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    Suit Says 'Biggest Loser' Jillian Michaels' Diet Supplement is 'Worthless'

    Supplement promises to restrict caloric intake automatically

    By Jon Hood

    February 11, 2010
    Former Biggest Loser Jillian Michaels is also a big liar, according to a class action lawsuit that calls a Michaels-endorsed diet supplement worthless.

    The suit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, says that the Jillian Michaels Maximum Strength Calorie Control supplement falsely claims that it will restrict your caloric intake automatically. The complaint quotes Michaels's website, www.jillianweightloss.com, as claiming that the drug is like an automatic diet. What could be easier! Print advertisements similarly boast, Two Capsules Before Main Meals And You Lose Weight. That's It.

    Michaels's website which paradoxically claims that America's TOUGHEST trainer makes losing weight SIMPLE! calls the supplement a proprietary formula specifically developed to restrict your caloric intake automatically. In other words, when you take this compound before main meals, you eat less... but the best part is, you won't even know it.

    Lead plaintiff Christie Christensen bought the supplement in January, and quickly discovered that it doesn't live up to the hype. According to the suit, Christensen bought the supplement after reviewing [and] believing the aforementioned claims, but, alas, her appetite did not decrease, her caloric intake was not automatically restricted, and she did not lose any weight.

    Christensen's lawyer says the suit has brought more dissatisfied dieters out of the woodwork. We're getting calls from many people now as a result of this who claim they had been similarly misled, said Melissa Harnett, of Los Angeles-based Wasserman, Comden & Casselman LLP. When it's a celebrity who has built her fame on telling people that it takes blood, sweat and tears to lose weight and then turns around and capitalizes on that fame by putting out a product that inherently is contrary to the notion that you need to exercise and eat right to lose weight, there's something wrong with that picture.

    The complaint takes a similarly disappointed tone, noting that while Michaels is fond of saying that long-term weight loss requires 'blood, sweat, and tears' she has decided to squander her fame by lending her name to to a worthless dietary supplement.

    No FDA approval

    Dietary supplements are not subject to FDA registration or approval. The Agency puts the onus on manufacturers to ensure the pills are suitable for sale, and generally only takes action if it discovers that an already-available pill is unsafe. Because of this relatively lax regulation framework, dietary supplements are notoriously hard to trust, and in rare cases they can prove dangerous or even deadly.

    Last May, the FDA warned consumers to stop taking Hydroxycut after discovering that the popular supplement could cause serious liver damage. That notice came after the Agency received 23 reports of serious liver damage, and learned of at least one liver-failure-related death.

    Christensen's suit is brought on behalf of all California residents who bought Michaels's supplement within the last four years, and alleges violations of several California consumer protection statutes. The complaint also names as defendants Thin Care International, which produces the supplement, and Basic Research, which handles the product's marketing.

    The complaint quotes a valuable warning from the FDA, that applies across time and regardless of whether a supplement is the subject of litigation: [M]any people look for quick and easy solutions to their weight problems. They find it hard to believe in this age of scientific innovations and medical miracles that an effortless weight-loss method doesn't exist. Any claims that you can lose weight effortlessly are false.

    Suit Says 'Biggest Loser' Jillian Michaels' Diet Supplement is 'Worthless'...
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    CVS Pays $1.95 Million to Settle Indiana Charges

    Two pharmacists with expired licenses wrote prescriptions for years

    CVS has agreed to pay the State of Indiana $1.95 million and look more closely at the expiration dates on its pharmacists' licenses.

    The state brought charges, claiming that two pharmacists with expired licenses dispensed prescription drugs for several years at CVS Pharmacy Stores.

    The case stemmed from an investigation by Attorney General Greg Zoeller's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU). It alleged that at different times between 1997 and 2007, CVS employed as pharmacists two individuals whose licenses had expired: Morris "Mo" Skirvin at a store in Nashville, Ind., and Edward Certain at a store in Marion, Ind.

    According to the investigation, Skirvin's pharmacist license expired in 1990, long before his employer Hook-SupeRx was acquired by CVS, but he did not renew the license and allegedly forged a new one each renewal period.

    After MFCU began investigating Skirvin's license, CVS came forward and disclosed that another pharmacist, Certain, also had been practicing without a license. Certain had a valid license at one time but it expired in 2002 and he did not renew it, MFCU found.

    Together, Skirvin and Certain filled an estimated 60,778 prescriptions, the investigation alleged, and the Indiana Medicaid program was over-billed for fees to which the unlicensed pharmacists were not entitled.

    "When consumers get prescriptions filled, they do so trusting that the person behind the pharmacy counter dispensing medication is up to date on their licensing. That trust was violated by these two individuals," Zoeller said. "To its credit, CVS has resolved this situation in a responsible way: First it came forward and acknowledged that a pharmacist with an expired license had been employed at its Marion store. Now CVS will implement a screening program to ensure that none of its pharmacist employees are operating without a license."

    As part of the settlement, CVS also agreed to set into motion several consumer protections: It must verify that pharmacist employees and contractors have valid Indiana pharmacist's licenses. CVS must require applicants for pharmacist positions to disclose any aliases they have used and whether they are ineligible to hold a license.

    Within 90 days of the agreement's approval, CVS will perform records checks on its Indiana pharmacist employees through the Indiana Professional Licensing Board to verify that all are appropriately licensed. The company will perform similar checks every six months for three years, the agreement says.

    This week the Indiana Board of Pharmacy approved a related licensing agreement with CVS that was connected to CVS's agreement with the Attorney General's Office.

    The $1.95 million settlement with the State, to be paid within 60 days, is not considered a fee or a fine or an admission of wrongdoing; and it will be used to reimburse the Indiana Medicaid program and investigative costs, Zoeller said.

    CVS Pays $1.95 Million to Settle Indiana Charges: CVS has agreed to pay the State of Indiana $1.95 million and look more closely at the expiration dates on...
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    Illinois Sues Four Debt Settlement Firms

    States step effort to shut down scams

    The State of Illinois has filed individual lawsuits against four debt settlement companies, claiming that the defendants are engaging in deceptive marketing practices, charging excessive fees and doing little or nothing to improve consumers' financial standing.

    Along with these suits, Madigan has proposed legislation that would crackdown on the industry's abusive practices.

    "These companies are unfairly luring financially strapped consumers with misleading claims that they can effectively eliminate consumers' debt," Madigan said. "The reality is that, after enrolling in a debt settlement program, consumers too often find themselves in even worse financial straits. It's time to clean up this industry so that people struggling to pay off their debts aren't being sold a false bill of goods."

    The Attorney General's Consumer Fraud Bureau has recorded a sharp rise in consumer complaints against debt settlement companies that claim they can significantly reduce consumers' credit card debt and provide them with an alternative to bankruptcy protection.

    ConsumerAffairs.com has also received a number of complaints about debt settlement companies. Kathleen, of Tollhouse, California, reported last November she had problems dealing with a company called Guardian Credit Solution.

    "We paid them $4490.00 to do a loan modification, which they never did," she told ConsumerAffairs.com. "Then one of their employees kept calling us telling us if we went into their Debt Settlement program then they could get a better deal for us on our loan modification. So we signed up for that and they got another $2395.88 of our money. They were going by the name Green Credit Solutions and then changed to Guardian. The debt settlement part of their firm was going under Green Credit Law Center and then changed to Erickson Law Group."

    Familiar story

    Typically, after consumers enroll in debt settlement programs, the companies charge excessive upfront fees and advise consumers to stop paying their credit card bills. For the first several months, significant portions of consumers' monthly payments are applied to the debt settlement company's fees, making it difficult for consumers to save enough money to be used for settlement purposes.

