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    Scammers Target Families of Haitian Earthquake Survivors

    Claims that special documents can bypass immigration process

    A new scam targeting Haitian Americans trying to bring their relatives from the earthquake-riddled country to the United States has surfaced, authorities warned today.

    Haitian Americans contacted in the scheme are offered documents they supposedly need to bypass the official government process to bring family members from the devastated island to America, according to the office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

    Victims in the scheme, who are reportedly handed fliers or reached by phone, are told to wire $500 in exchange for the documents and a confirmation number that will allegedly allow them to fly to Haiti and bring five relatives home.

    But the promised documents and flight are phony, according to the Haitian Embassy in Washington and the Greater Washington Haiti Relief Committee. They said this scam is simply a new twist to the old advance fee scheme.

    Haitian Americans who want to bring their relatives from the earthquake-ravaged country to the United States should contact the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at (800) 375-5283. They can also contact the agency online at www.uscis.gov.

    On January 12, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the poor, island country of Haiti. The cataclysmic quake has since claimed the lives of an estimated 150,000 people, but authorities say that number is likely to climb. At least 4,800 Americans are still unaccounted for.

    The powerful seismic tremor, centered about 14 miles west of the crowded capital of Port-Au-Prince, also injured more than 190,000 people. Search teams, however, have rescued 134 people from beneath the rubble in Port-Au-Prince.

    Reports of catastrophic damage are widespread in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Thousands of homes, schools, and other buildings collapsed under the earthquake's horrific force.

    The country now estimates at least one million people are homeless and some 300,000 children younger than two need nutritional support.

    Relief, however, continues to pour in from around the world. More than $1 billion in international aid has been pledge to the relief efforts since the earthquake ripped apart the country two weeks ago.

    The United States has promised $317 million in financial assistance and sent 17,000 military personnel to the region.

    Scammers Target Families of Haitian Earthquake Survivors...
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    Study: Calorie Postings On Fast Food Menus Help Kids

    Parents choose fewer calories for their children but not themselves

    Will posting calorie information on fast food menu boards really make people eat healthier? Some fast food chains have resisted the idea, saying there's no evidence it would be effective.

    A Seattle researcher says there is now.

    In a new study, the amount of calories selected by parents for their child's hypothetical meal at McDonald's restaurants were reduced by an average of 102 calories when the menus clearly showed the calories for each item. This is the first study to suggest that labeled menus may lead to significantly reduced calorie intake in fast food restaurant meals purchased for children.

    Supporters of calorie posting say the findings, compiled by researcher Pooja S. Tandon, MD, from Seattle Children's Research Institute, support nutritional menu labeling and show that when parents have access to this information they may make smarter meal choices for their children.

    The study is published online in the January 25 inPediatrics.

    At a pediatric practice in Seattle, 99 parents of 3- to 6-year-olds who sometimes eat in fast food restaurants with their children were surveyed about their fast food dining habits. They were presented with sample McDonald's restaurant menus which included current prices and pictures of items, and asked what they would select for themselves and also for their children as a typical meal.

    Half of the parents were given menus that also clearly showed calorie information for each item. Choices included most of the items sold at McDonald's, including a variety of burgers, sandwiches, salads, dressings, side items, beverages, desserts and children's "Happy Meals."

    Parents who were given the calorie information chose 102 fewer calories on average for their children, compared with the group who did not have access to calorie information on their menus. This reflects a calorie reduction of approximately 20 percent. Notably, there was no difference in calories between the two groups for items the parents would have chosen for themselves.

    "Even modest calorie adjustments on a regular basis can avert weight gain and lead to better health over time," said Tandon, research fellow at Seattle Children's Research Institute and the University of Washington School of Medicine. "Just an extra 100 calories per day may equate to about ten pounds of weight gain per year."

    Tandon says the national childhood obesity epidemic has grown right alongside America's fast food consumption. Anything that can help families make more positive choices could make a difference, he says.

    Parents act on information

    "Interestingly, by simply providing parents the caloric information they chose lower calorie items. This is encouraging, and suggests that parents do want to make wise food decisions for their children, but they need help," Tandon said.

    There was no correlation between the families' typical frequency of fast food dining and calories selected, for either parents or children.

    A growing number of jurisdictions across the country have begun mandating that nutritional information be readily available at point-of-ordering in chain restaurants. Currently more than 30 localities or states are considering policies that would require calories and other nutrition information to be clearly visible-four have already implemented policies.

    Federal menu labeling standards have also been discussed as part of health care reform legislation.

    Study: Calorie Postings On Fast Food Menus Help Kids...
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      Don't Let Your Heart or Wallet Get Hijacked This Valentine's Day

      Scammers taking advantage of holiday once again

      With Valentine's Day just around the corner, marketing pitches and eCards related to the holiday are sure to be coming to your email account, as scammers try to trick the unwary into passing along personal and financial information.

      Connecticut Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell, Jr. has advice for those who are going to doing some shopping for a special someone to keep them from getting their hearts -- or their wallets -- broken.

      "One scheme involves an email indicating that the flowers you ordered for your sweetie won't be delivered unless you log in and re-enter your credit card number, so think before you act," Farrell said. "Even if you think a message like this is real, go directly to the florist's website or call them on the phone."

      Along the same lines, be careful opening eCards. If you have very good antivirus software and are current with all security updates your computer is reasonably safe. Even then, don't open an eCard unless you know who sent it.

      In addition, beware of any message telling you that you need to update your Flash player to view the eCard. Don't click on the link provided by the sender, since it may install spyware or other software that allows access to your computer and your data. Instead, go to www.get.adobe.com/flashplayer/ and download the update from there.

      You should immediately delete suspicious or anonymous emails or e-cards, and never give out personal information in response to any email or e-card. Contact your local police and Federal Trade Commission if you believe you are a victim of a scam.

      A romantic dinner is always a nice choice, as long as you pick a place that you're comfortable with in terms of food and expense.

      "A busy holiday may not be the best time to try out an unfamiliar restaurant," Farrell said. "Keeping it relaxed may make for a more enjoyable evening out."

      Of course, flowers are a traditional Valentine's gift, but they too have been used to trap the unsuspecting consumer. Don't choose just any florist that advertises at this busy time of year. Ask trusted neighbors, family and friends for names of quality local florists.

      Avoid doing business with florists that don't list a street address with their phone number. When ordering, ask the florist to itemize the charges for you. There have been fly-by-night operations that set up shop at this time of year, collect lots of orders (and payments) and never deliver.

      Two years ago, Chris of Lodi, NJ, wrote ConsumerAffairs.com, that he "ordered flowers (from 1800flowers) on 2/11 for delivery to my wife at her job on 2/14. I did not hear from her, so I called her. She said that 1 of her co-workers was supposed to get flowers, and they never showed. I didn't want to ruin the surprise, but I told her she was also supposed to get flowers. Turns out they both were ordered from 1-800-criminal. I tried to call--just get a recording that says: 'thank you, goodbye.'"

      Because jewelry is one of the more expensive Valentine's Day purchases, shop around and compare quality, price and service. If you're not familiar with any jewelers, ask trusted friends or family members for recommendations.

      "Don't fall for promises of huge discounts offered by some retailers," Farrell said. "Visit several stores to get a realistic range of prices, and before you buy, make sure you understand the seller's refund and return policy."

      Have the jeweler write on the sales slip any special information about your purchase, such as the gemstone's weight, size, or grade.

      ConsumerAffairs.com has received several complaints about Georgia-based Friedman's, the third largest jewelry retailer in the country:

      • Joanne of Charlotte, NC says she purchased several pieces of jewelry along with the life-time warranty's on replacement and repairs. "I was in need of repairs and a diamond replacement and went to the store where I purchased the pieces from, only to find them closed. The phone has been disconnected as well. I am unable to find another store to do the repairs and honor the contracts."

      • Clint of Birmingham, AL, tells ConsumerAffairs.com that he bought his fiance an engagement ring at a reasonable price. He says that since the company went bankrupt, "they won't stop hounding me about a monthly fee that is supposed to be for credit protection. I have since transferred my balance from them to a credit union and the account I had with them has a zero balance but they still keep charging me fees. I have told them to cancel the account and even sent a certified letter to them which they signed and sent back but they still won't close the account. I refuse to pay this balance since I don't have anything with them. Through this they have ruined my credit."

      • Shirley of Brandon, FL writes that she purchased a one-carat ring and can't get service for the ring, "no insurance coverage information, and I can't make a payment online, or store, and I have to pay additional fees to use their service for payment via telephone. I have purchase jewelry from this company since 1988 and I am angry that I cannot get the service I paid for now plus late fees."

