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    Consumer Advocates Jubilant as House, Senate Reach Agreement on Financial Reform

    Obama calls it 'toughest financial reform since the Great Depression'

    By Truman Lewis

    June 25, 2010
    After months of jaw-boning, horse-trading and hushed conversations in smoke-free steakhouses, House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on financial reform legislation that consumer advocates are calling a big win for consumers. Banking industry lobbyists are calling it something else.

    The 2,000-page legislation, which the Consumer Federation of America called a "major achievement," would establish a new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, an independent regulator that would be housed within the Federal Reserve. Its job would be to monitor mortgages, credit cards, payday loans and other personal finance products that are now regulated by a far-flung web of government agencies that don't always confer face to face, much less see eye to eye.

    President Obama called the measure "the toughest financial reform since the ones we created in the aftermath of the Great Depression" and said the measure "represents 90 percent of what I proposed when I took up this fight."

    But while consumer leaders say the new agency will be more efficient and more effective than the existing hodge-podge, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce thinks otherwise.

    "It is a reform bill that, ironically, lacks effective reform," said Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue. "Rather than addressing the core causes of the financial crisis, this bill adds new regulatory agencies to an already antiquated system and grows a bloated, ineffective bureaucracy.

    "It exacerbates uncertainties for Main Street and Americas job creators, and consumers will pay the ultimate price in higher fees, less choice, and fewer opportunities to responsibly access credit," Donohue said.

    What it does

    Besides creating the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection -- will it be called BOCFIP, do you think? -- the House-Senate version would provide:

    Free credit scores You would have a right to see your credit score if you were turned down for a loan or were offered an interest rate you thought was excessive. Currently, you can see your credit report but not your score.

    Tighter mortgage standards Standardized federal rules would replace widely -- sometimes wildly -- varying state regulations. Among the provisions: homeowners would not be hit with pre-payment penalties for paying off mortgages early.

    Debit card fees Score one for store owners, who would be allowed for the first time to set minimums for credit card purchases. The Fed would also be permitted to ride herd on MasterCard, Visa and other big card issuers to ensure they are charging "reasonable and propotional" fees to merchants.

    Slightly tighter auto financing rules Politically powerful car dealers managed to get themselves removed from oversight by BOCFIP but, as what you might call a trade-in allowance, the Federal Trade Commission will be authorized to develop rules to protect car buyers from predatory financing.

    Wall Street reined in The legislation contains some very complex, intricate and even confusing provisions that are portrayed as heading off future finiancial collapses. Trial lawyers are ecstatic that investors will be able to sue Moody's, Standard and Poor's and other business rating agencies when things go sour. CEO pay will be scrutinized and derivatives will be traded publicly. This doesn't affect consumers directly but, as we all learned the hard way the past few years, when Wall Street gets the flu, the rest of us get pneumonia.

    'Toughest in our history'

    Taking on the skeptics, President Obama said the the package amounted to "the toughest consumer financial protections in our history, while creating an independent agency to enforce them.

    "Now there will be one agency whose sole job will be to look out for you," he said at a White House briefing today. "Credit card companies will no longer be able to mislead you with pages and pages of fine print. You will no longer be subject to all kinds of hidden fees and penalties, or the predatory practices of unscrupulous lenders."

    Consumer leaders, who had feared lobbyists would ride roughshod over the bill's tougher provisions, were generous in their parise.

    This bill marks the biggest transformation of financial regulation in this country since the Great Depression, said Consumer Federation of America Legislative Director Travis Plunkett.

    Its high time that consumers have a cop on the beat to rein in abusive and deceptive financial products and services. The bill sets up an autonomous consumer bureau with independent funding, which are key elements for an effective regulator, Plunkett said.

    U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski said that Congress had "rejected the self-serving efforts of some two thousand Wall Street lobbyists who spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 18 months to weaken reforms targeting the practices that sparked the financial mess they caused for consumers and taxpayers.

    Without a doubt, the centerpiece of reform is the establishment of the new, independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with only one job: protecting consumers who buy financial products at banks and non-bank lenders, from mortgage companies to payday lenders. While the bureau will not regulate predatory car dealer practices, a last minute compromise gives the Federal Trade Commission new authority over car dealers who initiate loans," Mierzwinski said.

    Financial advisers, who will be only slightly more tightly regulated under the legislation, were guarded in their comments.

    I'm not sure it does anything to address how the last crisis happened and to prevent another one from happening, said J. Preston Byers, an adviser with ClearBridge Wealth Management, quoted by industry newsletter InvestmentNews. To me, it was a rushed bill and the administration needed a win.

    Consumer Advocates Jubilant as House, Senate Reach Agreement on Financial Reform...
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    Evenflo Recalls Drop-Side Cribs

    Evenflo is recalling about 750,000 Jenny Lind drop-side cribs because they pose an entrapment and strangulation hazard to infants.

    The cribs drop sides can malfunction, detach or otherwise fail, causing part of the drop side to fall out of position, creating a space into which an infant or toddler can roll and become wedged or entrapped, which can lead to strangulation or suffocation. A child can also fall out of the crib. Drop-side incidents can also occur due to incorrect assembly and with age-related wear and tear.

    Incidents/Injuries: CPSC and Evenflo have received 31 reports of drop sides that malfunctioned or detached. One involved the entrapment of a seven month old boy between the drop side and the crib mattress. He sustained bumps and bruises to his head. Nine children fell out of the crib when the drop side detached, unlocked or fell off. Seven of those children sustained minor injuries, including bumps, bruises and cuts. Fourteen other incidents involved no injuries.

    In addition, CPSC has received two reports of children who became entrapped when the mattress support detached in one corner of cribs manufactured between 2000 and 2004.

    The following Evenflo crib models are included in this recall. The model number is located on a label on the bottom beam of the headboard.

    012614Evenflo Jenny Lind Crib, Maple
    0126141Evenflo Jenny Lind Crib, Maple
    012615Evenflo Jenny Lind Crib, White
    012616Evenflo Jenny Lind Crib, Oak
    012617Evenflo Jenny Lind Crib, Natural
    014614Evenflo Jenny Lind Convertible Crib, Maple
    014615Evenflo Jenny Lind Convertible Crib, White
    014616Evenflo Jenny Lind Convertible Crib, Oak
    014617Evenflo Jenny Lind Convertible Crib, Natural
    0151614Evenflo Jenny Lind Hidden Hardware Crib, Maple
    0151615Evenflo Jenny Lind Hidden Hardware Crib, White
    0151616Evenflo Jenny Lind Hidden Hardware Crib, Oak
    0151617Evenflo Jenny Lind Hidden Hardware Crib, Natural
    0161614Evenflo Jenny Lind Hidden Hardware Crib, Maple
    0161615Evenflo Jenny Lind Hidden Hardware Crib, White
    0161617Evenflo Jenny Lind Hidden Hardware Crib, Natural

    The cribs, made in Mexico and China, were sold at childrens product stores and various other retailers nationwide from January 2000 through November 2007 for about $200.

