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    More Toyota, Lexus Models Recalled

    Accelerator pedal may become trapped by carpet or floor mat

    Toyota is recalling 2.17 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the United States to inspect and, if necessary, replace accelerator pedals that may get trapped in floor mats or carpeting. Toyota conducted a massive recall in 2009 to address the same problem.

    Toyota said 20,000 2006 and early 2007 Lexus GS 300 and GS 350 all-wheel-drive sedans will be recalled to modify the shape of the plastic pad embedded in the driver's side floor carpet. Owners of the affected vehicles will be notified in early March.

    If the floor carpet around the accelerator pedal is not properly replaced after service, Toyota said there is a possibility that the plastic pad embedded into the floor carpet may interfere with operation of the accelerator pedal.

    If this occurs, the accelerator pedal may become temporarily stuck in a partially depressed position rather than returning to the idle position. Toyota said it recently received two complaints about the problem.

    In addition, Toyota is recalling 372,000 2004 through 2006 and early 2007 Lexus RX 330, RX 350, and RX 400h units, and about 397,000 Toyota Highlander and Highlander HV vehicles sold from the 2004 through 2006 model years to replace the driver's side floor carpet cover and its two retention clips.

    The Japanese automaker has now recalled a total of 19.2 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles worldwide and more than 13.7 million in the United States to address safety problems since the fall of 2009.

    More Toyota, Lexus Models Recalled. Accelerator pedal may become trapped by carpet or floor mat....
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    Credit Unions Keep Free Checking Alive

    Free checking is still around -- you just have to look for it

    It may seem like free checking  is nearing extinction. However, Bankrate's 2nd annual Credit Union Checking Study reveals that free checking accounts are alive and well at many of the nation's top credit unions. 

    Of the 50 credit unions surveyed, 38 of them -- or 76 percent -- offer free checking accounts with no strings attached. When you include credit unions that waive fees if members agree to meet certain conditions, the number jumps even higher. (Read consumer complaints about credit unions and banks).

    "An additional 20 percent of credit unions will waive the fee, usually with direct deposit and/or e-statement," says Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com. "Together, that's 96 percent of the credit unions offering checking that is free or can become free with pretty minimal effort." 

    The difference

    In contrast, Bankrate.com's 2010 Checking Study found only 65 percent of banks offered free checking with no strings attached. Why the discrepancy? 

    "It's a derivative of credit unions' structure, as they're not-for-profit," says Lydia Cole, industry analyst for Callahan & Associates, a credit union industry research firm in Washington, D.C. 

    "They certainly need to make profit to build capital and make future investments. But the members are really the owners of the different credit union cooperatives, and so they're not focused on individual product profitability," Cole says. "They don't need to make sure that checking is a profitable product for them or a break-even product." 

    Cole says credit unions often see checking accounts as only a small element of a larger relationship with members. 

    "(Credit unions) can really focus on member relationships and make sure that checking is integrated into an auto loan and a mortgage and a credit card, and altogether the member is profitable and contributes to the credit union's success. But they don't have to make sure that an individual product is profitable," she says. 

    Some fees

    However, credit unions aren't excluded from having to hike the incremental fee and the minimum balance to open an account that nearly all financial institutions deal with every year, says Fred Becker, president of the National Association of Federal Credit Unions in Arlington, Va. 

    "Although inflation's been relatively flat, the cost of basic services is going up -- your utility bills, your taxes -- just like for any other business operation," Becker says. 

    Those annual increases in operating costs are paid for in part by raising credit union fees, he says. 

    Up they go

    And raise fees, they did. To withdraw money from the ATM of a top-50 credit union where you're not a member, you'll pay an average of $2.10 per withdrawal this year – ten cents more than in 2010. Credit union members will also pay a little more to bounce a check this year. Nonsufficient funds (NSF) fees climbed about five percent -- from an average of $24.88 to $26.05. 

    The average minimum balance needed to open a credit union checking account also increased. Last year, the average amount of money you needed to start banking at a credit union was at least $124.94. This year, you'll need to deposit $134.56, an increase of 7.5 percent. 

    If that seems high, you can get a checking account at one of the credit unions that have no minimum opening balance. In the Bankrate survey, 46 percent of the credit unions say they don't require a minimum. 

    "Bankrate.com found that 96 percent of the nation's largest credit unions offer a checking account that is free, or can become free with minimal effort," McBride concludes. "Even with continued declines in the prevalence of free checking, it remains within the grasp of most Americans and credit unions are a viable option."

    Credit Unions Keep Free Checking AliveFree checking is still around -- you just have to look for it...
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    Toyota Recalls 2.17 Million More Cars to Fix Acceleration Problems

    Accelerator pedal can be trapped by carpeting or floor mat

    It was just a few weeks ago that federal safety regulators found that Toyota's unintended acceleration incidents were not caused by the automaker's electronic system. But that doesn't mean there haven't been any incidents.

    Now Toyota is recalling 2.17 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the United States to inspect and, if necessary, replace accelerator pedals that may get trapped in floor mats or carpeting. Toyota conducted a massive recall in 2009 to address the same problem.

    A 10-month investigation by NASA engineers determined that electronic flaws were not to blame for widespread consumer complaints of unintended acceleration in Toyota and Lexus models, the U.S. Department of Transportation said this month.

    The Japanese automaker has now recalled a total of 19.2 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles worldwide and more than 13.7 million in the United States to address safety problems since the fall of 2009.