      Online jewelers may offer lower prices, but you won't be able to inspect the items first-hand in order to gauge its quality and appeal. When online, be sure to read the fine print, because mounting and sizing could cost extra. Deal with only well-known, reputable online sellers, confirm all return policies, and keep printouts with details about the item, the transaction, and the refund and return policies.

      If possible, pay for jewelry and other expensive items with a major credit card. It may give you recourse if problems arise later.

      Many singles turn to online dating websites to find true love, but this has its risks. Scam artists often create fake profiles designed to match a certain kind of person whom they think will fall for their ploy. If you happen to be chosen by a scammer, at first it will seem that this new person you've met online is perfect for you in every way. So far, so good!

      But as your relationship continues, the criminal slowly builds enough trust that you won't suspect them when they start to bilk you out of your money. Often, the first grab at your finances will come when it's time to finally meet. Your true love won't have enough money for the trip and you'll be asked to wire funds for a plane ticket. Or he or she becomes sick or has a relative or child that needs emergency medical attention.

      "The money will be needed quickly and you won't have time to think about it," Farrell said. "You'll be told that time is of the essence' you may even be warned that if you don't help, someone might die."

      Be careful of this tried and true scam. If you fall for it you may face financial loss along with heartache.

      Don't Let Your Heart or Wallet Get Hijacked This Valentine's Day...
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      Midas Franchise Pays California $1.8 Million to Settle Bait-and-Switch Charges

      State investigators go undercover to expose car repair scam

      Ever been suspicious when you took your car in for a simple repair and the mechanic told you it required a lot of expensive work? Then consider this -- after a four year, undercover investigation, the State of California charged the owner of 22 Midas auto shops with a bait-and-switch scheme.

      In a settlement, the franchise will pay $1.8 million and sell its shops back to Midas.

      Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. says the settlement prevents Maurice Irving Glad from owning or operating an auto repair shop in the state because his shops "deceptively lured" customers with cheap brake specials and then charged hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs.

      "For years, Glad ran a bait-and-switch scam, in which he deceptively lured customers into his Midas shops with cheap brake specials, then charged them hundreds of dollars more for unnecessary repairs," Brown said. "Our settlement makes sure that Glad will never own or operate an auto repair shop in California again."

      Brown filed suit against Glad in June 2009. The investigation revealed that Glad regularly advertised $79 to $99 brake specials at his Midas shops to draw in customers and then often charged another $110 to $130 for unnecessary brake-rotor resurfacing. In some cases, customers were charged hundreds of dollars more for repairs that were not needed or never performed.

      The settlement requires Glad to pay $1.8 million in damages, investigative costs and attorney fees, plus permanently prevents the franchisee from applying for or holding any license or registration issued by the California Bureau of Automotive Repair or any successor agency. He is also prohibited from engaging in any business that requires any type of license or registration issued by the California Bureau of Automotive Repair or any successor agency.

      Midas to honor guarantees

      In addition to acquiring Glad's 22 shops, Midas International Corporation has agreed to honor any and all guarantees or warranties previously made or given to customers.

      This isn't the first time the auto shops owner has been in hot water with the state. In 1989, the state attorney general sued Glad for similar violations, which resulted in an injunction prohibiting his shops from performing unnecessary repairs, charging for services not performed, or using scare tactics to convince customers to purchase unnecessary parts and services. The California Bureau of Automotive Repair initiated its recent investigation into Glad's Midas shops to monitor compliance with the injunction.

      Undercover agents, posing as customers, conducted approximately 30 sting operations at Glad's shops. In total, there were more than 35 incidents, involving 105 violations, in which shop managers, mechanics and employees made false or misleading statements to pressure customers into purchasing unnecessary parts and services. On average, the shops charged undercover agents almost $300 in unnecessary brake-rotor resurfacings, brake-drum repairs, brake adjustments, brake-cleaning services and other services.

      "Overselling of services has become an increasing problem," said California Bureau of Automotive Repair Chief Sherry Mehl. "It amounts to fraud and seriously harms the consumer. That's why we aggressively work to find and shut down these shops."

      Midas Franchise Pays California $1.8 Million to Settle Bait-and-Switch Charges...
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      Study: Better Chemical Safety Laws Could Reduce Chronic Disease

      Revamping legislation could also lower health care costs

      A new study claims the United States could significantly reduce its rates of chronic illnesses -- and potentially its high health care costs -- by reforming its antiquated chemical safety laws.

      The report released Thursday by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition highlighted six health issues the organization says are on the rise because of exposure to toxins, such as leukemia, breast cancer, asthma, fertility problems, birth defects in males, and autism.

      The report claimed the U.S. could save an estimated $5 billion in health care costs if it reduced the number of these illnesses by just one tenth of one percent, via revamping the country's Toxic Substances Control Act, the key federal law governing chemical safety.

      "Chemical policy reforms hold the promise of reducing the economic, social, and personal costs of chronic disease by creating a more healthy future for all Americans," the report stated. "The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition believes that, by reforming TSCA, we can reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals, improve our nation's health, and lower the cost of health care."

      Congress enacted the TSCA in 1976, but it hasn't made any significant amendments to the law since then. Scientists, medical experts, environmental advocates, and other safety experts say the law doesnt give Americans adequate protection from toxic chemicals.

      Some problems with the TSCA include:

      • The TSCA gives a "free pass" to all chemicals in existence before 1976, the report states. Those chemicals are not required to undergo any safety testing.

      • Under the TSCA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can only require safety tests on 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals used in the country.

      • Some 60,000 other chemicals, including the toxin bisphenol A (BPA) linked in animal studies to infertility, behavioral changes, breast cancer and other health issues, are grandfathered in the TSCA and not subject to mandatory safety tests.

      Since Congress approved the TSCA, the report found, thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies have uncovered "a large body of evidence" that shows exposure to chemicals is linked to many serious health problems.

      "Scientific evidence is piling up, revealing how chemicals are contributing to the alarming increases we are seeing in childhood leukemia, learning disabilities, reproductive disorders and other health problems," said Charlotte Brody, RN, National Field Director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition and lead author of the report. "But meanwhile the federal law that is supposed to protect us has stayed frozen in time."

      Other health care professionals agree Congress must act now to reform the country's obsolete chemical safety laws. They say the health and welfare of all Americans, especially children, is at stake.

      "[The] failure of [the] TSCA has direct implications for the health of America's children," said Philip J. Landrigan, MD, Pediatrician and Director, Children's Environmental Health Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "Infants and children are uniquely vulnerable to toxic industrial chemicals. Research from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) documents show that several hundred industrial chemicals are in all of us. Some of these chemicals are known to cause asthma, cancer, learning disabilities and birth defects.

      "But for too many of the chemicals that are in us, no toxicity testing has ever been done," he added. "For too many of the industrial chemicals that are in us we have no idea of their potential toxicity to our children. This is very unwise and terribly short-sighted. Failure of TSCA is cause for great concern not only for the health of our children, but also for the future of our nation."

      Legislation to toughen the TSCA is expected to be introduced in early 2010 by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL).

      "The use of chemicals is pervasive in our modern society and, when properly tested and used, they improve the quality of life for families here and throughout the world," said Rush, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. "But just because chemicals have value, does not mean they are always beneficial to our health, particularly the health and maturation of young children and those whose health has already been compromised."

      "As we work to reform [the] TSCA, I will continue to vigorously prod industry to seek out and invest in the development of safer, more viable alternatives to hazardous chemicals and substances," he added.

      Six problems on the rise

      Thursday's report, "The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act," documented six health issues that scientific studies have shown are on the rise because of exposure to chemicals.

      According to the report, those conditions are:

      • Leukemia, brain cancer, and other childhood cancers, which have increased by more than 20 percent since 1975. Many studies have linked cancer with chemicals used in the workplace, including asbestos, chromium, and vinyl chloride. An Arizona study found that 25 percent of homes contain formaldehyde at higher than recommended levels. Formaldehyde is also used in furniture, countertops, insulation, wallpaper, nail polish, dishwashing liquid and other consumer products.

      • Breast cancer, which the study said increased more than 40 percent between 1973 and 1998. Studies have linked early exposure to the pesticide DDT with later development of breast cancer. Other studies have linked BPA to breast cancer. "In laboratory studies bisphenol A is one of the chemicals that has also been shown to cause normal breast tissue to express genes associated with a highly aggressive, and often fatal, form of breast cancer," the report said. Breast cancer rates have declined since 2003, the report noted, but a woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer is now one in eight. That's up from one in ten in 1973.