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled drop-side cribs and contact Evenflo to receive a free repair kit that will immobilize the drop side. A repair kit for the mattress support system is also available for cribs with model numbers starting with 012 and 014 that were manufactured between 2000 and 2004. In the meantime, find an alternate, safe sleep environment for the child, such as a bassinet, play yard or toddler bed depending on the childs age. The repair kits will be provided to consumers within the next several weeks.

    For additional information, contact Evenflo at (800) 356-2229 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or visit the firms web site at http://safety.evenflo.com

    Cautionary note

    Federal safety regulators remind parents not to use any crib with missing, broken, or loose parts. Make sure to tighten hardware from time to time to keep the crib sturdy. When using a drop-side crib, parents should check to make sure the drop side or any other moving part operates smoothly. Always check all sides and corners of the crib for disengagement. Disengagements can create a gap and entrap a child.

    In addition, parents should not try to repair any side of the crib. Babies have died in cribs where repairs were attempted by caregivers. Age is a factor in the safety of any crib. At a minimum, CPSC staff recommends that you not use a crib that is older than 10 years. Many older cribs may not meet current voluntary standards and can have numerous safety problems.

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

    Evenflo Recalls Drop-Side Cribs...
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    Scores of Paxil Birth Defects Cases Settled

    Terms of agreements kept confidential

    By Jon Hood

    June 24, 2010
    The manufacturer of Paxil has agreed to settlements in nearly 200 individual cases claiming that the antidepressant caused birth defects.

    Most of the cases allege that babies born to mothers taking Paxil suffered from heart defects. The leading case, brought on behalf of Lyam Kilker, contended that he was born with no fewer than three cardiac defects, including a hole between the two chambers of his heart that disrupted the aorta.

    That case is so far the only one to have gone to trial. Last October, a Philadelphia jury awarded Kilker's family $2.5 million in compensatory damages. At trial, the plaintiffs said that animal testing suggested to manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) that the drug might cause problems, but that the company failed to follow up sufficiently with additional tests.

    Cover-up indicated

    Even worse, a company memo introduced into evidence talked about covering up any test results that showed a potential danger. "If neg, results can bury," read the memo by GSK executive Bonnie Rossello in 1997, before any tests were conducted.

    GSK stood firm in its position after the verdict was handed down.

    "While we sympathize with Lyam Kilker and his family, the scientific evidence does not establish that exposure to Paxil during pregnancy caused his condition," the company said in a statement.

    Still, the writing was on the wall, at least judging by the company's decision to settle scores of cases less than a year later. The fact that the Kilker jury deliberated for only seven hours before announcing the verdict could not have been comforting for the company either.

    On the defensive

    The nature of the cases put GSK at a distinct disadvantage as well.

    "When you're dealing with children with birth defects that's a concern for any company," attorney Jamie Sheller told Law.com.

    In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned doctors about a study showing that babies born to women who took Paxil during the first trimester of pregnancy had a higher rate of major birth defects. The study, which involved 3,500 pregnant women, showed that those on Paxil were twice as likely to have a child with defects than women on other antidepressants.

    In the wake of the study, the FDA put out a statement warning that "[h]ealthcare professionals are advised to carefully weigh the potential risks and benefits of using [Paxil] in women during pregnancy and to discuss these findings as well as treatment alternatives with their patients."

    The terms of the settlements are to remain confidential. At least 600 cases have been filed alleging that Paxil is responsible for congenital birth defects, and an attorney for the plaintiffs said that up to 100 other cases have already settled. GSK has also paid approximately $1 billion in settlements of Paxil-related cases not involving birth defects.

    Paxil, which was introduced in 1992, generates nearly $3 billion in annual sales. The drug is used to treat a wide variety of psychological maladies, including depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

    GSK the manufacturer of Paxil has agreed to settlements in nearly 200 individual cases claiming that the antidepressant caused birth defects....
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      CPSC Recalls 2 Million More Cribs

      More than 9 million dangerous cribs recalled since 2005

      After high-profile recalls of drop-side cribs that can suffocate infants, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has expanded its recall to include two million cribs made by seven companies.

      The beds included in the recall were made by Child Craft, Delta Enterprises Corp., Evenflo, Jardine Enterprises, LaJobi, More on this recall and Simmons Juvenile Products Inc.

      Some, but not all, are the drop-side cribs, which pose a danger to infants who become trapped in the gap between the mattress and the side of the crib. Included in this latest recall is the Child Craft brand "Crib 'N' Double Bed" full size stationary-side crib with dowel.

      The crib's stationary side can be assembled upside-down but still appears to be assembled correctly. If assembled upside-down, the crib side contains a hazardous five-inch gap at the top of the crib. Infants or toddlers can become entrapped in this gap, which can lead to entrapment, strangulation or other injuries.

      CPSC has received four reports of children becoming entrapped between the dowel and the crib's stationary front side. In two of those reports, the child was trapped by his/her head and was in danger of being strangled. In the other two reports, the child was trapped by his/her arm. This hazard can occur on both the front and back sides of the crib, the agency said.

      Listed below are cribs included in the latest recall.

      747,000 Delta drop-side cribs

      Improper installation can cause the mattress platform to collapse.

      This recall involves Delta drop-side cribs with three different types of drop-side hardware and Delta cribs with wooden stabilizer bars that support the mattress platform.

      • Delta Enterprises Corp.

      750,000 Jenny Lind drop-side cribs distributed by Evenflo

      CPSC and Evenflo have received 31 reports of drop sides that malfunctioned or detached. One involved the entrapment of a seven-month-old boy between the drop side and the crib mattress. He sustained bumps and bruises to his head. Nine children fell out of the crib when the drop side detached, unlocked or fell off. Seven of those children sustained minor injuries, including bumps, bruises and cuts. Fourteen other incidents involved no injuries. In addition, CPSC has received two reports of children who became entrapped when the mattress support detached in one corner of cribs manufactured between 2000 and 2004.

      306,000 Bonavita, Babi Italia and ISSI drop-side cribs manufactured by LaJobi

      This recall involves all models of Bonavita, Babi Italia and ISSI drop-side cribs manufactured by LaJobi. The cribs have drop-side hardware that contains metal or plastic pegs that are recessed into either the drop side or the headboard and footboard of the crib. A label on the headboard of the crib identifies the manufacturer as LaJobi.

      • LaJobi

      130,000 Jardine drop-side cribs imported by Toys R Us

      The cribs' drop sides can malfunction, detach or otherwise fail, causing part of the drop side to fall out of position, creating a space into which an infant or toddler can roll and become wedged or entrapped, which can lead to strangulation or suffocation.

      • Jardine Enterprises

      156,000 Million Dollar Baby drop-side cribs

      CPSC and Million Dollar Baby have received 43 reports of drop side failures. There were eight reports of children being entrapped between the mattress and drop side resulting in three reports of bruises to the head or upper body. Additionally, three children fell out of the crib when the drop side failed but they were not injured.

