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    Dodd Co-Sponsors Right to Repair Bill

    Carmakers would have to provide independent mechanics with access to information, specs

    The move to pass the automotive "Right to Repair" bill has picked up another powerful Senate sponsor -- Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

    "We want to thank Sen. Dodd for supporting this very important piece of pro-consumer and pro-small business legislation," said Kathleen Schmatz, president and CEO of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, which is championing the measure.

    The Right to Repair Bill would require carmakers to provide independent repair shops with the same access to the same safety alerts, technical service bulletins, diagnostic tools and repair information they provide to their dealer network.

    The sponsors say the bill protects motoring consumers from a "growing and potentially hazardous vehicle repair monopoly" by requiring that car companies provide full access at a reasonable cost to all service information, tools and safety-related bulletins needed to repair motor vehicles, thus leveling the competitive playing field between dealerships and independent repair shops. They say consumers would benefit because in many cases, independent repair shops provide service at a lower cost than dealerships.

    The measure currently has bipartisan support.

    "The Right to Repair Act does not cost taxpayers money, does not create a new agency and, more importantly, does not ask taxpayers for a bailout," said Ray Pohlman, president of the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality. "This bill keeps motorists in the driver's seat by making sure that they, and not the vehicle manufacturers, have the final say on where a car is taken for service."

    'Solution in search of a problem'

    Some other automotive groups have a decidedly different view, with one calling the bill "a solution in search of a problem."

    "Automakers already provide affordable access to the necessary information to diagnose and service vehicles," said Ron Pyle, president of the Automotive Service Association, a group representing automotive service businesses. "All automakers maintain service information websites and make factory scan tools available to the independent repair community. The information is the same as that provided to franchised dealers and the tools are capable of performing the same functions. By investing in proper equipment and training and subscribing to service information providers, repair shops can gain access to everything they need to repair a motor vehicle of any make or model."

    Automakers don't support the legislation either. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says proponents have been pushing for the legislation at both the federal and state levels for nearly a decade.

    "The U.S. Congress and all other state legislators have consistently rejected their claims," Alliance President and CEO Dave McCurdy said. "No state has ever adopted the so-called 'Right to Repair' legislation."

    The House version of the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act (HR 2057) was introduced by Reps. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and George Miller (D-CA) and currently has 61 cosponsors.

    The move to pass the automotive "Right to Repair" bill has picked up another powerful Senate sponsor -- Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Chairman of the Senat...
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    New Hope Settles Loan Modification Suit

    Company allegedly reneged on promise to help underwater homeowners


    A New Jersey-based loan modification company has agreed to pay $10 million to settle charges that it defrauded homeowners who were behind on their mortgages. Two of the company's agents also agreed to pay damages, and will have their licenses revoked.

    The payment by New Hope Property LLC stemmed from a lawsuit alleging that the company took money from struggling consumers and then failed to deliver on promises that it would help rescue their struggling mortgages. The company charged the money up front, which is illegal in New Jersey.

    The company rebuffed consumers who sought refunds once they realized the company was not going to help them, and at one point tried to shut down its website, according to the suit. Additionally, the company allegedly gave consumers the false impression that it was associated with the Hope Now Alliance, the non-profit foreclosure prevention program set up by the government and certain lenders in 2007.

    Under the settlement, two of New Hope's former agents agreed to pay damages and to have their mortgage solicitor's registrations revoked. Brian Mammoccio and Donna Fisher, both New Jersey residents, are on the hook for $1.2 million and $250,000, respectively. Fisher also agreed to have her lender's license revoked, and both are barred from ever again applying for any license from the Department of Banking.

    The office of New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow, which brought the suit, said in a statement that New Hope defrauded "thousands of victims nationwide." Dow framed the settlement as a warning shot aimed at other fraudulent loan modification companies.

    "This is an important outcome, one that should send a clear message to anyone who may be tempted to seek profit in the financial misery of others during these tough times," Dow said. "This company, and these individuals, made money by selling false hope to trusting people during their darkest financial hour. It is appropriate that their professional licenses are revoked, and that they will never again be permitted to operate in our state."

    The suit, filed in March 2009, charged New Hope with violations of the Consumer Fraud Act, state advertising regulations and the Debt Adjustment and Credit Counseling Act.

    ConsumerAffairs.com has heard from scores of consumers who say they were defrauded by New Hope, several of whom lost their homes as a result. As James of New Castle, Delaware, wrote last June:

    "We filed to do a loan modification to get out of a variable rate mortgage. They informed us not to make any payments and the mortgage company also said they would not accept any ... [A]fter calling for months and being told our file was under review by the mortgage company and new hope, all of a sudden I called for 2 weeks straight not getting any return calls and one day finding out they were a scam, by now our mortgage was very behind. and we are out our fee and possibly our home."

    Earlier this month, ConsumerAffairs.com reported that many consumers with modified mortgage agreements are still struggling to make their payments. According to a government audit, the number of homeowners with new agreements who have again fallen behind now stands at 2,879, up from around 1,000 in January. All together, around seven million consumers are currently behind on their mortgages, according to government estimates.

    A New Jersey-based loan modification company has agreed to pay $10 million to settle charges that it defrauded homeowners who were behind on their mortgage...
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    Consumer-Protection Lawsuit Filed Against Colorado Loan Modification Company

    Company's ad campaign implied it was a partner of the federal government, suit says



    Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against American Mortgage Consultants, its owner, Oliver Paul Maldonado, and its principal employee, Santiago Fabian Pineda, on suspicion of defrauding consumers seeking loan modifications and foreclosure relief.

    According to the complaint, filed in Denver District Court, American Mortgage Consultants used deceptive advertisements to attract approximately 170 consumers to the loan modification company from January 2009 through March 2010. The company and Maldonado are suspected of using deceptive telephone marketing, direct mail, radio advertisements and Web marketing to attract consumers.

    Federal connection implied

    According to the complaint, Maldonado also used video of President Barack Obama and materials from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to give consumers the impression that American Mortgage Consultants was affiliated with or partnering with the federal government.

    The company and its owner are suspected of charging these consumers $2,500 in upfront fees for its services, which is illegal under Colorado law. American Mortgage Consultants strands accused of doing little if anything to help its customers renegotiate or modify their home loans beyond shipping off their loan modification applications to an Ohio-based company.

    "Consumers should always be suspicious of any guarantees a loan modification company makes about being able to keep you in your home or reduce your loan payments," Suthers said. "American Mortgage Consultants' activities were especially troubling because they did virtually nothing for their 'customers' beyond taking their money."