      • Asthma, which the report said nearly doubled between 1980 and 1995. In 2008, more than 38 million people in the country had experienced asthma at some point in their lives. According to the report, hundreds of chemicals can cause asthma in people previously free of the disease or place asthma patients at great risk. Those chemicals include formaldehyde and the phthalates DEHP and BBZP, which are used in vinyl flooring, carpet tiles, and PVC plastic.

      Fertility and reproductive issues, which the report said affected 40 percent more women in 2002 than in 1982. Prenatal exposure to low levels of perfluorinated chemicals, which are used in stick-free and stain-proof products, was linked to low birth weight and body mass in newborns. Studies have also linked cadmium, a metal used in batteries, to reduced sperm motility and gynecological disorders. "No chemicals are currently regulated under TSCA because of their potential to harm reproduction or development," the report said. "But other authoritative bodies have listed more than 50 industrial chemicals as reproductive toxins."

      • Birth defects causing undescended testicles increased 200 percent between 1970 and 1993, the report said. Many studies have linked BPA, phthalates, and cadmium to this and other reproductive issues. Studies have also shown these chemicals act as endocrine disruptors, which interfere with normal hormone function. The report also noted that exposure to these chemicals caused similar reproductive issues in birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles.

      • Learning and developmental disabilities, including intellectual disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism, are on the rise, the report stated.

      "Almost 1 percent of 8-year-old children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a 10-fold increase over just a 15-year-period," the report said. Studies have linked lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic, methyl-mercury, and toluene, to these and other neurodevelopmental disorders. 133 million people, or more than half of all Americans, now live with these and other chronic illnesses, according to Thursday's report.

      "Estimates of the proportion of the disease burden that can be attributed to chemicals vary widely, ranging from 1 percent of all disease to 5 percent of children cancer to 10 percent of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and neurodevelopmental deficits, to 30 percent of childhood asthma," the report said. "Whatever the actual contribution, effective chemical policy reform will incorporate the last 30 years of science to reduce the chemical exposure that contribute to the rising incidence of chronic disease."

      "Holding back economic growth"

      Studies show the United States now spends more than $7,000 per person every year on health care.

      In 2008, the direct medical costs associated with cancer were $93.2 billion. The annual price tag for Alzheimer's care was a staggering $150 billion. And the Projected National Health Expenditure for 2020 is a whopping $5000 billion dollars.

      "Even if chemical policy reform leads to reductions in toxic chemical exposures that translate into just one-tenth of one percent reduction of health care costs, it would save the U.S. health care system an estimated $5 billion every year," the report stated.

      The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also called for tougher chemical safety laws, saying such action would cut the country's health care bill. She also suggested such a move could boost the country's ailing economy.

      "The poor who get sick because of toxins in their neighborhoods are the same people who typically seek treatment in emergency rooms," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told the American Public Health Association last November. "That drives up health care costs fore everyone. And environmental health issues hold back economic growth. Let me repeat that, because there are a lot of people who think we can't address these issues and strengthen our economy."

      "In fact, we must address these issues to strengthen our economy," Jackson added. "Environmental health issues hold back economic growth."

      The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition said Congress must immediately revamp the Toxic Substances Control Act.

      "Chemical exposure is a factor we can do something about," the coalition's report states. "In simplest terms, real reform will lead to more healthy babies, fewer women with breast cancer, a return to normal fertility patterns, and lower numbers of people with Alzheimer's disease. That is the promise of TSCA reform."

      Study: Better Chemical Safety Laws Could Reduce Chronic Disease...
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      CPSC Outlines Revamped Crib Recall Policy

      Credits or refunds for recalled items a possibility

      Call it "refunds for recalls." That could be part of the new beefed-up crib safety rules unveiled before Congress by the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum told a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel that her "Safe Sleep Initiative" is considering a requirement that crib makers offer a refund or store credit when crib is recalled. This, she testified, would "incentivize consumers to discard and replace defective cribs."

      At the same time, she cautioned that the requirement couldn't send manufacturers into bankruptcy or financial distress, as that could "foreclose the possibility of any corrective action."

      Committee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-MI), emphasized the importance of the issue noting that "a baby crib is the only product designed expressly so that parents can leave their children unattended for long periods of time and be confident their children will be safe. What is most shocking," he added, "is that all of these recalled cribs were certified as meeting the industry's voluntary safety standards."

      As part of her 6-step initiative, Tenenbaum said she plans to ratchet up public outreach in cases of crib and durable infant and toddler product recalls. This would include increasing consumer awareness via multimedia tools, including print, radio, television, and social media, as well as community-based events and partnerships with crib advocacy groups including Safe Kids USA, Keeping Babies Safe, and the National Safety Council.

      The hearing by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations came less than two weeks the recall of more than 2 million Stork Craft drop-side cribs and just days after Dorel Asia recalled more than 6000,000 cribs.

      Federal crib safety standards haven't been updated since 1982.

      CPSC Outlines Revamped Crib Recall Policy...
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      Stroke Therapy Successful in Animal Tests

      Could have implications for human stroke patients

      A naturally occurring protein could restore limb function in humans long after a stroke, two new studies find.

      Biologists at the University of California, Irvine, say that when the protein was administered directly to the brain of rats that had suffered a stroke, it restored 99 percent of lost movement. When given through the nose, 70 percent of lost movement was regained. Untreated rats improve by only 30 percent.

      "No drugs exist that will help a stroke after a few days. If you have a stroke, you don't have many treatment options," explains James Fallon, psychiatry and human behavior professor and senior coauthor of the studies. "Now we have evidence there may be therapies that can repair damage to a significant degree long after the stroke. It's a completely unexpected and remarkable finding, and it's worth trying in humans."

      The studies chronicle the success of a small protein called transforming growth factor (TGF) alpha, which plays critical tissue-forming and developmental roles in humans from just after conception through birth and into old age.

      "TGF alpha has been studied for two decades in other organ systems but never before has been shown to reverse the symptoms of a stroke," said UC Irvine postdoctoral researcher Magda Guerra-Crespo, who carried out the studies.

      Dr. Mark Albers, an assistant professor of neurology at the Mass General Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells ConsumerAffairs.com that the research "looks very promising." Albers says he's particularly impressed that the study has "demonstrated that inter-nasal delivery of a biologic has efficacy in the nervous system."

      In the first study, published in the journal Neuroscience, scientists sought to learn whether TGF alpha administered directly to the brain could help rats with stroke-induced loss of limb function, typically on one side -- as seen in humans.

      When put inside a cylinder, healthy rats will jump up with both front legs, but stroke-impaired rats will use just one leg, favoring the injured side. When given a choice of directions to walk, impaired rats will move toward their good side.

      One month after the study rats suffered an induced stroke (equal to about a year for humans), some were injected with TGF alpha. Within a month, they had regained nearly all their motor function, hopping up with both legs in the cylinder exercise and not favoring a side in the directional test. Rats that did not receive treatment improved just 30 percent.

      Scientists examined the rats' brains and found that TGF alpha was stimulating neuron growth.

      First, it prompted adult stem cells in the brain to divide, creating more cells. Those cells then turned into brain cells and moved to the injured part of the brain, replacing neurons lost to the stroke. These new neurons, the scientists believe, helped restore motor function.

      "It's becoming more and more clear that the brain is like any other organ: It has a lot of potential to regenerate," says Darius Gleason, a developmental and cell biology graduate student who worked on the study. "We are just emulating nature by giving a little nudge to what the brain is trying to do itself."

      In the second study, appearing in the Journal of Stroke & Cerebrovascular Diseases, scientists placed TGF alpha in the rats' noses, simulating a nasal spray.

      They used a slightly different chemical version of the protein to render it more stable on its journey to the brain. After a month, the injured rats had regained 70 percent of their function, indicating that the intranasal method also works well.

      "We saw the same phenomena," Fallon says. "It wasn't as profound, but we still ended up with very significant behavioral improvements and the same regenerative anatomical process."

      Mass General's Albers points out that these findings will need to be replicated in other animal tests before the treatment would be ready for a trial in human patients.

      Rehabilitation of stroke suffers is just one area of research. Prevention of a second stroke is also high on the agenda, with recent studies showing that reducing cholesterol significantly cuts the chance of a recurrence.

