1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2011
  4. June

News in June 2011

Browse by year

2011

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Suit Blames Toyota 'Smart Key' for Carbon Monoxide Death

    Woman left her car idling and was asphyxiated in her apartment

    A woman blames Toyota for her daughter's death by carbon monoxide poisoning, because its Smart Key system let her Lexus keep running silently without a key in the ignition. Toyota faced a similar complaint in New York last October.

    On the evening of August 25, 2010, Chastity Glisson returned to her home in Boca Raton, Fla., and parked her 2006 Lexus IS 250 in the garage beneath her three-story apartment.

    The car, like many newer model vehicles, was equipped with a Smart Key system, which uses a remote-control key fob to lock, unlock and start the engine. The driver does not have to remove the fob from pocket or pursue – merely entering the car and pushing a “Start/Stop” button to start and stop the engine.

    The suit alleges that the fobs require a change in consumer behavior, as most motorists are accustomed to inserting a key to start their car and removing the key to stop it.

    Engine continued running

    Glisson either forgot to turn off the engine or perhaps did not push the “Stop/Start” button hard enough, the suit says. In any case, the engine continued running after Glisson entered her apartment with the key fob in her purse.

    Glisson and another occupant of the apartment, Timothy Maddock, retired for the evening, unaware that her car continued running in the garage, emitting deadly carbon monoxide, which seeped into the apartment above.

    Friends and family members became concerned when they did not hear from either Glisson or Maddock the next day. Police went to check on the victims' welfare and found Glisson dead and Maddock unconscious.

    Tests found a dangerously high level of carbon monoxide in the apartment and an autopsy found that Glisson had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Maddock was severely injured.

    In the suit, Glisson's mother, Kimberlin Nickles, argues that Toyota should have known that the fob system was dangerous and could result in a consumer's accidentally leaving the engine running, even though the key fob had been removed from the vehicle. The suit argues that Toyota and its sales agents are guilty of negligence.

    A woman blames Toyota for her daughter's death by carbon monoxide poisoning, because its Smart Key system let her Lexus keep running silently without a key...
    Read lessRead more

    Synthetic Fat Substitutes Might Make You Gain Weight

    Researchers say they confuse the body, causing you to eat more

    Consumers trying to shed a few pounds instinctively reach for low fat products at the grocery store, but maybe they shouldn't. A new study says synthetic fat substitutes used in low-calorie potato chips and other foods could backfire and contribute to weight gain and obesity.

    The study, by researchers at Purdue University, was published by the American Psychological Association. It challenges the conventional wisdom that foods made with fat substitutes help with weight loss.

    “Our research showed that fat substitutes can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate food intake, which can lead to inefficient use of calories and weight gain,” said Susan E. Swithers, PhD, the lead researcher and a Purdue psychology professor.

    For the experiment, lab rats were fed either a high-fat or low-fat diet of chow. Half of the rats in each group also were fed Pringles potato chips that are high in fat and calories.

    Olestra

    The remaining rats in each group were fed high-calorie Pringles chips on some days and low-calorie Pringles Light chips on other days. The Pringles Light chips are made with olestra, a synthetic fat substitute that has zero calories and passes through the body undigested.

    For rats on the high-fat diet, the group that ate both types of potato chips consumed more food, gained more weight and developed more fatty tissue than the rats that ate only the high-calorie chips. The fat rats also didn’t lose the extra weight even after the potato chips were removed from their diet.

    “Based on this data, a diet that is low in fat and calories might be a better strategy for weight loss than using fat substitutes,” Swithers said.

    However, she warned that it can be difficult to extrapolate laboratory findings about rats to people, even though their biological responses to food are similar. The study was conducted by Swithers along with Purdue psychology professor Terry L. Davidson, PhD, and former Purdue undergraduate student Sean Ogden.

    Confusing the body

    Why would a fat substitute confuse the body? Food with a sweet or fatty taste usually indicates a large number of calories, and the taste triggers various responses by the body, including salivation, hormonal secretions and metabolic reactions. Fat substitutes can interfere with that relationship when the body expects to receive a large burst of calories but is fooled by a fat substitute.

    Olestra is no longer used in foods in Canada and the United Kingdom. In the U.S., the Center for Science in the Public Interest has waged a long campaign to have it banned, saying that it is unhealthy.

    Researchers say synthetic fat substitutes like Olestra might make you gain even more weight...
    Read lessRead more

    Graphic Warnings Intended to Scare Smokers Into Quitting

    All cigarette packs and advertising will soon display the gruesome images

    Nine graphic images, including a man blowing cigarette smoke out of a tracheostomy hole in his neck, have been chosen as to be used in new health warnings on cigarette packs and advertising.

    Under legislation passed in 2009, the warnings must be placed on all cigarette packs, cartons and ads no later than September 2012.

    Despite decades of warnings and education efforts, about 20% of Americans still smoke cigarettes, leading to about 443,000 deaths each year in the U.S.

    Smoking is considered the leading cause of premature death.

    “These labels are frank, honest and powerful depictions of the health risks of smoking and they will help encourage smokers to quit, and prevent children from smoking,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “President Obama wants to make tobacco-related death and disease part of the nation’s past, and not our future.”

    The warnings, which were proposed in November 2010, were required under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act which was passed with broad bipartisan support in Congress and signed into law by president Obama on June 22, 2009.

    Nine images

    The FDA selected nine images from the originally proposed 36 after reviewing the relevant scientific literature, analyzing the results from an 18,000 person study and considering more than 1,700 comments from a variety of groups, including the tobacco industry, retailers, health professionals, public health and other advocacy groups, academics, state and local public health agencies, medical organizations and individual consumers.

