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    Organic Industry Watchdog Calls for USDA Crackdown on Labeling Abuses

    Claims prominent brands using 'organic' in their name when products don't qualify

    While the organic label is the gold standard of eco-labels on food packages, one major loophole in the federal organic standards remains -- and an organic industry watchdog wants it closed.

    Companies are tightly regulated in terms of their use of the word "organic" on food packaging, but some businesses are deceiving customers by using the words "Organic" or "Organics" in their company name on food that does not legally qualify as organic.

    "Companies are getting away with using the word 'organic' in their company name, listed prominently on food packages, even if the product they're selling isn't certified organic," explains Charlotte Vallaeys, Farm and Food Policy Analyst with The Cornucopia Institute. "These companies are taking advantage of the good name and reputation of organics, without going the extra mile to actually source all organic ingredients in their products."

    The Wisconsin-based farm policy research group sent a formal legal complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) National Organic Program, and a second similar complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), highlighting labeling improprieties with three food brands; Oskri Organics, Organic Bistro and Newman's Own Organics.

    These companies sell products that the Institute claims do not qualify to bear the "USDA Organic" seal, yet may appear organic to consumers based on the prominence of the word 'Organic' in their brand name.

    Oskri Organics sells a variety of foods, including fruit preserves, nutrition bars and tahini (sesame butter). However some of their products, the group charges, contain no certified organic ingredients. Thus, the Institute maintains, these products are no different from conventional foods, yet many consumers are presumably being unethically led to believe they are organic based on the company name, displayed on product packaging.

    Organic Bistro sells frozen entrees made with organic vegetables, but uses non-organic chicken and turkey. "There is certainly no shortage of organic chicken or organic turkey, which are, obviously, more expensive than conventional meats," said Mark Kastel, Cornucopia's co-director. "By using conventional ingredients to cut costs, yet displaying the word "Organic" so prominently on their packages, Organic Bistro is unfairly competing with truly organic companies that commit to sourcing organic meat."

    Newman's Own Organics sells some certified organic products and some that only qualify for the "made with organic" label (70 percent organic content), yet uses the term "Organics" in their name -- on all food packages, the group states. Newman's Own Organics, founded by the late actor Paul Newman and his daughter Nell, is a prominent company in the natural/organic marketplace and respected for the generous donations of their profits to charity.

    Newman's Own Organics Newman-O's cookies contain conventional sugar, conventional canola oil and conventional cocoa, yet the webpage displays the "USDA Organic" seal and states: "Like our other products, Newman-O's are certified organic by Oregon Tilth." Yet, according to the Institute, these products do not legally qualify to bear the word "Organic" or the "USDA Organic" seal on their packaging.

    "Newman-O's, a product similar to Nabisco's Oreo cookies, are not organic, yet consumers are led to believe that they are," says Vallaeys. "Products that contain conventional ingredients, which are freely available in organic form, would never qualify for the USDA Organic seal. We think it's time for the USDA to crack down on corporations gaming the system by putting the word "Organic" or "Organics" in their company name."

    Calls place by ConsumerAffairs.com to Newman's Own for comment were not returned.

    This issue is up for discussion at the semiannual meeting of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a citizen panel set up by Congress to advise the USDA. But The Cornucopia Institute contends USDA already has the authority, under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and current organic regulations, to take action against the misuse of the word "Organic" in company names. And, the public-interest group stated, "The FTC clearly has the authority to crack down on deceiving labeling claims."

    "Current organic standards specify that processed foods that are represented as 'Organic' must contain 95-100 percent organically produced raw or processed agricultural products," said Vallaeys. The only minor ingredients allowed that are not certified organic must be unavailable in organic form and approved by the NOSB. "By naming themselves 'Organic Bistro' or 'Newman's Own Organics,' these companies are attempting to circumvent the standards, representing their products as organic without meeting the organic labeling standard."

    Other companies that offer both conventional and organic products have eliminated the term "Organic" from their company name or company logo on their non-organic packaging.

    Although Dean Foods' WhiteWave division took a lot of heat last year when it introduced its first non-organic dairy products under the Horizon label, the giant dairy conglomerate no longer uses the term "Organic" in its name or on its brand logo for its new "Natural" product line.

    "Deceptive labeling practices, like putting organic in a company or brand name, hurts the ethical competitors and the entire organic food industry by blurring the meaning of the word "Organic" for consumers," added Kastel. "Consumers should be able to trust that any food package with the word "Organic" displayed prominently is truly certified organic, contains predominantly organic ingredients, and meets the letter and spirit of the law."

    The battle over what does and does not qualify as "Organic" is nothing new. Just last year, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit regarding such labeling on milk.


    Organic Industry Watchdog Calls for USDA Crackdown on Labeling Abuses...
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    FTC Warns Against Interest Rate Reduction Scams

    Agency cites a wave of 'robocallers' pitching scheme to consumers



    You pick up the phone on the second ring and wait for what seems like several seconds before someone responds to your greeting. But you find you aren't talking to a human, but a recorded sales pitch promising to lower your credit card interest rate.

    The best advice, says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), is to just hang up, saying most of these offers are scams. And consumers are being inundated with them, according to the FTC.

    In a new consumer alert, Credit Card Interest Rate Reduction Scams, the FTC says consumers have just as much clout with their credit card issuers as these companies do. It urges consumers to avoid paying middlemen, and negotiate directly with the credit card companies.

    The companies behind the sales pitches claim to have special relationships with credit card issuers. They guarantee that the reduced rates they offer will save you thousands of dollars in interest and finance charges, and will allow you to pay off your credit card debt three to five times faster. They claim that the lower interest rates are available for a limited time and that you need to act now. Some even use money-back guarantees as further enticement.

    The FTC says the companies behind these robocalls can't do anything for you that you can't do for yourself -- for free. You have just as much clout with your credit card issuer as these companies, and you are just as likely to get turned down for a rate reduction regardless of their promises or supposed efforts to negotiate on your behalf. Indeed, FTC investigators found that people who pay for these services don't get the touted interest rate reductions, don't save the promised amounts, don't pay off their credit card debt three to five times faster, and struggle to get refunds.

    Protect Yourself

    The FTC says that if you're looking to reduce the interest rate you're paying on your credit card purchases, your best bet is to handle it yourself for free: call the customer service phone number on the back of your credit card and ask for a reduced rate. Be calm, patient and persistent. And if you are tempted by the promises in a rate reduction robocall, the FTC says hold off -- and hang up.

    • Don't give out your credit card information. Once scammers have your data, they can charge your credit card for their own purchases or sell the information to other scammers. • Don't share other personal financial or sensitive information like your bank account or Social Security numbers. Scam artists often ask for this information during an unsolicited sales pitch, and then use it to commit other frauds against you. • Be skeptical of any unsolicited sales calls that are recorded, especially if your phone number is on the National Do Not Call Registry. You shouldn't get recorded sales pitches unless you have specifically agreed to accept such calls, with a few exceptions. See New Rules for Robocalls. • If your number is on the National Do Not Call Registry, a telemarketer may call you only if you have agreed to accept calls from the company the salesperson works for, if you have bought something from the company within the last 18 months, or if you have asked the company for information within the last three months. • To report violations of the National Do Not Call Registry or to register your phone number, visit DoNotCall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222.
    FTC Warns Against Interest Rate Reduction Scams...
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    Suit Says NJ Wal-Mart Had Unwritten 'No Spanish' Policy

    Complaint seeks damages for six Hispanic former employees

    A group of former Wal-Mart employees in New Jersey have filed suit against the retail conglomerate, alleging that they were fired after they complained about their store's unwritten 'No Spanish' policy.

