Current Events in October 2009

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    Older Blacks More Wary Of Flu Shots

    Many worry that vaccines will cause illness

    Only 48 percent of black senior citizens get flu shots, largely because of inaccurate and incomplete information about the flu itself, safety of inoculations, and ease and necessity of the shots.

    Also contributing is a lingering distrust of public health inoculation programs, because of misinformation about the notorious 1932-72 Tuskegee syphilis studies of black men, says Lance Rintamaki, assistant professor of communications at the University at Buffalo, in a new study published in Health Communications.

    Vaccination rates for non-Hispanic white seniors are 65 percent. The low percentage of inoculations for blacks is of concern to the medical community, Rintamaki says, because 44,000 U.S. residents 65 and older die from flu and its complications every year, compared with a total of 7,000 flu-related deaths in all other age groups.

    The researchers found several reasons for the reluctance of older blacks to get flu shots. The study subjects did not understand how often they need to be vaccinated, Rintamaki says.

    Some thought that, like vaccines against common childhood illnesses, the flu vaccine provided lifelong protection against the flu. Many did not know they needed to be re-vaccinated every year.

    "The participants knew there are different strains of influenza," he says, "but they didn't realize they needed to be vaccinated against each strain as it turned up.

    "Some also thought -- as do many members of the public -- that the vaccines cause the flu. If they became sick with a virus of one kind or other around the time they had a flu shot," he says, "they drew the erroneous conclusion that the shot made them sick.

    "This is a common misperception and one that needs to be corrected," Rintamaki adds. "We often tell people the vaccine doesn't 'cause' flu but in failing to address why they might assume that it does, we leave the door open for them to think they are avoiding illness by avoiding the vaccine."

    Better and more targeted messages and interventions are necessary to address concerns specific to older blacks and to emphasize how important it is for those in this age group to be vaccinated, the researchers say.

    The study involved six focus groups of black seniors in the Chicago area. Their average age was 75, and 85 percent of them were women. They were asked to identify their current perceptions about influenza and influenza vaccination.

    While 77 percent of participants said they had received a flu shot, only 50 percent had been vaccinated the previous year.

    Despite the group size and the fact that their responses cannot be projected to the community as a whole, the authors say the results of the study confirm those conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others.

    Some disturbing news to emerge from the study, says Rintamaki, is that the Tuskegee syphilis experiments continue to affect levels of trust among blacks about public health programs.

    The Tuskegee experiments, whose original goal was to justify treatment programs for blacks, involved 399 black sharecroppers infected with syphilis.

    In 1932, when the study began, the available treatments were highly toxic and of limited effectiveness. The study aimed to determine if patients were better off if they were not treated with those remedies. The researchers also wanted to study the efficacy of specific remedies for individual stages of the disease.

    By 1947, penicillin was commonly used as an effective cure for the disease. The researchers, however, failed to treat study participants with the medication. As a result, many men died of syphilis, wives contracted it from husbands, and children were born with congenital syphilis. The study was not discontinued until news of this fact emerged, causing a public uproar.

    Rintamaki points out that although the some of the seniors interviewed were not familiar with these experiments, those who were thought that the Tuskegee researchers did more than withhold treatment. They thought they actually injected the men with syphilis.

    "The Tuskegee experiments have stirred fear and suspicion in the African American community over many health initiatives," he says, "and the suspicion they spawned has a continuing negative effect on the health of that community.

    "In fighting the flu by encouraging inoculation, it is imperative that as health communicators we recognize that such fears exist and address such them," he says.

    Older Blacks More Wary Of Flu Shots...

    California Consumer Advocate Slams Brown Over Taping of Phone Calls

    Ties to insurance company questioned

    With the sudden announcement that San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom -- the rival to Attorney General Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown for the Democratic nomination for Governor of California in 2010 -- was dropping out of the race, things might seem pretty smooth for the former governor.

    But Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog is taking Brown to task for changing the language of a ballot initiative designed to protect consumers from auto insurance hikes, allegedly at the behest of campaign donor Mercury Insurance.

    If that wasn't enough, the San Francisco Chronicle reported today that Brown's spokesman Scott Gerber was taping conversations on the matter between himself and Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci without her consent -- a violation of California law. Consumer Watchdog founder Harvey Rosenfeld asked "Who is going to prosecute the spokesman for the state's top cop?"

    "Since when does the Attorney General of California try to censor the free press in order to kill a news article about how he took the extraordinary step of rewriting a ballot title about a donor's initiative?," Rosenfeld asked.

    The initative in question would enable insurers like Mercury to hike motorists' premiums if they have had a lapse in coverage at any point. Consumer Watchdog contends that the language of the ballot initiative was changed after Mercury Insurance donated $13,000 to Brown's gubernatorial campaign, in order to obscure the potential rate hikes California drivers would face under the new law."

    "The people of California deserve to know the consequences of the ballot measures they are voting on," Rosenfeld said. "This new title and summary hides the true impact on people who must stop driving due to these hard economic times or because they choose to stop using their car for other reasons."

    "I have rarely seen political cowardice on this level from a seasoned public official," he said.

    In conversation with Marinucci over the article discussing Rosenfeld's allegations, Gerber admitted that he had taped their conversation, as well as that of several other reporters. California's penal code strictly prohibits taping private conversations without consent, and the state is one of 12 that requires all involved parties consent to taping any conversation.

    Consumer Watchdog has been a frequent foe of Mercury Insurance. In August, the group posted a billboard near downtown Los Angeles proclaiming that "You Can't Trust Mercury Insurance." The billboard display owner, CBS Outdoor, pulled the billboard under pressure from Mercury chairman George Joseph.

    Consumer Watchdog claimed breach of contract and threatened to sue if the billboard was not restored.

    California Consumer Advocate Slams Brown Over Taping of Phone Calls...

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      68,000 CalOptima Members at Risk in Data Breach

      Missing CDs contain patient information, Social Security numbers

      October 30, 2009
      As many as 68,000 members of CalOptima, the Medicaid plan for Orange County, California, may be at risk of identity theft and fraud after several CDs containing their personal information disappeared while in transit, the agency reported.

      "CalOptima's claims scanning vendor sent the electronic media devices to CalOptima through the U.S. Postal service by certified mail," the agency said. "On Tuesday, October 13, 2009, CalOptima discovered the apparent loss of the devices when the external packaging materials were delivered by the U.S. Postal Service without the box containing the devices."

      The missing discs include patient information such as names, addresses, Social Security numbers, diagnoses, and billing codes. CalOptima said it notified state and federal agencies of the breach on October 14, and posted an alert on its Web site on October 15.

      CalOptima is currently negotiating with one of the three major credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union -- to provide credit monitoring services for the affected members. The agency is also investigating why the data was not encrypted prior to its delivery.