    Each warning is accompanied by a smoking cessation phone number, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, which will allow it to be seen at the time it is most relevant to smokers, increasing the likelihood that smokers who want to quit will be successful.

    When implemented in September 2012, all cigarettes manufactured for sale or distribution in the United States will need to include the new graphic health warnings on their packages. The introduction of these warnings is expected to have a significant public health impact by decreasing the number of smokers, resulting in lives saved, increased life expectancy, and improved health status.

    “The Tobacco Control Act requires FDA to provide current and potential smokers with clear and truthful information about the risks of smoking – these warnings do that,” said Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

    Graphic Warnings Intended to Scare Smokers Into Quitting. All cigarette packs and advertising will soon display the gruesome images...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Feds Offer $1 Billion Bailout For Homeowners

      Struggling homeowners eligible for interest free loans to make payments

      Homeowners who have watched the nation's banks get bailed out over the last two and a half years are now getting their turn.

      The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced the Emergency Homeowners’ Loan Program (EHLP), to help homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure. The program is being offered in 27 states and Puerto Rico.

      Under EHLP program guidelines eligible homeowners can qualify for an interest free loan which pays a portion of their monthly mortgage for up to two years, or up to $50,000, whichever comes first.

      "Working with our community partners across the nation through NeighborWorks America, we are pleased to launch this program today in 27 states and Puerto Rico to help families keep their homes while looking for work or recovering from illness," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

      Part of financial reform legislation

      The $1 billion was approved last year as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The program will assist homeowners who have experienced a reduction in income and are at risk of foreclosure due to involuntary unemployment, underemployment, due to economic conditions or a medical condition.

      The EHLP program will pay a portion of an approved applicant’s monthly mortgage, including missed mortgage payments or past due charges including principal, interest, taxes, insurances, and attorney fees. EHLP is expected to aid up to 30,000 distressed borrowers, with an average loan of approximately $35,000.

      The program follows in the footsteps on the Making Homes Affordable Program (HAMP), which encouraged loan servicers to modify mortgages of struggling homeowners. That program, in the two years is has operated, has been deemed less than successful, with many homeowners saying there were worse off after starting a modification and then being denied.

      The EHLP program will be offered in the following states: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming and Puerto Rico. Five states operating substantially similar programs are administering EHLP directly: Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. With today’s launch, mortgage assistance is now available for unemployed and underemployed homeowners in every state.

      How to apply

      Contact information for participating agencies, the Pre-Applicant Screening Worksheet and more information on the EHLP program and its eligibility requirements can be found online or by calling toll free at 855-FIND-EHLP (346-3345).

       Homeowners should be vigilant against scammers who will likely take advantage of the program by pretending to be affiliated with it. Homeowners must apply for the assistance. The participating agencies will not call you.

      If a telemarketer calls and says he or she represents the program and can help you get assistance, in return for an advance fee, rest assured that it will be a scam.

      The federal government has launched a new program to help struggling homeowners...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumers Cautioned About Credit Insurance

      Maryland Attorney General calls it 'overpriced'

      When consumers borrow money for almost any purpose, they are often offered the option of purchasing credit insurance.

      That's a policy that insured repayment of the loan, even if the borrower dies, becomes disabled, or loses their income. Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler says it's notorious for being one of the most overpriced insurance products and consumers should go into any purchase with their eyes wide open.

      “Consumers need to know what they are buying and how much it will cost before they commit to paying for credit insurance,” Gansler said. “Before you sign any contract, understand all the terms and costs.”

      Rarely required

      Gansler said credit insurance may be sold under the pretense of being mandatory, but rarely is. In Maryland, for example, lenders cannot require the purchase of most types of credit insurance. Lenders can require credit property insurance on loans secured by a piece of property, or a destructible possession, but a consumer is allowed to choose the insurance company.

      There are three types of credit insurance:

      1. Credit Life Insurance, which pays off an outstanding loan if a consumer dies;
      2. Credit Disability Insurance, which makes payments on a loan if a consumer is disabled; and
      3. Credit Involuntary Unemployment Benefit Insurance, which makes payments on a loan if a consumer is involuntarily unemployed.

      Credit insurance really only benefits the lender. While it protects the consumer from default, any benefit is paid directly to the lender.

      Consider the alternatives

      If consumers wish to purchase insurance, they should consider a few alternatives, Gansler says, including checking to see if their current homeowners or life insurance policy provides adequate coverage.

      As with other forms of insurance, it is important for the consumer to check the policy closely before agreeing to its terms. Some good questions to ask include the length of any waiting period, limitations, cancellation terms, coverage length, financing and comparability to other similar policies.

      Mortgage insurance is a type of credit insurance that is often required on some home loans, to protect the lender in the case of default. Mortgage insurance is usually required on loans where the consumer is borrowing more than 80 percent of the purchase price.

      Maryland's Attorney General has cautioned consumers about credit insurance, calling it notoriously overpriced...
      Read lessRead more

      What's On Your Mind? Ethanol, Jenn-Air, Sally Hanson Nail Polish

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Go just about anywhere these days to buy gasoline and it will have at least 10 percent ethanol in it, part of a federal mandate to stretch gasoline supplies. Unfortunately, most small engines don't react very well to it.

      “The ethanol based gas sold here is ruining small engines such as my Mantis tiller,” Doris, of Longansport, Ind., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I had to take it to a repair shop twice. The man told me the gas is ruining them by the droves. He shook a small vial of gas and set it on the table. He told me to watch it. I could see the gas separating from the ethanol or water, whatever it was. He said it is the ethanol in the gas that is ruining our small engines. I feel we should be reimbursed for the repairs we have had to do because of ethanol in our gas."