    The suit is brought on behalf of no fewer than six individuals who worked at a Wal-Mart in Essex County, in northern New Jersey. The plaintiffs who ranged in position from a greeter to a supervisor were all fired despite performing their duties in a satisfactory manner, according to the suit.

    The suit alleges that, although the store did not have a written policy prohibiting or restricting its employees from speaking Spanish in the workplace, management continually admonished, ordered or otherwise harassed [the plaintiffs] from speaking Spanish in the workplace. According to the complaint, the plaintiffs complained to management, but nothing was done to address the situation.

    Some allegations are even more egregious. Rosa Knezevich, a cashier at the store until April 2008, says she was also admonished for speaking Spanish at work. But the final straw, according to the suit, came in March 2008, when Knezevich found out that she was expecting, and that hers was a high-risk pregnancy.

    Knezevich asked, pursuant to doctor's orders, that she be allowed to forgo assignments detrimental to her health. Rather than grant the accommodation, Knezevich says, Wal-Mart fired her. Another of the plaintiffs, Marciel Alvarado, had a similar experience, according to the complaint.

    Nothing new for Wal-Mart

    The suit is just the latest in a long line of wrongful termination actions and allegationsagainst the nation's largest retailer.

    Just last month, Wal-Mart settled a gender discrimination lawsuit for $11.7 million. That action alleged that Wal-Mart denied women entry-level jobs, instead placing less-qualified men in those positions.

    In December, Wal-Mart paid $40 million to settle a Massachusetts class action alleging that it cheated employees out of overtime and meal breaks. A year earlier, 63 consolidated class actions alleging similar actions settled for $640 million.

    And in March 2009, the company paid $17 million to a group of African-American men who say they were denied a job because of their race.

    The New Jersey plaintiffs say that the store's no-Spanish policy embarrassed, humiliated and demeaned them, and fostered a hostile work environment based on [their] Hispanic heritage.

    The complaint charges Wal-Mart with unlawful termination, unlawful retaliation, constructive discharge, an unlawful hostile work environment, and, for the two pregnant plaintiffs, a failure to accommodate. It also charges John Doe, an unidentified manager, with intentional infliction of emotional harm and aiding and abetting.

    The suit says that Wal-Mart's conduct has caused the plaintiffs to suffer economic, emotional and psychological damage of up to $25 million, and seeks both compensatory and punitive damages, as well as compensation for attorneys' fees.

    Suit Says NJ Wal-Mart Had Unwritten 'No Spanish' Policy...
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      Stingy Fundraiser Banned In Washington State

      Company accused of duping Jaycees chapters and donors

      A for-profit fundraiser that solicited donations for Jaycees chapters and other charities throughout Western Washington, as well as fake charities, will no longer solicit donations under a settlement with the Washington Attorney Generals Office.

      In its lawsuit, the Attorney General accused Charitable Assistance Group, Inc., of Seattle, and its predecessor, Direct Funding, Inc., of violating state consumer protection and charitable solicitations laws. Also named as defendants were three company officials and solicitors: Justin McGuinn and his father, Joseph Michael McGuinn, both of Seattle, and Jennifer Bartlett aka Virginia Bartlett, of Vancouver.

      The defendants had contracts to solicit donations for the Washington Junior Chamber (Jaycees) and Jaycees chapters in Renton, Kirkland and Vancouver; as well as the Firefighters Assistance Fund, Vietnow National Headquarters dba Veterans Now, Veterans Charitable Foundation and the Disabled Police Officers Guild of America.

      We believe the defendants duped the Jaycees and individual donors by misrepresenting how contributions would be spent, said Assistant Attorney General Shannon Smith. The defendants were stingy and kept most of the money for themselves. Under this settlement, they agree to no longer solicit for any charity in Washington.

      The states complaint accused the defendants of misrepresenting how donations were spent, creating an impression that paid solicitors were volunteers for the charities, soliciting for organizations that werent registered as charities with the Secretary of States Office and failing to submit required reports to the Secretary of States Office.

      The defendants also were accused of soliciting donations to purchase Spinoza Buddy Bears to distribute to hospitalized children in the Puget Sound, despite lacking authorization from the toys manufacturer. And they were accused of soliciting for a number of fake charities such as the Northwest Firefighters.

      According to records filed with the Secretary of States Office, only 9 percent of the $183,814 in charitable donations raised by the defendants went to their clients. In 2007, the defendants returned only 5 percent of the $319,723 they raised.

      As a condition of the settlement, all of the defendants have agreed not to solicit charitable contributions in the state of Washington.

      Defendant Joseph McGuinn violated a 1996 settlement that restricts his ability to solicit donations. In that case, McGuinn and his wife, while operating a fundraising company known as Diamond Vision Consulting and Tri-Star Promotion Corporation, were accused of falsely claiming promotions were authorized by the Seattle Seahawks and local police and firefighter organizations.

      Stingy Fundraiser Banned In Washington State...
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      California Program Protects Kids from Lead Exposure in Their Homes

      Contractors License Board provides information on new federal lead standards


      The California Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is making it easier for home and rental property owners to get information about federal lead-safety standards that took effect this week. Any remodeling or demolition in housing, childcare facilities or schools constructed in or before1978 must be done by a contractor who has United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)-accredited training and certification as a renovator.

      The regulations were put into effect to safeguard children from lead exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can possibly suffer from brain and nervous system damage, behavioral problems, slowed growth, and hearing problems.

      Numerous scientific studies show lead is more dangerous to babies and young children because they are more likely to put their hands and objects with lead dust in their mouths, their growing bodies absorb more lead, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to leads potentially damaging effects.

      Visitors to CSLBs website can then link to basic information about lead in homes and a link to the US EPA website that lists licensed California contractors who have completed training and certification as renovators.

      According to federal law, all contractors who disturb lead-based paint in a six square-foot area or greater indoors, or a 20-square-foot area outdoors must have renovator training and certification. In addition, contractors must provide the US EPAs Renovate Right pamphlet to residents or facility operators before a remodeling or demolition begins. They must also provide information to families with children who attend a child care facility or school where such a project is taking place.

      The US EPA fine for contractors who violate the requirements is $37,500 per day. The law does not apply to individuals that undertake renovation or demolition work in their own home.

      If an inspector or risk assessor certified by the California Department of Public Health determines that a building constructed before 1978 is lead-free, the certification is not required for contractors working on that particular building.

      CSLB recommends you only hire licensed contractors to work on your home. In addition to not complying with this new lead-safety requirement, unlicensed contractors do not have workers compensation insurance which could leave a home owner liable if a worker is injured on their property. CSLB licensees are also required to have a $12,500 bond, which can help protect the home owner if something goes wrong with the project. Since 2005, all contractors applying for a new license or changing or adding to their license classification have been required to pass a criminal background check.