      The CalOptima incident comes at a sensitive time for rules governing data breaches or compromises. The economic stimulus package had initially contained rules that mandated disclosing breaches of personally-identifying health information held by organizations covered under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

      But the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)'s interpretation of the law allows for a "harm standard," where the business affected does not have to disclose any information about the breach unless there is a risk of significant financial harm to itself or an affected individual. Critics say HHS' interpretation of the law effectively guts its usefulness as a data breach warning tool.

      The CalOptima breach required mandatory reporting, even without the new laws, as some of the breached information included Social Security numbers.

      68,000 CalOptima Members at Risk in Data Breach: The missing discs include patient information such as names, addresses, Social Security numbers, diagnoses...

      Blair LLC Expands Recall of Highly Flammable Robes

      At least nine deaths linked to Chenille products

      A Pennsylvania clothing company has expanded a recall of highly flammable bathrobes, as a Connecticut woman says the company's negligence led directly to her mother's fiery death.

      Blair LLC, based in Warren, Pa., initially recalled 162,000 of its chenille robes in April, as it announced that it had received reports of three deaths blamed on the robes' extreme flammability. The company also received a complaint from a woman who suffered second-degree burns but survived after her robe caught fire.

      Now Blair and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have expanded that recall, as six additional deaths are linked to at least four types of chenille robes and other chenille products produced by the same manufacturer.

      At least five of the reported deaths involved women who were cooking while wearing the robes. According to CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson, most of the victims were elderly, and at least three were in their 80s. All of the recalled products were produced by A-One Textile & Towel, based in Karachi, Pakistan.

      Meanwhile, Sharon Davis of Connecticut is seeking $30 million in a wrongful death suit against Blair. Her mother, Atwilda Brown, was making tea in her chenille robe in 2005 when it caught fire. She was able to call 911, but the robe burned so quickly that she was dead by the time emergency crews arrived. According to local Connecticut news channel WFSB, the responding fire crew said they had never seen anything burn so quickly.

      Davis received all of Brown's mail after her death, and was devastated when she received April's recall notice. "My husband and I were just beside ourselves and it proved that it didn't have to happen," Davis told WFSB. Davis hopes her suit will make other families aware of the robes' deadly propensity.

      The expanded recall covers around 300,000 items. Products covered by the recall include full length women's chenille robes, women's chenille jacket, women's chenille lounge jackets, and women's chenille tops.

      Recalled robes bear the item numbers 3093111, 3093112, 3093113, 3093114, 3093115, and 3093116. According to the CPSC, the items are one-piece garments made of plush sculpted chenille, a shaped stand collar, and horizontal chenille front and back yolks and cuffs. The robes have a full-button front with seven matching button closures.

      Affected items were sold both in Blair catalogs and on the company's website, as well as Blair stores in Warren, Pa., Grove City, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., from January 2003 through March 2009. Consumers can return the robe to Blair and receive a refund or a $50 gift card by contacting the company at (877) 392-7095 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET Monday through Saturday, via the firm's Web site at, or by e-mail at blairproductrecall(at)

      Meanwhile, the CPSC urged consumers to remain vigilant. "CPSC urges all consumers to report any incidents or injuries involving consumer products, even after a recall has been announced," Acting CPSC Chairman Thomas Moore said in a statement. "Contact the CPSC so that we may help prevent tragic deaths or injuries like those that might be related to the Blair robes."

      The recall bears a resemblance to a 2001 situation involving clothing store The Limited. The company agreed to pay a $500,000 penalty to the CPSC for knowingly selling polyester pajamas and bathrobes that didn't meet federal flammability standards for sleepwear.

      At the time, CPSC spokeswoman Ann Brown said, "The message to industry should be clear -- we will not tolerate conduct that puts consumers at risk, including the sale of flammable sleepwear to consumers." In that case, The Limited had also instituted a voluntary recall.

      Blair LLC Expands Recall of Highly Flammable Robes...

      Gas Prices Near 2009 High

      Prices climb amid fairly weak demand

      The average price of gasoline continued rising this week, and today is $2.695 a gallon, up six cents a gallon in the last seven days, according to AAA.

      The cost of fuel has accelerated in October, rising nearly 22 cents a gallon in the last four weeks. Gas prices are now less than a penny under their high for the year, reached during the second week of June.

      The average price of diesel fuel is $2.832 a gallon, up almost six cents since last Friday.

      The most expensive gas in the nation is found in Alaska, Hawaii and California the only three states where the average price exceeds $3 a gallon. In Alaska the statewide average is $3.40 a gallon; the price in Hawaii is $3.27 and in California it's $3.01.

      In California, San Francisco has the most expensive average price, at $3.136 a gallon. The cheapest gas is found in Yolo, with an average price of $2.908 a gallon.

      Nationwide, the lowest price for self-serve regular is found in Wyoming, at $2.501 a gallon. South Carolina is next at $2.531.

      Gasoline prices have risen because of the recent rise in world oil prices, which have more than doubled this year. Oil prices have gone higher due to a decline in the value of the U.S. dollar and the expectation that recovering world economies will consume more oil next year.

      Over the course of last week, market oil prices jumped past the $80 per barrel mark for the first time since September 2008, said Andrew Delmege, AAA's manager of regulatory affairs. The resulting increase in gasoline futures and retail gasoline prices has attracted widespread media attention, with some outlets going so far to suggest a surge in gasoline prices could slow the speed of economic recovery. However, given the severity of the recession from which the economy is seemingly now emerging, retail gasoline prices that are 10-20 cents higher than they had been for much of the summer while certainly an unwelcomed sight for motorists are a minor concern by comparison.

      The latest report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows demand for gasoline remains subdued. In the last week stockpiles of gasoline actually increased by more than one million barrels.

      Gas Prices Near 2009 High...

      More Kids' Products Found Containing Unsafe Chemicals

      PIRG tests toys in Chicago, finds lead and contaminants

      Consumer advocates in Illinois have discovered some toys and other children's products sold in Chicago-area stores violate current safety standards for lead or contain illegal chemicals.

      Researchers with the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) tested 87 different children's products -- including toys, jewelry, and Halloween accessories -- for lead, bromine, and other toxic chemicals like phthalates.

      Test results released this week in a report titled "Chemical Compliance: Testing for Toxics in Children's Products" revealed two products contained phthalates. Those are a family of chemicals banned earlier this year by the federal government.

      Phthalates can cause reproductive defects in men and women, premature birth, early onset puberty for young girls, and lower sperm counts in men, according to PIRG officials. Children are more susceptible to these health effects, PIRG said, because their bodies are still developing.

