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    FDA Approves New Vaccine to Prevent Meningococcal Disease in Infants

    Dangerous disease can result in death and serious complications

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved the use of Menactra in children as young as 9 months for the prevention of invasive meningococcal disease, a life-threatening illness caused by bacteria that infect the bloodstream (sepsis) and the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). 

    Menactra already is approved for use in people ages 2 through 55 years.

    Even with appropriate antibiotics and intensive care, between 10 percent and 15 percent of people who develop meningococcal disease die from the infection. Another 10 percent to 20 percent suffer complications such as brain damage or loss of limb or hearing.

    Although the rates of meningococcal disease are low in the United States, infants and toddlers are more susceptible to getting this serious illness. Meningococcal disease is particularly dangerous because it progresses rapidly and can cause death within hours. Early symptoms are often difficult to distinguish from influenza and other common illnesses.

    The highest rate of meningococcal disease occurs in children under one year of age. With today’s approval, Menactra can now be used in children as young as 9 months of age to help prevent this potentially life-threatening disease,” said Karen Midthun, M.D., director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

    The safety of Menactra in children as young as 9 months was evaluated in four clinical studies in which over 3,700 participants received the vaccine. The most common adverse events reported in children who received Menactra at 9 months and 12 months of age were injection-site tenderness and irritability. Occurrence of fever was comparable to other vaccines routinely recommended for young children.

    FDA Approves New Vaccine to Prevent Meningococcal Disease in Infants Dangerous disease can result in death and serious complications...
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    New Home Sales Jump In March, Sort Of

    Inventory at a 44-year low and sales still skimpy

    Sales of new homes rose by 11.1 percent in March, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. But even better news was the new homes inventory: the lowest since 1967.

    The fact that more new homes sold in March than February is not that significant, since February's sales total was among the lowest on record. Still, an increase is an increase and economists were heartened by the fact that sales were a bit stronger than forecast.

    At the same time, the median price of a new home fell, suggesting some builders sold homes at break-even or a loss, to get them off the books. Also, new homes are smaller than a few years ago, resulting in a lower sales price.

    Competition

    It's no secret that new homes are in fierce competition with distressed properties, especially foreclosures. These homes usually sell for much less than a new home could be built.

    “Investors continue to drive the market and were about 22 percent of the purchasers in March, up from 19 percent a year ago,” said economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisors, in Holland, Pa.

    And of course, investors don't buy new homes, they look for foreclosures or short sales.

    Looking for bargains

    “They love those cheap distressed homes, which now make up 40 percent of the market,” Naroff said. “Given the tight lending standards cash buyers are more than welcome. To get a Fannie or Freddie loan, which are the only games in town, a borrower has to have a credit score of about 760.”

    February's new home numbers were so low that March's look huge in comparison. For example, in the Northeast sales rose by 67 percent. However, the total was still at recession levels.

    “Before anyone gets excited and thinks housing is on the rebound, understand that we need to more than double the March sales pace to reach decent sales levels,” Naroff said. “Prices remain soft and are down by about five percent over the year.”

    Sales of new homes rose sharply in March, but only in comparison to February's dismal results....
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    What's On Your Mind? BMG Music, GE, Hoover

    Our daily look at consumer reviews

    Negative option marketing often results in consumers signing up for subscription services without knowing about it. That's bad enough, but it can get worse if you don't find out about it until much later.

    “I discovered today that BMG Music has reported a debt to the major credit bureaus,” Jimmy, of Lutz, Fla., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I have never ordered anything from them.”

    As far as Jimmy can tell, this goes back five or six years ago, when he said he received a promotion to buy one CD and get two free. He says he threw the package away.

    “About a week later, CDs showed up in my mail box with my address but someone else's name,” he said. “I returned the package and called them to say that I did not want them, that other person did not live at my address and the name was unknown to me and not to send any more. I never heard from them again.”

    He thought that was the end of the story, but it wasn't.

    “Today, American Express called to tell me that they had received an adverse credit report on me and cancelled my credit card,” Jimmy said. “The incident had caused my credit score to slip below their required score in conjunction with the credit inquires for my new car as being too many.”

    BMG Music is part of Bertelsmann AG, and took over the old Columbia House record club, a pioneer in negative option marketing and the source of many complaints in its own right. In doing some checking, we note that the collection firm Jimmy and many others are dealing with in these matters is National Credit Solutions, which also happens to be the collection agency calling former Hollywood Video customers about late fees they say they don't owe. We suggest Jimmy have a chat with someone in Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office.

    A cool fix

    We get lots of complaints about top of the line refrigerators. We especially like it when the consumer has also found a solution. First, the problem.

    “Our new GE refrigerator arrived and from day one something was wrong, never keeping cool,” Joseph, of Cranston, R.I., said. “After four service calls a GE technician deemed it unrepairable and brought a new one.”

    But Joseph says the new unit was no better. He said another technician told him that all the units with exterior water dispensers were having the same problem. So Joseph set out to fix the problem himself.

    “My own experimentation found that simply removing the thermistor grill cover from the thermistor, inserting the thermistor into the cavity of the refrigerator, using two cotton balls to cover the thermistor and cover the hole with white tape, worked,” Joseph said. “My temperatures became constant at 35-37degrees at all times.”

    Joseph wants to know why GE wasn't able to come up with a simple fix like this. Maybe GE should hire Joseph as a consultant.

    Doing a slow burn

    Sandra, of Louisville, Ky., describes herself as a 40-year customer of Hoover vacuum cleaners. At least, she says she was.

    “I purchased a Hoover Bagless Windtunnel vacuum cleaner when they first came out,” Sandra told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I had the thing about 2 months and it overheated when I was using the hand tools and burned the motor out. I took it to the Hoover repair shop and they replaced the motor and the part that's supposed to shut the machine off when it overheats.”

    From then on, she says, she was meticulously diligent about cleaning the filters, but the unit overheated again and ruined the motor.

    “I took it to the repair shop and the owner actually refused to repair it because he said that it would just keep doing the same thing because it was a faulty design,” she said.

