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    Nutrition Basics Help Fight Child Obesity

    Reading the label can go a long way toward making sure kids eat properly

    With childhood obesity on the rise, parents, schools -- even whole communities -- are getting behind the movement to help young people eat healthier.

    FDA nutrition expert Shirley Blakely, a registered dietitian and the mother of two grown kids, says healthy eating at home and school begins at the grocery store.

    As you head down the supermarket aisle, Blakely says you should zero-in on two things:

    • the Nutrition Facts label -- tells the number of calories and percentage of a day's worth of nutrients in one serving
    • the ingredients on the label of all prepared foods -- lists every ingredient that went into the product, with the predominant ingredient first, the next most prominent second, and so on in descending order

    Checking ingredients

    Ingredients in prepared foods are listed in descending order of prominence. If the cereal your kids like has some type of grain listed first, that's a good sign. But if fructose, high fructose corn syrup, or sucrose -- in other words, sugar -- is listed first, you'd best leave that item on the store shelf because added sugars are taking the place of other, more nutritious ingredients.

    And sugar isn't always an additive. Some foods -- fruits, for example -- are naturally sweet without adding any sugar at all. If you check the Nutrition Facts label on canned or dried fruits that have no added sugar, you'll still see sugars listed. That's because the sugars in pineapple, raisins, prunes, and other fruits occur naturally.

    The same is true for fresh apples, bananas, melons, and other items on your grocer's produce aisle, but they don't carry labels because they're completely unprocessed. If you want to know how many calories or nutrients they have, you'll have to look on the Internet or ask in the produce section of your grocery store.

    Read the label

    Blakely also says parents and kids should pay attention to portion sizes. Her advice: put just one serving on each person's plate. And make sure everyone in the family knows how to use the Nutrition Facts label to guide their food choices. Blakely says there are three things everyone should check when they read the label:

    • Serving size -- one container isn't necessarily one serving; make sure you're eating only one serving by measuring your food and eating it from a plate or bowl instead of out of the container.
    • Percent Daily Value -- tells what percentage of the recommended daily amount of each nutrient is in one serving of a food. Based on the amount of each nutrient recommendation for one day, five percent or less is low; 20 percent or more is high.
    • Nutrients -- try to get 20 percent or more of protein, fiber, and some essential vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin C and calcium) in a single serving; but limit your intake of saturated fats and sodium to five percent or less per serving of food. Strive for 0 trans fat, or trans fatty acids -- this harmful fat raises your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers your good cholesterol (HDL).

    Some big changes could be in store for the Nutritional Facts Label. ConsumerAffairs.com's Sara Huffman reported recently that the Institute of Medicine is recommending information that is more useful to food shoppers be placed more prominently on packages.

    Nutrition Basics Help Fight Child ObesityReading the label can go a long way toward making sure kids eat properly...
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    Parents and Trick-or-Treaters Warned About Halloween Dangers

    Pedestrian accidents and recalled candy among biggest risks on Halloween night

    Ghosts and goblins aren't the only things parents and kids should watch out for this Halloween.

    This gruesome holiday is one of the most dangerous nights of the year for pedestrians, according to Consumer Reports, which also points out that two candy manufacturers have issued product recalls recently.

    Halloween is the second deadliest day for all pedestrians after New Year's Day. Fatal collisions between motor vehicles and young pedestrians occur most frequently between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m. Parents are urged to take special care to make sure their trick-or-treaters are easily visible to motorists.

    Additionally, two recent candy recalls can pose a threat to unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. Manufacturer Colombina recalled certain lots of their Mega Pops lollipops because they may contain traces of foreign particles. Parents of children with nut allergies should be aware that Nestle recalled lots of its Raisinets candies because they contained undeclared peanuts.

    "While Halloween can be lots of fun for trick-or-treaters and parents alike, it can also pose safety risks for those not taking proper precautions," said Don Mays, Sr. Director of Safety and Technical Policy for CR. "There are just a few simple steps that parents and trick-or-treaters can take to ensure a happy Halloween!"

    The magazine offers the following advice for a Happy Halloween:

    Costumes

    • Wear bright-colored costumes and trim costumes and candy bags with reflective tape.
    • Make a flashlight part of the costume to help trick-or-treaters see easily as well as aid them in being seen.
    • Shoes should be sturdy and fit well so the child isn't wobbly or unsteady.
    • Opt for facial make-up instead of masks that can obstruct vision.
    • Choose costumes labeled "flame resistant."
    • Costumes should be short enough for children to walk in without tripping. Avoid big, baggy sleeves, trailing cloaks and billowing skirts.

    Candy

    • Parents should tell their children to refrain from eating their candy while out trick-or-treating.
    • Provide children with a few sweet treats to snack on while they are away.
    • Carefully inspect candy when children get home to ensure they haven't received any recalled or other potentially dangerous products.

    Decorations

    • Make sure the front of the house is well lit.
    • Use battery operated electric candles rather than real flames to decorate porches and pumpkins.
    • Clear porches and front yards of garden hoses, lawn decorations or anything a child could trip over.
    • Sweep wet leaves from sidewalks and steps.
    • Check outdoor lights and replace any burned-out bulbs.
    • Place lit jack-o-lanterns away from doorsteps and landings.
    Parents and Trick-or-Treaters Warned About Halloween DangersPedestrian accidents and recalled candy among biggest risks on Halloween night...
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    Firesheep Is Latest Headache For Computer Users

    Using an unsecured network in a coffee shop just got more more dangerous

    Computer security specialists have issued a warning about Firesheep, a new downloadable add-on to the Firefox browser. If the person in a coffee shop with you has it, they can see exactly what you're doing online.

    The feature was reportedly created by a Seattle software developer, whose purpose was to demonstrate how vulnerable unsecured networks are. Unfortunately, he's unleashed a tool that can turn a computer amateur into an accomplished hacker.

    With Firesheep, a computer user can log onto a public network, in an airport or coffee shop, and get a list of all the computers that happen to be connected to the network at that moment.

    Simply by double-clicking on one of the names, the Firesheep user can access whatever that computer user is doing online. If they are updating their Facebook account, the Firesheep user is also logged in.

    Firesheep works by intercepting Internet cookies, which websites place on your computer when you visit so they will recognize you when you return. Professional hackers have had that tool in their arsenal for years. Now, thanks to Firesheep, anybody that as downloaded the add-on can do it.

    200,000 downloads and counting

    That's the scary part. Over 200,000 people downloaded Firesheep in the first three days, and it's likely to become even more prevalent in the days to come. It's going to make working on an unsecured network a lot more dangerous.

    How can you protect yourself? For starters, you can avoid using your computer on public Wi-Fi networks that aren't encrypted. But that makes your computer a lot less useful.

    Chet Wisniewski, a senior security advisor at the software security firm Sophos, says the best defense is to employ a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when connecting to Wi-Fi in a public place.

    If you work for a large corporation, chances are you are already using a VPN. Many companies provide them for employees to connect to the office network while traveling, as a way to enhance security. It's basically a secure highway to the Internet.

    But there are also VPN services available to consumers. There is a cost - as much as $10 a month - but it may be less than the cost of having your computer hijacked while you sip a latte.