      Dangerous toys

      The two children's products found containing what PIRG called "actionable levels of phthalates" that violate federal law are:

      The Little Princess handbag: Tests on the purse, purchased at Claire's Boutique, revealed it contained the phthalate chemical DEHP at 54000 ppm and DINP at 2200 ppm;

      Elmo's Lunch Box: Tests revealed the lunch box contained 730 ppm of the phthalate chemical DEHP and 72,000 ppm of the phthalate DIDP.

      Illinois researchers, who partnered with in these tests, also discovered six children's products with levels of lead that exceeded the current 300 parts per million (ppm) allowed by federal law.

      Those toys, jewelry, and Halloween accessories include:

      • Marvel Hot Rodz: Tests revealed the top of a car and Spider-Man's head contained 1,940 parts ppm of lead and 380 ppm of the chemical bromine;

      • A painted duck: Tests revealed the duck's face contained 2,215 ppm of lead and 306 ppm of arsenic. The duck's red jacket contained 1,545 ppm of lead and 247 ppm of arsenic;

      • Pink diamond clip on earrings from Claire's: Tests revealed the dangling section of the earrings contained 26,932 ppm of lead;

      • A Knight's helmet Halloween costume: Tests revealed the top, painted part of the helmet contained 384 ppm of lead, 38 ppm of arsenic, and 207 ppm of bromine;

      • LOVE Pink Block Cell Phone (Halloween) Accessory from Claire's: Tests revealed the product contained 7,637 ppm of lead;

      • Alligator Cell Phone Charm from Claire's: Tests revealed this Halloween accessory contained 282,439 ppm of lead.

      PIRG officials said these are the first tests done on children's products since the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CSPIA) required the amount of lead allowed to decrease from 600 parts per million (ppm) to 300 ppm by August 15, 2009.

      The new law, which also bans the use of six phthalates in toys, requires lead levels in children's products to drop to 100 ppm by August 2011.

      Toys and other children's products tainted with lead pose a serious health concern, PIRG officials said, because the chemical can harm nearly every organ in the body, attack the central nervous system, lead to permanent brain and behavioral damage, or even cause death.

      Although some of the toys tested contained dangerous toxins, PIRG officials said the results are still encouraging.

      "After the wave of record recalls of dangerous toys just two years ago, we're glad to see that most of the toys we tested are in compliance with the law," said Brian Imus, director of Illinois PIRG. "But not all toys are safe and we must do more to prevent toxic toys from ending up on store shelves."

      The group's report echoed those sentiments. "The testing conducted is but a small sample of the toys and other children's products currently on the market," the report states. "However, based on this small sample, it is good to see the vast majority of products meeting current safety regulations...but, there should be no products available on store shelves that violate current lead and phthalate standards."

      "Overwhelming weight of evidence"

      Lead and phthalates, however, aren't the only worrisome chemicals in children's products, the report said. "Cadmium, brominated flame retardants and Bisphenol-A all pose a threat to the growth and development of children," the report noted. "Yet these chemicals and others are being used in toys, baby bottles, and other children's products."

      PIRG Public Health Advocate Liz Hitchcock said the government should expand the number of chemicals it regulates in toys.

      "Tougher lead safety standards and a ban on phthalates may be making toys safer, but there are other harmful chemicals commonly found in children's products that are not regulated," she said.

      One of those chemicals is bromine, which is widely used in children's products. Studies have shown damaging impacts to the thyroid and motor and memory skills from this chemical, Hitchcock said.

      To ensure the safety of children's products, PIRG officials called on state and federal policy-makers to take the following action:

      • Phase out dangerous chemicals: "The federal government must act based on the overwhelming weight of evidence showing that some chemicals might harm human health," the report states. "Manufacturers should be required to remove chemicals that may pose a particular threat to fetuses, infants, and children, particularly when the chemical is not necessary for the product to function according to design."

      • Reform chemical policies: PIRG officials said manufacturers can now put chemicals on the market without proving they are safe. "Manufacturers should be required to provide all hazard and health-impact information to the state and federal government so agencies can begin to assess the thousands of chemicals currently on the market for which little or inadequate data are available," the report states.

      • Inform consumers about the dangerous chemicals: PIRG officials said manufacturers should be required to label products with the names of dangerous chemicals. That action would allow parents to choose less toxic products;

      • Give financial support to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). "Congress should fully fund this important agency so that it may utilize the new authority and responsibility that it was given in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act," the report states.

      PIRG officials bought the toys it tested from four retailers in Chicago: Target, Toys R' Us, Claire's Boutique, and Dollar Tree.

      All of the group's test results are posted on's Web site, a national database of more than 5,000 products tested for toxic chemicals. is a project of the Michigan-based Ecology Center, which has spearheaded research on toxins in toys, cars, pet toys, and children's car seats. The non-profit environmental group annually tests toys for lead and other toxins.

      More Kids' Products Found Containing Unsafe Chemicals...

      'Conveyor Belt' Route To Better Vaccines

      Injections could become a thing of the past

      Scientists have identified a protein that could enable more vaccines to be delivered through the mouth or nose, thus strengthening the body's defenses where the body first encounters many bacteria and viruses.

      Foreign invaders often get inside our bodies by breaching mucosal surfaces such as the soft tissues in the nose, mouth, or intestine. But most vaccines in use today are administered by injection.

      Ifor Williams, a pathologist at Emory University School of Medicine, thinks M cells, a type of cell found in the intestines, may be a key to effective mucosal vaccines.

      For an orally delivered vaccine to stimulate the immune system properly, enough of it has to cross the barriers posed by mucosal surfaces, Williams says.

      M cells act like "conveyor belts" transporting small particles across the barriers and into Peyer's patches, which resemble lymph nodes but are specialized for the intestines.

      Effective oral vaccines such as polio vaccine come from pathogens that preferentially stick to M cells and exploit them to invade mucosal tissues in the intestine.

      "As bacteria and food come through the intestine, M cells divert a bit of that stream," Williams says. "It's how the immune system keeps track of what's out there."

      Working with Williams, graduate student Kathryn Knoop discovered that a protein made by the body called RANKL is essential for the proper development of M cells. The results were recently published by the Journal of Immunology.

      Mice lacking the gene for RANKL have more than 50 times fewer M cells in their intestines, the authors found. The intestines in these mice also have trouble taking up fluorescent beads that are a stand-in for bacteria.

      By injecting mice with artificial RANKL, the scientists could correct the defect. In addition, regular mice treated with RANKL had more M cells throughout their intestines. Usually M cells are found next to Peyer's patches.

      The Emory team has earned a Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to test their ideas. Williams says the Gates grant will allow his laboratory to test whether RANKL treatment can boost the immune response to oral vaccines in mice. Also, he plans to examine how RANKL treatment affects the mucosal surface inside the nose.

