could risk spreading the disease. Again, call your doctor first to get instructions as to what you need to do next.

      3. How long are people contagious?

      Adults are potentially contagious for the length of time one has symptoms, up to 7 days following the beginning of illness. The shedding stage of the virus is during the first 4-5 days of illness. Children can be considered contagious longer, up to 10 days. The initial incubation period is 24-48 hours.

      4. Is there medication for this?

      Yes, Tamiflu or Relenza have shown to be effective against these recently reported strains of swine flu. Altogether, there are four anti-viral drugs that we commonly use to treat various strains of flu.

      5. Can I start taking medicine for it now, just in case I get it later?

      That is not presently advised. Preventative medication might be advised for very special circumstances where a person had to expose themselves to potentially ill people during an epidemic (which we do not yet have here). Such people might include ER workers. An outbreak in a nursing home, for instance, might lead to protecting all the other residents with a drug like TamiFlu.

      For the general public, the current answer is no to prophylactic (preventative) use with anti-viral medications. Its coverage time is limited.

      Do not confuse over-the-counter cold and flu preparations for anti-flu medications that require a prescription.

      6. Are the symptoms in children different from adult symptons?

      Though the basic symptoms are similar, the signs of potentially life-threatening complications differ.

      The CDC advises those with these symptoms to seek emergency care immediately: Emergency warning signs in children are:

      • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
      • Bluish skin color
      • Not drinking enough fluids
      • Not waking up or interacting
      • Being very irritable
      • Fever with a rash Emergency warning signs in adults are:
      • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
      • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
      • Sudden dizziness
      • Confusion
      • Severe or persistent vomiting

      7. Is there a vaccine?

      Not yet, but the CDC has this current strain of virus and will consider whether to add it to next years flu vaccine as time goes on.

      8. If I took the swine flu vaccine in the swine flu scare during the 70s, would that cover me? What about this year's flu shot I just took?

      We dont know yet. Previous vaccines could be expected to afford only partial, incomplete protection at best.

      This new strain of the swine flu virus (H1N1) actually has a mixture of swine and avian components (not to be confused with the deadly avian flu of Southeast Asia).

      9. Can I catch it from pigs?

      No. This strain is one that is communicable through human-to-human contact. It is a mutated form of a swine virus.

      10. Can I catch it from eating pork?

      Absolutely not! Swine flu is not transmitted by food. It is not a so-called foodborne illness. Bacon, ham and other pork products are safe to eat, assuming they are prepared properly. An internal temperature of 160 degrees for cooked meat will kill any bacteria or virus.

      Swine flu is transmitted by airborne droplets from an infected persons sneeze or cough; or from germs on hands, or germ-laden surfaces. Eating pork will not give you swine flu any more than eating chicken will give you bird flu.

      11. How does it cross from a pig to a human?

      The swine virus mutates so that it can infect humans and be spread by humans.

      12. Can it kill me?

      Deaths have been reported from the Mexico City outbreak. So far the cases in the US have been mild and there have been no deaths as of this writing (Monday, April 27) We do not know all the factors geographically and demographically that may contribute to the mildness or severity of this flu. But, like seasonal flu, there is the potential for serious outcomes.

      13. Why the big concern if the regular flu kills 35,000 people a year, which is why we are all encouraged to get a flu shot?

      This is a new flu strain that our bodies have not been exposed to before. The flu strains that the CDC creates a vaccine for each year all have the potential to cause great harm, especially in elderly, pediatric and chronically ill patients.

      This particular flu strain has struck seemingly healthy, young adults, with some resulting in death in Mexico. It also appears to be quite contagious. We will know more about this strain in the coming days.

      14. How is it different from avian (bird) flu?

      Avian flu so far has had difficulty infecting humans unless they are exposed intensely to birds, because the virus has not mutated in a way that makes it transmissible by humans to other humans. This virus has origins genetically from both pigs and birds, and the big difference from the avian flu is that this swine virus can be transmitted readily from human to human.

      15. Is this just another scare that will go away like bird flu?

      Bird flu is a theoretical threat and will need a mutation to be able to be transmitted among humans to become a serious threat. The present "swine/avian" virus clearly has already caused a major outbreak in Mexico City and San Luis Potosi, Mexico and has spread to places in the US (California, New York, Texas, Kansas and Ohio).

      What is not clear yet is whether this virus will result in a so-called pandemicworldwide spread with major outbreaks — or whether it will fizzle out. But, even if it fizzles out, there is logical concern that it might re-emerge next flu season.

      16. Should I cancel my vacation to Mexico?

      At this writing, the situation is very fluid, changeable. I suggest checking frequently with the CDC Web site for possible Travel Alerts. I probably would not travel to Mexico City for a vacation that could easily be rescheduled, if for no other reason than the city has tried to limit access to crowded or public places where transmission might be facilitated. That does not sound like a very pleasant vacation to me!

      Having said that, there are more than 4,000 flights to Mexico from the US and none have been cancelled as of this writing. However, some international airports in Europe and Asia are stepping up precautions and issuing alerts. Again, check the CDCs Travel Alerts page.

      17. What if I'm on a plane? Should I wear a mask?

      Not necessary. The air on a plane is filtered. Transmission might occur if someone sitting close to you coughs or sneezes on you. The newer designs of aircraft airflow keep the air in a top-down flow, not forced air from front to back. However, if you do have a respiratory illness, it might be best not to travel.

      18. How long does the germ live on surfaces, like on my desk if someone sneezes in my office?

      Influenza virus survives only minutes on inanimate objects or hands, so these are very inefficient ways to spread the illness. Influenza is most easily spread by droplets that come into contact with our mucus membranes such as when someone coughs or sneezes in our faces.

      If we shake hands with an infected person who has just wiped their nose and then we rather quickly rub our nose or eyes with our own hand, then we could get the flu. So, good hand washing does play a role in diminishing the spread of the disease.

