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    Louisiana Suit Seeks Clean-Up of 'Fracking' Damage

    Exco well blew out in Caddo Parish, contaminated groundwater

    A federal class action claims Exco Resources contaminates groundwater by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking-- injecting water and toxic chemicals into the ground to extract natural gas, which blew out a well. 

    David L. Andre filed the suit on behalf of himself and other residents of Caddo Parish in U.S. District Court in Shreveport, La., claiming that Exco's actions have contaminated the groundwater in the area DeBroeck Landing.

    The suit argues that the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer system was polluted on April 19, 2010, by a well blow-out involving Exco natural gas wells operating nearby.

    Following the blow-out, class members had to evacuate their homes and were advised by public health officials that the water represented a continuing health and safety hazard so severe it could not even be used for washing clothing or bathing.

    Government officials have also warned the residents against smoking or having any kind of open fire near water systems that obtain water from the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer.

    The suit says that natural gas and other pollutants now contaminating the water supply are not naturally found in the aquifer and are there only because of the well blow-out.

    The suit asks that Exco be required to pay for a “full and complete evaluation and remediation” of the groundwater underlying the class members' property.

    Louisiana Suit Seeks Clean-Up of 'Fracking' Damage Exco well blew out in Caddo Parish, contaminated groundwater...
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    New York Wants Study of 'Fracking' Hazards

    State threatens to sue federal government if it doesn't take action

    New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is threatening to sue the federal government if it doesn’t commit within 30 days to conducting a full environmental review of proposed regulations that would allow natural gas drilling – including the potentially harmful "fracking" technique – in the Delaware River Basin. 

    The basin includes the New York City watershed and provides approximately 50 percent of the drinking water used by over nine million New York residents and visitors every day. 

    Both the law and common sense dictate that the federal government must fully assess the impact of its actions before opening the door to gas fracking in New York,” said Schneiderman.  “New Yorkers are correctly concerned about fracking's potential dangers to their environment, health and communities, and I will use the full authority of my office, including aggressive legal action, to ensure the federal government is forced to address those concerns.”

    The Delaware River Basin includes the federally-designated Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (and its tributaries), a nationally-significant fishing, boating and recreational destination. In addition, roughly 58 percent of the land area of New York City's West-of-Hudson watershed is within the Basin. 

    The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to conduct a full review of the environmental impacts of actions that may cause significant environmental impacts. 

    Fracking poses numerous risks to the environment, health, and communities, including withdrawing large volumes of water from creeks and streams, contamination of drinking water supplies, generation of harmful wastes, increased noise, dust and air pollution, and harms to community infrastructure and character from increased industrial activity.  

    Due to the potential for significant impacts from gas fracking within the Basin, the relevant federal agencies are obligated to comply with NEPA by performing a full review of the impact of the Delaware River Basin Commision's (DRBC) proposed natural gas development regulations.   

    Schneiderman's demand is contained in a letter sent to agencies that decide policy for the federal government as a member of the DRBC.  Led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agencies include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Parks Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

    New York Wants Study of 'Fracking' Hazards State threatens to sue federal government if it doesn't take action...
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    Arthritis 'Miracle' Drug Caused Breast Cancer, Suit Charges

    Abbott Labs accused of not adequately warning Humira users

    A woman claims that 5 years of bimonthly injections of Abbott Laboratories' Humira, a "blockbuster" arthritis drug, caused her breast cancer. 

    In a case filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, Maureen Calisi says she began taking the drug in late 2003 and continued taking it through February 2008. She was later diagnosed with breast cancer.

    The suit charges that Abbott labs failed to provide adequate warning of the drug's cancer risks and that the injections of Humira caused her cancer.

    The lawsuit says that Humira is a “biologic” drug, which means that it is a medicine that has been constituted or reconstituted from natural substances in the body. Launched in 2003 for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, it was the first such drug in its class that was derived from actual human cells.

    TNF

    Humira is believed to bind specifically to Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF), a naturally occurring substance in the human body that is related to the workings of the body"s immune system. Humira blocks TNF's interaction with certain cell surface receptors, thereby interfering with TNF activity.

    TNF blocks have been heralded as a “miracle” drug for rheumatoid arthritis but Calisi's suit charges that Abbott has downplayed the risk of side effects, including the development of lymphoma and other forms of cancer.

    Humira has been approved in 83 countries and is currently being used to treat nearly 500,000 patients worldwide, generating revenue of about $6.5 billion, according to published reports.

    Clinical trials

    The suit charges that during clinical trials prior to the drug's 2002 approval, a number of the 2,070 patients on whom it was tested developed lymphoma and other cancers.

    While the cause of cancer is generally elusive, the suit claims that the rate of cancer was higher in those patients who receive Humira than in patients who received a placebo.

    By the close of 2003, when Humira was prescribed for Calisi, there were a total of 365 serious adverse event reports in the FDA database. Of the 365 serious reports, 25 – or 7% – involved some form of malignancy. This should have put Abbott on notice that it needed to issue a stronger warning, the suit argues.

    But, the suit says, Abbott did nothing to warn patients directly until the FDA required it to do so in 2009.

    In February 2008, Calisi discovered a lump in her breast that was subsequently identified as a primary diffuse large B-cell lymphoma of the breast. She immediately stopping taking Humira and her cancer is now in remission.