    As for Hoover, Sandra says the best the company could do was offer a credit on a new machine of the same make and model. She said she declined.

    “So, after 40 years, I am no longer a Hoover customer - and you know what? They don't give a hoot,” Sandra said.

    Here is what's on consumer's minds today: BMG Music, GE, Hoover, A cool fix, Doing a slow burn and American Express....
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      JP Morgan Chase Settles Military Mortgage Lawsuit

      Bank will pay $56 million to settle claims it overcharged service members

      JP Morgan Chase & Co. has agreed to pay $56 million to settle claims that it overcharged active-duty service members for their mortgages. The tentative agreement settles a class action lawsuit filed by U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Jonathon Rowles, whose South Carolina home was foreclosed on by Chase.

      Rowles, a pilot flying missions in South Korea, filed a lawsuit last July in U.S. District Court in South Carolina, charging that military personnel were being overcharged and subjected to aggressive collection practices.

      The bank will pay $27 million in cash to about 6,000 active-duty military, cut interest rates on soldiers' mortgages and return homes that were wrongfully seized in foreclosure actions.

      "We are sorry and regret the mistakes our firm made on mortgages for members of the military, and we'd like to thank Capt. and Mrs. Rowles for helping us address them," said Frank Bisignano, Chief Administrative Officer of JPMorgan Chase who was appointed head of Chase Home Lending in February.

      "We hold ourselves accountable and responsible for these mistakes, and fixing them is just the beginning of a new way forward with the military and veteran community as we make serving them a core part of how we operate our business every day,” Bisignano said.

      JPMorgan conceded three months ago that it had made errors in the handling of mortgages covered by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a law intended to shield deployed military personnel from financial stress. The law allows soldiers to demand mortgage interest rates be set at 6 percent while on active-duty status. The law applies to current loans and those taken out by troops prior to being deployed.

      Additional programs

      Chase said it would institute several new programs to help service members and named Rowles to serve as chair of an advisory panel.

      "My family and I thank Chase for resolving this matter," said Capt. Rowles.  "It is our hope that this settlement will result in greater attention by the entire financial services industry to the nation's laws that protect our military families.  We also hope others follow Chase's lead in creating additional programs for job creation, home ownership, and other financial assistance for veterans and members of the military.  I look forward to working with Chase on these initiatives as an advisor to its Veteran's Advisory Council." 

      On February 15, 2011, Chase announced a series of programs to help military and veterans. Those programs include:

      Reduced Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) Pricing - Chase will lower eligible borrowers' effective mortgage interest rate to 4% while on active duty and for a year thereafter.  

      Military Modification Program - An enhanced modification program for all members of the military who have served on active duty as far back as 9/11/01.

      Home Ownership Assistance -

      • Chase will not foreclose on any currently deployed military personnel.  
      • Chase believes we now have the systems and controls in place to avoid wrongful foreclosure proceedings on any military covered by SCRA.  In cases where we have mistakenly foreclosed on military borrowers who should have been covered by SCRA, in addition to rescinding the sale, we will forgive all their remaining mortgage debt.  Going forward, if we ever have a wrongful foreclosure sale on an SCRA covered customer, we will forgive all of their remaining mortgage debt, as well.  
      • Chase will donate 1,000 homes to servicemembers and veterans over the next five years through our non-profit partners.
      • By the end of 2011, Chase will open six new Chase Homeownership Centers in cities near the large military bases.  
      • Chase will staff all of its Homeownership Centers with employees specifically trained in SCRA, military issues and Chase special military programs.

      Jobs

      • On March 9, 2011, JPMorgan Chase launched the "100,000 Jobs Mission" with 10 other corporate partners. Collectively, these partners pledge to hire 100,000 transitioning military members and veterans by the end of 2020.  

      Education and Training

      • In close partnership, JPMorgan Chase and Syracuse University will offer a tuition free technology certificate through Syracuse University exclusively for veterans to prepare them for technology careers. The program is available to all military members who have served on active duty going back to 9/11/01.

      For more information on the firm's current programs available to military and veterans, visit www.chasemilitary.com.

      JP Morgan Chase Settles Military Mortgage Lawsuit Bank will pay $56 million to settle claims it overcharged service members ...
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      Feds: Beauty School Lied to Get Federal Grant Money

      It's the latest in a series of for-profit school scandals

      In yet another case of corruption in profit-seeking colleges, federal prosecutors arrested seven officers and employees of USA Beauty School International and charged them with conspiring to fraudulently obtain federal Pell Grant money.  

      In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in New York, prosecutors say the New York City school's owner – Siu Ping Yuen, a/k/a/ Pamela Yuen – instructed an undercover FBI agent to submit a fraudulent tax return to the beauty school to help the school qualify for more financial aid.

      It alleges that other school officials and employees:

      • forged students' signatures on financial aid applications;

      • falsified student attendance records; and

      • created false high school diplomas.

      Pell grants, administered by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), are intended to help low-income high school graduates meet the costs of college or a vocational training school. The grants are outright grants, not loans, and do not have to be repaid.

      Pell grants are paid directly to the educational institution where the student is enrolled.

      In the complaint, Anthony Mangarella, a DOE special agent, says that since June 2006, the school has received about $4 million in Pell grants. In 2009, the school was placed on DOE's “heightened scrutiny” list, because of concerns about its practices.

      An undercover investigator, meanwhile, called the school and said that although she wanted to attend, she did not have a high school diploma. The school official told her that the school would “add one” to her application.

      When the investigator met with “Pamela Yuen,” she was allegedly told she did not need a high school diploma and also advised that she should provide a falsified tax return so as to qualify for the full amount of federal aid.

      Unannounced visit

      In an unrelated inspection, officials of the New York State Education Department conducted an unannounced visit and found that the school could not produce records for about 180 supposed graduates who had applied for cosmetology licenses from the state. Twenty-two of those supposed graduates had received Pell Grant funds.

      When federal investigators later visited the school on May 18, 2010, the missing records for the 22 Pell Grant students mysteriously reappeared, the complaint states.

      During the May inspection, “Pamela Yuen” allegedly admitted that about ten Pell Grant students enrolled at the school did not have high school diplomas.