      19. Other than hand washing and covering my mouth if I sneeze or cough, what can I do to take care of myself and others?

      If you are ill, stay home. Control your sneezes and coughs. If you cough into your hand, remember the virus could be live on your hand at least for a few minutes, so wash your hands before touching anyone else. If you get symptoms suggesting the flu, call your doctor, who can call in a prescription for medication to treat the flu.

      Resist going to the doctors office or a hospital ER for influenza symptoms unless you are seriously ill. You do not want to spread the disease to others.

      20. What else can I do?

      Keep in touch with the most recent CDC messages through the following links:

      www.cdc.gov/swineflu/investigation.htm
      www.cdc.gov/swineflu/general_info.htm
      www.cdc.gov/swineflu/whatsnew.htm

      Go to the sources of verifiable information such as WHO (World Health Organization) or the CDC.

      Most important, be alert, not panicked.

      There is a huge difference between preparedness and paranoia, says Dr. Robert Emery, occupational health expert at the UT School of Public Health at Houston. Although were dealing with a new strain of flu, a set of universally applicable preventive measures exist that can be employed right away by everyone to help stop the spread of this disease

      Proper hand hygiene:

      Theres a right way and useless way to wash hands — and wash away — micro-organisms. The object is to break down the protective membranes of germs, dislodge them from your hands and let them go down the drain. Plain soap in the right hands is strong stuff.

      • Lather well with a bar of soap or squirt a coin size of liquid soap in the palm of your hand.
      • Vigorously rub your hands together, soap up between your fingers, AND your wrists, front and back for 15 seconds. Sing the first chorus of any song you know and thatll take you through the 15 seconds.
      • Rinse under warm, RUNNING water. Remember, the object is to dislodge germs. The force of water is key.
      • Dry thoroughly your hands with a disposable towel or under the blower, again, rubbing your hands together.
      • Discard the towel.

      If youre using alcohol-based gels as hand cleansers:

      • Put a dime-sized amount in one hand:
      • Vigorously rub your hands together and in between your fingers until the GEL IS DRYabout 30 seconds.
      • DO NOT touch your face!

      Once your hands are clean, do not touch your face, nose, eyes or lips. Rubbing your eyes and nose provides a freeway for micro-organisms and good breeding ground once theyve arrived.

      Cover your cough

      If you must cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a tissue, your sleeve or your hand.
      • Throw the tissue away in a waste basket. Do not leave discarded tissues on your desk or other surfaces.
      • Then, wash you hands thoroughly.
      • The throw-it-away part is essential. Micro-organisms live a life span from a few seconds to days on inanimate surfaces such as desks, table tops, faucetstissues. If your tissues are scattered on your coffee table, they then are in contact with community surfaces. Both the tissues and the surface it sits on can spread germs to the person who touches the coffee table.

      If you begin to feel ill: feverish, achy, have a dry, painful cough, sore throat, go home from school or work and call your health care provider for further instructions.

      If you feel sick with flu-like symptoms and you care for the very young or the very elderly or the chronically ill, inform your health care provider when you call their office.

      If you have recently traveled to Mexico or to one of the areas worldwide that has reported a swine flu outbreak, inform your health care provider. He or she may prefer to treat you with prescription anti-viral medications from home, or may request that you come in for a visit. Follow instructions from your health care providers.



      Swine Flu: What You Need to Know...
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      Ad Watch: Boniva's Misleading Ad

      Video commentary gives consumers the facts the commercials leave out

      In the sixth installment of Consumer Reports' Ad Watch, CR takes a look at a commercial for Boniva, a drug to treat osteoperosis. Ad Watch is a series of video commentaries that give consumers the facts that the commercials leave out. Direct-to-consumer advertising is big business but it doesnt always give consumers the information they need to make smart health decisions. In 2007 alone, drug companies spent $5,375,117,382 on advertising. Yes, that's $5.375 billion dollars.

      Consumer Reports has a few things to say about Bonivas 800 number for consumers interested in a free trial. Its medical advisers say that, while free trials may sound like a great deal, they tend to get consumers started on a drug that they're likely to stick with, even when they have the option of switching to a cheaper version that's just as effective.

      Read more ...



      Ad Watch: Boniva's Misleading Ad...
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      Rest In Peace, Countrywide Financial

      Bank of America officially "retires" brand name for its lending company

      There is no more Countrywide Financial. That company, a major player in the subprime market for much of the decade's housing boom, will now simply be called Bank of America Home Loans.

      Bank of America, which bought the troubled mortgage lender last year, said the change will offer homeowners "greater clarity in the home finance process."

      In fact, the bank has renamed its one-page loan summary presented to borrowers the Clarity Commitment. The bank said it will contain interest rate, terms and other details of the loan in plain language.

      "We met with thousands of customers and created tools that reflect the transparency they want in the home-buying process," said Barbara Desoer, president, Bank of America Home Loans. "Doing the right thing for our customers is the foundation of our brand promise to always be a responsible lender and help create successful homeowners, and these tools exemplify that promise."

      Provided both at application and at closing, the Clarity Commitment document, says Bank of America, is available on most new purchase and refinance transactions, including traditional and government-backed loans.

      In addition, the company said it has introduced the Bank of America Home Loan Guide as part of the new Bank of America home loans Web site.

      By explaining key data inputs, highlighting "rules of thumb" and tips with each step, and providing context around the results, the guide is supposed to give consumers relevant, personalized information that helps them understand their options and make informed decisions.

      "Purchasing a home is one of the biggest decisions an individual makes, and we take seriously our responsibility to educate customers and arm them with the information they need to make smart decisions," said Desoer. "Especially in this environment, it's important that consumers understand the true, comprehensive costs of homeownership so they can buy a home and enjoy it with confidence."

      Bank of America Home Loans said it is also introducing Flat Fee Mortgage Plus through the 6,100 Bank of America banking centers. A new mortgage product, Flat Fee Mortgage Plus has no application fee and one single closing fee that represents the lender and other fees required for third-party services. The product features a close-on-time guarantee and best value guarantee.

      The Countrywide brand may not be missed by either Bank of America or consumers. Last year Countrywide settled with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, agreeing to make $345 million in total benefits available to Texas homeowners. The restitution program was set up for homeowners who lost their homes due to foreclosure.