    Arthritis 'Miracle' Drug Caused Breast Cancer, Suit Charges. Abbott Labs accused of not adequately warning Humira users...
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      Mystery Shoppers Find Problems With Paid Tax Preparers

      Studies find shoddy work, high fees, problems with refund anticipation loans

      Every year, Americans undertake one of the most important and complicated financial tasks imaginable – filing their tax returns.  Some will fill out a form with pen & paper, others will use a software program or website, and some will be helped by nonprofit programs.  About 58% of taxpayers will pay a commercial preparer to complete  their tax return. 

      The rate is an even higher 66% among recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable credit intended to boost low-wage workers out of poverty. All told, almost eighty million Americans put their trust, their legal liability for taxes, and their financial health in the hands of paid preparers. 

      Are they getting their money's worth?

      As a follow-up to “mystery shopper” testing conducted in 2008 and 2010, advocacy groups in New York and North Carolina conducted limited tests of paid tax preparers. The results? As in previous years, some tax preparers:

      • provided shoddy work and/or engaged in tax fraud

      • violated state laws in offering refund anticipation loans or refund anticipation checks

      • failed to disclose estimated tax preparation fees

      • charged surprisingly high fees, including a fee of $540 this year

      “Taxpayers put their trust, their financial health, and their liability for taxes in the hands of commercial preparers,” noted Chi Chi Wu, Staff Attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “Unfortunately, that trust may not always be well placed.”

      Fraud

      Some preparers even encouraged their clients to commit fraud.

      In one particularly glaring case, a preparer in New York “fixed” income from a 1099 form for discharged credit card debt, and also wrongfully claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit for one of the tester’s children. Another preparer advised a tester who owed money to the IRS that she should “get a kid” in order to get a bigger refund.

      RALs

      In New York, none of the paid preparers that offered refund anticipation loans (RALs) and refund anticipation checks (RACs) was in full compliance with the New York City RAL law, as they did not have the proper wall poster.

      The three preparers who sold or attempted to sell a RAC made misleading statements as they failed to orally disclose the nature of a RAC and two of them failed to disclose the fees.

      In fact, all three presented a RAC as an automatic default option. In North Carolina, the written disclosures for Jackson Hewitt fail to include two additional fees, as required by North Carolina regulations.

      Fees

      As in 2010, preparers often failed to provide adequate information about tax preparation fees. Testers were not provided with estimates of tax preparation fees, which sometimes were extremely high.

      Several preparers charged $300 to $500. The highest fees were charged to the testers with the biggest refunds, all of whom received the Earned Income Tax Credit. Other testers with smaller refunds were charged lower tax preparation fees, after being given “discounts.”

      Mystery Shoppers Find Problems With Paid Tax Preparers. Studies find shoddy work, high fees, problems with refund anticipation loans...
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      'Jane Doe' Comes Forward in Match.com Case

      Dating site says it will start screening for sex offenders

      The “Jane Doe” in the Match.com sexual assault case has revealed her identity, with her very own public relations agent praising her “heroic” action.

      Jane Doe, it turns out, is Carole Markin, who appeared on NBC's “Today” and ABC's “Good Morning America” today. Markin, a Harvard graduate and sometime screenwriter files suit against Match.com, alleging she was raped by a man she met on the dating site.

      An Associated Press report says Match.com will begin screening its members against a list of sexual predators but Match.com's media relations page contains nothing but bubbly press releases on other topics.

      Markin's claim against Match.com is seen as weakened by two factors, legal observers told ConsumerAffairs.com:

      • The alleged assault occurred in Markin's home on her second date; and

      • Match.com's Terms of Use clearly state that the site does not vet its members against lists of known sex offenders.

      Markin alleges in her suit that after the assault, she found her alleged assailant's criminal record by checking Internet databases, an action that more appropriately might have been taken prior to that critical second date, the legal observers noted.

      While Markin may have been unprepared initially, she is now well represented by Hollywood publicists who are papering the Internet and fax machines nationwide with press releases congratulating her for taking a stand.

      "Taking on a huge corporate giant like Match.com is a daunting task. I faced many naysayers, but I believed that Match.com could change their policies to protect their paying customers from convicted sexual predators," saidMarkinin one such press release. "I will continue to be vigilant in monitoring the rollout of Match.com's online sexual predator screening. "

      She said the lawsuit will remain open until Match.com makes good on its promise to implement the online sexual predator screening process.

      Consumer complaints

      While most complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com about Match.com have been about the company's marketing and auto-renewal policies, there have been complaints about the people clients have been matched with.

      "I thought of the usual precautions to take on a dating website, but was totally unaware that Match.com was frequented by multi level international scam artists," Kathleen, or Iron Mountain, Mich., told ConsumerAffairs.com. "Sure enough, one 'winked' at me the first week I was on Match.com."

      It wasn't long, she said, before he started asking for money, always with a plausible reason.

      "The professional scammers could not exist if it wasn't for the dating websites that give them a ready-made list of victims to entrap," Kathleen said."

      Kimberly, of Laguna Beach, Calif., said she read the complaints about the type of people who were submitted as dates and really didn't believe it until she experienced it herself.

      "The matches I get sent to me look like they just got out of prison," Kimberly said. "I mean oh my God, I cannot believe the freaks I am sent."

      Last week, attorney Mark Webb told a news conference in Los Angeles that he had filed a civil action against Match.com on behalf of a Hollywood film executive, identified only as "Jane Doe."  Webb at the time said his client might seek a temporary restraining order to prevent Match.com from signing new clients until sexual predatory screening was in place.

      Webb said his client was brutally sexually assaulted by another Match.com member who had been convicted six times for sexual battery. Felony charges are currently pending against the man in Los Angeles Superior Court.

