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    Consumers Say Debt Collector Abuses Continue

    Consumers complain of illegal, abusive conduct as collectors defy federal, state enforcers

    Ringstaff said she had endured months of humiliation at the hands of debt collectors who made calls and disclosed her debt to relatives and employer...

    T Bank Agrees to Repay $5.1 Million to Scammed Consumers

    60,000 consumers claimed charges processed by the bank were unauthorized

    T Bank, N.A., of Dallas has agreed to repay $5.1 million to more than 60,000 consumers who complained the bank processed unauthorized charges submitted by a third-party payment processor and several telemarketers and Internet merchants.

    In a settlement agreement with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the bank agreed to send checks directly to scammed consumers. It also agreed to pay a $100,000 fine.

    In reaching the settlement, the OCC said it "concluded that the Bank engaged in unsafe or unsound practices during the course of its relationships with the payment processor and the telemarketers and internet merchants, and unfair practices within the meaning of the Federal Trade Commission Act."

    The OCC said the bank severed its relationships with the payment processor and merchants in August 2007.

    The practices cited by the OCC in the settlement involved the use of remotely created checks, or RCCs, by telemarketers, internet merchants, and the payment processor that maintained account relationships with the bank. An RCC is a check that is not created by the accountholder and does not bear the accountholder's signature. Instead, the signature block of the check includes text such as authorized by your depositor, no signature required.

    A large percentage of these RCCs were returned to the bank by individuals, or their financial institutions, who said the checks were never authorized or that they had never received the products or services promised by the telemarketers or merchants. In some cases, the return rates exceeded 60% of the total deposited.

    In addition to the monetary components of the settlement, T Bank agreed to develop new policies and procedures with respect to RCCs, before accepting any new customers that regularly deposit RCCs.

    T Bank Agrees to Repay $5.1 Million to Scammed Consumers...
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    New Medicare Phone Scam Targets Seniors

    Scam crops up in West Virginia, Kentucky

    Beware of a phone call from someone claiming to be a representative of Medicare. In reality they're just trying to steal your identity.

    West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw has raised the warning, saying he's received reports from citizens of his state, and has learned that seniors in neighboring Kentucky have also been targeted.

    The scheme targeting Medicare seniors relies on the telephone, not the Internet. The fraudulent phone calls -- identified as originating from 866-234-2255 -- claim to represent a Medicare or Social Security Office and ask consumers for personal information so that new Medicare cards can be issued.

    When people refuse to provide the requested information, a phony supervisor comes on the line to say that the information must be provided to remain enrolled in the Medicare program. The thieves then use information collected to steal victims' identities and remove funds from accounts through checks or electronic transactions.

    McGraw says a call to the 866 number used by the Medicare scammers as their caller ID reaches a recording confirming that it is being used in the Medicare spoof.

    Check caller-ID

    McGraw says consumers should check caller ID on incoming calls and avoid giving out personal information including policy numbers, date of birth, social security numbers, credit card numbers or bank account information over the phone or on the internet - especially when speaking with or replying to email from strangers.

    "Be suspicious of any requests you get asking for personal or financial data," McGraw said. "Never offer information. Always verify the identity of the person on the other end of the phone or emailing you. And remember that scammers will typically just hang up if confronted or threatened with a call to the police or attorney general."

    Thieves use similar methods for a tax refund scam in which fake IRS phone calls or emails ask for personal and banking information so that the consumer supposedly can receive an additional tax refund. McGraw reminds consumers that the IRS does not solicit personal information via e-mail. McGraw said it's just the latest scam that is targeting senior citizens.

    McGraw says a call to the 866 number used by the Medicare scammers as their caller ID reaches a recording confirming that it is being used in the Medicare ...
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      Frustrated Motorists Sue OnStar

      Consumers left without trusted service after analog-to-digital switch

      OnStar, the satellite service designed to offer roadside assistance and all-around peace of mind, is facing a class action lawsuit from a group of consumers whose service was permanently suspended after analog cell phone networks were turned off in 2008.

      The networks were shut down on January 1, 2008, as part of the Federal Communications Commission's transition from analog to digital communications. Armand Pepper, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, received a letter in 2007 informing him that his OnStar system would stop working at the end of the year, and that OnStar wouldn't be able to provide an upgrade.

      Pepper, who is bringing the suit on behalf of a group of Honda owners, says he had no idea that the system would be rendered obsolete when he first purchased his Acura in 2003.

      "OnStar and the companies using OnStar were continuing to represent it was viable to purchase," Pepper's lawyer, Roger Craig, told the Naples News. "They were supposed to offer people an opportunity to upgrade and they didn't do that."

      Craig added that several individuals had been involved in an accident and thought their OnStar system was functioning properly at the time. "Evidently, that happened a few times," Craig said.

      While OnStar is currently only available on cars manufactured by General Motors, Honda and Toyota used to install the equipment on some of their vehicles.

      Pepper wasn't the only one that OnStar left out in the cold. At the time of the analog shutoff in 2008, ConsumerAffairs.com reported that scores of GM customers suddenly discovered that their OnStar systems had been shut off , and that there was no chance of receiving an upgrade.

      "I've since found out that it can't be upgraded, repaired, modified, adapted or anything else," wrote Julie of Austin, Texas. "Now I have a rear view mirror with buttons that continually remind me I have a broken part in my car that GM refuses to repair."

      The situation is particularly troubling given the security that OnStar ostensbly offers its subscribers. The prduct's website describes it as an "in-vehicle safety and security system created to help protect you and your family on the road." Among the system's features are roadside assistance, access to an emergency hotline, and "automatic air bag deployment response" -- which alerts authorities when the car's air bags have deployed.

      Pepper's suit is brought on behalf of "all individuals and entities who, as of December 31, 2007, either owned or leased a Honda vehicle originally sold or leased on or after August 8, 2002 and equipped with analog-only OnStar equipment." The complaint estimates that "there are thousands of OnStar subscribers"in Pepper's position. The suit alleges breach of warranty, violations of various consumer protection statutes, and violations of the Magnuson-Moss Act, which governs warranties.

      Frustrated Motorists Sue OnStar...
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      Sears, Staples, T-Mobile Agree to Come Clean on Rebate Fees

      Massachusetts presses companies to be more upfront about charges associated with rebate cards

      Sears, Staples and T-Mobile have agreed to be more upfront about fees and restrictions associated with rebate cards, at least in Massachusetts, after coming under pressure from consumer protection officials in the Bay State.