      The health and safety of your family should not be left to chance, said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. It only takes a few minutes to check the CSLB website to see whether your contractor is licensed, and to ensure they have the proper training if they are going to be disturbing lead paint on your property.

      CSLB urges consumers to follow the tips below when hiring a contractor:

      • Be especially hesitant when approached by someone offering home improvement services door-to-door.

      • Verify the contractor's license by checking online at www.cslb.ca.gov, or via CSLBs automated phone system at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752), and ask to see a photo identification to make sure youre dealing with the correct person.

      • Don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less. There is an exception to this for about two dozen contractors who have special bonds for consumer protection that are noted on the CSLB website.

      • Don't pay in cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work.

      • Check references, and get at least three bids and a written contract before your project begins.

      • Contact CSLB if you have a complaint against a contractor.

      The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. More information about hiring contractors is available on the CSLB website or by calling 800-321-CSLB (2752). CSLB licenses and regulates California's almost 310,000 contractors. In fiscal year 2008-09, CSLB investigated more than 20,000 complaints and helped recover nearly $36 million in ordered restitution for consumers.



      California Program Protects Kids from Lead Exposure in Their Homes...
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      Convict Charged With Dealing Fake Viagra

      Federal prisoner was serving time for health care fraud

      An Orange County, California, convict currently doing a 10-year federal prison stretch for health care fraud has been charged with distributing misbranded drugs called "Vitalex" that were marketed as "all-natural" versions of sexual enhancement drugs such as Viagra.

      Phu Tan Luong, also known as Peter Luong, 55, and his daughter, Helene Ngoc Bich Luong, 26, were charged in a criminal information filed last week in United States District Court.

      The criminal information contends that Luong and his daughter used a company called Vitapro, Inc. to deliver into interstate commerce misbranded drugs called Vitalex for men and Vitalex for women. The drugs were advertised and labeled as "herbal sexual enhancement supplements" and "all-natural" versions of Viagra, Cialis or Levitra.

      However, these "supplements" actually contained an unregulated drug -- an Acetildenafil-analog -- which is similar to those found in brand-name erectile dysfunction drugs and which pose a serious health risk . The Luongs allegedly obtained the components of Vitalex from China and shipped the drugs from Orange County throughout the United States and to other countries.

      Five years ago, Phu Tan Luong was convicted of 35 counts of health care fraud and five counts of money laundering in connection with a medical supply company he owned called United Medical Supply that submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare for enteral nutrition, motorized wheelchairs and hospital beds that were not medically necessary and, in many cases, never delivered.

      He was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for his role in the scheme that caused Medicare to suffer approximately $14 million in losses. Using money generated by the United Medical Supply scheme, Phu Tan Luong started Vitapro, and, with the help of his daughter, continued to run the business after he started his prison sentence in late 2006.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), armed with a search warrant in April 2008, seized a large amount of the Vitalex products and packaging from the Vitapro business and Luong family residence. While the FDA shut down the Vitapro business, Vitalex products continue to be sold over the Internet.

      "The FDA-Office of Criminal Investigations is fully committed to investigating and supporting the prosecution of those who may endanger the public's health and safety by manufacturing and selling unsafe products to be used on an unsuspecting public," said Thomas Emerick, Special Agent in Charge, FDA-Office of Criminal Investigations, Los Angeles Field Office.

      The Luongs are each charged with one count of delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of a misbranded drug, a misdemeanor offense that carries a statutory maximum sentence of one year in federal prison.

      Helene Luong is believed to be in Canada. Phu Tan Luong, who is currently in a federal prison facility in Pecos, Texas, is expected to be returned to Southern California for an arraignment on June 7.

      The world of sexual enhancement products can be fraught with danger. A major producer of such products recently announced it was expanding a recall after the FDA found many of them were unapproved.

      Phu Tan Luong, also known as Peter Luong, 55, and his daughter, Helene Ngoc Bich Luong, 26, were charged in a criminal information filed last week in Unite...
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      What You Should Know About Hip Replacement

      Communication with your doctor is key



      Age and activity take a toll on joints, and with baby boomers now entering the "senior" population, total joint replacements are on the rise. While knee replacements are the most common, the demand for hip replacement is also steadily increasing.

      Over the years total joint replacement has evolved into a way to relieve pain and restore function to joints that have been damaged or destroyed by arthritis or injury. In many cases, joint replacement makes it possible for patients to resume their active lives, say the Adult Reconstruction and Joint Replacement experts at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

      Although the best weight-bearing surface is human cartilage, when the damage is too great, manmade materials, in the form of an artificial joint, become an option. Before undergoing a joint replacement procedure, it's important for people to learn from their doctor, what is involved in the surgery and to have realistic expectations.

      The team at Hospital for Special Surgery, whose surgeons specialize in hip replacements and knee surgeries, emphasize that it is a major operation. Hip replacement also can be life-changing for someone who is debilitated by severe joint damage.

      One of the important developments in hip replacement is the number of options available for artificial joints. Patients considering hip replacement surgery should consult with their surgeon to work with them in selecting the right type of implant design and material. When planning for surgery, the doctor and patient should consider a range of factors, such as the patient's age, weight, bone strength, the shape of the person's bones, as well as a patient's lifestyle and activity level.

      Type of implants

      Today, a new joint can be made out of polished metal or ceramic, with some featuring a combination of plastic liner and cobalt-chrome or titanium backing.

      Metal and plastic

      Metal and plastic implants are the most commonly used hip replacements. One of the most often used bearing surface combinations is metal on polyethylene, a form of plastic that provides marked durability.

      Ceramic

      Ceramics are used in total joint replacements, specifically to provide more wear-resistant bearing surfaces. Because of their hardness, ceramics can be polished to a very smooth finish and remain relatively scratch resistant while in use. Ceramic bearings are more subject to fracture than other materials. Most patients whose active lifestyles subject them to repetitive impact are not good candidates for ceramic bearings, nor are patients with high body weight.

      Metal-on-metal

      Metal-on-metal implants have been developed to function without a plastic piece inserted between them. These implants do not wear out as quickly as the plastic/metal versions and work well with young, active patients. There is concern that normal use may result in the release of microscopic metal particles that can lead to inflammation and loosening. Tests have also found elevated levels of metal ions in the blood but so far it hasn't been shown that these levels result in harm.

      Although researchers are constantly seeking ways to improve implant design and durability, today there is no clear-cut kind of implant that is viewed as superior. Most surgeons will agree that the decision about joint implant materials is individual and should be decided by the patient and doctor together.

      "I always spend a lot of time with my patients going over all the options and listening to them to learn what their needs and expectations are," said Dr. Mark P. Figgie, chief of the Surgical Arthritis Service at Hospital for Special Surgery. "The patients find the time we spend together talking about their needs and expectations invaluable. Once this process is completed and I feel that they are sufficiently informed, it is always up to the patient to decide."



      What You Should Know About Hip Replacement...
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      Scammers Posing As Debt Collectors Rattle Consumers

      Debts are bogus, but caller has victims' Social Security numbers



      Consumers have recently reported a rash of phone calls from a man claiming to be collecting on a debt to a payday lender and threatening criminal charges if they don't pay up.

      Since most of the consumers say they have never had a payday loan, they would normally brush it off as an obvious scam attempt, except for one thing. This man, consistently described as rude and having a foreign accent, has their Social Security number, email address and the name of their employer.