      Match.com will reportedly begin screening for sex offenders among its members....
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      Blogger Calls Out Facebook On Security Issues

      Says Facebook should take initiative to protect users

      There have been a number of scams that use Facebook as a launching point, hoping to trick users into revealing personal information or other wise compromising their account.

      Technology blogger Graham Cluley, Senior Technology Consultant for Sophos security software, writes about these scams on what seems a weekly basis. Now he's asking the social networking site to do something about it.

      In an open letter to Facebook, Cluley says the networking site has an obligation to its members.

      "Every day, victims report to us numerous incidents of crime and fraud on Facebook," Cluley writes. "They have been personally affected and are desperate for advice on how to deal with the consequences. A frequent refrain from users who contact us is, 'Why doesn't Facebook do more to protect us?'"

      Cluley offers up three steps for improving Facebook security. First, no more sharing users' information without their permission.

      Second, he says Facebook should do a better job of vetting its app developers.

      "It is far too easy to become a developer on Facebook," Cluley said. With over one million app developers already registered on the Facebook platform, it is hardly surprising that your service is riddled with rogue applications and viral scams. Only vetted and approved third-party developers should be allowed to publish apps on your platform."

      Finally, he says, Facebook should provide a secure connection (HTTPS) at all time, He notes the site recently introduced an HTTPS option, but the default setting is off.

      "Why wait until regulators force your hand on privacy?" Cluley asks. "Act now for the greater good of all."

      Recent Facebook scams have included bogus emails telling users their passwords have been changed, videos that download malware and assorted phishing scams.

      Technology blogger Graham Cluley tells Facebook it should do a better job of providing security on its site....
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      Scam Alert: Don't Pay to Join Mortgage 'Relief' Lawsuits

      Watch out for lawyers promising guaranteed results, big damage awards

      It's a sad day when consumer protection officials find it necessary to warn consumers about lawyers but it looks like that day has arrived. The Washington state attorney general is cautioning homeowners about paying to participate in a “mass joinder” lawsuit promising mortgage relief.

      The lawyers and marketers pushing these suits charge upfront fees and frequently promise fast results. In reality, litigation is time-consuming and even a qualified attorney can’t guarantee the outcome of a case. Moreover, representatives of a legitimate class-action suit would not ask consumers for money to be a part of the suit.

      Homeowners should be especially skeptical of solicitations from out-of-state firms, which may not be familiar with the laws in other states and may not be licensed to practice there – or anywhere, for that matter.

      The Federal Trade Commission recentlybannedmortgage relief companies from collecting fees until homeowners have received an acceptable written offer from a lender or servicer. Attorneys are generally exempted from the rule but are required to place any fees they collect in a client trust account and abide by state laws and regulations covering such accounts.

      he Washington attorney general’s Office is also seeing companies pushing forensic mortgage loan audits and services with titles like “pre-litigation monetary claims program.” So-called loan auditors, often backed by attorneys, offer to review your loan documents to determine whether your lender complied with state and federal laws. They claim they can use the audit report to avoid foreclosure, accelerate the loan modification process or reduce your loan principal.

      The Federal Trade Commissionwarnsthat there is no evidence that forensics loan audits will help a homeowner obtain a loan modification or other foreclosure relief, even if the audit is conducted by a licensed, legitimate and trained auditor, mortgage professional or lawyer.

      The FTC also notes that some federal laws allow you to sue your lender based on errors in your loan documents. But even if you sue and win, your lender is not required to modify your loan simply to make your payments more affordable.

      Scam Alert: Don't Pay to Join Mortgage 'Relief' Lawsuits. Watch out for lawyers promising guaranteed results, big damage awards...
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      Woman Sues Match.com After Her Date Allegedly Raped Her

      Suit seeks an injunction requiring the dating site to check its members' backgrounds

      More problems for Match.com. This time it's a Hollywood executive, identified only as Jane Doe, who says a man she met through Match sexually assaulted her. She has filed suit seeking an injunction to bar the dating site from signing up any more members until it can accurately screen them for sexual predators.

      It's just the latest in a series of suits and complaints from consumers who had experiences on Match.com that didn't quite match their expectations.

      In February, a class action suit in San Francisco claimed Match.com is “little more than a scheme” to bilk consumers and that more than 60 percent of the profiles on the dating site are “either inactive former users or fake or fraudulently posted by scammers and others.” A similar case was filed in Dallas in January.

      The San Francisco suit claims that many of the photos attached to profiles on Match.com are of “pornographic actresses and models, seemingly stolen from independent websites.”

      Because of “the danger associated with Match allowing male registered sexual predators to become its members,” the Jane Doe complaint says, the court should issue an injunction compelling it “to institute basic inexpensive screening processes.”

      Doe said in the suit that after her date attacked her, she went online and learned he had six convictions for sexual battery.

      In its Terms of Use, Match.com limits its liability and says that members are “solely responsible” for their interactions with other members.

      “You understand that Match.com does not in any way screen its members, nor does Match.com inquire into the backgrounds of its members or attempt to verify the statements of its members,” the terms state.

      But Doe says in her suit that the clause is “one-sided” and should be invalidated. Her attorneys would be expected to argue that the limitations do not extend to negligence.

      Doe also alleges that Match.com “breached its duty to provide services” under California's Consumer Protection Act because, despite being aware that sexual predators use the service, it has not adopted “a basic screening process that disqualifies from membership anyone who has a documented history of sexual assault.”

