Current Events in May 2010

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    Judge Orders Toyota to Turn Over Internal Documents

    Ruling is a victory for plaintiffs in recently-consolidated case

    A federal judge has ordered Toyota to produce documents related to the company's recent sudden-acceleration troubles. U.S. District Court Judge James Selna, who is presiding over the consolidated class action lawsuit against Toyota, gave the company 30 days to give the documents to the plaintiffs' attorneys.

    The ruling was a victory for the plaintiffs, who have said they don't want the trial to drag on for years, a common occurrence in consolidated federal cases.

    Toyota had asked for a longer extension, pointing out that many of the requested documents are in Japanese or protected by a legal privilege. Selna rejected the request, saying that the documents must be produced as soon as possible, in order to get the ball rolling in a very complex case. He added that he found it not conceivable that the documents weren't sitting in a basement somewhere.

    Selna did, however, give Toyota 60 days to produce Japanese documents or those protected by a privilege. Daren Aitken, an attorney for the plaintiffs, accused Toyota of stonewalling, saying he found it impossible to believe that when they gave those documents to the government that they didn't go through them.

    Steve Berman, another of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said that the documents were necessary to prepare a proper complaint that makes sense. Accordingly, Selna ordered the plaintiffs to produce a consolidated complaint within 30 days of receiving the documents from Toyota.

    The ruling is an early defeat for Toyota, which is facing potential liability of at least $10 billion in the case. The order applies to around 125,000 internal company documents, many of which have already been given to Congress.

    The contents of the documents don't appear to favor Toyota; Representative Henry Waxman, who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the papers show that Toyota consistently dismissed the possibility that the problem was rooted in an electronic defect, a theory that a number of the plaintiffs' suits are suggesting.

    In what was otherwise a good day for the plaintiffs, they did take a hit: Selna rejected their request that Toyota turn over all safety-related complaints it has ever received.

    Selna was assigned last month to oversee the massive consolidated litigation. Approximately 230 federal lawsuits have been filed against Toyota, which has recalled over eight million vehicles due to the possibility of unintended acceleration.

    The defect has been linked to at least 50 deaths, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said this week that the number could be closer to 90.

    Toyota also faces an additional 100 lawsuits filed in state court; those suits are not included in the consolidated litigation.

    Judge Orders Toyota to Turn Over Internal Documents...

    Veterans Group Ordered To Stop Fundraising In Ohio

    Questions raised about legitimacy of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association

    May 29, 2010
    Heading into the weekend when the nation honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice., the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, which claims to be a legitimate nonprofit organization, was told to stop all fundraising activities in Ohio.

    The order was issued by Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray after it was determined that the association's registration documents contained false and misleading information.

    Recent news accounts questioning the fundraising and expenses by the U.S. Navy Veterans Association in other states prompted the Attorney General's Charitable Law Section to examine the organization's activities in Ohio.

    "There are serious questions being raised about the legitimacy of this organization and its fundraising activities in Ohio and across the country," said Cordray. "We're going to shut down this organization's fundraising activities unless and until it can provide satisfactory answers to our questions. We need to do this to protect the hard-earned reputations of all our legitimate nonprofit veterans organizations in Ohio."

    Lack of accountability

    In a letter to the U. S. Navy Veterans Association and the individuals named as its directors, the AG cites numerous violations of the state's registration requirements. They include:

    • Listing a UPS mailbox as the organization's principal place of business

    • Failing to provide phone numbers for the organization's offices

    • Failing to provide addresses for directors, trustees and executive personnel

    Additionally, investigators in the Charitable Law Section have been unable to locate any of the three people listed on the registration documents as having final responsibility for the custody of contributions in Ohio. The addresses listed for these individuals are all UPS mailboxes and the phone numbers listed are all cell phones that connect to the same voicemail box for the U.S. Navy Veterans Association.

    Watch out for scams

    "While we honor our veterans on this Memorial Day weekend, we must remain vigilant of those fundraising organizations that seek to deceive donors and siphon off money from legitimate organizations serving our veterans," said Cordray. He offered the following guidelines and suggestions to keep in mind when considering a charitable contribution:

    • Recognize that the words "veterans" or "military families" in an organization's name do not necessarily mean that your donation will actually go to these worthy causes. Some phony charities deliberately use names, seals and logos that look or sound like those of respected, legitimate organizations.

    • Donate to charities with a track record and a history. Charities that spring up overnight may disappear just as quickly and never deliver any money to your intended beneficiaries.

    • Ask questions about the charity's specific programs and services and where the charity is located. Ask for written information to evaluate before making a gift. Charities in good standing are happy to provide information about themselves; scammers will be more resistant to answering basic questions.

    • Ask what percentage of your donation will actually go to the charitable cause and the specific programs you support. Solicitors are required to provide this information under Ohio law.

    Veterans Group Ordered To Stop Fundraising In Ohio...

    Survey Suggests Many Drivers Are Clueless

    New York drivers worst in insurance company survey

    By Mark Huffman

    May 28, 2010

    One reason the highway is an increasingly dangerous place is because too many drivers don't know what they are doing, an insurance company study suggests.

    GMAC Insurance conducted an online survey, posing 20 questions taken from state driving license exams. The results showed many respondents might have flunked if it had been a real test.

    For example 85 percent of respondents did not know how to react to a traffic signal where the light was yellow. Others showed confusion on other questions or admitted to unsafe habits like texting while driving.

    If the test results were averaged out nationally, the study suggests nearly 20 percent of licensed drivers -- some 38 million motorists -- "may be unfit for roads" and wouldn't pass a state-issued written exam if taken today, the study said. The average test score fell from 76.6 percent in 2009, and 78.1 percent in 2008.

    "It's discouraging to see that overall average test scores are lower than last year," said Wade Bontrager, senior vice president, GMAC Insurance. "American drivers need to make safety a top priority and be aware of the rules of the road at all times. The National Drivers Test allows everyone to brush up on their driving knowledge with a brief refresher course."

    Score breakdown

    Where are the nation's worst drivers? Motorists from New York had the worst record on the survey, followed by drivers in New Jersey, Washington, California and Rhode Island.

    Drivers in Kansas did the best, followed by Oregon, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. In general, drivers in the Midwest seemed to be the most informed about the rules of the road while drivers in the Northeast fared worst.

    Men over age 45 tended to score the highest, the survey shows, while men overall outscored women, who admitted to engaging in more distracting behavior while behind the wheel.

    Lack of attention

    Additional questions from the survey reveal drivers conduct a variety of distracting behaviors behind the wheel; approximately one in four participants admitted to driving while talking on a cell phone, eating and adjusting the radio or selecting songs on an iPod. However, only five percent reported they text while driving.