      • More on this recall

      50,000 Simmons drop-side cribs

      The cribs' drop sides can malfunction, detach or otherwise fail, causing part of the drop side to fall out of position, creating a space into which an infant or toddler can roll and become wedged or entrapped, which can lead to strangulation or suffocation. A child can also fall out of the crib. Drop-side incidents can also occur due to incorrect assembly and with age-related wear and tear. Style numbers are printed on a permanent label on the headboard.

      • Simmons Juvenile Products Inc.

      In the last five years more than nine million cribs have been recalled because of a potential hazard to children. Drop-side cribs are blamed for the deaths of 32 children since 2000, CPSC said.

      CPSC Recalls 2 Million More Cribs...
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      Pro-Pet Dog Vitamins Recalled After Salmonella Scare

      Bacterium can also affect humans who handle infected products

      By Lisa Wade McCormick

      June 23, 2010
      A salmonella scare has prompted an Ohio company to recall some of its vitamins for dogs.

      United Pet Group of Cincinnati is pulling all unexpired lots of its Pro-Pet Adult Daily vitamin supplement tablets for dogs because of the possible contamination.

      The company took this action out of an abundance of caution after one lot of the product tested positive for salmonella, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning.

      The recalled vitamins -- sold in retail stores nationwide -- come in 100-count white plastic bottles with a light blue label and have a UPC of 26851-01800. All bottles with expiration dates on or before 06/13 are included in this action.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said salmonella can affect pets and humans who handle products contaminated with the bacterium.

      Pets with salmonella infections may become lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting, the FDA said. Some pets will only experience decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain.

      Infected -- but otherwise healthy pets -- can still spread the bacterium to other animals or humans, according to the FDA. Consumers with pets that consumed the recalled vitamins and have these symptoms should contact their veterinarians.

      The FDA warned that people who handle dry pet food or treats tainted with salmonella can also become infected. The risk is greater for those who have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the contaminated products or any surfaces exposed to them.

      Symptoms of salmonella poisoning in humans include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and fever. In rare cases, salmonella can cause arterial infections, arthritis, and other serious health problems, the FDA said. Anyone who experiences these symptoms after handling a salmonella-tainted pet product should contact their physician.

      United Pet Group said consumers should immediately stop giving their dogs the recalled vitamins. For more information about this action, pet owners can contact the company at 1-800-645-5154, extension 3.

      Pro-Pet Dog Vitamins Recalled After Salmonella Scare...
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      Survey Shows Smokers Still Believe In 'Light' Cigarettes

      New rules bans 'light' and 'mild' from cigarette marketing

      June 23, 2010
      New rules took effect this week barring cigarette companies from using words like "light, "low," or "mild" to describe their products. But research shows smokers still want to believe that some cigarettes are safer than others.

      A survey sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Consumer Healthcare shows many smokers will choose the cigarettes in lighter-colored packaging because they incorrectly believe these cigarettes would be less harmful to their health or make it easier to quit smoking.

      The survey shows more than one-third of smokers misunderstand the health impact of "light" or "mild" cigarettes. Almost half of smokers surveyed -- 44 percent -- say they typically smoke "light" or "ultra light" cigarettes, with one-quarter of these smokers saying they do so because they mistakenly believe "light" cigarettes are less harmful and/or easier to quit than regular cigarettes.

      Label changes

      Sixty-eight percent of smokers also say the changes prohibiting the words "light" or "mild" will not make it difficult for them to identify their preferred type of cigarettes. Eighty-seven percent say even without the words on the label, they will be able to identify what would constitute "light" cigarettes by the color and design of the packaging.

      "Research has shown that many smokers choose light cigarettes because they believe these cigarettes may be less harmful to their health, and even make it easier to quit smoking," said Saul Shiffman, Ph.D., professor in the departments of psychology and pharmaceutical science at the University of Pittsburgh and Senior Scientific Advisor at Pinney Associates, which provides consulting services to GlaxoSmithKline. "Repackaged light cigarettes with different colors are just as deadly as packs bearing the lights descriptor."

      Survey Shows Smokers Still Believe In 'Light' Cigarettes...
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      FBI Warns of 'Telephone Denial-of-Service' Attacks

      Criminals flood consumers' phone lines while raiding bank account

      June 22, 2010
      Imagine getting hundreds or thousands of calls on your home, business, or cell phone, tying up the lines. And when you answer, you hear anything from dead air to recorded messages, advertisements, or even phone sex menus.

      Its annoying, no doubt. But it could be more than that it could be a sign that youre being victimized by the latest scam making the rounds. This telephone denial-of-service attack could be the precursor to a crime targeting your bank accounts, the FBI warns.

      Denial-of-service attacks, by themselves, are nothing new computer hackers use them to take down websites by flooding them with large amounts of traffic.

      In a recent twist, criminals have transferred this activity to telephones, using automated dialing programs and multiple accounts to overwhelm the phone lines of unsuspecting citizens.

      Why are they doing it? Turns out the calls are simply a diversionary tactic: while the lines are tied up, the criminals masquerading as the victims themselves are raiding the victims bank accounts and online trading or other money management accounts.

      Here, in a nutshell, is how the whole thing works:

      Weeks or months before the phone calls start, a criminal uses social engineering tactics or malware to elicit personal information from a victim that this persons bank or financial institution would have like account numbers and passwords. Perhaps the victim responded to a bogus e-mail phishing for information, inadvertently gave out sensitive information during a phone call, or put too much personal information on social networking sites that are trolled by criminals.

      Using technology, the criminal ties up the victims various phone lines.

      Then, the criminal either contacts the financial institution pretending to be the victimor pilfers the victims online bank accounts using fraudulent transactions. Normally, the institution calls to verify the transactions, but of course they cant get through to the victim over the phone.

      If the transactions arent made, the criminals sometimes re-contact the financial institution as the victim and ask for it to be done. Or they add their own phone number to victims accounts and just wait for the bank to call.

      By the time the victim or the financial institution realizes what happens, its too late.

      While the lines are tied up, the criminals are raiding victims accounts.

      The FBI said it first learned about this emerging scheme through one of its private industry partners, which told how a Florida dentist lost $400,000 from his retirement account after a denial-of-service attack on his phones.

      And as of April of this year, the agency said there has been a noticeable surge in telephone denial-of-service attacks, with numerous incidents having been reported in several Eastern states.

      To help fight these schemes, the FBI has teamed up with the Communication Fraud Control Association comprised of security professionals from communication providers to analyze the patterns and trends of telephone denial-of-service attacks, educate the public, and identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

      Ultimately, though, its individual consumers and small- and medium-sized businesses on the front line of this battle. So, the FBI advises, take precautions: never give out personal information to an unsolicited phone caller or via e-mail; change online banking and automated telephone system passwords frequently; check your account balances often; and protect your computers with the latest virus protection and security software.

      And if you think you may have been targeted by a telephone denial-of-service attack, contact your financial institution and your telephone provider, and file a complaint with the FBIs Internet Crime Complaint Center.

      FBI Warns of 'Telephone Denial-of-Service' Attacks...
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      SEC Charges New York Firms With Mortgage Fraud

      Advisor accused of causing tens of millions in losses

      June 22, 2010
      The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged a New York-based investment adviser and three of his affiliated firms with fraudulently managing investment products tied to the mortgage markets as they came under pressure in 2007.