      Well, don't count on it. But in an interesting vote last week, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to kill the tax subsidy for ethanol. A lot of people argue that the U.S. should drop its experiment with ethanol, not so much because of what it does to small engines, but because they say using corn to make fuel runs up the cost of food. The ethanol industry denies that's the case.

      Breaking glass

      We've gotten reports of glass baking dishes exploding in the oven, and even in the dishwasher. Now we're getting this report of the glass in an oven doing the same thing.

      “The glass in the top oven of my Jenn-Air double wall oven exploded all over my kitchen,” Kathy, of Garnet Valley, said. “Glass was on the counter top, on my cook top, had gone into the family room and a shard of glass embedded itself in my toaster.”

      In addition to the damage, Kathy is very concerned about the safety issue exploding glass represents. Says says if one of her grandchildren had walking by at the time, it would have been a disaster.

      Extremely fine print

      Bunny, of New York City, tells us she bought Sally Hansen Hard As Nails polish and, when she went to read the list of ingredients on the label, was unable to with the naked eye.

      “It was impossible even with a magnifying glass,” Bunny told ConsumerAffairs.com. “The letters are extremely tiny and white - this on a pink polish and I could not read one word.”

      Bunny is concerned that there could be chemicals in the polish that she doesn't want to use. Nail polish bottles are small and therefore, so are the labels. Still, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) probably does have minimum standards for font sizes for ingredients. Bunny should file a complaint with the FTC.

      An inspection could save you later

      When we hit the car rental counter at the airport, we tend to be in a rush and want to get on our way. But make sure you take a good look at the car before you leave the lot. Shipa, of Irving, Tex., says he was confronted at the Alamo check-in counter with what he said was old damage to the car.

      “The lady at check in showed me some old scratch marks at the rear bumper near trunk, and started yelling at me,” Shipa said. “When I told her I was not aware of the marks, she said good luck to you and made a claim ticket.”

      Shipa said the scratches were already on the vehicle but he checked it out, but he has no way to prove it. Always thoroughly inspect the vehicle with a rental car representative and have them sign on to note any pre-existing damage. Otherwise, refuse to take the car.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Ethanol, Jenn-Air, Sally Hanson Nail Polish, Breaking glass, Extremely fine print and An inspection could save yo...
      Read lessRead more

      New Safety Standards Outlaw Drop-Side Cribs

      U.S. hadn't updated crib safety standards for 30 years

      Setting aside objections from retailers and manufacturers, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is implementing new safety standards for baby cribs later this month.

      Effective June 28, anyone who manufactures or sells cribs will be required to meet the new standards, although day care centers, crib rental companies and hotels will have until December 28, 2012 to update their cribs.

      I am very pleased that the new mandatory crib standards will stop the manufacture and sale of dangerous traditional drop-side cribs and will vastly improve the structural integrity of cribs,” said CPSC chair Inez M. Tenenbaum, noting that crib safety standards have not been updated in nearly 30 years.

      Detaching drop-side rails were associated with at least 32 infant suffocation and strangulation deaths since 2000, according to the CPSC. Additional deaths have occurred due to faulty or defective hardware.

      Manufacturers and retailers had objected that the new rules would cause an economic hardship, particularly on smaller stores but the commission voted 3-2 to impose the new standards on schedule.

      The new standards will:

      1. stop the manufacture and sale of dangerous, traditional drop-side cribs;

      2. make mattress supports stronger;

      3. improve slat strength,

      4. make crib hardware more durable; and

      5. make safety testing more rigorous.

      The standards aim to keep children safer in their cribs and prevent deaths resulting from detaching crib drop-sides and faulty or defective hardware. The tougher standards were mandated by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

      Tenenbaum said the commission granted the delays to child care centers, crib rental stores and hotels and motels were necessary not only to minimize the economic impact but also to prevent shortages of new cribs. She estimated that replacing all of the cribs already in use at such locations would create a demand of approximately 935,000 cribs, which would amount to nearly $467 million in replacement costs.

      In order to ensure sufficient availability of compliant cribs and ensure an orderly and successful transition to the use of complaint cribs by child care providers and places of public accommodation, the Commission adopted a two-step phase in of the rule,” Tenenbaum said.

      Retailers unhappy

      Any cribs not meeting the current standard must be destroyed if they’re not sold by June 28. Industry estimates put the number of unsold cribs between 10,000 and 20,000. Some retailers, hoping to clear out their stock, have offered steep discounts to consumers.

      “Overregulation is going to lead to the destroying of thousands of cribs that are perfectly good — many that are better than what will come out after the new regulations,” Gene Francis, a South Dakota-based retailer and member of the National Independent Nursery Furniture Retailers Association, told Kids Today.

      But Commissioner Thomas Moore showed little sympathy for that argument.

      "We expect companies to comply with the Commission’s rules," he said. "It appears that the vast majority of retailers did plan and are ready to comply by the June 28th date.  In a rule of this magnitude, it is expected that there will be 
      some market disruption and that some companies will experience economic loss."

      Moore said it was impractical to ask the CPSC to allow retailers to continue selling cribs that do not meet the new standard.

      "There is little that we know about the noncomplying cribs these retailers want to sell or about the reasons the retailers find themselves with noncompliant inventory.  However, there is much that we don’t know.  When were these cribs made?  Who made them and where?  Who tested them and when?  What standard were they tested to?  When were they ordered?  Did the quantity ordered take into account the looming effective date of the new crib standards?"

      "Were retailers buying imported noncomplying cribs at fire sale prices to try to make a profit before they had to start buying more expensive cribs that met the new standards?" Moore asked.  "Will retrofit kits be available to bring the cribs into compliance?  We simply do not know."

