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    NRF Survey Projects Spending Increase for Dear Old Dad

    Clothes, gadgets and gift cards prevail as top gifts this Father's Day

    As the economy continues its slow rebound, consumers plan to spend slightly more paying homage to the most important men in their lives this Father's Day.

    According to the 2010 Father's Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey conducted by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation (NRF), the average person will spend $94.32 this year, compared with $90.89 in 2009. Total Father's Day spending is expected to reach $9.8 billion.

    Shiny new toys for dad will be one of the biggest hits this year, along with special outings, gift certificates and clothing. The survey found 39.9 percent of those celebrating dad this year will treat him to a special outing such as dinner or brunch, spending $1.9 billion.

    Goodies for dad

    With 36.7 percent planning on spending a total of $1.3 billion on clothes, pop can expect a few more work shirts and ties to add to his collection as well. Others will shell out $1.2 billion on electronics, $749 million on greeting cards, $578 million on tools or appliances, $550 million on home improvement or gardening tools and $400 million on automotive accessories. Three out of 10 (31.2) will give dad a gift card, spending an estimated $1.2 billion on those purchases.

    "A slight uptick in Father's Day spending is another sign people are starting to open up their wallets again," said Matt Shay, president and CEO, NRF. "Whether it's a large family get together or surprising dad with the new gadget he's had his eye on, there are many ways people will choose to celebrate this year."

    Shopping around

    When it comes to where people will purchase their gifts, discount stores (34.4 percent) and department stores (34.1 percent) will see the most traffic. Specialty stores such as greeting card or gift stores (26.4 percent), online (20.5 percent) and specialty clothing stores (7.6 percent) will also be popular shopper destinations.

    Most people will buy for their father or stepfather this holiday (49.3 percent) but others will treat their husband (27.1 percent), son (7.4 percent), grandfather (4.4 percent), brother (5.1 percent) and friend (4.9 percent) to something nice.

    "Oftentimes dad is seen as the glue that holds the family together, whether for financial reasons or his love and devotion to his family," said Phil Rist, Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, BIGresearch. "There's no other time it makes more sense to celebrate the man who makes it all 'better' than Father's Day.

    The NRF 2010 Father's Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey was conducted for NRF by BIGresearch. The poll of 8,431 consumers was conducted from May 4-12, 2010. The consumer poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.0.

    NRF Survey Projects Spending Increase for Dear Old Dad...

    Parkinson's Drugs Caused Gambling, Sex Addictions, Suit Says

    Australian lawsuit targets Cabaser, Permax

    A group of Australian consumers afflicted with Parkinson's disease is suing two drug companies, claiming that medication the companies manufacture has caused them to become addicted to sex and gambling.

    The suit, filed in Melbourne, concerns the drugs Cabaser and Permax, both used to treat Parkinson's-related tremors. The action claims that the drugs' respective manufacturers, Pfizer and Aspen Pharmacare, breached their duty of care to the plaintiffs.

    Specifically, the suit says that the companies failed to adequately research the drugs' possible side effects, failed to warn patients of possible addictive behavior, and failed to take the drugs off the market once the extent of the problem became clear.

    Some of the 100 plaintiffs became so addicted to gambling that they lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and, in some cases, their families. While gambling addiction was the most common problem among the class, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that a few exhibited compulsive sexual behavior such as looking at pornography on the internet.

    Both Cabaser and Permax are dopamine agonists, meaning that they imitate the effect of dopamine and open dopamine receptors in the brain. Parkinson's disease causes the brain to produce an insufficient amount of dopamine, which it needs in order to control the body's movements, so the drugs essentially pick up the slack.

    Unfortunately, dopamine, a chemical precursor to adrenaline, is also the neurotransmitter behind that rush of motivation, energy or attraction that everyone feels on occasion. And scientists believe that that same rush can cause people to engage in risk-taking behavior, including life-threatening addictions.

    Indeed, a press release concerning the suit quoted a study published in the medical journal Archives of Neurology as concluding that [d]opamine agonist treatment in PD (Parkinson's Disease) is associated with 2- to 3.5-fold increased odds of having an ICD (impulse control disorder).

    The study found that 13.6 of the subject patients were affected by use of dopamine agonists, with five percent becoming addicted to gambling, 3.5 percent to compulsive sexual behavior, 5.7 percent to compulsive buying, and 4.3 percent to binge eating.

    The issues raised in the suit have already seen the inside of at least one other courtroom. In July 2008, Minnesota resident Gary Charbonneau won a case in which he claimed that the Parkinson's' drug Mirapex -- also a dopamine agonist -- caused him to develop a gambling addiction. A federal jury gave Charbonneau an $8.2 million award.

    And Permax, the drug manufactured by Aspen Pharmacare, has already seen its share of controversy. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) announced a voluntary recall of the drug in March 2007 after it was discovered that it caused heart valve disease in 25 percent of patients who took it over an extended period of time. As a result, Permax is no longer available in the United States.

    Arnold Thomas and Becker, a Melbourne-based law firm, is representing the plaintiffs.

    Parkinson's Drugs Caused Gambling, Sex Addictions, Suit Says...

    Settlement Reached With Florida-Based Timeshare Company

    BlueGreen Corp. will pay refunds, cancel improper contracts and change business practices

    By James Limbach

    June 4, 2010
    The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection has reached a settlement with BlueGreen Corporation, a Florida-based timeshare company.

    The settlement addresses complaints about the company's alleged use of deceptive "contests," misleading sales presentations and improper contracts in the marketing and sale of timeshare vacation packages in Pennsylvania.

    Attorney General Tom Corbett says the agreement, known as a Consent Decree, resolves a consumer protection lawsuit filed in October 2008 against BlueGreen Corporation, BlueGreen Resorts, BlueGreen Vacations Unlimited, Inc. and Great Vacations Destinations, Inc., all of Boca Raton, Florida. BlueGreen contacted consumers by phone and through kiosks at shopping malls, fairs, and festivals throughout Pennsylvania, along with the use of sales facilities in Hershey and King of Prussia.

    "As a major part of this settlement, BlueGreen has agreed to cancel contracts and pay refunds to consumers who have filed valid complaints about their timeshare purchases," Corbett said. "Those complaints include consumers who were unable to use their timeshare, false promises about when or where consumers could travel and situations where timeshare purchasers did not receive extra services or discounts that were promised during the sales presentation."