      Rest In Peace, Countrywide Financial...
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      Texas Sues Water4gas.com

      Devices don't work, tax breaks don't apply, state charges

      Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has charged a southern California businessman with violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA). According to the states enforcement action, the defendants do-it-yourself manuals on installing water-to-fuel devices in vehicles do not reduce fuel costs, increase gas mileage or enhance engine performance.

      Eyal Siman-Tov, also known as Ozzie Freedom, operates 1 Freedom Inc. and an affiliated Web site, water4gas.com, as well as several other online sites. In addition to his manuals claims about the benefits of water-to-fuel conversion, the defendant also falsely stated that purchasers who fitted their vehicles with water-to-fuel devices would be eligible for a federal income tax credit.

      The company's practices were exposed in a July 2008 story by ConsumerAffairs.com's David Wood, who reported that scientists found the claims preposterous, with one saying the energy created would "not amount to a hill of beans."

      Almost 3,200 Texas customers purchased the manuals between October 2007 and September 2008, when gasoline prices peaked. The so-called Water4Gas manuals cost $97 for a two-book set.

      The defendants Web sites claim that the manuals guide users through a vehicle modification process that purportedly allows customers to use water as a fuel source.

      To achieve this, the manuals claim to instruct customers how to construct an onboard hydrogen-on-demand device, which allegedly works with the vehicles battery to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen gases through electrolysis. The resulting mixture of these gases, called Oxyhydrogen, is then burned as fuel along with gasoline or diesel.

      The Attorney Generals investigation revealed that Siman-Tov has no competent and reliable scientific studies to support his claims. For example, investigators have uncovered no reliable lab test results concluding that customers can expect the enhanced engine performance as described in the defendants online testimonials.

      The Office of the Attorney General seeks injunctions to halt the unfounded claims, as well as civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and restitution for financially harmed customers.

      More about Water4gas.com

      Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has charged a southern California businessman with violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA)....
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      Texas Sues 'GoogleMoneyTree' Promoter

      Scam uses high-profile name to deceive consumers, state charges


      Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today charged two Utah-based defendants with operating a fraudulent work-at-home scheme. The states enforcement action names Infusion Media Inc. and Jonathan D. Eborn, whose GoogleMoneyTree.com promised six-figure earnings for conducting specialized Google and Yahoo Internet searches.

      According to investigators, the defendants promised big payouts in order to convince Web users to spend $3.88 on shipping and handling for a free kit that supposedly would show them how to make money from home. Those who purchased the kit were later surprised to discover they were being charged $72 a month by the defendants.

      Internet users encountered the defendants Google and Facebook advertisements, which linked to blogs that were created to promote their work-at-home offer. The blogs included testimonials that touted their products and led viewers to believe that previously unemployed users were earning high salaries conducting Internet searches. According to the blogs, interested parties need only acquire a free kit, which was available through GoogleMoneyTrees sign-up page.

      Individuals who requested the kit were required to provide substantial personal information, including their name, address, telephone number, email address, and credit card payment information, which was supposed to be used to pay the $3.88 shipping and handling fee. Customers believed they were only obligated to pay the refundable processing fee and were not aware there would be additional charges to their credit cards.

      According to the states enforcement action, GoogleMoneyTree failed to clearly inform purchasers that they had been enrolled in monthly memberships and had only seven days to cancel their trial membership. Purchasers who failed to cancel within seven days were automatically charged $72 on their credit card statements each month.

      In addition to the unexpected credit card charges, customer complaints obtained by state investigators indicate that GoogleMoneyTree failed to actually send the free kit and refused to honor customer refunds.

      The state is seeking an injunction, civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, as well as restitution for purchasers.

      Texas Sues 'GoogleMoneyTree' Promoter...
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      Massachusetts Approves Settlement in Inflated Drug Price Lawsuit

      Companies inflated prices without economic justification

      A federal court in Massachusetts has preliminarily approved a settlement in a case alleging that a drug wholesaler inflated drug prices, and targeted consumers stand to get some of their money back. The total settlement of the suit is $350 million.

      The suit alleges that defendant corporations McKesson and FirstDataBank inflated the average wholesale price (AWP) of prescription drugs. The AWP is a pricing benchmark used to calculate the amount that insurance companies will reimburse consumers for wholesale prescription drugs.

      Typically, the AWP is set by the manufacturer, and becomes effective on a given date. According to the suit, the defendants inflated a "mark-up factor" used to calculate the AWP of over 400 drugs.

      Specifically, FirstData, a publisher of drug data, told the pharmaceutical industry that it derived the AWP from "a survey" of wholesalers in an attempt to verify the prices reported by the manufacturer. In reality, however, McKesson was the only wholesaler that FirstData actually surveyed. The two companies increased the AWP markup from 20 to 25 percent for over 400 drugs, without any economic justification. To conceal the scheme, the companies only increased the markup when another price announcement was made by a drug manufacturer.

      Although the defendants deny wrongdoing, they have agreed to reimburse eligible consumers. McKesson, a Fortune 500 health care services company, has agreed to pay $350 million into a settlement fund. Sixty million of this will go directly to consumers; the rest is allotted to be paid to "non-governmental third parties."

      The suit alleged counts under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), since the defendants used interstate mail to perpetuate the fraudulent scheme; untrue and misleading advertising; unfair competition; negligent misrepresentation; civil conspiracy; and the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, which prohibits the use of deceptive acts in an attempt to sell a product.

      Eligible class members include anyone who paid a co-payment for one of the settlement drugs between August 1, 2001 and March 15, 2005, and uninsured or underinsured consumers who paid the full value of one of the drugs between August 1, 2001 and January 23, 2009.

      The plaintiffs' attorney, Steve W. Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, said that eligible class members would "receive some money back in the near future if they file a claim."

      McKesson's Web site describes the corporation as "the oldest and largest health care services company," and asserts that the company "is helping transform the health care industry into a modern, efficient, and quality-driven system."

