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    Stress, Not Hormones, Cause Depression in Women Undergoing IVF

    The short-term IVF protocol is no less likely to cause depression than long-term

    Between 20 and 30 percent of women who undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures suffer from significant symptoms of depression.

    Many practitioners believe that the hormone therapy involved in IVF procedures is primarily responsible for this. But new research from Tel Aviv University shows that, while this is true, other factors are even more influential.

    According to Dr. Miki Bloch of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, stress, pre-existing depression, and anxiety are more likely than hormone therapy to impact a woman's depression levels when undergoing IVF.

    Combined, these factors may also affect IVF success rates -- so diagnosis and treatment of this depression is very important.

    Recently reported in the Journal of Fertility and Sterility, Bloch's research clarifies the involvement of different hormonal states as triggers for depression during IVF, both for long- and short-term protocols.

    In the long-term IVF protocol, women receive injections which block ovulation, resulting in a sharp decline in estrogen and progesterone levels.

    This state continues for a two-week period before the patient is injected with hormones to stimulate ovulation, at which point the eggs are harvested and fertilized before being replanted into the womb.

    The short-term IVF protocol does not include the initial two-week period of induction of a low hormonal state.

    Women wanting to avoid potential depression may be advised by their doctors to go with the short-term protocol, as some doctors assume depression is more likely to occur due to those first two weeks of hormonal repression that goes with the long-term protocol.

    But Bloch's research has demonstrated the difference between the two different procedures is negligible -- depression and anxiety rates for women who undergo the long protocol and short are exactly the same.

    Bloch and his fellow researchers conducted a random assignment study, in which 108 women who came to the Sourasky Medical Center for IVF were randomly assigned to either the long- or short-term protocol.

    They were given questionnaires and interviews at the start of the therapy and at four other points during the IVF treatment.

    The results, said Bloch, show consistently increasing depression rates among patients in both groups, regardless of which protocol they underwent.

    The first two weeks of hormonal repression had no impact on whether a woman experiences depression during IVF.

    "Once the patient begins ovulating, her estrogen rises to high levels. Then, after the ovum is replanted in her uterus, there is a precipitous drop in these hormonal levels," he explains.

    It's the severity of the estrogen drop, a feature of both protocols, that was found to affect the patient's emotional state.

    What did have an effect, however, was the patients' stress and anxiety levels.

    When compared to a "normal" population, women undergoing IVF experience very high levels of anxiety and depression even before the treatment begins.

    And as the protocol advances, women experience increased anxiety about the success of the implantation.

    Women who have a previous history of anxiety or depression disorders before the IVF treatment are even more susceptible.

    According to Bloch, this is likely due to the fact that these women are more emotionally vulnerable to the toll of the IVF process, rather then increased reactivity to changing hormonal levels.

    When it comes to depression rates, the type of protocol a patient undergoes, whether short-term or long-term, has no impact, Bloch concluded.

    While doctors should look at their patient's individual needs when deciding on an IVF protocol, the current report suggests the type of protocol is not an important factor in the induction of depression.

    Stress, Not Hormones, Cause Depression in Women Undergoing IVF The short-term IVF protocol no less likely to cause depression than long-term...

    Houston Gas Stations Overcharged Motorists, Jury Finds

    State found gas pumps calibrated to dispense less than full gallon

    A Harris County, Texas jury has decided the Houston-based owner of SunMart convenience stores must pay $30 million in damages for overcharging customers. $18 million of that will go to consumers.

    The verdict follows an investigation by the State of Texas that found SunMart's gas pumps at 86 stations in Texas provided less than a full gallon of fuel for each gallon charged.

    Consumers must put their faith in the accuracy of the gas pump, believing that when it shows one gallon of fuel has been dispensed, that is the actual amount. State governments routinely monitor gas stations, to ensure that faith is not misplaced.

    In July 2008, Texas Attorney General Abbott charged the parent company, Petroleum Wholesale, L.P. (PWI) with defrauding gasoline purchasers. At the time, gasoline prices were at a record high.

    Less than a full gallon

    "The jury's verdict reflects a significant and well-deserved rebuke to SunMart's fraudulent pump calibration scheme," Abbott said. "After carefully considering the evidence during an eight-week trial, the jury concluded the defendant illegally set its gasoline pumps to deliver less than a full gallon of fuel."

    Texas Agriculture Commission Todd Staples, whose department conducted the initial investigation, said the jury's verdict sends a strong message.

    "In Texas, we demand that we get what we pay for," Staples said. "One Texan cheated is one too many. The Texans who served on this jury have made a decision that will further strengthen consumer confidence and sends a clear signal that Texans will not tolerate deceptive sales practices by anyone."

    In July 2008, dozens of state inspectors conducted Operation Spotlight - a multi-county effort to inspect and test 1,701 gasoline pumps at 86 SunMart stores. After testing 1,701 SunMart pumps, TDA investigators determined that 985 were dispensing less than a full gallon of fuel.

    Calibrated to dispense less than a gallon

    According to court documents filed by the State, 58 percent of SunMart's pumps were calibrated to dispense less than a full gallon of fuel. The state maintained that, while Operation Spotlight was still ongoing, PWI attempted to cover-up its improper calibration scheme by dispatching company personnel and third-party contractors to recalibrate pumps before TDA inspectors could reach all 86 SunMart locations.

    Staples launched Operation Spotlight after he learned that PWI routinely failed TDA inspections. Under Texas law, the Agriculture Commissioner is charged with regulating weights and measures - including gasoline pumps. Later, TDA referred their findings to the Texas Attorney General's Office, which charged PWI with violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The State's enforcement action indicates PWI illegally calibrated and maintained their fuel pumps in a manner that defrauded their customers.

    During the eight-week trial, a team of four Assistant Attorneys General provided jurors 48 boxes of fuel receipts - which covered 5,766,243 gallons of gasoline and 727,339 fraudulent sales transactions. The jury's $30 million verdict was based upon consumer transactions and penalties per violation of the DTPA. The jury found Petroleum Wholesale, L.P. liable for $18,765,411 in restitution, $8,494,212 in civil penalties and more than $2.7 million in fees to the State.

    A Houston gas station chain faces $30 million in damages after a jury confirmed the state's findings that it cheated customers....

    Phony Debt Collector Scam Reported In Mississippi

    Mississippi consumers confronted with phony payday loan debt

    A frightening new scam, which first appeared earlier this year, has moved into Mississippi, according to that state's attorney general, Jim Hood. Hood said his office has gathered reports from consumers who said they received threatening phone calls from phony debt collectors attempting  to collect for a payday loan. 