    Unhappy consumers

    Jim of Valles Mines, MO, tells ConsumerAffairs.com, "As a BlueGreen owner, I have experienced high pressure sales tactics used by the sales staff. The sales staff attempts to push the packages on you every time you visit. The sales staff lie and misrepresent the products to customers, anything to sale a package." Jim says this has caused him "numerous financial problems."

    "I am getting ripped off by BlueGreen," writes Elisabeth of Prior Lake MN. "I cannot book a vacation to save my life, am paying monthly and now am being charged ridiculous fees for a property I cannot use. I want my money back but the people are too rude to even say no." Elisabeth tells ConsumerAffairs.com that this is causing her both emotional and financial damage. "I feel trapped with no way out!"

    Settlement terms

    Corbett noted that the settlement he reached applies to complaints by Pennsylvania timeshare purchasers that have already been filed with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, along with any new complaints filed within the next 30 days. Also, BlueGreen has agreed to turn over all complaints involving Pennsylvania residents that were filed directly with the company.

    Additionally, Corbett said his office is reviewing complaints filed with other state agencies, such as the Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission, along with other consumer protection agencies, including the Florida Attorney General's Office, where BlueGreen is headquartered, as well as the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau offices in Pennsylvania and Florida.

    "Many of the complaints filed with the attorney general's office involve consumers who spent between $20,000 and $40,000 on vacation packages they were unable to use," Corbett said. "This part of the settlement could result in more than $1 million in refunds to consumers, depending on the total number of additional complaints we receive over the next 30 days."

    Corbett said the settlement also includes payments for consumers who were promised various "free gifts," including airline tickets, hotel accommodations, gas cards and other valuable prizes.

    "For most consumers, the promise of a 'free gift' or 'valuable prize' turned out to be nothing more than vouchers or coupons which required other expensive purchases before they could be used, or were limited by massive "fine print" restrictions," Corbett said. "As part of this agreement, BlueGreen is paying $125,000, which will be used to compensate people who were deceived about "free" prizes -- so consumers who filed valid complaints will get a check for the value of the item they were promised."

    Finally, Corbett said the settlement includes a special reward for each consumer who filed a complaint about BlueGreen's use of telemarketing sales calls that violated Pennsylvania's "Do Not Call" law.

    Under the provisions of the state's Do Not Call law, consumers can receive up to $100 when they file a complaint that results in a lawsuit or fines against a company charged with telemarketing violations. A total of 29 people filed Do Not Call complaints about improper BlueGreen calls and each of those consumers will be receiving a check for $100.

    Timeshare tips

    Consumers who are shopping for a timeshare vacation package should consider the following tips:

    • Take your time. Treat a timeshare purchase like the purchase of a home or any other significant commitment. Don't let high-pressure sales tactics and long presentations force you into a hasty decision.

    • Do your research. Check the market and the value of the vacation property before you buy and investigate the seller, the developer and the management company. Ask for references and contact current owners to verify their satisfaction with the property.

    • Know the cancellation period. Pennsylvania provides a five-day cooling off period for buyers to change their mind and cancel a timeshare contract. Consumers must notify the seller in writing via certified mail or return receipt mail.

    • Recognize that timeshares can be difficult to resell. Buy a timeshare only if you plan to use it. It is an option for future vacations, not an investment.

    • Consider extra costs. Most timeshares require consumers to pay annual assessment fees, maintenance fees and taxes, closing and broker commissions, and finance charges. Some fees can rise dramatically in the future so it's important to ask if there is a cap on future fees.

    • Beware of scams. If you are offered a prize as an incentive to attend a timeshare presentation, ask for details and watch out for hidden conditions and fine print. Keep in mind that the value of promotional gifts may be low in comparison to the fees and charges associated with a timeshare purchase. Any 'free' travel or vacations you are offered may have blackout dates and other restrictions.

    • Read everything before you sign. Carefully review contracts and all other paperwork before you sign anything, and get all special promises about discounts, waived fees or other promotions in writing.

    Settlement Reached With Florida-Based Timeshare Company...

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      Costco Tops Consumer Reports List of Best Places To Shop

      Walmart, Kmart score lower than most chains amid complaints about lack of merchandise and long lines

      More than 30,000 shoppers found Costco to be top notch among 11 of America's most popular chain stores, according a recently published survey by Consumer Reports.

      Fifty percent of readers who shopped at Costco rated the value as "Excellent"; for all the stores in CR's survey as a whole, that figure was 30 percent. Walmart and Kmart scored notably lower than the other chains, but Costco stood tall. In addition to citing the warehouse club's rock-bottom prices, survey respondents praised its bang for the buck: It was the only store judged much better than average for value.

      "In our surveys over the years, Costco has earned high marks as a source of a surprisingly large selection of goods, including mattresses, electronics, small appliances, groceries, and books. In recent years, the chain's Kirkland Signature products have often performed well in our tests," said Tod Marks, senior project editor at the magazine.

      Questionable quality

      Overall Consumer Reports readers weren't always thrilled with the quality of the merchandise at many stores. Only Dillard's and Costco earned better-than-average all-around scores. In general, the highest marks went to electronic entertainment products and personal-care items and the lowest to men's and women's apparel and home-decor items.

      Walmart was the only chain to receive below-average quality scores in more than half of the product categories. Just 10 percent of Walmart shoppers thought the store's children's clothing was excellent, for example. By contrast, 46 percent of Dillard's shoppers thought the kids' apparel was top-notch. No matter how good the merchandise, problems can sour a shopping experience.

      For all the talk about Walmart's low prices, shoppers said the prices at 10 other retailers, including JCPenney, Sears, Dillard's, and Meijer, were at least as good. And bigger wasn't necessarily better when it came to the overall shopping experience. Almost three quarters of respondents who shopped at Walmart found at least one problem to complain about, and half had two or more complaints about the store or its staff.

      Among the survey's other findings:

      • Four chains earned outstanding scores for merchandise quality: Costco (watches and jewelry, personal-care items, hardware, home decor, kitchenware, electronic entertainment such as music and DVDs, and sporting goods and toys), Dillard's (men's, women's, and children's clothing; personal-care items; home decor; and kitchenware), Macy's (home decor and personal-care items), and Sears (hardware).

      • Target's "cheap chic" goods didn't wow everyone. Despite its high-profile partnerships with fashionistas Cynthia Vincent, Eugenia Kim, and Zac Posen, survey respondents judged the quality of Target's women's clothing and watches and jewelry below average, and the store's kitchenware, home decor, and men's and children's apparel average.