      Consumers who think they may be eligible to recover should fill out a claim form, available at the official settlement Web site.

      Massachusetts Approves Settlement in Inflated Drug Price Lawsuit...
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      Scam Artists Profit from Chinese Drywall Fears

      Bogus tests, phony remedies being widely promoted, Florida warns

      Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is warning Florida homeowners affected by Chinese drywall to avoid scams related to the situation.

      At least two types of fraudulent activity involving the defective drywall have been reported to the Attorney Generals Office by individuals in the building industry: bogus tests to determine the presence of the product and quick cure remedies which falsely claim to remove the corrosive properties of the product. The Attorney General cautioned homeowners not to fall victim to these scams and others which may develop.

      According to authorities reports, when defective Chinese drywall is present in a house, a chemical process causes black corrosion to appear on copper air conditioner coils and non-insulated copper wiring. If the air conditioner coils are corroded black, there is a strong likelihood that defective imported drywall is present in the home.

      Most homes that contain defective imported drywall were built between 2004 and 2008. If a home was not built during that time period it is unlikely that the product is present.

      The Attorney General noted that a homeowner can determine if defective drywall is present in his or her home by asking the homebuilder or a qualified air conditioner technician to conduct a professional visual inspection. The presence of defective imported drywall cannot be determined by testing the air in the home.

      Additionally, if the substance is found during a visual inspection, it cannot be remedied with a spray or an ozone generator. These products may make the problem worse.

      Homeowners should be aware of and attempt to avoid the following scams which builders have reported to the Attorney Generals Office:

      • Sale of bogus test kits. These can be expensive, often costing thousands of dollars, and are generally ineffective. The presence of defective imported drywall can only be determined through visual inspection.

      • Solicited home inspections costing thousands of dollars by experts with no apparent qualification. Homeowners should beware of cold calls and door-to-door solicitors.

      • Sale of sprays and applications which allegedly claim to miraculously cure the corrosion problem. Not only are these products ineffective, the addition of moisture may accelerate the corrosion problem.

      • Sale of ozone generators. Ozone will actually increase the chemical reaction between the drywall and copper and the corrosion will be accelerated.

      Task force needed?

      Earlier this week, a Florida state senator said quick action was needed to avoid "a wave of hysteria" over Chinese drywall. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist should convene a task force to study the problem, State Sen. Dave Aronberg said. The task forces mission should be to determine the best way to remove and replace any defective drywall, and recommend whether new or revised state laws or regulations are needed, he said in a conference call with reporters.

      "We need results urgently," said Aronberg, a lawyer, according to the Palm Beach Post. "Lengthy litigation and lawsuits are not in the best interest of Florida homeowners, who need help now."

      Two U.S. Senators have already called for a ban on the importation of Chinese drywall, as reports of damage spread to five states. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) introduced a bill seeking a recall of affected drywall and a temporary ban on all drywall imported from China.

      Nelson has called on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to determine the cause and scope of the problem, and to initiate a recall if necessary. He also called on the agency to draw up general drywall safety standards, noting that such regulations are not currently in place.

      The CPSC began an investigation in February, which is continuing. The agency is trying to determine if consumers' problems are caused by sulfur-based gases coming from the drywall. If it finds a problem, the commission can place a moratorium on sales of some drywall.

      Most of the complaints so far have come from Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia, where builders weren't able to get enough domestic drywall to keep up with demand during the housing boom of the last decade. They turned to imported drywall from China, which many consumers say is contaminated with a sulfur compound that produces a rotten-egg smell and causes headaches, difficulty breathing and other health problems.

      Aronberg and Walter Dartland, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, said the task force would be a logical next step in the states attempt to deal with the problem. Crist's office said he is monitoring the situation and the state health department says it is planning to take air samples from homes containing Chinese drywall to determine how serious the problem really is.

      The department earlier said it has determined that Chinese drywall, unlike its American-made counterpart, contains the compound strontium sulfide, which lets off the rotten egg smell reported by so many consumers.

      In their bill, Sens. Nelson and Landrieu want the CPSC to study 10 samples imported from China since 2004 and used in houses in the affected states. They are also asking the Departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development to provide assistance, including mortgage relief, to affected homeowners. The senators note that in addition to the cost of repair, most affected homes have decreased in value. Under the proposal, the costs would be borne by the responsible parties, not American taxpayers.



      Scam Artists Profit from Chinese Drywall Fears...
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      'Gifting Clubs,' Pyramid Schemes Flourish on Web

      Scams target cash-strapped consumers looking to earn extra income

      Online promotions promising easy wealth by joining a cash gifting program or gifting club are flourishing on the Internet. With many families struggling to make ends meet in the current economy, the Better Business Bureau warns that cash gifting is not a legitimate way to make a few extra dollars, and in fact, is nothing more than a pyramid scheme.

      Like most pyramid schemes of the past, cash gifting operations are targeting people with some form of an affinity — such as womens clubs, community groups, church congregations, social clubs and special interest groups. But in keeping with the digital age, schemers have moved operations to the Internet and are now marketing their programs as easy ways to make money in a tough economy through videos on YouTube, paid ads on Google and attractive Web sites that engage victims.

      According to TubeMogul, an online video analytics company, currently there are 22,974 cash gifting videos on YouTube, adding up to an astounding 59,192,963 views.

      While the creators of the videos vary, the content is usually the same. Typically, the person in the video explains — in vague terms — that theyve discovered a new program to help people make money through cash leveraging or cash gifting and might even open a FedEx envelope with cash inside to prove the effectiveness of the program.

      Bernie Madoff isnt the only guy with a ponzi scheme; money-making opportunities promising big returns for little work are all over the Internet and are extremely enticing to millions of people struggling with todays economy, said Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson. Anyone tempted by slick cash gifting marketing appeals should run in the opposite direction, or they run the risk of being the next person ripped off by a pyramid scheme.

      Some cash gifting schemes are touted as fundraisers for a good cause or as an empowerment program to help people help themselves. In order to take part, the participant must pay anywhere from $150-$5,000. After making the contribution, which is funneled to people farther up the pyramid, the participant must then convince more people to join in order to start making money themselves.