      Stroke Therapy Successful in Animal Tests: A naturally occurring protein could restore limb function in humans long after a stroke, two new studies find....
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      Samsung TVs Draw Unusual Number Of Complaints

      Consumers complain sets fail after two or three years ofuse

      By Mark Huffman

      January 22, 2010
      When you check the complaints on ConsumerAffairs.com, you normally find a fair share of consumer accounts of problems with their flat screen TVs. Most popular brands are included, such as Vizio, Sony, Samsung, Philips, Mitsubishi, and others.

      But all of a sudden, owners of Samsung TV's appear to be having the most trouble, posting 110 complaints in the last 30 days. The bulk of them have come in the last week or two.

      "We bought a 52 inch Samsung LCD in 9/2007. It needs a new front panel, probably $1200-1500," Mary of Arlington, Tex. told ConsumerAffairs.com.

      "We bought a 40 inch Samsung TV about two years ago and now it takes anywhere from 20-50 clicks before the TV will come on," reports Brenda, of South Euclid, Ohio.

      "For at least the past year, our Samsung 62 inch TV shuts off sporadically," said Kim, of Durand, Il. At first it did it once, and some days not at all. About a year ago, I started contacting Samsung. They will not help me."

      Fears confirmed

      Many consumers have been visiting Web sites such as ConsumerAffairs.com to find out what others have experienced. Often the news just confirms their worst fears.

      "Purchased Samsung LCD TV LN46A650A1F on July 8, 2008," Tim, of Enid, Okla., told ConsumerAffairs.com. "On January 18, 2010 we experienced the same power on/off cycling that so many have reported."

      Tim says he thinks a TV -- one that costs several hundred dollars, no less -- should last longer than 18 months. He notes his old fashioned Toshiba is still going strong after 19 years.

      "I purchased a Samsung 40 inch LCD TV in February of 2007," Bruce, of Waialua. Hi., told ConsumerAffairs.com. "The TV was working fine up until Saturday, when it suddenly developed vertical lines across the entire screen. I have tried all of the inputs and it does not appear to be an input or cord problem. The TV also takes quite awhile to turn on and always has. I have read that Samsung used faulty capacitors in the TV's power supplies during the time frame that I bought mine. My TV is long out of warranty but I paid nearly $2000 for it and it seems criminal that a television could break like this after only three years."

      A poster going by "L," from League City, Tex., also mentioned the capacitor issue.

      "Repairman came today and replaced two insufficient 10V capacitors with two 25V ones and now (the TV) works again," the post reads. "He could not believe Samsung used 10V capacitors in a 9V Power Supply Circuit Board."

      Vizio too

      Last August ConsumerAffairs.com received a rash of complaints about Vizio flat screens from consumers reporting the so-called "black screen of death," when their year or two old set would suddenly go black. At the time, we interviewed Pikeville, Ky., TV repairman Ray Hall, who told us no one brand of flat screen TV was any worse than another. They are all cheaply made, he says, and not real easy to work on.

      Hall said in many cases the problem in flat screen TVs stems from a power supply failure.

      "Most of these sets have three power supplies," he said. "The main power supply usually holds up but what happens, one of the screen power supplies fails. When that happens the screen goes dark and repairs can be costly, assuming a service provider can get the parts.

      "It used to be you could buy a TV set and it would last 20 years," said Hall. "It's not like that with these flat screens."

      Samsung TVs Draw Unusual Number Of Complaints...
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      Group Adds Up 'Cost Of Bad Lending'

      Site makes the case for Consumer Financial Protection Agency

      The Center for Responsible Lending has taken a calculator to tally up the costs to the U.S. economy of what it calls "bad lending;" everything from subprime mortgages, to abusive bank policies, to payday loans.

      The group has added a section to its Web site where consumers can see these costs broken down sector by sector and state by state.

      For example, in California CRL counts 731,779 total foreclosure starts from the first quarter of 2008 through the third quarter of 2009. Foreclosure starts increased 692 percent from 2006 to 2009.

      Statewide, the projected loss in wealth from home value declines from 2009 through 2012 totals $627 billion, according to the group.

      Overdraft fees

      Bank overdraft fees are also a big driver of "bad loan" costs, according to CRL. Debit cards, it says, were once viewed more positively. They offered the safety and convenience of a credit card without the danger of going into debt.

      But in recent years, millions of Americans have lost money when they were surprised by an overdraft fee - or several - averaging $34 for debit card purchases which they thought they had the funds to cover.

      As recently as 2004, 80 percent of banks and credit unions routinely denied debit card transactions that would have overdrawn their customers' accounts, according to the group.

      In a complete reversal, today the large majority of customers are enrolled in overdraft programs where debit card and ATM overdrafts are routinely approved, even when their customers don't have the funds. That's changing, with new Federal Reserve rules that go into effect later this year. But the toll for consumers has been a steep one.

      According to CRL, American consumers spend more on bank overdraft fees each year than they do on fresh vegetables. According to the group, bank overdraft fees have increased from $10.3 billion in 2004 to a projected $26.6 billion in 2009.

      Payday loan trap

      As credit card lending tightens up, even more consumers are turning to payday loans, which CRL categorizes as among the most predatory lending.

      A payday loan is usually a small amount of cash with a hefty, percentage-wise, fee. The customer provides a post-dated check and the lender cashes it two weeks later, after the customer has received their latest pay check.

      But the problem for the consumer just gets worse. They've used the borrowed money to take care of whatever emergency they had and have repaid the debt in full out of their next paycheck.

      But by repaying the loan with one paycheck, they have used up a large chunk of the money to live on for the next two weeks. That means they often return to the payday lender for another loan, falling into a debt trap.

      CRL has pushed for a 36 percent APR cap, which would effectively eliminate payday loans, since their APR is closer to 400 percent. Five states have already passed such laws but CRL has pushed for a nationwide cap.

      It's no accident that CRL has produced this online resource at a time when Congressional support for a stand-alone Consumer Financial Protection Agency appears to have stalled. While the House passed an overhaul of financial regulatory reform last year that included the CFPA, consumer advocates in Washington fear the provision will be dropped from the Senate version, in response to vigorous financial industry lobbying efforts.

      Such an agency, CRL argues, would rein in bank fees, end annual car dealer interest rate kickbacks on auto loans, regulate income tax refund anticipation loans, monitor the activities of payday lenders, do a better job than the Federal Reserve in regulating mortgage lending, and reduce the overall cost to the U.S. economy of "bad lending."

      Group Adds Up 'Cost Of Bad Lending'...
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      Public Citizen to FDA: Pull Fibromyalgia Drug from the Market

      Medication has limited efficacy, risky effects, group says

      Public Citizen is calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to pull the fibromyalgia drug Savella from the market immediately.

      In its petition to the FDA, Public Citizen notes that the European Medicines Agency (EMEA), which regulates drugs on the Continent, rejected Savella's approval for fibromyalgia in July 2009, stating that its benefits were "marginal" and "did not outweigh its risks." This was shortly after the FDA approved the drug in January 2009.

      Since the drug went on the market in the U.S., approximately 250,000 prescriptions have been filled, with doctors writing more prescriptions every month.

      In two randomized clinical trials, Savella, also known by its generic name milnacipran, was found to increase blood pressure, heart rate and suicidal thoughts, Public Citizen's petition said. Among patients who had normal blood pressure at the beginning of the study, 19.5 percent of those who took Savella developed hypertension, compared with 7.2 percent of those on a placebo.

      "Because Savella is a drug that produces only a marginal effect on pain, the main problem for which patients seek treatment, and has the potential to be quite dangerous, it is clear that it should not be sold," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. "The FDA never should have approved Savella for fibromyalgia and should now immediately order the drug company to remove it from the market before large numbers of people suffer serious harm," Wolfe said.

      Based on the extent of increased blood pressure caused by Savella, the FDA medical officer who reviewed the drug estimated that persistent blood pressure hikes could increase the risk of a cardiovascular event (including death, myocardial infarction and stroke) by up to 50 percent.

      Savella also puts patients at risk for other disorders, including seizures, addiction, excessive bleeding, mood disorders, fractures, glaucoma and gastrointestinal effects such as nausea and vomiting. In pregnant women, the drug also can lead to hazards for fetuses, newborns and nursing infants. Additional risks for men include testicular pain and problems with ejaculation. In fact, FDA warned last year of problems with Savella.

      The director of the FDA's Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia and Rheumatology Products stated that although the dominant symptom of fibromyalgia is pain, the drug did not relieve patients' pain in the clinical trials.

      Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease, but neither of the drug's trials showed any statistical effectiveness beyond three months. And even within the trials' three-month duration, more than 90 percent of users in the trial received no benefit from the drug at all.