      It wasn't so much the merchandise at Target that upset Don from Bartlett, IL, as the process for selling it. Don says the store's only fitting rooms were in the women's department with no delineation/barrier between men's and women's rooms. He tells ConsumerAffairs.com the store manager said they were "unisex" rooms and she'd never dealt with this issue before.

      "I felt uncomfortable about trying clothes on in a 'unisex' fitting room," Don says, adding that when he asked if he could get help if he were a woman and the only fitting room was in the men's department and he were a woman, she said yes. "I cannot believe that in today's society, a UNISEX fitting room cannot be partitioned off for the protection and comfort of their patrons, allowing for some sense of dignity and morality...for both sexes," he concludes.

      • In addition to a lack of sales help, the most prevalent problems were that desired items were out of stock and that checkouts were jammed. In fact, 29 percent of shoppers CR surveyed complained about long lines. The problems were much worse than average at Kmart, Walmart, and Meijer, a midwestern chain of superstores.

      Other service gripes

      Consumer Reports also asked readers about checkout gridlock, missing merchandise, spotty sales help, and cluttered stores. Fifty-eight percent of shoppers reported at least one problem; one-third had two or more. Walmart, Meijer, and Kmart shoppers encountered the most problems. Dillard's and Sears shoppers reported the fewest. Some specifics:

      • Slow checkouts. Twenty-nine percent of shoppers complained about a lack of open checkouts or about lines creating bottlenecks. Lines were worst at Walmart (cited by 46 percent of readers who had shopped there), but they were almost as bad at Costco, Sam's Club, and Meijer. Only four percent of customers complained of long lines at Dillard's.

      Jessica of North East, MD, went shopping at her local Wal-Mart for picnic supplies. "When I got up to the register," she tells ConsumerAffairs.com, "I stood in line for about five minutes, then the cashier said 'my register is closed'. I told the guy on the register that my stuff was on the line already, he said he had to go on break."

      • Shoddy service. Relatively few shoppers sought help, but 24 percent of those who did speak with a clerk said they had a tough time finding one, and 15 percent of those who spoke with a clerk said that the employee wasn't well informed. Walmart and Kmart had the least knowledgeable staffers, according to readers.

      • Empty shelves. Consumers who shopped at Meijer complained the most about out-of-stock merchandise: 25 percent of respondents said the chain lacked an item they wanted. Walmart, Kmart, and Target also had trouble keeping regular merchandise in stock. Meijer and Kmart tended to disappoint shoppers looking for sale items.

      • Difficult layout. Thirteen percent of shoppers complained about cluttered displays or narrow aisles, but a disproportionate percentage of Walmart and Kohl's shoppers said that those problems hampered movement. Walmart, which operates many sprawling supercenters, was also cited as having stores that were too big to navigate easily.

      • Hidden price tags. At most chains, price tags were in plain sight, but at least 12 percent of respondents complained about missing or hard-to-find tags at Kmart, Walmart, and Meijer.

      • Lengthy returns. Few people had trouble returning or exchanging merchandise. The biggest difference among stores was how long it took to complete the process. Walmart shoppers were particularly peeved; 20 percent of the returns took more time than expected.

      For more information on which stores are the best to shop, the complete ratings chart of popular chains, and helpful advice on the best places to buy clothes, electronics, appliances and other goods, check out Consumer Reports "America's Top Stores" report starting June 1st at report or pick up a copy of the July issue wherever magazines are sold.

      Costco Tops Consumer Reports List of Best Places To Shop...

      Rollover Tests of Midsize SUVs Produce Mixed Results

      IIHS says stronger roofs mean saved lives, fewer injuries

      June 3, 2010

      New test results show that some automakers are doing a good job of designing vehicle roofs that perform much better than current federal rollover standards require. The roofs on other vehicles, however, need improvement.

      In the first Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) roof strength tests of midsize SUVs, six earn the top rating of "good" for rollover protection, one is "acceptable," and five others earn the second lowest rating of "marginal."

      Midsize SUVs earning "good" ratings are the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox (twin GMC Terrain) built after March 2010, Jeep Liberty (twin Dodge Nitro), Toyota Highlander and Venza, plus the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Kia Sorento, both 2011 models.

      The 2010 Ford Edge is rated "acceptable." The worst performers, which earn "marginal" ratings, are the Honda Accord Crosstour, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-7, Mitsubishi Endeavor, and Nissan Murano, all 2010 models.

      In addition to earning "good" ratings for rollover protection, the Equinox, Grand Cherokee, Highlander, Sorento, and Venza also earn the Institute's Top Safety Pick award. To achieve this, a vehicle has to earn good ratings for occupant protection in front, side, rear, and rollover crashes. It also has to have electronic stability control.

      How they are rated

      The rollover rating system is based on Institute research showing that occupants in vehicles that roll benefit from stronger roofs. Vehicles rated "good" must have roofs that are more than twice as strong as the minimum required under the current federal safety standard. The ratings, products of the Institute's roof strength testing program, add to consumer information tests that rate vehicles' front, side, and rear crashworthiness. The rollover test is designed to help consumers pick vehicles that will protect them the best in one of the most serious kinds of crashes.

      "Midsize SUVs are a big group so we're testing them in stages," says Institute president Adrian Lund. "First results show that automakers are making progress in rollover protection, but it's disappointing that a new design like the Crosstour didn't perform better."

      Lives at stake

      Top performance in the roof test is important because nearly 10,000 people a year are killed in rollover crashes. When vehicles roll, their roofs hit the ground, deform, and crush. Stronger roofs crush less, reducing injury risk from contact with the roof itself. Stronger roofs also can prevent people, especially those who aren't using safety belts, from being ejected through windows, windshields, or doors that have broken or opened because the roof deformed. Roofs that don't collapse help keep people inside vehicles when they roll.

      The best occupant protection is to keep vehicles from rolling in the first place. Electronic stability control is significantly reducing rollovers, especially fatal single-vehicle ones. When vehicles roll, side curtain airbags help protect people. Safety belt use is essential.

      Conducting the tests

      In the Institute's roof strength test, a metal plate is pushed against one corner of a roof at a constant speed. To earn a "good" rating, a roof must withstand a force of 4 times the vehicle's weight before reaching 5 inches of crush. For an "acceptable" rating, the minimum strength-to-weight ratio that's required is 3.25. A "marginal" rating value is 2.5, and anything lower than that is "poor."