      "We're still trying to figure out if it works for other mucosal surfaces like those in the nose," he says.

      RANKL is also important for bone development and breast milk production. That means prolonged RANKL treatment throughout the body might have unwanted effects on bone density in humans, Williams says.

      However, a temporary dose delivered through the nose could minimize those effects, and there may be more selective ways to stimulate development of M cells via the RANKL pathway, he says.

      'Conveyor Belt' Route To Better Vaccines...

      Report: Deceptive Credit Card Practices Remain Widespread

      Every bank studied engages in unscrupulous behavior

      By James Limbach

      October 29, 2009
      One hundred percent of credit cards offered online by the leading bank card issuers continue to include practices that will be outlawed once legislation passed in May takes effect next year, according to a new report by the Pew Health Group's Safe Credit Cards Project.

      The report also found that advertised credit card interest rates rose an average of 20 percent in the first two quarters of 2009, even as banks' cost of lending declined. With the Federal Reserve currently developing rules to ensure penalty charges are "reasonable and proportional" as required under the Credit CARD Act, the report also includes policy recommendations for regulators.

      "Since passage of the Credit CARD Act, we found that credit card issuers have done little to remove practices deemed unfair or deceptive by the Federal Reserve," said Shelley A. Hearne, managing director of the Pew Health Group, which oversees the project. "In fact, some of the most harmful practices have actually grown more widespread-not one of the bank cards reviewed would meet the legal requirements outlined in the Credit CARD Act, which is bad news for consumers."

      The new report examines all consumer credit cards offered online by the largest 12 bank issuers in America. These banks control more than 90 percent of outstanding credit card debt nationwide. The report also reviewed cards offered by the largest credit unions.

      The Pew Safe Credit Cards Project gathered data from July of this year on nearly 400 cards, building on its previous research from December 2008.

      Key findings of the report show that:

      • 99.7 percent of bank cards allowed issuers to increase interest rates on outstanding balances -- a jump from 93 percent in December;

      • 95 percent of bank cards permitted issuers to apply payments in a way the Federal Reserve found likely to cause substantial financial injury to consumers; and

      • 90 percent of bank cards had penalty rate hikes with the vast majority imposed by "hair triggers" of one or two late payments in a year.

      "The Federal Reserve must ensure that the rules it is developing will prevent unreasonable or disproportionate penalties, including penalty rate increases, which our data show remain far too common," said Nick Bourke, manager of Pew's Safe Credit Cards Project.

      In July, median advertised annual percentage rates (APRs) for purchases on bank issued cards were between 12.24 and 17.99 percent, compared with a range of 9.99 to 15.99 percent in December 2008 (issuers advertise a range of rates depending on applicant credit profiles). Compared with December of last year, lowest advertised bank rates grew by more than 20 percent, while highest advertised rates grew by 13 percent.

      Pew's previous report showed that issuers raised rates on nearly one-quarter of existing accounts, costing consumers a minimum of $10 billion in a one-year period between 2007 and 2008.

      The report also provides the first comprehensive comparison of bankcards to those issued by credit unions, based on advertised terms and conditions. The analysis showed that credit unions offered much lower APRs, less punitive penalty rates and engaged in far fewer unfair or deceptive practices than their commercial peers.

      To ensure that the Credit CARD Act is implemented to meet its goal of safeguarding the consumer, the report outlines policy recommendations for the Federal Reserve and other regulators to ensure that the new rules under development will:

      • Regulate penalty interest rate increases in its rules governing "reasonable and proportional" penalty fees and charges in accordance with the law;

      • Scrutinize partially variable rates, which can increase when the index rises but cannot drop below a minimum set by the issuer; and

      • Eliminate credit card penalties that are not aligned with achieving the Act's primary goals of protecting consumers against risky practices.

      "When the Credit CARD Act takes effect next year Americans can expect to see safer, more transparent cards," said Bourke. "How well the new law works, however, will depend significantly on how the Federal Reserve creates new rules under the law to protect consumers. In the meantime, issuers have the opportunity to move as quickly as possible to ensure their products are clear of the unfair and deceptive practices that unfortunately remain part of every card we reviewed for our report."

      Report: Deceptive Credit Card Practices Remain Widespread...

      Do I Need a Thyroid Check?

      The Healthy Geezer

      By Fred Cicetti

      October 29, 2009
      Q. As an authentic geezer, I've had so many medical tests that I think I've seen more acronyms than were around during the New Deal. Recently, a friend of mine suggested that I get a TSH test for my thyroid. What, in the name of FDR, is a TSH test?

      The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the middle of the lower neck. It produces hormones that control metabolism, which are the chemical processes cells in the body perform to keep us alive.

      It should come as no surprise that the thyroid gland often peters out as we get older. The thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test checks to see if your thyroid is producing the right amount of hormone for your system. If the gland is making too much hormone, you get hyperthyroidism; if it makes too little, you get hypothyroidism.

      Hypothyroidism is very common in people over 60 years of age; the incidence of it steadily increases with age. About 25 percent of people in nursing homes may have undiagnosed hypothyroidism because the symptoms of this condition can be misinterpreted as signs of aging.

      The Thyroid Foundation of America recommends that people over 50 years old get a TSH test at least once every five years, and more often if there are symptoms. When thyroid disease is caught early, treatment can control the disorder even before the onset of symptoms.

      The symptoms of hypothyroidism include: fatigue, intolerance to cold, constipation, forgetfulness, muscle cramps, hair loss, depression, weight gain, dry skin, hoarseness and mood swings.

      The symptoms of hyperthyroidism include: weight loss (not always in seniors), heat intolerance, hyperactivity, muscle weakness, palpitations, tremors, nervousness, irritability, insomnia, enlarged thyroid gland, frequent bowel movements, vision problems or eye irritation.

      About 27 million Americans of all ages have overactive or underactive thyroid glands but more than half the conditions are undiagnosed. More than 80 percent of people with thyroid disease are women.

      Thyroid diseases are life-long, but treatable conditions. However, if untreated, thyroid disease can cause elevated cholesterol levels and subsequent heart disease, infertility, muscle weakness, osteoporosis and, in extreme cases, coma or death.

      Treatment to balance your hormone levels is simple and not very expensive.

      Hypothyroidism is treated with a drug called levothyroxine. This is a synthetic hormone tablet that replaces missing thyroid hormone in the body. With careful monitoring, your doctor will adjust your dosage accordingly, and you'll soon be able to return to your normal lifestyle.

      Hyperthyroidism, generally more difficult to treat, requires the normalization of thyroid hormone production. Treatment could involve drug therapy to block hormone production, radioactive iodine treatment that disables the thyroid, or even thyroid surgery.