      Although not marketed as an antidepressant in the U.S., Savella is sold in Europe and Japan as such. The drug is required in the U.S. to have the "black box" warning for antidepressants, which points out an increased risk of suicide in children, adolescents and young adults.

      Savella is manufactured by Cypress Bioscience Inc. and Forest Laboratories Inc., and has been sold in the U.S. since May 2009.

      Savella is not the only treatment for fibromyalgia. The FDA approved another drug, Lyrica, in 2007.

      Public Citizen To FDA: Pull Fibromyalgia Drug From The Market...
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      Driving Wrecks Conversation

      Talking while driving not as simple as it sounds

      We've all heard the adage about being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. But how about talking and driving?

      With all the attention being focused on distracted driving, there's a new report out showing that driving impairs our ability to comprehend and produce language or -- put simply -- carry on a conversation.

      The University of Illinois study, which used a driving simulator at Illinois's Beckman Institute, involved a stationary Saturn automobile and three display screens featuring simulated roadways and intersections. The experiment's parameters made both driving and language production priorities for the test subjects -- 96 drivers and an equal number of conversation partners.

      The results showed, as the authors put it, that when it comes to "whether driving an automobile interferes with the ability to process and remember language" the answer is "unequivocally affirmative."

      Findings were of the study are published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

      The experiment required the "drivers" to listen to a story through earphones and then accurately retell it to their partners in 30 seconds or less. That task ensured meaningful language production for the test subjects while the driving task challenged them to negotiate an urban roadway environment, obey speed limits, and safely cross busy intersections.

      "Driving negatively impacts story retelling as well as the process of comprehending and encoding stories into long-term memory," the researchers wrote. "In summary, consistency in driving performance while dealing with speech (less driving variability) came at the expense of accuracy in story retelling. When doing the speech task only, drivers and nondrivers were equally good at retelling. When the car was moving, however, drivers displayed a large decline in speech-task performance."

      The stories used in the study were generally three to four sentences long with specific information the "drivers" were expected to remember and accurately convey to their partners. Both "drivers" and "non-drivers" listened to a story through headphones and then retold them to their partner; then the roles were reversed with the partner performing the same task.

      There were three critical task blocks consisting of two single-task blocks (driving-only and speech-only) and one dual-task block (driving while conversing).

      By asking participants to convey the stories accurately, the experiment ensured the subjects used novel sentences and maintained a certain level of engagement. Researchers measured the accuracy of the speech production as well as the memories of the subjects.

      "Driving affects both of those for the worse," said study coauthor Gary Dell. "It makes you tell the story less accurately and you leave more stuff out. It also makes you worse at remembering the stories that are told to you by your conversation partner."

      Unlike previous studies, Dell said, this experiment featured the difficult task of re-telling a story accurately while driving in a challenging environment.

      "We made the language task more interesting and realistic," he added. "The effects of driving on talking in this study were stronger. They were larger than what anybody would have expected because intuitively we think driving as being affected by speech, not the other way around."

      By focusing on how language is affected by driving, the research gives new insight into how difficult it can be to do two things at the same time -- even tasks that are as familiar to most people as driving and talking.

      "If the conversation is really important, they are probably going to focus on the conversation and then their driving will suffer," Dell said. "If the driving is really important, if you are really careful about your driving, the conversation is going to suffer.

      "These things -- even though we practice them a lot and are very skilled at doing them -- are hard things to do and when you put them together in a dual task, they suffer," the researchers concluded.

      The problem of distracted driving has grown to the point where both the Obama administration and Congress have become involved.

      Driving Wrecks Conversation...
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      Indiana Puppy Mill Operator Sentenced To Clean Cages

      Consumer fraud case began with failure to pay state sales taxes

      The owner of a commercial dog-breeding operation in Indiana pleaded guilty to felony tax-evasion charges and will have to spend part of her sentence cleaning animal cages. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he will also seek to collect a tax judgment of $193,700 that she owes the state.

      In Marion County, Ind., Superior Criminal Court 15, Tammy Gilchrist pleaded guilty to two Class D felonies: failure to remit or collect sales tax and failure to permit examination of sales-tax records. The state closed her operation last year.

      Under the plea agreement with the state of Indiana, Gilchrist was sentenced to two years, suspended. As part of her probation, Gilchrist must perform 40 hours of community service at the Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County, where she will not directly handle pets but must clean animal cages.

      "Hoosiers can be doubly harmed by scam artists who not only defraud consumers but the state through tax evasion," said Deputy Attorney General Andrew Swain, chief counsel of the Attorney General's Revenue Division. "The Attorney General's Office is combating these unscrupulous acts on two fronts, through consumer protection mechanisms and through tax laws to ensure businesses are meeting both state and consumer obligations."

      Gilchrist and co-owner Walter Workman operated a commercial dog-breeding business known by various names -- including Kritter Heaven -- in Cloverdale, Ind., that was the subject of numerous consumer complaints. In March 2006, then-Attorney General Steve Carter filed a consumer-fraud lawsuit against Gilchrist and her company, alleging Gilchrist failed to deliver puppies customers had paid for or delivered diseased puppies that were misrepresented as being healthy. The lawsuit seeking consumer restitution is ongoing; a hearing on the state's default judgment is set for next month.

      74 dogs seized

      Alleging that Gilchrist failed to collect or remit approximately $193,000 in sales tax owed from her puppy transactions, the Attorney General's Office on December 23, 2008, served a warrant at Gilchrist's puppy mill and seized 74 dogs and puppies that were caged in squalid conditions, as well as four horses. Gilchrist's retail merchant license later was revoked and the Attorney General's office obtained an injunction prohibiting her from selling dogs.

      Under the attorney general's legal authority to bring criminal charges of sales-tax evasion on behalf of the Department of Revenue, Zoeller's office later charged Gilchrist with five Class D felony counts and two misdemeanors. Charges were filed in Marion County because Indianapolis is the seat of state government.

      Also charged with similar counts were Workman and Gilchrist's employee Julie Herrick. In October 2009, Herrick pleaded guilty to failing to remit or collect sales tax, was sentenced to probation and agreed to testify against Gilchrist if Gilchrist's case went to trial.

      The guilty plea by Gilchrist to two felony charges, with the remaining counts dismissed, resolves her criminal case. The Attorney General's Office previously obtained a tax judgment in Owen County against Gilchrist for the unpaid sales tax, plus interest, which as of Dec. 23, 2009, totaled $193,700. In collecting the tax amount owed, the State can garnishee wages or seize property.

      Workman also pleaded guilty to one count of failure to remit or collect sales tax and was sentenced to one year of probation. Gilchrist, Workman and Herrick are forbidden from selling or breeding dogs while on probation.

      New law

      The guilty pleas by Gilchrist and Workman come as a new state law regulating puppy mills went into full effect Jan. 1.

      The new law passed last April by the Indiana General Assembly, House Enrolled Act 1468, gives county prosecutors greater ability to file criminal charges for animal neglect and animal cruelty. The law sets basic requirements for dog breeders to provide food, water and exercise to their dogs.

      It created a new registry of commercial dog breeders and dog brokers through the State Board of Animal Health (SBoA), and requires breeders and brokers to register annually and pay registration fees, based on the number of unaltered dogs they own.

      Indiana Puppy Mill Operator Sentenced To Clean Cages...
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      Toyota Recalls 2.3 Million More Vehicles to Fix Runaway Acceleration

      4.2 million Toyotas and Lexuses were recalled late last year for a similar problem

      Toyota is adding 2.3 million vehicles to the 4.2 million Toyota and Lexus models already recalled to fix a problem that can cause the accelerator pedal to stick.

      The latest recall involves

      • 2007-10 Camrys,
      • 2009-10 Corollas,
      • 2009-10 RAV4s,
      • 2009-10 Matrixes,
      • 2005-10 Avalons,
      • 2010 Highlanders,
      • 2007-10 Tundras and
      • 2008-10 Sequoias.

      Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. said in a statement that accelerator pedals could stick "in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position" in the affected models. A spokesman said the problem was most likely to occur when the pedal mechanism becomes worn.

      Today's action is separate from the ongoing recall of 4.2 million Toyota and Lexus models. The company said about 1.7 million vehicles are included in both recall actions.

      "In recent months, Toyota has investigated isolated reports of sticking accelerator pedal mechanisms in certain vehicles without the presence of floor mats, said Group Vice President Irv Miller. Our investigation indicates that there is a possibility that certain accelerator pedal mechanisms may, in rare instances, mechanically stick in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position."