    A new add-on to the Firefox browser allows anyone on a public network to see what others on the network are doing...
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      Toyota, Honda Top Consumer Reports Reliability Ratings

      But Ford, GM turn in better performances, with Ford closer to edging Lexus

      Toyota and Honda took the blue ribbons in the annual Consumer Reports reliability survey, but Ford and General Motors turned in improved performances from previous years, with Ford taking top honors in the family car segment.

      The highest-ranked brand overall was the Scion, a relatively new entrant from Toyota. The Porsche Boxster had the best score of any specific model. The Ford Fusion hybrid and V6 models were the magazine's top family car picks, edging out the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. GM scored well with its Chevrolet Equinox compact sport utility.

      Chrysler and many high-priced European brands turned in less than stellar showings. The CR reviewers said the Chrysler brand suffered from an aging lineup while BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi suffered from fuel pump problems and other deficiencies.

      The magazine found that 83 percent of Chevrolet models had average or better scores, up from 50 percent last year but Chevy is "still a way from the top," said David Champion, senior director of the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. He said Ford and GM have taken "different paths to improving reliability."

      "Some of GM's redesigned vehicles have scored well. The company has also dropped many of its below-average models. Ford has put its emphasis on fine-tuning existing platforms and limiting the number of new-model introductions," Champion said

      The Ford brand now tops Mazda and Nissan, ranking just below Lexus.

      Toyota, Honda Top Consumer Reports Reliability Ratings. But Ford, GM turn in better performances, with Ford closer to edging Lexus...
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      What Makes It Sweet Is What Makes It Toxic

      Study finds scented household items contain toxic chemicals not listed on the label

      Consumers wanting to rid their homes of toxic chemicals should follow their noses.

      A study led by the University of Washington discovered that 25 commonly used scented products (like laundry detergent and air freshener) emit an average of 17 chemicals each. Of the 133 different chemicals detected, nearly a quarter are classified as toxic or hazardous under at least one federal law.

      Only one emitted compound was listed on a product label, and only two were publicly disclosed anywhere.

      Even so-called "green" products were not "safe."

      "We analyzed best-selling products, and about half of them made some claim about being green, organic or natural," said lead author Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs. "Surprisingly, the green products' emissions of hazardous chemicals were not significantly different from the other products."

      More than a third of the products emitted at least one chemical classified as a probable carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and for which the EPA sets no safe exposure level.

      Manufacturers are not required to disclose any ingredients in cleaning supplies, air fresheners or laundry products, all of which are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Neither these nor personal care products, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, are required to list ingredients used in fragrances, even though a single "fragrance" in a product can be a mixture of up to several hundred ingredients, Steinemann said.

      So Steinemann and colleagues have used chemical sleuthing to discover what is emitted by the scented products commonly used in homes, public spaces and workplaces.

      The study analyzed air fresheners including sprays, solids and oils; laundry products including detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets; personal care products such as soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorant and shampoos; and cleaning products including disinfectants, all-purpose sprays and dish detergent. All were widely used brands, with more than half being the top-selling product in its category.

      Researchers placed a sample of each product in a closed glass container at room temperature and then analyzed the surrounding air for volatile organic compounds, small molecules that evaporate off a product's surface. They detected chemical concentrations ranging from 100 micrograms per cubic meter (the minimum value reported) to more than 1.6 million micrograms per cubic meter.

      The most common emissions included limonene, a compound with a citrus scent; alpha-pinene and beta-pinene, compounds with a pine scent; ethanol; and acetone, a solvent found in nail polish remover.

      All products emitted at least one chemical classified as toxic or hazardous. Eleven products emitted at least one probable carcinogen according to the EPA. These included acetaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde and methylene chloride.

      The only chemical listed on any product label was ethanol, and the only additional substance listed on a chemical safety report, known as a material safety data sheet, was 2-butoxyethanol.

      "The products emitted more than 420 chemicals, collectively, but virtually none of them were disclosed to consumers, anywhere," Steinemann said.

      Because product formulations are confidential, it was impossible to determine whether a chemical came from the product base, the fragrance added to the product, or both.

      Tables included with the article list all chemicals emitted by each product and the associated concentrations, although they do not disclose the products' brand names.

      "We don't want to give people the impression that if we reported on product 'A' and they buy product 'B,' that they're safe," Steinemann said. "We found potentially hazardous chemicals in all of the fragranced products we tested."

      The study establishes the presence of various chemicals but makes no claims about the possible health effects. Two national surveys published by Steinemann and a colleague in 2009 found that about 20 percent of the population reported adverse health effects from air fresheners, and about 10 percent complained of adverse effects from laundry products vented to the outdoors. Among asthmatics, such complaints were roughly twice as common.

      The Household Product Labeling Act, currently being reviewed by the U.S. Senate, would require manufacturers to list ingredients in air fresheners, soaps, laundry supplies and other consumer products. Steinemann says she is interested in fragrance mixtures, which are included in the proposed labeling act, because of the potential for unwanted exposure, or what she calls "secondhand scents."

      As for what consumers who want to avoid such chemicals should do in the meantime, Steinemann suggests doing what Grandma did: cleaning with vinegar and baking soda and opening windows for ventilation. And if there's no old-fashioned alternative for the product, find one that's fragrance-free.

      "In the past two years, I've received more than 1,000 e-mails, messages, and telephone calls from people saying: 'Thank you for doing this research, these products are making me sick, and now I can start to understand why,'" Steinemann said.

      The article is published online today in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review.

      Steinemann is currently a visiting professor in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. Co-authors on the study are Ian MacGregor and Sydney Gordon at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio; Lisa Gallagher, Amy Davis and Daniel Ribeiro at the UW; and Lance Wallace, retired from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The research was partially funded by Seattle Public Utilities.

      What Makes It Sweet Is What Makes It Toxic Study finds scented household items contain toxic chemicals not listed on the label...
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      Numbers Game: The True Cost of Credit Card Mail Offers

      While there has been progress, a new analysis suggests deciding on a credit card remains too complicated

      Credit card offers have grown increasingly complicated since 2000, when Congress required issuers to start disclosing pricing information on monthly billing statements. But new research from the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) finds that instead of providing clarity to consumers about the true cost of their credit cards, issuers responded by adding a confusing array of numbers to their offers

      Specifically, CRL's research finds that numbers in credit card direct-mail offers increased 250 percent from 1999 to 2009, and at the peak in early 2009 the average credit card summary contained 33 figures.Much of the increased complexity in offers came from new penalty rates and fees.

      CRL also finds that offer complexity varied widely among issuers: in most years, the most complex offer had six-to-eight times as many numbers as the simplest offer.This suggests that it has been issuer choice -- not regulation -- that has made credit card terms more confusing.

      CARD Act

      The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 appears to have made credit card contracts clearer, suggesting the law is having the intended effect of creating fair, understandable terms.

      But credit card pricing remains far more complicated than just a decade ago, thwarting consumers' ability to comparison shop. Regulators must monitor industry practices carefully to determine whether more action is needed to enhance clarity.

      The CRL analysis focuses on the "Schumer Box" -- a key summary of terms within each offer. This disclosure, which summarizes costs to the consumer, contains the information most likely used when selecting a credit card. It does not include all card terms, but rather is intended to summarize the most important terms for consumers.

      The general structure and the type of information that must be included in the Schumer Box are mandated by law that became effective in 2000 in legislation sponsored by then-U.S. Congressman Charles Schumer.