    As a result of not paying their credit card bills for months, credit card companies add fees and penalties to consumers' credit card balances and often even begin collection efforts to recoup the debt, all of which puts the consumers in a worse financial situation. In many instances, while consumers were enrolled in debt settlement programs, credit card companies have sued the consumers to collect the balance on the consumers' accounts.

    Madigan's lawsuits name the following defendants:

    &#149 Clear Your Debt, LLC, Swiftrock Financial, Inc., Orion Processing, LLC, and two managing members, Derin Scott and Shannon Scott. The defendants operate the businesses in Austin and Lago Vista, Texas;

    &#149 Endebt Solutions, LLC, d/b/a DebtOne Financial, based out of Long Beach, Calif.;

    &#149 Debt Consultants of America, Inc., and its owner Robert J. Creel of Dallas, Texas; and

    &#149 American Debt Arbitration of Clearwater, Fla., ADA President and Director Glenn P. Stewart, and Phoenix-based Nationwide Asset Services, Inc., NAS President and Director William Anderson, and Secretary and Director Gary K. Brown.

    In each case, Madigan's complaint alleges that the defendants have violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act by misrepresenting the services they can provide to consumers and the impact that those services will have on consumers' credit.

    Each complaint asks the court to enter a permanent injunction barring the defendants from engaging in debt settlement in Illinois and order the defendants to pay restitution for aggrieved consumers, civil penalties of $50,000 for violating the Consumer Fraud Act, an additional $50,000 penalty for each violation committed with the intent to defraud, as well as a $10,000 penalty per violation committed against a person 65 years or older.

    Last October 40 Attorneys General signed a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency 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.

    Illinois Sues Four Debt Settlement Firms...
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      Toyota Issues Recall To Fix Prius Brake Problem

      But only 2010 models are included in recall

      For Toyota, it's one more headache as the beleaguered carmaker issued a widely expected recall to fix a problem on 133,000 2010 Prius models, as well as 14,500 Lexus vehicles.

      Toyota said it would update software in the vehicles' anti-lock brake system. The ABS, in normal operation, engages and disengages rapidly as the control system senses and reacts to tire slippage.

      Some 2010 model year Prius and 2010 HS 250h owners have reported experiencing inconsistent brake feel during slow and steady application of brakes on rough or slick road surfaces when the ABS is activated in an effort to maintain tire traction. Some have reported not being able to stop the car.

      Toyota said it responded to owner concerns with a running production change for 2010 Prius that was introduced last month, improving the ABS systems response time, as well as the systems overall sensitivity to tire slippage. The production change for the HS 250h is planned for later this month.

      The brake problem recall comes on top of the highly-publicized sudden acceleration recall that prompted Toyota to not only recall eight popular models of its cars, but suspend their sale in the U.S.

      The Prius Brake recall is limited to 2010 models although ConsumerAffairs.com has received complaints about other model year Prius brake problems. Last month, Lisa, of South Salt Lake, Utah, reported a problem with her 2008 Prius.

      From day one I have noticed the brakes do not work properly, Lisa told ConsumerAffairs.com. At first I thought it was just a terrible car for rain or snow but it was having problems in the slightest rain shower. If I hit a pot hole or bump while slowing down the brakes release. If the traction control activates the brakes release. The smallest bump or slight slip from one tire and the brakes stop working. If I'm turning into a driveway or onto a side street and theres a bump or dip by brakes will release and my car will slide. Now that I'm aware of the brakes slipping I've noticed it's every day, the roads will be perfectly dry, I have brand new tires, the brake pads just barely checked at the dealer, but if I hit a bump I have no brakes.

      Recall Limited To 2010 Models

      Unfortunately for Lisa and other drivers experiencing the problem in older models, both the recall and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration probe are limited to the 2010 Prius. NHTSA reported last week it had opened an investigation into the 2010 Prius after receiving 124 complaints about the brakes.

      Toyota said the recall will allow Toyota dealers to perform the software update on 2010 Prius vehicles sold prior to this running production change. Only Prius vehicles produced since May 2009 and all HS 250h vehicles are subject to this recall. The company says first- and second-generation Prius vehicles use a different ABS system and are not involved in this campaign.

      The ABS system on the Lexus HS 250h is similar in design to the Prius. The software adjustment planned for HS 250h production and dealer modification is being finalized and will be announced very soon, the company said.

      Toyota will begin mailing letters to Prius owners included in this recall next week and HS 250h owners within the next few weeks, to let them know when to bring their vehicles into a dealership. Owners will only receive a letter if their vehicle is involved in the recall.

      Older Camrys Recalled

      Separately, Toyota said it will conduct a voluntary safety recall on approximately 7,300 early production - 2010 model year Camry vehicles equipped with the 4 cylinder engine to inspect for a power steering hose that may be in contact with a front brake tube. This contact could lead to a hole in the brake tube and cause a brake fluid leak, increased brake pedal stroke and greater vehicle stopping distance.

      Owners of the involved 2010 Camry vehicles will be notified by mail starting in the middle of February.

      Were committed to doing everything we can as fast as we can to restore consumer trust in Toyota, and these recalls are part of this effort, said Jim Lentz, President and Chief Operating Officer, Toyota Motor Sales. We regret the inconvenience this recall will cause to Prius and HS 250h owners, and will do our best with the support of our dealers to make sure that it is conducted in the most trouble-free manner possible.

      For Toyota, it's one more headache as the beleaguered carmaker issued a widely expected recall to fix a problem on 133,000 2010 Prius models, as well as 14...
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      Court Reinstates Dell Class Action Over Faulty Parts

      Arbitration clause ruled unenforceable

      A class action alleging that Dell shipped faulty laptops is set to reopen, after a federal appeals court reversed a 2008 district court ruling dismissing the case.

      The suit was brought by lead plaintiffs Michael Omstead, Melissa Malloy, and Lisa Smith, who allege that their Inspiron laptops contained defective cooling fans, power supplies, and other essential materials. The suit concerns Inspiron 5160 and 1150 models sold between July 2004 and January 2005.

      The case's dismissal arose out of a complicated back-and-forth between Dell and the plaintiffs shortly after the case was filed. Dell moved to compel individual arbitration, pointing to a clause in its terms and conditions that requires all disputes to be "resolved exclusively and finally by binding arbitration administered by the National Arbitration Forum (NAF)."

      The plaintiffs contended that individual actions would be a waste of time and money, and that the NAF is "blatantly biased" against consumers. Because of the plaintiffs' refusal to arbitrate their cases, Dell filed a motion to dismiss based on failure to prosecute. The court granted the motion, and the plaintiffs were seemingly out of luck.

      However, in the order reinstating the case, Judge Lyle Strom of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the dismissal was an "abuse of discretion," and stated emphatically that "[the p]laintiffs did not cause any unreasonable delay in the progression of their case."

      The court went on to hold Dell's arbitration provision unenforceable in its entirety when judged under California law. The court cited California case law holding that an arbitration agreement is unenforceable when "(1) the waiver is found in a contract of adhesion, (2) the contractual setting is one in which disputes between the contracting parties predictably involve small amounts of damages, and (3) it is alleged that the party with the superior bargaining power [here, Dell] has carried out a scheme to deliberately cheat large numbers of consumers out of individually small sums of money."

      The court's ruling is a major victory for the named plaintiffs, who had no recourse after the case was thrown out. The very purpose of class actions is to provide relief to consumers whose damages are too small to justify the time and money necessary to bring an individual lawsuit. Indeed, plaintiffs in class action lawsuits do not have to pay their attorneys; legal fees come out of the eventual settlement (assuming there is one).

      Counsel for the plaintiffs were predictably satisfied with the ruling. "We got the courtroom doors open, which was our primary goal," said Jonathan Selbin, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

      Arbitration clauses have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. In March 2009, the Supreme Court ruled last year that consumers can sometimes fight such provisions. And in July, NAF agreed to stop arbitrating all credit card cases pursuant to an agreement reached with Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.