    Proceed with caution

    Suthers encouraged consumers facing foreclosure to obtain free help from the Colorado Foreclosure Hotline at 1-877-HOPE (4673) before hiring a company to modify your home loan. If consumers are still interested in hiring a loan modification company, Suthers encourages them to bear in mind:

    • It is illegal in Colorado for a loan modification or renegotiation company to charge you an upfront fee. Loan modification companies can only charge you once their services are completed.

    • Consumers should be wary of any company that tells you to stop making your loan payments or to stop working with your lender. Failing to make payments could result in a foreclosure.

    • Never ignore communication from your lender at the behest of a loan modification firm. Most lenders have loan modification programs that can help you save your home. In some cases, all a borrower has to do is contact his or her lender and provide some current financial information.

    • If a company promises to get rid of your debt, they are making a promise they cannot keep.

    • Check out any loan modification company you are considering hiring. The Better Business Bureau maintains ratings of businesses. Any company with an "F" rating should be avoided.

    Recognizing the problems foreclosure relief and loan modification scams present to consumers, the FTC is working to slam the door on these operations.

    Consumer-Protection Lawsuit Filed Against Colorado Loan Modification Company...
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      Phone App Designed to Empower Airline Passengers

      But law would need to be changed for passengers to make full use of it



      On the same day new rules went into effect to protect the rights of airline passengers, passengers rights advocate Kate Hanni launched a new application to help passengers keep tabs on their flight.

      Hanni, Executive Director of FlyersRights.org, said the app will empower passengers by providing real time data on the status of their flights via GPS.

      But there's just one problem. You aren't allowed to turn on your cell phone while in flight. The app is also available for PCs, but unless you flight happens to offer WiFi, you won't have a way to access the information when you need it most.

      "It is essential that airline passengers are empowered with the latest applications and in-flight technology to ensure that the airlines are accountable and full compliance with the new 3 Hour Tarmac Rule, going into effect today at the Department of Transportation," said Hanni. "Passengers in the U.S. should be allowed to avail themselves of in-flight connectivity and technology to capture, record, and transmit information vital to the enforcement of their new rights."

      With the new application, available on FlyersRights.org , the GPS component of the iPhone will be able to pinpoint a passenger's location and the passenger will confirm location.

      The passenger will be able to input their airline and flight information into a centralized database and update their status in terms of delays or cancellations while in flight. Passengers also will be able to take photos, video and audio recordings and attach them to the record in real time.

      Ban remains in House version of bill

      The House of Representatives version of the FAA bill, passed last year, contains language that would ban the use of cellular communications and VoIP on commercial aircraft in U.S. airspace. The recently passed Senate version of the FAA legislation contains no ban. Currently, 20 international air carriers, flying to 72 nations around the world are equipped with in-flight cellular service -- with over 2.3 million passengers a month flying on aircraft with the service. Hanni thinks the U.S. should follow their example.

      "The enforcement and protection of rights of people around the globe have become increasingly dependent upon the transmission of data and images in real time thanks to cellular technology," Hanni said. "Rather than ban it outright, Congress should allow the FAA and the FCC to evaluate the use of in-flight voice service and connectivity as a valuable tool for passengers in the U.S. taking into account potential benefits to consumers and the real world experience of its deployment throughout the rest of the world."

      Since 2005, the FAA has been considering easing the cell phone ban. The agency told Congress five years ago that each airline would have to demonstrate conclusively that every model cell phone would present no interference on every model aircraft in use.



      Phone App Designed to Empower Airline Passengers...
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      Consumers Should Always Ask 'What's The Catch?'

      Businesses offering perks and free stuff have to pay for it some way

      The quickest way to become disillusioned with a purchase is to base it on the seller's offer of some attractive perk. The deal hardly ever ends up being as attractive as you think it is.

      A case in point is that tempting credit card offer. Consumers have begun to see solicitations from banks offering triple miles and rewards programs with airlines and hotels. How can they be doing that, you ask, since the new credit card law has severely cut into their interest income?

      Exactly. The Wall Street Journal recently noted that most of these "high-perk" cards now carry an annual fee. Of course, if the card already has an annual fee, the fee on the new card is higher. For example, Barclays PLC is currently marketing a new "Visa Black" card with 24-hour concierge services. The annual fee is $495.

      Keeping in mind that businesses don't become profitable by giving things away will usually help a consumer avoid a bad decision such as falling for a "free" of "trial" offer. The offer always comes with multiple strings attached and usually enrolls the consumer in an on-going "membership" program that will hit his credit or debit card each month.

      Be especially leery, for example, of a company that says it will give you one of its products free because it is so confident you will like it, that you will buy more of the product.

      Quick way to go out of business

      No enterprise could stay in business very long doing that. Odds are they would attract only people who want something for free and have no intention of ever buying a product.

      The marketer's real motive becomes apparent when you discover the product isn't really free. You are required to pay a small fee -- sometimes just $2 -- to cover shipping and handling. And of course, you must pay the small fee with your credit or debit card.

      Once the company has your credit or debit card, they can place other charges on it at will, leaving it to you to dispute them. Even if they explain to you that you are enrolling in a "trial" program, they are ultimately in control because you've turned over access to your credit or bank account. If you cancel the trial in a timely manner, they can always say you didn't cancel quickly enough.

      One way to test whether a product is really "free" is to tell the marketer that, instead of paying by plastic, you will send them a money order for the amount requested. No marketer would accept that, since it would prevent him or her from charging you more later on.

      In the midst of a recession it's tempting to be swayed by promises of something for free, since everyone is trying to save money as much as possible. But recognizing the truth in the cliche's "there's no free lunch" and "you get what you pay for" will help you stay out of trouble.

      Consumers Should Always Ask 'What's The Catch?'...
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      Baltimore Nursing School Charged With Deceptive Marketing

      School not acredited to provide training, state says



      Some students signed up with Associated National Medical Academy in Baltimore, in hopes of earning a nursing degree. But the training they received did not qualify them to work as nurses, according to Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler.

      Gansler has charged MALMILVENTURES, LLC, d/b/a Associated National Medical Academy, with unfair and deceptive trade practices in connection with their offer of nursing training services to consumers.

      Associated National Medical Academy offers consumers who are interested in becoming either a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse a "10 Month Accelerated Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Program" and a "12 Month Registered Nurse (RN) BSN Bridge Program."

      However, according to the state's charges, Associated National Medical Academy has not obtained the necessary approvals from the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) and the Maryland State Board of Nursing to offer such services in the State of Maryland. The Division further alleges that Associated National Medical Academy's nursing programs will not qualify consumers to become licensed in Maryland as either a LPN or RN.

      On June 26, 2009, the MHEC sent the company a letter directing it to "immediately cease and desist offering training in Maryland" and to refund payments that the company had collected from Maryland consumers. Despite receiving that letter, according to the charges, the company continued to offer and sell nursing programs to Maryland consumers and has not refunded any of the payments received from consumers.