      New Safety Standards Outlaw Drop-Side Cribs. U.S. hadn't updated crib safety standards for 30 years...
      Read lessRead more

      Expert: To Help Housing, Stop Delaying Foreclosures

      Efforts to protect homeowners may be backfiring

      Sometimes the best way to get the pain over with is to rip off the bandage. When it comes to resolving the housing crisis, a Kansas State University professor says delaying foreclosures, as the banks are doing now, isn't helpful.

      Foreclosures have dropped dramatically in recent months as banks continue negotiations with attorneys general over a settlement that looks at foreclosure practices. K-State finance professor Eric Higgins says some of the settlement proposals may backfire and do more harm than good.

      Higgins co-authored the studies with Charles Calomiris, a professor at Columbia Business School, and Joseph Mason, finance professor at Louisiana State University, in response to current negotiations that have delayed many foreclosures from occurring.

      Making matters worse

      Because the terms of the proposed servicer settlement call for banks to do more on forgiving mortgages, the studies say it would only encourage more homeowners to strategically default on their loans. Delaying or prolonging the foreclosure process doesn't help either because it prevents the market from recovering.

      "In no way do our studies suggest that foreclosure is a good thing," said Higgins. "It is very unfortunate, but to delay the foreclosure process doesn't help anybody. It doesn't help the homeowner who is in debt and can't get out of debt. It's not helping the economy because we can't find the bottom of the housing market. And it's not helping neighborhoods because you have neglected houses."

      While housing has officially entered a double-dip recession, in which sales and prices fell, rose, then fell again, Higgins says that's a bit misleading. Higgins said it is not so much a double dip in the market, but rather the market never hit bottom.

      Not exactly a double dip

      "The reason it appears to be a double dip is because foreclosures stopped due to the uproar over robo-signing practices," Higgins said. "So, what we were seeing for home prices at that time wasn't really a true price. Once a true regulatory settlement was reached with mortgage servicers, the foreclosure process began again, the inventory of houses increased and prices dropped."

      Completing foreclosures and clearing bad mortgages is the best way to help the market improve, Higgins said. It takes an average of 17 months for a foreclosure to happen, and during that time, the home can be sitting, becoming run down and declining in value.

      Over the weekend the New York Times reported that so many homes with bad loans clog the pipeline, that it would take years for foreclose and dispose of them all. For example, in New York State, lenders will need 62 years to repossess the 213,000 homes that are now in severe default or foreclosure, longer than any other state. New Jersey's backlog is 49 years while Florida, Massachusetts and Illinois are at least a decade behind, the paper quoted LPS Applied Analytics as estimating.

      Banks have slowed down the foreclosure process, but one expert says that's not really helping...
      Read lessRead more

      Study: Portable Pools Pose Drowning Risk

      Most accidents occur at child's home

      Portable backyard swimming pools, the kind that are readily available at discount stores, pose a very real drowning risk for young children, according to a report published in the journal Pediatrics.

      The study looked at the number of incidents involving children under 12 in portable pools. Using Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Data from 2001 through 2009, the researchers found that 209 children drowned in the pools, some of which are only about 12 inches deep.

      In 94 percent of the accidents, the victims were five years old or younger.

      “The use of portable pools in residential settings poses a significant risk of submersion-related morbidity and mortality to children, especially in the under 5-year-old age group,” the authors write.

      Noting the accidents mostly took place at the child's home and often occurred in very shallow water, the study concludes that no single strategy will prevent all submersion deaths and injuries. It says there should be layers of protection.

      Advice for industry

      “Industry is advised to engage in development of protective devices that are effective and affordable for portable pools, including isolation fencing, pool alarms, and safety covers,” the report said. “A strong and pervasive consumer education campaign is needed to make consumers aware of the dangers of portable pools, because these small, inexpensive, consumer-installed pools may not generate the same sense of risk as an in-ground pool.”

      The report is timely, since most drowning deaths and injuries occur during the summer months. Also, the authors note that the number of families using these portable, often inflatable pools, has grown in recent years.

      The study notes that modern, in-ground pools come with a number of safety features, including pool covers, alarms, ladders and fencing. Portable pools, on the other hand, don't come with these features. Homeowners who purchase a portable pool, for example, are not likely to erect a fence around it, since the fence would be much more expensive than the pool itself.

      For very young children, the authors said a portable pool may not be a good idea. Before purchasing one, they said parents should commit to strict supervision during their use. For very young children, they say a lawn sprinkler is a much more effective – and safer – way to keep toddlers cool during the summer.

      A study in the journal Pediatrics warns that portable backyard pools are a growing danger to children...
      Read lessRead more

      What's On Your Mind? Enterprise, Hydroxatone, Comfort Inn

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Most car rental agencies will allow you to drop off the vehicle after hours, which helps if you're on a tight schedule. But it can be risky, as Mark, of Hammond, Ind., discovered with Enterprise, which he uses on a regular basis.

      “Lately, I've been dropping the car off and using the lock box on Friday because they are not open late enough to accommodate my work schedule,” Mark said. “The next day I get a call that there is damage to the car. Someone either opened a car door against it or keyed it aggressively enough to crease the metal. As I was looking at the paperwork they wanted me to sign I noticed it said the car was dropped off damaged. Nothing happened when I was driving the car and I did not notice the damage while I had it or when I dropped it off.”

      Mark says he knows the damage occurred after he dropped off the car.

      “The benefit of dropping off the rental car after hours is a trap,” Mark said. “All it does is create a situation where the car is not in a secure lot, and you have no control over it whatsoever. However, Enterprise will still hold you responsible for it until they check it in during the next morning. From 7pm to 7:30am is a lot of time for something to happen.”

      Mark's advice – and we agree – it's best to not use the night box to check in a rental car.