      Tarra of Carrolton, Mich., said she received a threatening voice mail on her answering machine and quickly returned the call.

      "I returned the call to figure out what was going on only to reach another person with the same accent," Tarra said. "He stated his name was Mark was I was being sued and requested to be able to read the affidavit to me without any interruption. Right before reading the affidavit he read me my social security number and my email address."

      Other consumers also note an aggressive, threatening tone.

      "He told me an investigation team will be coming to my job at 11 am in the morning and talking to my employer about the matter. He also said that I would have to pay thousands of dollars for all charges, fees, etc," Chanae, of Camden, N.J., told ConsumerAffairs.com. "Then he stated that I can take care of this matter if I send him a authorized letter stating that I will allow him to charge my visa $545.33. That's when I knew something was fishy."

      The consumers say the caller claimed they owed a debt to Instant Cash USA, whose website identifies it as an online payday lender. Kate, an Instant Cash USA customer service rep, who asked that we not publish her last name, says the company has been inundated with emails from terrified and baffled consumers.

      "I have called them myself, claiming to be one of the 'debtors' they contacted," she told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I was advised it was not Instant Cash, but a "INSTA Cash" they were representing. They, of course gave me very little information on my 'supposed debt.'I explained that to the woman who emailed me for help. She then contacted Insta Cash, and they, too, knew nothing about it."

      Consumers, of course, have federal protections against aggressive debt collectors, and in the case of scam attempts, can simply hang up. But there is great cause for worry when a scammer reveals that he has your Social Security number and other sensitive information. Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Centerin San Diego, says that security could have been breached any number of ways.

      Your information is out there

      "How many doctors have you gone to? How many dentists? Have you ever applied for a mortgage? If so, all your information is sitting in files where anyone with access to it can take it an sell it," Foley told ConsumerAffairs.com.

      What should these consumers do to protect themselves? First of all, they shouldn't fall for the shakedown scam and give the caller any money. If the debt is legitimate, they are entitled to receive all documents in writing.

      More importantly, says Foley, they should move quickly to protect their identities by first getting a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and checking to make sure no unauthorized activity is taking place.

      "They should also call all three credit reporting agencies and place fraud alerts on their account," he said. "A fraud alert is good for 90 days, then they should renew it for another 90 days."

      A fraud alert contacts the consumer anytime someone tries to open any kind of credit account using his or her identity. The numbers for the credit reporting agencies are:

      Equifax (888) 766-0008


      Transunion (800) 916-8800
      Experian (888) 397-3742

      The Identity Theft Resource Center operates a toll-free consumer hotline to advise people on identity theft matters. That number is (800) 400-5530.

      Scammers Posing As Debt Collectors Rattle Consumers...
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      Consumer Group Urges Antitrust Action Against Google

      Consumer Watchdog says possible Justice Department action could include breakup of Internet giant

      April 22, 2010

      California-based Consumer Watchdog is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to launch a broad antitrust action against Google. Such actions, the group says could include breaking the Internet giant into separate companies.

      In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with the nonpartisan, nonprofit group, praised the DOJ for its opposition to the Google Books case and the Federal Trade Commission's intense investigation of the proposed $750 million acquisition of AdMob.

      However, the group said it is time to move beyond a reactive approach and "actively restrain Google's broader ability to abuse both users and advertisers."

      "Such action could include breaking Google Inc. into multiple separate companies or regulating it as a public utility," the letter said. "Google exerts monopoly power over Internet searches, controlling 70 percent of the U.S. market. For most Americans -- indeed, for most people in the world -- Google is the gateway to the Internet. How it tweaks its proprietary search algorithms can ensure a business's success or doom it to failure."

      Consumer Watchdog said Google subsidizes its other businesses by the monopolistic prices it is able to maintain because of its dominance in search.

      Consumer Watchdog recommended a variety of remedies:

      • One possibility, it said, would be to break Google into different companies devoted to different lines of business. Search could be separated from advertising. Gmail and its new social networking service, Buzz, could be spun off as a separate entity as could YouTube, a Google acquisition that the consumer group says should have been denied at the time of merger. Enterprise applications could be another separate business.

      • Google's importance as a gateway to cyberspace requires a maximum degree of openness and transparency with the potential for government regulation. Consumer Watchdog argues that Google's monopoly position and importance to the Internet means that the company should be regarded as a public utility and regulated. It recommends designing a variety of regulations to open up Google's ad platform to enable other competitors to compete. Consumer Watchdog also says rules could be crafted to create greater transparency in the operation of Google's ad platform to enable parties to negotiate more effectively -- for example by providing greater visibility into the maximum amount of the highest bid, how many search terms are shown per page, and how Google's "quality score" is derived and applied. The group says little, if any, of this information is currently public and contends openness would contribute to consumer choice and options as well as foster competition.

      • Another remedy would be to force Google to disgorge its "monopolistic gains" through the imposition of financial penalties. Consumer Watchdog points out that the payment would have to be significant enough to affect Google's future behavior and suggests tying the amount to paying back consumers for monetizing their private information and content without compensating them.

      "The pending actions in the Books case and AdMob deal are important and must be pursued to their conclusion," the letter concluded. "It is, however, past time to act against Google's monopolistic and pervasive power over the entire Internet."

      In a statement distributed to the news media, Google spokesman Adam Koracevich said "we totally understand that with size and success comes scrutiny. "But he suggested that little could be done to assuage the consumer group. "Given their track record, even if we broke Google in half tomorrow, Consumer Watchdog would probably insist that we split halves into quarters."

      Consumer Group Urges Antitrust Action Against Google...
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      Study: Added Sweeteners Increase Heart Risk

      Researchers say consumers getting too much added sugar in their diets

      April 21, 2010

      The Institute of Medicine this week urged limits on the sodium content in processed food, warning Americans are getting too much salt in their diet. Emory University researchers suggest added sweeteners need a closer look as well.

      Their study, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed U.S. government nutritional data and blood lipid levels in more than 6,000 adult men and women between 1999 and 2006. The study subjects were divided into five groups according to the amount of added sugar and caloric sweeteners they consumed daily.

      Researchers found that people who consumed more added sugar were more likely to have higher cardiovascular disease risk factors, including higher triglyceride levels and higher ratios of triglycerides to HDL-C, or good cholesterol.

      "Just like eating a high-fat diet can increase your levels of triglycerides and high cholesterol, eating sugar can also affect those same lipids," said study co-author Miriam Vos, MD, MSPH, assistant professor of pediatrics, Emory School of Medicine.

      Increased sugar consumption

      "In the United States, total consumption of sugar has increased substantially in recent decades, largely due to an increased intake of 'added sugars,' defined as caloric sweeteners used by the food industry and consumers as ingredients in processed or prepared foods to increase the desirability of these foods," Vos and colleagues note.

      In the JAMA study, the highest-consuming group consumed an average of 46 teaspoons of added sugars per day. The lowest-consuming group consumed an average of only about three teaspoons daily.

      "It would be important for long-term health for people to start looking at how much added sugar they're getting and finding ways to reduce that," said Vos.

      The study, "Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among U.S. Adults," was published in the April 20, 2010, issue of JAMA. It is the first study of its kind to examine the association between the consumption of added sugars and lipid measures, such as HDL-C, triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C).