      The complaint follows last week's announcement by the Justice Department of 485 mortgage fraud-related arrests in Operation Stolen Dreams.

      The SEC alleges that, at the direction of its owner and president Thomas Priore, ICP Asset Management LLC defrauded four multi-billion-dollar collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) by engaging in fraudulent practices and misrepresentations that caused the CDOs to lose tens of millions of dollars. Priore and his companies also improperly obtained tens of millions of dollars in advisory fees and undisclosed profits at the expense of their clients and investors.

      "ICP and Priore repeatedly put themselves ahead of their clients," said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC's Enforcement Division. "Instead of acting as fiduciaries, they took advantage of a distressed market to line their own pockets."

      According to the SEC's complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, ICP began serving in 2006 as the collateral manager for what were known as the Triaxx CDOs, which invested primarily in mortgage-backed securities. ICP's affiliated broker-dealer ICP Securities LLC and its parent company Institutional Credit Partners LLC also are charged in the SEC's complaint.

      Inflated prices

      The SEC contends that ICP and Priore directed more than a billion dollars of trades for the Triaxx CDOs at what they knew were inflated prices. ICP and Priore repeatedly caused the Triaxx CDOs to overpay for securities in order to make money for ICP and protect other ICP clients from realizing losses. The prices for such trades often exceeded market prices by substantial margins. In some trades, ICP caused the CDOs to pay a price that was substantially higher than the price another ICP client paid for the security earlier the same day.

      "The CDOs were complex but the lesson is simple: collateral managers bear the same responsibilities to their clients as every other investment adviser. When they violate their clients' trust, we will hold them accountable, said " George S. Canellos, Director of the SEC's New York Regional Office.

      According to the SEC's complaint, ICP and Priore caused the CDOs to make numerous prohibited investments without obtaining necessary approvals, and they later misrepresented those investments to the trustee of the CDOs and to investors. The prices of many of these investments were intentionally inflated to allow ICP to collect millions of dollars in advisory fees from the CDOs.

      The SEC further alleges that ICP and Priore executed undisclosed cash transfers from a hedge fund they managed in order to allow another ICP client to meet the margin calls of one of its creditors. Priore subsequently misrepresented the transfers to the hedge fund's investors.

      SEC Charges New York Firms With Mortgage Fraud...
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      Warning: Scammers Using Bogus Online Rental Ads

      Would-be renters are enticed to send money to non-existent property owner

      June 22, 2010
      Phony rental ads continue to pop-up online with the sole purpose of stealing money from unsuspecting renters, warns Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.

      The scammers steal the details of the homes and even the pictures from the actual real estate listing, making the listings seem like the real thing, says Attorney General Hood. These ads are placed on Craigslist and other online classifieds for properties that are actually for sale, not rent.

      Prospective renters typically fall victim after responding to an online classified for a rental property. The scammer duplicates postings from legitimate real estate sites and re-posts these ads after altering them. Often, the scammers use the brokers real name to create a fake email, which gives the fraud more legitimacy.

      When the victim sends an email through the classified ad site inquiring about the home, a response comes from someone claiming to be the owner. The owner claims he and his wife are currently on missionary work in a foreign country. Therefore, he needs someone to rent their home while they are away. The victim is asked to send money to the owner in the foreign country via a wire service, which goes to the scammer and the victim loses the money.

      Hood advises consumers to be skeptical of any solicitation where:

      • The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers often lure victims by listing a rental for a very low price. Compare listings, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.

      • The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate via e-mail. Scammers might say they have just been relocated out of the country for a job or missionary work - dont believe it. Deal locally with people you can meet in person.

      • The landlord requires a substantial deposit before handing over the keys or even showing the home. Dont pay any money before inspecting the home, inside and out.

      • The landlord asks the renter to wire money through wire transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Money sent via wire transfer service is extremely difficult to retrieve and once the scammers have picked it up there is little chance of getting the money back.

      Anyone who suspects they have been a victim of this scam or any other, should contact their state's attorney general or local consumer affairs department. Suspected abuse posted on the Craigslist site may be reported to: abuse@craigslist.org.

      Warning: Scammers Using Bogus Online Rental Ads...
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      AG Focuses On Foreclosure Rescue Scams In Ohio

      Two businesses sued for deceiving consumers who hoped to save their homes

      June 22, 2010
      As part of a national mortgage fraud sweep dubbed "Operation Stolen Dreams," Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray has filed lawsuits against two Ohio foreclosure rescue businesses for failing to provide services for which consumers paid.

      JLS & Associates Financial Services LLC (JLS), based in Cleveland, and Freedom Equity Savings LLC (FES), located in the Columbus area, are accused of defrauding homeowners across the state out of thousands of dollars.

      "Both of these businesses targeted Ohioans throughout the state who were in dire need of foreclosure prevention help," said Cordray. "They promised services that were not delivered and in many cases consumers ended up worse off than they were before they dealt with these companies."

      Money for nothing

      JLS is accused of charging consumers more than $1,000 each in upfront fees with the promise to save their homes from foreclosure. In the end, the promised services were not provided and some consumers' homes ended up in foreclosure.

      The lawsuit charges JLS with several violations of Ohio's Consumer Sales Practices Act, including failure to deliver and unfair, deceptive and unconscionable acts or practices. The case, filed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, seeks civil penalties, injunctive relief and victim restitution.

      FES is registered to do business in Ohio as well as nine other states: Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas. The company utilizes a sophisticated-looking website and phone solicitations to attract consumers and charges up to $3,250 in fees.

      The lawsuit also alleges that upon contact, FES claims that it can arrange loan modifications for consumers that will result in a reduction of monthly payments. FES is charged with violations of the Consumer Sales Practices Act including: failure to deliver; making misleading statements of opinion; unfair, deceptive and unconscionable acts or practices and violations of Ohio's Debt Adjuster Act and Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Cordray is seeking civil penalties, injunctive relief and victim restitution.

      Other actions

      In addition to these two new cases, as part of "Operation Stolen Dreams" Cordray secured default judgments in the following three foreclosure rescue scam cases:

      • State of Ohio v. Foreclosure Assistance USA, Inc./American Foreclosure Professionals Inc., Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas

      • State of Ohio v. United Law Group Inc., Franklin County Court of Common Pleas

      • State of Ohio v. Foreclosure Home Assistance LLC d/b/a Global Home Rescuers, Artice Gordon and Wanda Sanchez-Gordon, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court

      All three default judgments required the businesses to stop operating in Ohio and to pay civil penalties and consumer restitution.

      Since January 2009, Cordray has filed lawsuits against 11 foreclosure rescue businesses operating in Ohio including those announced today and has issued more than 30 cease and desist notices. He has secured default judgments against five of those companies for $900,000 in civil penalties and restitution.