      The Grand Cherokee, Highlander, Liberty, and Venza, for example, withstood forces of nearly 5 times their weights. This compares with 2.8 times weight for the Crosstour and about 3 times weight for the Endeavor and Pilot. A strength-to-weight ratio of 4 reflects an estimated 50 percent reduction in serious or fatal injury risk in single-vehicle rollover crashes, compared with the current federal standard of 1.5.

      Rollover Tests of Midsize SUVs Produce Mixed Results...

      Credit Card Companies Raise Rates On New Offers

      Cost of credit rising across the board

      June 3, 2010

      You probably don't go through the credit card offers that come in the mail each week and methodically compare the interest rates. But CreditCards.com does, and reports the rates on those new offers keep going up.

      In its latest report, for the week of May 30, the website tracks about 95 of the most popular credit cards in the country, including cards from dozens of leading U.S. firms. Not counting "teaser" rates, the average rate was 14.23 percent, up from 14.17 percent the previous week. Six months ago the average rate was 12.71 percent.

      One of the biggest rate hikes in the last six months was in the category of business credit cards. Six months ago the average was 9.74 percent while this week the average on new card offers was 12.96 percent.

      Cards for people with bad credit carry an average introductory rate of 19.75 percent this week, up from 13.74 percent six months ago.

      Capital One raised rates on three cards, each by roughly two percentage points. Other issuers were also active: Discover lowered the bottom end of its student card's APR range, and Cabela's slightly increased the top end of its Visa card's APR range.

      Capital One didn't respond to a request for comment, and Discover said it doesn't comment on rate strategies, the website said. Cabela's said its APR changed due to movement in the card's index -- the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) -- the British equivalent of the U.S. prime rate. Most U.S. cards are pegged to prime.

      The CreditCards.com credit card rate survey is conducted weekly, using offer data from the leading U.S. card issuers' Web sites. Introductory offer periods and regular interest rates will vary with applicants' credit quality and issuer risk-based pricing policies.

      Credit Card Companies Raise Rates On New Offers...

      Lawsuit Blames Google Maps for Pedestrian Accident

      Los Angelena struck by car in Utah relied on her Blackberry instead of her eyes

      By Jon Hood

      June 2, 2010
      As anyone with a faulty internal compass can attest, electronic maps and directions are a godsend. Mapquest, in-car navigation systems, and, more recently, portable GPS devices like Garmin and Magellan, are invaluable -- and generally accurate -- tools for the directionally-challenged.

      But a lawsuit filed late last week shows that trust but verify applies to electronic directions as well.

      The suit stems from a January incident in which Los Angeles native Lauren Rosenberg was hit by a car while walking down a busy street in Park City, Utah, a popular ski town 30 miles outside Salt Lake City.

      Unfamiliar with her surroundings, Rosenberg used her BlackBerry to download directions from Google Maps, the Mapquest competitor that also provides terrain photos, traffic updates and street-level views of a chosen address. Unfortunately for Rosenberg, Google took her onto Utah State Route 224, a rural highway without sidewalks that gets its fair share of traffic. Rosenberg was hit by a car, and eventually incurred over $100,000 in medical bills.

      Scene of the mishap

      Rosenberg claims that the road was not reasonably safe for pedestrians, and blames Google for leading her there in the first place. She contends that her stroll down Route 224 was a direct and proximate cause of defendant Google's careless, reckless and negligent providing of unsafe directions and leading her onto a dangerous highway.

      She's suing the search giant for her medical costs and an unspecified amount of punitive damages, claiming that the incident caused her severe permanent physical, emotional, and mental injuries, including pain and suffering.

      As noted by the online edition of PC World, Google typically offers warnings in situations like the one Rosenberg encountered. Potential pedestrians who view directions on their computers are told that: Walking directions are in beta. Use caution -- This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths. Those warnings don't appear on Blackberrys or iPhones, however.

      The incident is a reminder that, while electronic maps and directions are helpful in many situations, common sense and awareness of one's surroundings aren't dead just yet. If your GPS tells you to turn off of a bridge and into a lake, you don't have to do it.

      The suit also adds another chapter to the annals of strange-but-true Google Maps stories. Last May, a British woman caught her husband cheating when she used Google Maps' street view feature -- which allows the user to see a building's exterior and the surrounding area -- to view the home of a female friend. Much to her chagrin (although probably not to her surprise), the woman saw her husband's Range Rover parked outside.

      According to The Sun (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article2350771.ece), which broke the story, the wife [recognized] his motor immediately because of its blinged-up hubcaps. Lawyer Mark Stephens told The Sun that the incident, while strange, was hardly isolated.

      I was talking about the Range Rover case when another divorce lawyer came up to say his firm was dealing with the same sort of thing, Stephens said. People are getting caught out on Google.

      Oh by the way, Rosenberg is also suing Patrick Harwood, the unlucky Park City resident who hit her.

      Lawsuit Blames Google Maps for Pedestrian Accident...

      Should Cell Phone Bans Apply To Passengers?

      Half a conversation can be extremely distracting, study finds

      June 2, 2010
      Overhearing people chatting on cell phones can be more than annoying. In fact, new research shows it's so distracting that it affects cognitive performance.

      Overhearing only half of a conversation -- a halfalogue" -- is more distracting than other kinds of conversations because the listener misses the other side of the story and so can't predict the flow of the conversation.

      Drivers may be significantly compromised by overhearing the cell phone conversations of their passengers, says Michael Goldstein, assistant professor of psychology at Cornell University, and doctoral candidate Lauren Emberson, who is also affiliated with Weill Cornell Medical College's Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology.

      "Hearing half a conversation is distracting because we are unable to predict the succession of speech. It requires more attention," says Emberson, first author of a paper on the research that will appear in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science. "We believe this finding helps reveal how we understand language in conversation: We actively predict what the person is going to say next, and this reduces the difficulty of language comprehension."

      Experiments show that people overhearing cell phone conversations did more poorly on cognitive tasks that demanded the kinds of attention we use to tend to daily activities, than when overhearing both sides of a cell phone conversation or a dialogue, which resulted in no decreased performance.

      "Since halfalogues really are more distracting, and you can't tune them out, people become irritated [and], even more importantly, their cognitive performance is impaired," Goldstein adds.