    "While you might think you can spot some scams from a mile away, this latest one uses your own information against you," Hood said.

    The scammers often have the victim's Social Security number, old bank account numbers, driver's license numbers, home addresses, employer information, and even the names of personal friends and professional references, suggesting the victims are not being contacted at random.

    The scammers accuse the victim of defaulting on a payday loan, and in some instances even claim the victim is being, or will be, sued. They may threaten that  if the victim doesn't pay immediately via wire or by providing bank account or credit card numbers, he or she will be arrested. Many call themselves federal investigators, and use methods of fear and intimidation.

    Don't reveal information

    "One consumer who felt threatened lost $1,300 after she gave out her bank account information," said Hood.

    Hood says that there are things you can do to protect yourself from these scams.  Under the Federal Trade Commission's Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse any person while attempting to collect a debt.  This includes threats of arrest or removal from your home.

    Here of some tips to follow if you receive a suspicious phone call from a supposed debt collector:

    • Ask the debt collector to provide official documentation in writing which substantiates the debt.
    • Do not provide or confirm any bank account, credit card or other personal information over the phone until you have confirmed the legitimacy of the call.
    • Review recent copies of your credit reports to ensure that the alleged debt is not affecting your credit.

    Consumers should always use caution when disclosing any personal information, particularly on a website. Be cautious of any lender that does not ask you for background information outside of your bank account number, which may be a sign that the payday loan offered is not legitimate.

    If you believe the scammer is in possession of your Social Security number of other sensitive information, you should consider contacting the three credit bureaus and placing a freeze on your credit accounts.

    The fake payday loan debt collector scam has been spreading across the country this year, and has now shown up in Mississippi....

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      Your Taxes Are Probably Your Biggest Expense But Do You Know How that Money Is Spent?

      Most of us don’t so here’s an abbreviated itemized list

      When it comes to taxes, most of us just pay them and forget about it. If you're working for a company, chances are you don't even have to think about paying them because they're withheld from your income automatically.

      Do you ever wonder where all this money goes? We have a general idea that it goes to pay for the government and indeed some of it does. But then what does the government do with it?

      Most of us don't have a clue. In fact, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 40% of us thought foreign aid was one of the largest federal-budget expenses. Actually, foreign aid doesn't even make the top ten. In reality, for every dollar Washington spends on foreign aid, it spends $14 on Medicare, which according to some, is the second-largest expense, after Social Security.

      Actually, it depends on how you view certain expenses as to how the government uses tax-payer money. In fact if you calculate the numbers a different way, the government actually spends more on defense than anything else. Unfortunately, there is no category called "defense” only a number of separate categories that could be construed as supporting the defense of our country either directly or indirectly. 

      Clearer picture

      To gives us a clearer picture of how our tax money is used a not-for-profit Washington-based group called Third Way has produced an itemized taxpayer receipt which the Wall Street Journal has graciously published. The list is limited and some off-budget items aren't included nor is a figure for our ever-growing national debt.

      We're going to use the Third Way's receipt for the federal taxes of two couples that was published as a way to calculate percentages. That's because everyone's tax bill is unique. Even the two couples profiled pay very different taxes since one pair is retired so there isn't even an apples to apples comparison. Instead, I intend to use one couple's total income and payroll tax bill for the year as a base to which I will assign percentages for things like "defense””social security””medicare and medicade” as well as others.

      So, here we go. For every tax dollar the government spends:

      • Defense and National Security ... 20%
      • Social Security .... 19%
      • Medicare and Medicaid ... 19%
      • Interest on National Debt ... 5%
      • Veterans Benefits, Health Care and Military Retirement ... 3%
      • Food Stamps ... 1%
      • Federal Highways ... 1%
      • National Institutes of Health ... less than 1%
      • Foreign Aid ... less than 1%
      • Housing subsidies for the poor ... less than 1%
      • Pell Grants for low-income college students ... less than 1%

      The rest of the list, which accounts for about 30% is made up of a number of items, including the IRS, FBI, (CIA is included in Defense and National Security), NASA, Department of Energy, Federal Prisons, Agricultural subsidies, Head Start, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Centers for Disease Control, National Parks and the Food and Drug Administration to name a few. As I said the list was incomplete, but at least now you have a better picture of how the government is spending you tax dollars.

      To calculate the figure for Defense and National Security I added the expenses for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, military operations outside Iraq and Afghanistan, Military personnel, military weapon, military research and testing, CIA, Border Security, and Coast Guard.  

      You pay your taxes every year but you may be surprised to find out how the government uses that money...

      The End of Class Actions?

      Supreme Court case could spell end of class litigation

      Are class action lawsuits about to be snuffed out?

      A number of legal practitioners and scholars say that might be the ultimate outcome of AT&T Mobility Services v. Concepcion, a case being argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

      Brian Fitzpatrick, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, writes in a San Francisco Chroniclecolumn that the case "could be [the Supreme Court's] most important case in years."

      "If the case is decided the way many observers predict, it could end class-action litigation in America as we know it," Fitzpatrick warns.

      Case rooted in arbitration clauses

      The case owes its very existence to our old friend, arbitration clauses. The plaintiffs, Vincent and Liza Conception, who sued AT&T for deceptive practices, challenged a clause in their user agreement mandating that all claims be resolved through binding arbitration, rather than litigation in the courts. The same provision prohibited consumers from bringing class actions, either in arbitration or litigation form.

      While a California federal court ruled that the class action prohibition violates public policy and is thus unenforceable - a commonly-cited argument against class action waivers - AT&T says that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts state laws and mandates enforcement of the class action waiver.

      Fitzpatrick - who points out that "the current court is very friendly to businesses" - says that many observers expect the Supreme Court to side with AT&T, allowing class action waivers to be enforced all over the country.

      Because of previous decisions making personal injury class actions very difficult to certify, Fitzpatrick says that a ruling in AT&T's favor could constitute a death knell to class actions altogether. That's because almost all remaining class action lawsuits are "between parties who are in transactional relationships with one another,” meaning that, with a win by AT&T, would-be plaintiffs could be forced to sign away their right to bring a class action right from the beginning.

      Wide-ranging consequences

      The ramifications of a class action ban would be profound. Plaintiffs who bring the kinds of suits that end up as class actions - those concerning defective products, misleading contracts, or unfair working conditions - usually don't suffer economic damage great enough to justify bringing a suit all by themselves. The class action gives them an incentive to fight a case that wouldn't otherwise be worth it.

      And perhaps more importantly, class actions serve as a deterrent to companies who would otherwise be able to nickel-and-dime consumers without consequence.

      "The marketplace is fairer for consumers and workers because there's a deterrent out there," Deepak Gupta, an attorney with Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group, told The Los Angeles Times. Gupta is arguing the case for consumers.