      Recruiters may claim that the operation is legal and often allude to IRS laws regarding gifting. However, almost every state has laws prohibiting pyramid schemes and/or assesses penalties on those who participate, and the Federal Trade Commission and many State Attorneys General have issued warnings about cash gifting clubs.

      BBB advises people to ask themselves three questions in order to evaluate dubious money-making opportunities:

      • Do I have to make an investment or give money to obtain the right to recruit others into the program?

      • When I recruit another person into the program, will I receive what the law calls consideration (that usually means money) as a result?

      • Will the person I recruit have to make an investment or give money to obtain the right to recruit and receive consideration for getting other people to join?

      If the answers are yes, BBB warns people to steer clear of the scheme, dont give in to tempting claims online and never buckle under to high-pressure sales pitches, even when they come from the mouth of a trusted friend, co-worker, neighbor or church member.

      'Gifting Clubs,' Pyramid Schemes Flourish on Web...
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      California Sues Wells Fargo Affiliates for $1.5 Billion

      Attorney General wants money recovered for defrauded investors

      Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today filed suit against three Wells Fargo affiliates to recover $1.5 billion for California investors who purchased auction-rate securities based on "false and deceptive" advice that these financial instruments were "as safe and liquid as cash."

      "Wells Fargo's affiliates promised investors auction-rate securities were as safe and liquid as cash, when in fact they were not, and now investors are unable to get their money when they need it," Attorney General Brown said. "This lawsuit seeks to recover $1.5 billion for Californians and holds these companies accountable for giving investors false and deceptive advice."

      Auction-rate securities are investments with long-term maturity dates (e.g., bonds) that Wells Fargo and other banks marketed as short-term investments equivalent to cash. These investments paid a slightly better rate of return than a bank account. And, investors could sell the securities at regular weekly or monthly auctions which provided the promise of liquidity.

      In February 2008, these auctions froze up nationwide, and investors were no longer able to redeem their securities for cash, as promised. This left approximately 2,400 Californians who had invested with Wells Fargo without access to more than $1.5 billion. Almost 40 percent of Wells Fargo's auction-rate securities were held by Californians, far more than any other state nationwide.

      By August 2008, major financial institutions including UBS, Citigroup, Wachovia, and Merrill Lynch met their obligations to investors and restored the cash value of these securities. The three Wells Fargo affiliates, however, have refused to do so.

      Consequently, Attorney General Brown filed his complaint in San Francisco Superior Court today to restore the cash value of these securities, force the companies to disgorge any subsequent profits tied to the securities, and obtain civil penalties of $25,000 per violation. This could amount to hundreds of millions in civil penalties.

      The suit contends that three Wells Fargo's affiliates — Wells Fargo Investments, LLC, Wells Fargo Brokerage Services, LLC, and Wells Fargo Institutional Securities, LLC — violated California's Securities Law by:

      • Routinely misrepresenting, marketing and selling auction-rate securities as safe, liquid and cash-like investments similar to certificates of deposit or money-market accounts and omitting material facts in violation of California Corporations Code 25401;

      • Offering and selling, as a broker-dealer, securities by means of a manipulative, deceptive or other fraudulent scheme, device, or contrivance in violation of California Corporations Code 25216(a);

      • Marketing and selling auction-rate securities to investors for whom these investments were unsuitable in violation of California Corporations Code 25216(c) and California Code of Regulations, title 10, section 260.218.2; and

      • Failing to supervise and adequately train sales agents pushing these investments in violation of California Corporations Code 25216(c) and California Code of Regulations, title 10, section 260.218.4.

      In marketing and selling these investments, Wells Fargo's affiliates ignored clear industry and internal warning about risk and previous auction failure:

      • In March 2005, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the "Big 4" accounting firms, and the Financial Accounting Standards Board all determined that auction-rate securities should not be considered "cash equivalents."

      Despite these warnings, Wells Fargo's affiliates continued to aggressively sell and falsely market auction-rate securities as safe, liquid, cash-like investments until the nationwide auction markets froze in February 2008.

      In marketing and selling these investments, Wells Fargo's affiliates failed to inform investors about how auction-rate securities or the auction process worked and the risks and consequences of auction failure.

      Following the collapse of these auctions, Wells Fargo's affiliates took advantage of the situation and offered loan programs to those who needed immediate access to the money tied up in these investments.

      Investments ranged from $25,000 to millions, and investors included small businesses and small business owners, retirees, married couples, and other hard working Californians. These investors were led to believe they were putting their savings and assets into a safe and accessible place, but instead, they were left without access to their cash, leading to serious hardship. For example:

      • A Southern California woman suffering from lung cancer and needing extra funds to help treat her illness sold her home and put the money into a Wells Fargo savings account. A Wells Fargo agent later recommended she put the money into an account with a higher interest rate. When the woman told the agent she needed to access the money and could not afford to lose any of it, she was reassured that her money would be safe like cash. Without disclosing the nature of the investment, the agent invested the funds in auction-rate securities and when the auctions failed, the woman could not access her money.

      • A Bay Area company invested $400,000 in a money market account until it was solicited by phone to invest in what was described to them as a liquid, money market-like-account. They were told the only difference was the amount of notice needed to pull the funds (one week vs. one day). The funds were intended to help the business expand, but after the auctions failed, employees were instead laid off. The company was never informed that they were investing in auction-rate securities or that there were substantial risks tied to the investment.

      California Sues Wells Fargo Affiliates for $1.5 Billion...
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      NUTRO Bites Back; Denies Probe of Pet Deaths, Illnesses

      Hundreds of pet owners say the company's food made their pets ill

      NUTRO Products Inc. denies it's under investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — even though an official of that agency told ConsumerAffairs.com on Monday that the pet food maker is the focus of a probe.

      An FDA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed that ongoing investigation is the reason the FDAs Division of Freedom of Information denied a ConsumerAffairs.com request for a list of complaints and lab results the agency has collected about NUTRO pet food. The FDA did not elaborate on the focus of its investigation, saying only that it could be criminal or civil in nature.