      While others studies have shown that talking on a cell phone can impair driving performance in contrast to listening to the radio or talking with a passenger, this study takes it a step further.

      "Our findings demonstrate that simply overhearing a cell phone conversation is sufficient to reduce performance...(suggesting) that a driver's attention can be impaired by a passenger's cell phone conversation," the researchers write.

      With more than 285 million wireless subscribers in the United States alone -- and about 4.6 billion cell phone subscribers worldwide, according to the International Telecommunications Union, a U.N. agency -- cell phone distraction is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in public places, from coast to coast, the researchers note.

      The subject of distracted driving is high on the list of priorities at the Department of Transportation (DOT). Secretary Ray LaHood has launched a program to see if enhanced law enforcement will persuade people to put down their cell phones while behind the wheel.

      Should Cell Phone Bans Apply To Passengers?...

      Haagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry's, And Target's Archer Farms Top Ice Cream Tests

      Consumer Reportssays Target's chocolate offers superior flavor at a fraction of the cost

      Few subjects will garner more controversy than the debate over who makes the best ice cream. Okay, beer, maybe, but people go wild for ice cream.

      And although fancy flavors fill the freezers at the local market, chocolate and vanilla are still the nation's favorite ice creams. Consumer Reports trained testers (talk about great jobs) tried 13 vanillas and 11 chocolates with varying amounts of fat, and found seven "Excellent" choices.

      Six of the seven ice creams rated "Excellent" by CR are Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's; the seventh is from Archer Farms (Target), which offers a tasty alternative for about a third of the price of the other "Excellent" choices. All are dense and creamy, with strong, high-quality flavors. The full results are available in the July issue of Consumer Reports.

      Deciphering the label

      If you've ever checked the label of a container of ice cream, you probably came away with more questions than answers. Here's a simplified breakdown from the magazine:

      • Low fat. A serving has 3 grams of fat or less.

      • Fat Free. A serving has less than 0.5 grams of fat.

      • Slow churned. A process intended to give lower-fat products a creamier feel.

      • Fiber. Some ice creams have 2 or 3 grams per serving.

      Dollars, cents and nutrition

      Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean ($1.13 per 1/2 cup serving) topped the list of vanillas, for having a big dairy and real vanilla taste. It comes at a price, though, in the amount of 270 calories and 17 grams of fat per serving.

      Ben & Jerry's Vanilla ($0.97 per serving) and Haagen-Dazs Five Vanilla Bean ($1.13 per serving) took the other vanilla top spots. Ben & Jerry's has 230 calories and 14 grams of fat, while the Five Vanilla Bean has 220 calories and 11 grams of fat.

      Among the "Excellent" chocolates, testers found that Archer Farms Belgian ($0.33 per serving) has an intense, complex chocolate flavor enhanced by bits of dark chocolate. It has 230 calories and 14 grams of fat per serving.

      Both Haagen-Dazs chocolates have a big dairy flavor. Haagen-Dazs Five Milk Chocolate ($1.11 per serving) has 220 calories and 12 grams of fat, while Haagen-Dazs regular chocolate ($1.16 per serving) has 260 categories and 17 grams of fat. Ben & Jerry's ($1.02) has a strong chocolate flavor but is a touch icy, according to testers, and has 250 calories and 14 grams of fat.

      Lower-rated ice creams are less creamy and less flavorful, with flaws such as an artificial taste or gumminess. According to Consumer Reports testers, it seems to be harder to make a high-quality vanilla ice cream than a high-quality chocolate. The chocolate may help mask mistakes. In fact, 10 of the 11 chocolate ice creams tested are "Recommended."


      The tastiness of the top-rated ice creams comes at a cost -- they are full of calories and fat. For a special treat, CR advises trying one of the top-rated varieties. For a more healthful choice, try a light-or fat-free ice cream, which has fewer calories and less fat.

      Most top rated ice creams are also a bit pricey, 97 cents to $1.16 per serving. For a less expensive alternative, the magazine suggests trying Archer Farms Belgian Chocolate or Walmart's Great Value chocolate ($0.23 per serving). Both are CR "Best Buys" and offer excellent or very good quality at a great price.

      Haagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry's, And Target's Archer Farms Top Ice Cream Tests...

      Tests Reveal Contaminants In Many Protein Drinks

      Too much protein consumption can pose health problems

      A new Consumer Reports investigation including tests of 15 protein drinks by an outside lab, reveals some of the drinks may pose health problems over time.

      The problems can be serious especially at a consumption level of three or more servings a day -- due to the potential to consume harmful heavy metals and excessive protein.

      All of the protein drinks tested by CR had at least one sample containing one or more of the following contaminants: arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury, which can have toxic effects on the body, including several organs.

      The products, sold as ready-to-drink liquids or powders that are mixed with milk, juice or water to make shakes, attract not just athletes, but also baby boomers, pregnant women, and teenagers looking for a shortcut to a buff body.

      For most of the drinks tested, levels of contaminants detected were in the low to moderate range, but levels in three of the products were of particular concern because consumers who have three servings daily could be exposed to levels of arsenic, cadmium or lead that exceed the maximum limits for one or two of those contaminants in dietary supplements proposed by the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). The USP is the federally recognized authority that sets voluntary standards for health products.

      Exceptions to the regs

      Federal regulations do not generally require that protein drinks and other dietary supplements be tested before they are sold to ensure that they're safe, effective, and free of contaminants, as the rules require for prescription drugs. "We need better government oversight and regulation of this product sector, as well as better quality control practices in manufacturing," said Urvashi Rangan, PhD., the magazine's director of technical policy. "Especially for consumers who are using these products regularly -- consuming two or three or more times a day -- there should be better safeguards to ensure the safety of these protein drinks."

      Proposition 65, a California State law, mandates that manufacturers notify consumers when products contain toxic substances at levels the state says pose even a low cancer or reproductive risk. Eight of the 15 protein drinks tested by Consumer Reports fall into this category due to their elevated levels of lead. "Those products should be required to carry a warning label if they were sold in California," said Rangan.

      Too much of a good thing

      Consuming excess protein can also cause health problems. Teenagers who want to look like the sculpted images they see in fitness magazines are especially vulnerable to the marketing messages trumpeted by the makers of protein drinks. Enticed by the promise of "hope in a can," teenagers tend to overuse the products, assuming that if one scoop is good, then four to five would be even better. A 2005 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that protein powders and shakes were the supplements most commonly used by those aged 12 to 18.