      Even death doesn't end the contract

      A woman in Columbus, Ohio ordered some product from Hydroxatone last year. No one disputes that. But the woman died shortly afterward. For a while, the automated monthly payments were made from the woman's checking account, but once the estate was settled and the account was closed, her husband John began getting the bills.

      “Their explanation is that the order was placed on a telephone that is in my name and therefore I am responsible,” John told ConsumerAffairs.com.” I never ordered this product and they had no right to send the product or bill to me.”

      John is correct. And interestingly, when John said they could life a claim against his late wife's estate, he said the company said it had no intention of doing that. They've probably been down that alley before.

      Floating rate

      Dwayne, of Homosassa, Fla., reports an experience at a Comfort Inn in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, that's a new one on us. He says he booked a two-night stay online of $95.61 and paid with his Visa debit card when he checked in. Online rates are often less that what you'd pay for a walk-in without a reservation.

      “When I checked my bank account a few days later they had also charged me an additional $140.63 a total of $236.24 for two nights,” Dwayne said. “When I contacted the motel they gave me the runaround and finally told me the motel was full on Thursday June 9, 2011 so they had to charge me extra because they had to turn people away.”

      So, let's get this straight. The motel agreed on a rate and accepted payment from Dwayne, only to go back later and unilaterally raise the rate a few days later, after Dwayne had already completed his stay. And this is legal?  Not likely.

      Modification mirage

      As many struggling homeowners have discovered, it isn't easy to get a mortgage modification, even through a legitimate process. But homeowners should be extremely wary of companies offering aid in exchange for an upfront fee.

      “During October 2010, I was contacted by and individual who indicated he was from Federal Modification Group,” LaToya, of Anapolis, Md., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I was told that I could modify my current loan. I began the procedure of modifying my loan by “processing paperwork” and paying a fee of $1250.00. Approximately, one month later, I had received nothing from the company.”

      In fact, despite her repeated calls, LaToya says she has received nothing from Federal Modification Group and her demand for a refund was rejected. Last November, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adopted new rules banning companies offer mortgage modification assistance from collecting an advance fee before any assistance had been provided.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Enterprise, Hydroxatone, Comfort Inn, Even death doesn't end the contract and Modification mirage....
      Read lessRead more

      Using More Olive Oil May Cut Stroke Risk

      But people who use olive oil may just eat healthier food

      If you cook with more olive oil and less vegetable oil, you may be less likely to suffer a stroke. That's the conclusion of new researched published this week in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. 

      “Our research suggests that a new set of dietary recommendations should be issued to prevent stroke in people 65 and older,” said study author Cécilia Samieri, PhD, with the University of Bordeaux and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Bordeaux, France. “Stroke is so common in older people and olive oil would be an inexpensive and easy way to help prevent it. 

      For the study, researchers looked at the medical records of 7,625 people ages 65 and older from three cities in France. They categorized them by the amount of olive oil they used. After a little over five years, there were 148 strokes.

      More olive oil, less stroke

      Drilling down through the numbers, and accounting for diet, physical activity, body mass index and other risk factors for stroke, the study found that the more you consumed olive oil, the less likely you were to suffer a stroke. Those who regularly used olive oil for both cooking and as dressing had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those who never used olive oil in their diet.

      Why would olive oil be healthier than other non-animal oils? In fact, it might not be. It could be that people who use a lot of olive oil just tend to eat healthier foods in the first place.

      In an accompanying editorial, Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, of Columbia University, say the linkage could be indirect. Olive oil makes other healthy food taste better, so those who use olive oil tend to eat healthier foods.

      Potential health benefits

      On the other hand, there may be something about olive oil that makes it intrinsically healthy. Donald Hensrud, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, says the main type of fat found in all kinds of olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids, which are actually considered a healthy dietary fat. If your diet emphasizes unsaturated fats, such as MUFAs and polyunsaturated fats, instead of saturated fats and trans fats, you may gain certain health benefits, he says.

      But like other fats, olive oil is high in calories, so should be used in moderation. Also, Hensrud says consumers should be aware that heat, light and air can affect the taste of olive oil and possibly its health-promoting nutrients. Store olive oil in a dark, room-temperature cupboard, or even in the refrigerator.

      A French study suggests consuming more olive oil cuts the risk of stroke...
      Read lessRead more

      Levaquin Lawsuits: Inadequate Warning of Tendon Damage

      The risk of injury triples in older consumers, lawsuits charge

      Fourteen more lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturers of Levaquin, a popular antibiotic that has been linked to severe tendon problems, especially in older users.

      The latest suits were filed in St. Clair County, Ill., Circuit Court on behalf of consumers who said they did not know at the time they took Levaquin that itcauses a higher incidence of tendon injuries, including tendon rupture, in people who are older than 60 or who are on corticosteroid therapy.

      The consumer group Public Citizen has for years been seeking more federal action to warn the public about the problems associated with the drug, which is normally prescribed for upper respiratory infection, urinary tract infections, prostatitis and other bacterial infections.

      In August 2006, Public Citizenfiled a petitionwith the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking that it require a “black box” warning on Levaquin, Cipro and otherfluoroquinolone antibiotics.

      Black box

      "The numbers are startling. Tendon ruptures associated with these drugs continue to occur at a disturbing rate but could be prevented if doctors and patients were more aware of early warning signals, such as the onset of tendon pain, and switched to other antibiotics," Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, said then. "The FDA must act and require black box warnings and patient information guides."

      A black box warning was issued in July 2008, but the lawsuits charge that the revised Levaquin label still fails to warn about its higher risk of tendon toxicity compared to other similar antibiotics.

      Fluoroquinolones were introduced into the U.S. in 1997 and warnings about tendon side effects were required on all labels, but were buried in a long list of potential adverse reactions, the lawsuits claim.