      "Companies are afraid of class actions," Gupta said. "This helps keep them honest."

      Long time coming?

      That the conservative Supreme Court would like to end class actions is not a completely surprising concept. Recently, in staying a class action ruling against tobacco companies, Justice Scalia ominously warned that such a day might come. Scalia took issue with class action defendants' inability to cross-examine witnesses who allege that they broke the law, an issue that he said might amount to a violation of due process.

      "The extent to which class treatment may constitutionally reduce the normative requirements of due process is an important question," Scalia wrote, adding that the issue is reflective of what he says is "national concern of the abuse of the class action device."

      The End of Class Actions?Supreme Court case could spell end of class litigation...

      A Great Credit Score Alone May Not Get You a Great Interest Rate

      Banks use a number of methods beyond your FICO score to determine your credit worthiness

      The financial crisis may be behind us but bankers and other lenders are still anxious when it comes to handing out loans. These days, you need more than a great FICO score to impress them. Banks are looking beyond your credit score into other areas of your financial life to make sure you are a good risk before approving a loan.

      Some of the new areas coming under scrutiny include your rent and utility payments, your income and home value. Some even look at your banking habits such as whether your direct deposits have stopped. You could be considered a high credit risk if the value of your home declines too much or you have just an interest-only mortgage which means you aren't paying down your principal.

      According to the Wall Street Journal, here are some newer ways lenders and financial-services companies are sizing up your financial behavior and credit-worthiness:

      Bank-depositor behavior scores. Fair Isaac, the creator of the widely used FICO credit score, is marketing bank-depositor behavior scores, which are used by banks to assess their own customers. The scores are based on balances, deposit records and withdrawal activity. Unlike credit scores — which are most affected after payments are late or credit is maxed out — behavior scores can be a leading indicator of credit risk. They also can help banks identify customers who might need special attention because their direct deposits had stopped.

      Income estimation. This business took off earlier this year after the Federal Reserve allowed lenders to use credit bureaus' income estimates to satisfy new requirements that credit-card applicants show the ability to pay their debts. The bureaus use credit-record information, such as the size of your credit lines and the age and size of your mortgage, and plug it into models to predict your earnings. Those estimates also may be used to double-check the income you report on credit applications or to determine if you should be preapproved for credit. You can't see those estimates. But if you are denied credit because of them, you must be given a chance to provide additional information.

      Rent payments. An estimated 40 million consumers, including young people and people who prefer to pay in cash, have too little credit experience to generate a useful credit score. But they are likely to pay rent or utility bills, which could help credit bureaus assess their credit-worthiness better.

      Credit bureaus say they also would like to offer data on cellphone payments, but have run into concerns over privacy issues, which may require legislation to untangle.

      Collection triggers. Credit bureaus can now send daily reports to collection companies when a debtor's financial status changes. For example, if new employment information appears or if a debt starts to decline, a drop in credit use would indicate that the consumer has more capacity to pay and a better chance of repaying other outstanding debts.

      Home values. As home values have plummeted and foreclosures have soared in many states, lenders of all stripes have become more cautious. Using home values as a factor in credit decisions doesn't appear to be widespread.

      Your wealth. Information about your assets other than homes and cars, which aren't part of the credit record, may soon play a bigger role in your financial life. With a better sense of a consumer's balance sheet, lenders might be able to target potential customers better and also have a fuller sense of their likely risk. Equifax, another of the big three credit bureaus, offers financial-service providers an estimate of liquid wealth as part of a financial "suite" of information.

      As all of this becomes a widespread practice, those who are prompt and careful in all aspects of their financial life may have more options — and those who have been sloppy with, say, their bank accounts may be penalized for that.

      If you’re looking for a loan, credit card or mortgage, you need to get more than your credit score in order...

      Spotting BPA-Free Receipt Paper Just Got Easier

      Wisconsin paper company hopes to set themselves apart with red fibers

      Now that holiday shopping is in full swing, consumers concerned about BPA will have a visual cue telling them whether the controversial chemical is in their cash register receipts or not.

      Appleton, the only producer of BPA-free thermal receipt paper in the United States, announced Monday it has added easy-to-see red fibers to its paper.

      In July 2010, laboratory tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a consumer group, found high levels of BPA on 40 percent of receipts sampled from major U.S. businesses and services, including outlets of McDonald's, CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, WalMart, Safeway and the U.S. Postal Service.

      The chemical is used to coat the thermal paper used to print receipts used by major retailers, grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, fast-food restaurants, post offices and ATMs and are handled by millions of Americans every day.

      Until now, consumers had no way to know exactly whether the receipts they received contained BPA or not since not every receipt contained it. The EWG study found receipts from Target, Starbucks, Bank of America ATMs and other important enterprises were BPA-free or contained only trace amounts.

      Appleton says the red fibers will be in about 75% of the thermal receipt paper that they ship by the end of November. Appleton expects to have the red fibers in all of its thermal receipt paper before the end of first quarter 2011.

      Appleton dropped BPA from its thermal paper formulation in 2006 out of growing concerns about the safety of the chemical.

      "Four years ago, after reviewing toxicology reports and available studies, Appleton acted quickly to remove BPA from its thermal products," said Kent Willetts, Appleton's vice president of strategic development.

      "We are committed to actively managing the safety of all our products and removing BPA was the responsible thing to do," said Willetts.

      In the last few years, concerns over BPA have grown. In January 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expressed concern about the potential adverse health effects of BPA in infants and children, especially for applications with direct contact to food. 

      Appleton found a solution to the BPA-problem in its security papers business.

      "We took technology that is used for authenticating documents like bank checks, and we applied it to thermal receipt paper," Willetts explained.

      The new receipts from Appleton are good for the environment, too.

      The small red fibers are made of rayon, a recyclable cellulose fiber that is more biodegradable than cotton. The thermal receipt paper itself is also recyclable.

      Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency invited Appleton representatives to participate in a partnership program called Design for the Environment, which involves multi-stakeholder alternative assessments to help reduce environmental releases of, and subsequent exposure to, BPA.

      The first assessment focuses on finding safer alternatives to BPA for use as a developer for dyes in thermal paper.

      Spotting BPA-Free Receipt Paper Just Got EasierWisconsin paper company hopes to set themselves apart with red fibers...

      Three Debt Collectors Settle With West Virginia

      Companies were attempting to collect old, charged off debts

      Three debt collection agencies have agreed to cancel $1,277,337 in debts for 161 West Virginia consumers. In addition, some consumers will get cash refunds.