      Operation Stolen Dreams is a mortgage fraud sweep initiated by U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder as part of the United States Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

      AG Focuses On Foreclosure Rescue Scams In Ohio...
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      Natural Balance Pulls Sweet Potato, Chicken Dry Dog Food

      FDA finds salmonella bacterium during routine testing

      By Lisa Wade McCormick

      June 21, 2010
      Natural Balance has pulled some of its Sweet Potato & Chicken dry dog food off the market because of possible salmonella contamination.

      The California company took the action after a random sample analyzed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested positive for the bacterium that can cause food poisoning. That sample had a Best By date of June 17, 2011, the FDA said.

      The only products involved in this recall are the Natural Balance Sweet Potato & Chicken dry dog food in 5-pound and 28-pound bags with the "Best By" date of June 17, 2011, the company said. The UPC on the 5 pound bag is 7-23633-9000-4 and the UPC on the 28-pound bag is 7-23633-99002-8.

      Natural Balance said there are no reports of any illnesses linked to the recalled food, which was manufactured on December 17, 2009.

      Upon hearing from the FDA, I immediately went to our Director of Customer Service, a licensed Registered Veterinary Technician, to check call logs for any complaints with this product, the companys president, Joey Herrick, wrote in a June 18, 2010, letter posted on Natural Balances Web site. Our Customer Service department closely tracks and monitors complaints for any potential issues; and I heard no reports in our weekly meetings, so I was not surprised when I found we did not have a single complaint about this product.

      Herrick said he also hired an independent lab to test the companys retention sample from the recalled lot.

      Those test results also came back negative, he said, including a link to the findings by Zoologix. I reported our test results and call logs to the FDA, but due to the positive result they had found, they recommended a recall.

      The company distributed the recalled food in pet specialty stores in the following 26 states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

      Herrick said his company has strict testing protocols and he was surprised by the FDAs findings.

      "In my mind, I asked, How can this happen? I spent over $900,000 putting in our laboratory to test our products before we release them. We tested samples from the production run when it was manufactured six months ago, and the results came back negative.

      He added: I believe that we are the only pet food company that has built an in-house lab as an added check and gives you the test results in real time on our website. We hold the finished product in our warehouses for two to three days, until that testing is completed. We only release product to be shipped when the testing is negative.

      Not perfect

      Nonetheless, Herrick conceded there is no perfect testing protocol.

      But the alternative is not testing at all, he wrote. That wouldnt work for me. I wouldnt be able to sleep at night knowing we arent testing every product before it goes out, to help make sure our products are the best in the business. Any testing is much safer for you and your pets than the alternative, which is not testing at all.

      The FDA said salmonella can affect pets and humans who handle products contaminated with the bacterium. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning in humans includes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and fever. In rare cases, salmonella can cause arterial infections, arthritis, and other serious health problems, the FDA said. Anyone who experiences these symptoms after handling the recalled pet food should contact their physician.

      Pets with salmonella infections can be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting, the FDA said. Some pets may have decreased appetite, fever, and abdominal pain.

      The FDA warned that infected -- but otherwise healthy pets -- can still spread the bacterium to other animals or humans. Pet owners with dogs that ate the recalled food and exhibit these symptoms should contact their veterinarians, the FDA said.

      Natural Balance said pet owners can return any of the recalled food for a full refund. For more information, pet owners can contact Natural Balance at (800) 829-4493 or check the companys Web site.

      Natural Balance Pulls Sweet Potato, Chicken Dry Dog Food...
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      Consumers Warned To Avoid 'Sweepstakes' Letter

      Solicitation seeks fee for collecting winnings; consumers taken to the cleaners

      June 21, 2010
      Oregon Attorney General John Kroger is warning consumers not to respond to an unsolicited "sweepstakes" letter claiming that the recipient has "won" money and only needs to pay a small fee to obtain it.

      The state's Department of Justice (DOJ) Consumer Hotline has received calls inquiring about a letter from the "Data Release Division" based in Jericho, New York. The letter claims to be a "guaranteed sweepstakes award," notifying the recipient they have won $1.4 million.

      In reality, this letter is a deceptive solicitation than seeks money from unsuspecting consumers.

      The DOJ has sent a letter to the "Data Release Division" ordering the company to cease mailing this deceptive letter or face sanctions for violating Oregon's the Unlawful Trade Practices Act.

      Bogus sweepstakes and lottery offers are among the most common scams that seek to rip off consumers. In 2009, more than 1,000 Oregon residents reported losing in excess of $700,000 to sweepstakes, lottery and other scams.

      Kroger offers the following advice regarding unsolicited telephone calls, mail or e-mail claiming that the recipient won a sweepstakes or lottery:

      • Participating in a foreign lottery is illegal. Often these schemes are closely tied to organized crime.

      • Never pay-to-play in a sweepstakes.

      • Beware of fake organizations using similar names to more well-known groups in an attempt to trick consumers.

      • Government agencies do not sponsor sweepstakes.

      • Never wire money to receive a prize. Con artists frequently send victims fake checks as a "first down-payment" of their winnings, asking that a percentage be wired back under the misrepresentation that it will be used to "pay taxes" associated with the "winnings." These fake checks can sit in one's checking account for up to a week before ultimately bouncing.

      • Beware of requests for income, credit card ownership, or bank accounts as a condition of participating in the sweepstakes or lottery.

      • Do not participate in sweepstakes, or respond to advertisements, that resemble a check, bill, or invoice.

      Consumers Warned To Avoid 'Sweepstakes' Letter...
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      FDA Warns Consumers About Magic Power Coffee

      Coffee marketed as sexual enhancement product is dangerous, agency says

      An instant coffee marketed as a dietary supplement for sexual enhancement won't make you more attractive to the opposite sex and could be dangerous as well, warns the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

      The product is Magic Power Coffee, which contains an active drug ingredient that can dangerously lower blood pressure, the agency said.

      The FDA said consumers who have Magic Power Coffee should stop using it immediately. Sexual enhancement products that claim to work as well as prescription products are likely to expose consumers to unpredictable risks and the potential for injury or even death.

      In the case of Magic Power Coffee, the FDA said it collected and analyzed the product and determined that the product contains hydroxythiohomosildenafil. This is a chemical similar to sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra.

      Hydroxythiohomosildenafil, like sildenafil, may interact with prescription drugs known as nitrates, including nitroglycerin, and cause dangerously low blood pressure. Consumers and health care professionals should be aware of this problem and the health hazard it presents.

      When blood pressure drops suddenly, the brain is deprived of an adequate blood supply, which can lead to dizziness or lightheadedness.

      "Because this product is an instant coffee labeled as an 'all natural dietary supplement,' consumers may assume it is harmless and poses no health risk," said Deborah M. Autor, director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Office of Compliance. "In fact, Magic Power Coffee can cause serious harm." To date, the FDA is not aware of any adverse events associated with the use of this product.

      The product is distributed on Internet sites and online auctions by multiple independent distributors participating in an online multi-level marketing scheme. It is sold in a 2-serving box and a 12-serving carton containing six 2-serving boxes.

      The FDA advises consumers who have experienced any negative side effects from sexual enhancement products to consult a health care professional and to safely discard the product. Consumers and health care professionals should report adverse events to the FDA's MedWatch program at 800-FDA-1088 or online.