      He said Toyota is "working quickly" to resolve the problem.

      In the event that a driver experiences an accelerator pedal that sticks in a partial open throttle position or returns slowly to idle position, the vehicle can be controlled with firm and steady application of the brakes, the company said. The brakes should not be pumped repeatedly because it could deplete vacuum assist, requiring stronger brake pedal pressure.

      Earlier recall

      Toyota's 2009 recall, which is still underway, was the largest in the company's history. Toyota and Lexus vehicles affected by the earlier recall are:

      • 2007-2010 Camry
      • 2005-2010 Avalon
      • 2004-2009 Prius
      • 2005-2010 Tacoma
      • 2007-2010 Tundra
      • 2007-2010 Lexus ES 350
      • 2006-2010 Lexus IS 250 and IS350

      Toyota also said it will install a brake override system on the Camry, Avalon and Lexus models. The override will shut off all engine power if drivers press both the brake and accelerator pedals simultaneouls. Toyota said the override is intended to be "an extra measure of confidence."

      Critics complained that Toyota did not exactly leap at the opportunity to recognize and fix the problem and consumers have been complaining about the sudden acceleration for years. Initially, the company blamed the problem on floor mats sliding forward but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) called that statement "inaccurate and misleading."

      Toyota eventually conceded that it was the design of the accelerator pedal that was causing the problem.

      No one knows how many accidents may have been caused but an August 2009 tragedy on a San Diego freeway put the problem at the top of the auto safety agenda. In that accident, a California highway patrolman and his family were killed in their runaway Lexus ES 350. Someone calling from the car before it crashed at over 100 miles per hour said they couldn't stop it. Seconds later, it struck an SUV.

      Others have escaped injury, but only narrowly. Radha of Philadelphia was in a parking lot earlier this year when his 2009 Prius began accelerating unexpectedly.

      "I went all in for the brakes -- no reaction from the car," he said. "Car crashed into a light pole, tilted to its right crashed down in parking spot right next to where I wanted to park. With me hanging by the seat belt, car still accelerating, I went for the power button. No response to that either.

      Radha managed to crawl through the window to escape from the car, the engine running wide open as the car lay on its side. When police arrived, they managed to switch the car off, Radha said.

      Mary of Medford, Oregon, also reported that four incidents of unintended acceleration in her 2007 Prius were accompanied by an apparent lack of response from the brakes. She said her dealer was able to duplicate the problem twice but couldn't resolve it.

      "It has nothing to do with the floor mat," Mary said.

      Not only were consumers skeptical, so was the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA issued a highly unusual statement scolding Toyota for what it called "inaccurate and misleading" information in Toyota press release about the recall.

      "NHTSA has told Toyota and consumers that removing the recalled floor mats is the most immediate way to address the safety risk and avoid the possibility of the accelerator becoming stuck. But it is simply an interim measure," NHTSA said. "This remedy does not correct the underlying defect in the vehicles involving the potential for entrapment of the accelerator by floor mats, which is related to accelerator and floor pan design."

      Will the pedal reshaping work? A former Toyota engineer now with Edmunds.com says it should.

      "Our tests have confirmed that an out of position floor mat can cause the throttle to stick because of the shape and geometry of the current gas pedal," Automotive News quoted Dan Edmunds as saying. He was senior chassis development engineer for Toyota's Technical Center before joining Edmunds.com.

      "Temporarily shortening and replacing the accelerator pedals are viable solutions to alleviate the problem," Edmunds said.

      Owners who have further questions can visitwww.toyota.comorwww.lexus.com or contact the Toyota Customer Experience Center at 1-800-331-4331 or Lexus Customer Assistance at 1-800-295-3987.

      Toyota recalled 55,000 Camry and Lexus models in September 2007 following complaints of runaway acceleration. Owners of the popular Prius Hybrid had also complained of the problem but were not included in that recall, though Prius models are included in the current recall.

      Toyota Recalls 2.3 Million More Vehicles to Fix Runaway Acceleration...
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      Do Consumers Have Too Many Choices?

      More really is better, study suggests

      Whether shopping in stores or online, consumers have probably never had as many choices. But are there too many choices?

      A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research says the jury is still out on so-called "choice overload."

      Authors Benjamin Scheibehenne of the University of Basel, Switzerland, Rainer Greifeneder of the University of Mannheim, Germany, and Peter M. Todd of Indiana University, Bloomington conducted a meta-analysis of 50 published and unpublished experiments that investigated choice overload. They found that generally, having a lot of choices is a good thing.

      "A number of studies in the past found strong instances of choice overload based on experiments in laboratories and in the field. While these results attracted a lot of attention in academia as well as in the media, a number of experiments found no empirical evidence for choice overload and sometimes even found that more choices instead facilitate choice and increase satisfaction," the authors write.

      Across the 50 experiments, which depict the choices of 5,036 individual participants, the authors found that the overall effect of choice overload was virtually zero.

      "This suggests that adverse consequences do not necessarily follow from increases in the number of options," the authors write. "In fact, contrary to the notion of choice overload, these results suggest that having many options to choose from will, on average, not lead to a decrease in satisfaction or motivation to make a choice."

      When it comes to food consumption, for example, the authors believe their meta-analysis shows that a "more-is-better" effect occurs, especially when individuals have clear prior preferences.

      A number of experiments in the past did find that choice overload exists, but the authors found that it was difficult to replicate those conditions.

      "Based on our meta-analysis data, we could not identify sufficient conditions or specific circumstances that explain when and why an increase in assortment size can be expected to reliably decrease satisfaction, preference strength, or the motivation to choose," the authors write.

      Across the 50 experiments, which depict the choices of 5,036 individual participants, the authors found that the overall effect of choice overload was virt...
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      California Recovers Stolen College Scholarship Funds

      Trustee looted money from living trust

      The state of California has reached a settlement with the trustee of a scholarship fund intended to benefit female graduates of Ukiah High School pursuing careers in medicine.

      James L. Harrison, 62, of Ukiah, "looted college scholarship funds intended to help women graduating from high school achieve their dreams," said Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. The agreement, Brown said, "makes sure that he is never in a position to steal from a non-profit again."

      Working together, Brown's office, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the California Department of Financial Institutions recovered both the principal and the interest -- totaling over $650,000 -- owed to the Trust. As part of the settlement, Harrison agreed to a lifetime ban from serving as a charitable trustee or officer of a public benefit corporation.

      In 1993, Ukiah residents Viola and Oscar Allen established a Living Trust. Upon their deaths, funds from the Trust were to be administered as scholarships for female graduates of Ukiah High School interested in pursuing further education in the medical field.

      Harrison, who was then Vice President of Savings Bank in Mendocino County, became Trustee in 1993. Instead of funding scholarships for students, he began spending the money for his own benefit. He invested in real-estate ventures and loaned money to friends and family.

      In 2005, the FDIC was notified of suspicious activity involving the Trust. Brown's office began its own investigation and found that Harrison had diverted hundreds of thousands of the approximately $474,000 in the original Trust.

      In February 2007, Brown filed a civil lawsuit against Harrison seeking to remove him from the Trustee position. The AG's office also filed criminal charges against Harrison in 2008.

      In February 2009, Harrison entered no contest pleas to the following felony counts:

      • Misappropriation of trust assets (Penal Code sections 487/506)

      • Filing willfully false tax returns (Revenue and Taxation Code section 19705(a)(1))

      • Admittedly taking in excess of $200,000 (Penal Code section 12022.6(a)(2))

      Harrison was sentenced to one year in county jail and three years probation.

      A new trustee has been appointed to administer the Viola and Oscar Allen Trust and scholarships have been distributed for the last two years to female graduates of Ukiah High School.

      California Recovers Stolen College Scholarship Funds...
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      Salon Owner Gets Jail Time for Using Fake Botox

      Women injected with unknown substance

      An Issaquah, Washington, salon owner is going to prison for 13 months for a felony count of misbranding of a drug while held for sale and two misdemeanor counts of receipt & proffered delivery of an adulterated device.

      Xin He, aka Faith He, must also undergo one year of supervised release. U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman noted that He persisted in "risky and dangerous behavior," offering unlicensed treatments despite warnings from employers, regulators, agents and others.

      According to testimony at trial and records filed in the case, Faith He used counterfeit Botox and Restylane on customers at her Bellevue beauty salon. She is not a medical doctor licensed to use injectable treatments for wrinkle removal such as Botox and Restylane.