      Court Reinstates Dell Class Action Over Faulty Parts...
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      Google Cuts Nexus One Cancellation Fee

      Price cut comes after FCC inquiry

      Google has cut the early termination fee (ETF) for its Nexus One smartphone from $350 to $200, coming on the heels of an inquiry from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) about the high price, according to the Wall Street Journal.

      The Nexus One is distinctive for lacking any "lock-in" to a major wireless carrier. Buyers of a Nexus One without a network plan only have to pay the $535 fee up front, and pay no cancellation fee.

      But those who buy the phone at a reduced rate with a T-Mobile contract -- currently the only carrier offering a plan for the phone -- originally had to pay a $350 fee to Google, on top of a $200 ETF for T-Mobile, if they canceled the contract within the first two months of service.

      That led to the FCC sending a letter to Google as part of its larger inquiry into wireless carrier cancellation fees. "The purpose of this letter is to gather information about whether customers are adequately informed about Google's Equipment Recovery Fee in connection with its offering of the Nexus One to customers who agree to a two-year contract with T-Mobile," the agency said.

      "We've been working with T-Mobile to improve our customers' overall Nexus One experience through a reduction in the equipment recovery fee (ERF) associated with purchasing the Nexus One with a T-Mobile service plan," Google said in a statement.

      ETFs are a bone of contention in the wireless industry. Critics claim that they "lock in" customers to long-term contracts with a carrier to avoid paying high penalties, while supporters say the fees are necessary to subsidize the sale and marketing of high-end phones at a low cost.

      Numerous lawsuits brought at the state level, and threatened regulation at the federal level, led all four major wireless carriers -- AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless -- to prorate their termination fees over the life of a two-year contract.

      Media watchdog group Free Press, a staunch foe of termination fees, praised Google for cutting the ETF on the Nexus One. "This is clear evidence that the wireless industry needs an active cop on the beat to look out for consumers," said Free Press policy counsel Chris Riley.

      The wireless carriers' responses to the FCC inquiry are due on February 23.

      Currently, the Nexus One only works on GSM networks, which prevents it from being usable with Sprint, Verizon Wireless, or most AT&T networks. Google has claimed that a version of the Nexus One will be available for Verizon Wireless customers soon.

      Google Cuts Nexus One Cancellation Fee...
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      Big Changes Coming for Banks in 2010

      'Free checking' likely to be among the casualties

      Although the recession may have dealt its worst blows, banks are adjusting to a new environment, one with stricter regulations, fewer opportunities for big risks, and heavy sentiment against them.

      In that light, Mintel Comperemedia, a provider of direct marketing intelligence, is forecasting five major changes for banks in 2010.

      "Based on evidence from recent direct marketing, I see waves of change ready to wash through the banking industry," says Susan Wolfe, vice president of financial services at Mintel Comperemedia. "From the fall of free checking to the rise of comprehensive banking rewards programs, banks seem poised to make 2010 a year of innovations. The biggest challenge will be finding new opportunities for revenue."

      The end of "free checking"

      It's been a marketing mantra, but this year, the cry of "free checking" will start to fade, Wolfe believes. In 2009, fewer than half of checking direct mail offers promoted free checking, down from three-quarters in 2007-2008. "With pending regulations on overdraft fees, banks risk losing a major revenue source," she said. "Charging fees on checking is one way to recoup income." Some banks may implement monthly fees, while others will let customers decide which perks are worth paying for, similar to the "Build to Order" checking account from BBVA Compass.

      Bigger rewards programs

      With the decline of free checking, Mintel expects an increase in rewards checking and more specifically, rewards banking. As financial institutions look for ways to appeal to new clients and make current customers more loyal and profitable, they'll start offering rewards for more than just debit use. Capital One, for example, introduced reward checking in late 2009, linking to its credit card rewards program so customers could earn points faster.

      Programs designed to increase deposits

      Another way banks will try to increase revenue in 2010 is by creating automatic account builder products that boost deposits. Industry leaders Bank of America and Wachovia already feature innovative savings programs -- "Keep the Change" and "Way2Save" -- and Capital One has just launched "SmartCents" checking. Deposit-building accounts get customers invested in multiple products, while helping banks secure more deposits.

      More aggressive debit card marketing

      Mintel has seen direct mail decline across financial services categories, but debit card volume remains strong at nearly 67 million offers in 2009. "I expect we'll see more aggressive debit card marketing this year because banks are using debit fees to increase revenue," Wolfe speculates. "Direct mail may not increase, but I expect to see more cash incentives and other perks that encourage debit card usage."

      Cash incentives increase and expand

      Cash incentives are a hot direct marketing tactic for checking accounts, appearing in most offers. In 2010, cash incentives will grow even more enticing. Mintel Comperemedia has already seen $200 and higher from Capital One and Key Bank. The company expects banks to start using cash incentives for other types of deposit accounts, too.

      While the Mintel prognostication doesn't mention it, a change in the way in which banks deal with their customers might go a long way toward increasing the industry's bottom line. Complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com from bank customers indicate the treatment consumers receive is a major gripe.

      Scott from Jacksonville, FL, says BBVA Compass Bank charged him $76 in NSF (non sufficient fund) fees for withdrawal transactions that occurred on the same date as a deposit which covered the amount of the withdrawals. "The explanation was that 'withdrawals are processed before deposits.' They seem unwilling to reverse the charges. I don't like being ripped off, especially in these difficult economic times. The executives of this particular bank are absolutely ignorant if they think I'm going for this. This is an example of very poor customer service and as a result, the bank has lost my business permanently."

      Freddie from Rex, GA, tells ConsumerAffairs.com of a terrible experience he had discussing an account problem with a Bank of America representative. "As the conversation begin to progress she begin to act cold & heartless acting as if I done something wrong by questions her about my credit. When I expressed my concerns over her closing my account without my permission & how I wanted to protect my credit she stated she didn't care & close the account anyway. One person can really ruin a great banking relationship & experience with awful customer service."

      Big Changes Coming for Banks in 2010...
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      Coke Charging More for Less

      CSPI: Price works out to $8.50 a gallon

      Coca-Cola has introduced a new, 7.5-ounce can of its iconic soft drink and while calorie counters may appreciate the convenience of a 90-calorie can, dollar counters may be in for sticker shock.

      According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the new cans cost 50 to 140 percent more than 12-ounce cans on an ounce-for-ounce basis.

      In Washington, D.C., 12-packs of 12-ounce cans have been available for between $4 and $5.99 at Giant and Safeway stores. Both stores charge $3.99 for 8-packs of the new 7.5-ounce cans. So while the bigger cans have been selling for between $0.89 and $1.33 per quart, the new ones sell for $2.13 a quart, or about $8.50 a gallon.

      So far, the smaller cans are available only in some New York City and Washington, D.C., retail outlets. The company says they'll go available nationwide in April.

      Sandy Douglas, the president of Coca-Cola North America, claims the new mini can is an "innovation" that "reinforces the Company's support for healthy, active lifestyles." But attentive shoppers may wonder what all the fuss is about. Coca-Cola has sold 8-ounce cans and bottles of Coke for years (again, at significantly inflated prices).

      "The only 'innovation' here is that Coke is charging more money for less product," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "Then again, these are the same folks who are ripping off Americans with expensive frauds like the 'calorie-burning' Enviga. And 'endurance peach mango' VitaminWater, which, besides doing nothing for one's endurance, contains no peach or mango. Now, the company wants a pat on the back for selling little cans of water and high-fructose corn syrup for $8.50 a gallon."