      "We charged this company and its owners with taking advantage of consumers looking to become licensed nurses in Maryland," Gansler said. "Consumers should always check with state licensing boards to verify licensing requirements of educational institutions prior to paying any fees up front to a training school."

      Maryland's Consumer Protection Division's Statement of Charges seeks an injunction, restitution for consumers harmed by the business practices, investigation costs, and a civil penalty.

      Baltimore Nursing School Charged With Deceptive Marketing...
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      Colorado Man Draws 32 Year Sentence for Running Ponzi Scheme

      Scammer took consumers in Colorado and 15 other states for more than $10 million

      A Colorado man has been sentenced to 32 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $5 million in restitution for his role in a multi-state Ponzi scheme.

      The Statewide Grand Jury indicted 31-year-old sentenced Jason T. Brooks in June 2009 on suspicion that he accepted more than $10 million from investors in Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer and Weld counties and residents in 15 states outside of Colorado as part of a Ponzi scheme.

      Brooks took in the money allegedly to invest in an electronics resale business, but used new investors' money to pay "interest" to other investors. He also used the money for personal expenses, including $1.5 million for personal gambling.

      "This sentence underlines not only the severity of this Ponzi scheme, but also my office's dedication to vigorously prosecute white collar crime in Colorado," said Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. "The severity of Mr. Brooks' scheme also should serve as a warning sign for Colorado consumers who might find themselves faced with unusual or strange-sounding investments."

      Suthers encouraged consumers to be aware of several red flags that, according to SaveAndInvest.org and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), should tip them off that an investment opportunity could be a scam:

      • Consumers should beware of investment opportunities offered for a limited time only. Legitimate investment opportunities should not require a decision in a matter of hours.

      • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: Investments offering large returns with virtually no risk do not exist. There are no sure things in the investment world.

      • If the person pitching you on an investment is unregistered with FINRA that should send up a red flag.

      • When a broker or person pitching you on an investment cannot describe how a fund or investment product works, that, too, should be a warning sign. Someone selling you an investment product or opportunity should be able to give you a clear description of how it works and the associated risks.

      • An investment should always have accompanying documentation. If an investment product or opportunity does not have documentation or a stock ticker symbol, it might be a scam.

      We learned over the past couple of years exactly how financially devastating Ponzi schemes can be as we followed the Bernie Madoff saga, which saw investors drained of billions of dollars.

      If you believe you have been defrauded in a securities scam, contact the Securities and Exchange Commission Office of Investor Education and Advocacy (1-800-732-0330 or 202-772-9295).

      Colorado Man Draws 32 Year Sentence for Running Ponzi Scheme...
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      Toyota Recalling Older Sequoia SUVs

      Recall affects early production units of 2003 model

      Toyota, which has already recalled the Lexus GX 460 SUVs sold in the U.S. to fix a stability-control issue, is now recalling 50,000 2003 Toyota Sequoias to address a stability issue.

      The recall comes a couple of weeks after the Lexus recall, but nearly a year and a half after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a probe, in response to 50 complaints about unexpected braking.

      Toyota says the VSC system can help control a loss of traction in turns as a result of front or rear tire slippage during cornering. In vehicles without the upgrade, the VSC system could, in limited situations, activate at low speed for a few seconds after acceleration from a stopped position and, as a result, the vehicle may not accelerate as quickly as the driver expects.

      There have been no reported injuries or accidents as a result of this condition, according to Toyota.

      Toyota said it instituted a running production change during the 2003 model year and published a Technical Service Bulletin to address this issue when it was first identified in fall 2003. Since that time, Toyota said it has been responding to individual owner concerns by replacing the Skid Control Engine Control Unit (ECU) in Sequoias impacted by this condition. Of the approximately 50,000 vehicles included in this recall, approximately half have already been serviced under warranty.

      Investigating complaints

      "Toyota is committed to investigating customer complaints more aggressively and to responding quickly to issues we identify in our vehicles," said Steve St. Angelo, Toyota chief quality officer for North America. "As a result, we are voluntarily launching this recall to ensure that as many 2003 Sequoias as possible are serviced to the full satisfaction of our customers."

      Starting in late May, Toyota will begin mailing letters to all 2003 Model-Year Sequoia owners included in this recall, including owners of vehicles that have been previously serviced.

      If a customer has previously paid to replace the Skid Control ECU for this specific condition prior to receiving a letter, Toyota says the customer should mail a copy of their repair order, to the following address for reimbursement consideration: Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., Toyota Customer Experience, WC 10, 19001 South Western Avenue, Torrance, CA 90509.

      Toyota Recalling Older Sequoia SUVs...
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      FDA Approves New Asthma Treatment Device

      First such device to use radiofrequency energy

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new type of medical device to treat asthma in certain adults, the first device to use radiofrequency energy as part of the therapy.

      The Alair Bronchial Thermoplasty System is intended for patients ages 18 and older whose severe and persistent asthma is not well-controlled with inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta agonist medications.

      The device is composed of a catheter with an electrode tip that delivers a form of electromagnetic energy, called radiofrequency energy, directly to the airways. A controller unit generates and controls the energy.

      Inflammation causes the airways of people who have asthma to swell and narrow, making breathing difficult. The Alair system treats asthma symptoms by using radiofrequency energy to heat the lung tissue in a controlled manner, reducing the thickness of smooth muscle in the airways and improving a patient's ability to breathe. To benefit, patients will require multiple sessions targeting different areas in the lungs.

      "The approval of the Alair system provides adult patients suffering from severe and persistent asthma with an additional treatment option for a disease that is often difficult to manage," said Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D., director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

      The FDA based its approval on data from a clinical trial of 297 patients with severe and persistent asthma. The trial showed a reduction of severe asthma attacks with use of the Alair system.

      Follow-up study

      The FDA is requiring a five-year post-approval study of the device to study its long-term safety and effectiveness. The device manufacturer, Asthmatx, will follow many of the patients who were enrolled in the clinical trial and enroll 300 new patients at several medical centers across the United States.

      Possible side effects during the course of treatment may include asthma attacks, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, partially collapsed lung, coughing up blood, anxiety, headaches, and nausea. The Alair system is designed to reduce the number of severe asthma attacks on a long-term basis. However, there is a risk of immediate asthma attacks during the course of the treatment.

      The Alair system is not for use in asthma patients with a pacemaker, internal defibrillator, or other implantable electronic device. Also, those patients with known sensitivities to lidocaine, atropine, or benzodiazepines should not use the device. Alair has not been studied for success in retreatment of the same area of the lung. Currently, patients should not be retreated with the Alair system in the same area of the lung.