      Injury rate tripled

      In addition, the warnings did not advise that tendon injury was tripled with fluoroquinolone use in people older than 60 and in those who are on corticosteroid therapy, according to the complaints.

      In fact, Levaquin manufacturers marketed the drug toward the elderly, especially those with upper respiratory infections who were likely to be chronic corticosteroid users, the suits allege.

      After worldwide studies revealed the tendon risks to Levaquin users, the defendants updated their label for the antibiotic but the plaintiffs said the new warning only included information about the risks to people who were on corticosteroid therapy and contained no warnings about risks to the elderly, according to the complaints.

      "Accordingly, despite the 2002 label change, Levaquin prescriptions only increased and tendon injuries mounted," the suits state.

      Levaquin was responsible for 1,044 reports of tendon injuries and 282 reports of tendon ruptures from 1997 through 2005, according to the complaints. Injuries continued to soar as Levaquin's popularity increased, the suits state.

      Companies named in the suits are Johnson and Johnson, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical and Johnson and Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development.



      Levaquin Lawsuits Charge Manufacturer Didn't Adequately Warn of Tendon Damage. The risk of injury triples in older consumers, lawsuits charge...
      Read lessRead more

      U.S. Fidelis Founders Facing Hard Time

      Missouri brings criminal charges against bankrupt brothers

      Two Missouri brothers who founded the U.S. Fidelis auto warranty business are facing hard time after being indicted on charges of consumer fraud, stealing and illegally selling insurance.

      Darain Atkinson, 46, and Cory Atkinson, 41, appeared before St. Charles County, Mo., Judge Lucy Rauch Wednesday. They were each released from jail on $250,000 bond.

      A 14-count indictment accuses the Atkinsons of keeping refunds that were owed to customers who canceled their coverage, charged customers more than their contracts allowed, lied in their sales pitches, falsely suggested that U.S. Fidelis was affiliated with auto manufacturers and dealers, and sold insurance without a license.

      The criminal prosecution of the Atkinson brothers follows numerous civil actions, including a lawsuit brought by 11 states that was settled last November. That suit was settled with an agreement that the brothers will never again sell motor vehicle service contracts in the 11 states and required them to turn over millions in assets to the bankruptcy court.

      "It is extremely disappointing when those who obviously have a good head for business choose to use their skills to break the law," said Richard Cordray, who was then Ohio's attorney general. "In this case, these two individuals built a multimillion dollar business selling 'extended warranties' that were actually service contracts.Service contracts do not meet the same standards of a warranty and as a result, consumers spent millions of dollars on a product that did not do what they were led to believe it would."

      Criminal charges

      Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster's office is handling the criminal prosecution, which is unusual because local prosecutors usually handle violations of state law. But state law allows the attorney general's office to enforce the state's primary consumer protection law, the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, through civil suits or criminal prosecution, Courthouse News reported.

      Prosecutors say life was sweet for the Atkinsons until their business imploded in 2009 under the weight of consumer complaints, lawsuits and actions by state officials. Their company at one time led the nation in the sale of auto service contracts.

      The Atkinsons lived an exorbitant lifestyle complete with mansions, fleets of exotic cars and more than 1,100 employees but their property was auctioned or put up for sale as part of the bankruptcy proceedings. The brothers' wives were allowed to keep $500,000 plus $75,000 in jewelry, but can not turn those assets over to their husbands.

      High stakes

      The stakes are high for both brothers in the criminal action. Due to a 1986 conviction for theft, burglary and forgery and a 1987 conviction for manufacturing counterfeit Federal Reserve notes, Darain Atkinson could be considered a persistent felony offender and could face life in prison if convicted.

      Cory Atkinson, who has a 1987 felony conviction for trespassing, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

      U.S. Fidelis Founders Facing Hard Time. Missouri brings criminal charges against bankrupt brothers...
      Read lessRead more

      Don't Fall For Cell Phone Radiation Scams

      Best solution is to talk less, use the speakerphone feature

      Amid concerns about possible health risks associated with cell phones, the Federal Trade Commission advises consumers to avoid products that supposedly “shield” users from cell phone emissions.

      According to the FTC, there is no scientific proof that so-called shields significantly reduce exposure from cell phone emissions.

      In fact, products that block only part of the phone, such as the earpiece, are totally ineffective because the entire phone emits electromagnetic waves. By interfering with the phone’s signal, phony shields may cause it to draw even more power and possibly emit more radiation.

      Health studies about any relationship between the emissions from cell phones and health problems are ongoing. But for those consumers who want to limit their exposure to cell phone emissions, the FTC offers these tips:

      • Use an earpiece or the speakerphone feature.

      • Consider texting more, and keep calls brief.

      • Wait for a good signal. When you have a weak signal, your phone works harder and emits more radiation. Phones emit more radiation when transmitting than when receiving, so tilt the phone away from your head when you’re talking.

      • Before you buy a phone, research its specific absorption rate (SAR), which tells how much radiation the body absorbs while using the phone. Different phones emit different amounts of radiation. In the U.S., a phone’s SAR cannot exceed 1.6 watts per kilogram. The Federal Communications Commission has SAR information for cell phones produced and marketed within the last two years. It’s accessible using the phone’s FCC ID number (usually found on the phone’s case) and the FCC’s ID search form.

      For more information on cell phone use and health issues, see the National Cancer Institute’s fact sheet, Cell Phones and Cancer Risk. To avoid scams, read the FTC’s consumer alert, Listen Up: Tips to Help Avoid Cell Phone Radiation Scams

      Don't Fall For Cell Phone Radiation ScamsBest solution is to talk less, use the speakerphone feature...
      Read lessRead more

      Scam Artists Discover the MoneyPak

      Consumers being swindled when they give out their MoneyPak number

      Scam artists have discovered the Green Dot MoneyPak.