      Recently, New York Governor David Paterson proposed a penny-per-ounce excise tax on soda pop to help pay for health programs. An angry press statement issued by the industry's top lobbyist called the proposal a "money grab, pure and simple," and reminded the Governor that New Yorkers "continue to struggle through a tough economy with double-digit unemployment rates." Yet the price difference assessed by Coca-Cola on the 7.5-ounce cans is bigger than Paterson's proposed tax -- about two or three cents per ounce.

      Coke Charging More for Less...
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      Renters of Foreclosed Properties in Connecticut Have Rights

      But many renters remain unaware of new law

      Homeowners aren't the only ones affected by the foreclosure crisis. Renters also face problems, not of their own making, when their landlord defaults.

      Thanks to legislation signed into law in Connecticut last year, renters have new rights and can't be immediately evicted. Before the new law, renters were often the last to know their home was in foreclosure. Sometimes they continued paying rent to their former landlord, who pocketed the money even though they no longer owned the property.

      Before the "Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009" took effect, most leases were nullified if the property went to foreclosure, meaning the occupants of the house had no rights. Under the new law, tenants may stay in a foreclosed home until their lease expires. If they are on a month to month contract, they are entitled to 90 days notice before having to move.

      Unfortunately many tenants are still unaware of their new rights, and in Connecticut, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal reports bankers and realtors are taking advantage of that lack of awareness.

      Blumenthal says his office has received complaints from tenants hastily and illegally forced out of rental homes after their landlords' properties were foreclosed. Evicted tenants are typically current on their rent, but face eviction because of their landlord's financial troubles.

      In many cases, he says real estate agents have pressured tenants to leave, without informing them of their rights under the new federal law. Some banks begin eviction procedures immediately upon completing foreclosure, despite the consequences for tenants and a federal law that requires a 90-day delay.

      "Tenants have rights to remain until their lease ends -- rights that deserve respect and enforcement," Blumenthal said. "We're warning banks and real estate interests: foreclosure is no excuse for illegal eviction. These cease-and-desist letters send a message to powerful property owners that foreclosure gives them no right to engage in automatic eviction."

      Hasty evictions serve no one's interests, Blumenthal says. Vacant properties quickly become rundown and damaged by vandals, decreasing the value of foreclosed properties and surrounding properties.

      "Tenants in foreclosed properties -- victims of their landlord's financial failures -- deserve to be treated fairly and lawfully when forced to find a new home," Blumenthal said. Law firms, Realtors and lenders have moral and legal obligations to provide fair notice and time for tenants to find alternative housing after foreclosures. We are alerting law firms, lenders and real estate companies that they must follow this law or face legal action.

      Renters of Foreclosed Properties in Connecticut Have Rights...
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      California Targets Medical Discount Plans

      State officials seek new licensing regulations

      For the self-employed and the unemployed, finding good, affordable health insurance can be a challenging task. Consumers who mistake a medical discount service for a health insurance policy can wind up losing money and still having no insurance.

      In California, state regulators have begun cracking down on discount health and dental plans that consumers say they are led to believe are insurance plans. The marketers of these medical discount plans, meanwhile, insist there is nothing misleading in their pitch.

      California is not the first state to take on medical discount plans. In Massachusetts last September, Attorney General Martha Coakley filed proposed new consumer protection regulations designed to protect residents of the Bay State from unscrupulous marketing of plans that claim to offer discounts on medical products or services.

      The problem was greater in Massachusetts, perhaps, because the state had passed a law requiring all residents to have health insurance.

      It is critical that companies who offer any kind of medical coverage plans or medical discount card clearly disclose what their plans do and do not offer, and whether they fulfill the individual mandate." Coakley said at the time. "We have received numerous complaints from consumers who have fallen victim to these deceptive discount plan scams."

      The complaints are also being heard in California. Health officials say medical discount plans are being pushed the hardest in poor communities. The worst offenders, they say, are fraudulently marketing themselves as low-cost insurance.

      "They're basically cheating poor people," Dr. Dev GnanaDev, immediate past president of the California Medical Association, told the Los Angeles Times.

      After receiving more than 150 consumer complaints about misleading medical discount pitches over the last four years, the California Department of Managed Health Care is asking for new licensing regulations.

      Department officials say a number of plan marketers have promised consumers unrestricted access to medical providers, when in fact the cards were worthless.

      At best, a medical discount card will offer patients a negotiated discount for services with participating medical service providers. If you go to a doctor or hospital or doctor that has an agreement with the medical discount plan, you would receive a discount.

      However,it is a fact that health care providers routinely discount their services -- often at an inflated price to start with -- for patients who lack insurance, or who must pay a large deductible out of pocket. So in some cases, an uninsured patient might get the same break as someone who had paid for a medical discount card.

      The Times reports the industry trade group that represents the medical discount plan industry is also pushing for regulations, to keep "bad actors" out of the business and damaging the industry's reputation. With California's unemployment rate high and still rising, state officials say it's a fertile environment for those tempted to blur the line between health insurance and a medical discount plan.

      In California, state regulators have begun cracking down on discount health and dental plans that consumers say they are led to believe are insurance plans...
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      Chemnutra Owners Sentenced for Melamine-Tainted Pet Food

      Nevada couple gets probation and $25,000 fine

      A federal judge today sentenced two Nevada business owners to three years probation for distributing a melamine-tainted ingredient that triggered a massive pet food recall in 2007 and caused the deaths and illnesses of thousands of dog and cats nationwide.

      U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Maughmer also ordered Sally Qing Miller, 43, a Chinese national, and her husband, Stephen S. Miller, 57, to each pay a $5,000 fine. In addition, Whipple ordered the Miller's company, Chemnutra, Inc., to pay a $25,000 fine.

      Today's sentencing ends a long legal case that centered on the involvement of the Millers and Chemnutra with importing and distributing the melamine-tainted wheat gluten used in the recalled pet food.

      A Rhode Island pet owner whose cats died after eating some of the tainted food said today's sentence was too lenient, and justice was not served.

      "I feel the sentence is not appropriate, said Carol V. of Rhode Island, whose beloved cats, Smudge and Jessica, died of renal failure. "They (the Millers) did not follow the rules and thousands suffered because of it -- financially and emotionally."

      "There is no justice for Smudge, Jessica, or the others," she added. "This was no elbow knocking over a bad ingredient. Whether or not they knew someone in China adulterated the product does not matter to me. This company did not abide by the laws and rules of importing a food product. Laws and rules exist for a reason. When they are broken, there should be consequences."

      But federal officials applaud the judge's sentence and their investigation and prosecution of the case.

      "Today's sentence sends a strong message that we will work tirelessly to stop dangerous goods from entering the American marketplace," said John Morton, the Department of Homeland Security's assistant secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). "ICE will continue to aggressively pursue individuals and organizations involved with illegally importing tainted or substandard goods that may jeopardize the safety of our families, communities and pets."

      "We commend the action of the U.S. Attorney's Office against those companies and individuals responsible for many animal injuries and deaths from melamine contamination of pet food. The FDA will support strong enforcement of the law to protect the health and safety of our pets," said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

      Chemnutra is a Nevada-based company that buys food products in China and imports them into the United States. The company then sells those products to pet food makers and other manufacturers in the food industry. Sally Miller is Chemnutra's controlling owner and president, while Stephen Miller is an owner and the company's chief executive officer.

      From November of 2006 through February 2007, Chemnutra and Millers imported more than 800 metric tons of melamine-tainted wheat gluten from China in at least 13 separate shipments, according to a federal indictment. Melamine is a chemical used to make plastic and fertilizers and is not allowed in human or pet food.

      Chemnutra and the Millers received the melamine-tainted wheat gluten at a port of entry in Kansas City, Missouri, the indictment said. The company then sold and shipped the tainted wheat gluten to customers across the United States, who used the tainted product to make various brands of pet food.

      A federal grand jury in 2008 indicted the Millers and Chemnutra for their roles in importing the tainted wheat gluten.