      However, the law does not mandate or necessitate complex disclosures. Rather, the complexity of disclosures is a function of choices made by a card issuer.

      Numbers, numbers, numbers

      The average credit card offer's summary of terms had 33 figures at its peak in 2009. The most complex summary of terms analyzed had 55 numbers, while the simplest summary of terms had just five numbers.

      In the peak period of May 2009, the number of numbers in a summary of terms varied considerably, from 14 to 48. In many periods, the most complex offer had more than six times as many numbers as the simplest.

      Complexity of terms

      Summary term complexity rose 250 percent between 1999 and the peak period in 2009, but declined 23 percent after implementation of key provisions of the CARD Act of 2009. The average number of numbers appearing in the Schumer Box grew by 250 percent from 13 numbers in 1999 to a peak of 33 numbers in 2009.

      In 2010, after the Credit CARD Act, the complexity of contracts declined by 23 percent to an average of 26 numbers. A notable drop in offer complexity was observed after the CARD Act. Most of this has been due to simplification in Annual Percentage Rate (APR) terms.

      The shift

      The sources of complexity shifted from 1999 to 2009, with the latter year having a greater portion of numbers related to penalty fees and to APR. In 1999, 41 percent of numbers were related to APR, while 16 percent were related to penalty fees.In 2009, 46 percent were related to APR, while 25 percent were related to penalty fees. The absolute level of numbers increased for all categories between 1999 and 2009.

      After implementation of most provisions of the Credit CARD Act, 41 percent of numbers were related to APR, while 27 percent were related to penalty rates. However, even as the proportions of these figures remained more or less level over the implementation of the CARD Act, they were associated with an appreciably lower absolute count of numbers than was the case before reform.

      Too much info

      Each number in a credit card offer can generally be considered a dimension of price. All of these price dimensions must be considered simultaneously so that a consumer can make the best decisions regarding his or her credit cards.

      There is evidence that consumers cannot grasp anything close to 30 dimensions simultaneously when making a decision, with previous research suggesting the number may be closer to seven. With a typical credit card offer and average processing capacity on the part of the consumer, over 75 percent of the price information will not be fully taken into account.

      If a consumer is comparing offers, this quickly multiplies the number of dimensions involved. For example, if a consumer is comparing three credit card products, just looking at the introductory rate, the length of the introductory rate, and a single long-term purchase rate for each offer results in nine numbers. This already stretches the consumer's cognitive capacity. Consumers often make their best effort to comparison shop, but end up frustrated in their attempt to find the cheapest product.

      Why do most issuers put so many numbers in their offers? Complexity in disclosures is a direct result of credit card issuer choices. In most years, the most complex offer had six-to-eight times as many numbers as the simplest offer. Both of these offers existed in the same regulatory environment. The difference was the complexity of the underlying product.

      Policy recommendation

      The Credit CARD Act appears to have reduced the complexity of credit card contracts, supporting the contention that the law is having its intended effect of creating more understandable and predictable credit card terms. However, credit cards still remain far more complex in their pricing than they were just a decade ago.

      Price complexity can lead to a less competitive market by thwarting a consumer's ability to weigh all factors when comparing prices simultaneously and accurately. CRL recommends the trend toward more complex credit card offers should be monitored by regulators.

      Complexity is down since Credit CARD Act implementation, but it is still higher than the complexity of offers just five years ago. More reform or rulemaking action by regulators may be warranted if complexity continues to stay high, CRL believes.

      Borrower recommendations

      Issuers are well aware that there are limitations to consumers' ability to attend to every detail of highly complex disclosures. The less scrupulous among them will give what seems a great offer with a prominent headline interest rate, while making up for it by using a variety of other fees and prices less obvious to the prospective cardholder. Consumers should not be deceived by this tactic.

      It may be too difficult to weigh and compare all the prices and fees at once, so CRL recommends consumers choose the simple and transparent over the deal that looks too good to be true

      In the end, consumers likely will be better off with straightforward, honest pricing systems than with a 0 percent introductory offer that comes with considerable price changes and fees down the line.

      Numbers Game: The True Cost of Credit Card Mail Offers While there has been progress, a new analysis suggests deciding on a credit card remains too comp...
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      How to Buy a Car on Credit Even when Your Credit Score Isn’t So Good

      Car dealers want to sell cars and use different criteria when determining credit worthiness

      Are you in the market for a new or used car, but aren't sure your credit score is high enough to qualify for financing? You're probably not alone, given all of the news stories and car ads that boast 0% interest for qualified buyers.

      What makes a "qualified" buyer these days? According to the Wall Street Journal, it's not who you think. In fact, the Journal says many dealerships rely on a different set of numbers other than your credit score.

      The Journal offers these tips for anyone who's thinking about buying a car but may be holding back because they think their credit score is too low.

      Tip one is to gather as much information as you can before you start shopping and not just about cars, but about your credit score as well. It may not be as bad as you think. You want to go into a dealership with the right information because if you think you have a low score and convey this to a car salesman, he or she may tell that you only qualify for a loan with a high interest rate when in reality your score actually qualified you for a much lower rate. Another reason to check your credit score is to make sure there are no errors in it. If there are, fix them.

      Keep in mind that many auto dealerships rely on a different score that's geared to predicting, specifically, how you'll do at paying off a car loan, and that score could be somewhat higher -- or lower -- than your general credit score.

      Tip two is to shop around. A car dealership may be able to offer you the lowest rate on your car loan because of its close relationships to automaker financing units. But don't take the dealer's word for it. You need to be sure it really is the lowest rate, and you should provide an incentive to get that best rate. For example, one way to possibly get a better rate is to make the dealer fight for it. You do that by walking into the dealership with a pre-approved loan the dealership has to beat.

      Even if your credit isn't great, you can still buy a car on credit and possibly get a good rate...
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      Those Quirky “Required Minimum Distribution” Rules or “RMDs” Are Coming Back

      Many retirees didn’t even know RMDs had been put on hold for the past year or so

      Few things are more confusing in life than what's known as a required minimum distribution or "RMDs." Not to be mistaken for WMDs, or weapons of mass destruction, RMDs are nasty little rules that state when you reach a certain age -- 70½ to be precise --  you have to take a required minimum distribution from your tax-deferred retirement account such as an IRA or a 401(k) whether you want to or not. The IRS makes you take it.

      Now for the past two years, RMDs have been on hold. Congress, in its collective wisdom, decided to do something to allow retirement nest eggs that were decimated by the market downturn time to recover. So in late 2008 they suspended for one year the IRS rule that requires older Americans to take withdrawals from their individual retirement accounts and 401(k)s.

      Here's where things begin to get confusing. The suspension was supposed to be in place only for 2009. And account holders didn't have to withdraw money until April 1 of the year after they turn 70½. So, you would figure that people who turned 70½ in 2009 would have had until April 1 of 2010 to take their first required distribution. If only it was that simple.

      As part of the 2009 suspension, people who turned 70½ in 2009 were allowed to skip their first mandatory withdrawal—the one that had to be taken by April 1. That means they now have to take only one distribution this year, and the deadline for that is New Years Eve, Dec. 31.

      For people who turn 70½ in 2010, the normal rules will apply and they will have until April 1, 2011, to take their first distribution, and until Dec. 31, 2011, to take their second distribution. Still with me?

      Now, what is a minimum distribution? Is it the same for everyone? Of course not. There's a formula.