      West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw had opened an investigation against the companies - Trailhead Capital, LLC, a debt buyer based in Chicago, IL; Hollis Cobb Assoc., Inc., Trailhead's affiliated collection agency in Norcross, GA; and Troy Capital, LLC, a debt buyer based in Las Vegas, NV - after receiving complaints that revealed the three businesses were collecting debts in West Virginia without a license and surety bond as required by state law.

      Records also showed that the debts the companies were attempting to collect were primarily charged-off credit card accounts originally owed to Chase, Wells Fargo Bank, and GE Capital. In other words, the banks were no longer attempting to collect the debts.

      In West Virginia, businesses that purchase defaulted debts for collection, as Trailhead and Troy Capital did, cannot avoid being licensed and bonded by hiring other agencies to assist them in collecting the debts.

      "Our nation suffers from an explosion of credit card debt resulting largely from companies that extended credit without due regard to consumers' ability to repay and without clearly disclosing the terms of financing," McGraw said. "Rather than working with consumers to develop plans that might enable them to pay their debt over time, banks increasingly sell defaulted credit card debt for pennies on the dollar to collection agencies called debt buyers."

      McGraw said companies that buy bad debt often take overly aggressive collection actions that include the filing of lawsuits - even when they have little proof of the debts they seek to collect from consumers.

      "My office will continue its vigilance in ensuring that all debt buyers are licensed and bonded as well as follow the letter of our state's consumer protection laws," he said.

      West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw has reached a settlement with three debt collectors he said were operating without a license....

      Be Careful With Timeshare Memberships and Resale Companies

      While timeshares can be convenient for vacationing, there are some caveats

      Planning your next vacation? Perhaps timesharing -- the use of a vacation home or campground for a limited, pre-planned time—is on your list of options. Timesharing may be a popular way to take a vacation, but problems can occur.

      Timeshare sellers offer gifts to get you to listen to a sales presentation. Many giveaways are of little or no value. Free airline tickets may be tied to the purchase of expensive hotel accommodations. Other vacation "awards" are often of questionable value.

      Timeshares can cost as much as $15,000, based on location and amenities, season, and length and type of ownership. Annual maintenance fees of up to $500 may also apply. In addition, buyers may be responsible for major repairs. What some consumers realize too late is that renting may:

      • Be a lot cheaper,
      • Allow more flexibility and variety in vacations,
      • Prevent being locked into yearly maintenance fees until death or bankruptcy.

      No quitting

      Some resorts refuse to "take back" unwanted memberships. This is because the income generated by annual maintenance fees may be more valuable than the member's title to real estate. According to the Wisconsin Bureau of Consumer Protection, some timeshare/campground members state they have been unable to even give away their membership, much less being able to find a buyer.

      Timeshare owners who discontinue to use the resort facilities must continue to pay their annual maintenance fees and any special assessments. If the member refuses to pay annual dues, the condominium association may sue and recover back dues, interest, and attorney fees. Some members say they feel trapped for life.

      An investment it isn't

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found only 3.3 percent of owners reported reselling their timeshares during the last 20 years. You may face competition from the original seller. Or local real estate agents may not want to include the timeshare unit in their listings.

      Some resorts have a resale office to try to assist the owners of unwanted timeshares. In addition, some resorts will allow an unhappy timeshare owner to give back his interest in the resort, but rarely will a resort guarantee that it will buy it back.

      Be wary of offers from timeshare resale companies. Some desperate timeshare owners report paying resale companies $500 to list a timeshare, but promised buyers never materialized. These consumers report the loss not only of the original purchase price of the timeshare, but also the money paid to timeshare resale companies.

      Purchasing tips

      • Practical Factors. Consider whether you'll be able to use a timeshare facility year after year. Are your vacation plans sometimes subject to last minute changes, or do they vary in length and season from year to year? Does the property have flexible use plans? Are you -- and will you be -- in good enough physical and financial health to travel to your timeshare?
      • Total Costs. The total cost of your timeshare includes mortgage payments and expenses, such as travel costs, annual maintenance fees and taxes, closing costs, broker commissions, and finance charges. Annual maintenance fees can range from $300 to $500. Since these fees can rise at rates that equal or exceed inflation, it's important to ask if there's a fee cap for your plan. Keep in mind that these fees must be paid whether or not you use the unit. To help evaluate the purchase, compare your total timeshare costs with rental costs for similar accommodations and amenities for the same time and in the same location.
      • Document Review. Don't act on impulse or under pressure. Take the documents home to review. Ask a professional or someone familiar with timesharing to review the paperwork before you buy. If the seller will not let you take the documents, perhaps this isn't the deal for you. A good offer today usually will be a good offer tomorrow. Legitimate businesses don't expect you to make snap decisions. Find out if the contract provides a "cooling-off" period during which you can cancel and get a refund. If not, ask to include this clause. Most states where timeshares are located require a cooling-off period. If there is no cooling-off period, be sure you understand all aspects of the purchase and carefully review all materials before you sign.
      • Oral Promises. Make certain all promises made by the salesperson are written into the contract. Exchange Programs that allow you to arrange trades with other resort units in different locations for an additional fee usually cannot be guaranteed. There also may be some limits on exchange opportunities. For example, you may need to make your request far in advance. Or, even at an additional cost, you may not be able to "trade up" to a better unit at peak time in an exotic location. When you trade, expect a unit of approximately the same value as your own.
      • Reputation Research. Your resort will be a good place to vacation only if it is run properly. Research the track record of the seller, developer, and management company before you buy. Ask for a copy of the current maintenance budget. Learn what will be done to manage and repair the property, replace furnishings as needed, and provide promised services. Will these arrangements be adequate? Will they extend over a long period of time, or just the near future? Visit the facilities and talk to current owners about their experiences. Local real estate agents, Better Business Bureaus, and consumer protection offices also are good sources of information.
      • Unfinished Facilities. Purchasing an undeveloped property is extremely risky. But if you decide to do so, commit money to an escrow account. This protects your financial investment if the developer defaults. Also get a written commitment from the seller that the facilities will be finished as promised.
      • Default Protection. Learn your rights if the builder or management company has financial problems or defaults. Check to see if your contract includes two clauses concerning "non-disturbance" and "nonperformance." A non-disturbance provision should ensure that you'll continue to have use of your unit in the event of default and subsequent third party claims against the developer or management firm. A non-performance protection clause should allow you to keep your ownership rights, even if a third party is required to buy out your contract. Contact an attorney who can provide you with more information about these provisions.
      • Foreign Properties. Be especially wary of offers to purchase timeshares or vacation club memberships in foreign countries. If you sign a contract outside the United States for a timeshare located in another country, U.S. federal or state contract property laws generally will not protect you.