      The most popular treatment for hyperthyroidism is radioactive iodine. This therapy often causes hypothyroidism, requiring levothyroxine to bring the system back to normal.

      All Rights Reserved © 2009 by Fred Cicetti

      The most popular treatment for hyperthyroidism is radioactive iodine. This therapy often causes hypothyroidism, requiring levothyroxine to bring the system...

      Vertrue Discount Program Lawsuit Underway

      Company allegedly signed customers up for service without permission

      A three-year-old suit involving allegedly fraudulent discount buying programs is finally underway this week, with three Iowa plaintiffs testifying that Vertrue, Inc. signed them up for discount programs without their permission and hit them with ever-growing monthly fees.

      Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller filed the suit in May 2006, after a survey revealed that, of around 400 Vertrue members questioned, precisely zero were satisfied with the companys services.

      Connecticut-based Vertrue, which also answers to the aliases MemberWorks and MWI, provides a number of membership programs that offer supposed discounts on items ranging from restaurants to jewelry to home improvement products.

      Miller says Vertrue went to great lengths to trick consumers into signing up for the service. Many consumers were inadvertently enrolled when they made a routine call, such as one to their own credit card company or to place an order over the phone. Toward the end of the call, the consumer was offered a risk-free membership, usually on a trial basis. According to Miller, any consumer who then failed to affirmatively cancel the membership became subject to monthly fees taken directly from their bank account or credit line.

      Many consumers didnt notice the charges because they often were listed next to an innocuous-looking name on statements. Debits were often charged to either MWI or ap9, followed by one of the club names HomeWorks, Simple Escapes, Connections, Essentials, or Leisure Advantage. Thus, a typical debit might be to MWI HomeWorks, a name that wont catch the hurried consumers eye, especially when the charge is for a relatively small amount of money.

      Worse, Miller said that consumers never actually gave their credit card numbers to the company; account information was instead obtained from the business that the consumer called in the first place. Vertrues well thought-out scheme ensured that, as Miller put it, busy consumers too often pay [the charges] without realizing it.

      Pamela Douglas testified that she was enrolled in three separate memberships in 1999, which she attributed to very aggressive tactics by a telemarketer. In 2008 a full nine years later Douglas received a letter from ValuMax informing her of her longstanding membership. She then noticed that yearly charges on her credit card had gone from $59.95 in 1999 to $239.95 in 2008. Douglas complained to Millers office, and Vertrue refunded her money.

      The case is being heard by Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hutchison instead of a jury. Earlier this week, Hutchison ruled that he would close the courtroom for parts of the trial in order to protect Vertrues trade secrets. Hutchison said he hopes to keep the courtroom open as much as possible, but that it might have to be sealed when examining a particular witness. The company claims that revelation of consumer data could hurt its supposed competitive advantage. Hutchison promised to close the courtroom whenever there is testimony concerning exact company data.

      Protection of trade secrets has long been accepted by American courts as a worthwhile goal. The vast majority of states have adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which imposes civil liability on anyone who misappropriates formulas or techniques that contribute to a companys success. Companies often further protect such secrets by asking employees to sign non-disclosure agreements. has received its fair share of Vertrue complaints. Alexander of New Brighton, MN writes: "I have unauthorized credit card charges from Vertrue companies: Health Trends, Simply Yours, Pharmacy Gold, and Dealmax. I cannot reach Health Trends to cancel. I will have to cancel the credit card."

      Terry of Indianapolis, IN offers a representative complaint: "Their AP9 companies have taken 537.30 out of my checking account without my approval, even after I have talked with them about it. I want them to stop removing money from my account and give all my money back in full."

      Millers suit charges Vertrue with violations of the Buying Club Memberships Law, an Iowa statute that requires certain important commitments to be memorialized in writing, and mandates that corporations notify consumers of their right to cancel. Millers office says that as many as 500,000 residents of Iowa alone have been enrolled in the service.

      Vertrue Discount Program Lawsuit Underway...

      Con Artists Use Attorney General to Push Spam Email

      Hoax claims recipient is under federal investigation

      Con artists continue to use the names of high-ranking government officials to dupe consumers and steal their identities or infect their computers with spyware.

      In the latest scheme, unscrupulous spammers falsely use the name of United States Attorney General Eric Holder. The fraudulent e-mail alleges the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have information that the e-mail recipient is involved in money laundering and terrorist-related activities.

      To avoid prosecution, the e-mail claims recipient must pay $370 for a certificate from the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman. The e-mail gives consumers the name of the EFCC Chairman and contact information for the required certificate.

      FBI officials, however, warn consumers that these e-mails are a hoax.

      "Government agencies do not send unsolicited e-mails of this nature," according to a warning issued today by the FBI. "The FBI, Department of Justice, and other United States government executives are briefed on numerous investigations, but do not personally contact consumers regarding such matters."

      Government agencies also never send threatening letters or e-mails to consumers that demand payments for Internet crimes, the FBI added.

      Consumers can protect themselves from getting taken in these scams by:

      • Never responding to unsolicited e-mails or clicking on embedded links associated with these types of e-mails because they may contain viruses or malware;

      • Guarding your name, Social Security number, e-mail address, and other Personally Identifiable Information. Proving that information to con artists could compromise your identity.

      Consumers victimized by these or other Internet crime should file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The IC3 is a partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

      Con Artists Use Attorney General to Push Spam Email...

      Ford Named Among World's Most Reliable Carmakers

      Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan reliability tops Honda Accord and Toyota Camry

      Ford has secured its position as the only Detroit automaker with world-class reliability.

      About 90 percent (46 of 51) of Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln products were found to have average or better reliability, according to Consumer Reports' 2009 Annual Car Reliability Survey.

      Ford's sustained production of vehicles that are as dependable -- or better than -- some of the industry's best dispels the notion that only Japanese manufacturers make reliable cars, the magazine found. It went on to note that other than the Toyota Prius, the reliability of the 4-cylinder Fusion and Milan ranks higher than that of any other family sedan. Both of those Ford Motor Company products, it says, continue to beat the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, while the upscale Lincoln MKZ tops its rivals, the Acura TL and Lexus ES.

      "It's rare for Consumer Reports to see family sedans from domestic carmakers continue to beat the reliability scores of such highly regarded Japanese models as the Camry and Accord," said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' Automotive Test Center. The last domestic sedan that had better reliability than the Camry and Accord was the Buick Regal in 2004, he noted.

      Ford's position as the most reliable domestic carmaker includes good scores for its new Ford Flex SUV. But the Lincoln division has had mixed results; some models score below their Ford equivalents. All-wheel-drive versions of the Lincoln MKS, MKX, and MKZ, essentially high-end versions of the Ford Taurus, Edge, and Fusion, respectively, are all below average.