      The indictment charges that as early as 2004, He injected a substance that she later represented was Restylane into the face of a Snohomish, Washington, woman. Court records indicate the woman's face became inflamed and she sought treatment from a dermatologist. The material injected into the woman's face was confirmed later not to be genuine Restylane.

      The Washington State Department of Health investigated the case and issued a cease and desist order to He in July 2006 after she offered to inject an undercover agent with what she claimed was Botox. Despite that order, in April 2008, He was once again injecting patients in a Bellevue salon. A Bothell woman had to be treated by a plastic surgeon after the body parts in which she locations became hard and swollen.

      Assistant United States Attorney Kathryn Warma urged the court to reject the defense request for a probationary sentence saying, "This defendant cannot be trusted. She is a liar and manipulator. (By injecting unknown substances), she was exposing every person she treated to risk of death." Warma noted that until the court ordered He into custody, "No one, nothing, had stopped her before."

      Each year in the United States, consumers are injured by individuals who are neither licensed nor trained to perform medical procedures. Oftentimes, the people performing these cosmetic treatments use drugs and devices not approved by the FDA for use in the United States. The injuries range from severe burns, infection and permanent scaring. In some cases consumers have died after receiving such treatments from individuals not licensed to perform such procedures.

      Even the real Botox has been blamed for problems.

      • Terri of Elmsford, NY tells ConsumerAffairs.com that she received Botox injections in her face in May of 2007, something she had been doing for ten years. This time was different though. "About an hour and a half after the procedure, I developed very disturbing symptoms. I felt as if I was paralyzed. My speech became slurred. I could not walk. The only thing I could do was get in bed. I stayed there for days." She says a representative of the company that makes Botox told her he had never heard of such a reaction.

      • Kelly of Fishers, IN says immediately after she received a Botox treatment she experienced shortness of breath and a bad consistent cough. "I went back to my plastic surgeon," she writes ConsumerAffairs.com, "who told me that there is no way that it could be from the Botox. After approximately three months of consistent trouble breathing I got it again, and it got worse. I was told again that it could not be the Botox." Kelly says even the doctors at the Mayo Clinic told her that the Botox injection does not cause that symptoms. "They did other tests on me and found nothing wrong."

      Salon Owner Gets Jail Time for Using Fake Botox...
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      Graco Recalls Strollers Due to Fingertip Amputation and Laceration Hazards

      Graco is recalling about 1.5 million Passage, Alano and Spree strollers and travel systems.

      The hinges on the strollers canopy pose a fingertip amputation and laceration hazard to the child when the consumer is opening or closing the canopy.

      Graco has received seven reports of children placing their fingers in the strollers canopy hinge mechanism while the canopy was being opened or closed, resulting in five fingertip amputations and two fingertip lacerations.

      This recall involves Graco Passage, Alano and Spree Strollers and Travel Systems with the following model numbers and specific hinge mechanisms:

      Model Numbers
      6303MYC, 6303MYC37240DNB, 7240DNB2
      7240MKL2, 7240MKL3
      6320IVY, 6320LAU7241DDH2, 7241DHO37F04TAY3
      6330CAP, 6330THR,
      7255CLP, 7255CLP2,
      7255CRA2, 7255CRA3,
      7255CSA3, 7255GPK3,
      7255GRN, 7255GRN2,
      7255JJB3, 7255ORC2,
      7255WLO2, 7255WLO3
      6F00QIN3, 6F00RRY37256CLO2, 7256SPM2,
      7F08DSW3, 7F08LAN3
      6F03GLN37260BAN, 7260BAN2,
      7260BAN3, 7260MRA2,
      7260MRA3, 7260PKR,
      7G00DLS3, 7G00DLS4
      6G10CSE37270BIA, 7270BIA27G01CRL3
      7235GGA, 7235GGA27E01JON2, 7E01JON37G04KRA3
      7236CDR27F00LPE3, 7F00RSH37G05GPR3, 7G06WSR3
      7237HOL2, 7237HOL37F01FOR37G07ABB3, 7G07BAT3

      Graco manufactured two different styles of hinge mechanisms for these stroller models. Only strollers or travel systems with a plastic, jointed hinge mechanism that has indented canopy positioning notches (see photo below) are included in this recall. The recalled strollers were manufactured between October 2004 and February 2008. The model number and manufacture date are located on the lower inside portion of the rear frame, just above the rear wheels.

      The strollers were sold at AAFES, Burlington Coat Factory, Babies R Us, Toys R Us, Kmart, Fred Meyer, Meijers, Navy Exchange, Sears, Target, Walmart and other retailers nationwide from October 2004 and December 2009 for between $80 and $90 for the strollers and between $150 and $200 for the travel systems. They were made in China.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled strollers and contact Graco to receive a free protective cover repair kit.

      For additional information, contact Graco at (800) 345-4109 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firms Web site at www.gracobaby.com

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Graco Recalls Strollers Due to Fingertip Amputation and Laceration Hazards...
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      Dorel Asia Recalls Cribs After Infant Death, 10 Injuries

      More photos below

      Dorel Asia is recalling about 635,000 cribs after at least one fatality and ten reported injuries. The cfribs pose suffocation and strangulation hazards to infants and toddlers. Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cribs until replacement kits are obtained and installed.

      The drop side hardware can fail causing the drop side to detach from the crib. When the drop side detaches it creates a space in which an infant or toddler can become entrapped and suffocate or strangle. In addition, the recalled cribs can pose a serious entrapment and strangulation hazard when a slat is damaged. This can occur while the crib is in use, in storage, being put together, taken apart or reassembled; or during shipping and handling.

      Dorel Asia said it received a report of the death of 6-month old child from Cedar Rapids, Iowa who became entrapped and strangled in a crib after the drop side hardware broke. The crib continued to be used after the parents tried to repair the drop side themselves.

      Federal safety regulators and Dorel Asia said they also received reports of 31 drop side incidents. In six of those incidents, children were entrapped between the drop side and crib mattress. Three children suffered from bruises as a result of the entrapment. In addition, CPSC and Dorel Asia received reports of 36 incidents of slat breakage, including seven reports of bruises and scratches to children and two reports of entrapment that resulted in no injury.

      The following Dorel Asia cribs are involved in the recall:

      Model NumberFront RailDescription
      WM1633Drop side3-1 Sleigh Crib Cherry
      WM1633-0Drop side3-1 Sleigh Crib - Cherry (no castors)
      WM1676BCFixed4-1 Bethany James Crib Walnut
      WM1676BCR-DCFixed2-1 Crib Walnut
      WM2163Fixed4-1 Crib Manhattan Walnut
      WM2163DCFixed4-1 Crib Manhattan Walnut
      WM1633-0-DCFixed3-1 Sleigh Crib (no castors)
      GP004B3EGRDrop side3-1 Convertible Espresso
      GP004B3WGRDrop side3-1 Convertible White
      GP006BCEGRDrop sideSingle Espresso
      GP006BCWGRDrop sideSingle White
      DA1615B3Drop side3-1 Convertible Crib Natural
      DAKM5132Drop side3-1 Convertible Crib White
      DASE5005Drop sideCottage Hill Single Crib White
      DASE5009Drop sideVintage Estate 3-1 Sleigh Crib Cherry
      DA0504KMC-1NDrop side3-1 Heritage Crib Natural
      DA0504KMC-1WDrop side3-1 Heritage Crib White
      DA1614B3Drop side3-1 Lexington Crib Cherry
      DAKM5152Drop sideSingle Jenny Lind Crib - Walnut
      DASE5015Drop side3-1 Convertible - Toffee

      The cribs were sold at Kmart, Sears and Wal-Mart stores nationwide from January 2005 through December 2009 for between $120 and $700. They were made in China and Vietnam.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cribs, find an alternative safe sleeping environment for your child, and contact Dorel Asia to receive a free replacement kit. Consumers should log on to www.dorel-asia.com to order the free replacement kit to prevent child entrapment in these cribs. The repair kits will be provided to owners within the next several weeks.

      Call Dorel Asia toll-free at (866) 762-2304 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or visit the firms Web site at www.dorel-asia.com

      Important Message from CPSC: CPSC reminds parents not to use any crib with missing, broken, or loose parts. Make sure to tighten hardware from time to time to keep the crib sturdy. When using a drop-side crib, parents should check to make sure the drop side or any other moving part operates smoothly. Always check all sides and corners of the crib for disengagement. Disengagements can create a gap and entrap a child. In addition, do not try to repair any side of the crib, especially with duct tape, wire or rope.