    Overall, a significantly higher percentage of females than males reported engaging in the following distracting situations: conversation with passengers, selecting songs on an iPod or CD/adjusting the radio, talking on a cell phone, eating, applying make-up and reading.

    One reason the highway is an increasingly dangerous place is because too many drivers don't know what they are doing, an insurance company study suggests....

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      Teens and Alcohol Make Bad Memorial Day Mix

      Alcohol-related ER visits spike during holiday

      Underage drinking is a growing problem, and a new study suggests it's often worse over the Memorial Day weekend.

      The study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reveals that teens' alcohol-related trips to hospital emergency rooms are 11 percent higher during the Memorial Day weekend than they are on an average day.

      The latest Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report estimates that on an average day, there are 519 hospital emergency department visits involving underage alcohol use. For the three day Memorial Day weekend, however, the number of daily hospital emergency department visits jumps to 577.

      The study also shows that the daily level of hospital emergency department visits involving those under age 21 that used alcohol combined with other drugs is 27 percent higher during this holiday weekend than the level on an average day (199 visits versus 156 visits).

      "Underage drinking poses an enormous public health risk -- approximately 5,000 people die each year from alcohol-related injuries connected to underage drinking," said SAMHSA Administrator, Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. "Moreover, studies have shown that children who begin drinking before age 15 are six times more likely to develop alcohol problems than people who start drinking after they reach age 21."

      Hyde says the study highlights the need for parents, families and communities to promote prevention messages and efforts designed to help young people enjoy themselves without engaging in underage drinking or drug use.

      The study was developed as part of the agency's strategic initiative on data, outcomes, and quality -- an effort to inform policy makers and service providers on the nature and scope of behavioral health issues. It is based on the 2008 DAWN report. DAWN is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related hospital emergency department visits reported throughout the nation.

      Teens and Alcohol Make Bad Memorial Day Mix: Underage drinking is a growing problem, and a new study suggests it's often worse over the Memorial Day weeken...

      Should I Sell Gold for Cash?

      Some do's and don't's for those considering a sale

      For many consumers, money is tighter than it's ever been and a lot of folks scrambling for immediate avenues to ease the strain on their monthly budgets. With the price of gold reaching record highs of well over $1,000, ads have prompted millions to sift through their valuables for rings, chains, and coins they are willing to part with.

      However, Washington state Attorney General Rob Mckenna cautions the allure of the promised "fast cash" has many hastily submitting items they may know little about to companies they haven't researched. This has created an industry tailor-made for a recession and a hotbed of opportunity for consumer scams.

      By far the most frequent consumer complaint regarding these services involves a low payout. In fact, there are widespread reports of people sending in hundreds of dollars worth of items only to receive a check for a paltry amount -- sometimes even less than $1.

      While these companies guarantee satisfaction, some are reported to have practices in place to make the process as difficult as possible for the seller in hope they simply give up trying to recoup the submitted items.

      When seeking to trade valuables in for cash, it is important for consumers to be equipped with as much information as possible to safeguard yourself in the transaction.

      McKenna offers these tips for selling gold:

      Understand what you have

      Have the item(s) appraised. While not required by law, reputable U.S. jewelry makers stamp pieces to designate karat level and include the name or trademark of the company endorsing the mark. However, misleading or fraudulent jewelry markings are not unheard of.

      Going to a jeweler for an appraisal will yield the most accurate results. Scrap values don't reflect the craftsmanship or antique value. You can find credentialed appraisers at the websites of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers and the American Society of Appraisers .

      Shop around

      Payouts will vary, but it is important to remember that with more middlemen involved, you'll receive less. A study by Consumer Reports found that mail-in companies offered 11-29 percent of market value for 18-karat jewelry, while jewelers and pawn shops paid upwards of 70 percent for the same pieces.

      Because the price of gold fluctuates, call businesses on the same day to ask what they pay for gold. As nice as it would be, you will not be compensated $1,000 for every ounce of gold you have. That figure applies to quantities of pure gold only.

      Mary of Danville, IN, believes she got "ripped off" by Cash4Gold. "I sent them two gold rings, a watch, two bracelets and a necklace and only got $35.00 back," she tells "I sent the very same identical items to and got 135.00 back. We certainly know who the thieves are". Mary acknowledges she'd have been better off had she researched Cash4Gold before sending her jewelry to them.

      'A bird in the hand...'

      Once you send in your gold to a company, you have surrendered a fair amount of power in the transaction. If you decide to mail your jewelry, choose a reputable company that offers free insured shipping that you can track online.

      Provide a detailed description of what you're sending. Keep a copy of the paperwork, along with photographs of the items. Some consumers have complained that they sent 14-karat gold items that were falsely appraised as 10-karat and quoted accordingly. Unfortunately, once the items are in the company's hands, there is little for a consumer to do to overcome this information asymmetry other than request the items back.

      Beware of superlatives

      Claims such as, "We pay the highest prices!" or "America's #1 Gold Refiner!" are red flags because they are nearly impossible to substantiate. The most reputable companies will generally steer clear from these misrepresentations and quote a price upfront with values updated daily. Transparency is always worth more than images of fanned currency.

      At the end of the day, doing your homework is the best way to protect yourself and your valuables. But in these tenuous economic times, it is important to remember that selling old jewelry or scrap gold is not a long-term financial solution. While you may be compensated enough to cover a month's worth of bills, you will not get rich.

      Approaching the transaction with this understanding and conducting an adequate amount of due diligence will help ensure a fair deal.

      Help from Uncle Sam may be in the offing. Congress is considering legislation designed to make sure that consumers who decide to sell their gold get a fair shake.

      Should I Sell Gold for Cash?...

      House Bill Mandates 'Black Boxes' For All Cars

      Wide-ranging measure also includes mandatory emergency braking system

      On a 31-21 vote, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has approved a bill that, among other things, would require all vehicles sold in the U.S. to be equipped with a "black box" that records crash data by 2015.

      The Motor Vehicle Safety Act now goes to the full House for debate. The Senate is considering a similar measure.

      Included in the bill is a requirement for automakers to provide an emergency brake override system that could stop the car if the throttle were stuck in the open position. That provision was added in the wake of Toyota's well-publicized unintended acceleration problems that forced a large recall earlier this year.

      The measure also includes a provision increasing the maximum penalty on carmakers that fail to report defects. Toyota has paid a record $16.2 million fine in connection with its unintended acceleration problems.

      Some tougher provisions of the bill were removed after objections from the auto industry. However, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said it is generally in favor of most of the bill's provisions, including the emergency brake override system and the inclusion of a "black box" data recorder.