      FDA Approves New Asthma Treatment Device...
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      BRP Recalls Ski-Doo Snowmobiles


      Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. is recalling about 1,500 Ski-Doo snowmobiles. The drive pulley bolts on the snowmobiles can break due to oil contamination during the assembly process. This can cause debris to come off the vehicle and act as projectiles, posing a laceration hazard to riders or bystanders.

      BRP has received three reports of projectiles flying off of the snowmobiles, including one report of a minor foot injury.

      The recall involves Ski-Doo model year 2009-2010 SKANDIC SWT V-800 and model year 2010 GSX 1200, GTX 1200, MXZ 1200, and Renegade 1200 Snowmobiles. The model name and number are displayed on the engine compartment and the serial number is on the right side of the vehicle below the seat on the frame.

      The snowmobiles were sold at Ski-Doo dealerships nationwide from July 2008 through February 2010 for between $8,000 and $9,000. They were made in Canada and Finland.

      Consumers should stop using these snowmobiles immediately and contact their local Ski-Doo snowmobile dealer to schedule a free repair. All known owners of the recalled snowmobiles have been directly notified about this recall by mail.

      For additional information, call BRP at (800) 366-6992 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or visit the firms Web site at www.brp.com.

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

      BRP Recalls Ski-Doo Snowmobiles...
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      Airline Consumer Protection Rules Set to Take Effect

      Regs govern a variety of items regarding tarmac delays, including lack of food, toilets



      You can say goodbye to the endless hours of squirming on a runway-bound airliner on which there's no food and the toilets are out of order.

      A new rule takes effect Thursday that will put a halt to lengthy tarmac delays on domestic flights and provide additional consumer protections to the flying public. "Airline passengers deserve to be treated fairly," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, "and this new rule will require airlines to respect the rights of their customers."

      Under the new rule, U.S. airlines operating domestic flights may not permit an aircraft to remain on the tarmac at large and medium hub airports for more than three hours without deplaning passengers. The only exceptions are for safety or security reasons or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.

      U.S. carriers operating international flights departing from or arriving in the United States must specify -- in advance -- their own time limits for deplaning passengers, with the same exceptions applicable.

      Carriers are required to provide adequate food and potable drinking water for passengers within two hours of the aircraft being delayed on the tarmac and to maintain operable lavatories and, if necessary, provide medical attention.

      While some have said the new rule could lead to large increases in the number of canceled flights, the Department of Transportation (DOT) doesn't expect that to be the case. "Everyone knows the rules going in -- the passengers and the airlines," LaHood said. "We expect carriers to take steps to avoid tarmac delays and cancellations by adjusting their schedules and providing timely information to passengers. A little extra planning will minimize disruptions while ensuring that passengers are not trapped aboard airplanes indefinitely."

      The rule limiting tarmac delays was adopted in response to a series of incidents in which passengers were stranded on the ground aboard aircraft for lengthy periods.

      Stories of delays have taken on legendary proportions.

      Bethany of Kingwood, TX, wrote ConsumerAffairs.com of being stuck on a Continental Airlines flight going from Houston to New York LaGuardia. "Because of weather problems in NYC, traffic was diverted to Dulles in Washington, D.C. Of course, the airlines assume no responsibility for weather delays; however, our plane also had mechanical difficulties. Long after other planes were back in the air, we sat first on the plane for nearly four hours and then in the terminal."

      And then there was the straw that broke the camel's back.

      To prevent further occurrences, the rule also:

      • Prohibits the largest U.S. airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights, subjecting those that do to DOT enforcement action for unfair and deceptive practices;

      • Requires U.S. airlines to designate an airline employee to monitor the effects of flight delays and cancellations, respond in a timely and substantive fashion to consumer complaints and provide information to consumers on where to file complaints;

      • Requires U.S. airlines to adopt customer service plans and audit their own compliance with their plans; and

      • Prohibits U.S. airlines from retroactively applying material changes to their contracts of carriage that could have a negative impact on consumers who already have purchased tickets.

      In addition, beginning at the end of July, airlines will be required to display on their website flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate.

      DOT says plans further protections for air travelers in the coming months. Among the areas under consideration are relating to disclosure of baggage and other fees, and full-fare advertising.



      Airline Consumer Protection Rules Set to Take Effect ...
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      Supreme Court Allows Vioxx Shareholder Suit to Proceed

      Unanimous opinion says suit was timely filed

      By Jon Hood
      ConsumerAffairs.com

      April 28, 2010
      The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the green light to a securities fraud suit alleging that Merck made misleading statements about the safety of the now-defunct arthritis drug Vioxx, causing financial harm to the company's shareholders.

      Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood applauded the decision, which resulted from a case brought by the Public Employees Retirement System (MPERS) of Mississippi and other plaintiffs.

      "Rather than rewarding defendants for concealing their wrongful conduct, the Court's decision today will help ensure that defrauded investors will get their day in court, and have their claims decided on the merits," Hood said.

      Vioxx was withdrawn from the market in 2004 after it was linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The suit, brought by Merck shareholders, accuses the pharmaceutical giant of making false statements suggesting that the drug was safe, setting the stage for a plunge in stock prices when it was pulled off the market. Merck shares fell 27% on the day the withdrawal was announced, and continued to decrease for several months afterwards.

      The court's decision focused on whether the suit was timely filed within the statute of limitations. Most civil cases can only be brought for a certain amount of time; after that, the litigation window shuts and lawsuits are no longer an option.

      The law says that shareholders have two years to bring an action alleging that they lost money due to a company's false or misleading statements. Merck initially argued that the statute of limitations had already run, pointing out that the complaint was filed in November 2003, and that the plaintiffs should have been aware of Vioxx's blooming troubles in September 2001. That was when the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued its first warnings that Vioxx potentially posed serious risks.

      That argument held water with a federal judge in New Jersey, who dismissed the suit in 2007. But the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, ruling that the two-year period begins only when the plaintiffs have actual knowledge that the company was misleading shareholders.

      Court upheld Third Circuit

      The Supreme Court agreed with that view, holding that the statute begins to run when the plaintiffs did in fact discover, or when a reasonably diligent plaintiff would have discovered 'the facts constituting the violation' -- whichever comes first. The court further said that the 'facts constituting the violation' include the fact of scienter, 'a mental state embracing intent to deceive, manipulate or defraud.'

      Many statutes of limitations are tolled -- or stopped -- when the plaintiffs can demonstrate that the defendant fraudulently concealed the behavior for which they are being sued. Thus, for example, a medical malpractice plaintiff may be able to extend the statute of limitations if he can show that his doctor was aware of the alleged negligence and actively tried to conceal it from the patient. The elements necessary to satisfy the fraudulent concealment exception vary, and many statutes of limitations are governed by state law.