    Toyota said 20,000 2006 and early 2007 Lexus GS 300 and GS 350 all-wheel-drive sedans will be recalled to modify the shape of the plastic pad embedded in the driver's side floor carpet. Owners of the affected vehicles will be notified in early March.

    If the floor carpet around the accelerator pedal is not properly replaced after service, Toyota said there is a possibility that the plastic pad embedded into the floor carpet may interfere with operation of the accelerator pedal.

    If this occurs, the accelerator pedal may become temporarily stuck in a partially depressed position rather than returning to the idle position. Toyota said it recently received two complaints about the problem.

    In addition, Toyota is recalling 372,000 2004 through 2006 and early 2007 Lexus RX 330, RX 350, and RX 400h units, and about 397,000 Toyota Highlander and Highlander HV vehicles sold from the 2004 through 2006 model years to replace the driver's side floor carpet cover and its two retention clips.

    Not electronic

    U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Feb. 8 that federal investigators had found no evidence the automaker's electronic throttle system played a part in incidents of unintended acceleration.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched the study ten months ago and called on NASA engineers to help determine whether cases of unintended acceleration in Toyota and Lexus models were caused by any cause other than sticky gas pedals and floor mats that trapped the gas pedals.

    “We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics system, and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended, high-speed acceleration in Toyotas.” LaHood said.

    Toyota Recalls 2.17 Million More Cars to Fix Acceleration Problems. Accelerator pedal can be trapped by carpeting or floor mat....
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      Texas Takes Action Against New York Electronics Retailers

      Two firms accused of bait and switch in offering rock bottom prices

      Consumers looking for the best deals on electronics gear sometimes turn to New York-based retailers who offer rock-bottom prices, but Texas officials say some caution may be in order. The low prices aren’t always what they seem.

      The Lone Star State has ratified judgments against Starlight Camera & Video Inc. and Broadway Photo, LLC, both based in New York City. The judgments require both firms to make restitution to Texas consumers.

      In addition, Starlight agreed to cease doing business in Texas and will dissolve as a corporation. The two agreements resolve the Texas Attorney General's investigation into allegations that the defendants misled customers about the descriptions and quality of their electronics products.

      Broadway Photo and its owner Albert Houllou may continue doing business in Texas, but must conduct business in a straightforward manner that does not violate Texas law, said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. In settlement of that lawsuit, the defendants agreed to pay $35,000 in civil penalties and $65,000 in attorneys' fees to the State.

      Tougher penalty for Starlight

      The judgment against Starlight Camera & Video is a $255,000 civil penalty, with $5,000 to be paid up front and the balance to be paid if they violate the judgment or fail to dissolve as a corporation.

      In both cases, the restitution is available to dissatisfied customers who previously filed complaints against the companies, or who file complaints within 90 days of the filing of today's agreed judgments. After providing restitution to their customers, the defendants must provide the attorney general's office a list of all customers to whom it made refunds and the amount of each refund.

      In November 2008, the AG's office charged the two online digital camera and electronics retailers with relying upon unlawful bait-and-switch sales schemes to market their products online.

      According to state investigators, Broadway Photo and Starlight Camera & Video -- both of Brooklyn -- attempted to attract customers by offering the lowest retail prices on price-comparison Websites such as Everyprice.com and Shopcartuse.com. Both of these entities were cited in enforcement actions that Abbott's office filed in 2009.

      According to state investigators, customers who selected merchandise and made credit card purchases via the defendants' Websites were notified that their orders had been processed. Despite the defendants' confirmation notice, customers were subsequently asked to call a specified telephone number to reconfirm their orders.

      Hard upsell

      However, customers who made the requested confirmation call were confronted with aggressive, high-pressure sales pitches that the defendants used to promote overpriced accessories, including memory cards and batteries. The defendants' telemarketers claimed these upgraded accessories were required for the customers' confirmed merchandise to function normally.

      When customers refused the defendants' offers, they were told their purchase was used, refurbished, or a foreign "gray market" model that would be inoperable in the United States. The defendants' telemarketers used this tactic to encourage customers to purchase a new, higher-priced U.S. version, Abbott said.

      If customers refused to upgrade their purchase, the defendants canceled the customers' orders, claiming the products were indefinitely back-ordered. When the defendants actually did ship orders, customers who intended to purchase new merchandise often received used or refurbished products.

      Texas officials caution consumers to be cautious when mail order retailers offer rock bottom prices....
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      FTC Asks Court to Shut Down Text Messaging Spammer

      Operation blasted out text message spam at a “mind-boggling” rate, agency alleges

      The Federal Trade Commission asked a federal judge to shut down an operation that allegedly blasted consumers with millions of illegal spam text messages, including many messages that deceptively advertised a mortgage modification website called “Loanmod-gov.net.” The FTC is asking the court to freeze the defendant’s assets.

      According to the FTC complaint, the defendant behind the operation, Phillip A. Flora, sent millions of text messages, pitching loan modification assistance, debt relief, and other services.

      In one 40-day period, Flora sent more than 5.5 million spam text messages, a “mind boggling” rate of about 85 per minute, every minute of every day, according to additional court documents filed by the agency. The FTC alleges that consumers lose money as a result of Flora’s spam text messaging because many of them get stuck paying fees to their mobile carriers to receive the unwanted text messages.

      The text messages told consumers to respond to the message or visit one of the operation’s websites. One of the sites, loanmod-gov.net, used a web address that appeared to be a government web address, claimed to provide “Official Home Loan Modification and Audit Assistance Information,” and displayed a photo of an American flag.