      In order to calculate the minimum amount the IRS requires you to withdraw you're your retirement account, you first check your account balance as of the previous Dec. 31. Then you divide that figure by your remaining life expectancy. Wait. You say you don't know how long you're going to life? That's okay. No one's perfect. The government has a way for you to get around that. They let you use the life expectancy number that corresponds to your current age as determined by the actuarial tables in IRS Publication 590.

      If you're a beneficiary who inherited one of these accounts the situation is even more confusing. You generally must start taking withdrawals by Dec. 31 of the year, after the year in which the IRA owner died. You can spread the withdrawals over your own life expectancy. For a man who was 50 let's say, and inherited an IRA in 2008, he could spread out withdrawals over 34.2 years even though his life expectancy is only 32.2 more years.

      That's because each subsequent year, the man must reduce this life-expectancy figure by one. While distributions were suspended in 2009, beneficiaries must still account for that year. When the man resumes distributions in 2010, he must subtract two years from the 34.2 figure he used in 2008—one for 2009 and one for 2010. So if you inherited an account in 2008, the deadline for taking the first withdrawal is Dec. 31, 2010.

      I think it's time for my required minimum nap.

      If you have an IRA or a 401(k) and are over 70 and ½ years old you’ll have to take what’s known as a required minimum distribution beginning Dec. 31, ...
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      New Tests Could Phase Out Starbucks Cards

      The coffee chain expands mobile phone payment option to New Yorkers

      Adding to the list of changes Starbucks is currently making to its stores, the coffee chain announced it's expanding its Starbucks Card Mobile payment test to nearly 300 company-owned stores in New York City, and Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island.

      For the past year, Starbucks tested the payment option - using the newly-launched Starbucks Card Mobile app - in 16 Seattle and Northern California locations along with 1,000 Starbucks in U.S. Target stores.

      The app, available for a variety of BlackBerry smartphones, the iPhone, and the iPod Touch, will soon give New York area coffee fans the ability to pay for their purchases more quickly and without the need for an actual Starbucks card.

      "Mobile technology is part of our customers' daily routine and with the expansion of mobile payment in our test cities, we're seeing more and more customers using their smartphones as their mobile wallets," said Brady Brewer, vice president Starbucks Card and Loyalty.

      Brewer said Starbucks is responding to consumer demand for a faster, more convenient way to pay at the register.

      The virtual Starbucks card works a lot like the plastic version; once downloading the free Starbucks Card Mobile App and setting up an account, a barcode will come up on the phone or iPod's screen that can be scanned on a special 2-D scanner at the register. The amount is automatically taken from the "card."

      Consumers will also be able use the app to reload their card balance using a major credit card, check their My Starbucks Reward status, and find the closest Starbucks to them.

      Currently almost one in five of all in-store transactions are paid for with a Starbucks Card and customers are on track to load more than $1 billion on Starbucks Cards this year. At the end of the third quarter, sales of Starbucks Cards were up 17% over last year and the reload on existing cards was up more than 59% percent compared to last year.

      Starbucks hopes the new mobile payment system will appeal to these consumers by making card transactions even faster.

      "With the expansion of mobile payment to New York City, we expect to see more and more customers trading their plastic Starbucks Cards for the digital version on their mobile phone," said Brewer.

      iPhone and iPod touch users can download the app from the Apple App Store. BlackBerry smartphone users can text the word "GO" to 70845 or visit the Starbucks website from their device and download the app there.

      New Tests Could Phase Out Starbucks CardsThe coffee chain expands mobile phone payment option to New Yorkers...
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      Are the 2010-2011 Seasonal Flu Vaccines Safe?

      As the approaching flu season raises questions, federal health agencies provide some answers

      Each year, the seasonal influenza vaccine contains three flu viruses-- one influenza A (H3N2) virus, one influenza A (H1N1) virus, and one influenza B virus. The 2009 H1N1 (swine) flu) virus strain is included in the 2010-2011 seasonal flu vaccine because scientists continue to see this virus strain circulate in the U.S.

      This season's vaccine is expected to have a similar safety profile as past seasonal flu vaccines. Over the years, hundreds of millions of Americans have received seasonal flu vaccines.

      The most common side effects found from last year's H1N1 flu vaccines were soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the flu shot was given and nasal congestion after the flu vaccine nasal spray.

      Feds to monitor vaccine

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are closely monitoring for any signs the vaccine is causing unexpected adverse events and are working with state and local health officials and other public health partners to investigate any unusual events.

      The purpose of vaccine safety monitoring is to provide quick identification of any clinically significant adverse events following immunization. Adverse events -- including apparent side effects -- following immunization may be coincidental to (meaning occurring around the same time but not elated to vaccination) or caused by vaccination.

      CDC and its partners use multiple systems to monitor the safety of this season's flu vaccines. Two of the primary systems that are being used to monitor the safety of these vaccines are: the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which is jointly operated with FDA, and the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) Project.

      Vaccine Adverse Event Report System

      VAERS is a national program managed by both CDC and FDA to monitor the safety of all vaccines licensed in the United States. Healthcare providers are encouraged to report possible adverse events of concern after vaccination, even if they are not certain that the vaccine caused the event. VAERS relies on information included in these reports to monitor for clinically serious adverse events or health problems that follow vaccination.

      Generally, VAERS cannot determine if an adverse event was caused by a vaccine but can help determine if further investigations are needed. FDA and CDC use VAERS data to help identify potential clinically serious vaccine adverse events or health outcomes. If concerns are identified in VAERS, usually further investigation is needed. One important system used to further evaluate concerns identified in VAERS is the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) Project.

      Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) Project

      The VSD Project is a vaccine safety system used to both identify and confirm adverse outcomes after immunization. This project is a collaboration between CDC and eight large managed care organizations, in which comprehensive medical information is collected on approximately nine million people.

      The VSD project monitors their data weekly for certain adverse events that could be associated with newly licensed vaccines. VSD conducts studies of vaccine safety adverse events and health outcomes that may arise with any vaccine.

      Additionally, CDC works with numerous partners, including other federal agencies, state and local health departments, professional organizations, and academic institutions, to actively follow individuals after vaccination to monitor for any potential adverse events.

      Vaccine side effects

      Both the flu shot and the nasal spray (LAIV or Flu Mist) vaccines have possible side effects. Among them:

      The flu shot: The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Some minor side effects that could occur are:

      • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
      • Fever (low grade)
      • Aches
      • Nausea

      If these problems occur, they begin soon after the shot and usually last a day or two. Almost all people who get flu shots have no serious problems. However, on rare occasions, they can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. A federal program has been created to help pay for the medical care and other specific expenses of certain persons who have a serious reaction to this vaccine. For more information about this program, call 1-888-275-4772 or visit the program's Website.

      The nasal spray (also called LAIV): The viruses in the nasal-spray vaccine are weakened and do not cause severe symptoms often associated with influenza illness. (In clinical studies, transmission of vaccine viruses to close contacts has occurred only rarely.)

      In children, side effects from LAIV can include:

      • runny nose
      • wheezing
      • headache
      • vomiting
      • muscle aches
      • fever

      In adults, side effects from LAIV can include:

      • runny nose
      • headache
      • sore throat
      • cough

      Mild problems that may be experienced include soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, fainting (mainly adolescents), headache, muscle aches, fever, and nausea. If these problems occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days. Life-threatening allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare. If they do occur, it is usually within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot is given.