      Be Careful With Timeshare Memberships and Resale Companies While timeshares can be convenient for vacationing, there are some caveats ...

      Feds, Industry Team Up To Push Pool Safety

      Pool and spa industry association to serve as information hub for industry and consumers

      The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP) are partnering for the agency's Pool Safely: Simple Steps Save Lives public safety campaign.

      The partnership, announced at the International Pool, Spa, & Patio Expo in Las Vegas, includes APSP working with CPSC in 2010 and into 2011 to promote the Pool Safely campaign to the pool and spa industry. The campaign is designed to reduce the number of drowning, near-drowning, and entrapment incidents each year by.

      APSP will work with its members and customers to make compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act and education priorities. This campaign is part of CPSC's national information and education program associated with the Act.

      "The industry will be an important partner in delivering the campaign's safety message through its national network of pool and spa professionals," said Kathleen Reilly, CPSC's Pool Safely Campaign Leader. "We appreciate that APSP will use its role as an industry leader to help promote the Pool Safely campaign and make campaign materials and other resources available to its members and their customers."

      Educational materials

      APSP will provide Pool Safely materials at industry events, in publications, on industry videos, on its Website, and through social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter. In addition, the group will develop a specific Pool Safely page within the "safety" section of its Website, where visitors can find information on the campaign and order campaign materials. Finally, it will incorporate Pool Safely messaging and materials into new safety videos for its industry members.

      "The safe use of pools and spas is a priority for everyone, from companies that build and service pools, to facility management, to parents and individuals who enjoy the benefits of aquatic activities," said Bill Weber, President and CEO of APSP. "We're proud to partner with CPSC on the Pool Safely campaign and hope the combined efforts of CPSC with the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, along with other organizations, will serve to focus attention on the importance of water safety to all stakeholders."

      In the months leading up to the partnership announcement, the Pool Safely campaign released a series of print and broadcast Public Service Announcements (PSA) and a new educational video. The PSA and the video can be viewed YouTube. The campaign also debuted a new parent-child activity with tips about pooling safely; the activity can be played on the Pool Safely Website.

      The Pool Safely campaign has partnered with other leading organizations, including American Red Cross, The YMCA of the USA, Safe Kids USA, National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA), Home Safety Council, World Waterpark Association (WWA), Abbey's Hope, and the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP).

      Feds, Industry Team Up To Push Pool Safety Pool and spa industry association to serve as information hub for industry and consumers ...

      New Laws Haven’t Stopped Credit Card Issuers from Using New Ways of Getting Your Money

      Despite new regulations on credit card fees, consumers still end up on the losing end

      You have to hand it to the credit card companies. They didn't become the giant profit-churning machines they are today by being stupid. No sooner had the ink dried on the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act limiting certain fees did those crafty card companies come up with new and devious ways of charging us even more.

      Put a limit on how you can raise interest rates at 29.99%. Okay, then that's the new default rate for anyone who doesn't have a stellar credit rating.

      Tack a cap on certain fees. No problem, Bank of America, Discover, Citigroup and J Morgan Chase among others, have simply raised minimum payments on certain customers' accounts in order to increase late penalties. How does that work you ask? Well, apparently the banks have determined that a sudden jump in the minimum payment can increase the likelihood that borrowers will be late on payments. Pretty sneaky, right?

      Meanwhile, others are jacking up credit-protection insurance programs and charging customers for coverage without even asking permission.

      Want to hear more? A few are aggressively pushing people into prepaid cards that are exempt from the new rules but carry sky-high fees.

      Computer says 'no'

      Have you tried to get a lower interest rate lately? It used to standard for loyal customers to get their interest rates lowered just by calling to complain. It's not so easy any more. In fact, with the new card rules you would think the issuer's hands are tied. "Sorry, I tried to get you a better rate, but the computer wouldn't let it go through,” was the bank rep's explanation. So now it's "the computer's” fault.

      When asked why my default rate had ballooned to 29.99% a bank representative said it was due to the new financial environment. Translation, the new credit card limits said we could so we did.

      Some of the new fees are even worse than the high interest rates. Discover and HSBC are pushing insurance that promises to make minimum payments for borrowers who lose their job, and then imposing the fees without borrowers' permission. J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America have raised minimum payments on credit cards, perhaps in order to increase late-fee charges.

      It doesn't stop there. Cards have revived their annual fees; shortened billing cycles; levied new charges on cards with low credit limits; increased balance-transfer fees, cash-advance and foreign-exchange fees; and they've begun to push what's known as "professional cards." These cards are not subject to the restrictions of the Card Act.

      The Federal Reserve tried to do something last month when it announced proposals to ban hefty activation fees and prevent issuers from raising interest rates on promotional card offers until a borrower is more than 60 days late.

      The Card Act was expected to hurt bank profits and that lenders could lose an estimated $11 billion in fee income next year alone. This new action is intended to offset that loss. So who gets to pay? We do of course.

      Profits from debit cards were also impacted. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a law ordering the Federal Reserve to limit "interchange fees." Those are fees banks charge to merchants each time a card is swiped. Last year, banks collected $22.8 billion in such fees on debit-card transactions, according to CardHub.com, a consumer information site.

      So how do the banks react? J.P. Morgan Chase says it's moving away from debit cards. Starting in February, it won't issue debit reward cards to new customers.

      So what can we do? Consumer advocates say we should be on guard from the start. Before signing up for a new card offer, find out whether services like payment protection are automatically included. Once you use a card, check statements each month for any billing changes. If you notice a higher minimum payment or a new fee, contact the card issuer immediately.

      The Credit Card Act was supposed to help consumers not give banks and card issuers an excuse to raise interest rates and create new ways to charge more ...

      Ban Imposed On Marketers of 'Detox' Foot Pads

      Advertising claimed 'ancient Japanese secret' could treat medical conditions

      A federal judge has banned marketers of Kinoki "Detox" Foot Pads -- that would purportedly remove toxins from the body through a person's feet -- from selling a wide variety of products.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged that the marketers falsely claimed the pads could treat numerous illnesses and medical conditions. In a recently announced settlement, the judge banned the marketers from promoting or selling any dietary supplement, food, drug, or medical device, and from assisting others in doing the same.

      As part of its efforts to crack down on bogus health claims, the FTC last year charged the promoters of the foot pads with running deceptive ads on television and the Internet that touted the "ancient Japanese secret to perfect health" for treating wide-ranging medical conditions. The defendants --Yehuda Levin and his company, Xacta 3000, Inc. -- sold a two-week supply of Kinoki Foot Pads for $19.95, plus $9.95 for shipping and handling.