      “As a result of this breach, defendant exposes numerous members of its dating service to a grave risk of harm,” the suit says.

      On the other hand, Match.com would be expected to argue that its Terms of Use very clearly state that users are not vetted and that customers should exercise their own due diligence. If Jane Doe, for example, had checked her date's background before she went out with him, instead of afterwards, the alleged injury would presumably have been avoided.

      Doe has said that she did not know her date's last name when she agreed to go out with him. However, read far enough through her complaint and one discovers that the alleged rape occurred on the second date she had with the gentleman in question.

      The law is still evolving in this area. An Ohio federal judge upheld a waiver of liability provision in the case of a man who sued an online adult dating service for failing to verify that all its members were over the age of 18.

      “[G]iven the nature of Defendants' adult dating website (i.e., SexSearch cannot control its member's actions when they meet), the extent of potential liability is unpredictable and potentially astronomical,” U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary said in a 2007 case.

      Woman Sues Match.com After Her Date Allegedly Raped Her. Suit seeks an injunction requiring the dating site to check its members' backgrounds....
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      Why Do Credit Card Companies Lower Your Credit Limit?

      Ideally, creditors like you to keep your balance at 30 percent or below your limit

      When you receive a credit card, you are given a limit on the balance you can put on that account. The difference between the limit and your actual balance plays a role in your credit score.

      The credit reporting agencies like to see a low balance to limit ratio. So do the credit card companies. If you have a limit of $5,000 and a balance of $4,000, it makes them nervous, even though they are earning interest on what you owe.

      "I have a Gap Visa account with GE Money Bank that I have been making consistent payments to since I opened this account," Tanya, of Brooklyn, N.Y., told ConsumerAffairs.com.

      Balance reduced by more than half

      Hoping to buy a home, Tanya said she made a $1,000 payment on her balance last month, which cut her balance by more than half. Normally, this kind of payment looks good to credit agencies and credit card companies. In Tanya's case, it apparently didn't.

      "GE Money lowered my available credit to $700 for no good reason," Tanya said. "Now on my credit report it appears as if my available credit is maxed out which affects my credit score."

      A couple of years ago, in the wake of the credit meltdown, there were wholesale reductions in credit card limits. The reason was simple. The credit card companies were worried that many of their creditors would not be able to pay off their balances. Even consumers with high credit scores were not immune.

      Possible reasons

      As Tanya's experience shows, credit card companies are still reducing credit limits, and they could be doing it for many reasons. For one, they may have more cash needs right now, and don't want as much credit on their books.

      They could also be looking at customers like Tanya, who have been carrying a balance of more than half their credit limit. Though it wasn't intended as punishment, when she took the positive step of making a big payment against her balance, the credit card company lowered her limit, meaning she won't be able to use that credit in the future.

      It also has the unfair effect of making it appear that she has used all but $28 of her credit limit, making her look risky to future creditors. Even though she had taken a step to pay down her balance, Tanya feels as though she is being treated as if she doesn't pay her bills on time and has a poor credit history. She says if she had known what was going to happen, she would have hung on to her $1,000.

      To the bank, it's probably a simple business decision. Banks and credit reporting agencies prefer that consumers don't use more than 30 percent of their available credit and when Tanya gave them the opportunity to reduce her limit, by making a big payment, they did.

      Tanya, meanwhile, feels like the rules have been changed. As a result, she may now be less likely to buy a home.

      Trying to pay down your credit card balance can result in your credit limit being reduced....
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      FDA Approves New Device to Treat Brain Cancer

      NovoTTF uses electrical fields to interrupt tumor growth

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new device to treat brain cancer that that recurs or progresses after chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

      The NovoTTF-100A System is designed to treat adults with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common primary brain cancer. GBM tumors are highly resistant to standard treatments such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

      Using the NovoTTF-100A System, a health care professional places electrodes on the surface of the patient’s scalp to deliver low-intensity, changing electrical fields called “tumor treatment fields” (TTFs) to the tumor site. The unique shape and electrical characteristics of dividing tumor cells make them susceptible to damage when exposed to TTF, which could stop tumor growth. 

      The device is portable and can be powered with batteries or plugged into an electrical outlet. Patients can use the device at home, allowing them to continue their normal daily activities. 

      Recurrent glioblastoma multiforme is a devastating form of brain cancer that often eludes standard treatments,” said Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

      Brain tumors are the growth of abnormal cells in the brain tissue. According to the National Cancer Institute, each year about 19,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with primary brain cancers. In 2010, there were 13,140 deaths from brain and other nervous system cancers in the United States.

      The FDA based its approval of the NovoTTF-100A System on results from a single international clinical study in 237 patients with recurrent GBM or with GBM that hadn’t responded to traditional therapy. Patients in the study were randomly assigned to receive either the NovoTTF-100A System or chemotherapy treatment. 

      The study showed comparable overall survival rates between patients treated with the NovoTTF-100A System and those who underwent chemotherapy.

      Patients treated with the NovoTTF-100A System experienced a slightly higher incidence of neurological side effects including convulsions and headaches compared to patients receiving chemotherapy. However, they did not experience the significant side effects associated with chemotherapy, including nausea, anemia, fatigue and serious infections. 

      A survey of patients in the study suggested an improved quality of life in the NovoTTF-100A recurrent 

      FDA Approves New Device to Treat Brain Cancer NovoTTF uses electrical fields to interrupt tumor growth...
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      What's On Your Mind? Refunds, Credit Repair, Junk Mail, Timeshares

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      When a consumer pays for a purchase but then cancels the order, how quickly should they receive their money back? If you said within a week, you might be surprised to learn it hardly ever happens that quickly.