      Meanwhile, an agent present during the May inspection stated that he observed a school employee creating attendance records for Pell Grant students.

      The employee allegedly tried to hide the records as agents approached but was unsuccessful. Agents said that when they reviewed the records, they found that attendance records had been created for the period of May 19 through May 31, 2010 – even though it was only May 18.

      On a May 19, 2010 visit, agents spoke with a student through a Chinese interpreter. The student admitted that he or she had not graduated from high school and signed the federal financial aid application under instructions from school staff, not knowing what it said because the student does not speak or read English.

      The complaint asks that arrest warrants be issued for “Pamela Yuen” and six other school officials.

      Feds: Beauty School Lied to Get Federal Grant Money It's the latest in a series of for-profit school scandals...
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      Men Claim Merck's Baldness Drug Made Them Impotent

      Company didn't warn side effects might be permanent, suit charges

      Nine men claim in a lawsuit that Propecia and Proscar, Merck's drugs for male pattern baldness, caused sexual dysfunction even after they stopped using them.

      The active ingredient in both drugs is finasteride. Propecia is the brand name of the 1-milligram tablet and Proscar is the 5-milligramt tablet.

      Finasteride has a number of known serious side effects, including cognitive impairment, depression and various forms of sexual dysfunction including erectile dysfunction, reduced ejaculate volume, low sex drive, reduced sexual sensation and infertility, the suit charges.

      Male pattern baldness is a common condition thought to be caused by a combination of genetic factors and a hormone, commonly called DHT. Merck claims that finasteride prevents the conversion of adrogen testosterone to DHT, thereby reducing hair loss.

      The suit claims that Merck knew or should have known that DHT is a hormone critical to male sexual performance. It cautions that side effects may include sexual dysfunction but says the side effects “resolve after discontinued use of the drug.”

      Perhaps, but the nine plaintiffs say the effect on them has been ongoing, and they cite evidence by the Swedish Medical Products Agency, which in 2006 began investigating reports of persistent sexual dysfunction in men who had stopped taking the drug.

      Merck changed its label in several European countries to warn that sexual effects might be permanent but did not do so in the United States, the suit alleges.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Propecia in 1997 and has, since then, received numerous complaints of sexual dysfunction.

      Physicians in both the U.S. and Europe have expressed concerns about the problem, the suit notes.

      I am just totally against finesteride. I have had so many patients that have come to me where that medication has destroyed their life,” it quotes Dr. John Crisler, a physician at a men's health clinic in Michigan, as saying. “[T]hey become depressed, weak, important and the problem is when they go off the drug their symptoms remain.”

      The plaintiffs say they would not have taken the drug had they been warned of the possible side effects.

      The suit charges Merck with negligence, failure to provide adequate warnings and breach of warranty.

      The men are represented by attorney Alan Milstein of Moorestown, N.J.

      Men Claimed Merck's Baldness Drug Made Them Impotent Company didn't warn side effects might be permanent, suit charges...
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      Apple, Android Phones Secretly Record Your Location

      Information could be sold to marketers

      You may not realize it, but your smartphone could be secretly keeping tabs on your whereabouts and storing that information.

      A report by the Wall Street Journal says the Apple iPhone and smartphones running on Google's Android platform regularly transmit their locations, and that information is stored at both Apple and Google.

      Stephen B. Wicker, Cornell professor of electrical and computer engineering, says the revelation raises important privacy issues.

      Privacy for sale

      “Most people don’t understand that we’re selling our privacy to have these devices,” Wicker said.“It is vitally important to recognize that cellular telephony is a surveillance technology, and that unless we openly discuss this surveillance capability and craft appropriate legal and technological limits to that capability, we may lose some or all of the social benefits of this technology, as well as a significant piece of ourselves.

      Why would Google and Apple want to know your location? Because there could be big money in it.

      Huge market

      Both technology firms are stockpiling location data as part of an effort to build databases that can pinpoint cellphone users' locations. The research firm Gartner says the market for location-bases services is nearly $3 billion, and expected to go much higher.

      The revelations this week set off alarm bells in the hall of Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) fired off a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, pressing him to address privacy concerns raised by the revelations.

      Franken raised particular concerns over protecting the privacy of children and teenagers, who constitute nearly 15 percent of iPhone and iPad users.

      "The existence of this information-stored in an unencrypted format-raises serious privacy concerns," Franken wrote in the letter. "The researchers who uncovered this file speculated that it generated location based on cell phone triangulation technology.  If that is indeed the case, the location available in this file is likely accurate to 50 meters or less. Anyone who gains access to this single file could likely determine the location of a user's home, the businesses he frequents, the doctors he visits, the schools his children attend, and the trips he has taken-over the past months or even a year."

      Questions

      Franken, who chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, also asked Apple why consumers weren't informed of the data collection.

      Wicker said the data is extreme valuable because it will lead to more effective advertising.

      “The data that is collected by service providers and third parties can be used for direct marketing,” Wicker said.

      Direct marketing is an enormous industry. According to the Direct Marketing Association, $149.3 billion was spent on direct marketing in 2009, more than half of all advertising expenditures in the United States with a return of close to $1.783 trillion dollars in sales attributable to the advertising. That's about 8.3 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.

      “Back in the day when designers designed the cellular system, none of designers took privacy into account – they unintentionally created databases that accumulated a lot of information that is now being exploited by service providers and law enforcement,” Wicker said. “As for the latter, there have been an immense number of court cases involving law enforcement requests for data collected by cellular service providers.”

      Is the loss of privacy the price of carrying a sophisticated smartphone? Not at all, Wicker says.

      “We can create cellular systems that don’t create such databases,” he said.

      Both Apple and Google are collecting location data about their customers....
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      New York Man Accused of Running a $12 Million Ponzi Scheme

      Investors' money was supposedly invested in real estate, private mortgages

      A New York man was arrested yesterday on charges of operating a $12 million Ponzi scheme from 2007 to 2010.

      Joseph Mazella, the founder and president of the Great Atlantic Group, Inc., a Staten Island-based real estate and financial consulting company, was charged with securities fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering in a federal indictment that was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn.