      The study did not look at natural sugars found in fruit and fruit juices, only added sugars and caloric sweeteners.



      Study: Added Sweeteners Increase Heart Risk...
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      Senate Debates 'Loophole' In Health Care Law

      Door left open for big rate increases before law takes effect

      By Mark Huffman
      ConsumerAffairs.com

      April 21, 2010
      In the rush to pass health care legislation this year, Congress created at least one provision that even the law's backers say needs to be changed.

      Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has authored a bill that she says would close an "enormous loophole" in the new federal law. As written, she says the law would allow health insurance providers to rapidly raise rates on health benefit policies that Americans will soon be required to buy.

      The Feinstein bill calls for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners ("NAIC") to write key definitions of what constitutes an "unreasonable" rate increase and to assess the value of current state regulations. Amendments are needed to assert that HHS has the sole authority to determine the definitions that will make or break the law. The bill must also assure that direct federal regulation is used only as a fallback when states fail to develop adequate regulation and review of health insurance rates.

      However, Consumer Watchdog, a California-based consumer group, says the health care law "fix" doesn't go far enough. In fact, the group says the bill as written the bill would give too much power to the insurance industry over defining "unreasonable" rates that could be blocked.

      "Senator Feinstein should be commended for proposing legislation to close a gaping loophole in the federal health reform law," said Jerry Flanagan of Consumer Watchdog." As written, nothing in the health reform law prevents insurers from dramatically increasing rates in advance of the law's requirement that Americans must buy insurance policies or face tax fines."

      History repeating itself?

      Consumers, in fact, witnessed a similar occurrence last year when Congress passed credit card reforms in May, but didn't implement the new law until this past February. Credit Card companies spent the intervening seven months raising rates and implementing other soon-to-be prohibited activities.

      Consumer Watchdog sees problems by designating NAIC as the official referee when it comes to insurance rates.

      "NAIC is a private organization that is not subject to the transparency and public participation rules of a government body, is funded in large part by the insurance industry, and NAIC members enjoy a 'revolving door' of job opportunities in the industry thanks to the organization's close ties to insurance companies," Flanagan said. "The insurance industry's dominance of the NAIC will allow it to game the regulatory system through complicit regulators and undefined standards that industry actuaries are expert in manipulating."

      Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) called the lack of state "prior approval" of rate increases a "gaping hole" in health care reform. Under a "prior approval" system, insurance companies must receive approval from state regulators for rate increases before they go into effect.

      Consumer Watchdog says the Feinstein Bill would establish a federal rate authority to review rates and take corrective action, including blocking rates or requiring rebates, only in states that do not have the authority or capability of doing so on their own. A better approach, it says, would be frontline state regulation of health insurance rate increases with strong federal fallback if states fail to act just as envisioned by the legislation.

      Senate Debates 'Loophole' In Health Care Law...
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      Give Your Dog a Bone? Not a Good Idea

      Secondhand smoke also a serious health hazard for pets

      Remember the line from the kids song This Old Man that says give your dog a bone? It turns out thats not such a good idea. Nor is smoking around your pet.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns pet owners that giving your dog a bone can cause serious injuries or even death. Meanwhile, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is warning pet owners not to smoke around their dogs and cats.

      Some people think its safe to give dogs large bones, like those from a ham or a roast, said Carmela Stamper, a veterinarian in the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA. Bones are unsafe no matter what their size. Giving your dog a bone may make your pet a candidate for a trip to your veterinarians office later, possible emergency surgery, or even death.

      The FDA cited 10 reasons why bones are risky for dogs:

      • They can break teeth;
      • They can cause mouth or tongue injuries;
      • The can become looped around a dogs lower jaw. This can be frightening or painful for a dog and may require a trip to the vets office;
      • They can get stuck in a dogs esophagus;
      • They can get stuck in a dogs windpipe, which can cause serious breathing problems;
      • They can get stuck in a dogs stomach and, depending on the size of the bone, may require surgery to remove;
      • They can get stuck in a dogs intestines. This can cause a blockage and may require surgery;
      • Bone fragments can cause constipation;
      • Bones can cause severe bleeding from the dogs rectum;
      • Bones can cause peritonitis, a worrisome bacterial infection of the abdomen that happens when bone fragments poke holes in a dogs stomach or intestines. The FDA said peritonitis can kill a dog and must be immediately treated.

      Talk with your veterinarian about alternatives to giving bones to your dog, Dr. Stamper says. There are many bone-like products made with materials that are safe for dogs to chew on.

      She also reminded pet owners to always supervise dogs when they have any chew products. And always, if your dog just isnt acting right, call your veterinarian right away.

      Secondhand smoke

      And as for secondhand smoke, the ASPCA says that a growing body of research including the Surgeon Generals Report shows there are no safe levels of exposure to secondhand smoke for humans and for animals.

      Studies show that an estimated 50,000 Americans die from secondhand smoke (secondhand smoke) each year and 4 million youth are exposed to it in their homes, according to the ASPCA.

      A number of studies have indicated that animals, too, face health risks when exposed to the toxins in secondhand smoke, from respiratory problems to allergies and even cancer, the group said.

      Toxins from secondhand smoke can cause lung and nasal cancer in dogs, the ASPCA said. It can also cause malignant lymphoma in cats and allergy and respiratory problems in other pets.

      One recent study shows that nearly 30 percent of pets live with at least one smoker a number far too high given the consequences of exposure to secondhand smoke, the ASPCA said.

      To address this problem, the ASPCA and the American Legacy Foundation have joined forces to urge pet owners to kick the habit or at least smoke outside -- away from their animals.

      The Washington D.C.-based Legacy Foundation develops programs to address the health effects of tobacco and says its mission is to build a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit.

      While most Americans have been educated about the dangers of smoking to their own bodies and their childrens, it is equally important that pet owners take action to protect their beloved companion animals from the dangers of secondhand smoke, said Dr. Cheryl G. Healton, president and CEO of the Legacy Foundation.

      The ASPCA said secondhand smoke isnt the only danger pets face from exposure to tobacco products.

      Nicotine found in cigarettes and other tobacco products is also highly toxic to animals if ingested, said Mindy Bough, vice-president of ASPCA Animal Poison Control A dog that accidentally eats tobacco may develop weakness, decreased breathing rate, and could possibly die. The ASPCA strongly recommends keeping your pet away from tobacco as well as secondhand smoke.

      The FDA warns pet owners that giving your dog a bone can cause serious injuries or even death. Meanwhile, the ASPCA is warning pet owners not to smoke arou...
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      Mississippi Uncovers Work-At-Home Reshipping Scam

      Victims don't realize they are reshipping merchandise bought with stolen credit cards

      A report of a charge on a stolen credit card led to the discovery of a home business scam, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said today.

      "We're still in the early phase of investigation, but the case is a reminder that the cons are out there, trying to take advantage of our residents during an economically stressed time," said Attorney General Hood. "We want to warn our residents to be careful and be alert for these types of home business scams."

      The home business scam, or reshipping fraud, often starts when a person responds to an ad for a job opening, sometimes online, sometimes in print and sometimes by email. The applicant is promised a considerable amount of money to receive, repackage and mail merchandise ordered online and then ship it to a foreign address. Unknown to the person working out of their home is that the merchandise was purchased using stolen credit cards.