      In testimony before the committee earlier this month, Alliance CEO Dave McCurdy tempered his support of the black box provision with a few concerns when the original wording called for "black boxes like those found in airplanes."

      "The typical airplane black box costs $22,000, which is close to the average price of a new car," McCurdy told the committee. "In my opinion, Rep. Green's legislation -- H.R. 5169, the Event Data Recorder Enhancement Act -- is a better approach."

      Under Green's measure, the Secretary of Transportation would set the standards for automobile "black boxes."

      The measure would give new power to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA would be authorized to order recalls that "present a substantial likelihood of death or injury to the public."

      To increase NHTSA's budget, the measure would add a $9 tax per car -- ultimately to be paid by the purchaser -- with the money going directly to fund the agency's operations.

      The idea for "black boxes" in cars has been around since the 1970s. It was first advanced by the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency that investigates airplane accidents. The agency made the recommendation to both NHTSA and the automobile industry.


      When Event Data Recorders were introduced in the last decade, hundreds of consumers wrote to federal auto safety regulators objecting to a new rule establishing minimum requirements for automobile "black boxes" and data recorders. Privacy advocates said they were concerned the data would fall into the wrong hands and would contribute to government "spying" on drivers.

      Many vehicles currently collect data in onboard computers that are part of the vehicle electronics system. Toyota analyzed data from the computers earlier this year when it investigated a number of sudden acceleration reports.

      The legal website says there are many misconceptions about a vehicle "black box," saying its best uses are for diagnosing vehicle related problems, not to settle legal issues arising from accidents.

      "Motorists should be very concerned about this device," the website warns. "The automobile black box should never be used as a stand-alone device. The use of physical evidence, such as impact data, skid / yaw marks, initial / resting positions of vehicle(s), in conjunction with the black box, as well as common sense is essential to obtain the correct resultant. "

      On a 31-21 vote, HECC has approved a bill that, among other things, would require all vehicles sold in the U.S. to be equipped with a "black box" that reco...

      Suit Takes On Experian's "Free" Credit Reports

      Allegations now covered by new FTC regulation

       Given the continuing credit crunch and the efforts of many consumers to dig themselves out of a financial hole, the offer of a "free credit report" provides a tempting opportunity to see just how deep that hole is.

      Unfortunately, such offers are almost never what they seem, a truism reaffirmed by a class action lawsuit filed last week. The suit, filed in New Jersey state court, claims Experian's and both offer a "free credit report," but provide it only if consumers agree to purchase a credit monitoring service.

      The complaint says the caveat violates New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) and the state's Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty, and Notice Act (TCCWNA). The CFA prohibits sellers from making fraudulent or misleading statements about the product or service they are selling. The TCCWNA, in turn, prevents a seller from including in a contract any provision that violates another law -- in this case the CFA.

      According to the complaint, lead plaintiff Melissa Toll logged onto last December to get a copy of her credit report and credit score. Toll didn't realize, however, that she was also signing up for the "Triple Advantage" credit monitoring service, which costs $14.95 per month unless the consumer cancels it within seven days.

      The suit contends that, understandably, Toll "believed that the 'free' credit report offered by Defendants...and repeatedly referred to as 'free' by the Defendants, would in fact be free of charge."

      Fortunately for consumers, a new federal law passed in the months since Toll signed up for her credit report prohibits the very conduct referenced in the suit. The Free Credit Reports Rule, implemented by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in April, requires creditors to clearly disclose any conditions attached to the offer of a free credit report.

      Both and now contain such a disclosure. warns consumers that: "When you order your free report here, you will begin your free trial membership in Triple Advantage Credit Monitoring. If you don't cancel your membership within the 7-day trial period, you will be billed $14.95 for each month that you continue your membership." has received a considerable number of complaints about, many of which tell a story similar to Toll's.

      The suit requests an injunction barring future violations of CFA and TCCWNA, disgorgement of fees collected by Experian, "maximum statutory damages," and attorneys' fees. The suit also asks for CFA-authorized "treble damages," which allow a court to "award threefold the damages sustained" by a plaintiff.

      Under federal law, consumers are entitled to free government-provided credit reports once every year. Those reports can be obtained at, the FTC's website or by calling 877-322-8228.

      Given the continuing credit crunch and the efforts of many consumers to dig themselves out of a financial hole, the offer of a "free credit report" provide...

      Oregon Latest State to Sue U.S. Fidelis

      Auto warranty company accused of misleading consumers

      Oregon has become the latest state to sue U.S. Fidelis, also known as National Warranty Services, accusing it of illegally misleading consumers about extended vehicle protection plans.

      This company misled Oregon consumers by selling deceptive vehicle warranty plans, said Oregon Attorney General John Kroger. When the plans arrived in the mail and consumers made claims, they discovered that the fine print left them with almost no coverage at all.

      U.S. Fidelis, also known as National Warranty Services, sells extended vehicle protection plans for consumers that are supposed to pick up when original warranties expire.

      The lawsuit alleges that Oregon consumers who paid for the extra coverage were misled into believing that the plan would cover most if not all repairs just like a dealer-provided warranty. But according to the lawsuit, the U.S. Fidelis extended protection plans included so many exceptions that consumers were usually left out in the cold when their cars broke down.

      The lawsuit also alleges that U.S. Fidelis misrepresented the level of coverage consumers would receive and pressured them into signing up quickly or risk losing special benefits. Some consumers were told that they were eligible to receive special rates that never materialized. Consumers who asked to see the actual conditions of the contract were ignored.

      U.S. Fidelis is also accused of violating the Do Not Call registry.

      The Better Business Bureau has received more than 1,400 complaints about U.S. Fidelis and its affiliates. Assistant Attorney General Simon Whang is handling the case for the Oregon Department of Justice.

      Last month, eight states and the District of Columbia filed lawsuits against U.S. Fidelis and Credexx Corporation of Irvine, CA, dba Auto One Warranty Specialists (Auto One).

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

      Oregon Latest State to Sue U.S. Fidelis...

      Mortgage Rates Fall to New Low

      Investments flowing into U.S. bonds give homebuyers a break

      May 27, 2010

      Thanks to a collapsing euro, which has pumped billions into U.S. dollars, mortgage rates have fallen to a new record low, hitting 4.92 percent for a 30-year fixed rate loan, according to

      The average 15-year fixed mortgage held steady this week at 4.34 percent, as did the larger jumbo 30-year fixed rate at 5.75 percent. Adjustable rate mortgages rose this week, with the average 3-year ARM climbing to 4.52 percent and the 5-year ARM rising to 4.26 percent.