      The unanimous opinion, already a rare sight, was especially remarkable given the subject matter of the case. Six of the current nine justices were appointed by Republicans, typically not viewed as a party with a special fondness for class action lawsuits.

      A statement by Merck Executive Vice President and General Counsel Bruce Kuhlik describes the company as disappointed in today's decision but said it believes that the allegations in the complaint are unfounded and will continue to defend itself vigorously.

      Merck has good reason to fight the suit as aggressively as possible. The company already paid nearly $5 billion into a settlement fund for patients who say they suffered heart attacks or strokes as a result of taking Vioxx.

      Merck, the world's second-largest drug company by sales, has reported around $40 billion in revenue since last November.

      ---

      Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is not related to reporter Jon Hood.

      Supreme Court Allows Vioxx Shareholder Suit to Proceed...
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      Scammers Impersonating Mississippi State Officials

      A new wrinkle in the "emergency" scam

      If you should get an email from the governor of your state, asking if you could lend him some money to help him deal with an overseas emergency, trust us, it's not really the governor sending the email.

      Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood reports email scammers are "hijacking" email addresses of well-known public officials and using it to con consumers.

      "It's not a new scam, but of course these con artists continually tweak their techniques in order to fool even the most astute consumers," Hood said. "In several recent reports, the cons have spoofed the email addresses of some of Mississippi's elected officials who reported the crime to our office. We are looking into these specific instances, but our immediate best reaction is to warn consumers that it is going on and urge them to be cautious."

      In the recent reports, the spam email claims that the public official is overseas and is in need of money because the official has lost his through some sort of accident. The recipient is then instructed to send money immediately to Western Union in London.

      Most disturbing, says Hood, these emails aren't being sent to people at random. They are going to people who seem to have some connection to the official, suggesting the scammer has penetrated the official's computer security.

      "We are looking into it, but we do know that somehow these criminals have also accessed the official's email address book, so the victims don't necessarily consider it out of the ordinary to be receiving email correspondence from the official," said Hood.

      The scam, in its traditional form is known as the "emergency scam" because the criminal always tries to use the scare of an emergency situation to force the victim to respond quickly. It has also developed the nickname of the "grandparent scam" as the cons often target grandparents while pretending to be their grandchild in the middle of a crisis, perhaps a car accident or needing bail money. The grandparent is told to act quickly and to keep the correspondence a secret.

      "Everyone should look with suspicion at any unsolicited emails that seek to play on your emotions and your pocketbook," said Hood. "Always protect your personal information and keep your anti-virus software up-to-date."

      Scammers Impersonating Mississippi State Officials...
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      Consumers Victimized By Car Dealerships Receiving Over $100K in Restitution

      Dealers sold former rental cars as new without informing customers of prior use



      Customers of two New York auto dealerships that misrepresented used cars for sale are about to come into some money.

      The office of New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo says the dealerships, without telling customers, sold cars that had been used principally as rental vehicles. As a result, those customers will be receiving more than $100,000 in restitution.

      Additionally, Cuomo's office says it reached an agreement with a now-closed Centereach dealership that failed to refund thousands of dollars in deposits for vehicles that were never ultimately sold.

      In the first case, an agreement with Cuomo's office calls for JM Hyundai in New Rochelle and Legacy Infiniti of Lynbrook to refund ten percent of the purchase price to 75 customers who unknowingly bought cars that had previously been used as rental vehicles, which is a violation of New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law.

      JM Hyundai paid $90,246.40 and Legacy Infiniti paid $19,254.30 in restitution. The checks were sent to customers April 23. Additionally, the two dealerships paid penalties and costs to the state (JM Hyundai: $22,500; Legacy Infiniti: $5,000).

      Cuomo's office also has reached an agreement with Centereach's now-defunct Middle Country Motors and its owner Keith Chaikin, after the dealership failed to refund thousands of dollars in deposits for vehicles that were never ultimately sold.

      An investigation found that the dealer required substantial deposits from customers who sought financing. In instances where the consumer's financing was denied, the dealership illegally kept the deposits or failed to return the money in a timely manner. The dealership closed in January 2010.

      The agreement requires Middle Country and Chaikin to refund deposits that have not yet been returned and pay $12,000 in penalties and costs to the state. Consumers who believe they are owed a deposit from Middle Country Motors have until May 26, 2010 to file a complaint and may do so by contacting the Attorney General's Suffolk Regional Office at 631-231-2424 or Nassau Regional Office at 516-248-3300.

      "Buying a car is a major purchase and consumers should expect honesty and integrity, not fraud and deception, from these dealerships," said Cuomo.

      Consumers Victimized By Car Dealerships Receiving Over $100K in Restitution...
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      Court Throws Out Katrina, Rita Insurance Settlement

      Plaintiffs' counsel accused of improperly combining cases



      An intramural dispute between two plaintiffs' attorneys caused a Louisiana state court to toss a $35 million settlement reached on behalf of victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, leaving some of those plaintiffs without compensation for the time being.

      The unanimous decision from the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals concerned the settlement of cases brought against Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance. The suits accused the company of failing to cover hurricane victims settlement offers within 30 days of receiving a claim, as required by law.

      According to the court, the settlement constituted an unacceptable "end-run" against a second class action, to the potential detriment of that suit's plaintiffs.

      The decision grew out of an increasingly heated feud between attorneys on both cases, Orrill v. AIG and Oubre v. Louisiana Citizens. Orrill was brought on behalf of Katrina victims whose claims weren't addressed on time, while Oubre covered victims of both Katrina and Rita. The suits' overlapping class definitions mean Katrina victims could potentially take part in both.

      But in October 2008, with the Oubre case set to go to trial, the Orrill plaintiffs reached an agreement with Louisiana Citizens. The settlement was approved in March 2009, and the Orrill class was expanded to include victims of both Katrina and Rita -- essentially swallowing the entire Oubre class, in effect nullifying that suit.

      The Oubre lawyers, upset about having their class snatched out from under them, cried foul, and said the Orrill agreement was a raw deal. Although that settlement was nominally for $35 million, only $13 million of that amount was actually expected to be distributed to the class. Five million would go to class counsel, and the remaining $18 million would go back to Louisiana Citizens.

      Despite its relatively dull factual foundation -- this is about two insurance class actions, after all -- the increasingly bitter legal standoff had a distinctly Louisiana flare, to the point that, in late 2008, a fight broke out in an Orleans Parish court.

      The appeals court noted that the Orrill lawyers essentially reached a settlement for clients they never represented, since the case was originally brought only on behalf of Hurricane Katrina.