      Hundreds of pet owners nationwide have told ConsumerAffairs.com their dogs and cats have experienced sudden and recurring bouts of vomiting, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems after eating various flavors of NUTRO. In many cases, the animals recovered after their owners switched them to another brand of pet food. Others died.

      NUTRO has repeatedly defended its products, saying they are 100 percent safe, and also denies that it is being investigated.

      We've been in contact with officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding your April 20th posting that claims there is an ongoing FDA investigation into NUTRO pet food, spokeswoman Monica Barrett wrote in an e-mail Tuesday night. This is not true. We have confirmed with officials of the FDA division responsible for regulating pet food, the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), that there is no current or ongoing investigation of Nutro Products, Inc.

      The FDA had not previously commented on complaints regarding NUTRO pet food. News of its investigation came to light only after the agency denied a request filed by ConsumerAffairs.com under the Freedom of Information Act for a list of all complaints and lab results the FDA has collected since 2007 about NUTRO.

      The FDA said the release of those records could interfere with law enforcement proceedings.

      The document (s) constitute record (s) complied for law enforcement purposes, the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to interfere with law enforcement proceedings, the FDAs George A. Strait Jr. wrote in a letter denying the FOIA request.

      In a follow-up telephone call, an agency official confirmed that the request was denied because of an ongoing investigation. The official requested anonymity because he or she was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

      Menu investigation

      Another pet food company, Menu Foods, said in a recent financial filing that the FDA had commenced a criminal investigation to determine whether Menu violated the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act. The company noted that additional actions or investigations may arise in the future. It did not mention any other pet food companies. Menu last year settled a $24 million lawsuit that grew from the largest pet food recall in U.S. history.

      NUTRO is a division of privately-held Mars, Inc., which is not required to file the extensive financial disclosure statements required of publicly-traded companies. After NUTRO was acquired by Mars in 2007, Mars was fined a record 4.5 million (about US$5.8 million) by the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) for not observing the required waiting period before closing the transaction.

      Mars had been by far the leading provider of cat and dog food in Germany prior to the merger. NUTRO also had extensive marketing operations in Europe, but under pressure from the German regulators, Mars divested NUTRO's Austrian and German businesses.

      Worrisome trend

      ConsumerAffairs.com filed its Freedom of Information request for NUTRO records last year after an analysis of consumer complaints revealed that scores of pets from California to South Carolina had experienced sudden and recurring bouts of diarrhea, vomiting, and other digestive problems.

      A common denominator among those dogs and cats was NUTRO pet food. In many cases, consumers said their pets conditions improved once their owners stopped feeding them NUTRO pet food. Some animals died, however.

      ConsumerAffairs.com continues to receive complaints about NUTRO from dog and cat owners nationwide. In the past year, consumers have filed more than 600 complaints saying their dogs or cats suddenly became ill after eat NUTRO. The problems these pets have experienced are similar: vomiting, diarrhea, and other digestive issues.

      Most of the complaints mirror one received last week from Linda P. of New Baltimore, Michigan.

      For three years, I have been feeding my dog NUTRO Natural Choice Lamb Meal & Rice Formula Small Bites Dry Dog Food, she said. The last bag I bought, I notice the food color was lighter than in the past. Me being who I am, I believed there was a changed in formula for the better. My Dachshund/Lab became ill, vomiting food chunks and yellow bile as well. We took him to the vet and I have been feeding him homemade chicken and rice and antibiotics and he is on the mend.

      She adds: How can so many dogs get sick and nothing be done? Today I will start mixing his homemade food with a different brand of dry food. I never want anyone else to go through, what appears to be many, the same situation as our dogs. It will be a week or two before Im sure my dog is okay.

      NUTRO denies it

      NUTRO defends its products and insists its food is safe. Many NUTRO customers also tout the food, saying their pets have had no problems. And veterinarians say several factors can cause gastrointestinal problems in dogs and cats, including changes in diet, newly developed sensitivities to pet foods, and viral infections.

      But pet owners who complain to ConsumerAffairs.com on a nearly daily basis are convinced something is wrong with NUTROs food. And they say its no coincidence that so many dogs and cats have become sick — with the same symptoms — after eating various flavors of that pet food.

      NUTRO makes dogs sick, says Erin of Encino, California. It is a fact and Im outraged that nobody is taking it off the shelf.

      Erin says her three-year-old Puggle was a healthy active dog until she started eating NUTRO Natural Choice Lamb Meal & Rice Formula and NUTRO Max Beef & Rice Dinner Chunks in Gravy: After about two weeks of this food, she became sick. (She was) constipated for a few days, then had diarrhea, and finally vomiting and was always extremely thirsty. The last straw was her laying lethargic on the couch with white gums.

      Thats when Erin rushed her dog to the vet.

      The vet said she had allergies, prescribed an antibiotic and cortisone and gave me a bag of Science Diet. I feed her the Science Diet in place of NUTRO because it was free, and she was fine within a week.

      Erin, however, says she made the mistake of switching her dog back to NUTRO after the Science Diet was gone.

      She again had constipation, followed by horrible diarrhea, and finally vomiting yellow bile and white gums, Erin told us. There is no way that all these stories are just coincidences (not) if my dog is fine when she isnt eating NUTRO and when she is eating it, shes horribly sick. I have switched her back to Science Diet and all her symptoms are gone and her appetite has returned to normal.

      Another California pet owner says her dog also became ill after eating NUTRO pet food.

      My husband and I purchased NUTRO chicken and rice small bites for our two Chihuahuas, says Jessica of Larkspur. After about five days, our six-year-old male Chihuahua became lethargic, groaned a lot, developed a fever, was not excited to go on walks, and lost excitement for anything that used to bring him joy.

      My husband began to suspect it was the new food as he had only developed these symptoms after eating NUTRO. He has always been a healthy and active Chihuahua.

      The couple took the dog to their vet, who ran tests but couldnt pinpoint the problem. He was given antibiotics and we are crossing our fingers they work. Our Chihuahua can barely walk, he is groaning in pain, and is extremely depressed.