      The companies had previously changed the form of many of their rebates from paper checks to rebate cards. However, consumers are generally accustomed to rebates in the form of checks, and rebate cards often include fees and restrictions not associated with rebate checks.

      The companies did not clearly and conspicuously announce the rebate details in advertising, an omission that created the impression that rebates would still arrive in the form of checks.

      For decades rebates came in the form of a check, and that is what consumers have come to expect. To change policies without clear notification is not fair to consumers, said Barbara Anthony, the Undersecretary of the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. When you consider these cards often have fees and expiration dates attached to them, these may not be a great bargain for consumers shopping for a better deal.

      After meeting with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, Sears, Staples, and T-Mobile adjusted their rebate policies.

      Sears now makes its rebate terms and conditions available to customers prior to making a selection online and in-stores. Sears has also assured the Office that no fees are assessed for accessing the rebate loaded onto cards. Additionally, Staples agreed to offer consumers a choice of check or rebate card for the majority of its rebate offers; and T-Mobile will now disclose in its ads that rebates are in the form of a rebate card, and inform customers they may request a check instead of a card or redeem the card for cash at any VISA member bank.

      We appreciate and applaud the cooperation of these companies in working in good faith with our Office to ensure best practices in this important area of consumer advertising, said Anthony. This ensures consumers are aware of how they will get their rebate, and eliminate unwelcome surprises.

      New state regulations took effect in Massachusetts this January that speak directly to the issue of rebate cards. The new regulations mandate retailers offering a rebate in a form that is not cash or check disclose those terms clearly and conspicuously in immediate proximity to the reference to the rebate and the advertised price.

      The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation reviews print and electronic advertising periodically to check that information and details of offers are being clearly and prominently displayed. These reviews ensure consumers are being given honest advertising information, and that businesses are not skewing the marketplace through unfair practices.

      Sears, Staples, T-Mobile Agree to Come Clean on Rebate Fees...
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      Pennsylvania Sues Travel Firms for Deceptive Promotions

      Companies allegedly offered free gifts with lots of strings attached

      Vacation and travel promoters often entice consumers with "free" offers, but it pays to inspect those offers carefully. The word "free" is increasingly used as bait for unsuspecting consumers.

      In Pennsylvania, for example, the attorney general's Office has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against a travel business from the Philadelphia area that is accused of using deceptive or misleading "free" promotions to market vacation packages. Also included in the enforcement action is a Pittsburgh area tour operator that closed suddenly, leaving more than 100 consumers unable to complete their travel plans.

      Together, the two businesses owe consumers more than $163,000, the commonwealth says.

      Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett filed a civil lawsuit against DreamWorks Vacation Club/Five Points Travel, of Montgomery County, along with company President Daryl T. Turner, of Cherry Hill, N.J.

      Corbett said DreamWorks is accused of using "free gifts" to lure consumers to vacation club sales presentations, including offers of round trip airline tickets, hotel accommodations, restaurant gift cards, free gas coupons and other incentives.

      "Consumers either did not receive their 'free' items or were later told that they would have to pay various fees in order to use them - making them anything but free," Corbett said. "Additionally, DreamWorks allegedly failed to disclose limitations and restrictions on the vacation packages they were selling, required consumers to waive their right to cancel contracts and misled consumers by using the names and trademarks of airlines, hotels, car rental agencies and other well-known businesses without authorization."

      To date, the attorney general's office has received complaints involving DreamWorks Vacation Club and Five Points Travel from 52 consumers who are owed more than $139,000.

      The lawsuit seeks restitution for all consumers along with civil penalties of up to $1,000 for each violation of Pennsylvania's consumer protection laws (up to $3,000 for each violation involving a senior citizen). The lawsuit also seeks a permanent injunction preventing Turner or his businesses from operating vacation sales companies in Pennsylvania or soliciting consumers for any travel-related purpose.

      Seniors groups targeted

      Corbett said the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection has also filed suit against Bonnie and Bruce Butler of Allegheny County, who owned and operated Shangri-La Vacations, Tours R Us and Senior Tours of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

      According to the lawsuit, the Butlers marketed their tour business to various church and senior groups throughout southwestern Pennsylvania, selling bus trips and travel packages until the company abruptly closed in September 2008.

      Corbett said more than 140 consumers have filed complaints with the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection, involving $24,000 in deposits and down payments that have not been refunded.

      "The Butlers took up-front payments but failed to make the necessary travel arrangements, leaving a long list of consumers empty-handed," Corbett said.

      The lawsuit seeks restitution for all consumer victims along with civil penalties of up to $1,000 for each violation of Pennsylvania's consumer protection laws (up to $3,000 for each violation involving a senior citizen). The suit also asks the court to prohibit the Butlers from operating any travel sales business until all restitution and penalties have been paid.

      Pennsylvania Sues Travel Firms for Deceptive Promotions...
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      In Schools Near Traffic, A Is for Asthma

      Kids' exposure to pollution at locations other than home appears to influence asthma risk

      Children attending schools located in high-traffic zones have a 45 percent increased risk of developing asthma -- even though time spent at school only accounts for about one-third of a child's waking hours, according to new research.

      Asthma is the most common chronic childhood illness in developed countries and has been linked to environmental factors such as traffic-related air pollution.

      "While residential traffic-related pollution has been associated with asthma, there has been little study of the effects of traffic exposure at school on new onset asthma," says Rob McConnell, professor of preventive medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine.

      "Exposure to pollution at locations other than home, especially where children spend a large portion of their day and may engage in physical activity, appears to influence asthma risk as well," he ads.

      The study appears online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

      The study drew upon data from the Children's Health Study (CHS), a longitudinal study of children in southern California communities that was designed to investigate the chronic effects of air pollution on respiratory health.

      Using a group of 2,497 kindergarten and first grade children who were asthma-free when they entered the study, researchers examined the relationship of local traffic around schools and homes to diagnosis of new onset asthma that occurred during three years of follow-up.

      Traffic-related pollution exposure was assessed based on a model that took into account traffic volume, distance to major roadways from home and school and local weather conditions.

      Regional ambient ozone, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter were measured continuously at one central site in each of the 13 study communities. The design allowed investigators to examine the joint effects of local traffic-related pollution exposure at school and at home and of regional pollution exposure affecting the entire community.

      Researchers found 120 cases of new asthma. The risk associated with traffic-related pollution exposure at schools was almost as high as for residential exposure, and combined exposure accounting for time spent at home and at school had a slightly larger effect.