      During the past several years, the FDA has found many products marketed as dietary supplements for sexual enhancement that contain undeclared active ingredients of FDA-approved drugs, analogs of approved drugs or other compounds that do not qualify as "dietary ingredients."

      "The FDA is committed to protecting public health and stopping the illegal marketing of unapproved drugs," said Autor. "We support vigorous law enforcement and criminal prosecution of violators of safe drug laws.

      FDA Warns Consumers About Magic Power Coffee...
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      Banks Prepare for New Overdraft Rules

      Power shifts to consumers starting July 1

      By Mark Huffman

      June 21, 2010
      Starting July 1, new Federal Reserve rules will prevent banks from automatically charging overdraft fees when debit customers exceed their account balance.

      Currently, when a consumer goes into the red, banks automatically honor the purchase but tack on a hefty fee -- usually around $35. Starting next month, banks will not be able to enroll a consumer in this "courtesy" overdraft protection unless the consumer "opts in," specifically agreeing to the coverage.

      In addition, some banks have announced they will no longer charge an overdraft fee if a customer's credit card purchase puts them just a few dollars over the limit. Other institutions, like Bank of America, have already discontinued its courtesy overdraft protection, based on customer feedback.

      Banks, of course, are hoping many consumers will "opt in" for the continued overdraft coverage, since overdraft fees add up to billions of dollars in revenue for the industry. But as a consumer, you will now have the power to choose.

      What you should know

      Starting July 1, your bank must first get your permission to apply its standard overdraft practices to everyday debit card and ATM transactions before you can be charged overdraft fees. To grant this permission, you will need to respond to the notice and opt in.

      This is important because, if you take no action, you will not be granted the overdraft protection, but you will also not be charged overdraft fees. If you do not opt in, beginning August 15, 2010, your bank's standard overdraft practices won't apply to your everyday debit card and ATM transactions, according to the Fed. These transactions typically will be declined when you don't have enough money in your account, but you will not be charged overdraft fees.

      If you open a new account on or after July 1, 2010, your bank cannot charge you overdraft fees for everyday debit card and ATM transactions unless you opt in. If you open a new account before July 1, 2010, your bank will treat you as an existing account holder: you will receive a notice about your bank's standard overdraft practices and will have to decide if you want them for everyday debit card and ATM transactions.

      Whatever your decision, the new overdraft rules give you flexibility. If you opt in, you can cancel at any time. If you do not opt in, you can opt in later.

      It's important to remember that the new rules do not cover checks or automatic bill payments that you may have set up for paying bills such as your mortgage, rent, or utilities. Your bank may still automatically enroll you in its standard overdraft practices for these types of transactions. If you do not want your bank's standard overdraft practices in these instances, talk to your bank; you may or may not have the option to cancel.

      Banks Prepare for New Overdraft Rules...
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      Boomers: Don't Outlive Your Money

      7 ways to stretch your assets to match your longevity

      A few years ago, I took my mother, who was then in her early 80s, to a local senior center. We arrived early in time for socializing but there werent many people present. Then, around 11:30 a.m., the room started to fill up and soon every seat was taken.

      Over 100 seniors had crowded into that room and I wondered if a famous celebrity was scheduled to speak, or it was possibly a special celebration. No, the main attraction was being able to get lunch for a dollar.

      The room was filled with former teachers and workers of a wide variety of occupations and professions. What they all had in common was that now they were living on a fixed income. Was that going to be me someday? I wondered, shuddering at the thought.

      Like many Boomers, I share that worrisome question thats on so many of our minds: Will I outlive my money? Younger Boomers, in their late 40s and 50s, at least have the luxury of time to make back some of the losses to their 401Ks or to build up more retirement funds reduced or eliminated by the pullback in the stock market.

      But what can us older Boomers do? Many have pretty much given up on being able to retire, at least in the foreseeable future. And no one wants to be a burden to their children or anyone else for that matter. Everyone wants to ideally live in a financially independent way. So its time for Boomers of all ages to ask ourselves: how much money will I need to continue to pay my bills, take an occasional vacation, and not have to turn to anyone else for help as I enter the final decades of my life?

      According to the National Vital Statistics Reports of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, United States Life Tables 2004, in 1900, the median age at death in the United States was just 58. As noted in that same report, by 2004, life expectancy had become, on average for the total population, 77.8. However it is not that uncommon today to find men and women living into their late 80s, 90s, and even over 100, some 30 to 40 years after being eligible for Social Security, a number that is predicted to soar for the Boomer population as it ages.

      Darrin Courtney, a Boston area certified financial planner, agrees that the issues for the Boomers in their late 40s and 50s are different from those in their 60s. Courtney recommends that younger Boomers educate themselves about how long life expectancy is today and start to think about how they're going to pay for those extra years.

      Take your time and dont rush into things, Courtney says. Work with someone you trust to do the research and to find the best mix of investment products and solutions. Carefully make a diversified decision about how to best meet your goals, knowing it might not be possible to meet all of them.

      Worse than death

      How widespread a concern is it to wonder if you will outlive your money? According to Jeff Faust, Senior specialist for external communications for Allianz Life, a provider of life insurance and annuities, a study conducted in May 2010 with more than 3,200 men and women between the ages of 44 and 75, found that 61% percent of those surveyed noted that they feared outliving their income more than they feared death. (Allianz is not without its critics. See Consumer Complaints about Allianz).

      The study also found that 31% were unclear about what their expenses would be in retirement and 36% had no idea if their income would last.

      Obviously with 78 million Boomers, and so many different situations, there is no one answer. But in researching the topic, I realized that there is the reality of poverty those who truly are poor and are trying to live on just their Social Security in retirement and are in need of government or private aid to get by.

      Then there are those that I call the PP psychological poor. This is the group that has a fixed income that is much higher than the poverty level, possibly even over $100,000 a year from pension income as well as earnings from dividends and investments. However, those in the PP group may see themselves as outliving their money because they are earning less in retirement than they earned when they were working.

      Be clear on your expenses

      A few years back, Catherine Kitcho, a business consultant, started to worry about whether or not she and her husband would outlive their money. She did a lot of research into the topic and in 2007 her book Happy About Being a Baby Boomer: Facing Our Newfound Longevity was published.

      Catherines approach was not to do an income projection analysis of the retirement years but to focus on a projection of what expenses you will need to cover. That way you can see your estimated expenses compared to your projected and, if there is a shortfall, at least you would have a specific number that you know you have to make up.

      Besides future expenses, you also need to know what your current assets are (as well as your debts). Moreover, you need to take into consideration some of the costs related to aging that you are probably not dealing with yet. If you have an aging parent, you may be watching them spending money on these expenses and wondering how you will handle these costs when the time comes for you as well:

      • Long term care costs if you or a loved one become sick and you need part-time, full-time, or even live-in assistance
      • Once you hit Medicare and you get Medicare to cover health care, since it does not cover all of the health care costs, the cost of the supplemental insurance to pick up any costs that are not covered.
      • Lifestyle costs: if you wish to travel or, if you wish to downsize your home, the cost of moving.
      • The cost of living in an assisted living residential center or a nursing home.
      • Legal services for preparing wills, trusts, health care directives, and any other specialized documents related to your estate.