      "This Court ... finds it curious that Citizens negotiated with Orrill counsel to settle all outstanding claims, when, at the time of the settlement negotiations, Orrill counsel did not represent all outstanding claimants," the court wrote.

      John Wortman, Citizens' CEO, said the company is "kind of looking at our options at this time, but we'll most likely appeal."

      In the meantime, the Oubre case netted a $92.8 million settlement, which works out to $5,000 per plaintiff. An appeal on that case is set for May 3.



      Court Throws Out Katrina, Rita Insurance Settlement ...
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      States Sue Extended Auto Warranty Companies

      US Fidelis, Credexx Corp. accused of deceptive sales practices

      Eight states and the District of Columbia have filed lawsuits against a pair of extended auto warranty companies, alleging an array of deceptive advertising, marketing, and sales practices used to mislead consumers into purchasing motor vehicle service contracts.

      The filings allege US Fidelis, formerly National Auto Warranty Service, of St. Louis, MO, and Credexx Corporation of Irvine, CA, dba Auto One Warranty Specialists (Auto One), made false and misleading statements in connection with the sale of extended auto warranty plans in violation of several state statutes, including state and federal no-call laws.

      Consumers have filed hundreds of complaints against the companies, saying the consumers did not actually need the service contracts for their vehicles, the contracts did not cover needed repairs and/or that the consumers wanted to cancel their contracts but were unable to get refunds.

      "These companies misled consumers by marketing and selling 'extended warranties' that were actually service contracts," Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray said. "Service contracts are not warranties as defined by law and do not have to meet the same standards. Consumers spent hundreds and thousands of dollars under the false belief that they were buying comprehensive warranties, when that was not the case."

      According to the lawsuits, the companies represented to consumers they were selling extended warranties to cover just about anything mechanical that can go wrong, when in fact they offered and sold service contracts covering only certain repairs. The suits also allege the companies falsely represented themselves as offering products on behalf of the manufacturer of the consumers vehicle and falsely indicated the consumers existing warranty was about to expire.

      Every time a company tricks consumers into purchasing a phony product, it sheds a negative light on the business community, said Kansas Attorney General Steve Six. The Attorney Generals office is committed to protecting consumers and giving Kansans confidence in knowing they are dealing only with reputable firms. If youre breaking the law in the name of making the sale, we will come after you.

      In addition to the multi-state cases, Attorney General Cordray filed a lawsuit in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas charging Auto Repair Warranty, Inc. (ARW), a Cleveland-based company, with misrepresenting its products.

      ARW charged consumers up to $2,500 for its service contracts, which it claimed included "bumper to bumper" coverage. But the company failed to explain that certain repairs were excluded and denied claims for repairs that should have been covered. ARW has since gone out of business, leaving consumers with service contracts that they have paid for, but which have no value.

      States suing US Fidelis include Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. The attorneys general of Idaho, Kansas, North Carolina and Washington filed lawsuits against Auto One.

      Kansas is also alleging US Fidelis and Credexx violated the Kansas No Call act with aggressive telemarketing techniques and robo-calling. In addition, the US Fidelis suit alleges US Fidelis instructed consumers to push 8 to be removed from our lists but would instead simply disconnect the call.

      Violations of our No Call act demonstrate how important it is to strengthen this law, said AG Six. That is why my office introduced the Robo-Call Privacy Act this year to establish a comprehensive restriction on robo-calls in Kansas, including both commercial and political calls. Unfortunately, the Legislature has failed to act on this much needed bill.

      The Attorney Generals Office is asking for restitution for all Kansas consumers, investigative fees and over $75,000.00 in civil penalties for violations of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. The cases were filed in Shawnee County District Court. As many as nine states filed lawsuits today, and more states are expected to file in the near future.

      States Sue Extended Auto Warranty Companies...
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      Role Reversal for Boomers: Caring For Your Aging Parents

      There comes a time when adult children must be a parent to their parents


      Except for the years when my father was serving in World War II, my parents were inseparable during their 54-year marriage. Then, 14 years ago, Dad died at the age of 80 of a brain tumor.

      My mother, who was just 73 at the time, was pretty much self-sufficient for about a decade after that. She still played tennis, drove her car, and got together with friends and neighbors, including fellow retirees from her years as a kindergarten teacher who met monthly for lunch. After a few years, Mom had a new romantic partner as well.

      Then, about four years ago, my sister and I got the call. It was the call to which many baby boomers who have an aging parent can relate. Who makes the call can vary. It can come in many forms -- a phone call, a letter, an e-mail, or even someone making a comment. It is that defining moment, that wake up call if you will, the one where you can no longer deny that your parent needs help.

      Whether the call is from a physician, a sibling, a spouse or romantic partner, a friend, a neighbor or, in some cases, from the police or even the fire department, it is that call that distinguishes the moment when you go from being an adult child to someone who will now have to be the parent to your parent.

      Giving Up the Car

      For many of us, the first big change in our parents independence occurs when it becomes prudent for him or her to stop driving. (See, Seniors in More Severe Auto Crashes Than Younger Drivers which reports on a study conducted at Kansas State that analyzed the driving patterns of those aged 65 and over.

      Parents who live in an urban setting, where driving was rarely an issue, may find it has become more difficult for them to take public transportation because of diminished mobility or increased feelings of insecurity around strangers. It is often left to the Boomer to help his or her parents to get around. And thats just the beginning.

      Seek Out Help

      If you find yourself becoming your parents caregiver, it may be useful to invest some time and money in meeting with an eldercare or geriatric manager or counselor. They can guide your parent or you through the world of senior care that you and your parent or parents are now entering.

      Linda A. Ziac, president of the Caregiver Resource Center, has been working in the eldercare field for 35 years. She emphasizes that no two situations are the same. Ziac gets calls from adult children who are trying to get things in place but their parent refuses to talk about it, as well as calls from seniors from 60 to 90 saying that they want to explore help for themselves.

      You can find a local eldercare manager or counselor the same way you would find any trusted professional: ask friends, your own physician, or senior services in your own or your parents community for referrals. Then perform due diligence checking out their credentials, testimonials, or websites. Usually there is an initial consultation for a fee and if additional services are requested, you would negotiate with the eldercare specialist what assistance will be needed and what it will cost.

      Becoming Your Parents Advocate

      One of the best gifts you can give to your aging parent or parents is to become their advocate. This is especially important if a parent starts to have a diminished capacity and can no longer deal with such everyday activities as walking, feeding or dressing oneself, making phone calls, or cooking.

      As eldercare counselor Ziac points out, there is a big difference between being your parents advocate and helping and taking over in a way that makes the parent feel worse. Ziac says, There has to be a conversation between the senior and the family to honor the wishes of the senior. They cant just come in and dictate what the right thing is to do.