      Although children spend less time at school than at home, physical education, and other activities that take place at school may increase ventilation rates and the dose of pollutants getting into the lungs, McConnell notes. Traffic-related pollutant levels may also be higher during the morning hours when children are arriving at school.

      Despite a state law that prohibits school districts from building campuses within 500 feet of a freeway, many southern California schools are located near high-traffic areas, including busy surface streets.

      "It's important to understand how these micro-environments where children spent a lot of their time outside of the home are impacting their health," McConnell says. "Policies that reduce exposure to high-traffic environments may help to prevent this disease."

      Parents whose children are diagnosed with asthma are well advised to seek treatment for them as soon as possible. A recent study found that delaying treatment can carry serious consequences.

      In Schools Near Traffic, A Is for Asthma...
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      Oklahoma Memorial Will Honor Pets Poisoned by Melamine

      Tulsa couple donates five-acre site to honor dogs and cats felled by tainted pet food

      A grieving pet owner is creating a memorial to honor the thousands of dogs and cats that died or became seriously ill during the 2007 melamine-tainted pet food recall.

      The Oklahoma woman and her husband, who lost six pets in the recall that nuked their lives, have donated five acres of land near Keystone Lake in Tulsa for the sanctuary theyve named Vindication.

      The memorial is scheduled to open on June 12, 2010.

      The animals that were lost or are still suffering need to be counted and acknowledged, says the woman, who wants to remain anonymous. I want people to feel like their animals did matter. This memorial is to honor the bond between animals and humans.

      Creating the memorial is also the donors way of helping pet owners deal with heartbreaking loss of their beloved dogs and cats.

      Such a loss can shatter someones life, she says. It devastated hers.

      She and her husband lost two dogs and four cats because of melamine-tainted food.

      By March 17, one day after Menu announced its recall, I had three dead animals and three who were dying slowly, the woman says. I have cleaned vomit and bloody urine and know what happens when pets die of catastrophic kidney failure. And I cant tell you how it hurts me to open my door and walk into an empty house.

      But this (memorial) isnt about my loss, she adds. Its about the thousands and thousands of pet owners out who are being stabbed in the backs. There is no justice or mercy for them or their pets. And there are no safer pet foods out there. Im doing this as one grieving pet family to the rest of those out there. And I honestly feel this will help their hearts heal.

      The donor plans to transform the five acres of Oklahomas ancient Cross Timbers -- covered with 500-year-old oak trees -- into a memorial garden that will feature cascading pathways lined with flowers, park benches, and handmade stones. Each stone will bear the name of a dog or cat that died or is still sick because of the contaminated pet food, the donor says.

      I will make all the stones at no cost to pet owners, she told ConsumerAffairs.com. I expect I will be overwhelmed, but I felt compelled to do this for the pet people. Its time somebody did something right for them.

      Remembered 16

      At the memorials entrance, the donor plans to create what she calls the Remembered 16 Circle. Shes making 16 stones to represent each of the animals that died during Menu Foods feed tests more than a month before the company announced the 2007 recall, the largest in United States history.

      I gave them each a name, the donor says. They deserve to be honored. We need to lay their ghosts to rest.

      The memorial will be divided into two areas -- one to honor the pets that died during the recall and the other for the dogs and cats that continue to suffer from the effects of the melamine-laced food.

      Were going to show the names of the dead and tell the truth about what it costs to feed poison, the donor says. The dead wont lie; they died because of the pet food.

      The donor also wants to honor the thousands of pets whose bodies are ravaged from the tainted food and the families who still struggle financially to care for their ailing dogs and cats.

      Why were there no provisions made for the pets that are still sick in the lawsuits (filed in the wake of the recall)? the donor asks. Do you know the cost people are still paying for kidney failure in their animals? Its a staggering expense. Were going to collect stories about the economic devastation caused by the recall. Its costing pet owners hundreds of thousands of dollars.

      The donor is all too familiar with the exorbitant costs of caring for pets with melamine-related illnesses. She and her husband planned to build a house and retire on the five acres they donated for the Vindication memorial.

      But we cant afford to do that, not after all our (veterinary) expenses, she says. I guess the universe had different plans for us.

      She adds: When I told my husband what I wanted to do, he said, Fine, lets do it for all the pet owners. And then he bought me a chainsaw.

      Sorrow and anger

      Traces of sorrow and anger are still etched in the donors voice when she talks about the heartache her family endured because of the melamine-tainted pet food.

      Were still grieving, she says. It was unbearable to watch my husband hold our babies (pets) as they died. And it happened again and again.

      She's furious that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didnt do more to prevent this unbelievable nightmare.

      The FDA can say all they want about how they didnt know what was going on, but theyre lying through their teeth, the donor says. The FDA has intentionally inflicted pain on us.they knew melamine was flooding into the country.

      The cruelties have been done to pets and their owners, she adds. The last three years have been an unbelievable nightmare for them.

      The donor, however, doesnt want to continue waging a verbal battle with the FDA and others involved in the recall. Shes chosen an unconventional war tactic to address her concerns and help grieving pet owners nationwide.

      Im not talking anymore, she says. Im going to be gardening. Im an unusually gifted gardener and one determined person. And Ive found peace doing this for others.

      The donors generosity has already given a grieving pet owner in Rhode Island a sense of peace.

      This is a gift to all the pets who suffered, says Carol V., who lost two cats because of the tainted food. It shows how many pets suffered. It makes them count for something. It means theyre not forgotten.

      Carols beloved cats will never be forgotten by her family or other pet owners who tour Vindication.

      The donor has finished a memorial stone for one of Carols cats, a Calico named Smudge. The 13-year-old feline died in December 2008 of renal failure.

      I cried like a baby when I saw Smudges stone, Carol told us. It made me feel like shes part of something bigger.

      I think she (the donor) understands the depths of sadness pet owners have endured and had to do something. And it gives me a personal sense of peace that Smudge is now part of this memorial.

      Pet advocate Susan Thixton, who runs www.TruthaboutPetFood.com, also applauds the donors action and generosity.

      This gift has been given to us because the donors wanted all the innocent pets to be remembered, says Thixton, the spokesperson for the anonymous donor and her husband. They wanted no one to forget why these pets died or became ill, and they wanted pet owners to have something that can never be taken away.

      The donors are leaving the five acres in a trust and have set aside money in their estate to maintain the property, Thixton says. They wanted this (memorial) to go to all pet owners.