      7 Ways to Avoid Outliving Your Money

      Solution #1: Keep Working

      As long as you keep working and postpone taking Social Security for as long as possible so that you get a bigger payout, you should have more funds to work with in those years when you can no longer work.

      You need not continue in the same job you are in now. You could switch to another job (See "Boomers Looking for Work" or even another career, or start your own business.

      But the key is to keep one or more income streams coming in so you are not trying to live only off your pension, if you have one, or off your savings or investment dividends.

      Solution #2: Make What You Have Last Longer By Becoming More Frugal

      Judy Woodward Bates, who coined the term Bargainomics, has a weekly show on how to save money on Fox-6 TV in Birmingham, Alabama and is the author of Bargainomics: Money Management by the Book. She credits her grandmother who showed her by example how to be frugal and also her own parents who, when Judy decided to get married at the age of 17, announced to her that if she was going to do that, she and her husband would also have to make it on their own financially, and they did.

      Judy is 57 and married to a 60-year-old who retired at the age of 53 and has worked sporadically ever since. She prides herself on the fact that they have never had a large income and never needed one because weve learned to live and live well within our income. Judy is dedicated to spreading the word that it is possible to happily live within your means. Here are some of her tips:

      She doesnt eat out unless its a two for one deal or its an early bird special. Shes a big advocate of getting discount coupons to help offset the cost of eating out through www.restaurant.com or www.currentcodes.com. (Shell often go to www.currentcodes.com first, get a code, and then go to www.restaurant.com so she will pay just $3 for a $25 off certificate that would have cost her $10 without the code.)

      She uses a local entertainment.com book and if shes going to any major city for even a couple of days, she will get one of those books because it helps her save a lot of money. She especially likes the certificates for movie ticket admissions through www.entertainment.com since you can get multiple movie tickets for $6 that would have cost $10.

      There are links and additional suggestions at Judys website -- www.bargainomics.com.

      Solution #3: Pay Off Your Debt and Avoid Incurring New Debt

      Youve heard it before: Getting out of the credit card debt conundrum as you head into your potential retirement years is more important than ever before. Make it one of your top financial priorities. See Digging Out of Debt. Be careful not to make the problem worse by falling into the arms of a debt settlement company. Nearly all of these are scams.

      Solution #4: Downsize or Relocate

      Instead of waiting around for the housing market to come back, consider selling your home, if you can, and moving into a smaller one. You could save on the cost of the upkeep of your home including lower property taxes and heating and electric bills. You might want to rent instead of buying with any profits you do get from the sale.

      As I discuss at greater length in Boomers Ponder Where to Spend the Rest of Their Lives where you live can be one of the biggest cost issues that Boomers need to address. In addition to moving to a smaller home, you can also consider relocating to a less expensive community within your state or another state, or even to another country where your dollars will go further.

      Solution #5: Stay Healthy

      Avoiding expensive health care costs, related to having a chronic disease that necessitates custodial or nursing care, is one of the best ways to preserve your funds while you age. (Even if you think a family member is going to provide unpaid custodial care, he or she may have to give up working part-time or full-time to take care of that family member so it is not really free care.)

      If there are any conditions that may impact your health that you can proactively prevent by changing your behavior, such as by giving up smoking, losing excess weight that makes you prone to diabetes or heart conditions, eating a healthier diet so you keep your cholesterol lower, or increasing physical exercise, which will also help reduce your risk of heart disease, do it. (See How to Live Better and Longer.)

      Solution #6 Consult with an Elder Care Attorney or Financial Advisor about Asset Protection

      Certified financial planner Darrin Courtney points out that most financial planners will offer a free consultation to help you to decide if working with an expert is the right step for you. An elder care attorney might also be able to advise you on an asset protection plan that makes the most sense for you and your family.No two situations are the same so, if possible, seek out help and work with someone who has the expertise and credentials to guide you and your spouse into making the best financial decisions in your older years so you avoid outliving your money.

      Courtney also notes that most local chapters of the Financial Planners Association (FPA) may offer pro bono assistance you if you cannot afford to pay for the services of a financial planner. (For more information, see Pro Bono at the FPA website.)

      Solution #7 Consider Long Term Care Insurance

      It may be hard to think about it now, but if you or your spouse requires long term care, it can quickly deplete your savings especially if you are not eligible for Medicaid. Eligibility for Medicaid is a whole other discussion because of the financial eligibility requirements, that vary from state to state, as well as the five-year look-back period into the assets of the Medicaid applicant, and a set of requirements about what type of care is covered.

      In a nutshell, if financial tests are met, nursing home care is usually covered by Medicaid; assisted living is not.

      An option to consider is long term care insurance. Every policy is different based on what is offered and the monthly premium will vary according to the age that you get the policy, your overall health, and what you put into the policy. Still, there are some general rules of thumb from Michael A. Masiello, a financial planner who runs a firm, Masiello & Associates, out of Rochester, New York.

      As Masiello says, You start burning through assets at $10,000 a month to cover the cost of care and it makes the cost of the premium look relatively inexpensive. What might those premiums be? For a 50 year old in good health, the premium would probably be $4,000 to $8,000 a year; for a 60-year-old, in good health, $6,000 to $10,000 a year. The cost goes up quite a bit as you age with a healthy 75-year-old having to pay $8,000 to $15,000 a year. Is that a lot of money a year? It certainly sounds like it. But if you consider that by paying those annual premiums you may get as much as $200,000 to $300,000 coverage when you need it for long term care, it is a different story.

      Like annuities, long-term care insurance is fraught with peril. It's essential to research the topic thoroughly and be sure to choose a financially-sound underwriter. The Kaiser Family Foundation has published a study that is a must-read. Check consumer sites to see first-person consumer accounts of their experiences.

      The Bigger Picture

      D. Drummond Osborn is a 48-year-old fee-only financial advisor who has been working with Boomers for the past 20 years. He has experience with clients whose assets range from $100,000 to many millions. But, as Osborn notes, The zeros in front of the decimal may differ, but the fear of running out of money is often the same.

      Notes Osborn, While a healthy relationship with money needs to be a balance of intellect and emotion, I have found that most individuals address the issue from one perspective or the other. The intellect has them eyeing an imaginary number that the retirement planning industry tells them will make them happy, while the emotional side either has the sky falling or a c'est la vie attitude. I require the Boomers I work with to create a balance - beginning the process of how they want to live and the legacy they wish to leave behind -- and THEN start talking about the numbers. While this approach doesn't negate the possibility of running out of money, it does empower the Boomer to address the reality of their financial life. There are almost always ways to avoid running out of money; unfortunately the majority of Boomers are unwilling to face the right/hard choices.

      Planning and Being Prepared

      As Darrin Courtney says, Its not a bad idea to plan for a thirty-year retirement. Put away as much as you can. Pay down debt. Seriously consider perhaps working a little longer and delaying getting Social Security rather than taking it at 62 because you want to get your hands on it.