      Visit CPSC's Crib Information Center for more information on Crib Safety and Recalls.

      4-1 Crib - Walnut, Model # WM1676BC

      3 -1 Sleigh Crib - Cherry Model # WM1633 & WM1633-0

      3 -1 Lexington Crib - Cherry Model # DA1614B3

      3 -1 Heritage Crib - Natural Model # DA0504KMC-1N

      3 -1 Heritage Crib - White Model # DA0504KMC-1W

      3 -1 Convertible Crib - White Model # DAKM5132

      Cottage Hill Single Crib - White Model # DASE5005

      Vintage Estate 3-1 Crib - Cherry Model # DASE5009

      3-1 Convertible Crib - Natural Model # DAKM1615B3

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Dorel Asia Recalls Cribs After Infant Death, 10 Injuries...
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      Canine Rescue Teams Find Survivors in Haiti Disaster

      California fire squads work around the clock to help quake victims

      SDF Photo

      There are new reports of survivors from last week's deadly earthquake in Haiti -- thanks in part to efforts by the United States top canine search and rescue teams working in the devastated country.

      The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) said late Monday that its teams helped rescue five people from the earthquake's ruins over the weekend.

      On Sunday, five days after the 7.0 magnitude quake wreaked havoc in the tiny island nation, three SDF teams rescued a woman buried alive under a crumpled hotel in the capitol city of Port-au-Prince.

      "The appreciation shown by locals for the Search Teams and their Task Force was overwhelming," said the SDF, which is receiving text messages and phone calls from its canine teams deployed to Haiti. "As soon as the woman was pulled from the wreckage, Haitians gathered in the street and began chanting, 'U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A...'"

      SDF teams on Sunday also helped rescue three more women buried beneath the rubble of another collapsed building in Port-au-Prince, a city of 2 million that was leveled during last Tuesday's massive seismic tremor.

      Search teams found two of the women -- sisters who are 19 and 20-years old -- when they called out for help. "But the third woman, a 31-year old, was deeper in the rubble," the SDF said.

      Rescue teams used electronic listening devices, which signaled someone might be trapped under the rubble.

      SDF dogs Cadillac, Maverick, and Hunter -- specially-trained to find people buried alive, like all the organization's canines -- were then called to the scene, and all expressed interest in the same area.

      "During the rescue, Task Force members crawled into tight spaces to reach the area where the search dogs had shown interest and found the third woman still lying in bed," the SDF said. "She was pinned to her mattress by the ceiling of her bedroom, just inches from crushing her."

      "When handler Jasmine Segura was able to get close enough, she could see the woman waving to her and heard her say, "Thank you," in English," the SDF added. Rescuers cut out the mattress and slid her to safety.

      Three other SDF teams on Sunday also helped save a 50-year-old woman trapped under the wreckage of yet another crumpled building in Port-au-Prince. The teams helped extricate the woman, who was dehydrated and had slight injuries, the SDF said.

      Those teams included Los Angeles County firefighters Ron Horetski and his Lab, Pearl, Gary Durian and his Golden Retriever, Baxter, and California civilian Ron Weckbacher and his border collie, Dawson.

      "Desperate situation"

      The 72 members of the task force, who have 70,000 pounds of heavy machinery and other rescue equipment, are searching around the clock to find survivors of the cataclysmic earthquake that many fear will claim tens of thousands of lives.

      "The teams are working long hours, stopping only long enough to let the dogs rest before starting to search again. Once they begin a search operation, they work until the effort is complete -- no matter how long it takes," the spokesperson added.

      The organization said its teams have called and sent text messages describing the "desperate situation" in Haiti and the "awesome work" of their canine partners.

      The SDF now has seven teams in Haiti and other teams on stand-by back in California. The teams, among the most highly-trained disaster search and rescue units in the country, are working with the California Task Force 1 and the Florida Task Force 1 in the rescue efforts.

      "The teams are working in 12-hour shifts so they have time to rest and recuperate," said Captain Jayd Swendseid of the California Task Force. "(Thursday) the team put in a long and exhausting day. Roads are closed and there is a lot of debris that is making transportation difficult, but the team is managing to get to buildings and make rescues. Morale is good and supplies are sufficient so far."

      The seven "live-scent" dogs on the teams are arguably the most valuable tools rescue workers have in a disaster of this magnitude. These elite canines can climb and run across the piles of concrete and other debris in the streets of Port-Au-Prince and determine within three minutes if there are survivors buried below, the SDF said.

      "This moment is what SDF Search Teams train for, week in and week out, throughout their careers together," said SDF founder Wilma Melville. "When one SDF team succeeds, all of our teams succeed."

      "Our thoughts are with our teams in Haiti, who continue to comb the rubble into the night," she added. "Their perseverance, skill, and strength in the face of challenges make us all proud, and give us hope."

      Glimmers of hope

      Some glimmers of hope appeared amidst the chaos and devastation over the weekend. A Red Cross convoy with a 50-bed hospital arrived in Port-au-Prince, and three health care teams that can provide much needed medical attention to 30,000 people also arrived in the ravaged city.

      Truckloads of Red Cross supplies reached Port-Au-Prince, and thousands of emergency workers hit the streets to hand out water and provide first aid to earthquake victims. Many relief workers also helped search for survivors or transported people with serious injuries to nearby health facilities.

      Rescue workers from around the world have now found more than 60 survivors, including five people pulled on Sunday from the wreckage of a Port-Au-Prince grocery store. It took 24 hours to free those people.

      Another sign of hope came on Saturday when an Australian news team found a 16-month-old girl buried alive. But rescuers know the odds of finding any more survivors are slim. Those chances dwindle after 72 hours, according to disaster experts, and that deadline has long since passed.

      The earthquake that struck Haiti at 4:53 pm on January 12 was centered about 14 miles west of Port-Au-Prince, but shockwaves were felt as far away as the Dominican Republic. Reports of catastrophic damage are widespread, with thousands of homes, schools, and other buildings destroyed from the seismic force.

      Thousands of people have already died, with many already buried in mass graves, to prevent the spread of disease. Some Haitians have also burned the bodies of their loved ones, while others have stacked up bodies along the crowded streets. The smell of decaying bodies is said to be overwhelming.

      According to CNN, people in Port-Au-Prince are now putting pieces of orange peel inside their noses to cover the smell of corpses piled along the streets. There are also reports of looting and violence in Port-Au-Prince, as survivors search for food, water, and shelter.

      U.S. officials said relief efforts will now turn toward long-term recovery and reconstruction. Meanwhile, the SDF said it would continue its efforts, doing its best to find survivors under the ruins. The SDF will provide updates on its Web site.

      "Our hearts go out to our neighbors in Haiti, and we're honored to be able to help find survivors of this terrible tragedy," SDF's Executive Director Debra Tosch said. "This is the day that our teams have trained for. When the unthinkable happens, SDF Teams stand ready to respond, bringing hope and comfort to victims and their loved ones."

      About the SDF

      The SDF is the only organization in the country that works exclusively with rescued dogs and trains them to rescue people buried alive. Most of SDFs 69 canine search teams are certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That is the highest achievement for search and rescue teams and means they can respond to any disaster.

      SDF teams spend about one year training for the FEMA test. To pass the rigorous exam, the dogs must search two piles of rubble and find four to six victims. The dogs have 20 minutes to complete their mission, and the testers do all they can to distract the canines. They may, for example, put food, live chickens, or even cats in the piles. The dogs fail if they become distracted during the test.

      The SDF, headquartered in Ojai, California, does not accept any government funding to cover the estimated $10,000 needed to train each team and provide lifetime care for the dogs. Those costs are covered by individual and corporate donations.

      Emergency workers

      Meanwhile, other relief and humanitarian organizations have emergency workers in Haiti trying to get desperately needed water, food, and other supplies to survivors. Those groups include UNICEF, Mercy Corps, and The American Red Cross .

      "America's support -- donations made in the United States to the American Red Cross -- is reaching the hands of survivors in Haiti," said Steve McAndrew, disaster relief specialist with the American Red Cross in Port-au-Prince.

      The American Red Cross now has teams from more than 30 countries that are providing food, water, and help with field hospitals, emotional support, and sanitation services.

      Americans can support these relief efforts by texting "HAITI" to "90999" and $10 will be automatically donated to the Red Cross. The fee will be charged to consumers' cell phone bills.

      The U.S. State Department said Americans looking for loved ones in Haiti should contact its Operation Center at 1-888-407-4747.

      Canine Rescue Teams Continue to Assist in Haiti Disaster...
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