      According to the FTC’s complaint, Flora collects information from consumers who respond to the text messages – even those asking him to stop sending messages. He then sells their contact information to marketers claiming they are “debt settlement leads.”

      The FTC charges that Flora violated the FTC Act by sending unsolicited commercial text messages to consumers, and by misrepresenting that he was affiliated with a government agency. In addition, the FTC charges that he advertised his text message blasting services by sending consumers e-mail spam that violated the CAN-SPAM Act – a law that sets the rules for commercial email. The FTC alleges that his e-mail spam failed to include a way for consumers to “opt-out” of future messages and failed to include the physical mailing address of the sender, as required by the law.

      FTC Asks Court to Shut Down Text Messaging Spammer. Operation blasted out text message spam at a “mind-boggling” rate, agency alleges....
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      Supreme Court Revives Lap Belt Suit Against Mazda

      Woman wearing lap belt was killed; others wearing lap-and-shoulder belts survived

      The U.S. Supreme Court has reinstated a wrongful death lawsuit that claims Mazda was negligent in not equipment all vehicle seats with lap-and-shoulder belts instead of simple lap belts.

      The case involves the death of Thanh Williamson, who was killed when her family's 1993 Mazda minivan was struck head-on by a Jeep that broke loose from a motor home that was towing it.

      Ms. Williamson had been sitting in a middle-row seat that was equipped with only a lap belt. Other members of her family were sitting in seats that had lap-and-shoulder belts. She was killed; they survived.

      Federal regulations at the time gave vehicle manufacturers the option to use lap belts in certain inner seats in middle and rear rows.

      A California state court had dismissed the lawsuit, finding that federal regulations superseded state laws.

      The Supreme Court justices were unanimous in their decision that the Williamsons' lawsuit was not pre-empted since "providing manufacturers with this seatbelt choice is not a significant objective of the federal regulation."

      Writing for the court, Justice Stephen Breyer noted that the Transportation Department's (DOT) goal in giving automakers a choice about rear seat belts was based only on the concern that lap-and-shoulder rear belts would not be cost-effective.

      "But that fact - the fact that DOT made a negative judgment about cost effectiveness - cannot by itself show that DOT sought to forbid commonlaw tort suits in which a judge or jury might reach a different conclusion," Breyer wrote, noting that DOT expected costs to drop with innovation.

      Supreme Court Revives Lap Belt Suit Against Mazda. Woman wearing lap belt was killed; others wearing lap-and-shoulder belts survived....
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      Rainy Day Accounts Run Dry

      New Bankrate poll reveals that only 52 percent of Americans have more money in emergency savings than in credit card debt

      With unemployment rates still high, analysts believe emergency savings accounts are more important than ever. However, a new Bankrate study shows little more than half of American consumers have more money in savings than credit card debt. 

      Among the findings: 

      • Nearly one out of four Americans, or 23 percent, has more credit card debt than savings;
      • Among people over 65, 26 percent had neither debt nor savings -- the most among age groups;
      • One out of three people from ages 30 to 49 had higher debt than savings -- the highest proportion;
      • At 59 percent, adults under 30 were most likely to report their emergency fund was larger;
      • Only 15 percent of people are more comfortable with their savings now than compared to 12 months ago.

      "Nothing helps you sleep better at night than knowing you have money tucked away for a rainy day," said Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com. "Yet only 52 percent of Americans have more in their rainy day funds than in credit card debt, and 19 percent have neither debt nor savings, which puts them one unplanned expense away from trouble." 

      Bankrate's Financial Security Index results are based on telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,018 adults, ages 18 and older. The interviews were conducted from Feb. 3 to Feb. 6, 2011, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. 

      The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ± 3.6 percentage points.

      Rainy Day Accounts Run DryNew Bankrate poll reveals that only 52 percent of Americans have more money in emergency savings than in credit card debt...
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      Don't Fall for Precious Metals Scams

      Surging gold and silver prices can carry dangers for investors

      With gold and silver prices moving higher in the wake of Middle East tensions, investors need to tread cautiously. Not only do they have to carefully pick their entry point, they have to make sure they don't fall for scam artists who -- in the words of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) -- are "putting a new twist on an old scam."

      The FTC has warned that scam artists are touting coins and precious metals as low-risk, high-yield investments to hedge against the economic downturn and fears of a declining U.S. dollar. 

      (Read more about scams).

      Since the 1980s, the commission has brought dozens of cases against fraudulent marketers that hawked gold or silver bullion, rare coins, precious and semi-precious metals, gemstones, oil and gas leases, and fine art as a safe alternative to traditional investments such as stocks and bonds.

      Over the past three decades, the FTC has brought 17 cases against companies that sold overpriced and/or misgraded historic coins for investment purposes. While the companies allegedly falsely marketed their coins as good, safe investments, in reality, these dealers sold them with significant mark-ups, often as high as three-times the prevailing market price.

      In testimony before Congress last year, the FTC said it has identified three main types of recent complaints related to the sale of coins and precious metals - those involving deceptive sales pitches for investments in historic coins, reports of unscrupulous marketers pitching highly leveraged precious metal purchases with the promise that the investments are "safe" or "low-risk," and those regarding "cash for gold" offers where marketers fail to provide consumers with a quote of the value of their precious metal and jewelry before melting it down.