      MoneyPaks, sold in stores throughout the U.S., are reloadable debit cards normally used to make same-day payments or add money to prepaid cards or PayPal accounts.

      But in recent weeks, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) says it has noticed a significant increase in schemes where scammers either tried to solicit – or were able to collect – payments via MoneyPak for merchandise, advance fee loans or sweepstakes prizes that all proved to be fraudulent or nonexistent.

      [M]ore and more scammers are moving away from seeking payments via wire transfer and instead asking consumers to give them money via MoneyPaks,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB. “We feel this is likely due to the fact this form of payment is quite convenient – for both consumers and scammers – and untraceable.

      The BBB and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS(, which has also reported seeing the increase, say any website requesting payment via a MoneyPak is likely a scam. They also say people should be very cautious when using MoneyPaks to pay companies or individuals they don’t know, and want people to understand that once they load a MoneyPak with funds, anyone they share the number of that card with will also have access to those funds.

      Bill White, a DPS agent, says fraudsters will convince consumers to put money into their MoneyPak card, get them to share its serial number, and then the scammers empty the card of funds, leaving consumers empty-handed.

      These scammers are smart and are extremely effective at gaining trust of their victims and convincing them they’ve won a prize,” says White. “The base rule to avoid being scammed is to understand that legitimate lotteries do not require you to pay fees upon winning. In this specific case, never give a MoneyPak serial number to anyone you don’t know.”

      In the last two weeks alone, the BBB and DPS have received reports from consumers who:

      • Were asked to pay advance fees on bogus loans with MoneyPaks.

      • Were told they had won cash prizes of hundreds of thousands of dollars, but would first have to provide payment via MoneyPaks to claim their winnings.

      • Purchased heavily discounted home exercise equipment they found advertised on a fraudulent website, but after paying hundreds of dollars for it with a MoneyPak discovered the merchandise was nonexistent.

      To avoid falling for MoneyPak scams, consumers should:

      • Be wary of websites or Craigslist advertisements linking to websites where customers are asked to pay with a MoneyPak card.

      • Never give their MoneyPak number to someone they don't know.

      • Keep in mind advance fee loan offers are not legitimate and are targeted at customers and companies who are struggling with debt and poor credit, often making bad situations worse.

      • Remember that if you’re told you have pay to a fee – via MoneyPak or wire transfer - to collect a cash prize or sweepstakes winnings, you haven’t won anything.

      • Avoid offers that do not accept credit card payments and ask you to purchase a MoneyPak and then provide the MoneyPak number in an email or over the phone.

      • Beware of websites requesting MoneyPak as a form of payment even if they display the MoneyPak or Green Dot logo. Consumers should check www.moneypak.com for a list of approved MoneyPak partners.

      • Treat their MoneyPak cards like cash. Remember that transactions cannot be reversed.

      On their website, Green Dot says MoneyPaks should only be used to reload prepaid cards or accounts you control. They also advise people who are using MoneyPak with PayPal for eBay or other online merchants to transfer money to their PayPal account before paying the merchant; people should not email the MoneyPak Number directly to the merchant. Green Dot also states they are not responsible for the quality or non-receipt of any goods or services.

      Scam Artists Discover the MoneyPak. Consumers being swindled when they give out their MoneyPak number...
      Read lessRead more

      FDA Warns of Heart Attack Risk for Chantix Users

      Smoking-cessation drug is effective but carries some risk

      Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you. Among other things, it can contribute to heart disease. And now it turns out that the smoking-cessation drug Chantix may cause problems for consumers who have cardiovascular disease.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it has determined that Chantix (varenicline) may be associated with a small, increased risk of heart attacks and other "cardiovascular adverse events" in patients who have cardiovascular disease.

      New warnings will be added to the drug's labeling and medication guides.

      The FDA said it reviewed a randomized clinical trial of 700 smokers with cardiovascular disease who were treated with Chantix or placebo.

      The good news is that Chantix was effective in helping patients quit smoking and remain abstinent from smoking for as long as one year.

      But while cardiovascular adverse events were infrequent overall, certain events, including heart attack, were reported more frequently in patients treated with Chantix than in patients treated with placebo.

      Benefits vs. risk

      Healthcare professionals should be aware that smoking is an independent and major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and smoking cessation is of particular importance in this patient population. The known benefits of Chantix should be weighed against its potential risks when deciding to use the drug in smokers with cardiovascular disease.

      Patients taking Chantix should contact their healthcare professional if they experience new or worsening symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

      Additional information

      The FDA offers these tips to patients:

      • Smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and Chantix can help you quit smoking.

      • If you have cardiovascular disease, taking Chantix may increase your risk of certain cardiovascular adverse events.

      • Contact your healthcare professional if you experience new or worsening symptoms of cardiovascular disease while taking Chantix, for example:

        • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing

        • New or worsening chest pain

        • New or worse pain in legs when walking

      • Read the Medication Guide you get along with your Chantix prescription. It explains the risks associated with the use of Chantix.

      • Talk to your healthcare professional if you have questions or concerns about Chantix.

      • Report side effects from the use of Chantix to the FDA MedWatch program.

      FDA Warns of Heart Attack Risk for Chantix Users. Smoking-cessation drug is effective but carries some risk...
      Read lessRead more

      Coming Soon: TV You Can Smell

      Researchers say they added smell to the senses media can stimulate

      Forget 3-D TV. If you really want to impress your friends, hold out for Smell TV, which could be coming soon to living rooms as set designers continue to press the envelope of sensory stimulation.

      Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, conducted in collaboration with Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Korea, have published a paper they say demonstrates that it is possible to generate odor, at will, in a compact device small enough to fit on the back of your TV with potentially thousands of odors.