      The angst of investors around the globe about European debt, slower growth in China, and saber-rattling on the Korean Peninsula all feed into what is known as the "fear trade." That fear trade has helped bring yields on U.S. Treasury securities considerably lower and mortgage shoppers have been direct beneficiaries. Mortgage rates are closely related to yields on long-term government bonds and nervous investors equate to lower mortgage rates.

      The last time mortgage rates were above 6 percent was Nov. 2008. At that time, the average rate was 6.33 percent, meaning a$200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,241.86. With the average rate now 4.92 percent, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $1,063.89, a savings of $178 per month for a homeowner refinancing now.

      Bankrate's national weekly mortgage survey is conducted each Wednesday from data provided by the top 10 banks and thrifts in the top 10 markets.

      Mortgage Rates Fall to New Low...

      2010 Nissan, Infiniti Trucks, SUVs Recalled

      Nissan North America is recalling several 2010 Nissan and Infiniti trucks and SUVs to fix a problem with the front suspension.

      The company said some lower control link assemblies might not be properly welded. If the weld separates, vehicle handling could be affected, possibly causing a crash.

      The affected models and model years are:

      INFINITI / QX56 2010
      NISSAN / ARMADA 2010
      NISSAN / FRONTIER 2010
      NISSAN / TITAN 2010
      NISSAN / XTERRA 2010

      The affected vehicles were manufactured from November 19, 2009 through March 3, 2010.

      Dealers will repair the vehicles free of charge when the recall begins in June.

      Owners may contact Nissan at 1-800-647-7261.

      Consumers may contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY: 1-800-424-9153) or at

      2010 Nissan, Infiniti Trucks, SUVs Recalled...

      MetLife Uses Software to Deny or Limit Claims, Suit Says

      Conduct is called at odds with terms of policy

      A recently-filed class action accuses MetLife of using a software program to improperly deny insurance claims. The complaint charges that MetLife uses computer 'fee-review' software -- known as 'Decision Point' -- to improperly limit and exclude from coverage part of Plaintiff's and the Class's reasonable medical expenses incurred after a covered occurrence.

      The suit says that MetLife uses Decision Point to justify its denial of claims without first deciding whether those claims are reasonable. Indeed, according to the complaint, Decision Point software is not designed to determine whether a charge is 'reasonable' or 'unreasonable,' though MetLife uses it for this very purpose.

      Rather, the software is simply intended to determine what percentage of the customer's costs are covered by comparing those costs with a set benchmark figure.

      According to the complaint, [i]nsurers such as Met select a particular 'percentile' payment benchmark and any amount of the charge that exceeds that payment benchmark is capped and excluded from coverage. Further, Decision Point software does not (and cannot) analyze in any way whether a submitted charge incurred by its insured is higher [or] lower than the usual and customary charge for the medical services rendered.

      The suit contends that MetLife's use of Decision Point to deny claims constitutes a breach of contract, since the company does not determine, as the policy requires it to do, whether any submitted medical payments claim is reasonable. Moreover, Met's Policy does not define 'reasonable' expenses, or for that matter, what constitutes 'unreasonable' expenses. For every medical payment benefit reduced with [Decision Point], Met simply reduces the benefits based upon predetermined and undisclosed limitations of its own selection.

      The lead plaintiff in the suit is Back Doctors LTD, a medical office in Swansea, Illinois, led by Dr. Kathleen Roche. According to the suit, Roche treated patients who were injured in covered occurrences, and charged usual and customary fees for her service. When she submitted the claims to MetLife, however, the insurer excluded part of her charges based on an undisclosed fee review algorithm.

      Additionally, the suit claims that MetLife is unable to vouch for the accuracy of the Decision Point software, which is licensed by Ingenix, a third party corporation owned by managed health care conglomerate United Healthcare Corporation.

      According to the complaint, MetLife is unable to substantiate the accuracy or propriety of its fee review determination or verify the components of the algorithm used to purportedly make 'reasonable' or 'unreasonable' determinations, and has never inquired whether fee review based coverage limitation and Policy exclusion determinations are consistent with Policy requirements and definitions.

      The suit contends that MetLife saved untold dollars on claims that it should have paid under the express terms of the policy. In addition to the breach of contract claim, the suit charges MetLife with violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act.

      MetLife Uses Software to Deny or Limit Claims, Suit Says...

      NJ Reaches Settlement With Sansone Auto Dealerships

      Dealerships accused of covering up prior damage to used vehicles

      May 26, 2010
      Four dealerships within the "Sansone Auto Network" in New Jersey have agreed to settle a state lawsuit by paying $175,000 and revising their business practices.

      The state charged that the four Sansone dealerships, located in Middlesex and Monmouth counties, violated the state's Consumer Fraud Act and Motor Vehicle Advertising Regulations by failing to disclose to consumers prior damage to used vehicles, prior rental or fleet use of used vehicles, and that the price posted or advertised for a used motor vehicle did not include licensing costs, registration fees and taxes.

      "Our laws and regulations require disclosure of material facts to consumers prior to their purchase of a motor vehicle," said Attorney General Paula T. Dow. "We expect full compliance, so consumers can make informed decisions before spending their hard-earned money."

      The four dealerships included in the consent judgment are Fords National Auto Mart, Inc., which does business as Sansone Ford Lincoln Mercury in Ocean Township; Paladin Chevrolet, which does business as Sansone Chevrolet in Avenel; Sansone Plaza Dodge, Inc., which does business as Sansone Dodge in Ocean Township; and Sansone Management Corp., which does business as Sansone's Route 1 Auto Mall in Avenel.

      Two of these dealerships -- Sansone Chevrolet and Sansone Dodge -- entered into a consent order with the Division of Consumer Affairs in 2004 to resolve allegations similar to the ones contained in the 2009 lawsuit.

      Adjusting business practices

      Without admission of liability or any wrongdoing, the defendants agreed to the following business practices to settle the state's lawsuit:

      • not engage in any deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of their business in the state and comply with all applicable state and/or federal laws, rules and regulations;

      • discern the prior use of a motor vehicle offered for sale or lease and disclose such information to consumers prior to their purchase or lease of the motor vehicle;

      • discern whether a motor vehicle offered for sale or lease has been involved in an accident or otherwise sustained damage and disclose such information to consumers prior to their purchase or lease of the motor vehicle;

      • when disclosing prior use and/or prior damage to a motor vehicle via Carfax or similar vehicle history report, clearly and conspicuously identify the link as Carfax (or similar vehicle history report), along with a designation of "Free Vehicle History Report" within the description of the motor vehicle;

      • include the statement that "price(s) include(s) all costs to be paid by consumer, except for licensing costs, registration fees, and taxes" in any website or other advertisement;

      • in any ad, clearly and conspicuously disclose whether a motor vehicle had been previously damaged and that substantial repair or body work has been performed on it, when defendants know or should have known of such repair or body work;

      • in any advertisement of a used motor vehicle at an advertised price, clearly and conspicuously disclose the motor vehicle's prior use, when such prior use is known or should have been known, unless previously and exclusively owned or leased by individuals for their personal use; and

      • in any advertisement of a motor vehicle at an advertised price, include the statement that "price(s) include(s) all costs to be paid by consumer, except for licensing costs, registration fees, and taxes."