      The donors are not independently wealthy people. Thixton says. They are an average family that has been shattered by pet food. They recognized that we (pet owners) have been crushed time and time again. No laws have changed, no lawsuits have been settled, (and) none responsible have been jailed.

      Now, thanks to this compassionate family, all these pets will be remembered; why they died will be remembered.

      Pet owners whod like their deceased or ailing dogs or cats memorialized at Vindication can fill out a form on Thixtons Web site.

      God bless these pet owners, the donor says. Everything thats been done to them in the past three years dishonors them. This (memorial) is to honor them and their petsI hope it makes them feel better.

      Oklahoma Memorial Will Honor Pets Poisoned by Melamine...
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      Apple Blaming iPhone Problems on Water Damage, Suit Says

      Accuses company of using faulty technology to reach questionable conclusions

      By Jon Hood

      April 17, 2010
      A class action lawsuit filed Thursday says that Apple turns the tables on consumers whose iPhones suddenly stop working, blaming the problem on owner-inflicted water damage and forcing customers to settle for a discounted phone.

      The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, says that Apple uses an unreliable Liquid Submersion Indicator to deny warranty coverage out of hand, despite the existence of a more accurate indicator built right into the phone.

      Apple's standard one-year warranty -- included in the purchase price of a new iPhone -- purportedly covers defects in materials and workmanship under normal use. When presented with a defective phone, Apple is required to repair the phone at no charge, replace it with a new phone, or refund the purchase price to the consumer.

      The company offers an extended two-year warranty -- also known as the AppleCare Protection Plan -- for an extra $69.

      As with most warranties, Apple's lists a host of conditions not covered by the agreement, including liquid spill or submersion.

      Those exceptions provide a convenient excuse for a manufacturer to dishonor its warranty obligations, as most consumers who have ever tried to return something can attest. But Apple has taken the warranty bait-and-switch game to a whole new level, according to the plaintiffs.

      The iPhone's headphone jacks contain a Liquid Submersion Indicator, designed to determine whether liquid has entered the device. The complaint quotes an Apple document as explaining that the Liquid Submersion Indicator is not triggered by heat or humidity that is within the product's environmental requirements described by Apple, and that corrosion, if evident may cause the device to not work properly.

      More reliable technology available

      According to the suit, Apple's policy requires employees to deny warranty coverage to any iPhone whose Liquid Submersion Indicator has been activated. But the plaintiffs contend that, given the corrosion disclaimer quoted above, the indicators can't be relied on with any reasonable degree of certainty to determine whether a phone has actually been damaged by liquid.

      Rather, the suit contends, the indicators could be activated by cold weather and humidity that are within Apple's technical specifications, as well as other types of moisture that should not cause damage in any event -- such as a palm that becomes sweaty after a work-out.

      Moreover, according to the complaint, iPhones are equipped with more-reliable internal Liquid Submersion Indicators, whose purpose is to assist Apple service personnel in verifying whether those devices have actually been damaged due to liquid spills or submersion. But, according to the plaintiffs, Apple's policy is to deny warranty coverage for any phone whose external indicators have been activated, without even checking to see if the internal indicators have likewise been triggered.

      The complaint alleges that, in May 2009, Apple began offering out of warranty service to placate the large number of consumers who were denied warranty coverage for their broken iPhones. Under that program, consumers are offered a new phone for the reduced price of $199, and are not required to extend their wireless contracts. However, the plaintiffs say that under the out-of-warranty service option, consumers are required to relinquish their current iPhone to Apple without compensation.

      Making matters worse, AT&T -- currently the sole wireless provider selling the iPhone -- refuses to offer insurance for the device. According to AT&T's website, insurance costs a mere $4.99 per month and covers phones that are lost [or] stolen, or that have fallen victim to liquid damage [or] mechanical or electrical failure after the manufacturer's warranty period has expired. Although such insurance would obviously cover the phones at issue here, AT&T asserts without explanation that Wireless Phone Insurance is not available for and does not apply to ... Apple iPhone (all models).

      Constance of Stockton, CA wrote to ConsumerAffairs.com in February with the exact problem described in the lawsuit:

      I purchased an Iphone two years ago. It stopped working and when I took it to the Apple store in Greensboro, North Carolina, I was told that it had water damage and I would have to pay 199 for a new one. I did not appreciate the customer service because after an argument with the customer service consultant, they informed me I was eligible for an upgrade which would cost me only 99. I purchase the new phone and after 6 weeks I had problems charging up my phone.

      The suit alleges, among other things, breach of warranty, fraud, unjust enrichment, and violations of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. The class is being represented by Fazio Micheletti LLP, a San Ramon-based law firm.

      Apple Blaming iPhone Problems on Water Damage, Suit Says...
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      Health Advocates Cheer Decline in Soft Drink Consumption

      Taxes, media campaigns, warning labels could bring further declines, says CSPI

      U.S consumers are drinking less soda pop, a development health advocates see as an encouraging trend in the fight against obesity and diet-related disease.

      Per capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks has declined for 11 straight years, according to data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation. It now stands 22 percent below its peak in 1998, according to the trade publication Beverage Digest and calculations by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

      Even with the declines in consumption in recent years, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dr. Pepper Snapple, and other companies produced 9.4 billion cases of sugary soda pop and energy drinks in 2009.

      At the 1998 peak, when CSPI first published its Liquid Candy report, companies were producing 638 8-ounce servings of non-diet soft drinks per person. By 2009, that figure was down to 543 8-ounce servings. Still, that's about 140 empty calories a day, for every man, woman, and child in the United States.

      "The recognition that soda pop promotes weight gain and disease is gaining traction, contributing to the steady decline in soda consumption," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "Ten years from now, it would be great to see that Americans are drinking a can and a half a week, instead of a can and a half a day."

      Besides concern over obesity, Jacobson said that the growing popularity of bottled water, the low-carb Atkins and South Beach diets, bans on soft drinks in schools, and rising unemployment rates are all partly responsible for the decline in soda consumption.

      According the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Beverage Digest, the proportion of carbonated soft drinks that are non-caloric diet drinks increased from 23 percent to 30 percent between 1998 and 2009.

      CSPI and other health advocates are urging state legislators to increase soda taxes where they already exist, or to institute them for the first time. A state such as California, which already imposes a small sales tax on soft drinks, could raise nearly $2 billion each year if it added a penny-per-ounce excise tax on soda.