      The Millers and their company later pleaded guilty to one count of selling adulterated food and one count of selling misbranded food.

      "By pleading guilty, Chemnutra and the Millers admitted that melamine was substituted wholly or in part for the protein requirement of the wheat gluten so as to make it appear the wheat gluten was better or of greater value than it was," Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said in a statement released today. "They also admitted that the labeling of the wheat gluten was false and misleading because the wheat gluten was represented to have a minimum protein level of 75 percent, when in fact it did not. The labeling was also false and misleading because melamine was not listed on the label as an ingredient."

      During today's federal court hearing, Judge Maughmer decided not to impose further restitution because of the $24 million settlement reached in a civil suit filed in the wake of the pet food recall.

      The melamine-tainted wheat gluten forced pet food makers to recall more than 150 brands of dog and cat food during 2007. It was the largest pet food recall in U.S. history.

      Dogs and cats across the country suffered kidney failure after eating the contaminated food. While there is no coordinated national tracking system to monitor the number of pet deaths, the FDA said approximately 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs died after eating pet food made with tainted wheat gluten imported from China.

      Wheat gluten is a natural protein used as binding agent in pet food to thicken the gravy. Adding melamine to the wheat gluten made the product appear to have a higher protein level than it did, FDA officials said.

      Back in Kansas City, Phillips said her office will continue to aggressively prosecute companies and individuals who put consumers at risk.

      "We are committed to protecting the health and safety of the public," she said. "We will vigorously prosecute those who violate the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and other federal statutes designed to protect the public from this kind of criminal conduct."

      Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gene Porter and Joseph Marquez prosecuted the Chemnutra case. It was investigated by the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

      Chemnutra Owners Sentenced for Melamine-Tainted Pet Food...
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      Ford Addresses Brake Problem in Fusions

      U.S. carmaker says its braking problem is a software glitch

      Like Toyota, Ford appears to have a hybrid brake problem. The U.S. automaker said it would repair more than 17,000 Ford Fusion hybrids to address a brake problem. Toyota, meanwhile, stopped short of a recall of its Prius hybrids, whose brakes are under scrutiny in both the U.S. and Japan.

      The Ford announcement coincided with a report by Consumer Reports detailing a possible braking problem in the Fusion. A Consumer Reports engineer reportedly ran a stop sign when he was unable to stop his Ford hybrid with his normal braking action. Pushing the pedal farther than normal, he reported, caused the conventional brakes to engage, stopping the vehicle.

      The engineer reported that, though his foot was firmly planted on the brake, the car slowed slightly but did not stop the way it normally did. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, at least one other fusion driver has reported a similar incident to the agency.

      Ford said it traced the problem to a software glitch in both the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids built before October 17, 2009. The glitch is said to occur when the car shifts from electronic braking into conventional braking mode.

      Ford said it could fix the problem by simply upgrading the software in the cars. The company said it would inform owners by mail to take their vehicles to a Ford dealer for the fix.

      Consumer Reports said the glitch occurred right after its driver crossed a railroad track, calling to mind problems Prius drivers reported after hitting a pothole or other bump. Consumer Reports said the brake pedal needed to be pushed more than an inch farther down to engage the conventional brakes.

      Ford said it is not treating the repair as a recall, but as a "customer satisfaction" matter. Technically, the carmaker says, it's not a brake failure because the brakes will engage if you push on the pedal hard enough.

      Like Toyota, Ford appears to have a hybrid brake problem. The U.S. automaker said it would repair more than 17,000 Ford Fusion hybrids to address a brake p...
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      Disability Advocates 'Shocked' at Their Levels of Toxic Chemical Exposure

      New study examines possible links between disability and toxicity

      A new study examining possible links between exposure to chemicals used in everyday products and learning and developmental issues strikes a personal chord with leading advocates for the disabled.

      Could the autism, cerebral palsy, or other learning and developmental issues these individuals and their families face be associated with the toxic burdens in their bodies? Could the toxins in their bodies impact the fate of any children they hope to have in the future?

      Those are the issues the new study, "Mind, Disrupted", wanted to explore.

      The study's release on Thursday coincided with a Senate hearing about the public's exposure to chemicals and the country's outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

      In the new study, sponsored by the Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative, 12 "leaders and self-advocates" from the learning and developmental disabilities community volunteered to have their bodies tested for 89 chemicals known or suspected of sabotaging the development of humans' brains and nervous systems.

      The chemicals included bisphenol A (BPA), lead, mercury, organochlorine pesticides, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), perchlorate, perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), and triclosan.

      The study found:

      • A total of 61 chemicals in the 12 participants;

      • Each participant had at least 26 chemicals in their bodies; some had as many as 38 chemicals;

      • 16 chemicals were detected in all the participants, including BPA, mercury, lead, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), perchlorate, and organochlorine pesticides;

      • 11 participants had detectable levels of triclosan, which has been found to disrupt thyroid hormone function in rats. This chemical is used in antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, and other personal care products;

      • 10 participants had mercury levels above the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) average. Studies have linked exposure to this heavy metal with altered memory and motor function, and learning disabilities;

      • 8 participants had a brominated flame retardant known as Deca in their bodies. Prenatal exposure to this chemical, used in electronics and furniture upholstery, has been linked with impaired fine motor skills and attention. Elevated levels of this chemical in umbilical cord blood has also been associated with lower scores on multiple developmental tests in children;

      • 3 participants had lead concentrations above the CDC average. Lead is a heavy metal used in electronics, PVC plastics, and cosmetics. Studies have linked prenatal exposure to lead with premature births, learning difficulties, and decreased intelligence.

      "I was very shocked to see how many toxic chemicals were in my body," said participant Jeff Sell, who has 15-year-old twin sons with autism. He is the Vice-President of Public Policy for the Autism Society (ASA). "I started going green before it was fashionable and I watch what I put in my body and what I eat. I didn't think my toxic exposure would be as high as was."

      "These chemicals are not supposed to end up in our bodies," said participant Cathy Ficker Terrill, president and CEO of the Ray Graham Association for People with Disabilities. Her daughter, Beth Terrill, who also participated in the study, has a developmental disability and chemical sensitivities.

      "Having a child with complex allergies made (my family) very interested in learning about toxic chemicals," Ficker Terrill said. "We were shocked by our chemical body burden results because we have been living in an allergy-free house since Beth was 8."

      Researchers billed this analysis as the first biomonitoring study that exclusively focused on members of the learning and developmental disabilities community.

      "Its goal is to identify the presence of toxic chemicals that are associated with disrupting healthy neurological development in people whose lives have been directly touched by learning and developmental disabilities," researchers said of the study.

      The study, however, did not attempt to "correlate the presence, type or severity of a disability," researchers said. "Given the current state of scientific knowledge, no one can say that an exposure to a specific chemical causes a specific developmental disability."

      "Overwhelming evidence"

      But not everyone is willing to be so reserved in their conclusions.

      "The overwhelming evidence shows that certain environmental exposures can contribute to lifelong learning and development disorders," said Dr. Ted Schettler, Science Director for the Science and Environmental Health Network.

      Consider some of the chemicals researchers found in all the participants' bodies and their possible associations with learning and developmental issues:

      • BPA: This chemical is widely used in such products as baby bottles and the lining of metal food and beverage cans. Prenatal exposure to BPA has been linked with altered behaviors in two-year-old children, especially girls.

      • Lead: Studies have linked exposure to this heavy metal with premature births, learning difficulties, and decreased intelligence.

      • Perchlorate: This chemical is used in rocket fuel and airbags. Studies have linked exposure to perchlorate with reductions of iodine in breast milk and neonatal thyroid hormone levels in rats. In humans, some research suggests that maternal exposure to perchlorate during pregnancy could possibly cause abnormal fetal development.