      This season's flu vaccine is made the same way as past seasonal flu vaccines. Millions of seasonal flu vaccines have been given safely. Millions of people have also safely received the 2009 H1N1 vaccine.

      CDC expects that any side effects following vaccination with the 2010-2011 flu vaccine would be rare. Any side effects that may occur are expected to be similar to those experienced following past seasonal influenza vaccine.

      Cause for concern

      Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, swelling around the eyes or lips, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heartbeat or dizziness. In addition, after vaccination you should look for any unusual condition, such as a high fever or behavior changes.

      If any unusual condition occurs following vaccination, seek medical attention right away. Tell your doctor what happened, the date and time it happened, and when the vaccination was given. Ask your doctor, nurse, or health department to report a possible reaction by filing a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form. Or you can file this report yourself through the VAERS Website or by calling 1-800-822-7967 to receive a copy of the VAERS form.

      Are the 2010-2011 Seasonal Flu Vaccines Safe? As the approaching flu season raises questions, federal health agencies provide some answers ...
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      Texas Credit Repair Companies Face Charges

      Allegedly targeting Hispanic consumers

      Texas has charged two El Paso-based companies with operating unlicensed credit repair and credit restoration services. The State's enforcement action names Max Credit of El Paso - which is also known as Max Credit Express and Max Credit Express LLC - and its owner Jorge Almaraz; and Francisco Payan, the owner of Max Credit West as defendants.

      "These defendants are charged with unlawfully misleading financially struggling Texans in an effort to recruit customers," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. "Not only did the defendants operate unlicensed credit service organizations, but they also falsely indicated their agencies were law firms. Today's enforcement action seeks restitution for the defendants' customers and asks the court to prevent their firms from operating in violation of Texas law."

      According to court documents filed by the State, the defendants advertised - and continue to advertise - their services to English and Spanish speakers with poor credit. Advertising through billboards, direct mail and the Internet, the defendants marketed their purported ability to repair their customers' credit histories and credit ratings

      Credit repair services sometimes claim to be things they aren't, and Abbott says that's the case with the two companies. According to state investigators, the defendants' website falsely and unlawfully claims their organization is a "legal firm."

      Inaccurate information

      The site also inaccurately states that the defendants specialize in resolving poor credit pursuant to federal laws such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). However, Almaraz and Payan are not actually lawyers - and Payan has admitted he is not an FCRA expert.

      The legal action also charges the defendants with unlawfully operating unlicensed credit service organizations (CSO). Under the Texas Credit Services Organization Act, CSOs must register with the Secretary of State and obtain a surety bond or surety account.

      The State's investigation indicates that the defendants sold credit repair services to over 300 customers while the two companies were unregistered and lacked a bond. They allegedly charged $695 for individuals and $1,095 per couple.

      After receiving a Civil Investigative Demand - a type of subpoena - from the Attorney General's Office, Almaraz took steps to register a newly created firm with state authorities. However, according to State investigators, the defendant's newly created, registered firm also improperly continue to make misleading claims in their advertisements.

      Abbott is seeking restitution for the defendant's customers as well as civil penalties of $20,000 per violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

      Consumers who encounter an offer for credit repair services should take several steps before signing a contract or agreement to repair or improve their credit:

      Check their credit report. All Texans may request a free copy of their credit report once a year from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The official site created by the three major credit bureaus is www.annualcreditreport.com. 


      Do their own research before believing a company's promise to fix or remove "negative items" on a credit report. Only items that are erroneous, inaccurate or obsolete (usually more than seven years old) can be legally removed from a debtor's credit report. 


      Check with the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General's Office and ask whether complaints have been filed against the company.

      The State of Texas is taking action against two credit repair firms it says offers inaccurate and deceptive information....
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      Cuomo Files Employment Suit Against FedEx

      Case is latest in long line addressing independent contractor-employee divide

      New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has filed suit against FedEx, alleging that the company's decision to label its delivery drivers "independent contractors," rather than "employees," deprives them of a range of benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled, in violation of state labor laws.

      The suit, filed in New York state court on Thursday, says that FedEx "has the power to control, and does in fact control, almost all aspects of its drivers' work," including "hours, job duties, routes, and even clothing ... The drivers are clearly perceived by the public to be employees."

      The suit goes on to point out that drivers are required by FedEx to buy or lease their own trucks and secure their own insurance plans.

      Suit follows Montana settlement

      Coincidentally enough, FedEx agreed on Wednesday to settle a similar suit brought by Montana's attorney general. Under that agreement, FedEx will pay $2.3 million to cover the costs of unemployment insurance, including insurance that was previously purchased by drivers themselves.

      Despite Cuomo's claim that his suit was spurred solely by negotiations that "broke down," a cynic might wonder whether the Montana settlement was enough to convince him of the likelihood of winning his own case. Indeed, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock had framed his suit in terms strikingly similar to those used by Cuomo.

      "This is a basic issue of fairness," Bullock said of the Montana case. "Every worker in Montana deserves the fundamental protections provided by law, and no employer can deny those protections by misclassifying employees as independent contractors."

      But, then again, by Bullock's own admission, his settlement did relatively little for drivers. As little as $100,000 of the $2.3 million settlement will pay drivers for their own unemployment insurance costs; the rest will reimburse various Montana agencies that are still owed taxes on that insurance. And, critically, FedEx will not be required to reclassify its "independent contractors" as "employees."

      "This settlement does not provide any assurance that we won't be back fighting a year from now," Bullock told ABC News. "One thing we do know, it's not going to be the degree of control that the state found they've been exercising over these guys the last few years."

      An ongoing issue

      One thing is for sure: this is an issue that FedEx has been fighting for years, and it doesn't look likely to go away anytime soon.

      According to an August filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), at least 30 class action suits have been filed over the dispute to date.

      A private lawsuit brought by FedEx drivers got mostly tossed from court in June, with a federal judge in Indiana ruling that the workers -- who were seeking full benefits, including medical, dental, and retirement plans -- had to exhaust internal company remedies before seeking the courts' assistance.

      Cuomo smacks down FedEx's political attack

      No matter what happens, the issue is sure to provide fodder for countless attorneys general to come, an angle that FedEx sought to play up in responding to Cuomo's suit.

      Rather than issue the typical boilerplate statement denying liability and predicting that the suit will be laughed out of the courts, FedEx used the filing as an opportunity to attempt to discredit Cuomo, who is hoping to become New York's Governor-elect on November 2.

      "It is disappointing that in the midst of his campaign for governor Attorney General Cuomo would choose to destroy that many jobs in New York," said FedEx spokesman Maury Lane, adding that the suit is "a real assault on the American working class."

      Cuomo's office shot back with equal force.

      "Any suggestion that the Attorney General's office handling of this case is improper is absurd," said Cuomo spokesman John Milgrim in a statement. "This office and a group of other states had been negotiating with FedEx for months. The case was filed, as was a similar case by Kentucky, when those discussions broke down."

      FedEx, it could be noted, is not exactly throwing its political stones from a house made of anything solid. Longtime CEO Frederick W. Smith is a high-profile Republican who was touted as a potential Secretary of Defense for George W. Bush in 2000, and as a possible running mate for John McCain in 2008.