      Valerie of Stafford, Va., purchased a mattress at Mattress Warehouse but, after frustrating delays in having her order arrive at the store, she canceled the order. Keep in mind she had paid for the mattress but never taken delivery.

      "The salesman told me it would take about a week to get my money back," Valerie told ConsumerAffairs.com. "Based on that promise, I went out and bought a mattress at their competitor's store for the same price and took the mattress home that day."

      But Valerie's refund didn't arrive a week later, as promised.

      "After a week, I called the corporate office, who told me it could take another three weeks before I get my money back," Valerie said. "Seriously? They get to hold my money for two months and I get absolutely nothing in return?"

      It is, indeed, a bad deal. Some businesses hate to write checks. It seems to us this is a fertile area for the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Agency to look into.

      Credit where credit is due

      Many consumers are in need of solid, objective advice when it comes to dealing with their credit, but you must be careful where you seek that advice. Hanley of Phoenix, Ariz., said he was taken aback when Consumer Credit Group called to offer its help.

      "No one should have to pay $995.00 to help clear their credit," Hanley said. "I notified my banking institution and had my account closed. I collected as much information as I could from them just in case."

      Any company asking for a large fee in advance to help you with a credit matter should make you wary. Reputable agencies do not keep the first month's payment, demand a contribution or charge high fees. You should also avoid any agency that advertises on television, solicits you by phone or s ends you spam.

      To get good advice about credit and debt matters, look for an agency that is a member of the National Foundation of Credit Counseling, a 50-year-old organization with strict accreditation guidelines. 

      Junk mail overload

      Thomas of Meansville, Ga., has had it with all the fliers, catalogs and sales pitches crammed into his mail box each day.

      "I still receive unwanted mailings from businesses that I have repeatedly contacted demanding they quit sending there solicitations," Thomas said. "I have phoned, emailed, written, and recorded for way more than the average six months of time to be removed. I want it stopped. No more junk mail!"

      Thomas isn't alone, and in fact some environmental groups encourage consumers to opt out of these mailings to conserve paper. Global Stewards has a handy "how-to" guide on their website for those who are interested.

      A timeshare, really?

      Why would anyone buy a timeshare, you ask? Left to their own devices, they probably wouldn't.

      "My husband was told that he won a vacation, but that he had to go listen to the pitch and he was not going to be pressured to buy anything," Alehandra, of Los Angeles, told ConsumerAffairs.com. "Well they accompany you to the restroom, they even accompany you to the bank. I did not get a chance to discuss it with my husband because we were being watched over by the sales guy from Pacific Monarch Grand Vacations."

      Alejandra said she and her husband were told one thing, but the contract said something else. They thought they were being offered a week's stay at a Las Vegas resort, but it turned out to only we one or two days.

      "I think $2,300 a year is a major rip off for 1- 2 nights every two years, Alejandra said.

      An of course, that doesn't include maintenance fees. If you are ever tempted to purchase a timeshare, stop and consider that you could rent a suite in a very nice luxury hotel for less money. And in Las Vegas, we wouldn't be surprised if you couldn't buy a condo for the same price as a timeshare, considering how that real estate market has been hammered.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Refunds, Credit Repair, Junk Mail, Timeshares, Credit where credit is due and Junk mail overload....
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      Match.com Reportedly To Start Screening For Sex Offenders

      Dating site sued last week by member who said she was sexually assaulted

      The popular online dating site Match.com has announced in a statement to a news agency that it will begin cross-checking site users against national sex offender databases.

      The reported change in policy follows a lawsuit by a Los Angeles woman who claimed she was attacked by one of her Match.com dates. In a statement to the Associated Press, the company said it is taking this step, despite reservations about the accuracy of the databases.

      While most complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com about Match.com have been about the company's marketing and auto-renewal policies, there have been complaints about the people clients have been matched with.

      "I thought of the usual precautions to take on a dating website, but was totally unaware that Match.com was frequented by multi level international scam artists," Kathleen, or Iron Mountain, Mich., told ConsumerAffairs.com. "Sure enough, one 'winked' at me the first week I was on Match.com."

      Scammers and freaks?

      It wasn't long, she said, before he started asking for money, always with a plausible reason.

      "The professional scammers could not exist if it wasn't for the dating websites that give them a ready-made list of victims to entrap," Kathleen said."

      Kimberly, of Laguna Beach, Calif., said she read the complaints about the type of people who were submitted as dates and really didn't believe it until she experienced it herself.

      "The matches I get sent to me look like they just got out of prison," Kimberly said. "I mean oh my God, I cannot believe the freaks I am sent."

      Last week, attorney Mark Webb told a news conference in Los Angeles that he had filed a civil action against Match.com on behalf of a Hollywood film executive, identified only as "Jane Doe."  Webb at the time said his client might seek a temporary restraining order to prevent Match.com from signing new clients until sexual predatory screening was in place.

      Webb said his client was brutally sexually assaulted by another Match.com member who had been convicted six times for sexual battery. Felony charges are currently pending against the man in Los Angeles Superior Court.

      Match.com will reportedly begin screening for sex offenders among its members....
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      Feds Deal Bad Hand to Poker Sites

      Major sites shut down, owners indicted, assets seized

      The federal government has ended a longtime stand-off with the online poker industry, indicting the founders of the three largest Internet poker companies doing business in the U.S – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker – shuttering their sites and freezing their assets.