      • Four organochlorine pesticides, including DDT, which was banned in the United States in 1972. Exposure to these pesticides has been linked with decreased metal function, including memory, attention, and verbal skills in children. Most of the research was done in children raised in agriculture areas;

      Discovering these and other toxins in their bodies frightened and angered many of the study's participants.

      "It is disturbing that even though it's been a long time since DDT has been banned as a pesticide in the U.S., it still exists and builds up in our bodies. It's disturbing that it has that kind of staying power long term," said participant Vernell Jessie, when she learned her body was contaminated with it.

      "I do have an 18-year-old and I figure that whatever might be going on in my body might certainly be going on in her body," added Jessie, a longtime disability advocate. "It's very disturbing to think that a chemical that was banned decades ago may still be taking up residence in the body of my child."

      Participant Laura Abalafia is worried what effects the lead and other toxins found in her body could have on the baby she hopes to have in the future.

      "I was surprised about how sad I felt after receiving my results," said Abalafia, national coordinator with the Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative. "I want to have a child someday soon, and now I know that this extremely vulnerable little person will be exposed to some very toxic substances."

      "Everybody wants to make sure a baby can thrive in a safe and healthy environment, but so many everyday products contain toxic chemicals like lead," she added. "Even children's toys and some candies have lead in them, so we really have no understanding of how to make safe purchases and protect our children or unborn from some very serious threats."

      "Federal policy needs to change"

      Abelafia and others involved with the project say Congressional leaders can take a big step toward reducing the public's exposure to dangerous chemicals by revamping the antiquated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

      "Federal policy needs to change to reflect 21st Century science -- including the importance of critical windows of development, mixtures of chemicals, and low-dose exposures -- to ensure current and future generations reach their fullest potential," the study said.

      "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."

      Both the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition and the Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative have called on Congress to strengthen the country's chemical laws. Their recommendations include:

      • Immediately take action against the worst chemicals now on the market;

      • Require manufacturers to disclose basic information about possible heath hazards associated with their chemicals;

      • Protect the most vulnerable from exposure to harmful chemicals;

      • Hold industry responsible for demonstrating chemical safety;

      • Promote safe, "green" alternatives;

      • Ensure consumers' "right to know" by requiring labeling of chemical ingredients in products;

      • Use the best scientific methods to determine the safety of chemicals on the market.

      Former Atlanta Falcons football player David Iron, who has a diagnosed learning disability, supports these measures. "I want to know more about these chemicals that get into our bodies and how these chemicals might be hurting us and making it harder to achieve our goals," said Irons, who participated in the study.

      "As a professional football player, I have to be as mentally and physically fit as possible -- it's my job," he added. "I want to know how to avoid toxic chemicals for myself, but I also really want little kids not to be exposed to these chemicals, especially if sometimes the chemicals could harm their bodies or brains and make it harder for them to learn."

      The American Chemistry Council (ACC), a trade association for the chemical industry, has downplayed recent studies that found links between BPA, phthalates, and other chemicals with developmental and health issues. The ACC says the chemicals are safe for everyday use.

      Congressional leaders in Washington, D.C. are now debating concerns about the publics' exposure to toxic chemicals and the country's outdated chemical safety laws. Those talks opened Thursday during a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee.

      Weeks before the hearing started, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) called on their colleagues to toughen the TSCA.

      "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 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," Rush added.

      There's another benefit of revamping the TSCA, researchers point out. It could reduce the country's burgeoning health care costs.

      "We could cut the health costs of childhood disabilities and disease by billions of dollars every year by minimizing contaminants in the environment," said Dr. Phil Landrigan of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "Investing in our children's health is both cost-effective and the right thing to do."

      Disability Advocates 'Shocked' at Their Levels of Toxic Chemical Exposure...
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      FTC Issues 'Bamboo' Ad Warning

      Retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, and Kmart, get agency letters

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning 78 companies across the U.S. that they may be breaking the law by selling clothing and other textile products that are labeled and advertised as "bamboo," but actually are made of manufactured rayon fiber.

      The warning, sent in letters by the agency's staff sent last week, tell the retailers of the FTC's concerns about possible mislabeling of rayon products as "bamboo," so the companies can take corrective steps to avoid Commission action.

      "We need to make sure companies use proper labeling and advertising in their efforts to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers," said David C. Vladeck, Director of the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Rayon is rayon, even if bamboo has been used somewhere along the line in the manufacturing process."

      The FTC sued several companies last year for allegedly selling products labeled or advertised as "bamboo" that in reality were made of rayon. Rayon is a man-made fiber created from the cellulose found in plants and trees and processed with harsh chemicals that release hazardous air pollution. Any plant or tree -- including bamboo -- could be used as the cellulose source, but the fiber that is created is rayon.

      "While we have seen action by some retailers to correct mislabeled clothing and textile products, our hope is that these warning letters will serve as a wake-up call to all companies, regardless of their size," Vladeck said.

      The FTC staff letter outlines the requirements for proper labeling and advertising of textile products derived from bamboo. The letter states, "Rayon, even if manufactured using cellulose from bamboo, must be described using an appropriate term recognized under the FTC's Textile Rules...Failing to properly label and advertise textiles misleads consumers and runs afoul of both the Textile Rules and the FTC Act."

      In the letter, the FTC tells the companies they should review the labeling and advertising for the textile products they are selling and remove or correct any misleading bamboo references.

      Along with the warning letters, the agency sent each company a synopsis of FTC decisions finding that the failure to use proper fiber names in textile labeling and advertising was deceptive and violated the FTC Act. Under the Act, the FTC can seek civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation against any company that receives this information but fails to correct its advertising and labeling.

      Companies that were sent warning include small and large retailers, with both online and brick-and-mortar stores, and firms selling textile products labeled or advertised as "bamboo" that may be made of rayon. The more commonly known retailers include:

      Amazon.com, Barney's New York, Bed Bath & Beyond, BJ's Wholesale Club, Bloomingdale's, Costco Wholesale, Garnet Hill, Gold Toe, Hanes, Isotoner, JC Penney, Jockey, Kmart, Kohl's, Land's End, Macy's, Maidenform, Nordstrom, Overstock.com, QVC, REI, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sears, Shop NBC, Spiegel, Sports Authority, Target, The Gap, The Great Indoors, Tommy Bahama, Toys R' Us, Wal-Mart, and Zappos.com.

      This latest announcement follows four FTC enforcement actions brought against companies selling rayon products that were misleadingly labeled and advertised.

      According to the Commission's complaints, filed in August 2009, the companies falsely claimed that their rayon clothing and other textile products were "bamboo fiber," marketing them using names such as "ecoKashmere," "Pure Bamboo," "Bamboo Comfort," and "BambooBaby."

      The complaints also challenged a number of other deceptive "green" claims, including that the products retained the bamboo plant's antimicrobial properties, were made using environmentally friendly manufacturing processes, and are biodegradable.

      The FTC sued several companies last year for allegedly selling products labeled or advertised as "bamboo" that in reality were made of rayon....
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      Eli Lily Pays Mississippi $18.5 Million to Settle Zyprexa Claim

      Money arrives at critical time, state says

      The State of Mississippi has recovered some much needed cash, as drug giant Eli Lilly has agreed to an $18.5 million fraud settlement over the drug Zyprexa.

      The drug was only approved for major psychotic disorders, but the state alleged that the drug company promoted the drug to doctors for many unapproved uses such as minor depression. The company's studies showed the drug caused diabetes, but publication of the studies was suppressed, according to state officials.

      The money, said Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, comes at a critical time.

      "We recovered every penny we spent on the drug by Medicaid and the State Insurance Plan, plus penalties," Hood said. "Hopefully, the Legislature will use this money to prevent the shut down of our courts, prosecutors, law enforcement and other vital government services."