      The defendants face imposition of an additional maximum $200,000 in civil penalties if the terms of the Consent Judgment are violated during the next 12 months.

      "We expect compliance with this settlement, and we will again act to protect consumers, if any violations occur," said Sharon Joyce, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs.

      The $175,000 payment required under the Consent Judgment includes $83,232.58 in civil penalties and $91,767.42 in reimbursement to the state for its attorneys' fees and investigative costs.

      NJ Reaches Settlement With Sansone Auto Dealerships...

      Eight Ways To Avoid Future Credit Card Pitfalls

      Consumers need new rules for the new credit card rules

      May 26, 2010

      The credit card reform legislation Congress passed one year ago is now mostly in effect. Much of it took effect in February and the remainder becomes effective August 22, 2010. But does that mean your problems are over? Probably not. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) says it's possible consumers could face account changes in the future, such as interest rate increases on future transactions and the imposition of new fees or penalties.

      Here are eight ways to avoid potential pitfalls in the new world of credit cards.

      1. Understand your right to cancel a credit card before certain significant account changes take effect.

      Under the new law, card issuers now must generally tell customers about certain changes in account terms -- in areas such as interest rate and fee increases -- 45 days in advance, up from 15 days in the past. In that same notice, they must inform consumers of their right to cancel the card before certain account changes take effect. These notices may come with your credit card bill or through a separate communication.

      "It's important to read everything from your card issuer, even what appears to be junk mail," said Kathleen Nagle, FDIC Associate Director for Consumer Protection. "Be aware of when the new rate or fee will take effect, so you can have enough time to shop around for a new card, if necessary."

      Consumers who notify their card company to cancel their card before fees are increased or certain other significant changes take effect will still be required to repay the outstanding balance, but they cannot be required to repay it immediately. However, the card company can increase the minimum monthly payment, subject to certain limitations.

      Also note that there are exceptions to the 45-day notice requirement. For example, you will generally not receive advance notice of a rate increase on a card with a variable interest rate that will fluctuate based on an advertised index, such as the prime rate.

      2. Keep an eye on your credit limit.

      Some people, even those with good credit histories, have recently seen their credit limits cut back. Reductions in credit lines can be harmful because your borrowing power will be diminished. Also remember that your credit score is based, in part, on what percentage of your credit limit you are using and how much you owe. Borrowers who carry large balances in proportion to their credit limit may see their credit scores fall. And a lower credit score can make it difficult or more expensive to get new credit in the future.

      How can you reduce the risk that your credit limit will be cut or your credit card account will be canceled? One factor that credit card companies consider is how you pay your bills.

      "It's important to show a steady, timely payment history," said Evelyn Manley, a Senior Consumer Affairs Specialist at the FDIC.

      Paying all your credit-related bills by the due date -- that includes your credit card bills as well as your car loan, mortgage and other debts -- shows that you're a responsible borrower.

      Also, pay as much of your credit card bill as you can each month. If possible, pay in full, but definitely try to pay more than the minimum balance due.

      What should you do if you've already had your credit limit cut? Put a renewed focus on lowering the amount of money you owe on your credit cards.

      Also, consumers who have difficulty making their minimum payments on time may benefit from speaking with a reputable credit counselor to get help or guidance at little or no cost.

      3. Decide how you want to handle transactions that would put you over your credit limit.

      Under the new law, no fees may be imposed for making a purchase or other transaction that would put your account over the credit limit unless you explicitly agree, in advance, that the credit card company can process these transactions for you and charge a fee.

      "Even if you agree to over-the-limit fees, you have the right to change your mind down the road," said Luke W. Reynolds, Chief of the FDIC's Community Outreach Section. "You would simply instruct your card issuer to deny any transactions that would exceed your credit limit and would trigger a fee."

      In either case, he said, "you still should monitor how much you've charged on your card so you don't exceed the credit limit."

      4. Be cautious with "no-interest" offers.

      Many retailers, such as electronics or furniture stores, promote credit cards with "zero-percent interest" on purchases for a certain amount of time. These cards allow you to buy big-ticket items, perhaps a sofa or a stereo system, without paying interest for anywhere from six months to more than a year. While the chance to avoid interest payments sounds like a terrific deal, keep in mind that if you don't follow the rules for these offers, this "no-interest" special could end up being expensive.

      The reason is, with many of these offers, you must pay off the entire purchase by the time the promotional period ends to take advantage of the zero-rate offer. If you don't, the lender will charge you interest from the date you bought the item. You would then have to pay interest -- at the lender's standard rate -- from the date of purchase. And if the Annual Percentage Rate or APR on the retailer's card is higher than what you would pay on another card you have, the extra costs could really add up. The APR is the cost of credit expressed as a yearly rate, including interest and other charges.

      5. Keep only the credit cards you really need and then periodically use them all.

      Some consumers have too many credit cards. Among the concerns: Those extra cards can lead some people to overspend. Also, having many cards with no existing balance or a very low balance can reduce your credit score because prospective lenders can conclude that you have the potential to use them and get into debt.

      For the average person, two or three general-purpose cards are probably enough. Consider canceling and cutting up the rest. However, also remember that closing a credit card account can temporarily lower your credit score, especially if the cancelled card was one you owned and used responsibly for many years.

      With the credit cards you do keep, remember to avoid large balances on them in relation to the credit limit. And in the new environment, it also may be beneficial to periodically use all of your cards. Here's why. Even if you pay your card bill in full each month and never pay interest, using your card earns money for the card company because merchants pay a fee each time you use the card. So, consumers who regularly use their cards and repay their debt may be considered valued customers, even if they pay on time and don't pay interest. "Regular purchases promptly paid off may be enough to reduce the risk of a credit line reduction, inactivity fees and other penalties," said Susan Boenau, Chief of the FDIC's Consumer Affairs Section.

      6. Do your research before paying high annual fees for a "rewards" card.

      Rewards sound great in advertisements for credit cards, but the points formula can be complicated, the rules are subject to change, and the benefits may not be as generous as you think. You should always read the fine print and be realistic about your likely use of the card before you accept an expensive annual fee in return for rewards.