      Pregnant women are also vulnerable because heavy metals can pose risks to a developing fetus or a nursing baby. Some protein drinks market directly to these groups while others warn they are not suitable for people under 18 years of age or that pregnant women should consult a physician before use.

      What the tests found

      Consumer Reports purchased 15 protein powders and drinks mainly in the New York metro area or online and tested multiple samples of each for arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. The levels discussed here are based on three servings per day, an amount that experts say is common. The results showed a considerable range, but levels in three products were of particular concern:

      • Three daily servings of the ready-to-drink liquid EAS Myoplex Original Rich Dark Chocolate Shake provide an average of 16.9 micrograms (ug) of arsenic, exceeding the proposed USP limit of 15 ug per day and an average of 5.1 ug of cadmium, which is just above the USP limit of 5 ug per day.

      • The samples of Muscle Milk Chocolate powder contained all four heavy metals, and levels of three metals in the product were among the highest of all products tested by Consumer Reports. Average cadmium levels of 5.6 ug in three daily servings exceeded the USP limit of 5 ug per day, and the average lead level of 13.5 ug also topped the USP limit of 10 ug per day. The average arsenic level of 12.2 ug was approaching the USP limit of 15 ug per day.

      • Muscle Milk Vanilla Crme contained 12.2 ug of lead in three daily servings, exceeding the lead limits, and 11.2 ug of arsenic.

      The CR investigation notes that cadmium raises special concern because it accumulates in and can damage the kidneys, the same organs that can be damaged by excessive protein consumption. And it can take 20 years for the body to eliminate even half the cadmium absorbed today.

      How much protein?

      Only one of the products tested by Consumer Reports, Six Star Muscle Professional Strength Whey Protein, specifies a maximum daily intake. Others use vague language that could encourage a high level of consumption. Consuming excess protein can also pose health problems, including diarrhea. Although protein is needed for bone development, excessive protein over the long term might also cause calcium to be excreted from the bones, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. And for diabetics or others with kidney problems, it can lead to further complications.

      The magazine's investigation notes that consumers can roughly calculate how many grams of protein they need by multiplying their body weight by .4. For athletes, the general rule of thumb is about one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.

      The report provides several examples of better, cheaper ways to bulk up. Case in point: a sandwich with three ounces of chicken and an eight ounce glass of whole milk provides about 40 grams of protein, which is more than half the 72 grams needed by a 180-pound person and most of the 48 grams required by someone weighing 120 pounds.

      A new Consumer Reports investigation including tests of 15 protein drinks by an outside lab, reveals some of the drinks may pose health problems over time....

      11 Travel Tips For Boomers

      It's important to take a vacation, even when you think you can't afford it

      Everyone needs a break now and then, including Boomers. We need vacations from our jobs or our routine everyday existence even if youre retired or just no longer working. We need to get away every now and then, to reconnect with family and friends, to see and do something different and basically rejuvenate ourselves, otherwise, we run the risk of burning out.

      Now you may be feeling like youre tapped out financially, burdened by credit card debt, student loans to still repay, or a slim to non-existent vacation or travel fund. Well, this column is dedicated to you because there are ways to travel without costing you a fortune and in some cases for free.

      Cynthia Clampitt is a 58-year-old Illinois-based Boomer who does programs on Travel Savvy, has been to 37 countries on six continents, and is author of Waltzing Australia. Cynthia says, Even with the economy in tatters, there are travel options, from hugely discounted tours from operators who are hurting as badly as anyone else to discovering the delights near home.

      Based on the extensive research I have been doing over the last two years for a book on travel as well as the additional research for this article and my own domestic and international trips over the years, here are 11 ways to travel more inexpensively whether its to the next town, country, or around the world:

      1. Stay with relatives or friends.

      Yes, it is nice to be able to stay in a 4-star hotel but if money is a challenge right now and you can at least pay for gas, or the plane ticket, swallow your pride and take your relatives or friends up on that longstanding offer, You can always stay with us when you visit. Offer to reciprocate when they visit you and bring a nice house gift such as a fruit basket or a bottle of wine so you dont feel too guilty about imposing.

      2. Add time before or after a business trip as vacation time.

      If you already have to travel for business, extend your trip before or after your work is done, of course picking up the extra nights in the hotel or other costs yourself. If you are attending a conference, see if the conference organizers have some pre- or post-conference travel itineraries to suggest or if other attendees want to join you in exploring together to share the transportation or touring costs.

      3. Redeem your frequent flyer or reward points.

      Instead of continuing to hold on to your unused points or miles, look into your various accounts and see if you can redeem those points or miles for a plane ticket or two. You may be pleasantly surprised to realize that you have enough for one or more airline tickets or even a few nights in a hotel. If youre missing the minimum number of points or miles for a reward, do the math if it makes sense to buy additional reward points or miles to get the free trip or accommodation.

      4. If your job does not include travel, and you enjoy traveling, switch to one that does.

      Thats what 62-year-old Rich Carlson did. He traded a job in the newsroom at a San Francisco affiliate station of a major network for a career as a travel journalist whose work is published on Examiner.com.

      Pat Chiappa and her husband created a lifestyle in which they can work from home in virtual offices. Pat says they have the freedom to travel whenever wanderlust strikes. Her husbands a financial guru -- SpiritusFinancial-- and Pat is now the author of her first self-published book, A Couples Guide to Dream Big, Plan Well and Live Well (Spiritus Press). Says Pat, We can pick up our laptops and as long as we have a DSL connection, off we go.

      5. If your parents can afford it, ask them to come along and to help defray the cost of the trip.

      Eileen Ogintz, whose syndicated travel column is called Taking the Kids, says that each family works out a way of covering the intergenerational trip that is comfortable for them. In some cases, the grandparents may totally pay for everything, says Ogintz. In other cases, theyll pick up the cost of the house rental and some other stuff and the kids pay for their own flights.

      If your parents are slow walkers or even if they are wheelchair bound or on a walker, it is still possible for them to travel with you. Just consider their physical challenges when you plan your destination. Check out the books on this topic by Candy Harrington who has been specializing for the last fifteen years in what is known as barrier-free traveling including her book, 101 Accessible Vacations (Demos Medical Publishing).