      This photo, provided by the Mississippi Attorney General, shows some of the merchandise recovered in a reshipping scam.

      The reshipping job opportunities can appear anywhere, including local newspapers and well-known job placement websites. When an applicant answers the ad, they are typically asked for personal information including their social security number and date of birth. That information is eventually used to steal the applicant's identity and perpetrate the fraud even further.

      Typically, payment for repackaging arrives in the form of a third-party cashier's check. These cashier's checks will usually be for more than the amount initially agreed upon and the employer will request that the overpay be returned to them electronically.

      Once the check "clears" the bank, it turns out to be phony and the reshipper is left responsible for the entire amount of the check. Additionally, the reshipper could be in trouble with the law for repackaging and shipping merchandise purchased with stolen credit cards.

      In the recently-discovered case, operating from a Jackson home, the homeowner stated that he was just trying to earn some extra money when he responded to a job offer by email. The scam was uncovered when the owner of a stolen credit card reported the unauthorized charge to the Jackson Police Department, who asked for assistance from the Attorney General's Office before visiting the home where the reshipping scam was occurring.

      One out-of-state business owner who had shipped merchandise in the local reshipping scam told the Attorney General investigator working the case that he had been saved $2,400 by busting up the operation. Another business employee said they were in the process of shipping out more items and were spared that added potential loss.

      Consumer tips

      If you see an ad for a home business opportunity that promises easy and high income, be wary. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

      Never give out your personal information to a person you don't know or a company you have never heard of.

      Be skeptical of any opportunity that doesn't pay a regular salary or engages a foreign company.

      Research a company by checking with the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau or the Attorney General's Office.

      "This is a very lucrative business for the con artists," said Attorney General Hood. "Our best defense is to educate our residents so they don't fall prey."

      A report of a charge on a stolen credit card led to the discovery of a home business scam, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said today....
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      CDC Report Shows Success in Fighting E. coli O157:H7

      Agency says report highlights need for new food safety strategies

      The rate of a severe form of Escherichia coli diarrhea -- better known as E. coli -- significantly decreased in 2009, reaching the lowest level since 2004, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

      The incidence of the disease, called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157 infection, also met the national 2010 Healthy People target in 2009. Infection with E. coli O157 is of particular concern because in five percent to 10 percent of cases the infection causes kidney failure and can be especially dangerous for children and the elderly.

      The data were collected through CDC's Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, known as FoodNet, a source of information about trends in foodborne illnesses in the United States. FoodNet conducts active surveillance for nine pathogens commonly transmitted through food, and leads studies designed to help health officials better understand how foodborne diseases are affecting people.

      While the 2009 rates of most of the nine illnesses that are tracked through FoodNet sustained the declines seen since FoodNet began in 1996, most have shown little change since 2004.

      "The interventions begun in the late 1990s were successful in decreasing some of these foodborne diseases, but we haven't seen much recent progress," said Chris Braden, M.D., acting director of CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases (proposed). "To make additional strides against these diseases and ultimately better protect the American people from foodborne illness, CDC, our federal and state partners, and the food industry will need to try new strategies."

      The report, says David Goldman, M.D., M.P.H., assistant administrator, Office of Public Health Science of the U.S. Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service, "confirms our past success combating foodborne illness by setting an aggressive goal, designing an effective system to meet that goal, and relentlessly implementing it; it's time to do it again."

      Following the 1993 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, the government declared O157 an adulterant, implemented Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) production systems to prevent food contamination, established FoodNet and PulseNet, and set a goal of cutting O157 illnesses in half by 2010.

      The only significant decline in incidence in recent years other than for E. coliO157 was for Shigella infections. Although some Shigella infections are transmitted by food, most are probably transmitted directly from one person to another, often among children in childcare settings, rather than through food.

      Vibrio infections, typically found in raw or undercooked shellfish, increased by 85 percent compared with the first three years of surveillance. While the overall number of Vibrio infections is a small percentage of all foodborne illnesses, the infection may cause severe illness or death, particularly in people with weakened immune systems.

      Among the four pathogens tracked in FoodNet that have national incidence goals, Salmonella is furthest from meeting the goal. One possible reason for the slow progress in fighting Salmonella is that it is spread through a wide variety of foods, and also through non-foodborne routes.

      Salmonella can be spread by poultry, meat, eggs, produce and processed foods, as well as by contact with animals like baby chicks, small turtles, reptiles and frogs.

      For most of the infections, the rate was highest in children under the age of four years. People over 50 had the highest rates of hospitalizations and deaths from most foodborne illnesses, emphasizing the need for them to get diagnosed and get treatment quickly after becoming ill.

      To reduce their risk of foodborne illness, consumers should assume raw chicken, meat and eggs carry bacteria that can cause illness and should not allow them to cross-contaminate surfaces and other foods.

      They should also cook chicken and meat to a safe temperature as measured by a food thermometer, avoid unpasteurized milk and unpasteurized soft cheese and make sure shellfish are cooked or pressure treated before eating.

      While the government works to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness, the lawsuits spawned by the outbreaks continue to wend their way through the court system.



      CDC Report Shows Success in Fighting E. coli O157:H7...
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      Ohio AG Calls for Stronger Protection of Seniors

      Urges senior citizens to speak out against abuse and financial crimes

      By James Limbach
      ConsumerAffairs.com

      April 20. 2010

      Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray has launched an effort to strengthen local protection for senior citizens. Joining forces with officials from the National Association of Triads, Inc. (NATI), Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association (BSSA), Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP), Ohio Crime Prevention Association (OCPA) and Ohio Department of Aging (ODA), Cordray called upon local agencies to partner with seniors and activate Triads.

      "In 2009, Ohio saw an increase in reported cases involving the exploitation of our seniors," said Cordray. "Many more Ohioans over the age of 60 fell victim to scams and abuse than in the previous year. We expect the numbers to continue to climb as baby boomers get older."

      The AG pointed out that with limited law enforcement resources, it is absolutely critical that forces are combined to maximize protection. He called on community organizations, law enforcement and senior citizens to work together to strengthen prevention and response.

      According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, 16,370 incidents of abuse, neglect and exploitation of consumers over the age of 60 were reported in 2009, compared with 15,050 incidents reported in 2008. The incidents range from financial crimes to physical abuse and were reported in every region of the state.

      "While the numbers of reported incidents are indeed climbing, by applying national estimates we know that only one in five elder abuse situations in Ohio are reported to authorities," said Cordray. "We also estimate that only 1 of 25 financial crimes against seniors are reported. These numbers are unacceptable"

      Ohio, of course, isn't the only state where seniors are targeted by scammers. ConsumerAffairs.com receives complaints from coast-to-coast.

      Amy of Ventura, CA, tells of a problem her grandmother with a reverse mortgage held by Bank of America. "We had looked into refinancing the loan to get it FHA insured. B of A had scammed my 91 year old grandmother into accepting a Jumbo loan that was not backed by FHA insurance and held the loan had an extremely high interest rate."

      She claims that as soon as negotiations began with another company, B of A gave the case and all the documentation to "some unauthorized, unknown broker who didn't even have a legitimate phone number. There were no signed documents and no authorization for them to give the case to anyone at that point. Needless to say, there was a domino effect that has cost us thousands of dollars, delays, stress and aggravation."