      A large margin separates the best from the worst. The least reliable vehicle, the Volkswagen Touareg, is 27 times more likely to have a problem than the most reliable car, the Honda Insight.

      In addition to the Insight, small car reliability scores stood out. Twenty of 37 small cars have above-average predicted-reliability including the Honda Fit, Scion xD and Volkswagen Golf. Family cars fared nearly as well, with 21 out of 42 scoring above average. Five of the eight most reliable family cars are hybrids, including the Toyota Prius, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Mercury Milan Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid.

      Even good brands falter. Among the least reliable vehicles in their respective classes are the all-wheel-drive Lexus GS, the Nissan Versa sedan, and the Subaru Impreza WRX.

      GM improves, Chrysler struggles

      Some newer GM products are bright spots. Overall 20 of the 48 GM models Consumer Reports surveyed have average reliability scores, while the Chevrolet Malibu V6 has shown better-than-average scores and is on par with the most reliable family sedans. The Buick Lucerne did well in road tests, and it scores average in reliability.

      The Chevrolet Traverse SUV also makes the cut, as does its cousin, the Buick Enclave, but only in the all-wheel-drive version. The reliability scores of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 pickups are good performers and earn Consumer Reports' Recommendation. CR recommends only vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on the Annual Auto Survey, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

      GM has a number of strong contenders either just released or in the pipeline, but they are too new for CR to have reliability data on them.

      Chrysler continues to struggle. More than one-third of Chrysler products are much worse than average, including its new car-based SUV, the Dodge Journey. Last year, Consumers Reports couldn't recommend any of its products either because of mediocre performance, poor reliability scores, or both. However, this year CR can recommend one important vehicle in Chrysler's lineup: the four-wheel-drive version of the redesigned Dodge Ram 1500 pickup. It did well in CR road tests and rates average in reliability.

      Asian brands still rule

      Of the 48 models with top reliability scores, 36 are Asian. Toyota accounts for 18; Honda, eight; Nissan, four; and Hyundai/Kia and Subaru, three each. With only a few exceptions, Japanese vehicles are consistently good. All Honda and Acura products have average or above average reliability. Although, Toyota, with its Lexus and Scion brands, provides a broader product range, the Lexus GS AWD is the only Toyota model with below average reliability.

      Models from Nissan and its Infiniti luxury division have mostly been very reliable. The once-troublesome Infiniti QX56 and Nissan Armada are now average, as is the four-wheel-drive Nissan Titan, although its rear-wheel-drive version is still troublesome. The Nissan Versa has produced uneven results. Over the last two surveys, the hatchback has been average while the sedan has been far below average. The Nissan Quest minivan also remains troublesome.

      Hyundai and Kia continue to make reliable cars. The Hyundai Elantra and Tucson, and the Kia Sportage get top marks. The new Hyundai Genesis V6 is better than average; the V8 version is average. Only Kia's Sedona minivan and Sorento SUV score below average.

      European models rally

      European brands continue to improve. Mercedes-Benz has significantly rebounded, with most models average or better, and the GLK did exceptionally well in its first year in CR's survey. Scores from rival BMW are more mixed. The 535i sedan and X3 SUV declined in reliability, and the 135i, debuting in this survey, scores below average. Some BMW models have average or better reliability, but the 328i versions are the only ones that we have tested and can recommend.

      Volkswagen and Audi are also staging a nice reliability recovery. The Volkswagen Rabbit (Golf) and the new CC earn top scores. The VW Jetta's Recommendation now extends to the diesel version, making it the only diesel the magazine currently recommends.

      Both the VW Passat and Audi A3 have improved so that they now have average reliability scores. The new VW Tiguan SUV is average. The Audi Q7 SUV continues to be much worse than average, but not as bad as its platform mate, the VW Touareg, which not only scores poorly but also has the worst new-car predicted reliability score in the survey.

      All of Volvo's sedans are average or better, but Volvo's XC90 SUV is below average. Porsche, which has been doing quite well in our survey of late, has one serious hiccup this year: The Boxster drops to below average, which strikes it from CR's Recommended list. But the Cayenne SUV improved to average.

      Findings are based on responses on more than 1.4 million vehicles owned or leased by subscribers to Consumer Reports or its Web site, the biggest response in the Annual Auto Survey's history. The survey was conducted in the spring of 2009 by Consumer Reports' National Survey Research Center and covered model years 2000 to 2009.

      Ford Named Among World's Most Reliable Carmakers...

      States Want Coordinated Crackdown On Debt Relief Firms

      Want tighter regulations at federal level

      By Mark Huffman

      October 27, 2009
      The attorneys general of 40 states have asked the Federal Trade Commission to tighten regulation of companies offering debt relief services to consumers. The FTC is currently reviewing a new rule proposal to amend the current Telemarketing Sales Rule.

      The move follows a number of individual actions by various states. Earlier this month, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued Credit Solutions of America (CSA) and its CEO Douglas Van Arsdale. The Attorney General's complaint alleges that the company falsely claims that its services can help to reduce consumers' credit card debt by 50 percent.

      Madigan's lawsuit contends the company continually fails to negotiate with consumers' creditors even though consumers cease to pay their creditors directly and, instead, make months of upfront payments to CSA. As a result of CSA's failure to take any effective debt settlement action on behalf of consumers, according to Madigan's lawsuit, creditors frequently sue consumers to collect on the outstanding balances.

      Madigan said her office has seen a sharp rise in debt- and credit-related consumer complaints. Over the last few years, her office has received more than 12,000 complaints regarding debt and credit issues.

      Problem increases as economy fails

      Last year, at the height of the economic downturn, consumer debt-related issues surged to the top category of complaints filed with the Attorney General's Consumer Fraud Bureau, including credit card debt, abusive collections and deceptive debt settlement practices.

      Consumers with debt settlement complaints typically report that, after they enroll in debt settlement programs, the firms charge excessive upfront fees and advise consumers to stop paying their credit card bills.

      All too often, consumers report that after they make many upfront monthly settlement payments, the debt settlers fail to negotiate with consumers' credit card companies. As a result, the credit card companies add interest, fees and penalties to consumers' credit card balances and begin collection efforts to recoup the debt, which in turn negatively impacts consumers' credit reports. In many instances, credit card companies have sued consumers enrolled in debt settlement agreements in an attempt to collect the balance of the consumers' accounts.

      'Failing to deliver'

      "In an ever-building wave of ploys and scams on consumers, debt settlement and debt negotiation companies promise to help consumers eliminate or reduce their debts, but often fail to deliver on these promises," said Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray. "Tougher regulations will help to rein in some of the most deceptive and unfair practices in this industry."