      As alleged in the indictment, Mazella solicited investments in Third Millennium Enterprises, Inc. and 150 West State Street Corp., both of which were associated with the Great Atlantic Group that supposedly invested in real estate projects and provided private mortgages.

      Perhaps the most egregious aspect of this case is that the defendant allegedly encouraged victims—some, senior citizens—to obtain mortgages on their homes and to invest the proceeds in what the indictment charges was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme,” said United States Attorney Loretta E. Lynch. “We will aggressively investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate these crimes.”

      Mazella told prospective investors that he would invest their money in real estate projects, including projects in Trenton, New Jersey, a warehouse in Utica, New York, and a golf course development project. From approximately January 2007 until approximately December 2010, investors contributed a total of nearly $12 million to Third Millennium and 150 West State Street. As of December 2010, the combined closing balance of the bank accounts associated with the two companies was less than $15,000.

      According to the indictment, Mazella described the investments as an opportunity to receive the returns of mutual funds and stocks, without any significant loss of liquidity, and at a fixed rate during the entire time period of investment.

      Solicitation materials distributed by Mazella characterized the investments as “geared toward individuals who are interested in earning more than traditional bank savings and CD rates but without the risk of the stock market.”

      Some investors were encouraged to obtain mortgages on their homes and to invest the mortgage proceeds with Third Millennium or 150 West State Street, and other investors, typically senior citizens, were encouraged to apply for reverse mortgages on their residences and to invest the proceeds with the two companies.

      The indictment charges that, by as early as January 2007, Mazella had virtually stopped investing in real estate projects, and instead operated Third Millennium and 150 West State Street as a Ponzi scheme, in which he paid returns to investors from existing investors’ deposits or money paid by new investors. Many of the properties in which the companies held any mortgage or ownership interest were abandoned and in various states of disrepair, and the property taxes owed on several of those properties had fallen into arrears.

      Mazella also allegedly used investors’ money to pay his personal expenses, including payments for a Porsche, a mortgage on his personal residence, and family expenses.

      New York Man Accused of Running a $12 Million Ponzi Scheme Investors' money was supposedly invested in real estate, private mortgages...
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      Florida Debt Settlement Firm Banned From Missouri

      Vortex Debt Group accused of unfair and deceptive practices

      The Show Me state has told a Florida debt settlement company to not show its face within its borders in the future.

      Under a court judgment, Vortex Debt Group will no longer accept any business from Missourians and will refund fees paid by Missouri consumers who submit complaints to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office within one year.

      Deceptive and unfair practices

      Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed the complaint against the company, accusing it of engaging in deceptive and unfair practices by promising to reduce consumers’ debt. First, says Koster, the company took significant fees from consumers in exchange for this claimed service, and failed to actually reduce consumers’ debts.  This often left consumers with more debt and less money, Koster said.

      “Debt-settlement companies promise to help people reduce their debt load, but in fact these companies take significant fees from consumers without providing the promised debt relief,” Koster said. “I urge Missourians experiencing debt problems to contact a not-for-profit consumer counseling agency or to seek competent legal representation from a consumer bankruptcy attorney in order to deal with debt-related issues.”

      About 300 Missouri consumers will get letters from the Attorney General's Office in the coming weeks, telling them they may be due refunds. The case is one of the latest by states that have begun to crackdown on companies, advertising on satellite radio, cable TV and the Internet, making unrealistic promises to debt-ridden consumers.

      Washington State

      Last month Washington State reached an $800,000 settlement with California-based Freedom Debt Relief, resolving charges it violated Washington’s Consumer Protection and Debt Adjusting Acts.

      “We’re paying special attention to operations that take advantage of people who, due to this tough economy, are already struggling to put food on the table and keep the lights on,” Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “Failing to inform customers that their credit may be ruined and taking illegal fees -- when those individuals are making a good-faith effort to settle their debts – are practices that we aim to stop.

      Missouri is the latest state to crack down on a debt settlement company....
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      Data Breaches Due To Hacking On The Rise

      Survey shows hackers continue to be more active

      Private data increasingly appears to be at risk. If a laptop loaded with credit card data isn't being stolen, a hacker is breaking into a computer network. More and more, it's a case of the latter.

      A survey by the Identity Theft Resource Center found that hacking accounted for the largest number of breaches in 2011 year-to-date.  Almost 37 percent of data breaches between January 1st and April 5th were due to malicious attacks on computer systems.

      Double the targeted attacks

      This is more than double the amount of targeted attacks reflected in the 2010 ITRC Breach List.

      The numbers do not include the recent hackings of huge quantities of email addresses from companies.  Email addresses alone do not pose a direct threat as long as consumers realize that they are more susceptible to phishing scams, according to ITRC.

      Paralleling the ITRC breach report finding is the recently released Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, disclosing that over 286 million new threats were identified during 2010. Additionally, the Symantec report said they witnessed more frequent and sophisticated targeted attacks in 2010.

      Rogue employees

      Also, a new survey by McAfee found that the most significant threat to businesses was data leaked accidentally or intentionally by employees. The latter category is considered a malicious attacker.

      “At first it may be difficult to know if a hacking was perpetrated by an insider or outsider,” said Linda Foley, founder of the ITRC and data breach report manager. “ITRC does not have access to the Secret Service’s forensic information has so we can only report on situations when information is released. As of April 5, 11.6 percent of 2011 breaches with known forms of leakage were insider theft. When these events are added to known hacking attacks, ITRC’s breach database report indicates that 48.2 percent of published breaches are some form of targeted attack.”

      The conclusion, says ITRC, is that the hackers are winning. Not only are hackers winning, but so are the thieves who steal unattended laptops and dig into dumpsters behind companies for paper data.

      While businesses are often the targets of these attacks, it's usually consumers who suffer. If sensitive data is used to steal identities, it can take the victims months to correct the damage.