      Although some states have considered legalizing online gambling, the federal government has long contended that online gambling of all kinds, including poker, is illegal.

      The District of Columbia recently legalized online poker as long as the players are within the geographic confines of the District.

      The Poker Players Alliance, a Washington-based lobbying group, denounced the crackdown.

      Millions of Americans across the country today are outraged over the U.S. Department of Justice’s clear attack on internet poker,” said John Pappas, the group's executive director. “While the government’s focus may be on the companies who operate these games, this is plain and simple a declaration of war on poker players and poker players’ freedoms.

      That argument didn't carry much weight with the feds, however.

      Foreign firms that choose to operate in the United States are not free to flout the laws they don’t like simply because they can’t bear to be parted from their profits," Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said.

      Bharara and Janice Fedarcyk, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced the unsealing of an indictment charging 11 defendants with bank fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling offenses.

      The United States also filed a civil money laundering and in rem forfeiture complaint against the poker companies, their assets, and the assets of several payment processors. In addition, restraining orders were issued against more than 75 bank accounts utilized by the companies and their payment processors, and five Internet domain names used by the companies to host their poker games were seized.

      These defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits,” Bharara said. “Moreover, as we allege, in their zeal to circumvent the gambling laws, the defendants also engaged in massive money laundering and bank fraud.

      These defendants, knowing full well that their business with U.S. customers and U.S. banks was illegal, tried to stack the deck,” Fedarcyk said. “They lied to banks about the true nature of their business. Then, some of the defendants found banks willing to flout the law for a fee. The defendants bet the house that they could continue their scheme, and they lost."

      FFeds Deal Bad Hand to Poker Sites. Major sites shut down, owners indicted, assets seized...
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      Beware The 'Your Facebook Password Is Not Safe' Scam

      Spam email contains dangerous Trojan

      Millions of people are getting a spam email designed to look like it's from Facebook (complaints about Facebook), warning that the user's password has been compromised.

      Graham Cluley, senior technology expert at Sophos Security, says it's just the latest Facebook scam. The email message is as follows:

      Dear User of FaceBook:

      Your password is not safe!

      To secure your account the password has been changed automatically.

      Attached document contains a new password to your account and detailed information about new security measures.

      Thank you for attention,

      Administration of Facebook.

      Alarm bells

      "Your alarm bells should be ringing instantly when you receive this message for a number of reasons, not least that it can't decide if it's 'Facebook' or 'FaceBook,' but also because why would Facebook ever email you an attachment," Cluley writes in his blog. "And why are they being so impersonal and not using your name?"

      There may be a couple of versions of the subject line for this email. One says "Facebook: Your password has been changed!" Another is "Facebook support. Personal data has been changed!"

      Cluley says the purpose of the email is to is to infect your computer with Mal.Zbot-AV malware, a Trojan that falls in the spyware-virus category.

      "Perhaps the easiest thing to do if you're told your Facebook password has been changed, is try to log into Facebook to see if it's true or not," Cluley writes.

      And make sure you don't open the email's attachment. Simply delete the email from your inbox.

      The latest scam targeting Facebook users tries to convince them their password has been changed....
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      Revolutionary Road: DC Motorists Protest Toll Road Taxes

      Dulles Airport's rulers are unelected and not empowered to extract taxes, suit charges

      Washington, D.C., motorists can choose license plates that bear the motto “Taxation Without Representation.” There is good reason for this, as District residents are not empowered to vote in federal elections.

      But the practice of taxing citizens who have no vote is not confined to the relatively tiny District. It extends throughout the Washington area, which seems to regard elected governing bodies as anathema. Virginia only recently began electing school boards, a few hundred years after the rest of the country.

      It is also in Virginia that the latest taxation/representation struggle is brewing. This one involves a toll road, specifically the Dulles Airport Toll Road, originally built to speed busy bureaucrats and pompous potentates to and from the international airport roughly 30 miles from D.C.

      Back in the day, no one was allowed to use the airport road unless they were going to and from the airport. Only in the Washington area would taxpayers stand for such an outrage but stand for it they did and now it may be too late, although a class action lawsuit seeks to rouse the dozing citizenry.

      Eventually, scofflaws emerged and began tying up the highway, slowing the potentates' stately processions. Additional lanes were then built and opened up – at a price – to the federal drones and military contractors who now line the Dulles Corridor.

      MWAA MWATA?

      Initially operated by the relatively benign Commonwealth of Virginia, the highway charged token tolls of 25 to 75 cents. Ah, but this was before the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) – not to be confused with the Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority (MWATA) -- became imbued with the power and the glory that accompany unelected taxing bodies.

      The members of these authorities are appointed by elected politicians from the jurisdictions over which they rule but the taxpaying public has no say whatsoever in the matter.

      Thus, when it came to pass that MWAA and MWATA decreed that a Metro subway line should be extended to Dulles Airport, Virginia washed its hands of the entire affair and deeded the road to MWAA so that MWAA could extract the cost of building the subway line from the hides of those using the toll road.

      Tolls, needless to say, are no longer 25 cents. They are currently $2.00 for those who travel the entire 13.5-mile length of the highway and rising regularly.

      This, say John B. Corr and John W. Grigsby in their class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., has changed the very nature of the tolls extorted from motorists crawling along the congested eight-lane highway (while the bureaucrats and potentates zip by on four lanes still reserved only for those going to and from the aerodrome.)