      The state could put some of that money toward the state's share of the $10 billion in medical expenses incurred each year by obese Californians. The revenues could also fund programs to encourage healthy eating and physical activity, such as media campaigns to discourage the consumption of sugary beverages.

      "Reasonable taxes could help drive down consumption a bit more, particularly among children," Jacobson said. "And if those taxes could fund hard-hitting media campaigns, like the one being run in New York City, that's even better. The goal should be to restore sugary soda to what it once was -- an occasional treat in a reasonable portion, not the every-day super-sized tub."

      The idea of a soft-drink tax has also come under consideration on the federal level.

      Another policy approach would be to require health notices on soft-drink containers, something that in 2005 CSPI petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do. CSPI proposed "The U.S. Government recommends that you drink less (non-diet) soda to help prevent weight gain, tooth decay, and other health problems," as one such notice.

      The FDA has yet to act on that proposal.

      Health Advocates Cheer Decline in Soft Drink Consumption...
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      Senate Bill Would Revamp Toxic Chemicals Regulation

      Measure is called a 'historic step' towards protecting children and families

      Environmental and public health advocates are applauding Thursday's introduction of federal legislation designed to revamp the countrys outdated law governing toxic chemicals.

      Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced what advocates called the long-awaited Safe Chemicals Act of 2010. In the House, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill) also unveiled a discussion draft of a similar proposal.

      If approved, the measure would overhaul the countrys antiquated 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the way the government protects consumers from toxic chemicals.

      Today marks a milestone in the fight for safer chemicals and healthy families, said Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, which represents more than 200 organization and 11 million individuals. The Safe Chemicals Act goes a long way toward bringing chemical policy into the 21st century.

      The measure, however, isnt perfect, coalition members said. But they called the legislation an historic step toward protecting the public, especially children, from dangerous chemicals.

      A trade group that represents the chemical industry agreed todays measure is a first step in the debate over chemical safety and regulations. But the organization said it has concerns about some provision in the bill.

      Leisure suit

      Environmental and public health advocates have long urged federal legislators to revamp the TSCA, saying its obsolete, riddled with loopholes, and fails to ensure the publics safety from toxic chemicals.

      The old law is as out-of-date as a polyester leisure suit, Dr. Alan Greene, M.D., Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Stanford School of Medicine, said.

      The TSCA, for example, requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to test only a few hundred of the 62,000 chemicals that have been on the market since Congress adopted the law 34 years ago. That number has since grown to 80,000 chemicals. And the EPA has only partially restricted five of those chemicals.

      Studies have linked many widely-used chemicals, including bisphenol A (BPA), and brominated flame retardants, to such health issues as autism, cancer, and reproductive disorders.

      Health and safety advocates have also warned that developing fetuses and young children are routinely exposed and particularly vulnerable to many toxic chemicals used in the marketplace.

      Our urgent concern is children exposed to harm from toxic chemicals, Maureen Swanson, with the Learning Disabilities Association of America, said today. Kids are more exposed to chemicals because theyre on the ground and put things in their mouths. Even minute chemicals at lower levels can harm a developing fetus.

      But those risks are finally addressed in Lautenberg's measure, Swanson said.

      We welcome this landmark legislation, she said. It's high time we closed the gap between what scientists say is safe, and what our government allows on supermarket shelves. This bill represents a major advance toward giving American families the peace of mind they've been seeking."

      There are some differences between the House and Senate versions of the Safe Chemicals Act, but the legislation includes several reforms environmental and public health advocates support, including:

      • Requiring chemical companies to develop and make public basic health and safety information for all chemicals;

      • Requiring chemicals to meet a safety standard that protects vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and children;

      • The inclusion of a new program to identify communities that are hot spots for toxic chemicals. The program also requires the EPA to develop plans to reduce the publics exposure to those chemicals;

      • Expediting safety determinations and actions to restrict some of the most dangerous chemicals, including formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, and flame retardants.


      The measure, however, has some shortcomings, members of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition said.

      They cited three concerns in the proposed legislation:

      • It allows hundreds of new chemicals to enter the market and be used in products for many years without first requiring companies to show the substances are safe. This provision, they said, is contradictory to the measures key tenet of preventing dangerous chemicals from entering the market place;

      • It doesnt provide clear authority for the EPA to immediately restrict production and use of the most dangerous chemicals, even those that have been extensively studied and are restricted by governments around the world;

      • It doesnt require the EPA to adopt the National Academy of Sciences recommendations to incorporate the best and latest science when determining the safety of chemicals. The Senate bill, however, does call on EPA to consider those recommendations.

      Despite these flaws, public health and environmental advocates laud the measure.

      This is the strongest bill yet toward chemical reform, said the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalitions Andy Igrejas. We look forward to working with (Congressional leaders) on this legislation.

      Environmental justice groups support provisions in the bill that mandate the EPA to develop action plans to reduce high exposures of toxic chemicals in certain communities.

      There are many communities, especially communities of color, tribal lands, and low-income communities, where people are dying at extraordinary rates because of toxic chemical exposure, said Mark Mitchell, M.D., president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice. This bill, for the first time, would give EPA authority to identify these communities and protect them from major sources of toxic chemicals.

      Industry support

      The president of a trade group for the chemical industry said his members look forward to working with Congressional leaders on chemical policy reform.

      Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) , said his group supports some of the provisions in the proposed bill.

      We are encouraged that the Safe Chemicals Act (SCA) reflects some aspects of the principles that ACC released last year, which are mirrored by EPAs principles, he said in a statement released today. These include the need to prioritize chemicals for evaluation, a risk-based approach to EPA safety reviews, and a reduction in animal testing.

      ACC members, however, are at odds with other requirements in the bill.

      We are concerned that the bills proposed decision-making standard may be legally and technically impossible to meet, Dooley said. The proposed changes to the new chemicals program could hamper innovation in new products, processes and technologies. In addition, the bill undermines business certainty by allowing states to adopt their own regulations and create a lack of regulatory uniformity for chemicals and the products that use them.

      Whatever version of the bill is approved, Dooley said his members are committed to ensuring all chemicals in the marketplace are safe for their intended use.

      Today, Americans live safer, healthier lives thanks to the development of chemical products and technologies. We look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue with Congressional leaders to ensure that reforms to TSCA promote safety and preserve these important innovations.

      The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition said there is a pretty aggressive schedule on the House version of the bill and it could move to committee for action in June or early July.

      But there are no immediate plans for a Senate hearing on the bill, the coalition said.