      7. Take additional precautions against interest rate increases.

      "Although the law puts new limits on interest rate increases, you need to remain vigilant," Manley said. For example, while card companies cannot increase the interest rate on existing balances except in certain circumstances, they may raise rates on extensions of credit for new purchases as long as proper notice is provided.

      "If you receive a notice that your interest rate is increasing," Manley said, "determine whether you have another way to make future purchases, such as by waiting until you have saved enough money for the purchase or by using a card with a lower interest rate."

      Rate increases also may come in another form. For example, some fixed-rate cards may be converted to variable-rate cards after a notice has been sent to cardholders. This would result in variable rates being applied to new balances.

      Also note that a credit card company can increase the rate on an existing balance if the consumer fails to send the minimum payment within 60 days of the due date. So, it's very important to avoid being more than 60 days late on a credit card. If you miss a due date, you can avoid a "penalty" interest rate on that existing balance by getting your payment in within 60 days.

      And if you're more than 60 days late and that does trigger a rate increase, get current on your credit card payments as soon as possible and then start consistently paying on time. Card issuers are required to reduce the penalty rate if they receive prompt payments for six months.

      In general, what else can you do to get the best rates? Keep in mind that a credit score is built up over long periods, not just over one or two years, so make all your loan payments on time. Even if you have past blemishes, you can improve your credit score over time by managing your credit well. Be aware that if you can only afford to pay the minimum amount due, you probably won't get the best rates. But if you can pay more than the minimum each month -- as much more as possible -- that will work in your favor.

      Also, carefully read the terms of a new credit card before using it. If the card has a high interest rate or fees, shop around for a better offer.

      8. Parents of young adults have a new opportunity to teach responsible management of credit cards.

      The new law includes protections for young consumers, including a requirement that anyone under 21 who wants to obtain a credit card must have a qualified co-signer on the account or must prove he or she alone can repay any debt. This is intended to protect young people from getting overwhelmed by credit card debt. But it also offers an opportunity for parents to teach their kids about responsible use of credit cards.

      "Parents should have discussions with their children about how credit cards should be used and repaid," said Reynolds. "They may even want to make sure their kids have taken a financial education course before they have access to a credit card."

      If you're considering co-signing for a credit card with a young adult, it's best to have an understanding that you will get early notice of any troubles, including late payments, so you can keep on top of the credit card and work out problems with the lender before your own credit record is damaged.

      "One way or another," Reynolds added, "parents should make clear their expectation to their child -- the cardholder -- that the child will pay the credit card bill on time, and that the child keeps this fact in mind when using the card."

      And what if, despite your best planning, your child (or any other co-signer for a credit card or loan) can't or won't make the payments? As a co-signer, you are obligated to pay the debt to the lender, and not doing so can damage your own credit score.

      Here are eight ways to avoid potential pitfalls in the new world of credit cards....

      Six Signs the Debt Settlement Pitch Is A Scam

      Look for red flags that tell you you're being taken for a ride

      By Mark Huffman

      May 26, 2010
      Consumer debt, including credit card debt, is at an all time high, and that has led to an explosion of questionable "debt settlement" companies that claim they can almost magically solve your debt problems. All you have to do is pay a hefty fee, in advance.

      If only it were that easy. For people drowning in debt, the siren song from the debt settlement marketer can sound enticing. Desperation leads many consumers to reach out to these companies, only to find they are left in even worse financial shape.

      If you are overwhelmed by debt, you probably should talk with someone for advice -- but not someone who is trying to sell you an expensive service. To help you weed out the scammers from those who may actually be able to help, here are six signs that the debt settlement company is a scam.

      1. They claim they will contact your creditors and settle you accounts for "pennies on the dollar"

      How do they do that -- wave a magic wand? Why is your credit card company, for example, going to happily agree to accept taking a loss on your account. They probably won't, until they have exhausted all their options.

      2. They claim to "Guarantee 100 percent success"

      Think about that one for a minute. Does any enterprise ever achieve 100 percent success at anything? To believe that, you would have to believe that the debt settlement company has a magic formula.

      3. They tout a "new government program" to bail out credit card debtors

      By now everyone has heard all about the various "bail outs" and many people have obviously wondered why they aren't getting bailed out. Debt settlement companies want you to believe that the government -- President Obama in particular -- has come up with a program to provide money just for you.

      4. They promise they can stop all debt collection calls or lawsuits

      Consumers being harassed by bill collectors find this pitch almost irresistible. Unfortunately, no one can stop a legitimate debt collector from contacting you about a legitimate debt, as long as they follow the rules. If you think a debt collector is being abusive, you should contact your state attorney general, not a debt settlement company.

      5. They charge you a full fee, in advance

      Scammers like to get paid in advance. In fact, they insist on it. They want to have received all your money before you figure out you've been scammed. Many states have recently passed laws prohibiting advance fees for debt settlement services. Whether your state has or not, its never a good idea to pay in full in advance.

      6. They tell you not to contact creditors

      A scammer will tell you not to talk to your creditors because they don't want you to get correct information. As long as they can keep you in the dark, they can keep extracting fees. In fact, if you are in over your head, you should talk to your creditors about your situation and express a willingness to set up a payment plan.

      To deal with your debt you have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is usually with a budget. Work out a realistic plan to make ends meet, putting money aside to work down your debt.

      If you need someone to talk to, a credit-counseling agency can advise you on managing your money and making a budget, and usually can offer free education materials. Find a credit counselor through a college or university. Or contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling , a 50-year old organization that carefully screens member firms.

      Six Signs the Debt Settlement Pitch Is A Scam...

      U.S. Identifies Chinese Manufacturers of Problem Drywall

      Urges Chinese manufacturers to 'examine their responsibilities' to affected families

      By Truman Lewis

      May 25, 2010

      The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has released a list of drywall manufacturers whose drywall emitted high levels of hydrogen sulfide in testing conducted for the agency. Of the samples tested, the top ten reactive sulfur-emitting drywall samples were all produced in China.

      Some of the Chinese drywall had emission rates of hydrogen sulfide 100 times greater than non-Chinese drywall samples, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which conducted the tests for the CPSC. There is a strong association between hydrogen sulfide and metal corrosion, blamed for damage to plumbing, heating and other essential elements in homes where the defective drywall was used.

      "Homeowners who have problem drywall in their homes are suffering greatly", said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "I appeal to these Chinese drywall companies to carefully examine their responsibilities to U.S. families who have been harmed and do what is fair and just".

      The defective drywall emits an egg-like sulfur smell, corrodes metal fixtures, and besides causing corrosion can contribute to health problems ranging from wheezing to asthma and even pneumonia.