      Corr, a resident of Great Falls, Va., says in the suit that he has used the Dulles Toll Road from time to time for the last 15 years, paying his tolls in cash. Grigsby, a resident of Hillsboro, Va., has commuted daily on the toll road, paying his tolls via EZPass transponder.

      No longer a toll

      The toll, say Messrs. Corr and Grigsby, is no longer a toll, since it is no longer used simply to pay for the upkeep of the highway. They argue it is now a tax, being collected to pay for the construction of the Metro rail line.

      And as a tax, it can only be levied by duly-elected representatives of the people, their suit argues.

      The suit argues that, under the Virginia Constitution, the setting of rates or fees for a public service cannot be delegated to unelected, non-governmental bodies. As an interstate compact run by an unelected board, MWAA lacks the constitutional authority to tax the Commonwealth's citizens, says the suit.

      The suit seeks to halt MWAA's continued collection of tolls that exceed the amount needed to maintain the highway and asks for a refund of all “excess” tolls collected since 2005. 

      Revolutionary Road: DC Motorists Protest Toll Road Taxes Dulles Airport's rulers are unelected and not empowered to extract taxes, suit charges...
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      Suit Charges Capital One Used Robo-Signing to Collect Debts

      The bank and its lawyers cited non-existent and incorrect documents, suit charges

      Have robo signers invaded the credit card collections arena?

      A federal class action claims Capital One Bank and the Goldman & Warshaw law firm use "false information and documentation" in credit-card collections.

      In the suit, Charles Fratz of Warrington, Pa., charges that Capital One and its attorneys cited documents and contracts that did not apply to the case at hand.

      For example, in a collections letter to Fratz, Capital One referred to a credit application supposedly signed by Fratz in November 2002. But a closer look at the application finds a copyright notice dated 2005 at the bottom.

      The attached Agreement significantly post-dates the dates that the credit card was allegedly issued and could not have been the operative Agreement,” the suit charges, alleging that the apparently random substitution of documents violates the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

      Fratz' suit cites previous, similar lawsuits against Capital One as evidence the bank was aware that it was using false documentation.

      The suit seeks class action status on behalf of all consumers who have been the subject of collection lawsuits brought by the bank and its attorneys. It asks for compensation for consumers' legal costs, punitive damages and interest.

      Suit Charges Capital One Used Robo-Signing to Collect Debts The bank and its lawyers cited non-existent and incorrect documents, suit charges...
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      Bogus 'Complaint Removal' Sites Prey on Small Businesses

      Scam artists mislead business owners targeted by angry customers

      Not long ago, it was rare for a retail or service business to be publicly criticized. If businesses appeared in the news at all, it was usually because they had applied for zoning variances, sponsored a softball team or opened a new outlet.

      Then the Internet came along and consumers were suddenly free to share their opinions about the service they had received from their auto mechanic, the quality of their new flat-screen TV or the trustworthiness of their lawn service.

      Today, as any politician will tell you, anyone can say anything about anybody.  It's called democracy and it can sometimes be a bit rough around the edges but experienced practitioners will tell you it's best to roll with the punches and engage your critics – explain the steps you take to prevent consumer dissatisfaction and be upfront in describing your efforts to correct oversights that lead to online complaints.  After all, the consumers who read online complaints and reviews are fully aware that what they are seeing is, for the most part, one-sided and overly negative – just as the advertising for the same businesses is one-sided and overly positive.

      It's especially unfortunate when businesses panic at seeing negative comments and try to force the genie back into the bottle.  This simply cannot be done.  We live in a free country where consumers can, and will, speak their minds.  The only thing that has changed is that businesses can now see what their customers have always said about them.

      It's particularly unfortunate when businesses fall for quick-fix solutions that only make a bad situation worse.  In the early days of the Internet, companies thought they could sue consumers into silence by filing lawsuits against sites like ours.  This not only doesn't work, it produces even more bad press when, invariably, consumers' right to free expression is upheld in court.  It can also be ruinously expensive, as companies who have sued us and similar sites will tell you.

      More recently, small businesses have been falling for pitches like that from Done! SEO, a search engine optimization company that claims it can make consumer complaints disappear from sites like ConsumerAffairs.com.  Though SEO firms can help companies optimize organic ranking for their keywords, and there are many high-quality SEO firms out there, claims such as this are simply misleading. 

      Retailers and service providers sometimes pay thousands of dollars a month for these “removal” services before they realize their money has been wasted.

      A couple of simple facts to consider:

      • ConsumerAffairs.com has, since its founding in 1998, had a policy of not removing complaints.  Companies have always been welcome to post responses but, once posted, complaints are there indefinitely.  We do not accept payments from companies seeking to have complaints removed; in other words, we don't take bribes
      • Despite what some SEO firms claim, they are not able to somehow obliterate complaint pages on our site.  They can generate tens of thousands of pages of fraudulent content claiming to be from real consumers but this is a) illegal and subject to civil and criminal prosecution and b) ineffective, as all of the major search engines are quick to detect attempts to spam their results with bogus postings.
      • Consumers are not stupid.  Those who do their online research before making a buying decision fully understand that many posted complaints are over the top.  What they are looking for is a measured, positive response that demonstrates a business' commitment to addressing and solving customer dissatisfaction.

      Taking all of this into account, ConsumerAffairs.com has recently instituted new programs that make it easier for companies to engage constructively with their customers. 