      Investigate Before You Invest

      Investing in bullion or bullion coins is a big decision. If you're thinking about it, the FTC offers this advice:

      • Ask for the coin's melt value. The melt value for virtually all bullion coins and collectible coins is widely available.
      • Consult with a reputable financial advisor you trust who has specialized investment knowledge. You may want to talk to other investors, too.
      • Shop around. Most banks offer gold bullion -- often at a lower markup than dealers. You also can enter the name of the coin into an online search engine to compare prices from other dealers.
      • Get an independent appraisal of the specific asset you're considering. The seller's appraisal might be inflated.
      • Consider additional costs associated with the investment. You may need to buy insurance or a safe deposit box, or you may need to rent offsite storage to safeguard your bullion. These costs will cut into the investment potential of bullion.
      • Walk away from sales pitches that minimize risk and sales representatives who claim that written risk disclosures are just formalities required by the government, and therefore not necessary. Reputable sales reps are upfront about the risk of particular investments.
      • Refuse to "act now," regardless of the consequences. Any sales pitch that urges you to buy immediately is a signal to walk away and keep your money in your pocket.
      • Check out the company by entering its name in a search engine online. Read whether other people have something to say about their experiences with the company. Try to communicate offline if possible to clarify any details. In addition, contact your state Attorney General and local consumer protection agency. Checking with these organizations in the communities where promoters are located is a good idea, but realize that it isn't fool-proof: it just may be too soon for someone to realize they've been defrauded or to have lodged a complaint with the authorities.
      • Ask for a guarantee or certificate of authenticity for the bullion's precious metal content. Research the company behind the guarantee or certificate because certificates of 'authenticity' can be faked.

      Tip-offs to Rip-offs

      Bullion scams often involve false claim about content, rarity or value. Unscrupulous sellers often overprice their coins, lie about the bullion content, or try to pass off ordinary bullion coins as rare collectible coins.

      Some fraudulent dealers may even try to sell coins that aren't bullion coins at all. Others may try to sell bullion pieces with the same design as coins from the U.S. Mint, but in different sizes. Indeed, private mints issue coins that look like bullion coins minted by foreign governments, but may have little or no gold content. Your best defense is to study the market and choose your dealer carefully.

      Unscrupulous dealers may also urge you to invest in precious metals with the false claim that the value of a particular precious metal is about to skyrocket, or that current political and economic conditions indicate that the value of "hard assets" like gold or silver are poised for dramatic increases.

      These sellers may say that you need to act fast or miss out on a low-risk, high-yield investment. What they don't mention is that you're about to enter into a leveraged purchase, which works like this: you pay a fraction of the purchase price of the bullion, say 20 percent, and a lender pays the balance. The lender holds the precious metals you "bought" as collateral for the loan.

      An unscrupulous seller also may charge big fees and commissions that could wipe out your initial investment. If the value of the precious metal you "bought" drops below a margin set by the lender, you may be subject to an equity call because the value of your metal is no longer enough to secure the loan.

      At that point, you have to decide whether to put more money into the investment or tell the lender to sell the metal to pay off the loan. Either way, it's very likely you'll lose some or all of your investment.

      The Federal Trade Commission urges investors to watch out for gold and silver scams....
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      'Free Tickets on Southwest' Scam Hits Facebook

      Realistic looking design might dupe more people into clicking malicious link

      Everyone knows the old saying: if it sounds too good to be true, it is. But what many Facebook users may not realize is: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is also.

      Facecrooks, a website that monitors Facebook scams, discovered Sunday that cyber-ne’re-do-wells were posing as Southwest Airlines and conning unsuspecting users into downloading their rogue application by promising free plane tickets.

      This scam is, in many ways, like the others that have come before it: the malicious link is posted by friends or family (all victims of the hoax), the link leads to a screen where the user is asked to download the app in exchange for access to his or her profile information, the scammers then take over the user’s profile to spread the malicious link further.

      However, there are two ways the Southwest scam is different than similar scams from the past.

      The first is the malicious link appears to be spread via the comments function, not status updates.

      So, instead of spamming the user’s dashboard, he or she might see a seemingly random comment from Aunt Helen under a picture the user posted. If the user thinks Aunt Helen is so excited about this deal, she just had to share it as quickly as possible, even in a picture comment, the user might be more tempted to click on the link.

      The second difference is how legitimate the application looks. The scammers appeared to done their homework.

      Naked Security, the IT security blog on Sophos.com, posted a step-by-step look at the application downloading process, revealing the first thing unsuspecting victims see after clicking the malicious link is a website that looks very much like the actual Southwest Airlines homepage.

      Now that more companies are offering special perks to their Facebook friends, users may have a hard time telling the difference between real and fake, especially when the graphics look so similar.

      Using plane tickets to bait potential scam victims is not new. In the past, scammers have posed as JetBlue and Delta Air Lines, offering tempting deals to ensnare their victims.

      And as airline ticket prices continue to soar, Graham Cluley of Sophos.com thinks this is a trend that’s here to stay.

      “Will we see more of these air ticket-related scams in the future on Facebook? I would bet money on it. After all, everyone dreams of the idea of flying off somewhere without having to pay for the privilege,” said Cluley.

      What could be changing, though, is how similar these scam applications look to the real, legitimate sites they’re pretending to be affiliated with. This could make differentiating between real perks offered by companies on Facebook and the scams that much more difficult.

      If you fell victim to the Southwest hoax, Cluley offers some help on how to remove the rogue application from your profile and blocking their access to your information.