      The following list identifies the top 10 drywall samples tested that had the highest emissions of hydrogen sulfide, along with the identity of the manufacturer of the drywall and the year of manufacture, from highest to lowest.

      • Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Co. Ltd.: (year of manufacture 2005) China
      • Taian Taishan Plasterboard Co. Ltd.: (2006) China
      • Shandong Taihe Dongxin Co.: (2005) China
      • Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Co. Ltd.: (2006) China
      • Taian Taishan Plasterboard Co. Ltd.: (2006) China
      • Taian Taishan Plasterboard Co. Ltd.: (2006) China
      • Shandong Chenxiang GBM Co. Ltd. (C&K Gypsum Board): (2006) China
      • Beijing New Building Materials (BNBM): (2009) China
      • Taian Taishan Plasterboard Co. Ltd.: (2009) China
      • Shandong Taihe Dongxin Co.: (2009) China

      Other Chinese drywall samples had low or no detectable emissions of hydrogen sulfide as did tested samples that were manufactured domestically.

      U.S. and Chinese officials met in Beijing in May to discuss the problem. The U.S. delegation pressed the Chinese government to arrange a meeting between CPSC and the Chinese drywall companies identified as producing defective drywall.

      Last month, CPSC released the results of drywall emissions tests conducted by the Berkeley Labs. They showed showed a connection between certain Chinese drywall and corrosion in homes. In addition, the patterns of reactive sulfur compounds emitted from drywall samples show a clear distinction between certain Chinese drywall samples manufactured in 2005/2006 and other Chinese and non-Chinese drywall samples.

      Earlier this year, CPSC and HUD issued an identification protocol to help consumers identify problem drywall in their homes. Last month, CPSC and HUD issued remediation guidance to assist impacted homeowners.

      Also last month, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana awarded seven Plaintiffs $2,609,129.99 for damage to their homes in connection with the use of Chinese drywall. The suit was brought against Chinese manufacturer Taishan Gypsum Co., Ltd.

      Attorneys for the plaintiffs said the ruling found that Chinese drywall from Taishan was different than domestic drywall because it had significantly higher average concentrations of strontium and detectable levels of elemental sulfur.

      Most of the homes affected by the defective drywall are in the Southeast. In many cases, the affected homes were built or remodeled in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

      Some drywall OK

      Chinese drywall samples and domestically-produced brands that showed little or not hydrogen sulfide emission in the Lawrence Berkeley tests included:

      • Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin: (2009) China;
      • Tiger ShiGao JianCailiangpianzhuang: (2006) China;
      • USG Corporation: (2009) U.S.;
      • Guangdong Knauf New Building Material Products Co. Ltd.: (2009) China;
      • Knauf Plasterboard (Wuhu) Co. Ltd.: (2009) China;
      • CertainTeed Corp.: (2009) U.S.;
      • Georgia Pacific Corp.: (2009) U.S.;
      • Dragon Brand, Beijing New Building Materials Co. Ltd.: (2006) China;
      • CertainTeed Corp.: (2009) U.S.;
      • Pingyi Baier Building Materials Co. Ltd.: (2009) China;
      • Panel Rey S.A.: (2009) Mexico;
      • Lafarge North America: (2009) U.S.;
      • National Gypsum Company: (2009) U.S.;
      • National Gypsum Company: (2009) U.S.;
      • Georgia Pacific Corp.: (2009) U.S.;
      • Pabco Gypsum: (2009) U.S.; Temple-Inland Inc.: (2009) U.S.; and
      • USG Corporation: (2009) U.S.

      The complete test results are available online.

      U.S. Identifies Chinese Manufacturers of Problem Drywall...

      iPhone the 'Worst Phone Ever?'

      Website amassing data for dropped call class action suit

      A new website is setting the stage for a class action lawsuit regarding the Apple iPhone's apparent propensity to drop calls. The site lets iPhone users upload their internal phone data, including the number of calls that their respective phones have dropped. The site administrators plan to aggregate the data and file a lawsuit on behalf of everyone who has used the site.

      The website calls the iPhone "the best portable computer ever made, while at the same time being the worst phone ever because it drops calls all the time," and urges users to "run Apple and AT&T; through the ringer."

      The site's administrators, Cory Forsyth and Dan Albritton, know firsthand the frustration that goes with a phone that constantly drops calls. According to the website, the pair "make[s] games that people play with cell phones, and every time that a client of ours does a demo with an iPhone that drops, or a player out in the world has the same thing happen, it diminishes the coolness of what we do."

      Additionally, Forsyth and Albritton report that their "office is in Times Square, NYC, and our iPhones are completely useless there. It drives us bananas every day, and we're offended that AT&T; is going to try to charge for their femtocell service."

      Widespread dissatisfaction

      The site provides a potential outlet for AT&T; wireless users fed up with the network's ability -- or lack thereof -- to carry calls. A March survey conducted by research outfit ChangeWave found that AT&T; drops 4.5 percent of all calls, far more than any of its rivals: Sprint drops 2.4 percent, T-Mobile 2.8 percent, and Verizon only 1.5 percent.

      The survey also found that only 23 percent of AT&T; users count themselves "very satisfied" with their cellular service, compared with 35 percent of Sprint customers and 49 percent of Verizon customers.

      The survey further reported that "while Verizon has its all-time best dropped call rating in the current ChangeWave survey, AT&T; has just reached its all time worst rating on this all important measure." Indeed, a similar survey conducted in September 2008 found AT&T; and Verizon less than a point apart, with AT&T; dropping 3.6 percent of calls and Verizon 2.7 percent.

      Ironically, though, the iPhone itself is preventing AT&T; users from jumping ship, at least for now. The ChangeWave survey reported that, despite AT&T;'s abysmal ratings, only eight percent of its customers plan to switch providers. That number is nearly identical to Verizon's seven percent, and considerably lower than Sprint's 10 percent and T-Mobile's 14 percent.

      According to the survey, "AT&T;'s low churn attributable to the huge advantage it continues to maintain as the exclusive U.S. service provider for the Apple iPhone."

      Whether AT&T; will be able to maintain its customer base in the long term is an open question. The network still boasts the fastest 3G network, according to a Gizdomo study , although T-Mobile is making gains in that area. More importantly, the carrier's exclusivity agreement with Apple is slated to end in 2012, meaning that other wireless companies will potentially be able to offer the iPhone on their own networks.

      The ChangeWave survey suggests this will be a vulnerability for AT&T.; In addition to the company's current status as the only iPhone provider, the survey found an "unprecedented level of pent up demand for the iPhone among Verizon subscribers." Fifty-three percent of Verizon users said they would buy a Verizon iPhone, with 19 percent describing themselves as "very likely" to do so.