      Duane of Melville, NY, has a problem with Somerset Mortgage Lenders. "They give out false confirmation numbers, they send out pre-application without disclosures, they sell reverse mortgages to seniors without explaining the program in detail," he tells ConsumerAffairs.com. "They also send out just signature pages to seniors without disclosures and they send the borrower's copy one to two weeks later. They arrange HUD counseling by acting as family members. They stall and manipulate borrowers until they are desperate and have no other recourse."

      To help older citizens in Ohio combat fraud, Cordray has signed a cooperative agreement that unites the partnering agencies in a statewide effort to mobilize community resources to recognize the needs of older citizens and to work to meet those needs.

      "We are very pleased to have Ohio join this important national effort," said Edward Hutchison, Executive Director of the National Association of Triads. "As law enforcement budgets tighten across the country, Triads have become increasingly imperative to protecting seniors and reducing the fear of crime that they often experience."

      Ohio is the 10th state to join with a statewide program.

      Ohio AG Calls for Stronger Protection of Seniors: Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray has launched an effort to strengthen local protection for senior ci...
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      How Boomers Are Deciding Where to Live for the Rest of Their Lives

      What to consider, as well as some suggestions, in making this important decision


      One question most Boomers ask ourselves is where do we want to live for the rest of our lives? Should we stay or should we go? If we do decide to move from the home where we raised our kids, or, if we didnt have kids, where we lived for the last 20 or 30 years, should we move to a warmer climate, to someplace less expensive, to another city, to a 50+ age-restricted community, or even to another country?

      With life expectancy increasing into the 70s and 80s, and an ever-increasing number of the population even living into their 90s and beyond, where to live after 50 is no longer an academic question. It might be where youll be spending another few decades.

      I spoke with a number of experts as well as Boomers and others who have made dramatic moves, and what comes through loud and clear is that whatever you decide to do, this is not a decision to be taken lightly or frivolously. It is a major life change and it will have an impact not on just you and your significant other but on your children, grandchildren, your career -- if you want to or have to continue working -- as well as on your extended family and friends.

      Plus, right now its a tough housing market. You may not be able to sell your condo or house at a price that makes sense if you can even sell it at all. Since it could take a couple of years to figure out whether or not you even want to move and, if you do, where you might want to go, you may want to start the planning process now.

      If You Decide to Stay

      If you are happy where you are, you are not alone. Eight out of ten Boomers say they want to stay where they are, says Nancy Thompson, who has been a communications manager for the last eleven years at AARP, the association for those 50+ with 40 million members. And if you want to stay in the same community, you may want to consider if the home or apartment where you now live will suit your needs as you age.

      Here are some of the qualities of a user-friendly home which means that it will still work for you if you develop a kind of limitation that might require using a walker or a wheelchair:

      • no step entry
      • wider doorways
      • ability to work in the kitchen in a seated place or standing
      • being able to reach and work the cabinets and appliances from a seated position or an upright one
      • bathroom on the main level.

      Thompson says there are a number of considerations when thinking about where to live out your life, such as:

      • The type of community you want to live in (rural, suburban, or urban)
      • Its location (near where you are, another state, another country)
      • The type of house or apartment
      • Cost of living
      • Health care affordability
      • Whether you are able to completely retire or do you need to keep working, at a job or in a self-employed capacity?
      • Proximity to your children, grandchildren, or friends.

      As far as the community is concerned, here are some of the user friendly qualities of what Thompson says Boomers may want to seek out:

      • Can you walk comfortably to everything you need or will you have to drive or at least have access to transportation?
      • Will you have regular access to such places as the library, grocery store, or restaurants?
      • Is it a neighborhood that allows you to engage with other people in the kinds of things you want to do?

      Those are the broad strokes of basic issues behind a move but there are even more factors that you and your partner might want to add to your own list.

      George H. Schofield, Ph.D. is an organizational psychologist and former corporate vice president of a major bank in San Francisco. When he decided it was time to relocate from the city where he and his wife had both lived and worked and had raised their two children, now grown with children of their own, he knew he wanted to continue working.

      So, five years ago, at the age of 60, he made what he calls a template or list of what would be important to him in the new location where he and his wife would spend the rest of their lives. Schofield, whos also the author of After 50 Its Up to Us, said he wanted a major airport within an hour, access to the ocean, to meet friendly people who would welcome them in, great health care, and to be near universities. He said the politics and the arts associated with the new community were other factors.

      Since Schofield traveled a lot for business, whenever he was on a business trip, he would check out a potential community. Then, a year ago, to their friends amazement, the Schofields left San Francisco and moved to Sarasota, Florida, an area where they knew no one but it had everything they wanted; and they are very pleased with their new community.

      Teresa Luetjen-Keller is a relocation and transition expert whose company is called Orella Moves, LLC. She shares her list of other relocation options that seem to be popular today for Boomers:

      • Lewes, Delaware if you want the beach life and low taxes, yet still have easy access to Baltimore, Philly and New York metro areas
      •Raleigh, North Carolina and its suburbs if you want milder weather and access to higher education, renowned medical facilitates, and a strong arts scene
      •Austin, Texas offers warm weather, music, music, music, a college and technology town
      •Boulder, Colorado Rocky Mountains and outdoor activities, still a strong economy with good job opportunities in various sectors.

      To that list, AARPs Nancy Thompson adds Portland, Oregon, which she says has a light rail system that enables you to go around the entire city on public transportation, and Bostons Beacon Hill area. It has a village with a concierge system that enables seniors who live independently to get everything from home health care, transportation, or other services with just one phone call to the village office.

      For more examples of communities to consider, see Mark Huffmans Retiring Boomers Flock to Rural Areas.

      The Expat Scene

      There is also a growing trend among boomers to live out their lives in other countries. Melinda Bates, who worked for President Clinton for eight years as the Director of the White House Visitors Office, decided at age 59 to move to Mexico.

      Bates shared with me how she initially discovered her new home: I happened to see a television program that mentioned Rosarito Beach, Baja California, Mexico, just south of San Diego. They interviewed a number of Americans, standing with big grins on their faces, on wide, sandy beaches. The sun shone on their faces as they talked about how much they loved living in Mexico, the great people, the ocean, and how far their dollars went. I looked at my boyfriend and said, Lets go there! and and so we did.

      Bates is pleased with her decision. She explains, I like Mexico very much and Im really glad we came here. I always wanted to live on the ocean and here the same blue Pacific that rolls up on the shores of Santa Monica lies right outside my patio too only here its affordable! My two-bedroom, two-bath oceanfront house would have cost $5-7 million in Malibu. Here it was $275,000 and that was at the top of the market. Now a similar house can be had for just around $200,000 or less.

      Kathleen Peddicord is another advocate of moving out of the United States as a relocation choice. Peddicord, author of How to Retire Overseas and founder of www.LiveandInvestOverseas.com, moved to Panama with her husband and their ten-year-old son. Her twenty-one year-old daughter lives in New York City but she visits her family regularly especially since her boyfriend now works for Peddicords company.

      Peddicord has found that the two issues that most often deter those who are considering moving out of the country are leaving family and healthcare.