      While some data breaches occur by accident, a new survey shows more and more are the result of hacking....
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      Suit Says Nexium Caused Multiple Fractures

      Ohio woman was "simply walking" when a bone in her leg broke

      An Ohio woman claims that long-term use of AstraZeneca's Nexium, a heartburn drug, caused such severe bone deterioration that she "was simply walking when a bone in her leg suddenly broke in half." 

      Nexium is AstraZeneca's best-selling drug and the third largest-selling drug in the world, bringing in $5.2 billion in 2008.

      In her suit filed in U.S. District Court in Houston, Ginny Begin of Toledo says she suffered severe bone deterioration resulting in numerous fractures after taking Nexium, a popular prescription-strength drug used to treat heartburn, acid reflux and other digestive problems.

      However, while Nexium reduces acid in the stomach, it also prevents calcium absorption, which casues bone deterioration and eventual fractures, her suit charges.

      The suit noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a safety alert warning of the risk of osteoporosis and fractures in March 2011 but says that the risk of fractures had been demonstrated as early as 2006.

      In particular, the suit notes, studies found that the risk of fracture increases significantly for patients over 50. Begin, 58, took Nexium every day from 2003 until 2011, she said.

      On July 11, 2005, Begin was "simply walking" when a bone in her leg suddenly broke in half. In June 2007, the same bone broke again and three bones in Begin's ankle shattered.

      "Despite knowing Nexium causes bones to deteriorate and break, Defendants marketed and sold Nexium without warning consumers of the significant risks of bone deterioration and fractures," the suit charges.

      The suit seeks an award for pain, suffering, loss of employment, medical expenses and punitive damages.

      Suit Says Nexium Caused Multiple Fractures Ohio woman was "simply walking" when a bone in her leg broke...
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      California Seeks Jail Time for 'Tax Lady' Roni Deutch

      Deutch destroyed documents, failed to pay refunds despite court orders

      California's attorney general has asked a judge to imprison "Tax Lady" Roni Deutch for shredding millions of pages of documents in violation of a court order. The state claims Deutch began shredding the day after a court ordered her not to destroy evidence in a $34 million lawsuit that accused her of swindling tax clients.  

      The lawsuit was filed last August and charged Deutch with engaging in "a heartless scheme that swindled people with tax problems," according to then-Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. "She promises to significantly reduce their IRS tax debts, but instead preys on their vulnerability, taking large up-front payments but providing little or no help in lowering their tax bills."

      On Wednesday, Brown's successor, Kamala D. Harris, filed an application in Superior Court asking that Deutch, an attorney, be held in contempt, charging that she has repeatedly violated the court's orders.

      "Deutch is an officer of this Court and a member of the Bar, which only serves to magnify the seriousness of Deutch's violations of the Court's orders. If anyone can be expected to respect and follow this Court's orders, it should be those licensed to practice as attorneys before the Court. The harm caused by Deutch's contempt is worthy of the most severe sanction," Harris said in her court filing.

      Harris noted that Deutch had been ordered to "take reasonable steps to preserve every document" that might have a bearing in the case. Instead, said Harris, "the very next dayafter the [court issued the order],Deutch conducted a purge of law firm documents that resulted in the shredding of nearly 2,000 pounds of the firm's documents, or about 200,000 pages."

      "The millions of pages that Deutch shredded while the document preservation order was in effect are permanently destroyed because the shredding company double shreds the documents and then bales them for resale to the recycling industry.There is absolutely no way for the People to know, much Jess recover, what Deutch shredded," Harris charged.

      No refunds

      Deutch also ignored a preliminary injunction that requires her to return all unearned fees to clients within 60 days" and admitted that she has over $400,000 in refund requests that are older than 60 days, Harris said.

      Even more disturbing, said Harris' filing, is that Deutch allegedly gave at least $12,000 to her brother, Scott Juceam, which he used to launch a tax debt resolution company, called the Juceam Group, which he allegedly runs from one of the Roni Deutch Tax Center locations.

      Harris asked the court to fine Deutch $1,000 and imprison her for five days for "each and every separate contempt" -- $1,000 and five days in jail for each of the millions of pages of documents destroyed and each refund not issued, in other words.

      Manufactured credibility

      Deutch manufactures credibility by boasting that her tax resolution law firm, which has annual revenues of at least $25 million, is the largest of its kind in the nation. She spends $3 million a year on advertising, much of it on late-night cable TV, and frequently offers tax advice on NBC's Today Show, CNN, and CNBC, Brown's August lawsuit charged.

      Desperate debtors turn to Deutch based on her misleading ads that feature fictional testimonials claiming she secured large reductions in the featured clients' federal tax debts, Brown said.

      For example, her ad entitled "It's Your Turn" features three clients whom Deutch claims to have "saved" from having to pay thousands of dollars to the IRS. In fact, those clients still owe the IRS the full amount of their taxes, plus interest and penalties.

      When potential clients call Deutch's boiler room, sales agents employ high-pressure sales tactics plus a series of misrepresentations and false promises to persuade them to retain her firm, Brown charged. The sales agents claim Deutch's success rate in dealing with the IRS is as high as 99 percent. But the percentage of clients whose tax bills Deutch actually reduces is a mere 10 percent.

      California Seeks Jail Time for 'Tax Lady' Roni Deutch Deutch destroyed documents, failed to pay refunds despite court orders ...
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      Attorneys General Blast Pabst for Selling 'Binge In a Can'

      One can of Blast can make a person legally drunk

      Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and 17 other top law enforcement officials are calling on Pabst Brewing company to stop selling flavored malt liquor containing nearly five servings of alcohol in single can. A 23.5 ounce can of Blast by Colt 45 has 12% alcohol by volume and comes in four fruit flavors.

      Pabst has sunk to a new low by selling highly alcoholic drinks aimed at the youngest drinkers,” says Shurtleff.  “Blast is irresponsible for making one drink that can cause someone to be legally drunk.”

      Shurtleff and the attorneys general from Arizona, California, Connecticut, Guam, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa,  Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Washington and the city attorney from San Francisco sent a letter to Pabst today asking the company to stop making Blast.

      The beverage has been called “binge in a can” because anyone who consumes a can within an hour or so will have engaged in binge drinking as defined by the federal government. 