      Senate Bill Would Revamp Toxic Chemicals Regulation...
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      Mass. Blocks Online Payday Lender

      FastBucks must also make consumer restitution

      An Internet-based payday lender that was selling high interest loans at up to 600 percent interest will no longer be able to continue doing business in the state of Massachusetts, under a settlement filed by Attorney General Martha Coakley.

      The settlement prevents payday lender FastBucks from offering its high interest "payday" loans to Massachusetts consumers, and requires FastBucks to return all interest charges and fees that it assessed against Massachusetts consumers. The Attorney General's Office has already identified $35,000 in fees and interest owed to consumers, and is continuing to work to identify borrowers entitled to restitution. FastBucks will also pay $10,000 to the Commonwealth.

      FastBucks, a New Mexico based lender, offers small, short-term loans to consumers via the Internet and by telephone. The loans, generally granted for a few hundred dollars or less, must be repaid within two to four weeks and used consumers' bank accounts to secure repayment of the amount borrowed.

      According to the settlement, FastBucks charged an unfair interest rate on these loans, which sometimes exceeded 600 percent. When consumers were unable to repay the loan principal, fees, and interest, FastBucks extended the loans, and added additional fees and charges to the consumer debt.

      The excessive interest rates charged by FastBucks are in violation of state law which stipulates that unlicensed lenders of small loans may only charge 12 percent interest.

      "The inflated interest rates charged by payday lenders are unconscionable," Coakley said. "The loans offered by this company take advantage of Massachusetts residents in tough financial situations and further push them into a spiral of debt. Our office will continue to investigate and prosecute these types of unscrupulous business practices."

      Under the terms of the settlement, FastBucks is prohibited from selling high interest loans in Massachusetts, and will not distribute promotional and marketing materials to Massachusetts consumers. FastBucks will also reimburse consumers for all interest and fees charged on their loans, cease all collection efforts, and request credit reporting agencies to remove these transactions from consumer credit records.

      Mass. Blocks Online Payday Lender...
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      SEC Accuses Goldman Sachs of Fraud

      Bank accused of misleading investors in subprime mortgages

      Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs today was charged with civil fraud as the Securities and Exchange Commission claimed it misled investors about risky mortgage-backed securities.

      The complaint highlights what the SEC says were some of the underlying causes of the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, a catalyst of the Great Recession of 2008. Specifically, the SEC says the Wall Street bank and one of its vice presidents defrauded investors by misstating and omitting key facts about a financial product tied to subprime mortgages as the U.S. housing market was beginning to falter.

      The SEC alleges that Goldman Sachs structured and marketed a synthetic collateralized debt obligation, known in Wall Street jargon as a CDO. The value of this particular CDO hinged on the performance of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities. In other words, if the people with the subprime mortgages bundled in the securites made their payments on time, everything would be fine. But if they began to default on the loans, the value of the CDO would drop.

      The government says Goldman Sachs failed to disclose to investors vital information about the CDO, in particular the role that a major hedge fund played in the portfolio selection process and the fact that the hedge fund had taken a short position against the CDO.

      Betting on failure

      That's right. The person instrumental in selecting the mortgage-backed securites for the CDO was a short-seller who, at the time, was actually betting that their value would drop. If investors had been told this information, the SEC says, they likely would not have invested.

      "The product was new and complex but the deception and conflicts are old and simple," said Robert Khuzami, Director of the Division of Enforcement at the SEC. "Goldman wrongly permitted a client that was betting against the mortgage market to heavily influence which mortgage securities to include in an investment portfolio, while telling other investors that the securities were selected by an independent, objective third party."

      If Goldman Sachs was doing this, is it possible other Wall Street banks were engaging in similar actions?

      "The SEC continues to investigate the practices of investment banks and others involved in the securitization of complex financial products tied to the U.S. housing market as it was beginning to show signs of distress," said Kenneth Lench, Chief of the SEC's Structured and New Products Unit.

      The SEC alleges that one of the world's largest hedge funds, Paulson & Co., paid Goldman Sachs to structure a transaction in which Paulson & Co. could take short positions against mortgage securities chosen by Paulson & Co. based on a belief that the securities would experience credit events.

      The SEC's action, so far, is civil in nature. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, as well as New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, declined to comment on media inquiries about potential criminal actions.

      SEC Accuses Goldman Sachs of Fraud...
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      New York Announces Suit Against SmartBuy

      State charges company targets US service personnel

      New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says he plans to sue SmartBuy and its affiliated companies, charging them with targeting soldiers with fraudulent and deceptive business practices.

      Cuomo says an investigation by his office determined that the company and its affiliated lenders targeted soldiers with so-called "financing" offers of monthly payments that were actually open-ended loan agreements, costing the soldiers thousands of dollars extra for consumer electronics.

      "The specific intent of this business was to target soldiers on the move, fleecing them for thousands of dollars and leaving them with little recourse," Cuomo said. "We have no tolerance for companies or individuals who take advantage of those serving in our military."

      Cuomo's office sent a notice of proposed litigation to six affiliated entities, including Frisco Marketing of N.Y., LLC, doing business as SmartBuy and SmartBuy Computers and Electronics; Integrity Financial of North Carolina, Inc.; Britlee, Inc.; GJS Management, Inc.; Rome Finance Company, Inc. and Rome Finance Co. LLC, all owned and/or operated by Fayetteville, N.C.-based John Paul Jordan, Stuart Jordan and Rebecca Wirt, and Concord, California-based William Collins and Ronald Wilson.

      The Attorney General's Office claims that the SmartBuy operation "engaged in illegal, deceptive and fraudulent business practices, including but not limited to fraudulently and deceptively selling electronics with financing agreements to federal employees, and in particular, military employees; violating New York State usury and banking laws by engaging in unlicensed lending and charging illegal rates of interest; and violating the State Fair Debt Collection Practices Act."

      In 2008, SmartBuy's collective locations across the country brought in between $32 and $36 million, according to Cuomo. Until recently, SmartBuy operated a storefront and kiosk in the Salmon Run Mall. Once the business became aware of the Attorney General's investigation and expected legal action, SmartBuy abruptly shut down the location, Cuomo said.

      Cuomo said his investigation has determined that all SmartBuy locations across the country are set up in close proximity to large military establishments and communities.

      NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says he plans to sue SmartBuy and its affiliated companies, charging them with targeting soldiers with fraudulent and dece...
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      Mississippi Woman Sentenced for Embezzling from Funeral Home

      Gets suspended jail term for taking advantage of grieving parents

      A Mississippi woman has been sentenced after being found guilty of false pretenses by taking money from grieving parents to bury their baby and after pleading guilty to embezzling from the funeral home where she worked.

      Frances Powell, age 62, of Tunica, was sentenced on charges of embezzlement and false pretense by Judge Charles Webster in the Circuit Court of Tunica County.

      Powell was sentenced to three years behind bars with the three years suspended, two years supervised probation and one year unsupervised probation on the false pretense charges. She also must pay $600 in restitution, court costs and a $500 fine.

      On the embezzlement charge, which was prosecuted by the office of Attorney General Jim Hood, Powell entered an open plea (meaning she refused to accept the state's recommended sentence and threw herself on the mercy of the court). She was sentenced to five years behind bars with the five years suspended, with two years supervised probation, three years unsupervised probation, $5,000 restitution, court costs, a $500 fine and $250 to the Crime Victim Compensation Fund.

      The sentences are to run concurrently.

      The false pretense involved Powell charging $600 for an infant's funeral when she knew the funeral home did not charge for such. Powell, who was employed by the Memorial Funeral home in Tunica, kept the $600 for her own personal use.

      The embezzlement involved Powell converting funeral home funds to her own use. She paid for various items, such as furniture, cosmetics and tobacco products by writing checks on the funeral home's account.

      The bereaved can be easy targets for scammers. A cemetery operator in Michigan recently drew a stiff sentence for his schemes which involved the embezzlement of more than $4 million.

      Mississippi Woman Sentenced for Embezzling from Funeral Home...
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      Ohio Debt Collector to Pay Consumer Restitution

      Company settles charges it harassed consumers

      National Enterprise Systems, Inc., a collection agency, will provide $207,500 in restitution to Ohio consumers, in a settlement with that state's attorney general.

      NES will also pay a comparable amount to Ohio's Consumer Protection Enforcement Fund, according to Attorney General Richard Cordray.

      In July, Cordray sued the collection agency for harassing consumers when attempting to collect on debt. As a result of the agreed consent judgment filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland, NES has agreed to make changes in its debt collection practices as well as the agreed amount of payments.

      "Our lawsuit outlined a laundry list of clear violations of consumers' rights," said Cordray. "With today's settlement, not only will consumers receive restitution but the company will implement new policies and procedures to prevent this from happening again. Ohioans deserve a fighting chance to pay back debt without being demeaned, deceived or harassed."

      Cordray's lawsuit charged NES with engaging in practices that violated Ohio's Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA) and the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Some of the practices alleged included calling and harassing consumers' coworkers and family members, calling before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m., using abusive language, attempting to collect debts consumers did not owe, failing to verify debts and making unauthorized withdrawals from consumers' bank accounts.

      Cordray's office has more than 390 complaints on record against NES. Consumers who filed complaints prior to the agreement may be eligible to receive $200 or more in restitution and will receive notification through the mail.

      Ohio Debt Collector to Pay Consumer Restitution...
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      Seniors In More Severe Auto Crashes Than Younger Drivers

      Making left turns especially dangerous

      How old is too old to drive? No question is more likely to ignite debate among seniors as that one, with many pointing out that competence behind the wheel, not age, should be the determining factor.

      Even so, researchers at Kansas State are taking a close look at the numbers, both the number of years and the number of severe accidents. They say they found most car accidents involving older drivers occur during the daytime and are more severe, often ending in injury or fatality, than those for younger populations.

      With this knowledge, the researchers will follow up with a study to learn what changes can be made to improve these difficulties for older drivers.

      The focus will be on countermeasures to reduce the number of crashes involving older drivers and the severity of the crashes. The objective of the research, however, is not to take the keys away from seniors. In fact, it's aimed at finding ways to keep older Americans driving longer.

      "Highway safety of older drivers is an issue," said Sunanda Dissanayake, K-State associate professor of civil engineering. "If you live in an area like Kansas, there's not much public transportation, so drivers have to rely on a personal vehicle. The older population should be able to drive. It's a significant predictor of their quality of life."

      Dissanayake started the project, which is funded by the Kansas Department of Transportation, in 2008 with Loshaka Perera, a former K-State graduate student in civil engineering. Dissanayake presented the research in March at the Institute of Transportation Engineers Annual Meeting.

      Crunching the numbers

      For the study, older drivers were defined as people 65 years and older. The researchers analyzed Kansas crash data from 1997 to 2006, which included crashes based on involvement and severity. The data were analyzed and compared among drivers aged 15 to 25, drivers aged 25 to 65, and older drivers.

      "If you look at the number of total crashes in Kansas involving older drivers, it's not that much. That's because they don't drive as much as the rest of the population," Dissanayake said. "But if you look at crash involvement per mile driven, that's very high for older drivers."

      The crash analysis showed that the severity of crashes for older drivers also is very high compared to the rest of the population. When looking at the categories of crash severity, older drivers have the highest incidents in fatal crashes, as well as incapacitating and non-incapacitating crashes. Older drivers also had a higher percentage of crashes occurring at intersections and accidents happening during daylight.

      "That doesn't necessarily mean it's more dangerous during daytime," Dissanayake said. "It could be because older drivers do most of their driving during the daylight hours."

      Most of the older-driver crashes involved colliding with another vehicle while in traffic. Few involved running off the road and hitting something, which is more common for young drivers, Dissanayake said. Right before their crashes, most of the older drivers were driving straight ahead, but a significant amount were making a left turn. Dissanayake said making a left turn is especially difficult when there is no green arrow, leaving the maneuver to the driver's judgment.

      The study also identified the personal opinions and experiences of older drivers. The researchers distributed a survey for older drivers around Kansas at places like senior centers, retirement communities and churches. The results showed that more than 92 percent of the participants had more than 50 years of driving experience. Most of them reported driving cars, and 41 percent said they drove every day.

      Fewer than 100 miles per month

      However, the majority of older drivers said they drove less than 100 miles per month. The survey also showed that 65 percent of participants had never taken a driver education course, and 18 percent of the participants were involved in a crash in the last 10 years.

      The survey also asked questions regarding the drivers' perceptions of the difficulties for different driving conditions. The participants said they don't mind driving in windy or rainy conditions, though they try to avoid driving in snow. Men reported to be more wiling to drive in bad weather compared to women.

      Only 38 percent of the drivers said they are likely to drive during the night, and 39 percent said they are likely to drive on freeways. Participants also answered questions regarding factors of driving that have become more difficult as they have gotten older.