      Bogus claims

      Xacta falsely claimed to have scientific proof that the foot pads removed toxic materials from the body, according to the FTC complaint. The company also advertised that when applied to the soles of consumers' feet at night, the food pads could remove toxins, metabolic wastes, heavy metals, and chemicals from the body; treat headaches, depression, parasites, fatigue, insomnia, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, cellulite, and a weakened immune system; and cause weight loss.

      In its complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on January 27, 2009, the FTC charged that these advertising claims were false or unsupported.

      Levin and Xacta have agreed to a judgment of $14.5 million, which represents the total revenues from the sale of Kinoki Foot Pads. The entire judgment is suspended based on the defendants' inability to pay, but will become due if they are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.

      Ban Imposed On Marketers of ‘Detox’ Foot Pads Advertising claimed 'ancient Japanese secret' could treat medical conditions ...

      Chemicals Lurking in Microwave Popcorn Bags

      Harmful chemicals found in many types of food packaging leeching into foods

      Junk food addicts may want to consider kicking the habit; if not to avoid eating so many calories, but to avoid eating so many chemicals.

      University of Toronto scientists have found that chemicals used to line junk food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags break down and become perfluorinated carboxylic acids or PFCAs which leech into foods when ingested, contaminate the blood.

      These chemicals can be found in anything from non-stick kitchen pans to clothing to food packaging.

      PFCAs, the best known of which is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are found in humans all around the world.

      "We suspected that a major source of human PFCA exposure may be the consumption and metabolism of polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters or PAPs," says Jessica D'eon, a graduate student in the University of Toronto's Department of Chemistry.

      "PAPs are applied as greaseproofing agents to paper food contact packaging such as fast food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags."

      In the U of T study, rats were exposed to PAPs either orally or by injection and monitored for a three-week period to track the concentrations of the PAPs and PFCA metabolites, including PFOA, in their blood. Human exposure to PAPs had already been established by the scientists in a previous study.  

      Researchers used the PAP concentrations previously observed in human blood together with the PAP and PFCA concentrations observed in the rats to calculate human PFOA exposure from PAP metabolism.

      Major source of exposure

      "We found the concentrations of PFOA from PAP metabolism to be significant and concluded that the metabolism of PAPs could be a major source of human exposure to PFOA, as well as other PFCAs," said Scott Mabury, the lead researcher and a professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Toronto.

      "This discovery is important because we would like to control human chemical exposure, but this is only possible if we understand the source of this exposure.  In addition, some try to locate the blame for human exposure on environmental contamination that resulted from past chemical use rather than the chemicals that are currently in production," said Mabury.

      While the effects of PFCA exposure is currently unknown, there is growing evidence that other chemicals used in food packaging leech into foods and cause harm to people when ingested.

      Bisphenol-A, or BPA, a chemical the linings of cans used for food and beverages, has already been linked to low sperm count in men and aggressiveness in girls.

      Perhaps because of this, regulatory interest in human exposure to PAPs has been growing.  

      Governments in Canada, the United States and Europe have signaled their intentions to begin extensive and longer-term monitoring programs for these chemicals.  The results of this investigation provide valuable additional information to such regulatory bodies to inform policy regarding the use of PAPs in food contact applications.

      The study was conducted by Jessica D'eon and Scott Mabury of the University of Toronto's Department of Chemistry and is published today in Environmental
      Health Perspectives.  Research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

      Chemicals Lurking in Microwave Popcorn BagsHarmful chemicals found in many types of food packaging leeching into foods...

      Netgear Offers Way to Wirelessly Connect TVs to the Internet

      Netgear's new wireless router is designed for connecting TV sets, not computers

      Netgear, a company best known for making equipment to connect computers, is jumping into the area of connecting computers and television sets.

      Netgear has just introduced a new category of wireless router that will enable you to watch Internet-based programming on your TV, with no wires. The new product is actually four new products, known collectively as the ReadyNAS Ultra Series.

      The ReadyNAS Ultra Plus series is designed to transform home media networks, delivering media content to local or remote handhelds, desktops and game consoles. TiVo users may use the ReadyNAS Ultra Plus to expand their DVR capacity.

      The system also shifts movies and music onto DLNA networked screens. Remote file access is now available for iPhone users with the new ReadyNAS Remote iPhone App.

      Company officials note that many new, Internet-ready TV sets come with an Ethernet port. This product, they say, is a natural way to help consumers be part of this emerging trend.

      "The explosion of digital content has resulted in large personal media collections that are often unmanaged and scattered," said Norm Bogen, industry analyst at In-Stat. "As media collections grow, so has the demand for home media servers. Consumers want simplicity and flexibility."

      Netgear says its 3DHD Wireless Home Theater Networking Kit can stream 1080p high-definition video throughout the home. If you have a large home or outbuildings on your property, you can boost the signal to reach those areas using hubs.

      The equipment will go on sale later this month as prices starting at $400.

      The concept of convergence between the Internet and television got another boost in October when Google introduced Google TV.Sony followed up the announcement by introducing a line of sets, specifically designed for watching content through Google.

      Netgear's new wireless router is designed for connecting TV sets, not computers....

      Distressed Homeowners Still Critical Of Mortgage Modification Process

      Those whose trial modifications are rejected are much worse off

      The foreclosure process is under scrutiny after revelations that some loan servicers violated the rules. Now the focus may be shifting to the loan modification process, which has failed to prevent as many foreclosures as once hoped.

      Lawsuits have proliferated this year, filed by homeowners desperately trying to hang onto their homes, and who say loan servicers lied to them, gave them erroneous information and lost their paperwork as they tried to modify their loans.

      San Francisco's Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, a legal services group, has sued JPMorgan Chase, accusing the bank of exploiting homeowners with trial modifications, only to foreclose on their homes.

      The government-backed modification effort, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), launched in April 2009, has encouraged lenders to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. About 1.4 million homeowners have entered the program but only 500,000 have emerged with modified mortgages. The rest? Most have lost their homes to foreclosures.

      Complaints Mount

      Since January 1, 2010 there have been 1,756 complaints about home modifications posted on ConsumerAffairs.com. One of them is one from Debi, in Scranton, Pa., who said she was both shocked and relieved to see so many other complaints that mirrored the problems she was experiencing with American Servicing Corporation.

      "The company offered to 'help' us by setting us up on a modification program," she told ConsumerAffairs.com.  "All seemed fine for two years. They dropped approximately $200 from our payment of $1.350. Then in March 2010 they put is on their 'trial' basis of three months. Still not sure why."

      Debi said the bank continued to withdraw their modified payment of $1176 from her account for four months. Then the following month she received a check from the bank for $946.