      The attorneys general are also taking Pabst to task for using hip hop artist Snoop Dogg to promote Blast to young people.  Pabst created a promotional YouTube video showing the singer drinking Blast and Colt 45 while partying with scantily clad models.  The rap star has also promoted Blast to millions of his followers on Facebook and Twitter.

      "I hope our letter to Pabst to take swift and responsible action is also heeded by other companies who produce these super-sized ‘alcopops,’" adds Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts, who is working with other states to stop Blast and similar drinks.

      Shurtleff is the chair of the Youth Access to Alcohol and Drugs Committee for the National Association of Attorneys General.  

      Attorneys General Blast Pabst for Selling 'Binge In a Can'One can of Blast can make a person legally drunk...
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      A Realtor's Plea To Banks: Please Make Loans

      Sales rise in March, but are below year ago levels

      Another month, another anemic home sales report from the National Association of Realtors.

      In March, sales of existing homes rose 3.7 percent from February, but were down 6.3 percent from March 2010. And March 2010 sales were below those of March 2009, when the home buyer's tax credit was in place.

      But one area where sales appear to be brisk is in the “distressed property” segment, where foreclosures and short sales have driven prices down, drawing eager bargain hunters who are actually bidding up the prices in some cases.

      Bottom feeding

      Distressed homes – typically sold at discounts in the vicinity of 20 percent – accounted for a 40 percent market share in March, up from 39 percent in February and 35 percent in March 2010.

      Despite historically-low interest rates, more homes are being purchased with cash. All-cash sales were at a record market share of 35 percent in March, up from 33 percent in February; they were 27 percent in March 2010. Investors accounted for 22 percent of sales activity in March, up from 19 percent in February; they were 19 percent in March 2010. The balance of sales were to repeat buyers.

      Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, thinks the modest increase in home sales would gather momentum if more people who want to buy houses could get loans.

      Where are the loans?

      “Although home sales are coming back without a federal stimulus, sales would be notably stronger if mortgage lending would return to the normal, safe standards that were in place a decade ago – before the loose lending practices that created the unprecedented boom and bust cycle,” Yun said.

      Part of the problem, he says, are requirements for 20 percent or more as a down payment. He says low-down payment programs have been shown to be successful.

      “Given that FHA and VA government-backed loan programs turned a modest profit over to the U.S. Treasury last year, and have never required a taxpayer bailout, we believe low-down payment loans should continue to be available for those consumers who have demonstrated financial responsibility and are willing to stay well within their budget. Raising the down payment requirement would unnecessarily deny credit to many worthy middle-class families and veterans,” Yun said.

      Banks have other priorities

      While banks may still be skittish about risks involved in real estate – after all, the median home value is still going down – it also has other options for making money. For example, banks can borrow money from the Federal Reserve for next to nothing and buy bonds. Good for bank shareholders, but it doesn't do much for the housing market.

      Still, Yun is hopeful.

      “With rising jobs and excellent affordability conditions, we project moderate improvements into 2012, but not every month will show a gain – primarily because some buyers are finding it too difficult to obtain a mortgage. For those fortunate enough to qualify for financing, monthly mortgage payments as a percent of income have been at record lows,” he said.

      NAR’s housing affordability index shows the typical monthly mortgage principal and interest payment for the purchase of a median-priced existing home is only 13 percent of gross household income, the lowest since records began in 1970.

      Sales of Existing Homes rose slightly in March but remain anemic....
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      What's On Your Mind? John Hancock, FedEx, Mortgages

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Long-term care insurance is expensive. It's expensive for the policyholder who has to make monthly payments. It's also expensive for the insurance company when it has to pay off.

      Robin, of Gilroy, Calif., says her mother purchased a comprehensive individual long term Care insurance policy in 2002. She paid her premiums in full on time annually. But after her mother suffered a massive stroke last summer, Robin said she has had trouble getting John Hancock to pay for the 24-hour care her mother requires.

      “The first check we received was issued February 16, 2011 in the amount of 2520.00,” Robin told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I have made numerous phone calls with wait times in the range of 45 minutes. I have left over 15 voice mails. I have sent several emails to management who responds that some one will call me. That has still not happened. I have re-submit billing. I made up my own excel spreadsheet to send and help explain why they owe us much more money. I have sent the spreadsheet and re-submitted billing twice. They have not responded once. No calls, no correspondence. Nothing.”

      As of this date Robin estimates the insurance company owes $22,860.00 and wants to know what she should do.

      Because she has not gotten satisfaction from John Hancock, or an explanation for non-payment, Robin should probably have an attorney fluent in insurance matters review her policy. If she has misunderstood the terms of the policy, it can be explained to her. If she is correct in her estimate of what is owed, an attorney can advise a proper course of action.

      Calendar issues

      Daisy, of New York, N.Y., thinks Federal Express is having trouble keeping up with the days of the week.

      “Our office is located in midtown Manhattan. We have been using Fedex sending packages for years,” Daisy told ConsumerAffairs.com. “But, lately, Fedex keep billing me $15 Saturday Pickup, but packages were pickup on Friday.”

      From January 21 to April 8, Daisy says FedEx wrongly billed 16 packages.

      “I had to dispute this $15 every time I received invoice,” she said. “Even though I got my $15 back it still bothers me that I have to do it again and again, every week.”

      It sounds like Daisy has a standing pick-up order with FedEx for Friday. Somehow, perhaps, that got entered into FedEx computers as a standing Saturday pickup. Maybe if she canceled her standing order, then re-established it, they would get it right.

      Count your blessings

      Ruth, of Starke, Fla., hopes to buy a home and needs a mortgage. She said she found on online lender called closeyourownloan.com that advertised loans even if you have bad credit and can't verify your income. Ordinarily, that's when alarm bells should start to go off.

      “Close your own loan denied my application because they said I didn't have credit history that's not the case,” Ruth said.

      Ruth is miffed that she was denied credit, but honestly, she may have dodged a bullet. It's likely Ruth, who says her credit scores are in the mid 600 range, would do better by going to a community bank in her area. She could also join a credit union and perhaps get a loan there.