      Free Tickets on Southwest Scam Hits Facebook Realistic looking design might dupe more people into clicking malicious link...
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      REI Recalls Novara Fusion Bicycles

      Steerer tube can separate from the fork

      REI is recalling about 160 Novara Fusion bicycles. The alloy steerer tube could separate from the fork causing the rider to lose control, posing a fall hazard to consumers.

      The firm has received one report of a steerer tube detaching. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Novara Fusion bicycles with serial numbers U95Y07321, U96Y28393, or in the sequential range of the last four digits U96Y28876 through U96Y29128. Serial numbers are located on the underside of the bike. The espresso-colored bicycles were sold in two styles, the Step Through and the Fusion. The Step Through was sold in extra small/small, while the Fusion was available in medium, large, and extra large.

      The bicycles were sold by REI stores nationwide and at REI.com from November 2009 to November 2010 for between $600 and $900. They were made in Taiwan.

      Consumers should immediately stop riding the bicycles and contact their local REI store or the REI customer service center to arrange for a replacement fork to be installed free of charge.

      For more information, contact REI at (800) 426-4840 anytime or go to REI's website at http://www.rei.com/help/recall/index.html

      REI Recalls Novara Fusion Bicycles, Steerer tube can separate from the fork...
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      Verizon Will Subsidize Motorola XOOM Tablet

      But customers must sign two-year service agreement

      Since Motorola rolled out its XOOM tablet computer at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the technology press has given it generally favorable reviews. Except for one thing.

      At $800, critics expressed strong doubts the device could compete with Apple's iPad, which has more cache and a lower price tag. Now, Verizon Wireless hopes to have dampened that criticism.

      As it announced today that it would begin selling the XOOM February 24, the wireless carrier also announced that it would subsidize the price as well. That is, it will for customers who sign a two-year service agreement.

      Two-year data agreement

      With a two-year service agreement, the XOOM will sell for $600. Without a service agreement, consumers will pay full price, $800.

      Wireless 3G data service for the Motorola XOOM will begin at $20 monthly access for 1GB.  The device will be upgradeable to 4G LTE service at no additional charge in the second quarter of 2011, Verizon said.

      The XOOM is the first device to run Google's new Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system.  

      Verizon says the Motorola XOOM incorporates the innovations of the Honeycomb user experience that improves on Android favorites such as widgets, multi-tasking, browsing, notifications and customization, as well as featuring the latest Google Mobile services.

      The Motorola XOOM also features full support for tabbed browsing and support for the Adobe Flash Player, available soon as a free download, and setting it apart from its Apple counterpart.

      The Motorola XOOM is built around a 1GHz dual-core processor and 10.1-inch widescreen HD display.  The sleek design features a front-facing 2-megapixel camera for video chats, as well as a rear-facing 5-megapixel camera that captures video in 720p HD.

      Verizon Wireless customers who sign a two-year service agreement may purchase a Motorola XOOM for $600 instead of $800....
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      FDA Warns Antipsychotic Drugs Pose Risks in Pregnancy

      Entire class of drugs can cause abnormal muscle movements and withdrawal symptoms in newborns

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is informing healthcare professionals that it has updated the Pregnancy section of drug labels for the entire class of antipsychotic drugs.

      The new drug labels now contain more and consistent information about the potential risk for abnormal muscle movements (extrapyramidal signs or EPS) and withdrawal symptoms in newborns whose mothers were treated with these drugs during the third trimester of pregnancy. 

      Antipsychotic drugs are used to treat symptoms of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and have been shown to improve daily functioning in individuals with these disorders. Common brand names for antipsychotic drugs include Haldol, Clozaril, Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify, Geodon, and Invega (see List of Antipsychotic Drugs below). 

      Healthcare professionals should be aware of the effects of antipsychotic medications on newborns when the medications are used during pregnancy. Patients should not stop taking these medications if they become pregnant without talking to their healthcare professional, as abruptly stopping antipsychotic medications can cause significant complications for treatment. 

      The symptoms of EPS and withdrawal in newborns may include agitation, abnormally increased or decreased muscle tone, tremor, sleepiness, severe difficulty breathing, and difficulty in feeding. In some newborns, the symptoms subside within hours or days and do not require specific treatment; other newborns may require longer hospital stays.

      Additional Information for Patients

      • Notify your healthcare professional if you become pregnant or intend to become pregnant while taking an antipsychotic medication.

      • Do not stop taking your antipsychotic medication if you become pregnant without first talking to your healthcare professional. Abruptly stopping antipsychotic medication can cause significant complications in your treatment.

      • Talk to your healthcare professional if you have concerns about any treatment you are receiving during pregnancy.

      • Report serious side effects from the use of antipsychotic drugs to the FDA MedWatch program.

      List of Antipsychotic Drugs

      Brand Name

      Generic Name

      Abilify

      aripiprazole

      Clozaril

      clozapine

      FazaClo ODT

      clozapine

      Fanapt

      iloperidone

      Geodon

      ziprasidone

      Haldol

      haloperidol

      Invega

      paliperidone

      Invega Sustenna

      paliperidone

      Loxitane

      loxapine

      Moban

      molindone

      Navane

      thiothixene

      Orap

      pimozide

      Risperdal

      risperidone

      Risperdal Consta

      risperidone

      Saphris

      asenapine

      Seroquel

      quetiapine

      Seroquel XR

      quetiapine

      Stelazine

      trifluoperazine

      Thorazine

      chlorpromazine

      Zyprexa

      olanzapine

      Zyprexa Relprevv

      olanzapine

      Zyprexa Zydis

      olanzapine

      Symbyax

      olanzapine and fluoxetine

      No Current Brand Name

      fluphenazine

      No Current Brand Name

      perphenazine

      No Current Brand Name

      perphenazine and amitriptyline

      No Current Brand Name

      prochlorperazine

      No Current Brand Name

      thioridazine

      FDA Warns Antipsychotic Drugs Pose Risks in Pregnancy. Entire class of drugs can cause abnormal muscle movements and withdrawal symptoms in newborns....
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      Borders Closings Creating a Bargain Bonanza - But It Still Pays tobe Careful

      It's easy to get carried away at close-out sales. Here are a few tips for the crafty consumer

      As hundreds of Borders bookstores prepare to close forever, bookworms and bargain-hunters are flocking to snap up close-out bargains on books, CDs, DVDs, stationery and gift items. Check-out lines are snaking onto sidewalks at some stores around the country, according to press reports.