      Calling to inquire why the bank would be sending her money, Debi was told that she had been withdrawn from the trial modification because she had not sent all the required documents. Debi says she sent every requested document, at least twice. While she was reapplying for the modification program, she said she received notice from the bank that they were putting her in a short sale. She was losing her home.

      What do we do now?

      "We have been in this house for over 20 years," she said. "Are we just supposed to stop fighting, give in and move out?”

      Countrywide Finance customer Janette, of Simi Valley, Calif., believes the whole modification process is seriously flawed. She complains that she can't obtain accurate information and the process is drawn out over a year or more.

      "The longer it takes the further behind we fall,” she says. "Then, if the modification is approved the payment is higher, as there's more past due payments included. Something needs to be done now.”

      John, of Forest Lake, Minn., says Chase has been giving him the runaround for 18 months. He said he tried to work out a modification but the bank eventually rejected it and began foreclosure proceedings.

      "I found a credit union that was willing to pay off the loan and start fresh but Chase has added $37,000 to my loan and now the credit union is not so interested in loaning this extra money,” John told ConsumerAffairs.com. "My loan officer said it's unheard of to charge anyone this kind of fee and refused the loan. I'm tired of dealing with the number of people at Chase that hand off my phone calls. You never get the same person and no one can give you an answer. They just pass you on to the next number and it can go on for hours till you give up. The Attorney General's office is tired of hearing the calls come in and you would think someone would help the general public. What's their job? But this bank has figured out how to strip its customers of the little cash they have in their home or pocket and have no fear of anyone telling them what they are doing is wrong.”

      In her testimony before Congress last month, Julia Gordon, of the Center For Responsible Lending, said HAMP's performance has been disappointing, despite the half-million families that have gotten a second chance.

      Fallen fall short

      "HAMP has fallen far short of its initial goals for helping individual homeowners and has remained well behind the curve of additional foreclosures," she said. "Worse, many families encounter an incompetent or even predatory mortgage servicing system once they apply to the program, experiencing delays or denials that are inconsistent with the promise of the program guidelines.”

      Gordon said hundreds of thousands of people who received trial modifications during HAMP's initial phase have ended up in a worse financial situation as a result of their participation in the program if they do not get converted to a permanent modification.

      The reason? During the trial period, when they are making reduced payments at the direction of their lender, their lender is also reporting them as delinquent to the

      credit bureaus. Not only that, but late fees and interest continue to accumulate, resulting in a large addition to the debt at the end of the trial modification.

      Like a dangerous, high stakes roll of the dice, those who enter the modification process but come up short often find them in even more dire financial straits.

      "The continued insistence by Treasury officials that HAMP is working has contributed to deep cynicism in those who have interacted with participants,” Gordan said.The credibility of the program has been further undermined because it has not been transparent and has not created adequate enforcement mechanisms.

      Complaints continue to mount about the government-backed mortgage modification program....

      Many Restaurant Chefs Hesitant To Make Their Food Healthier

      Fear of low sales or bad reputation to blame

      Because of busy schedules, many Americans choose to eat most meals in restaurants.  But as entrée portion sizes grow, so do our waistlines.  

      According to Penn State researchers, restaurants could play an important role in helping to reduce the growing obesity epidemic by creating reduced-calorie meals.

      The researchers surveyed chefs, restaurant owners, and culinary executives from across the country to assess their perceptions of serving healthy foods in restaurants.

      In the survey, 72% of the 432 respondents said they could trim off 10% of the calories in meals without customers noticing differences in taste, and 21% said they could trim off at least 25% of the calories. This small change could lead to a major impact on the obesity epidemic.

      "Reducing intake by as little as 100 calories per day can amount to a significant weight loss over a year," says Liane Roe, research nutritionist in Penn State's Department of Nutritional Sciences and co-author on the team's findings, which appeared in Obesity.

      Roe and co-author Barbara Rolls, holder of the Helen A. Guthrie Chair in Nutrition, found that many chefs were not familiar with the calorie content of the meals they served. 49% were only somewhat familiar with how many calories their meals contained and stunningly, 7% had no idea at all.

      "If a large number of chefs don't know the calorie content of their food, they will be limited in their ability to modify what they serve to guests," said Roe.

      Chefs in the study were much more willing to create new reduced-calorie foods rather than modifying existing meals. Rolls explains that chefs might not want to modify their signature dishes for fear of losing sales or affecting their restaurant's reputation.

      This highlights a common idea chefs have about restaurant food: that promoting a dish as healthy is the "kiss of death."

      According to Rolls, they believe that very few customers will want that food. However, that doesn't mean they have to tell the public if they make any alterations.

      "Silent change goes on all the time in the food industry," said Rolls.

      In the study, chefs rated their perceptions of obstacles to increasing healthy food in restaurants. 32% thought healthier meals would equal low consumer demand. 24% figure their kitchen staffs will need training. 18% were worried about high ingredient cost .

      The majority of chefs, 71%, indicated that the success of a low-calorie meal hinged primarily on taste.

      When asked about the most effective method for reducing calories in meals, chefs favored reducing portion sizes over "reducing calories per bite" -- reducing fat or adding fruits or vegetables.

      Making portions smaller is probably a good idea, since they have grown to absurdly epic proportions in the last generation. But many consumers may not want to pay the same amount for less food. That's why reducing the amount of calories in many popular dishes might be the way to go.

      However, when asked to pick specific strategies for reducing calories for two popular meals -- beef stew and apple pie a la mode -- chefs most often chose methods of reducing fat. Rolls said this seeming inconsistency most likely shows a knowledge gap in the culinary field; the chefs surveyed may not fully understand the terminology of "reducing calories per bite."

      Rolls has shown in past research that people typically eat the same volume of food over a one- or two-day period. By adding water-rich foods -- fruits and vegetables -- that are low in calories per bite, people can maintain the total weight they eat while reducing the calorie count. Some of her past research shows that people do not notice calorie reductions of up to 30 percent.

      Not only would substituting fruits and vegetables reduce calories in meals, but it would improve nutrient intake, which has dropped off sharply in recent years.

      A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that fruit intake among Americans has fallen significantly within the last ten years, while vegetable intake has remained steady. However, the majority of Americans are not eating the recommended amounts of fruits or vegetables, the CDC study suggested.

      Other recent studies show that people are increasing the frequency at which they eat out, that people who eat out frequently are more likely to be overweight. By better understanding the attitudes of chefs, Rolls, Roe, and their team at Penn State hope to improve methods for making meals healthier and promote those methods among restaurants.

      "It's important to figure out how to reduce the calorie content in meals in a way that keeps food just as enjoyable at the same price," said Rolls. "We're all responsible for what we eat, but restaurants can make it easier for us."