      We've seen this movie before.

      The case of the Hollywood Video late fees might make a good mystery movie. We continue to get complaints from former members of the now-defunct movie rental chain.

      “Like so many others, I too received a letter from National Credit Solutions saying I owed $103.50 for one late movie over a year and a half ago,” Kathy, of Ankeny, Iowa, said. “Our local Hollywood Video had long since been closed. I called NCS confused what the charge could be for and spoke with an extremely rude representative who in the end hung up on me. She did however offer to close my case for a reduced payment of $40.00. I refused to pay for anything since I knew of nothing I ever owed to Hollywood Video, I never once received a bill or phone call from them.”

      Kathy said she resolved the issue by writing a letter to NCS requesting any and all information that pertained to the amount owed including all charges, payments and write-offs to her account. She's heard nothing from them since.

      We find it interesting that nearly every consumer who reports this experience seems to owe an amount more than $100, and that the NCS rep always seems very willing to bargain the amount down to something less.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: John Hancock, FedEx, Mortgages, Calendar issues and We've seen this movie before....
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      Gold Hits $1,500 as U.S. Credit Rating is Questioned

      “Rush to quality” set off by natural disasters, high oil prices, financial fears

      Gold futures hit $1,500.50 yesterday, as investors reacted to Standard & Poor's Monday warning that the United States' AAA debt rating is in danger,and were above $1,502 at midday today.

      Oddly, many investors dumped their stocks and headed for Treasury notes – normal behavior, except when it's Treasuries that are being threatened.

      Gold futures for June delivery settled back below $1,500 by the market's close yesterday, dipping to $1,495.10 per ounce but are likely to remain on an upward trend, thanks to debt worries and high oil prices, which are contributing to inflation fears.

      Standard & Poor's warning that there is a 33% chance the U.S. debt rating may be cut could be the beginning of the end of a near 30-year rally that began when the 10-year Treasury peaked at 15.84% in September 1981.

      Gold hasn't done badly either. In March 2008, the price of gold first broke the $1,000 level.

      "For over 70 years the United States has been widely considered AAA top-notch "benchmark sovereign risk". Standard & Poor (S&P)'s decision to impose a negative outlook now puts this status under question for the first time, reflecting the unsustainable debt trajectory and risks of policy response gridlock,"IHS Global Insight Director of Sovereign Risk Jan Randolph commented.

      Randolph went on to say the S&P statement was “primarily a warning shot to Washington D.C., aimed at a political and policymaking audience” and should not have come as a surprise to the financial community which is “fully aware of the United States' double-percentage-digit fiscal deficit, which is driving the public debt trajectory above 100% of GDP.”

      For consumers looking to add gold or other precious metals to their portfolio, an exchange traded fund, or ETF, may be the way to go. ETFs allow smaller investors to get in on the gold rush without having to actually store the metal or run the risks inherent in buying futures and options, which are best left to experts.

      Gold Hits $1,500 as U.S. Credit Rating is Questioned“Rush to quality” set off by natural disasters, high oil prices, financial fears...
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      Hyundai's Latest Gimmick: Guaranteed Trade-In Value

      What's the catch? Cars must be serviced by Hyundai dealers to qualify

      First it was the ten-year, 100,000-mile warranty. Then it was the option to return your car if you lost your job. Now Hyundai says it will guarantee the future trade-in value of its new vehicles, starting May 1.

      Customers will have to document that they have completed all factory-recommended maintenance at a Hyundai dealer. If they do that, thethe company will guarantee what the trade-in value of that vehicle will be after the second full year of ownership through the fourth year.

      That requirement may help shore up what car dealers call “service retention” – meaning that owners bring their cars to the dealer for service rather than going to an independent garage. Hyundai has long trailed industry leaders Honda, Toyota and Ford in that measurement.

      Thenewprogram, called Hyundai Assurance Trade-in Value Guarantee, will base the future trade in values on residual values set by Automotive Lease Guide.

      "Depreciation is the single highest cost of car ownership," Hyundai CEO John Krafcik said in a statement. "While Hyundai's depreciation is now among the lowest in the industry, Assurance will remove many of the barriers and concerns about vehicle ownership."

      When Hyundai ended its job-loss program last month, it said it had a new promotion in the works, and this is apparently it.

      With or without special programs, Hyundai's sales have been on a tear recently. Through March, sales were up 28 percent over the previous year. The earthquake disaster in Japan, which has slowed production of many Japanese and American models, may also be a factor.

      Ask an owner

      But while Hyundai is good at promoting its lengthy warranty and other sales incentives, not all Hyundai owners have a good experience. Many have encountered truly alarming problems, including rusted-out frames.

      I have a 2001 Hyundai Santa Fe with a sub frame that has actually rusted to the point of breaking and have one bolt holding on my right front tire,” said Kandi of Livermore Falls, Maine.

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) became aware of that and related problems in 2008, when it found that some models of the Hyundai Sonata can rust so severely along the sub-frame that the front wheels collapse or separate from the vehicle.

      Some models were later, but the recall was limited to cars that were sold in the “salt belt,” northern states that use salt to de-ice their roads.

      Shannon of Dunmore, Pa., was told her Sonata wasn't included in the recall, even though Pennsylvania certainly qualifies for the salt belt. “The frame is rotted exactly the same as the recalled Sonatas,” she said.

      Brian of Rogers, Ark., had the ultimate frame failure: “While visiting a friend in Tulsa, the sub-frame assembly broke in half in heavy traffic.”

      Brian said Hyundai told him Arkansas isn't in the salt belt. “They told me to basically go pound sand. My cost to get the sub-frame replaced was $1100 plus $175 towing charges.”

      Hyundai's Latest Gimmick: Guaranteed Trade-In Value What's the catch? Cars must be serviced by Hyundai dealers to qualify...
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      Investment Adviser Pleads Guilty to Bank and Wire Fraud Charges

      Adviser was counsel to municipalities, credit unions, school districts

      Dante DeMiro, 43, of Milford,Mich., pled guilty Tuesday to five counts of bank and wire fraud, United States Attorney Barbara McQuade announced.