      Across the country, a longtime NUTRO pet owner in Pennsylvania told us her dog suddenly became ill after eating the food.

      I had been feeding my dog NUTRO for years, says Amy D. of Webster, Pennsylvania. I started feeding her NUTRO for sensitive stomachs about 6 months ago. At first everything seemed fine. Then my dog, who never urinated in my house, started having accidents (frequently). She needed to go out constantly and would squat repeatedly, come in, and ask to go right back out. I took her to the vet and began treatment for bladder infection. Upon finishing treatment it started all over again.

      Amys vet discovered crystals in the dogs urine, which also had a high PH balance. The vet put the dog on another medication.

      In the meantime other than the restless pacing to go outside, she seemed disinterested and lethargic, Amy says. Then she began having extremely loose bowel movements (an awful bright yellow) in the house.

      Amy launched her own investigation and discovered the scores of complaints about NUTRO on ConsumerAffairs.com.

      I couldn't believe my eyes. Could it really be the dog food I had trusted so much making my beloved pet ill? I immediately threw away all my NUTRO dog food.

      Amy is now feeding her dog another brand of pet food. And Im thrilled to say she is her old self again. She no longer has to take any medicines and has no more accidents or uncontrollable urges. Thanks to this Web site and everyone who took the time to file a complaint, I have my healthy happy dog back.

      Not a fluke?

      A pet owner in New York said his puppy had the same experience as Amys dog after eating NUTRO. And hes convinced its not a fluke.

      We got our dog two weeks ago and our puppy was healthy when we got her, says Manny of Fresh Meadows, New York. She started eating NUTRO Natural Choice for puppies, since it was recommended by a friend of ours. A week later, she started squatting to urinate, but only small drops or none at all came out. When she can urinate, it is frequent, in small amounts, and contains blood.

      Manny took his puppy to the vet, who prescribed amoxicillin.

      She received a sonogram, culture test, and urinalysis test. The results showed that she may have a stone in her bladder. The blood in her urine is caused by the stone scraping the bladder walls. The urinalysis test showed that she had a high PH balance. I don't think it is a coincidence that I have the same exact problem as Amy, adds Manny. I wonder if something is wrong NUTRO pet food again. Our puppy is still sick.

      ConsumerAffairs.com's investigation into the complaints weve received about NUTRO pet food has also revealed:

      • Six dogs unexpectedly died — or were euthanized — in 2008 after eating NUTRO pet food. Those dogs include two Italian Greyhounds in Indiana, a Beagle/Whippet mix in Pennsylvania, two German Shepherd puppies in North Carolina, and a Doberman Pinscher in Texas;

      • The FDA investigated the April 2008 deaths of two Italian Greyhounds dogs in Indiana. The FDA tested samples of the NUTRO food those dogs ate, but did not find any toxins. An autopsy indicated the dogs died from antifreeze poisoning. The dogs owner doesnt believe those results, saying there is no antifreeze around her home. No one has tested the NUTRO food the other dogs ate before they died;

      • Two Italian Greyhounds at a military base in Italy became sick after eating NUTRO food. The dogs owner told us she hopes the FDA is investigating NUTRO and urged the agency to move quickly. It is hard to tell how many people at overseas military bases are feeding this (food) to their dogs and possibly killing them, says Michelle M. who bought her dogs NUTRO food at the bases commissary.

      • A pet nutrition specialist for NUTRO told us shes heard complaints about the companys food making dogs and cats sick. She reported those concerns to her supervisor, but said they were ignored. She later resigned.

      Some pet owners, however, say NUTRO is the only brand of food their dogs and cats can eat.

      My Shar-peis are the most sensitive dogs I have ever owned, says Allison R. of Nampa, Indiana. On the wrong food their hair falls out, their eyes weep and their ears get nasty. It takes me a good 3 months of only NUTRO dog food in order to reverse the affects of the other food. I have found that the senior diet is what works best, not sure why, but it seems to keep my Shar-Peis looking healthy.

      A Tennessee pet owner also defends NUTRO pet food — and warns consumers not to jump to conclusions based on Internet complaints.

      I feed all of my dogs and cats Nutro products and they are just as healthy as they have ever been, says Brenda of Springfield, Tennessee. They have healthy shiny coats and their stools are firm.

      Gradual transition

      Brenda also had some advice to pet owners switching brands of food.

      Do a gradual transition from the old food, she said. If you dont, your dog will likely experience these issues. Not every bout of diarrhea, constipation, bladder infection, liver and kidney failure and loss of excitement to go on walks should be attributed to food. Your first responsibility as a pet owner should be to take your dog to the vet before you blame anyone. Do your research and don't let any Web site diagnose your pet.

      NUTRO has repeatedly insisted its food is 100 percent safe and meets all standards set by FDA, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). A spokeswoman said all NUTRO products are tested for melamine, molds, toxins and other bacteria. And she called the complaints weve received isolated reports of inaccurate information posted online.

      The company, however, set up a special a section on its Web site in response to the issues and concerns raised in the ConsumerAffairs.com stories. NUTRO said it takes all customer complaints seriously and encouraged pet owners with concerns about the food to contact the company at 1-800-833-5330.

      Veterinarians have said its not uncommon for pets to have sudden bouts of vomiting, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal problems. They also said a number of factors — pet food, stress, or a viral infection — could be the culprit.

      Dr. Steven Hansen, a veterinary toxicologist with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), reviewed some of the NUTRO complaints, in an effort to find out why so many pets have become sick — or even died — after eating NUTRO food.

      Unfortunately the cases are not consistent and appear to be anecdotal with no real definitive diagnostic findings, Dr. Hansen said. Without any consistent trends in findings we can not do anything any further. This does appear to us to be a situation where bad things happen, but they are not likely food-related.

      Hansen, however, said consumers who suspect NUTROs food is a factor in their pets illnesses should have their animals examined by a veterinarian and document the problems.