      "One of the most difficult things for them is identifying the speed and distance of oncoming traffic," Dissanayake said. "This is important for making a left turn, and looking at the crash data, we see a lot of left-turn crashes."

      The participants also said they have difficulty and feel less comfortable making sudden, unexpected stops while driving, as well as merging and changing lanes. Fifty percent said they would like to avoid high-traffic roads, as well as freeways and two-lane undivided highways.

      One of the challenging situations that could be improved is the safety at intersections, Dissanayake said.

      "In areas where there are more older drivers, I think we should always look at the possibility of having the green arrow indication at left turns," Dissanayake said. "Additionally, for driver education perhaps we need to have a closer look at the driver license renewal process, such as its frequency and what is covered."

      Improved road signs

      She said the fonts and sizes of road signs also could be further improved to ensure older driver safety.

      "As the older population gradually increases in the United States, so will the number of older drivers," Dissanayake said. "We need to be taking steps to improve their safety while driving, which also would be beneficial to all road users."

      Seniors In More Severe Auto Crashes Than Younger Drivers...
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      Samsung Issues 3-D TV Warning

      Viewing 3-D TV could mean problems for some

      April 15, 2010
      Children and teenagers may be more susceptible to health issues associated with viewing in 3-D and should be closely supervised when viewing these images, consumer electronics giant Samsung warns.

      According to a statement issued by the company:

      • Some viewers may experience an epileptic seizure or stroke when exposed to certain flashing images or lights contained in certain television pictures or video games. If you suffer from, or have a family history of epilepsy or strokes, please consult with a medical specialist before using the 3-D function.

      • Even those without a personal or family history of epilepsy or stroke may have an undiagnosed condition that can cause photosensitive epileptic seizures.

      • Pregnant women, the elderly, sufferers of serious medical conditions, those who are sleep deprived or under the influence of alcohol should avoid utilizing the unit's 3-D functionality.

      Watching for problems

      Samsung says anyone experiencing any of the following symptoms should stop viewing 3-D pictures immediately and consult a medical specialist:

      altered vision;



      involuntary movements such as eye or muscle twitching;




      cramps; and/ or


      Children and teenagers may be more likely than adults to experience these symptoms. Parents should monitor their children and ask whether they are experiencing these symptoms.

      Other viewing problems

      Viewing 3D television may also cause motion sickness, perceptual after-effects, disorientation, eye strain and decreased postural stability, Samsung warns. The company recommends that users take frequent breaks to lessen the potential of these effects.

      If the eyes show signs of fatigue or dryness or if any of the above symptoms appear, viewers should immediately discontinue use of this device and not resume using it for at least thirty minutes after the symptoms have subsided.

      Watching TV while sitting too close to the screen for an extended period of time may damage your eyesight. Samsung says the ideal viewing distance should be at least three times the screen height and recommends that the viewer's eyes be level with the screen.

      Watching TV while wearing 3-D glasses for an extended period of time may cause a headache or fatigue. If you experience a headache, fatigue or dizziness, stop viewing TV and rest. 3-D glasses should not be used for any other purpose than for viewing 3-D television. Using them for any other purpose (as general spectacles, sunglasses, protective goggles, etc.) may be physically harmful to you and may weaken your eyesight.

      Finally, viewing in 3-D may cause disorientation for some viewers. Accordingly, DO NOT place your TV near open stairwells, cables, balconies, or other objects that can be tripped over, run into, knocked down, broken or fallen over.

      Guidelines for in-home viewing

      • To watch in 3-D mode you need to put the 3-D glasses on and press the power button on top of the glasses.

      • Turn off all fluorescent lighting and block sources of direct sunlight before watching in 3-D mode. Fluorescent lighting may cause a flickering effect and direct sunlight may affect the operation of the 3-D glasses.

      Despite any apparent problems, 3-D TV seems to be the next Big Thing in consumer electronics.

      Some viewers may experience an epileptic seizure or stroke when exposed to certain flashing images or lights contained in certain television pictures or vi...
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      McAfee Tricks Customers Into Subscription Purchase, Suit Says

      Companys partnership with Arpu Inc. implicated

      McAfee -- a company that made its name providing computer security products -- tricks consumers into buying services from an unrelated third party, and gives out their banking information to complete those purchases, according to a recently-filed lawsuit.

      The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, says that consumers who purchase security products directly from McAfees website are presented with a misleading pop-up display [that] leads them to unwittingly enroll in subscription-based services offered by a third party, Arpu Inc.

      According to the suit, McAfee transmits customer credit/debit card and billing information to Arpu Inc. and receives an undisclosed fee for each consumer.

      The suit alleges that McAfee fails to tell customers that they are signing up for a subscription-based service, the terms and conditions of that service, or how they can go about canceling the subscription. Additionally, customers are billed in a manner that makes the monthly $4.95 charge hard to detect, track, and terminate.

      The suit quotes Arpus website as claiming that the company places ads enabl[ing] consumers to purchase products or services from an online ad with a single click, using credit card information already on file. More damning, the website notes that Arpu and McAfee partnered in 2007 in an effort to increase the latters profitability.

      Now, whenever a McAfee customer completes a purchase on McAfee.com, an ad will appear for a related product or service, the site reads, according to the complaint. Interested consumers can choose to subscribe to the product or service using the billing method just entered in their recent McAfee.com purchase.

      To the contrary, the suit says that consumers have no idea that theyre signing up for anything, and that McAfee disguises the purchase as just another step in the process of downloading McAfee software.

      After the consumer purchases software, but before she begins downloading it, she is presented with a red button reading Try It Now, according to the suit. The pop-up provides no warning that clicking on Try It Now will lead not to the delivery of the McAfee product but rather to the purchase of a completely different product, the complaint says. Instead, all of the obvious visual cues suggest that Try It Now is a necessary step in downloading the McAfee software.

      While the pop-up technically contains a disclosure that a third party is involved in the transaction, that notice is set in nearly illegible gray 6 point type set against a gray background, according to the complaint. Further, the terms of service are not provided anywhere on the pop-up.

      The suit is brought as a class action on behalf of [a]ll persons in the United States who purchased products or services from McAfee Incorporated and were subsequently charged by a third party for unused and unclaimed products and services after McAfee transferred their credit/debit card and other billing information to the third-party.

      McAfee Tricks Customers Into Subscription Purchase, Suit Says...
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