      According to court documents, DeMiro was an investment adviser to various municipalities, credit unions, school districts, and trade unions through his Southfield-based companies MuniVest Financial Group and MuniVest Services LLC.

      From August 2007 to September 2010, DeMiro used the MuniVest entities to operate a bank and wire fraud Ponzi scheme. DeMiro falsely promised investor clients that he would invest their funds in various certificates of deposit.

      He did not invest their funds as promised, but instead, used their funds to purchase personal items and real property, to gamble, to make payments to other investors in the same scheme, and to make loans to several individuals and a local jewelry store. DeMiro stipulated that the loss caused by his fraud exceeds $7 million, and that he abused a position of trust in his fiduciary capacity as an investment adviser.

      We have seen more and more of these investment schemes, which prey upon school districts, municipalities, and unions," McQuade said. "Our hope is that cases like this one will deter other investment advisors from stealing from these vulnerable investors.”

      FBISpecial Agent in Charge Arena stated,"Today's swindlers artfully conceal their greed with sophisticated marketing and numerous misrepresentations. Investors and pension plan participants must remain diligent in following their money.”

      Sentencing is scheduled for July 12, 2011.

      Investment Adviser Pleads Guilty to Bank and Wire Fraud ChargesAdviser was counsel to municipalities, credit unions, school districts...
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      White House Declares 'Epidemic' of Prescription Drug Abuse

      Multi-agency effort aims to reduce misuse of opioids

      The White House on Tuesday unveiled a multi-agency plan aimed at reducing the?pidemicof prescription drug abuse in the U.S. including anFDA-backed education program that zeros-in on reducing the misuse and misprescribing of opioids.

      The toll our nation'sprescription drug abuse epidemic has taken in communities nationwide is devastating, said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.We share a responsibility to protect our communities from the damage done by prescription drug abuse.”

      The plan is aa collaborative effort involving agencies of the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Defense, and others and is intended to provide a national framework for reducing prescription drug abuse and the diversion of prescription drugs for recreational use.

      FDA Opioid Strategy

      In concert with the White House plan, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is announcing a new risk reduction programcalled a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategyfor all extended-release and long-acting opioid medications.

      Opioids are synthetic versions of opium that are used to treat moderate and severe pain.

      FDA experts say extended-release and long-acting opioids?ncluding OxyContin, Avinza, Dolophine, Duragesic, and eight other brand names?re extensively misprescribed, misused, and abused, leading to overdoses, addiction, and even deaths across the United States. FDA says a 2007 survey revealed that more than half of opioid abusers got the drug from a friend or relative.

      Opioids such as morphine and oxycodone?re used to treat moderate and severe pain. Over the past few decades, drug makers have developed extended-release opioid formulas to treat people in pain over a long period.

      Widespread Problem

      FDA estimates that more than 33 million Americans age 12 and older misused extended-release and long-acting opioids during 2007?p from 29 million just five years earlier. And in 2006, nearly 50,000 emergency room visits were related to opioids.

      "Opioid drugs have benefit when used properly and are a necessary component of pain management for certain patients, but we know that they pose serious risks when used improperly?ith serious negative consequences for individuals, families, and communities," says FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.  

      FDA will also require the risk management plan to include a way to determine if the education programs are helping to reduce problems associated with long-acting and extended-release opioids, as well as allowing patients who need opioids to get them.

      White House Declares 'Epidemic' of Prescription Drug Abuse Multi-agency effort aims to reduce misuse of opioids...
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      FDA Approves Drug to Treat Two Rare Disorders

      Rituxan shown to help patients with blood vessel inflammation

      TheU.S. Food and Drug Administrationhas approved Rituxan (rituximab) to treat patients with Wegenergranulomatosis (WG) and microscopic polyangiitis (MPA), two rare disorders that cause blood vessel inflammation (vasculitis).

      Rituxan will be usedin combination with steroids.

      Vasculitis in patients with WG and MPA can lead to tissue damage. WG mostly affects the respiratory tract (sinuses, nose, trachea, and lungs) and kidneys, while MPA commonly affects the kidneys, lungs, nerves, skin, and joints.

      Both of these diseases affect people of all ages and ethnicities, and both genders. The causes of these disorders are unknown, and both are considered orphan diseases because they each affect less than 200,000 people in the United States.

      This new indication for Rituxan provides the first approved therapy for these two orphan diseases,said Curtis Rosebraugh, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Office of Drug Evaluation II in the FDA?Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

      Rituxan is an antibody that is manufactured through biotechnology methods. The drug works by greatly reducing the number of specific immune cells in the blood, known as B cells. 

      The safety and effectiveness of Rituxan was demonstrated in a single controlled trial, in which 197 patients with WG or MPA were assigned at random to receive either Rituxan plussteroids once a week for four weeks or oral cyclophosphamide plus steroids daily to induce remission. After six months, 64 percent of patients treated with Rituxan had complete remission compared to 53 percent of patients treated with cyclosphosphamide. 

      Retreatment with Rituxan was not formally evaluated; therefore, the safety and efficacy of retreatment with subsequent courses of Rituxan has not been established. More data are needed to determine the safety of more than one course of Rituxan and long term safety of use of Rituxan in patients with WG and MPA. These questions will be further evaluated in a required post-marketing study.

      Rituxan carries a Boxed Warning for infusion reactions, which can occur during infusion or within 24 hours afterwards. Other Boxed Warnings for Rituxan include rashes and sores in the skin and mouth (severe mucocutaneous reactions); and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, a brain infection that generally is fatal. Rituxan is not recommended for use in patients with severe, active infections.

      The most common side effects in study participants with WG and MPA included infection, nausea, diarrhea, headache, muscle spasms, and anemia.

      Rituxan, which has been marketed since 1997, is also indicated for the treatment of patients with non-Hodgkin'slymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and rheumatoid arthritis.

      Rituxan is manufactured by San Francisco-based Genentech, a member of the Roche Group.


      FDA Approves Drug to Treat Two Rare Disorders Rituxan shown to help patients with blood vessel inflammation...
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