      Specifically, our “Accedited Business” program requires local retailers and service providers to subscribe to a Code of Good Practices and to respond promptly and proactively to customer complaints.  And, our “Reputation Management” program for larger businesses establishes a direct, public communications channel that facilitates fast, efficient exchanges with aggrieved customers.

      ConsumerAffairs.com has always been a pro-business, pro-consumer enterprise.    Unlike some other organizations, we do not presume to assign grades to businesses or promote our product evaluations – we are merely a communications channel that allows consumers and business to openly and frankly discuss and evaluate their experiences. 

      Critics may point to our independent and vigorous consumer news operation as evidence that we have it in for businesses, but a fair reading of our the stories we produce each day will, we think, find them quite balanced and free of the political and special-interest bias found in so many non-profit publications.

      Lastly, the mere fact that our business model depends primarily on revenue from advertising is itself evidence that we support and celebrate the right of consumers and businesses to engage in the kind of free-for-all that produces the greatest long-term value and satisfaction.

      Our founder and editor likes to say that “a good reputation can't be bought, but it can be earned.”  Can't say it much better than that.

      Though many scam artist SEOs will tell you different, a good reputation can't be bought, but it can be earned....
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      Feds Probe Toyota Airbag Problems

      It's the latest safety headache for Toyota

      Toyota may be facing a new safety-related crisis. Federal safety regulators are looking into a motorist's report that the airbags in his 2008 Toyota Corolla failed to deploy when he hit a deer at 55 miles per hour.

      The case involves Fred and Susan Maynard, who said the deer bounded in front of their car in Pennsylvania. The impact totaled the Corolla, Fred Maynard said but the airbags did not deploy.

      Why the Maynards' experience caught the eye of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) isn't clear. ConsumerAffairs.com has received more than 170 complaints involving Toyota airbags either failing to deploy or deploying at the wrong time. Here area few complaints from recent months:

      • Maria of Costa Mesa, Calif., was driving her Toyota Tundra when the airbags deployedfor no apparent reason.

      • Oscar, of Laredo, Texas, said the airbags failed to deploy when his Toyota hit a tree at 35 miles per hour.

      • Stephanie of Millcreek, Ind., was in a head-on collision with a truck while driving her 2002 Camry. The airbags failed to deploy and she wound up in the hospital, she said.

      • David of Farmersburg, Inc., ran off the road and hit a ditch, causing his 2010 Prius to roll over. Although the car was totaled and at least one airbag sensor was hit, the airbags did not deploy, David said.

      • Leslie of Lake Placid, NY, said she hit black ice, her car went off the road at 40 miles per hour, hit a culvert and flipped over. No airbags deployed and she suffered serious injuries.

      • Kerry of Newport News, Va., said she t-boned another vehicle while driving her 2008 Camry. The front end of the car was “totally mangled,” she said, but no airbags deployed.

      • In Hope Valley, South Africa, Alta said the airbags failed to open when his Toyota was involved in an accident. He was injured and a child was killed.

      The Corolla probe could affect as many as 170,000 vehicles. Corolla has been Toyota's second-best-selling model after the Camry in recent years.

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said this week that the airbag probe could affect as many as 170,000 vehicles. The Corolla has been Toyota’s second-best selling model, after the Camry, in recent years.

      Since the fall of 2009, Toyota has recalled 19.2 million vehicles worldwide and more than 13.7 million in the United States to address safety complaints, most involving reports of unintended acceleration.

      Feds Probe Toyota Airbag Problems It's the latest safety headache for Toyota...
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      Injected Gel Could Spell Arthritis Relief

      Could also be used to treat other diseases, researchers say

      When osteoarthritis strikes your knee, or other joint, about the only option currently available is joint replacement surgery, a costly and painful procedure.

      Now, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) report an injectable gel could spell the future for treating this disease and others.

      Among its advantages, the gel could allow the targeted release of medicine at an affected joint, and could dispense that medicine on demand in response to enzymes associated with arthritic flare-ups.

      "We think that this platform could be useful for multiple medical applications including the localized treatment of cancer, ocular disease, and cardiovascular disease," said Jeffrey Karp, leader of the research and co-director of the Center for Regenerative Therapeutics at BWH.

      Aging population

      Joint replacement surgeries are becoming more common, and are expected to increase in the years ahead as Baby Boomers age.

      Arthritis is a good example of a disease that attacks specific parts of the body. Besides surgery, conventional treatments for largely involve drugs taken orally.

      Not only do these take a while to exert their effects, they can have additional side effects. That is because the drug is dispersed throughout the body, not just at the affected joint. Further, high concentrations of the drug are necessary to deliver enough to the affected joint, which runs the risk of toxicity.

      Targeted delivery

      "There are many instances where we would like to deliver drugs to a specific location, but it's very challenging to do so without encountering major barriers," said Karp, who also holds appointments through Harvard Medical School (HMS), Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST).

      If such a gel were practical, what would it be made of? To cut the time involved in bringing a new technology to market, the research team focused only on materials already designated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as being generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use in humans.

      After a series of tests with the gel, the team is convinced it works. Among other promising results, the researchers found that gel injected into the healthy joints of mice remained stable for at least two months. Further, the gel withstood wear and tear representative of conditions in a moving joint.

      Additional tests in mice are underway. The technique has yet to be demonstrated in humans, but the researchers write that it "should have broad implications for the localized treatment of many...diseases" caused by the enzymatic destruction of tissues. For an aging population with stiff, aching joints, it just might provide an alternative to joint replacement.

      Researchers say a gel injected into arthritic joints could provide effective relief....
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