      But consumers need to be careful. Close-out sales are often not what they seem and prices are not always as heavily discounted as the price tags would have you believe.

      When Consumer Reports monitored the 2009 liquidation sale at Circuit City, it found that the “original” prices had been inflated by 100 percent or more. That's obviously not a problem with books, which have the publisher's price printed on the cover, but pricing on other items can be a bit mysterious.

      How to be sure you're getting a good deal?

      The simplest is to keep your smart phone handy and compare the Borders close-out price with the prices its victorious competitor, Amazon, is offering. To make it even easier, Amazon offers a free smart phone app, Amazon Mobile, that makes it easy to compare prices, read reviews and shop on the go.

      Web sites like PriceGrabber.com and NextTag.com can also provide easy price comparisons.

      Remember too that bargains are great but that most purchases at close-out sales are final. That means no returns, no exchanges, no refunds. It's possible you might – just might – be able to return a defective item if you save your receipt. Some states are stricter about this than others, so don't count on it.

      Borders says that gift cards, Borders Rewards discounts and other credits will be accepted at stores that are closing as well as those that are staying open, at least for now. But as always, it's a good idea to use rewards sooner rather than later.

      It's also a good idea to make your purchase with a credit card, so that if there's a problem you have a little more recourse than you do with a cash sale.

      And last but not least, remember that bargains are great but a purchase isn't a bargain if it's something you don't really need.

      Borders Closings Creating a Bargain Bonanze - But It Still Pays to be Careful. It's easy to get carried away at close-out sales....
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      Illegal Online Cigarette Sales Drop Sharply

      Ban on credit card payments and commercial shipping help, study says

      If people can't use credit cards to purchase cigarettes online, then a lot fewer cigarettes will be sold this way. That's the finding of a new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina.

      The study, published in the journal PLoS One, found that banning credit card payments and the use of commercial shippers to deliver to deliver the smokes lowered the number of vendors offering cigarettes online and reduced consumer traffic to the most popular cigarette-selling websites.

      "Most Internet vendors offer tax-free cigarettes, making them cheaper than those sold at stores," said Kurt Ribisl, Ph.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of health behavior and health education in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. "This undermines the impact that higher prices have on reducing smoking."

      Selling to minors

      Ribisl said that aside from violating tax laws, most online cigarette vendors have weak age verification and sell to minors. This led to landmark voluntary agreements in 2005 with major credit card companies and private shippers to ban payment transactions and bar commercial shippers from transporting all Internet cigarette sales.

      The study is believed to be the first such research examining the impact of those agreements.

      Ribisl and a team of UNC researchers studied the bans' effectiveness by examining the sales practices of hundreds of websites one year before and two years after the agreements went into effect. They also compared the number of unique monthly visitors to the 50 most popular cigarette vendor sites to determine whether the bans altered web traffic.

      Death knell for websites

      The study found that following the bans, many websites closed down. There also was a 3.5-fold decline in traffic to the 50 most popular vendor sites, resulting in an estimated 1.25 million fewer visits per month before the end of the 2005. And although an influx of new vendors initially saw a net increase in the number of sites, their numbers fell markedly over the following year, resulting in an overall drop in the total number of vendors.

      Researchers also found that the proportion of vendors accepting credit cards and PayPal dropped from 99.2 percent to 37.4 percent after the bans, and the proportion offering to ship via UPS, FedEx and other commercial shippers dropped from 32.2 percent to 5.6 percent.

      However, there was a corresponding increase in vendors offering non-banned payment options, such as personal checks, and shipping options, including the U.S. Postal Service, which did not ban cigarettes.

      This indicated that the Internet vendors actively exploited loopholes in the voluntary agreements, the study noted, although a new federal law signed by President Obama last year has strengthened the provisions of the voluntary agreements and made tobacco nonmailable matter through the U.S. Postal Service.

      Researchers say online sales of cigarettes are down sharply, thanks to bans on using credit cards for payments and commercial shipping firms for delivery....
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      Couple Says Adoption Lawyer Failed to Warn of Son's Medical Problems

      Parents say they would never have adopted their son had they known of neurological issues

      This could make for awkward dinner conversation a few years down the road. 

      A New York couple is suing their adoption lawyers, claiming  they failed to warn them about their adopted son's serious medical problems. Lynell and Victor Jeffrey say they would never have adopted Ellington had they known of his “serious neurological deficits.” 

      The suit names adoption attorneys Aaron Britvan and Alyssa Seinden, who advised the couple when they adopted Ellington in 2006. Three months after the adoption, a CAT scan revealed Ellington's neurological problems. 

      The Jeffreys first sued Britvan and Seinden in Indiana -- where Ellington was born -- but that court threw the suit out, ruling that it didn't have jurisdiction. 