      Cuomo Files Employment Suit Against FedEx Case is latest in long line addressing independent contractor-employee divide...
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      Massachusetts Bars Two Payday Lenders From State

      States targeting Internet lenders in payday loan crackdown

      A crackdown on Web-based payday lenders continues in Massachusetts. The State has barred two more of these businesses from offering loans to consumers in the Bay State.

      Two more Internet based payday lenders that were selling high interest loans to Massachusetts consumers will be barred from doing business in the state under separate settlements filed by Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office.

      The two separate settlements prevent payday lenders Nationwide Cash and Paragon Funding ("Paragon") from offering high-interest "payday" loans to Massachusetts consumers and require the lenders to return to consumers all interest charges and fees paid by Massachusetts consumers beyond the principal loan amount.

      Nationwide Cash and Paragon are also required to forgive all outstanding balances on the illegal loans.

      Attorney General Martha Coakley's office has already identified more than $24,000 in fees and interest owed to consumers by Nationwide Cash and Paragon, and the two lenders have agreed to pay any additional borrowers identified by the Attorney General who are entitled to restitution.

      Nationwide Cash will also pay $10,000 to the Commonwealth; Paragon, which made fewer loans in Massachusetts, will make a payment of $5,000 to the Commonwealth.

      The payday lenders will also cease all collection efforts, insist that credit reporting agencies remove these transactions from consumer credit records, and will not distribute promotional and marketing materials to Massachusetts consumers.

      "Payday lenders often prey on residents who are already under a great deal of financial stress, and who may have no idea that these interest rates violate Massachusetts law," Coakley said. "These loans can have a devastating impact on an individual's bank account and credit report in a very short amount of time. Massachusetts has strong laws in place to protect consumers from high-interest loans.  Lenders cannot hide behind the guise of an out-of-state website to break the law."

      Nationwide Cash, a Delaware-based lender, and Paragon, a Nevada-based lender, use the Internet to offer small, short-term loans (known as "payday" loans) to consumers. The loans, generally granted for a few hundred dollars or less, must be repaid within two to four weeks, and the lenders used consumers' bank accounts to secure repayment of the amount borrowed.

      If consumers were unable to repay the loan principal, fees, and interest, Nationwide Cash and Paragon extended the loans, and added additional fees to the consumer debt, Coakley charged. According to the settlement, both lenders charged an unfair interest rate on these loans, which rose as high as 1095 percent annually in the case of Paragon and was frequently more than 700 percent annually for Nationwide Cash borrowers.  The excessive interest rates charged by Nationwide Cash and Paragon are in violation of state law which provides that unlicensed lenders of small loans may only charge 12 percent interest.

      The agreements reached with Nationwide Cash and Paragon are part of an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General's Office into payday lenders that are circumventing Massachusetts loan laws by using the Internet to make illegal loans to Massachusetts consumers. In addition to the high interest rates, Coakley says Internet payday lending requires consumers to provide significant personal information, such as bank account numbers, social security numbers, personal references and employer contact information.

      Consumers should be advised that in addition to potential threats to their financial privacy and security, the payday lender then has direct access to the consumer's bank account from which to withdraw fees and interest, and sometimes will contact employers, friends or family members in later efforts to collect on any unpaid loan amounts. 


      Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley sues two Internet payday lenders....
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      'Lucky 13' Tips for a Safe Halloween

      Halloween will be more fun if you follow common sense guidelines for costumes and treats

      Whether you're goblin or ghoul, vampire or witch, poor costume choices -- including decorative contact lenses and flammable costumes -- can haunt you long after Halloween if they cause injury.

      With Halloween approaching, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) joins eye care professionals in discouraging the use of decorative contact lenses.

      These experts warn that buying any kind of contact lenses without an examination and a prescription from an eye care professional can cause serious eye disorders and infections, which may lead to permanent vision loss. Even though it's illegal to sell decorative contact lenses without a valid prescription, the lenses are sold on the Internet and in retail shops and salons -- particularly around Halloween.

      The decorative lenses make the wearer's eyes appear to glow in the dark, create the illusion of vertical "cat eyes," or change the wearer's eye color.

      Safe costumes

      "Although unauthorized use of decorative contact lenses is a concern year-round, Halloween is the time when people may be inclined to use them, perhaps as costume accessories," says FDA eye expert Bernard Lepri, O.D., M.S., M.Ed. "What troubles us is when they are bought and used without a valid prescription, without the involvement of a qualified eye care professional, or without appropriate follow-up care. This can lead to significant risks of eye injuries, including blindness."

      To help you enjoy a safe and happy Halloween FDA, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer the following "lucky 13" guidelines: 

      • Wear costumes made of fire-retardant materials; look for "flame resistant" on the label. If you make your costume, use flame-resistant fabrics such as polyester or nylon.
      • Wear bright, reflective costumes or add strips of reflective tape so you'll be more visible; make sure the costumes aren't so long that you're in danger of tripping.
      • Wear makeup and hats rather than masks that can obscure your vision.
      • Test the makeup you plan to use by putting a small amount on your arm a couple of days in advance. If you get a rash, redness, swelling, or other signs of irritation where you applied it, that's a sign you may be allergic to it.
      • Check FDA's list of color additives to see if additives in your makeup are FDA approved. If they aren't approved for their intended use, don't use it.
      • Don't wear decorative contact lenses unless you have seen an eye care professional and gotten a proper lens fitting and instructions for using the lenses.

      Safe treats

      Eating sweet treats is also a big part of the fun on Halloween. If you're trick-or-treating, health and safety experts say you should remember these tips:

      • Don't eat candy until it has been inspected at home.
      • Trick-or-treaters should eat a snack before heading out, so they won't be tempted to nibble on treats that haven't been inspected.
      • Tell children not to accept -- or eat -- anything that isn't commercially wrapped.
      • Parents of very young children should remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies, or small toys.
      • Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.

      For partygoers and party throwers, FDA recommends the following tips for two seasonal favorites:

      • Look for the warning label to avoid juice that hasn't been pasteurized or otherwise processed, especially packaged juice products that may have been made on site. When in doubt, ask! Always ask if you are unsure if a juice product is pasteurized. Normally, the juice found in your grocer's frozen food case, refrigerated section, or on the shelf in boxes, bottles, or cans is pasteurized.
      • Before bobbing for apples -- a favorite Halloween game -- reduce the amount of bacteria that might be on apples by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
      ‘Lucky 13’ Tips for a Safe HalloweenHalloween will be more fun if you follow common sense guidelines for costumes and treats...
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      When You Invest In Fine Art, Picture Some Fancy Profits

      Just be sure you're not buying a fake

      If you're looking for an investment that will beat the stock market but don't feel like putting your money into emerging market funds, there's one market you may want to check out ─ the fine art market. Fine art, by the way, includes paintings, sculpture, prints, video and photography.

      In fact, if you had added fine art to your portfolio over the last couple of years instead of bank stocks, your portfolio might not be looking so bleak. For the ten years that ended in July 2010, the price index of all fine art work sold more than once worldwide has produced a nearly 11% annualized return.

      What this means is that the fine art market outperformed Standard & Poor's 500 index of large cap stocks, as well as most other asset classes except for gold, according to artprice.com, which tracks the market.


      Recent strong sales of impressionist and modern art pieces pushed the Mei Moses All Art Index to a 13.4-percent gain for the first half of the year, compared to a 6.5 percent loss for the S&P 500 index, according to artasanasset.com, which maintains the index.