      6. Save on lodging costs with home swap or home exchange or staying in a room rental in a private home.

      There are simultaneous swaps where you have to swap with another house or apartment and also a non-simultaneous swap which offers more flexibility because only one party needs to swap. The Vacation Exchange is a membership program that started in 1997 and which is based on home swapping of vacation and second homes. Another option is staying in a private home which is usually less money than a hotel room. That is the option that California-based Pat Chiappa prefers when she visits her extended family back East. She discovered a homeowner willing to rent out a room for just $60 not far from Pats parents home.

      7. Take a medical vacation.

      Do your research about the cost benefits of having certain elective medical or dental procedures done in other countries. With the money you save by traveling internationally for your medical or dental care, you could pay for your trip and possibly even have some extra money in your pocket. For more on this topic, see Medical Vacations - A Good Idea? by Fred Yager.

      8. Travel together.

      There is a group of Boomers who get together and take road trips within the U.S. Midlife Road Trip Show was started by Rick Griffin and now it has more than 1,300 followers on Twitter.com as well as hundreds of fans on its Facebook.com page. Vicky Akins, 48, who has been a nurse (LPN) since 1985 but is not working now, is a member and their volunteer marketing director. Vicky says that the goal of the group is to get Boomers off their butt and realize their best lives are ahead of them. You can see pictures from the trips they have taken so far at their website.

      Often you can save by traveling with a roommate, if you are single, rather than shouldering all the expenses on your own, or sharing the cost of a house with another couple or family instead of staying in hotel rooms.

      9. Schedule wisely.

      Whether traveling internationally or within the U.S., schedule your travel so its less expensive and check for discounts.

      I often recommend city hotels on the weekend and bed and breakfasts during the week for people who can do that, says Deborah Sakach of American Historic Inns in San Juan Capistrano, California. They can truly save fifty percent. If possible, travel during the low tourist season and when it is not school breaks or summer vacation. There are some amazing out-of-season deals available like rooms at half-price and kids under 16 stay free.

      Also check for discounts whether that means booking earlier, or at the last minute, using comparative shopping online travel sites for airline tickets, hotel rooms, or car rentals, like Kayak.com.

      10. Explore all inclusive not-for-profit or commercial tour programs that do all the planning for you with keeping costs down as a priority.

      Consider such well-regarded programs as Elderhostel, with the new name, Exploritas, that offers lower cost trips by affiliating with educational institutions for lodging rather than more luxurious expensive hotels, or volunteer programs which still cost money to participate in but some or most of the cost of the trip is reduced.

      Some volunteers may even find a local company or service organization to sponsor you by picking up any charges as well as your airfare. Or you might consider having your trip put together by a travel agent or company that has a reputation for having access to discounted airfares, cruises, or package deals not easily found on your own such as Quench Trip Design, based in Toronto, Canada. As Mercedeh Sanati, owner of Quench, points out, The trends that were finding in this economy are that Boomers are willing to spend money on experiences, such as cooking classes in a farmhouse in Tuscany or elephant safaris in India, but theyre a bit less interested in spending loads of money on accommodation.

      11. Take a "staycation"

      Forty-nine-year-old stand-up comedian and actor Dan Nainan is on the road for his job 100 days a year for work; he flew 195,000 miles on Delta just last year. If your job also includes a lot of travel, staying home might actually be a welcome change for your vacation.

      Yes, it is possible to have a vacation without leaving home but the key is to make sure that it still stimulates all your senses as you explore or rediscover places and even people within or near your community that you have not had the time for recently. Try out new restaurants; get together with old or new friends.

      Barbara Gibson, who works with The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC), a mammal hospital, research, and education center that she describes as a real treasure, which is just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, notes, As a Boomer myself, Im staying closer to home with my travels and looking for under-the-radar local bargains to help me match my love of travel with my feeling of pending financial doom.

      Even if you stay at home or close by for your vacation, make sure you break up your routine with fresh experiences especially if you are addicted to the Internet. As 60-year-old Boomer and author T.B. Fisher notes, The Internet isn't experiencing life; it's viewing life. We need to breathe, touch, and smell. He continues, It's too convenient to blame the economy for not venturing out. Boomers don't need to travel far to leave their sphere. Regardless of where you live, different cultures exist within your zip code, across the river, down the highway.

      Whether near or far, prioritize travel by reminding yourself that it is good for your mind, body, and soul.

      Sixty-three-year-old R. Kevin Price, author of The Successful Retirement Guide (Rainbow Books), discovered that three factors contribute to an optimum retirement: Staying intellectually, socially, and physically engaged. Travel is one way to accomplish all three engagements at once especially if you take the time before your trip to steep yourself in the culture and history of the places you will be visiting. That is the process that Price, who retired from his executive job in 2002, highly recommends and that he and his wife have applied to their trips over the last few years to Morocco, Antarctica, and their next trip in September to Italy.

      Peace of mind insurance

      A Boomer couple I know had purchased tickets on a cruise but the husband had to go into the hospital because of an irregular heart beat and they couldnt go. Fortunately had they bought travel insurance. (They were offered insurance from the company they bought the cruise tickets from but a cancelation would have only led to a credit. The independent insurance policy they purchased provided a full refund, which was definitely preferable.)

      If you are going on a cruise, taking a plane, buying a packaged vacation, or having to prepay for hotel accommodations that will not be refundable, you may want to get travel insurance. But make sure you are very clear about what is and what is not going to be reimbursed by the insurance company if there is a medical emergency or an airline cancellation.

      Finally, look into your health insurance policy and see if it covers you while you are traveling. If not, look into obtaining travel health insurance as well. A related service to consider is membership in MedjetAssist, a company that offers a discount to AARP members, and that will transport someone who is hospitalized for an injury or an illness more than 150 miles from their home to their hometown hospital or any hospital of their choice.

      Whatever you decide about where or when you will travel, keep in mind that the vacation you take that you didnt think you could afford will be money well spent and a sound investment in a healthier and happier present and future.



      • Tom Glaister, Taking Travel into your own Hands. Consumeraffairs.com, February 7, 2006.
      • Eileen Ogintz, Taking the Kids: Multigenerational Trips Becoming More Far-Flung. Tribune Media Services, Pulse, April 4, 2010

      Resources for Volunteer or Educational Travel Experiences

      • Ecology Project International (EPI) Educational non-profit organization based in Missoula, Montana with travel programs in Costa Rica, Baja, Galapagos, and Montana for high school students with 10-14 adults joining in as well.
      • Global Volunteers Trips last for one to three weeks with fees ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 to cover housing, food, and related costs.
      • VolunTourism Provides information on this travel option.
      • Sierra Club Six or seven day trips, known as service trips, throughout the U.S. are offered at a cost of $300 to $1,000 for meals, lodging, and program assistance. Offers around 90 trips each year.