      By settling the claims, Eli Lilly admits to no wrongdoing. The agreement with Eli Lilly ensures, among other things, that the company:

      • will not make any written or oral claim that is false, misleading or deceptive regarding Zyprexa

      • will not promote Zyprexa for off-label uses

      • communications concerning off-label uses of Zyprexa shall not be false, misleading or deceptive

      Any violation of the above, and the other settlement terms negotiated, will result in further penalties for Eli Lilly, Hood said.

      The State of Mississippi began pursuing its claims against Eli Lilly nearly four years ago as a means to recover funds expended by the State of Mississippi in purchasing the prescription drug known as Zyprexa for non-medically necessary uses, and to recover funds expended by the state in purchasing Zyprexa for uses in which the efficacy of the medication was outweighed by the dangerous side effects associated with the drug.

      Thirteen months ago, Eli Lilly agreed to a massive $1.42 billion Zyprexa settlement with both state and federal governments. Approximately 30 states, including Mississippi, were involved in the suit.

      Among Hood's allegations against Eli Lilly were that the company's pre-clinical studies demonstrated that the drug causes weight gain and hyperglycemia, which is linked to diabetes. Additionally, Eil Lilly allegedly knew of Zyprexa's propensity to cause diabetes nearly a year and a half before it first warned of the risk of diabetes in the United States, and the company consistently suppressed attempts within the company to make the association between drug induced weight gain and hyperglycemia public.

      Hood also said the company misled doctors regarding the safety and efficacy of the drug.

      Eli Lily Pays Mississippi $18.5 Million to Settle Zyprexa Claim...
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      Feds Investigate Toyota Prius Brakes

      Focus shifts to electrical systems

      Toyota, already reeling from several massive recalls, has a new problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says it has opened a formal investigation of the 2010 Toyota Prius. The goal is to learn whether the 37,000 vehicles suffer momentary loss of braking when traveling on bumpy surfaces.

      NHTSA said it has received 124 consumer complaints about the problem, four of them involving crashes and two of those involving minor injuries.

      A Toyota spokesman said the company would "cooperate fully" with the investigation.

      Toyota's problems began to accelerate Wednesday as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood advised owners of recalled Toyotas to "stop driving them" until a dealer could inspect them and said U.S. safety investigators are continuing their probe.

      Although LaHood quickly retracted his comments, the Japanese government also told the automaker to investigate reports of brake failure on some Prius models. The Japanese Transportation Ministry cited 14 reports of brake failure in the latest generation of the hybrid since it went on sale in May 2009.

      An examination of complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com also reveals instances of reported brake failure. Gary, of Trumansburg, N.Y., said he had an accident in his 2009 Prius on November 13, 2009 in which his car was totaled. From the start, he said, he suspected brake failure.

      "I was in a situation where I had to stop very quickly and braked as hard as I could," he told ConsumerAffairs.com. The car slowed to a point then seemed to 'plateau' until my car struck a truck.

      Gary said he never heard or felt the "ABS sound" or vibration, and had always suspected something was not right with the brakes. Because of the accident, he says he incurred a $2,200 debt to Toyota, from whom he leased the car.

      In early January Virginia of Ottawa, Ontario told ConsumerAffairs.com that her 2005 Prius has always had a brake problem.

      Bump in the road

      "The brakes momentarily fail if the car hits a fair size pothole or bump while braking, and like other posters it took many occurrences of this to convince me it was the car's problem, not my braking," she wrote.

      Linda of Johnson City, Tenn., wrote last November that her 2007 Prius had exhibited strange behavior, with the brakes sometimes not engaging immediately after applying pressure to the pedal.

      Paul of Sedona Ariz., reported last April that he had been in three accidents, or near accidents in his 2009 Prius due to a combination of mysterious acceleration and loss of brakes.

      "The first incident, a near accident, occurred when the car in front of me stopped," Paul told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I was driving slowly but my car suddenly seemed to accelerate on its own and my brakes failed. How I stopped my car I will never know."

      The second incident was occurred in his garage, he says, when the car sped up and did not repond to the brakes.

      The third incident occurred in a parking lot, he said. While driving slow and looking for a place to park, the brakes did not hold and the result was the car hit a parked car.

      Toyota has not issued a recall of the Prius to check the brakes, but the New York Times quotes a Toyota spokeswoman as saying a brake defect could not be ruled out.

      NHTSA's brake check

      U.S. safety investigators are also probing reports of Prius brake problems. Wednesday the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a statement saying it had begun an investigation.

      "NHTSA has received a number of complaints about a potential defect affecting the brake system in Toyota's Prius hybrid and is conducting field work to examine the issue," the agency said.

      Part of that field work may focus on the cars' electrical system. LaHood, who backed off of his comments about not driving Toyotas during Congressional testimony Wednesday, told reporters at an impromptu news conference that the cars' electronics were being scrutinized.

      Could braking and acceleration problems in the Prius have an electric connection? Brakes in hybrids do, in fact, have a large electrical component. In addition to standard brakes, which rely on brake pads pressed against drums, hybrids use their electric motors to help slow the car.

      "We are looking at the electronics. I can't be specific because we are looking at these complaints to see what they are," LaHood said.

      And while LaHood says he never meant to suggest that owners of recalled Toyotas should park them until a dealer can inspect them, lawyers in both the U.S. and UK say that might, in fact, be sound advice.

      A leading British traffic and criminal lawyer urged the owners of almost 181,000 vehicles recalled by Toyota in the UK to park them or face being charged with dangerous driving if they were in an accident.

      The Prius is Toyota's third best-selling model in the U.S., with only the mid-sized Camry and compact Carolla outselling it.

      Feds Investigate Toyota Prius Brakes...
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      Listening to Your Car

      Your car is speaking to you when it makes noises -- it's up to you to listen

      What is your car telling you when it thumps, pings, or hisses? Should you head for your mechanic or just ignore it and hope for the best?

      In its March issue, the car-whisperers at Consumer Reports take away some of the mystery by identifying which noises drivers should turn down the radio for.

      When you hear a noise that's unusual -- a whine, a creak, or a squeal, for example -- consider it an alert that something has changed. By paying attention to those sounds, you can often catch a minor problem before it becomes a major one. Here's what to listen for:

      • Squealing brakes. If you hear squealing only during braking, especially light braking, it's probably caused by a vibration at the brake pads. Squealing doesn't affect your braking performance and, while it's annoying, it is usually nothing to worry about and can happen even with new pads. If you hear a similar high-pitched squeal from the brakes while the car is moving but it stops when you step on the brake pedal, it can be a sign that your brake pads have worn down and need changing soon.

      What to do. Have a mechanic inspect the brakes. In the case of the squeal during braking, he may be able to apply a lubricant to quiet the vibration.

      • Squeals under the hood. If you hear this while revving the engine or when first starting it while cold, the noise is often due to a slipping drive belt. The belt could need adjusting or it could be glazed (the sides look shiny), which means it requires replacement.

      What to do. Have a mechanic look over the drive belts and replace them if necessary.

      • Light rattling in the engine. This might be pinging, which can sound like tiny marbles bouncing around inside the engine, and usually occurs while accelerating or climbing hills. It's often due to using gas with too low an octane rating and can begin occurring in older engines because of carbon buildup. Severe pinging can damage the engine.

      What to do. Check your coolant temperature gauge. If the temperature is normal, try using premium gasoline. If that doesn't correct the pinging, have the car checked by a mechanic.

      • Rhythmic thumping. If the noise increases and decreases with the speed of the car, it's probably a tire problem, such as torn rubber in the tread, a bubble in the sidewall, or a flat spot.

      What to do. Have the tires inspected as soon as possible. Torn rubber or a bubble could lead to a blowout, so get new tires. A flat spot is annoying but not serious.