      Even if the final decision about what your parent wants to do is up to him or her, you can still help by doing some research. For example, if your parent has vision challenges such as macular degeneration, you can explore if there are free services for the visually impaired in your community. Volunteers may be available to read to your parent on a regular basis for one to two hours a week.

      As long as your parent is still self-sufficient and able to get to the programs and participate in activities, or has a caregiver to help out as needed, you can explore senior centers in your parents community to see what she or he might want to participate in.

      Getting a Geriatric Assessment

      If you suspect that your parent has Alzheimers or another kind of dementia, you might want to get a detailed geriatric assessment through a hospital or a neurologist. This will give you a starting point of how your parent is currently functioning as well as suggestions about what medical or social services your parent would benefit from. One such program is run by the Center for Healthy Aging at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut.

      The assessment is conducted by the Geriatric Health Team which consists of a geriatrician, who is a physician, board certified in geriatric medicine, a geriatric nurse practitioner, a pharmacist, a gerontologist, and a social services liaison. (Your parent would first be seen and evaluated by an internist who would make the determination that your parent should be referred to a neurologist or geriatric assessment center.)

      Housing and Caregiver Considerations

      Author Mike Campbell has spent more than 18 years in the senior housing and care industry including visiting hundreds of nursing homes or assistant living residences on behalf of his former employers. He also comes to this topic from a personal perspective. Campbell and his siblings, all of whom live in Ohio, and his mother, who is 81 and living in Florida, are deciding where she should live since her second husband died. (Campbells father died suddenly at age 57 of a heart attack.)

      In his book, When Mom and Dad Need Help, Campbell identifies nine basic housing options that seniors and their Boomer children need to consider:

      (1) parents moving in and living with you;
      (2) adult day services, a community-based option, with your parent still living in their same home;
      (3) home care services, while still in the same home;
      (4) moving to an independent community with supportive services;
      (5) assisted living communities;
      (6) stand-alone Alzheimers dementia communities;
      (7) nursing care facilities;
      (8) Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)which offer all of these levels of care on one single campus; and
      (9) hospice, the final option.

      Campbell says there are pluses and minuses for each option. One concern is cost but another key factor is the staff. According to Campbell, You want to have adequate staff and adequate training.

      In assisted living and nursing care residences, the recommended maximum staff to resident ratio varies depending upon the shift. For the morning (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) shift, Campbell suggests that the maximum assisted living ratio should be 10 residents to one direct care staff. In a nursing home, Campbells maximum recommended ratio is 5 direct care staff to one resident.

      In addition to finding out the staffing ratio, you and your parent will also want to tour any residences that your parent is considering. Here are some questions you want answered:

      • What is the ambiance of the residence?
      • Are activity rooms in use?
      • What is the dining area like?
      • Is the food up to the standards that you and your parent were expecting?
      • What will this residential option cost?
      • Are there any additional fees beyond the daily room rate and meal charges that you should know about such as charges for various types of assistance, from administering medications to escorting to meals or activities, as well as any one-time or recurring activity fees?
      • How long is the lease and what, if anything is the obligation for payment of the monthly rent if there is an extended hospitalization or death that requires breaking the lease?
      • How friendly are the staff and fellow residents?
      • Is there an emergency system in place if your parent falls and cant get to the phone such as pull cords in the apartments that connect to the front desk or to 911?

      Legal Issues

      Hopefully your parents will have already taken care of the major legal issues such as having an irrevocable or revocable trust, a will, a durable power of attorney, and a health care directive. (See A Legal Wake Up Call for Boomers for a discussion of these key legal concerns.) You should look at these legal and estate issues from your parents perspective. It may be helpful to consult with the family attorney or an elder care attorney on these matters.

      As Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, who was a nurse for 10 years, a lawyer for 30 years, and who is now an elder care advisor and author of The Boomers Guide to Aging Parents, says, Everyone needs to have a durable power of attorney for finances and a health care directive for health.

      Everyone Ages Differently, On Their Own Timetable

      At the assisted living residence where Mom now lives, there is a petite healthy woman who is 103 years old. Everyone points to that woman as a role model of aging. On the one hand, it is very comforting to know that someone could be 103 and still be in excellent shape, walking on her own, and needing minimal assistance with everyday self-care.

      But, on the other hand, it is a false standard by which all others are compared. For one thing I have learned most about aging is that there is a very wide disparity in how or when someone loses their mobility, develops dementia, suffers from chronic pain, arthritis, or contracts life threatening diseases like heart disease or cancer. Therefore, its important to keep the focus on the abilities and challenges of each senior rather than making him or her feel unfairly compared to someone else who seems to be faring much better even at a more advanced chronological age.

      I have also learned that seniors deal with the changes they are going through in unique ways. Some become very angry and resentful, looking back at the way things were; others are accepting and positive. Excessive and ongoing depression and sadness in seniors, however, is not necessarily a normal part of aging; it is treatable. If your parent is showing signs of chronic depression, seek out a geriatric social worker or counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist for help. (See Depression Not a Normal Part of Aging by Fred Cicetti).

      Meeting Your Aging Parents New Relationships

      As your parents life changes, they may also be forming new friendships or even romantic relationships, which may be an adjustment for you. For example, 49-year-old Brenda, whose mother died suddenly in 2008 after 51 years of marriage, said it was a challenge dealing with a new stepmother for her and her siblings.

      It wasnt a few weeks before my father was looking for a new wife, said Brenda, and he was quite open about his desires, even before my mothers funeral. He did not want to be alone and he was going to make sure that was not the case for the rest of his life. Within five months, he was online dating, and he quickly found someone who looked exactly like my mother. It was comforting and disturbing all at the same time. Within 17 months, he was remarried. All has gone well with the marriage, however a couple of my siblings have had great difficulty with the transition to having a stepmother.

      Health Care Issues

      Coping with the myriad of healthcare issues is a large part of the aging process and can take a lot of time and attention. Although some parents will be fit and self-sufficient even into their 90s or beyond, others will have one or more health concerns that require your time.

      With the advancement in medicine today, conditions that seemed a part of aging that just had to be endured are now treatable even if not curable. For example, there are medications that internists can prescribe for incontinence; urologists may even have additional treatment suggestions including surgical procedures, to minimize or eliminate this as a health care issue. Research advances in treating any number of age-related health care problems, such as macular degeneration, dementia, arthritis, depression, or hearing loss. You may also want to find local or even out-of-state experts who can help.

      How Are They Going to Pay?

      As elder care advisor and lawyer Rosenblatt points out, One of the biggest problems we have as Boomers is that many parents did not plan on living this long and have outlived their money. That leaves the question, how is your parent going to pay for their care?