      Its hard to walk away from grandchildren, she says. On the healthcare front, in her book she discusses various healthcare insurance options including buying the insurance locally or a policy that provides international coverage, which may be more expensive.

      Peddicord also discusses in her book in greater depth the top 14 retirement areas around the world. The favorites she suggests Boomers consider are: Ecuador, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and southwestern France.

      However, you dont have to go outside the country to get what Bates and Peddicord found. I spoke with a number of enthusiastic Boomers who bragged about joyful places to consider moving to within the U.S. For example, Wende Gray, who is 61, loves her hometown of Bethel, Maine where she lives with her 63-year-old husband. Its a community they adore and that they are going to be sticking it out there as they age.

      Cathy Severson, a 58-year-old retirement life planning coach, traded the high cost of living in Los Angeles for Prescott, Arizona, where the cost of housing made the move financially appealing. So far, she and her husband are loving it.

      Deborah Stephens, who has teenage children, traded in Silicon Valley for Bloomington, Indiana after 28 years of living and working in the Bay Area. Stephens says the move wasnt easy and it was a risk but the rewards have been priceless.

      Living on the Road

      We Boomers have always been an adventuresome group so it should come as no surprise that many of us have turned into nomads in our later years. My husbands friend from college, and his wife, are Boomers who sold all their possessions a couple of years back and took up fulltime life on the road with just an RV as their home.

      Ramona Creel, although not a Boomer, has been living, and working, in an RV with her husband for the last two years; she offers some insights into the RV lifestyle. Creel is a professional organizer who used to run an ecommerce organizing site but she sold it since it was a 24-hour commitment; she now prefers being a professional organizer and coach who works with people in person whenever she lands in a particular community or by phone and via e-mail. Her husband is a web designer so he can work from anywhere as long as they have an internet connection and we take our internet connection with us.

      Obviously, this is not a lifestyle that would suit everyone.

      Creel says you have to be prepared to live in a very small space. And you cant be attached to your stuff. Youre not going to bring a whole house full of crap while you travel, she said. You have to be the kind of person who is good at dealing with spur of the moment changes in plans. And its really only for those who are child free, or for Boomers whose kids are out of the house. The only people I see doing this with children are those on vacation for a week.

      Easing Into It

      No matter what your preference, first take a vacation, or try renting, to get a better feel for the lifestyle youre considering whether its overseas, on the road, or in the next city over. Then ask yourself, Are you thrilled with the place and this way of life or do you find you cant wait to get back home?

      Bob Mauterstock and his wife Mary left behind his career of 30 years in Hartford, Connecticut as a certified financial planner to begin a new career as an elder care advisor, speaker, and author. Mauterstock is the author of Can We Talk? A Financial Guide for Baby Boomers Assisting their Aging Parents.

      Three years ago, he and his wife sold their house in Glastonbury, Connecticut and got an apartment in Hartford near his company. While he stayed there Mondays through Thursdays since he was still working, his wife moved into the vacation house in Cape Cod they had bought a decade before. We love the place, says Mauterstock. We bought it with the intention that it was going to be our permanent home. Then, last December, after Mauterstock retired from his company, he joined his wife to begin his next career.

      Should I Stay or Should I Go?

      While moving is definitely a stressful major life event, the good news is that it is only 32nd on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. That means 31 other events, such as death of a spouse, divorce or retirement, are more stressful than moving.

      Speaking of retirement, whether you decide to keep working or retire may have the biggest impact on where you live. And builders are taking note of this: AARPs Thompson points out that the new 50+ communities are being located closer to metropolitan areas and the new units are being built with home offices.

      Arthur Koff, who started a site offering information for retirees back in 2003, RetiredBrains.com, said in the beginning, visitors to the site were mainly looking for information on arthritis pain, memory loss, type II diabetes, and continuing their education. Now, he says, traffic is ten times what it was, but a huge percentage of people who come to the site are looking for employment.

      Sharing in the decision is key

      If you are a couple and you want to stay a happy couple, where you and your significant other will spend the rest of your years together is a decision that has to be a shared one. This decision is huge, as big as when or if you wanted to have children, or where you were going to live as a couple and raise those children in the first place.

      Whether it takes a few months, or even a couple of years, you and your loved one need to decide jointly whether you want to stay in the same home or apartment, or if you do want to change residences, if it will be in the same community or nearby, moving to another state, across the country, or if you will even become an expat living in another country.

      This joint decision can be an exciting time to learn more about each other, what you now value and what you want to do in the years ahead, whether that means being in a rural location, near a metropolitan area, 3,000 miles away in a foreign country, or starting a new career.

      Taking control

      The good news is that whether we Boomers decide to stay put, sell everything and move into an RV, or go to another city or country, it is key that we start weighing our options and figuring out what will work better for us in ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road. Fortunately for most of us, there are many years between right now and the assisted living or nursing home decisions that we are dealing with for our aging parents.

      We still have the chance to proactively make lifestyle and residential choices for our 50s, 60s, and beyond at a time when most of us are relatively healthy. Although it is easy to be in denial about the mobilityand other mental and physical challenges that may afflict us and our loved ones down the road, knowing that we have at least made some decisions with those possibilities in mind, such as how we will get around when driving is no longer an option, can be comforting.

      Associations and additional resources

      How Boomers Are Deciding Where to Live for the Rest of Their Lives...
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      Toyota Recalls 9,400 2010 Lexus SUVs

      Company says it has fix for flaw highlighted byConsumer Reports

      Toyota has announced the recall of 9,400 luxury SUVs less than a week after Consumer Reports highlighted what it called a "dangerous flaw" in the vehicle.

      Toyota Monday said it would recall the 2010 Lexus GX 460 models sold in the United States to address an electronic throttle issue.

      "With the news from Consumer Reports that our 2010 GX 460 did not pass its "Throttle Lift-Off" test, we immediately stopped selling the vehicle and commenced vigorous testing to identify and correct the issue," Toyota said in a statement.

      "Today, I'm happy to announce that we have developed a remedy that will be quickly implemented to help address customer concerns," said Mark Templin Lexus Group Vice President and General Manager.

      "We will be voluntarily recalling all 2010 GX 460s that have been sold in order to update the Vehicle Stability Control system. We will begin implementing this program in the next two weeks and our dealers will be reaching out to customers shortly to set up appointments to make this modification."

      Lexus said it is confident that the update will make the performance of the GX even better for our customers. The company also said it will provide a courtesy vehicle to anyone who has purchased a 2010 GX 460 and has concerns about driving it until the recall work has been completed.

      On April 13 Consumer Reports issued a rare "Don't Buy" rating for the 2010 Lexus GX 460, calling the high-end SUV unsafe. Just hours later, Toyota responded by asking dealers to withhold sales of the GX 640. The magazine says the vehicle performed poorly during standard emergency handling tests.

      "When pushed to its limits on our track's handling course, the rear of the GX we bought slid out until the vehicle was almost sideways before the electronic stability control system was able to regain control," the publication said on its Web site. "We believe that in real-world driving, that situation could lead to a rollover accident, which could cause serious injury or death. We are not aware, however, of any such reports."

      Toyota said customers who have any questions or concerns should contact their local Lexus dealer or Lexus Customer Satisfaction at 1-800-25LEXUS or 1-800-255-3987."

      Toyota Recalls 9,400 2010 Lexus SUVs...
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