      Under New York law, adoption attorneys are required to inform prospective parents of any medical problems that the child has. 

      Lawyer: Suit “an abomination”

      Scott Agulnick, who is representing Seinden in the suit, told the Daily Mail, “I hate to say it, but it almost seems like [the Jeffreys] have Buyers’ Remorse.” 

      “Alyssa has dedicated her career to helping people adopt and this is how she was repaid,” Agulnick said, adding that the suit was “an abomination.” 

      Britvan's lawyer, Caryn Lilling, echoed Agulnick's disgust, and predicted that her client will prevail. “This case was thrown out in Indiana, and it will be thrown out [in New York] as well,” she said. 

      The Jeffreys insist that they love their son, but that they want justice for the four years of pain they have suffered. 

      “Ellington is a wonderful little boy, but this has been hard,” Lynell told the New York Post

      At least they didn't send him back

      As Gothamist pointed out, it could be worse: the Jeffreys could have opted to ship Ellington back to Indiana. That's what happened last April to Justin Artyem Hansen (born Artyem Saviliev), whose mother sent him back to his native Russia with a note citing psychological problems. 

      The Tennessee mother's return of seven-year-old Justin set off an international feud, with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev calling the act “a monstrous deed,” and citing his “special concern” for the way that Russian adoptees were being treated by their new families in the U.S. 

      About a week after the incident, Russia halted all adoptions into the U.S., with a Russian official contending that it was “big business” for U.S. adoption agencies to find foreign parents, since it is often much more profitable to offer children to foreigners than to Russian parents. 

      “We must, as much as possible, keep our children in our country, and keep them safe here,” the official, Pavel A. Astakhov, toldThe New York Times.  

      Couple Says Adoption Lawyer Failed to Warn of Son's Medical Problems Parent say they would never have adopted their son had they known of neurological iss...
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      Judge Scolds Obama Administration for Drilling Permit Delays

      Judge who struck down administration's drilling ban calls delays 'increasingly unreasonable'

      The same Louisiana federal judge who overturned the Obama administration's Gulf drilling ban recently took the Administration to task for what he called “increasingly unreasonable” delays in making decisions regarding permit applications for drilling in the Gulf. 

      After the Deepwater Horizon disaster last April, the Interior Department imposed two consecutive blanket moratoriums on drilling in the Gulf, which were in effect until October 12. According to the court, however, “even after [Interior Secretary Ken Salazar] formally lifted the second moratorium ... permits for deepwater drilling activities have not been processed; little to no deepwater drilling has resumed.” 

      This is due in large part to new standards imposed by the Interior Department that serve as prerequisites to a drilling permit being granted. In other words, in order for its drilling permit to even be processed, a company must show that it is in compliance with the new standards. 

      Backlogged drilling applications

      At issue in the action, brought by Ensco Offshore Co. against Salazar, was what Ensco contended were “intentional” delays by the Interior Department in processing its application. Ensco says that its drilling permits have been on hold -- neither approved nor denied by the government -- for at least four months. 

      “The government responds,” the court wrote, “that its strained resources and the demands of regulatory compliance necessarily produce the delays at issue.” 

      “It is undisputed,” the court said, “that before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, permits were processed, on average, in two weeks' time. In stark contrast, the five permits at issue have been pending from four to some nine months.” 

      The court wrote that the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) -- a 60-year-old piece of legislation establishing federal control over seabeds outside state boundaries -- “establishes a non-discretionary duty on the Department of Interior to act, favorably or unfavorably, on drilling permit applications. Although OSCLA grants the Secretary discretion to decide whether to review permit applications ... the Court holds that once the Secretary exercises that discretion, the government is under a duty to act by either granting or denying a permit application within a reasonable time.” 

      Judicial impatience? 

      The court's order signals a potentially decreasing amount of patience -- at least in the judiciary -- with regulatory delays stemming from the ten-month-old spill. The court wrote that “in the wake of the disastrous BP spill, some delays are of course understandable.” 

      “But now, nearly a year after the spill occurred,” the court wrote, “delays, particularly those of the length at issue here, become increasingly unreasonable … The permitting backlog becomes increasingly inexcusable. Perhaps it is reasonable for permit applications to wait more than two weeks in a necessarily more regulated environment. Delays of four months and more in the permitting process, however, are unreasonable, unacceptable, and unjustified by the evidence before the Court.” 

      Controversial judge 

      The judge who wrote the order -- Martin L.C. Feldman -- is controversial, especially with regard to oil-related litigation. He is the same judge who, last June, overturned the Obama administration's moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf, which had been imposed in the weeks following the Deepwater Horizon spill. 

      Shortly after that order was issued, it was reported that Judge Feldman has “extensive investments in the energy industry,” as the New York Daily Newsput it. The paper reported that Judge Feldman held around $15,000 in Transocean stock in 2008. Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, which caused the environmental calamity that consumed the world last April and May. 

      The court ordered the Interior Department to act on Ensco's permit application within thirty days of the order, “and simultaneously report to the Court its compliance.”

      Judge Scolds Obama Administration for Drilling Permit Delays Same judge who struck down administration's drilling ban calls delays 'increasingly unreasona...
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      Florida Tax Preparer Banned

      Feds say tax preparer overstated deductions

      The U.S. Justice Department reports a Florida woman has been permanently barred from preparing federal income tax returns for others, and her former customers can expect a close examination by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

      The injunction order, to which Milagros Espinal consented, requires her to provide a copy of the order to her customers, publish a copy of the order in The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, and turn over to the government information identifying her customers.