      Philip Hoffman, chief executive of the Fine Art Fund Group, an international investment partnership in London, says there are a lot of opportunities to make significant capital growth "if you know how to buy and sell."

      What is known as investment-grade art has been enjoying a low correlation with other asset classes, including stocks and bonds, strengthening its case as a candidate for portfolio diversification. Some maintain it can act as an inflation hedge, since "real assets" like gold tend to rise in value only when the value of money falls.

      If that's the case, why doesn't everyone put their money into art? For one thing, art tends to be a little finicky or in the investment community, "a volatile asset." That's because it's hard to tell when demand for a certain genre or painter will suddenly surge or dissipate.

      For example, after a ten-year run, Chinese contemporary art saw prices rise more than 500% and Indian art jumped 700%, before prices for works in both categories dropped by 30 percent two years in a row 2008 and 2009, according to Artprice.

      Another reason to be careful is that art is far less liquid than other financial assets, making it harder to sell in a pinch. Lastly, indexes which track repeat sales are somewhat skewed because they include only art pieces that already have an established following. They ignore thousands of pieces whose value has yet to be determined.

      If you're still interested, there are steps you can take to mitigate risk and boost your profit potential. According to Artprice, some 70 percent of all artwork sold at auction between January 2008 and June 2009 was priced at $5,000 or less. During that same period, "affordable" art priced below $5,000 gained 60 percent in value, while higher end pieces gained a staggering 150 percent.

      But before you even think about using your hard earned money in this market, take time to learn about those forces that impact the art market overall, as well as the niche you're hoping to pursue. Paul Provost, senior vice president, director of trusts and estates at Christie's auction house in New York, says "the art market is made up of a series of micro markets and each one moves in accordance with its own dynamic."

      American furniture and decorative folk art, for example, have a different demand cycle than, say, classical antiquities, impressionist paintings or post war contemporary pieces.

      Provost adds that "it's the same with investing in the stock market. You have to drill down to the issues surrounding large-cap, mid-cap and small-cap stocks along with the different sectors. Talk to seasoned collectors. Go to the auction houses and ask questions. Get involved with the museum and befriend the curator. An educated consumer is going to be best equipped to maneuver in this marketplace."

      Due diligence here has become even more important given the number of unscrupulous art dealers who traffic in fake imitation art. Provost says newcomers should stick with reputable brokers and auction houses that can verify authenticity. He points out that the art market is not immune to the same scandals that have rocked the financial services or real estate markets. He says "investors need to be careful about what they're doing, do their homework and understand who they're working with."

      If you don't want to invest in one painting, you can also consider an art investment fund, but these are only open to high net worth investors. The Fine Art Fund Group, for example, is a diversified portfolio of high-end artwork, but it is only open to investors worth at least $2.5 million. Those who qualify can invest a minimum of $250,000 into the broader fund, $100,000 into a specialized fund or own part of a single painting.

      Other investment funds, like the new "Collection of Modern Art" fund launched in May by Castlestone Management, requires a smaller minimum investment of around $10,000.

      But it is open to investors only through financial advisors who can counsel clients on the risks and potential rewards involved.

      Investing in fine art takes the kind of research you’re not likely to find in an annual report...
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      Tricking Kids Into Eating Better

      How psychology and economics help kids make healthier choices at lunch time

      Don't ban it, move it.

      This is one conclusion of a new Cornell University study on kids, healthy foods, and their school lunchrooms.

      In one set of schools, sales of fruit increased by 100% when it was moved to a colorful bowl. Salad bar sales tripled when the cart was placed in front of cash registers.

      These findings, presented today at the School Nutrition Association's New York conference, underscore the easiest way to expand healthy lunchroom choices is to make an apple more convenient, cool, and visible than a cookie.

      The conclusion of six different studies with over 11,000 middle and high school studies show that using psychology and economics might be a better way to encourage kids to make healthier food choices than simply outlawing junk food.

      "It's not nutrition until someone eats it. You need to have foods that kids will eat, or they won't eat - or they'll eat worse" said Chris Wallace, Food Service Director for the Corning, New York School District.

      We're focusing on giving Food Service Directors "low-cost/no cost" changes they can make immediately, said Brian Wansink, Co-Director of the Cornell Center of Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN).

      During his research presentation, he described other studies that showed:

      • Decreasing the size of bowls from 18 ounces to 14 ounces reduced the size of the average cereal serving at breakfast by 24 percent.
      • Sales of healthy sandwiches doubled when students were allowed to use a speedy "healthy express" checkout line (while kids buying buying calorie-dense foods like desserts and chips had to use regular, longer lines).
      • Moving the chocolate milk behind the plain milk led students to buy more plain milk.
      • Keeping ice cream in a freezer with a closed, opaque top significantly reduced the amount of ice cream taken.
      • Salad sales increased by a third when cafeteria workers simply asked each child, "Do you want a salad?"
      Tricking Kids Into Eating Better How psychology and economics help kids make healthier choices at lunch time ...
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      Nursing Home Costs a Big Factor in Retirement Adequacy Deficit

      Adding the cost of assisted care would nearly double the shortfall in retirement savings

      With the "graying" of America well underway, a lot of attention is being given to making sure retirees will have enough money to last the rest of their lives.

      Recent analysis by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) finds that the average retirement savings shortfall is about $48,000 per individual. But, adding nursing home and home health care costs would -- in some cases -- almost double that amount.

      The research uses the Institute's Retirement Security Projection Model to estimate the total national aggregate and individual retirement deficits at age 65 for three categories of workers:

      • Early Boomers (born between 1948-1954, now ages 56-62).
      • Late Boomers (born between 1955-1964, now ages 46-55).
      • Generation Xers (born between 1965-1974, now ages 36-45).

      More money needed

      EBRI's analysis finds the aggregate national retirement savings shortfall is $4.6 trillion, for an overall average of $47,732 per individual. The average shortfall varies by age, gender, and marital status.

      The Institute says adding nursing home and home health care expense increases the average individual retirement savings shortfall for married households by $25,317. Single males experience an average increase of $32,433, while single females have an increase of $46,425.

      "This helps quantify just how large of an impact nursing home and home health care expenses can have on people in retirement," said Jack VanDerhei, EBRI research director and author of the report.

      EBRI's estimates are present values (stated in 2010 dollars) at age 65, and represent the additional individual average amount needed at age 65 to eliminate expected deficits in retirement. EBRI notes this aggregate deficit assumed that people will receive current-law Social Security benefits.

      Role of Social Security

      Reflecting the importance of Social Security, the EBRI analysis finds that if Social Security retirement benefits were eliminated, the aggregate retirement income deficit would almost double -- to $8.5 trillion -- or an individual average of approximately $89,000.

      EBRI's Retirement Security Projection Model has been developed since the late 1990s to estimate how much money individuals will need for "basic" expenses (food, shelter, etc.) and uninsured health care costs in retirement, and what financial resources they are likely to have at retirement age.

      Younger consumers at risk

      Earlier this year, EBRI released its 2010 Retirement Readiness Rating, which showed the degree to which Baby Boomers and GenXers are likely to be "at risk" of running short of money in retirement.