      "If Verizon were ever to offer the iPhone, the evidence points to it having a profound and likely transformational impact on the industry," according to the survey.

      In the meantime, frustrated iPhone users can let off some steam at WorstPhoneEver. While sharing cell phone data raises obvious privacy concerns, Forsyth and Albritton say that "there is no personal or uniquely identifying information in the files," although they do warn that "whatever data you give us is no longer entirely 'yours' anymore."

      iPhone the 'Worst Phone Ever?'...

      Dermatologists Say People Uninformed About Tanning Risks

      Survey exposes a number of myths about exposure to the sun

      The expression "tan and rested" is supposed to suggest someone in peak health, but dermatologists beg to differ. There is nothing healthy, says the American Academy of Dermatology, about a deep suntan.

      The "Suntelligence: How Sun Smart is Your City?" online survey polled more than 7,000 adults nationwide to determine their knowledge, attitudes and behaviors toward tanning, sun protection and skin cancer detection. Twenty-six cities were ranked based on respondents' answers to several questions in each category.

      "Our survey showed that despite our repeated warnings about the dangers of UV exposure and the importance of proper sun protection, many people could not correctly answer true/false statements on the subject," said dermatologist Zoe D. Draelos, MD, FAAD, consulting professor at Duke University School of Medicine. "Identifying what areas people need to improve their understanding of tanning and sun protection allows dermatologists to concentrate our educational efforts in these areas to increase knowledge, which could eventually help reduce the incidence of skin cancer in future generations."

      The academy said its survey uncovered a series of "myths" about tanning. For example, the survey found that two thirds of respondents incorrectly believe that some types of ultraviolet rays are safe for your skin. In reality, the academy says, sunlight consists of two types of harmful rays: ultraviolet A (UVA) rays and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.

      Exposing tanning 'myths'

      UVA rays, which pass through window glass, penetrate deeper into the thickest layer of the skin known as the dermis. UVA rays can cause suppression of the immune system, which interferes with the immune system's ability to protect a person against the development and spread of skin cancer.

      UVB rays are the sun's burning rays, which are blocked by window glass, and are the primary cause of sunburn.

      "Quite simply, all forms of UV exposure, whether from natural sunlight or artificial light sources found in tanning beds, are unsafe and are the No. 1 preventable risk factor for skin cancer," Draelos said.

      The survey found that 52 percent of people responding to the survey believe getting a base tan is a healthy way to protect skin from sun damage. Not so, says the academy.

      A tan is a sign of damage to the skin from UV radiation. Every time a person tans, the skin becomes damaged and this damage accumulates over time. This accumulated damage, in addition to accelerating the aging process, also increases a person's risk for all types of skin cancer.

      "A base does very little to protect your skin, and since tanning damages the skin, getting a base tan could do more harm than good." said Dr. Draelos. "The only way to prevent sunburn is to protect your skin through using sunscreen, wearing protective clothing and seeking shade."

      Not smarter

      When it comes to tanning beds, 37 percent said it was a smarter way to get a tan. In fact,the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency of Research on Cancer panel has declared UV radiation from the sun and artificial light sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known carcinogen.

      Indoor tanning equipment, which includes all artificial light sources, emits UVA and UVB radiation. It has been shown that the amount of the radiation produced during indoor tanning is similar to the sun, and in some cases might be stronger, the academy says.

      "Despite claims by those in the tanning industry that UVA rays used in indoor tanning are safer because they do not cause sunburn, scientific evidence proves that this claim is untrue," said Draelos. "UVA rays cause deeper skin damage and are linked to melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. In fact, studies show that melanoma is increasing faster in females 15-29 years old than males in the same age group. And in females 15-29, the torso is the most common location for developing melanoma, which we suspect is due to high-risk tanning behaviors -- including indoor tanning."

      Contrary to popular belief, UVB protection from the sun's burning rays, provided by commercial sun screens, does not actually increase proportionately with a designated SPF number. For example, an SPF of 30 screens 97 percent of UVB rays, whereas an SPF of 15 screens 93 percent of UVB rays, and an SPF of 2 screens 50 percent of UVB rays.

      Draelos also notes that inadequate application of sunscreen may result in a lower SPF than the product contains.

      "Regardless of the SPF you use, wearing sunscreen should not provide a false sense of security about protection from UVB exposure," Draelos said. "No sunscreen can provide 100 percent UVB protection, but using a higher SPF provides greater UVB protection than a lower SPF. It's important to remember sunscreen must be reapplied regularly and be part of an overall sun-protection plan that includes hats, sunglasses, protective clothing and seeking shade."

      Dermatologists Say People Uninformed About Tanning Risks...

      FDA Issues Urgent Alfalfa Sprout Recall

      Recall linked to Salmonella outbreak in ten states

      Caldwell Fresh Foods of Maywood, Calif., is voluntarily recalling all of its alfalfa sprouts marketed under the Caldwell Fresh Foods, Nature's Choice, and California Exotics brands. The firm's alfalfa sprouts have been linked to an outbreak of Salmonella Newport infections in consumers in ten states.

      Salmonella is a bacterium that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

      As of May 20 and since March 1, 2010, a total of 22 cases of Salmonella Newport infections have been confirmed in Arizona (1), California (11), Colorado (1), Idaho (1), Illinois (1),Missouri (1), New Mexico (1), Nevada (2), Oregon (1), and Wisconsin (2). Six of the cases have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

      The sprouts were distributed to a variety of restaurants, delicatessens and retailers, including Trader Joe's and Wal-Mart stores. Consumers and restaurant and delicatessen operators should not purchase, eat or use raw sprouts from Caldwell Fresh Foods. The sprouts should be returned to the place of purchase for a refund and disposal.

      The recall affects raw alfalfa sprouts packaged and labeled as: Caldwell Fresh Foods alfalfa sprouts - 4-ounce plastic cups and one pound plastic bags and in 2-pound and 5-pound plastic bags in cardboard boxes with sticker affixed with the printed words "Caldwell Fresh Foods"; Nature's Choice alfalfa sprouts - 4-ounce plastic cups; California Exotics brands alfalfa sprouts - 5-ounce plastic clamshell containers. No other alfalfa sprouts are implicated in the outbreak.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it is investigating the outbreak in cooperation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the California Department of Public Health, and public health agencies in other affected states. FDA, with the California Department of Public Health, is inspecting the firm's facility and collecting samples. Caldwell Fresh Foods is cooperating in the investigation and has recalled all of its alfalfa sprouts from commerce.

      FDA Issues Urgent Alfalfa Sprout Recall...