      According to the complaint, since at least 2004, Espinal, of Hialeah, Fla., has routinely prepared tax returns containing fabricated or overstated deductions and improper or false claims for tax credits, such as the earned-income tax credit and the child tax credit.  

      The government estimates that her return preparation resulted in an understatement of her customers' federal income tax liabilities of $10 million or more between 2004 and 2007.   She allegedly prepared at least 2,000 returns during that period.

      In the past 10 years, the Justice Department's Tax Division said it has obtained hundreds of injunctions to stop the promotion of tax fraud schemes and the preparation of fraudulent returns.  

      The Justice Department has announced another tax preparer has been "banned for life" from preparing taxes....
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      Dividend Stocks Can Give Your Investments A Boost

      But get sound advice before investing

      Where does one find a decent return on an investment these days? For millions of Baby Boomers contemplating retirement, it's more than a rhetorical question.

      A report by the Wall Street Journal shows the soon-to-retire generation, by and large, has not saved enough in their retirement accounts and has some catching up to do. Others who have put their money in certificates of deposit (CDs) are earning a paltry return.

      Those whose investment has been wrapped up in their homes have seen values decline 30 percent or more. For Americans who have accumulated savings, the million-dollar question is where to invest it.

      (Read consumer complaints about investment companies).

      Get good advice

      Before investing in anything, it is wise to consult a financial advisor who is completely objective. In other words, an advisor who does not sell an investment product but only offers financial advice for a fee. One question to ask them is about dividend-producing blue chip stocks.

      Not all stocks pay a dividend, but many do. Paying a dividend is one way a company returns a portion of its profits directly to its shareholders. So, before a company can pay a dividend, it needs to be profitable.

      Blue-chip dividends

      While banks are paying a little more than one percent on CDs, blue chip companies like Johnson & Johnson, Campbell Soup, General Mills, Chevron, and Kimberly Clark, pay dividends of more than three percent. Altria, Eli Lilly, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AT&T and Verizon, pay dividends in excess of five percent.

      That means if you invested $100,000 in a balanced, diversified portfolio of these high-yield stocks that yielded on average four percent, your money would earn $4000 a year in dividends, as long as the companies continued to pay those dividends. You would receive the dividends, usually paid quarterly, whether the price of the stock went up or down.

      For funds in a tax-deferred retirement account, you might ask your financial advisor about master limited partnerships (MLP) that have issued common stock. MLP dividends tend to be even higher, and while the tax reporting requirements can make them a nuisance for small investors, there are no tax reporting requirements if the shares are owned by a retirement account.

      Too high can be a turn off

      That said, stocks that pay a very high dividend are often a red flag and should be avoided. It all depends on why the yield is high.

      The dividend is based on the price of the stock. If a $10 stock pays a dividend of $1 per share, for example, that's a yield of 10 percent. But the question to pose is, can the company really afford to pay the dividend?

      Let's assume the company set the dividend at $1 per share when the stock was trading at $50, a conservative yield of two percent. But if the stock price plunged from $50 to $10, the yield would shoot up to 10 percent.

      The question you would have to ask, however, is why did the stock price plunge, and how much longer will the company be able to pay $1 per share.

      Bye-bye dividend

      Last year, before the Gulf oil spill, British Petroleum (BP) paid a dividend close to eight percent. However, in the wake of the oil spill, it eliminated its dividend entirely, since it was required to pay billions for the clean up.

      And therein lies the risk with any kind of equity, including dividend-producing stocks. There is no guarantee that the dividend will continue, though most blue-chip companies have a long, stable history of paying out to shareholders. Still, it is a risk that must be carefully considered. The BP example shows that bad things can happen to the most rock-solid companies.

      When looking at a company's dividend, compare it to the company's earnings per share. If the dividend is only half the earnings, that's a pretty good sign. If it isn't, you should ask yourself how the company can sustain that dividend.

      However, before deciding where to invest your money, seek sound financial advice and do plenty of homework.

      Investors looking for a better return have turned to dividend-producing stocks....
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      Alibaba CEO Resigns Amid e-Fraud Scandal

      Probe finds widespread fraud on the business-to-business site

      Two top managers are leaving the business-to-business site Alibaba.com after an investigation found widespread fraud on the site, some of it allegedly involving Alibaba staff.

      Alibaba is a global exchange site, where businesses and suppliers can connect. It has experienced rapid growth but lately has been plagued by complaints of fraud and theft. Alibaba's parent company also operates China's largest domestic retail site, Taobao, where businesses and individuals sell to consumers.

      The company said today that CEO David Wei and COO Elvis Lee were both resigning after an internal investigation found that at least 2,300 sellers on the site had committed fraud, sometimes with the help of the Alibaba sales staff.

      The company said the senior managers weren't involved in the fraud but felt that they should take responsibility for it.

      The controversy revolves around the “Gold Supplier” credentials that sellers can display on the site after they go through a verification process. But Alibaba said that about 100 employees were “directly responsible” for allowing some scam artists to circumvent the verification process.

      As a result, some buyers ordered parts or finished goods from what they thought were verified, reputable businesses. Some never receive the orders and others complained their orders were incomplete or otherwise unsatisfactory.

      Most of the fraud victims lost less than $1,200, Alibaba said.

      Alibaba CEO Resigns Amid e-Fraud Scandal. Probe finds widespread fraud on the business-to-business site....
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