      The objective would be to match smells with images on the screen, to give the viewer a more complete sensory experience.

      “For example, if people are eating pizza, the viewer smells pizza coming from a TV or cell phone,” said Sungho Jin, professor in the departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and NanoEngineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “And if a beautiful lady walks by, they smell perfume. Instantaneously generated fragrances or odors would match the scene shown on a TV or cell phone, and that’s the idea.”

      Wake up and smell the coffee

      Advertisers could also jump of the bandwagon as well. Think about a commercial for coffee, with an actor inhaling the aroma of a freshly brewed cup. At the same instant, the viewer would also get a whiff of coffee smell.

      Whether advertisers – or even viewers – would respond favorably to Smell TV is the subject for another study. Jin and his team say they've only shown that it is technically feasible. The scent comes from an aqueous solution such as ammonia, which forms an odorous gas when heated through a thin metal wire by an electrical current. The solution is kept in a compartment made of non-toxic, non-flammable silicone elastomer. As the heat and odor pressure build, a tiny compressed hole in the elastomer is opened, releasing the odor.

      “It is quite doable,” said Jin.

      Next steps

      Next steps in the research would include developing a prototype and demonstrating that it is reliable enough to release odors on cue and scalable to the size needed for consumer electronics like TVs and cell phones. And there are a few other considerations.

      For example, perfume companies could let you sample new scents through TV, but your TV’s odor-generating device would have to carry that particular perfume meaning the device probably needs to be upgradable like software for your home computer. And TV producers will probably want scents that are tailored to match the personalities of their characters.

      “That’s a logistics problem,” said Jin. “But in specific applications one can always think of a way.”

      Researchers says they have proven it is possible to coordinate smells with TV programs...
      Read lessRead more

      2011 Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep Models Recalled

      Rivet may be missing from steering column

      Chrysler is recalling about 11,000 vehicles from the 2011 model year to fix a problem with the steering column. Affected models are:

      Vehicle Make / Model:

      Model Year(s):

      CHRYSLER / 200

      2011

      CHRYSLER / 200 CONVERTIBLE

      2011

      CHRYSLER / TOWN AND COUNTRY

      2011

      DODGE / AVENGER

      2011

      DODGE / CALIBER

      2011

      DODGE / GRAND CARAVAN

      2011

      DODGE / JOURNEY

      2011

      DODGE / NITRO

      2011

      JEEP / COMPASS

      2011

      JEEP / LIBERTY

      2011

      JEEP / PATRIOT

      2011

      JEEP / WRANGLER

      2011

      The company said an incorrectly installed rivet could compromise the steering column's ability to support occupant loads in the event of a crash, decreasing the effectiveness of the frontal impact safety system.

      Dealers will inspect the rivet and make any necessary repairs free of charge. Owners may contact Chrysler at 1-800-853-1403.

      2011 Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep Models Recalled. Rivet may be missing from steering column...
      Read lessRead more

      What's On Your Mind? Cub Cadet, Barnes & Noble, State Farm

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Kris, of Walton, Ore., says she considered her 2008 purchase of a Cub Cadet tractor mower as an investment. She says it's turned out to be a bad one.

      “In 2008, after 23 hours of mowing, it was into the shop for five weeks at the most critical mowing time,” Kris said. “The muffler came loose and melted the lift-up hood. The PTO blades would not engage and the repair cost ws more than $300.”

      And that was just the first year. After another 20 hours of mowing in 2009, she said there was another $300 in repairs. Last year, more repairs, including a cracked engine block that Cub Cadet agreed to replace, even though the machine was out of warranty.

      “I will never have the money to purchase a replacement mower,” Kris said. “Guess I'll get a goat.”

      When a gift card isn't enough

      Michelle, of New York City, went shopping for her 12 year old grandson's birthday and settled on a Nook e-reader from Barnes And Noble. She asked the clerk how she could put money on the reader for her grandson to pay for downloads.

      “I was told just buy a Nook gift card and he could do it himself,” Michelle told ConsumerAffairs.com.

      But it didn't work out that way. Michelle got a call from her grandson, who said he couldn't use the gift card without also having a credit card.

      “They advertise this as a great gift for children, but they don't tell you that you have to turn over your credit card to a kid,” Michelle said.

      Privileged information

      Stephanie, of Lockport, N.Y., wants to know how State Farm Insurance arrives at her premium amount. She's had coverage for decades and recently noticed a change in her Customer Rating Index.

      “I called my local agent for an explanation and she hemmed an hawed before telling me I would have to call the headquarters for an explanation,” Stephanie said. “I called the main office of my policy, Ballston Spa, NY, and spoke with several representatives and supervisors. I was flatly told they will not tell me the formula used to calculate my insurance premium, that it is private.”

      Stephanie's point is this: when her premium goes up, how does she know whether it's a rate hike or is based in information about her – information that may not be correct. She would simply like some transparency. It doesn't seem all that unreasonable.

      An iphone with legs?

      This economy has a way of putting priorities in perspective. Lynae, of La Jara, Colo., had two iPhones but was having trouble feeding her children, so she returned the phones to AT&T for a refund.

      “I tracked the two phones to the warehouse,” Lynae told ConsumerAffairs.com. I received one refund but not the other. I faxed them information showing them that the warehouse received both iPhones but they say they never received it. They will not refund me my money that I paid for the iPhone.”

      It's not clear how the AT&T warehouse could say they did not receive the second iPhone if Lynae has documentation of delivery. But if both phones were shipped in the same box, the delivery confirmation might only note that a box was received, not what it contained. It sounds like the second iPhone could have grown legs and wandered home with someone.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Cub Cadet, Barnes & Noble, State Farm, When a gift card isn't enough and Privileged information....
      Read lessRead more