      I would also recommend that if they suspect the food is the problem, they should take a freezer bag full of it — along with the label information that has the products name and lot numbers — to their vet, he told us. If the vet suspects the food is the cause, the vet should then contact the company and FDA. If theres a problem, we need to document it and get supporting lab results.

      Owners anxious

      The arguments back and forth don't mean much to anxious pet owners, who say its about time some federal agency investigated NUTRO and its products.

      After so many complaints, how can this dog food still be on the market for consumers to purchase and feed to their dogs? Andrea G. of Sicklerville, New Jersey asked us. I have been feeding my Dachshund NUTRO Ultra dry dog food for many months. Suddenly, 10 days ago, he started vomiting yellow bile 1- 2 times daily.

      It makes me sick to think that I might be the one responsible for my dog's vomiting by feeding him this food. I can only hope that something is done, very soon, to prevent other pets from becoming ill.

      Read verbatim complaints and comments from consumers.

      NUTRO Bites Back; Denies Probe of Pet Deaths, Illnesses...
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      Home Prices Show Surprising Gain in February

      More signs of a turnaround?

      The latest numbers from the Federal Housing Finance Agency have taken a lot of real estate brokers — as well as homeowners — by surprise. The government agency reports U.S. home prices actually rose 0.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from January to February.

      A fluke or a sign of something more hopeful?

      Most analysts say it's much too soon to read anything into one-month's worth of numbers. Prices over a longer period remain depressed. For the 12 months ending in February, U.S. prices fell 6.5 percent. The U.S. index is 9.5 percent below its April 2007 peak.

      The FHFA monthly index is calculated using purchase prices of houses backing mortgages that have been sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

      For the nine Census Divisions, seasonally-adjusted monthly price changes from January to February show the most improvement was in the west. In fact, prices ranged from a negative 1.2 percent in the East North Central Division to 3.8 percent gain in the Pacific Division.

      In addition to the Pacific region, other regions showing a gain in home prices include the New England states with a 2.2 percent gain; West South Central states, with a 1.9 percent gain; West North Central states, with a 1.5 percent gain; the Middle Atlantic states with a 0.7 percent gain; and the Mountain region, with a 0.1 percent gain.

      According to the report, February 2009 home values are roughly where they were in April 2005.

      Home Prices Show Surprising Gain in February...
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      Missouri Joins Mortgage Scam Smackdown

      Attorney General promises "zero tolerance" for fraudsters

      Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has announced a "zero tolerance" campaign against mortgage scams and has filed lawsuits against two businesses that sent allegedly misleading direct-mail advertisements for mortgage refinancing to consumers.

      The two lawsuits follow a similar lawsuit Koster filed against a California-based mortgage broker doing business in Missouri, as well as coordinated actions by other states and the Federal Trade Commission.

      In his latest actions, the state filed suit against Goldstar Home Mortgage, which sent direct-mail letters to consumers with the consumers' own bank name at the top of the letter, making it appear that the consumers' bank was encouraging them to refinance.

      In addition, Goldstar allegedly marketed mortgage-refinancing products that were inappropriate for the homeowners they targeted. In at least one case, the Attorney General says the business offered a loan that likely would have left a homeowner with a mortgage that was higher than the home was worth.

      Koster's second lawsuit was filed suit against Oxford Lending Group, which allegedly made deceptive representations regarding the "Economic Stimulus Act of 2008" in its mailing to appear that consumers had a special opportunity to refinance, and using the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development label and name to mislead the recipient that the letter was related to the federal government.

      "This Attorney General's office will have zero tolerance for any mortgage broker or refinancing lender that uses deception to lure consumers into doing business with them," Koster said. "The Attorney General's office will use all its powers to investigate and prosecute businesses that use deception and fraud in advertisements to Missouri consumers."

      Koster said he is concerned that consumers are particularly vulnerable to mortgage scams now, as foreclosures continue to increase, interest rates are at historic lows for refinancing, and the federal government is launching its plan to help struggling homeowners.

      He noted that while the federal government's program puts measures in place that can help homeowners, unscrupulous businesses are luring consumers into scams that can actually leave them in worse financial condition. Koster warned that seniors are particularly at risk for such scams.

      "Increasingly, mortgage brokers are using deceptive ploys to draw Missourians back into the refinancing game," Koster warned. "Our goal is to alert consumers that these scams are out there and to sue every mortgage broker who crosses the line."

      Missouri Joins Mortgage Scam Smackdown...
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      Some Efforts To Control Eating May Backfire

      Addition of healthy options to menu spurs unhealthy eating

      More restaurants and vending machines offer healthy choices these days, so why do Americans' waistlines continue to expand? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that some efforts to control eating may backfire.

      Consumers may feel they have fulfilled a healthy eating goal even if they choose an unhealthy food, and the presence of a healthy option among food choices may draw their attention to the least-healthy choice available, according to authors Keith Wilcox and Lauren Block of City University of New York, Beth Vallen of Loyola College, and Gavan J. Fitzsimons of Duke University.

      "Just because we consumers want to see healthier items available does not mean that we are going to choose them," write the authors. "We present evidence that for many consumers, the addition of healthy alternatives to food choice sets can, ironically, increase the consumption of very indulgent food items."

      In a series of four studies, the researchers examined how consumers' food choices differed when a healthy item was included in a set compared to when it was not available. The study results showed that the mere presence of a healthy item vicariously fulfills health-related eating goals, drives attention to the least-healthy choice, and provides people with license to indulge in tempting foods. They also demonstrated that these effects were more pronounced in people with relatively high levels of self-control.

      In one study, participants chose from a menu that included French fries, chicken nuggets, and a baked potato or these items plus a side salad. After being told that each item cost the same amount of money, respondents were instructed to choose a side dish for their lunch.

      "As we predicted, when given the choice of fries, chicken nuggets, or a baked potato, people high in self-control rarely chose the fries, which are considered the least-healthy option in the set. However, add the salad to the set and what happens? High self-control individuals were significantly more likely to choose the French fries."

      The authors found the opposite was true for people with low self-control.



      Some Efforts To Control Eating May Backfire...
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