      Among other things, the new rule proposes:

      • Prohibiting debt relief companies from charging fees until they have performed services. Requiring improved disclosures to consumers, including informing the consumer of the length of time it will take to settle debts and what the costs will be.

      • Prohibiting misrepresentations, including misleading statements concerning fees, success rates, and the impact the services will have on a consumer's credit history.

      • Extending the Telemarketing Sales Rule so that it covers incoming calls made to debt relief companies in response to advertisements.

      The Ohio Attorney General's Office has received more than 600 complaints involving debt relief services since January 2007 and through its complaint resolution process has recovered more than $320,000 on behalf of consumers. has also received hundreds of complaints over the years about debt settlement firms, including Credit Solutions of America.

      "We signed up with Credit Solutions 3 months ago. We have made 3 payments of 600+, and they have done nothing for us," Virginia, of Inlet, N.Y., told "All creditors have contacted us and said we could negotiate directly with them. We have also been threatened with a lawsuit."

      The letter of support was sent to the FTC on behalf of Cordray as well as attorneys general from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

      States Want Coordinated Crackdown On Debt Relief Firms...

      Dodd Bill Would Freeze Credit Card Rates

      Banks jacking up fees, interest rates in advance of new rules

      By Truman Lewis

      October 27, 2009
      Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) has introduced a measure that would immediately freeze credit card interest rates, as Congress continues trying to rein in the financial services sector.

      Dodd, who heads the Senate Banking Committee, said credit card companies are using the delayed implementation of legislation passed earlier this year to jack up fees and interest rates.

      We worked long and hard to enact the safeguards included in the Credit CARD Act, said Dodd, who had introduced the bill in 2004, 2005 and 2008 before successfully passing it this spring. And no sooner had it been signed into law, but credit card companies were looking for ways to get around the protections this Congress and the American people demanded.

      "At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet, jacked up rates can quickly create crushing debt. People need to be responsible with their money, but they shouldnt be taken to the cleaners by outrageous rates, Dodd said.

      The Credit CARD Act requires 45-day notification of interest rate increases, and lengthens from 14 days to 21 days the amount of time before the due date that a statement must be delivered, but it does not become fully effective until Feb. 1, 2010.

      In April, Dodd and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Reserve, OTS, and NCUA calling on them to implement an emergency freeze on interest rates tied to existing balance on credit cards.

      In the House, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, have pushed to speed up implementation of the CARD measure to December 1, 2009, two months ahead of schedule.

      When it finally takes effect, the CARD Act will require credit card companies to review every account that has seen an interest rate increase since January 1, 2009 and reduce rates where warranted.

      Dodd sent a letter to the Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the heads of key regulatory agencies in July directing them to let credit card companies know that they will be held accountable for rate increases. He also called on the Federal Reserve to provide clear, robust requirements for the reviews and called on the agencies enforcing those regulations to hold the credit card companies strictly accountable for conducting thorough reviews and decreasing rates.

      Dodd Bill Would Freeze Credit Card Rates...

      Florida Sues Used Car Dealer For Deception

      Cars allegedly broke down miles from the lot

      The State of Florida is taking a South Florida used car dealer, and related companies, to court, accusing the businesses of deceptive and unfair business practices.

      Attorney General Bill McCollum has sued Hollywood Auto Gallery, Inc. and owner Zachary S. Kessler, in response to numerous complaints filed with the Attorney General's office, all referencing the warranties advertised by Kessler and his related businesses.

      The Attorney General's Economic Crimes Division determined that Hollywood Auto Gallery, Inc., located in Pompano Beach, allegedly advertised that all vehicles sold were under warranty, and Kessler verbally assured consumers that the vehicles would be covered. In reality, the warranty was only a limited warranty good for a maximum of $500 in repairs.

      Additionally, Kessler allegedly assured all potential consumers that once a deposit was made on a vehicle to hold it, a mechanic could look at the vehicle within three days of the deposit, but consumers who attempted to have their mechanics examine the vehicles were allegedly told the deposit committed them to purchasing the vehicle, regardless of the mechanic's diagnosis.

      According to consumer complaints, the vehicles sold by Kessler and his company were in such bad condition that they were not road-worthy and would often break down just miles from the car lot. Mechanical problems cited included a transmission that was completely worn out and an engine that needed a total overhaul. Consumers also reported they were unable to obtain refunds for the vehicles.

      The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief against Hollywood Auto Gallery, Inc. and several related business operating under fictitious names, including UltimateCarDeal.Com, CashOnlyAuto.Com, and CheapestCarsIn Florida.Com, as well as Kessler himself.

      The relief requested would prohibit further business activities in the sales of used vehicles, restitution on behalf of all victimized consumers, civil penalties of $10,000.00 to $15,000.00 for each violation of the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and reimbursement for fees and costs related to the investigation.

      The State of Florida is taking a South Florida used car dealer, and related companies, to court, accusing the businesses of deceptive and unfair business p...

      Word Is Out On Unapproved Swine Flu Products

      Feds warn of dangerous scams

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is informing consumers of potential harm associated with unapproved products claiming to diagnose, prevent, or otherwise act against the 2009 H1N1 virus, aka "swine flu."

      Within the past two weeks, the FDA has:

      • Urged caution regarding promotions and Internet sites offering products for sale that claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the virus

      • Enhanced efforts to warn about potentially deceptive products, and encourage reporting of suspected criminal activity, with the release of a flu fraud widget.

      • In partnership with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), issued a warning letter to a Web site marketing fraudulent supplements that claim to help prevent the spread of the virus. The letter advises the site's owners to discontinue marketing the products or face legal action

      These new measures follow FDA actions earlier this year to protect consumers against Web sites offering unapproved products. These actions included enforcing laws that protect consumers against these sites, and warnings posted through media outreach and a "Fraudulent Products List" posted on FDA's Web site.

      Since May 2009, FDA has warned more than 75 Web sites to stop the sale of more than 135 products with fraudulent H1N1 influenza virus claims.

      "Products that are offered for sale with claims to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus must be carefully evaluated," says Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. "Unless these products and the claims they make are proven to be safe and effective, they will not prevent the transmission of the virus or offer effective remedies against infection. Furthermore, they can make matters worse by providing consumers with a false sense of protection."

      Consumers are urged to purchase only FDA-approved products from licensed pharmacies located in the United States, and should contact their health professional if they have any questions or concerns about medical products or personal protective equipment.

      Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) and Relenza (zanamivir) are the only two FDA-approved antiviral drugs for treatment and prophylaxis of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus. In addition to their approved labeling, these drugs have been issued Emergency Use Authorizations by FDA that describe specific authorized uses during the swine flu public health emergency.