      So it all comes back to those P words: planning and being prepared. The more Boomers plan for, and are prepared for, retirement, whatever their age, the better the outcome when that day occurs and, hopefully, they wont run out of money.

      The more Boomers plan for, and are prepared for, retirement, whatever their age, the better the outcome when that day occurs and, hopefully, they wont run...
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      Texas Charges Bally's Total Fitness With Deception

      Past customers were sent fake 'past due' notices

      The State of Texas has filed suit against Bally Total Fitness Corp., charging the health club chain with unlawfully attempting to mislead its former customers into paying "past due" membership fees they do not owe.

      Bally, based in California, operates 24 fitness centers in and around the Dallas, Houston and San Antonio areas. An investigation by the attorney general's office revealed that between summer 2009 and March 2010, Bally mailed more than 11,000 misleading "past due" notices to former members in an attempt to encourage them to rejoin their former gym. The notices created the false impression that former members had outstanding dues that needed to be paid.

      Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says more than 1,000 Texans made payments to Bally after receiving the past due notices. However, company representatives who were contacted by past members about past due notices acknowledged that the notices were not a collection effort, but rather an attempt to get former members to renew their memberships.

      According to court documents filed by the state, Bally's notices claimed that recipients owed at least one month's overdue fees -- fees for which the notice demanded immediate payment. Some of Bally's past due notices even claimed that failure to remit a payment could result in a negative entry on the former members' credit reports.

      The enforcement action, filed earlier this month, charges Bally with attempting to confuse its former members with deceptive bills so they would make payments that were not actually owned -- thus effectively reinstating a previous membership.

      The attorney general is seeking civil penalties of up to $20,000 for each violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, as well as restitution for Bally's former customers that suffered financial harm. The attorney general also charged Bally with violating the Texas Finance Code by misrepresenting the "debt" to past members.

      Texas Charges Bally's Total Fitness With Deception...
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      Medicare Recipients Target of New Scam

      Scammers taking advantage of confusion about one-time $250 benefit

      By Mark Huffman

      June 18, 2010
      The Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama earlier this year contains some important benefits for Medicare recipients. And scammers across the country have taken notice.

      Starting last week many Medicare recipients began receiving e a one-time, tax-free $250 rebate check. Those who qualify for the tax-free $250 rebate will automatically receive their check, no additional information or actions are required to receive the rebate.

      The check is designed to address a coverage gap in Medicare prescription drug plans. Medicare recipients on expensive or numerous drugs can find themselves paying the full cost of their prescription out-of-pocket while in the coverage gap.

      The term "donut hole" refers to the coverage gap under Plan D, where Medicare stops paying pharmaceutical coverage at $2,830 before it starts paying again at $4,550. The one-time $250 tax-free rebate check for seniors that enter the "donut hole" is the federal government's first step toward closing the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap.

      Scam artists are already trying profit by spreading misinformation about the $250 rebate checks. Oregon Attorney General John Kroger has already received reports of the scam in his state. He warns seniors not to give out personal information to anyone calling about the $250 rebate check.

      Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto says scammers are calling seniors pretending to be connected to the Medicare program. They tell potential victims that they need to "verify" certain information. Masto says that's not true.

      "Once you reach the threshold with Medicare, the rebate will be issued automatically," she said. "Do not give out personal information to anyone contacting you regarding your check."

      Medicare recipients do not need to provide any personal information like their Medicare, Social Security, or bank account number to receive the rebate check. There are no additional forms to fill out. The rebate is tax-free.

      Anyone who tells you anything different is trying to scam you. Medicare recipients can make sure the government has their correct home address by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.

      Medicare Recipients Target of New Scam...
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      Gulf Dispersant Making Matters Worse, Suit Says

      Plaintiffs say chemical is ineffective, hazard to health

      By Jon Hood

      June 18, 2010
      The dispersant BP is using to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf is actually more toxic than the oil itself, a Louisiana class action lawsuit claims. In an unrelated filing, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell filed a brief asking that consolidated cases stemming from the Deepwater Horizon explosion be heard in the Eastern District of Louisiana federal court.

      The dispersant suit, filed today in a New Orleans federal court, seeks $5 million on behalf of Gulf coast residents and those working to clean up the spill. The action also targets Nalco Holding Company, the corporation that manufactures the dispersant, known as Corexit.

      According to the complaint, the 1.3 million gallons of dispersant used so far have caused a toxic chemical to be a permanent part of the sea bed and food chain in the bio structure. The plaintiffs say that the chemical is actually four times more lethal than the oil itself, and that BP has allowed an even more dangerous condition to exist in the Gulf of Mexico than if the oil was allowed to float to the shoreline.

      Nalco issued a press release on Thursday asserting that federal testing has concluded that the use of the COREXIT dispersant remains a safe, effective, and critical tool in mitigating additional damage in the Gulf. The statement quotes Nalco's chief technology officer, Dr. Mani Ramesh, as saying that the dispersant is safe.

      The use of the dispersant has had no impact on marine life. These latest [federal] tests underscore previous findings that show COREXIT rapidly biodegrades and does not bio-accumulate, Ramesh said. The oil continues to be the primary hazard in the Gulf -- for workers, wildlife and vegetation. Dispersants have prevented more oil from reaching our shoreline.

      Making it worse?

      Still, a 2005 study by the National Research Council found that in some circumstances Corexit had no effect whatsoever, and occasionally even made conditions worse.

      Additionally, Corexit has been banned in the United Kingdom -- where BP is based -- since 1998, when it was found hazardous to the food chain.

      A May article in The New York Times reported that Corexit ranks far above dispersants made by competitors in toxicity and far below them in effectiveness in handling. Specifically, the article singled out Dispersit, a competing chemical, as being almost twice as effective in cleaning up oil spills while being, at most, one-half as toxic.

      And Corexit, which was used in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska, has been identified as a possible contributor to serious health problems suffered by recovery workers there, the Times noted. Specifically, a number of maladies that included kidney and liver problems were thought to be connected to the chemical 2-butoxyethanol, an ingredient in Corexit 9527. Both that dispersant and an updated sibling, Corexit 9500, are being used to clean up the Gulf spill.

      At least one of the plaintiffs' attorneys is suggesting that Corexit got the nod because former officials from BP and ExxonMobil sit on Nalco's board.

      Basically the oil companies are selling themselves their own product, said attorney Arlen Braud. That can be the only explanation as to why they didnt use the better ones.

      Caldwell's filing

      In his filing with the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, Caldwell said the Eastern District of Louisiana is the most appropriate venue for consolidated proceedings citing the courts proximity and connection to the disaster, as well as the convenience for affected litigants and witnesses.

      The impacts from this catastrophe are, and will continue to be, most keenly felt by Louisiana's citizens including the families of those Louisiana offshore workers who lost their lives in the explosion, those who were injured, the fisherman and their families who depend on Louisiana's natural resources for a living, and the citizens who live along Louisiana's coastline, which is already fragile and disappearing at alarming rates, Caldwell said.

      Gulf Dispersant Making Matters Worse, Suit Says...
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