      • Hissing beneath the hood. It's most likely a vacuum leak, caused by a cracked or disconnected vacuum hose. Your engine could also be running or idling rough and the "check engine" light could be on.

      What to do. If it's a disconnected hose, you may be able to reconnect it yourself. Or take the car to a mechanic.

      • Grinding sound from brakes. This means you've waited too long to replace your brake pads, your car is unsafe to drive, and your repair bill has just jumped to another level. The brake pads have worn completely through and are grinding against the brake rotor, which probably also needs to be replaced.

      What to do. Stop driving and have the car towed to a mechanic.

      Bear in mind that taking your car to a mechanic is no guarantee that your problems will be solved. ConsumerAffairs.com receives loads of complaints from consumers about the treatment they get at the hands of some of these "pros." Among them:

      • Mark of Ewa Beach, HI, thinks he got ripped of by his local Pontiac dealer. "$250 to replace a car battery. (This is the third one on a four year old car); $425 to replace rear disk brakes only; and $328 to replace an ignition key. These are ridiculous service fees!"

      • Ashleigh of Montgomery, AL, tells us of an unsettling experience with Ralph's Auto Repair. "Mr. M agreed to replace my engine in my 1999 Grand Jeep Cherokee for 1850.00. We made an agreement that if I gave him 1500.00 up front he would release my truck when it was repaired and set up a payment plan for the remaining balance." Ashleigh says he gave Mr. M 1500.00 as he requested, but now, "he has been avoiding my calls and has not repaired my truck or refunded me my money. I have been without a vehicle for four months now. I've had to pay friends/coworkers 60.00 a week to take me back and forth to work."

      Amid growing concerns about the auto repair business, Congress is moving to guarantee consumers get a fair shake when they take their vehicles to be fixed.

      Listening to Your Car...
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      FTC Wants to Outlaw Advance-Fee Foreclosure Rescue

      Several states already have such bans in place

      The Federal Trade Commission is seeking to outlaw foreclosure rescue operations that charge an advance fee for their alleged services. The FTC is seeking the move through federal rulemaking instead of legislation.

      "Homeowners facing foreclosure or struggling to make mortgage payments shouldn't have to contend with fraudulent 'companies' that don't provide what they promise," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. "The proposed rule would outlaw up-front fees so companies can't take the money and run."

      Several states already have laws on their books outlawing advance-fee foreclosure rescue. The FTC rule would make it illegal throughout the U.S. According to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking announced today, historic levels of consumer debt, increased unemployment, and an unprecedented downturn in the housing and mortgage markets have contributed to high rates of mortgage loan delinquency and foreclosure.

      The agency expressed concern that the mortgage crisis has launched an industry of companies purporting, for a fee, to obtain mortgage loan modifications or other relief for consumers facing foreclosure. The FTC has brought 28 cases in this area, and state and federal law enforcement partners have brought hundreds more.

      Generally these cases charged that companies do not provide the services they promise and that they misrepresent their affiliation with the government and government housing assistance programs, including the Making Home Affordable Program.

      Public comment

      The FTC notice seeks public input, particularly from attorneys and other professionals, on a proposed rule that would require mortgage relief companies to make good on their promised results before charging or accepting payment from consumers. Under the proposed rule, companies could not be paid until they had a documented offer from a mortgage lender or servicer that lives up to the promises they have made.

      "Far too many homeowners have paid up-front fees to bad actors who promised loan modifications but never delivered," Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said. "I commend the FTC for proposing a strong set of safeguards to protect consumers from these predatory practices."

      The proposed rule also would bar providers from telling consumers to stop communicating with their lenders or mortgage servicers, and from misleading them about key facts such as:

      • The likelihood of getting the results they want, and how long it will take.

      • Their affiliation with public or private entities.

      • Payment and other existing mortgage obligations.

      • Refund and cancellation policies.

      In addition, the proposed rule would require providers to tell consumers that they are for-profit businesses, the total amount consumers will have to pay, that neither the government nor the consumer's lender has approved their services, and that there is no guarantee that the lender will agree to change their loan.

      Wouldn't cover banks

      The proposed rules would apply to for-profit companies that, in exchange for a fee, offer to work with lenders and servicers on behalf of consumers to modify the terms of mortgage loans or to take other steps to avoid foreclosure on those loans. The proposed rules generally exempt entities that own or service mortgage loans. Attorneys would have a limited exemption from the proposed advance fee ban if they represent consumers in a bankruptcy or other legal proceeding.

      The FTC rulemaking proceeding is required by legislation secured in 2009 by Senator Byron Dorgan and Chairman Jay Rockefeller. Any proposed rule would apply only to entities within the FTC's jurisdiction under the FTC Act. That means the rule would not ally to banks, thrifts, and federal credit unions.

      As the first step in the rulemaking process, on June 1, 2009, the FTC issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on the practices of for-profit mortgage relief services providers.

      FTC Wants to Outlaw Advance-Fee Foreclosure Rescue...
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      Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Statements Misleading, Suit Says

      Accuses Cereal Company of Glossing Over Dangers of Trans Fat

      A class-action lawsuit filed Monday accuses Kellogg's of tricking consumers into believing its Nutri-Grain cereal bars are healthy, when in fact they contain inherently dangerous trans fat, which the plaintiffs say makes the product unfit for human consumption.

      The suit contends that Kellogg misleads consumers into believing that Nutri-Grain Bars are healthy by making misleading claims on the product packaging. Such statements include 'Excellent Source of Calcium,' 'More of the Whole Grains Your Body Needs,' and 'Eat Better All Day.'

      Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, who make some valid points about the dangers of trans fats namely that they increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes the suit devolves into weak tea before long. The complaint strains credibility in attempting to portray the aforementioned misleading claims as anything other than competent advertising.

      Though possibly true, the suit says of the representations on the packaging, these statements are deceptive in intent and nature: they imply that these products are healthy despite the fact that they contain artificial trans fat.

      The plaintiffs then go on to attack the images chosen by Kellogg for the product packaging, specifically an image of a verdant field and an image of a Nutri-Grain Bar next to an image of a water bottle, a salad, an apple, and person exercising. The problem? The obvious implication of this is that Nutri-Grain Bars are, like water, apples, salads, and exercising, part of a healthy lifestyle.

      The suit noted that an increasing number of American jurisdictions are banning trans fats from food altogether. Since 2008, when California became the first state to prohibit the use of trans fats in restaurant food, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore, among others, have followed suit. The plaintiffs use this along with a 2004 Danish law setting a ceiling of two grams of trans fat for all foods as evidence that Kellogg's supposedly healthy products have so much toxic artificial trans fat that they would be illegal to sell in many parts of the world.

      The suit, led by June Higginbotham and Jennifer Red of Southern California, is being brought on behalf of anyone who bought one or more Kellogg's products containing artificial trans fat between January 1, 2000 and the present. The complaint includes counts for false advertising under the Lanham Act, unfair competition, and breach of several California consumer protection statutes.

      In addition to seeking compensatory damages, the plaintiffs are demanding that Kellogg cease the complained-of advertisements, disgorge any profits by which it was unjustly enriched, conduct a corrective advertising campaign, and destroy all misleading and deceptive materials and products.

      Higginbotham and Red join a growing list of litigants challenging the veracity of breakfast food-related claims.

      In September, Dannon settled a lawsuit alleging that ads for the company's Activa brand yogurt promoted as a panacea for digestive issues exaggerated the product's actual benefits. Then, in October, two New Jerseyans claimed in a $5 million suit that General Mills ads led them to believe that eating Cheerios would lower their cholesterol levels. The following month, a class action accused Kellogg of falsely claiming that Cocoa Krispies would strengthen kids' immune systems against illness.

      Maybe it's time to go back to bacon and eggs.

      Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Statements Misleading, Suit Says...
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