      Related websites

      • Boomers Abroad An online community and social networking site for the estimated 7 million Americans and Canadian living abroad, according to this site.
      • My Itchy Travel Feet (myitchytravelfeet.com) Site about Boomer travel developed and maintained by Boomer Donna Hull.
      • Snabbo.com Free membership social networking site for Baby Boomers with discussion groups on a wide range of topics.
      • WatchBoom Site covering Boomer travel, finance, and health, affiliated with Expedia/hotels.com

      11 Travel Tips For Boomers...

      Despite Fewer Accidents, Growing Concern About Air Safety

      A number of 'near-misses' reported in recent weeks

      By Mark Huffman

      June 1, 2010
      The skies over the United States have been remarkably safe in the last decade. At least there has been a significant drop in the number of fatal accidents. But are we doing a better job when it comes to safety, or have we been incredibly lucky?

      On the surface, the numbers suggest we're doing a better job of keeping planes aloft. Not counting the four airliners lost to terrorism on September 11, 2001, the U.S. suffered only five fatal accidents from 2000-2009.

      In one of those accidents, a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 slid off the runway at Chicago Midway Airport, hurting no one on board but killing a child when the plane struck a car.

      The most recent fatal accidents have involved small, commuter airlines. On February 12, 2009 Colgan Air Flight 3407, a Bombardier Dash 8, crashed into a house in Buffalo, N.Y., killing all on board.

      The next most-recent fatal accident involving a commercial airliner occurred in 2006, when Comair Flight 191, a Canadair CRJ-100 crashed after taking off from the wrong runway in Lexington, Ky., killing 49 of the 50 people on board.

      To find a multiple fatality accident during the past decade that involved a major airline, and excluding the acts of 9/11, one would have to go all the way back to November 12, 2001 when American Airlines Flight 587, an Airbus A300, crashed into a New York City neighborhood shortly after taking off from LaGuardia. The crashed claimed 265 lives.

      The just completed decade stands out when it comes to fatal airline accidents. Previous decades, however, have been much more deadly. In 1985, for example, there were five fatal airline accidents that year, killing 272 people. Two of the crashes occurred within 20 days of one another.

      Though the numbers suggest improved safety, other data support the belief that we've been very, very lucky. The French news agency, AFP, recently reported that the Federal Aviation Administration has begun to review its air traffic control procedures after a startling number of near-misses in the last few months.

      Lost separation

      "Over the last weeks there have been a number of instances where separation was lost between aircraft and in some cases there was a bit of a delay of notification that obviously caused some concern," FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford told AFP.

      In other words, in several instances air traffic controllers have lost track of where planes are.

      In one of the most recent incidents, US Airways Flight 140, with 138 passengers on board, came within 100 feet vertically and .33 mile laterally, of a Boeing 747 cargo plane over Alaska. No one was injured but the two planes were well inside aircraft separation limits.

      Other close calls were reported in March at San Francisco International and two incidents involving Southwest Airlines jets at Houston.

      The FAA is currently investigating these incidents. The Wall Street Journal reports the agency is also very concerned by delays in reporting these near-collisions. While incidents are supposed to be reported within 24 hours, the FAA says it received some reports several days after the fact.

      It's been said that "it's better to be lucky than good," but for the flying public, "good" is preferable. After all, luck can run out.

      Despite Fewer Accidents, Growing Concern About Air Safety...

      FTC Broadens Case Against Mortgage Relief Scheme

      Agency says 'forensic audits' were unlikely to help homeowners

      by James Limbach

      June 1, 2010
      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has named several new defendants and added new charges concerning so-called "forensic audits" to its lawsuit against an operation that allegedly bilked homeowners who were trying to lower their mortgage payments.

      The action is part of a continuing crackdown on scams that target consumers who are behind in their mortgage payments or at risk of foreclosure.

      The FTC has added as defendants Bradford R. Geisen; Maurice Jackson; Patrick Butler; Credit Services Alliance Inc.; and CreditLawGroup, a law firm run by two of the original defendants, John W. Smith and Glenn E. Gromann. The original defendants also included The Debt Advocacy Center LLC; Smith, Gromann & Davidson P.A.; and Kevin McCormick.

      Questionable ads

      According to the FTC's amended complaint, the new defendants, along with Smith and Gromann, offered "forensic audits" -- checking a homeowner's loan documents for law violations that would give them leverage in negotiating with lenders to obtain a loan modification or a "short sale" (sale of a house for an amount less than the mortgage balance).

      Their ads stated, "We have found that between 80-90 percent of all loans that we have audited have some form of rights violations." They collected $995 in advance for each audit even though an audit was unlikely to assist in negotiations with lenders, the complaint alleges.

      Jack of San Jose, CA, had an unpleasant experience with a forensic audit. "The Mortgage Relief Law Center (MRLC) company cashed my check of $2,795.00 even thought they already know that our application is not qualified at the beginning," he wrote in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com. "They knew that we would not able to qualify, but never informed us and let us wait for six months without any status result from the mortgage company.

      Finally, after almost seven months hoping, we received a letter from our mortgage company (CitiMortgage), which states that we are not qualified for a loan modification." MRLC, he says, refused his request for a refund.

      Variety of charges

      The FTC charged the new defendants, and Smith and Gromann, with falsely claiming that as a result of forensic loan audits consumers would obtain completed short sales or loan modifications that would make their mortgage payments substantially more affordable. They are also charged with telemarketing without paying the required annual fee to access telephone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.

      The FTC's original complaint, filed in November 2009, contended that The Debt Advocacy Center, operated by several individuals, charged customers $1,500 based on the alleged false promise that it would get homeowners' loans modified to make their mortgage payments more affordable.

      The FTC says that defendants falsely claimed they had helped more than 90 percent of their clients, and that they would refund consumers' money or pay a penalty if they failed. They are also charged with debiting consumers' bank accounts or charging their credit cards without their consent. The court halted the operations and froze the defendants' assets, pending resolution of the case.

      FTC Broadens Case Against Mortgage Relief Scheme...