      For instance, EBRI has found that 70 percent of households in the lowest one-third when ranked by pre-retirement income were classified as "at risk." EBRI's analysis also presents the percentage of compensation different groups would need in terms of additional savings to have a 50, 70, or 90 percent probability of retirement income adequacy.

      Nursing Home Costs a Big Factor in Retirement Adequacy Deficit Adding the cost of assisted care would nearly double the shortfall in retirement savings ...
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      Credit Cards Getting High-Tech Makeover

      Citi to test-market electronic card next month

      It's not your father's credit card. After 50 years of embossed numbers and a magnetic strip, credit cards will soon have more of a 21st century look.

      In November one of the nation's largest credit card issuers, Citibank, will test market a card that features electronic options for the consumer. For example, at the register a customer can push a button on the card to choose whether to use points or pay with credit.

      Other companies are developing plastic cards that can be used either as credit or debit cards. What they all have in common is technology. The current credit cards, designed when every transaction was recorded by making an imprint on a small carbon slip by running the card through a machine, will be replaced with one that are powered electronically.

      Some of the new credit cards are being designed by Dynamics Inc., which unveiled its new anti-skimming technology this week at BAI Retail Delivery in Las Vegas. After all, the purpose of the new technological make-over is to make credit cards less prone to fraud.

      Each year, the payment system loses billions of dollars from fscammers stealing credit card numbers. In fact, all that is needed to steal a credit card number today is a pen and paper or a portable card reader. More advanced fraudsters steal credit card numbers by breaking into merchant servers where the numbers are electronically stored. 

      Thwarting scammers

      Dynamics' anti-skimming device, called the Dynamic Credit Card, is designed to help protect consumers and merchants against this threat by automatically writing a new, unique dynamic security code onto its magnetic stripe for every in-store purchase. A display can also be added to the card so the card can automatically display a new, unique dynamic security code for every online purchase - thus replacing the three or four digit security code physically printed on traditional cards. 

      "The Dynamic Credit Card technology eradicates skimming both domestically and internationally without changing a single card reader or impacting a single merchant system," said Jeff Mullen, Dynamics' CEO. 

      The security benefits of new card technology can be increased when combined with other anti-fraud technologies. For example, Dynamic says codes can be added to its Dynamics' Hidden card, where an on-card interface requires a user to enter an unlocking code into the card in order to activate the card. That, the company says, renders a card useless if its is lost or stolen.

      Citi calls its new card 2G and has designed it so that the user can change the data on the card's magnetic strip, just by pushing a button. They can still be used like existing cards at existing swipe terminals.

      After almost no design changes for 50 years, the credit card is going high-tech....
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      If You Get an Email Warning from the IRS It’s Really a Phishing Scam

      A sophisticated criminal cyber gang is posing as the IRS to steal your info

      Usually when we get mail from the IRS, we tend to open it immediately, often with a sense of dread. But now comes word from personal finance guru Jane Bryant Quinn of an insidious new phishing scam that uses the IRS to steal our personal financial information.

      Writing for CBS MoneyWatch, Ms. Quinn says she recentlyreceived what appeared to be an email from the IRS claiming that a mistake had been made in her tax filing. If you get a similar warning do not click on the link. It's not the IRS. You are being phished by one of the largest and most sophisticated criminal gangs on the web known as Avalanche. 

      Here's what happened to a savvy personal finance writer.

      Ms. Quinn says she received a string of "urgent" IRS messages that read "LAST NOTICE: We decline your Federal tax payment," followed by an ID number. Or, "LAST NOTICE: The Identification Number used in the company identification field is not valid."

      She admits that the first message gave her pause. The email appeared to come from the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (ETFPS), which is the website you use when paying your income taxes online. She then thought for a couple of seconds about whether she could have made a tax mistake. That's when her good sense took over.

      Being knowledgeable about how these things work, Ms. Quinn correctly surmised that IRS does not use email to get in touch with taxpayers. It sends out what she describes as one of those "mean-looking envelopes with a lot of black type in the upper left-hand corner." Fortunately, she managed to get off the phish-hook and hit delete on the phony email.

      But if you're caught by this scam and others like it, you're in for some bad news. The cyber thugs have raised the bar putting you at greater risk than you can imagine. Typical phishers are looking for personal financial information. You might be told that a Federal Express package was misdirected or that there's a question about your bank account. If you click, you're sent to a second screen where you're asked to "update" or "validate" your current data with a credit card number, or Social Security number, or the number and password of your bank account.

      Most people didn't fall for those tactics so Avalanche came up with an ugly hunk of malware known as the Zeus banking Trojan. Ms. Quinn writes that if you click on the link provided by the LAST NOTICE IRS email, you might be taken only to an innocuous information page. You read, delete, and move on to something else. But during those few moments you're on the page, the malware will zap itself into your machine and you won't even know it's there. Then it takes user names and passwords to the financial accounts you manage online, logs in and sucks them dry. It sweeps up your address book, to spread itself to the computers of your contacts and friends. If you happen to be online with your bank when Zeus pops in, it will show you the real numbers while, in the background, it's pulling money out.

      Zeus has been around for a while but what's new is that Avalanche has industrialized it, making it easy and fast to launch thousands of attacks, virtually all at once.

      A lesson from Ms. Quinn - stop and think before you connect to any link you aren't familiar with or looks suspicious. Don't open any business email that you're not expecting. If you have a question, call or email the business yourself. Don't call the number that the questionable email gives you either. It might misdirect you to the scammer's line. If you email the business, check the address and type it into the URL line yourself, don't copy-and-paste the address that the questionable notice shows. She also recommends not opening emailed birthday cards. Two years ago, she opened one that appeared to come from a good friend. Only that "good friend" started sending streams of porn. It took her more than a year to get the problem under control.

      The Internal Revenue Service is being used in a Phishing Scam trying to steal your personal information...
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      Survey Finds Big Gaps in Students’ Understanding of Simple Financial Matters

      1 in 3 students do not believe in the 'American Dream' of owning their own home

      A survey conducted by Gallup and the financial literacy empowerment nonprofit Operation HOPE, found that one-third of American students do not believe in the American Dream of owning their own home. And 40% do not believe that staying in school and getting a good education will help them earn more money.

      The findings of the Gallup-Operation HOPE Financial Literacy Index (GOHFLI) measures a youth's understanding of basic financial matters and how that awareness translates into an overall sense of hope, engagement and wellbeing.

      Initial findings established that among the two-thirds of students who believe in the American Dream, 66% of students strongly believe that they will go to college in the future and buy their own home.

      About 57% believe their parents are saving money for their future.

      Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton and Operation HOPE Founder, Chairman and CEO John Hope Bryant said the findings show an extreme need for financial literacy interventions at all levels of education.

      Clifton added that "a financially literate youth with a dream will be more hopeful and kids who are more hopeful will be more engaged in life, which could lead to less kids dropping out of high school and more kids pursuing their dreams."

      Bryant said that he believes "our kids are dropping out of high school because they don't believe education is relevant to their futures." He added that we need to "make education relevant and show kids how to prosper, succeed, or even get rich if that is part of their dream. Bryant explained that financial literacy or what we call 'the language of money,' is a practical and tangible lesson that can empower youth to plan for their futures today.

      Gallup polled over 500,000 students across the country and then asked in depth questions to 642 students between the ages of 10 and 18. The results have a sampling error of five percent in either direction.


      Four in ten students do not believe that the more education they get the more money they will make ...
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