      Patients who buy prescription drugs from Web sites operating outside the law are at increased risk of suffering life-threatening adverse events such as side effects from inappropriately using prescription medications, dangerous drug interactions, contaminated drugs, and impure or unknown ingredients found in unapproved drugs.

      FDA actively monitors the Internet and, where appropriate, purchases and analyzes drug products. It recently announced what it found when it purchased and analyzed several products represented online as Tamiflu.

      One of these online orders resulted in delivery to FDA of an unmarked envelope postmarked from India. Inside were unlabeled, white tablets taped between two pieces of paper that were found to contain talc and acetaminophen, an active ingredient found in many medicines to help relieve pain and reduce fever. Not found was oseltamivir, the active ingredient of Tamiflu.

      The Web site selling this product disappeared shortly after FDA placed the order.

      The agency also bought four other products purported to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure the H1N1 influenza virus from other Web sites. These products contained various levels of oseltamivir but were not approved for use in the United States. Several did not require a prescription from a health professional.

      In actions it announced in June 2009, FDA issued warning letters and advised operators of offending sites to immediately ensure that they weren't marketing products intended to act against the swine flu virus that have not been cleared, approved, or authorized by the agency.

      Among the unapproved, uncleared, or unauthorized H1N1 flu products it targeted at that time were:

      • A shampoo said to protect against the H1N1 flu virus.

      • A dietary supplement said to protect infants and young children from contracting the virus.

      • A "new" supplement said to cure H1N1 flu infection within four to eight hours.

      • A spray that claims to leave a layer of ionic silver on one's hands that kills the flu virus.

      • Several diagnostic tests that have not been approved to detect the swine flu virus.

      • An electronic instrument whose sellers claim uses "photobiotic energy" and "deeply penetrating mega-frequency life-force energy waves" to strengthen the immune system and prevent symptoms associated with H1N1 viral infection.

      Word Is Out On Unapproved Swine Flu Products...

      FDIC Warns Against Fake Bank Failure Scam

      E-mail claims that reader's bank has been seized

      October 26, 2009
      It's all too easy to believe these days that your bank has failed and been seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The current crop of bank failures is ripe for scammers trying to fool unsuspecting account holders into handing over their personal information.

      The FDIC has received numerous reports of a fraudulent e-mail that has the appearance of being sent from the FDIC.

      The subject line of the e-mail states: "Check your Bank Deposit Insurance Coverage." The e-mail tells recipients that "You have received this message because you are a holder of a FDIC-insured bank account. Recently FDIC has officially named the bank you have opened your account with as a failed bank, thus, taking control of its assets."

      The e-mail then asks recipients to "Visit the official FDIC website and perform the following steps to check your Deposit Insurance Coverage," complete with a fake link to the Web site. It then instructs recipients to "Download and open your personal FDIC Insurance File to check your Deposit Insurance Coverage."

      This e-mail and associated Web site are fraudulent. Recipients should consider the intent of this e-mail as an attempt to collect personal or confidential information, some of which may be used to gain unauthorized access to online banking services or to conduct identity theft.

      The FDIC does not issue unsolicited e-mails to consumers. Financial institutions and consumers should NOT follow the link in the fraudulent e-mail.

      FDIC Warns Against Fake Bank Failure Scam...

      Redbox Facing Late-Fee Class Action Suit

      Plaintiff claims she was charged despite company policy

      Embattled DVD vendor Redbox has already fought plenty of legal fires this year, but now the company has a consumer class action on its hands. Laurie Piechur, of St. Clair, Ill., accuses the company of routinely charging fees to consumers who return videos late, despite the company's claim that it never charges late fees of any kind.

      Piechur's suit lists several instances in which she was charged a fee for returning videos after 9 P.M., the required return time. On at least two occasions one of which fittingly involved the movie "Fool's Gold" -- Piechur was charged the ominous-sounding $25 "maximum fee." That fee is only imposed on consumers who return a DVD after the end of the "maximum rental period," which varies from disc to disc. Those subject to the fee are allowed to permanently keep the DVD, however.

      The plaintiffs contend that a surprising amount of money is at issue in the case. Piechur's attorneys say that between January 2002 and now the period covered by the complaint Redbox has collected around $100 million in "illegal and punitive" late fees.

      Unlike other video rental companies -- Netflix and Blockbuster, for example -- Redbox doesn't have full-fledged stores or a video-by-mail operation. Instead, the company sets up kiosks in grocery stores and pharmacies, and allows customers to rent videos for $1 per night. Aside from its convenience, the company attracts customers with its no-fee policy; Redbox's website touts "Easy DVD rentals with no late or hidden fees ever."

      According to Piechur's suit, though, the no-fee policy is little more than smoke and mirrors. The suit correctly notes that customers who don't return the video by the 9 P.M. deadline are charged an extra $1. Under the company's policy, the customer has essentially re-rented the video for an additional 24-hour period. Piechur's complaint says this practice is illegal, noting that "the customer never actually entered into a contract for a re-rental, nor signed an agreement" and that the fee was "unilaterally imposed."

      The suit also takes issue with Redbox's $25 "maximum fee," which it says is much too high for a used disc. Piechur notes that "Redbox itself only charges $7 for used DVDs at its kiosks -- less than one-third the amount it charges its customers for a used DVD." Thus, the suit contends, consumers are paying top dollar for an "inferior quality disc."

      Piechur's claims are technically true, but they are unlikely to gain much traction in court. So-called "adhesion contracts" -- those with predetermined, non-negotiable terms -- are not only valid, but extremely common. Any time you get a new credit card, lease an apartment, or even create an eBay account, you enter into and are bound by such a contract.

      Adhesion contracts are only unenforceable when they contain unconscionable terms. Paying $1 for every day a DVD is late hardly seems unconscionable; indeed, most people would consider this a bargain. The $25 maximum fee might be a closer call, but it is unlikely to be found unreasonable. Indeed, Blockbuster has a similar policy -- any video rental is converted to a purchase on the eighth day the DVD is out.

      Piechur's suit, which includes counts for unjust enrichment, fraud, and violation of several Illinois state laws, asks for $350,000 plus attorneys' fees.

      Redbox has a uniquely American history. The company was originally owned by McDonald's Corp. -- that of fast food fame -- and has since been acquired by Coinstar, another kiosk-centric company that converts coins into spendable money for an 8.9 percent fee.

      The company has recently been occupied with litigation against Universal Studios, Warner Brothers, and 20th Century Fox, after the movie studios refused to release movies to Redbox until 28 days after they hit store shelves. This policy was aimed at preventing Redbox from eating into bona fide DVD sales, but Redbox says it violated antitrust laws.

      Embattled DVD vendor Redbox has already fought plenty of legal fires this year, but now the company has a consumer class action on its hands....