      Many Restaurant Chefs Hesitant To Make Their Food HealthierFear of low sales or bad reputation to blame...

      Ways to Profit from Low Interest Rates besides Refinancing Your Mortgage

      Interest rates this low aren’t going to last forever so you should take advantage of them

      No one knows how long these record low interest rates are going to be around. We've heard Fed Chairman  Ben Bernanke proclaim the only way to grow the economy is through inflation, which usually means interest rates would go up.

      The Fed announced another round of quantitative easing, or QE2 for short, and that it was going to buy up some $600 billion worth of government debt. While that could push interest rates even lower, some analysts are saying that would be temporary and that the ultimate goal was to spark a rise in consumerism and an increase in prices. Translation: inflation and eventually higher interest rates.

      That's why you should take advantage of the current low interest rate environment and U.S. News has put together a list of ways you can do that:

      Obviously, you could either buy a home or refinance the mortgage you already have. But since most people may not be in a position to do that, here are three other ways to profit from low interest rates.

      1. Get free money from your credit cards. Some of the best balance transfer offers give you interest-free money for 21 months. Just a year ago, the best deal was for 12 months. Add to the longer transfer periods, the fees on these offers are back down to 3 percent from what use to be 5 percent. These deals offer a great way to pay off high interest credit cards, and they can enable you to climb out of credit card debt faster while paying no interest.

      2. While most think of refinancing a mortgage, you can also save a lot of money by refinancing your auto loan. It's easy to compare rates and apply for refinancing loan entirely online. In fact, you never even have to go into the bank. If your current car loan is charging a high interest rate, refinancing can save several hundred dollars a month.

      3. Finally, debt consolidation can be a great way to take advantage of low rates. By combining high interest car loans, school loans, credit cards, and other debt into a single low interest loan, you can not only save money, but also reduce the number of payments you make each month. One option is to consolidate high interest debt into a home equity line of credit. If that option is not available, you may consider a bank loan or other line of credit, so long as you can qualify for an interest rate that makes sense.

      It’s only a matter of time when inflation returns and interest rates rise so take advantage of the current low interest rates to save money...

      Michigan Bans All Alcohol-Infused Energy Drinks

      State officials cite drinks, like Four Loko, aimed at underage drinkers

      People looking to purchase alcoholic energy drinks in Michigan will now have to cross state lines to get their fix.

      The Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) has rescinded the approval of all alcohol-infused energy drinks, like the headline-making Four Loko, in light of several studies regarding the popular drinks, the widespread community concerns aired by substance abuse prevention groups, parent groups and various members of the public, as well as the FDA's decision to further investigate these products.

      Four Loko has been making headlines in the last few weeks since being banned from Ramapo College in New Jersey and Central Washington University in Washington state. The fruity malt liquor is being blamed for sending countless kids in both states to hospitals with alcohol poisoning.

      These recent events along with other concerns from emergency room doctors quoted throughout the country have prompted Chairperson Nida Samona and Commissioner Patrick Gagliardi to take action.

      The Commission believes the packaging is often misleading, and the products themselves can pose problems by directly appealing to a younger customer and encouraging excessive consumption while mixing alcohol with various other chemical and herbal stimulants.

      Critics of the drinks say Four Loko is especially targeted at kids because of its colorful packaging, its cheap price (usually about $3 a can) and its high sugar content which appeals to younger palates and masks any taste of alcohol.

      A typical alcoholic energy drink is 24 ounces and has a 12 percent alcohol content, compared to a 12 ounce can of beer, which normally has an alcohol content ranging from 4 to 5%. It's almost three to four times the alcohol content of a 12 ounce beer.

      "One can, one serving, is enough to get you intoxicated. Alcohol energy drinks cost on average $2 to $5 per can making these products easily accessible and affordable,” said Commissioner Patrick Gagliardi.

      The high amounts of caffeine slows the effects of drunkenness, which might explain why kids are drinking several cans of the potent beverage while they party and end up with near-fatal blood alcohol levels.

      "The Commission's concern for the health, safety and welfare of Michigan citizens and the fact that there is not enough research to validate that these products are safe for consumption has made me believe that until further research is done by the FDA, they should no longer be on Michigan shelves,” said Samona.

      "Alcohol has been recognized as the number one drug problem among youth, and the popularity of alcohol energy drinks is increasing at an alarming rate among college students and underage drinkers.”

      One has to wonder if banning drinks like Four Loko won't just make them more appealing. Four Loko appears to be gaining fans on Facebook, not losing them, and die-hard fans are lamenting the recent Michigan ban.

      "This sucks!” said one Michigan resident on a Four Loko Facebook fan page, "Places have thirty days to get them off their shelves...so get them while you can!”

      Michigan Bans All Alcohol-Infused Energy DrinksState officials cite drinks, like Four Loko, aimed at underage drinkers...

      Oklahoma Debt Collector Charged With Fraud In Texas

      Payday lender accused of impersonating a government official

      Debt collectors are bound by strict rules when dealing with consumers and Texas officials accuse an Oklahoma of violating several of the.

      Specifically, if you are trying to collect a debt, you can't tell the debtor you are a police officer or any kind of government official.

      Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has charged Patrick D. "Dylan” White and his businesses - CASHMAX, Fed Cash, TOPCASH and Cash Service Center - with illegally misrepresenting itself as an official Dallas County government agency.

      Abbott went to court and obtained an order against the defendants, prohibiting them from continuing to distribute fraudulent mailings.

      Abbott says White incorporated his firm under the name Federal Cash Advance of Oklahoma, LLC, and maintains offices in Dallas County.

      According to state investigators, the defendant sent deceptive collection letters to Texans with outstanding debts. The letters were delivered in envelopes that contained the Dallas County Clerk's forged signature and improperly bore the official seals of both the State of Texas and Dallas County.

      Inside the envelopes, the defendant inserted notices of debt collection that instructed recipients to call a telephone number, which belonged to Federal Cash Advance's CASHMAX offices.

      Illegal threats

      The notice letters illegally threatened criminal prosecution, referenced a phony "case number” and cited fictitious criminal penalties of up to five years in prison and heavy fines.

      The Texas Finance Code prohibits debt collectors from threatening debtors with prison sentences. It also bans deceptive collection notices that improperly pressure debtors to pay their debts.

      In addition, the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act also prevents debt collectors from misrepresenting themselves to debtors and otherwise engaging in abusive behavior.

      The State is seeking court-ordered penalties of up to $20,000 per violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Finance Code.

      Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has accused an Oklahoma payday lender of impersonating a Texas government official....