      You may want to hire an elder care attorney or specialist with whom you can have a family meeting to weigh the various options. If your parents got long term care insurance in their 50s or 60s, that is one possible option; if they are already in their 70s or 80s or older, it is probably too late to buy such insurance. Since your parents are over 65, they will have Medicare, but Medicare may not pick up all the healthcare expenses.

      Your parent might want to look into the feasibility of buying gap insurance which covers some or all of the difference between what healthcare costs are reimbursed by Medicare and the actual costs. (Because of the recently-passed health care reform bill, you may want to check with an elder care expert about what is changing for senior healthcare.)

      If your parent needs to go into a nursing home, or if you need a nurse to care for your parent in his or her home, you might want to find out if your parent is eligible for Medicaid to cover some or all of the costs. Since this is an extensive requirement and application process that varies from state to state, you might want to hire an elder care attorney to help your parent with this.

      Acceptance and Perspective

      Recently I asked my mother, who now needs continual care since she has mobility, vision, and memory issues, if her situation is hard on her. No, she answered, much to my surprise. Thats good to hear, I replied with relief. Then she continued, with absolute clarity and certainty, It makes me feel loved.

      I learned so much in that exchange with my mother. I was looking at her situation as an outsider rather than as the one who has resigned herself to the walking and memory challenges that are part of my mothers new world. I also did not understand that she views her situation from a very different perspective than I do. I am a young 61-year-old. My mothers world is now mostly made up of other seniors with physical and mental challenges of their own who are in their 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond.

      Caring For Ourselves

      We Boomers also have to remember that its okay to turn to other family members, romantic partners, friends, or even local support groups if we need help in our caregiver role. (See Managing the Stress: Tips for the Caregiver at the AARP website.

      It Will Never Happen To Me!

      I try hard to make time for Mom by visiting her regularly and calling often. I like to think that I wont be so dependent on my children when I am that age. Not me! I jokingly tell my sons, who are now ages 20 and 24, that when their father and I are in our late 80s, well be traveling around the world in a hot air balloon, joyfully independent and healthy.

      However, deep down inside I can hear a little voice telling me that my mother and every other senior dealing with the tough physical and mental challenges of growing old probably had that same dream and hope when they were my age. It is a reminder to live our dreams as fully as possible while we still can because aging and all that entails is happening to all of us.

      Resources

      Associations

      Books and Articles

      • Hugh Delehanty and Elinor Ginzler, Caring For Your Parents: The Complete AARP Guide. New York: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2006.
      • Sheryl Garrett, editor. Caring for an Aging Parent. Chicago, IL: Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2005.
      • Paul and Lori Hogan, Stages of Senior Care. New York: McGraw Hill, 2010.
      • Jan Yager, Ph.D., Friendships: When to Hold em and When to Fold reprinted from Caring Today magazine

      Role Reversal for Boomers: Caring For Your Aging Parents...
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      Homebuyers Still Plagued by Mortgage Fraud

      Increase shows up in Arizona, Midwest

      The housing market has yet to fully recover from its devastating recession, and fraudulent mortgage officers aren't doing anything to inspire confidence. In fact, the problem of mortgage fraud continues to get worse, according to a report by the Mortgage Asset Research Institute, a division of LexisNexis.

      Reported incidents of mortgage fraud and misrepresentation by professionals in the mortgage industry increased by seven percent from 2008 to 2009, according to the report. While the pace has slowed since the 2007-2008 increase of 26 percent, the continued increase is believed to be attributed to better industry reporting and policing.

      The 12th Periodic Mortgage Fraud Case Report examines the current state of residential mortgage fraud and misrepresentation in the US committed by professionals, based on data submitted by LexisNexis' Mortgage Asset Research Institute subscribers.

      Florida, ranked number one in 2006 and 2007, has moved back into first place in the country for mortgage fraud and misrepresentation after being displaced in 2008 by Rhode Island. Florida also has close to three times the expected amount of reported mortgage fraud and misrepresentation for its origination volume. Rhode Island is not ranked on the Top-Ten list for 2009 because the state's sample size did not meet the minimum requirements set for the survey.

      New York moved into second place, followed by California, Arizona, Michigan, Maryland, New Jersey, Georgia, Illinois, and Virginia. This is the first appearance on the report top-ten list for New Jersey and Virginia.

      Not going away

      "The data suggests that in 2009 there was a seven percent increase in the number of incidents of fraud reported to the LexisNexis Mortgage Asset Research Institute on top of the 26 percent increase reported in 2008. While this is a noticeable increase, we believe that mortgage fraud is significantly understated, even during times of massive origination volumes," said Jennifer Butts, LexisNexis Mortgage Asset Research Institute manager of Data Processing and co-author of the report.

      "Lenders are facing hurdles with compliance, loss mitigation and staving off additional financial losses due to poor loan performance," said Denise James, LexisNexis Risk Solutions director of Real Estate Solutions and co-author of the report.

      "This is not to say that mortgage fraud is going away; it is still a serious problem, and new trends continue to emerge. It remains critical for those in the mortgage industry to reassess their processes, work together by sharing information and reporting incidents of fraudulent activity, and ready themselves for more complex schemes in order to continue the fight against mortgage fraud," said James.

      The top fraud incident type in 2009 - representing 59 percent of all reported fraud types - was application misrepresentation. This is the sixth year in a row it has topped the list.

      In second place were frauds related to appraisal and valuation misrepresentation, which increased from 22 percent of reported misrepresentation in 2008 to 33 percent; with an 11-percent increase, this is the most notable increase in reported fraud types in 2009.

      Additional documented fraud types included, in order of volume, verifications of deposit, verifications of employment, escrow or closing costs, and credit reports. Overall there has been a slight downward trend in total application fraud and misrepresentation moving from a high of 67 percent in 2005 to 59 percent in 2009.

      "The information contained in LexisNexis Mortgage Asset Research Institute's 2009 Report serves as yet another wakeup call for the industry on the status and continued presence of mortgage fraud," said Darius Bozorgi, president and CEO of Veros. "We at Veros have been following these developments for years and based on our own analysis and experience we agree with the findings contained in the report. Fraud increases risk exponentially, and the industry must meet this threat head-on using all available intelligence and tools. Fortunately, the tools are increasing in availability and sophistication to address the challenges posed by perpetrators."

      The report also found that:

      • Arizona has moved into the top five for the first time;

      • Eight of the top ten states are in the eastern half of the country;

      • New Jersey and Virginia made their first appearance in the top ten for loans originated in 2009; and

      • The states with the highest concentration of appraisal fraud and misrepresentation nationwide are all Midwestern States -- Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan.

      Homebuyers Still Plagued by Mortgage Fraud...
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