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USDA Warns Ground Turkey May Be Contaminated with Salmonella

77 illnesses reported in 26 states; source has not yet been identified

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing a public health alert due to concerns about illnesses caused by&n...

PhotoThe U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing a public health alert due to concerns about illnesses caused by Salmonella Heidelberg that may be associated with use and consumption of ground turkey.

The alert was initiated after medical reports, ongoing investigations and testing conducted by various departments of health across the nation determined there is an association between consumption of ground turkey products and an estimated 77 illnesses reported in 26 states.

CDC is partnering with state health departments to monitor the outbreak while FSIS focuses its investigation on potential identification of a contamination source.

FSIS reminds consumers of the critical importance of following package cooking instructions for frozen or fresh ground turkey products and general food safety guidelines when handling and preparing any raw meat or poultry.

In particular, while cooking instructions may give a specific number of minutes of cooking for each side of the patty in order to attain 165-degree internal temperature, consumers should be aware that actual time may vary depending on the cooking method (broiling, frying, or grilling) and the temperature of the product (chilled versus frozen) so it is important that the final temperature of 165F must be reached for safety.

Consumers should not rely on the cooking time for each side of the patty, but should instead use a food thermometer.

Ground turkey and ground turkey dishes should always be cooked to 165F internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer; leftovers also should be reheated to 165F. The color of cooked poultry is not always a sure sign of its safety. Only by using a food thermometer can one accurately determine that poultry has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165F throughout the product.

Turkey can remain pink even after cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165F. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink.

Consumption of food contaminated with Salmonella can cause salmonellosis, one of the most common bacterial foodborne illnesses. Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, especially to those with weak immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy.

The most common symptoms of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within eight to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.

 

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Pharmacists Say CVS Fired Them, Protected Drug-Impaired Employee

Drug-addled pharmacy employee made mistakes, used drugs openly, suit alleges

Two pharmacists say CVS Pharmacy fired and defamed them to retaliate for their truthful complaints about a drug-addled employee who repeatedly screwed up p...

PhotoTwo pharmacists say CVS Pharmacy fired and defamed them to retaliate for their truthful complaints about a drug-addled employee who repeatedly screwed up prescriptions, took narcotic drugs at work and offered them to others.

In their typo-riddled suit, filed in Fulton County (Ga.) Court in Atlanta, pharmacists Keith C. Kempton and John D. Olsen say they worked at the same Atlanta CVS pharmacy as Matthew Grant, who was hired in 2007 as a pharmacy technician working under their supervision.

Kempton and Olsen say that during 2008, Grant often came to work “in an impaired condition,” that he made frequent mistakes in filling prescriptions and left the office four to five times a day to go take drugs in his car.

They allege that Grant offered Oxycontin, Percocet and other controlled substances to his co-workers and was seen taking pills that he kept in his wallet.

Violated customers' privacy

The two also charge that Grant kept his own records of customers' prescriptions and gave the information to drug company sales representatives in return for dinners and “other favors.”

They said Grant frequently fell off chairs, ran into stationary objects and complained to customers and co-workers that he was only working because his disability insurance had run out.

Kempton and Olsen said they complained repeatedly to CVS management and noted that Grant's actions violated state law as well as company policy and was a threat to the health and safety of his co-workers and customers.

Grant went on medical leave in November 2008 but returned in July 2009 in even worse condition than before, continued to make mistakes in filling prescriptions and accused Kempton and Olsen of sexually harassing him, the suit alleges.

After a long series of emails, meetings and memos, CVS management accused Kempton and Olsen of violating Grant's privacy rights and, on Nov. 6, 2009, fired Kempton, Olsen and five other pharmacy employees but allegedly took no action against Grant.

The suit charges CVS and Grant with defamation and what the suit calls “liable” (sic), violation of the Whistle Blower Act, negligence, assault and false imprisonment.

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FDA Warns Birth Control Medicine Evital May Be Unsafe

Emergency “morning after” pill is unapproved and may not work

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning U.S. consumers not to use the emergency birth control medicine labeled as Evital. These products may...

PhotoThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning U.S. consumers not to use the emergency birth control medicine labeled as Evital. These products may be counterfeit versions of the “morning after pill” and may not be safe or effective in preventing pregnancy.

Evital has not been approved by the FDA for use in the United States. Worse yet, the FDA said counterfeit versions of the drug are being distributed in some Hispanic communities in the U.S.

The packaging label of the potentially ineffective and suspect counterfeit version says, “Evital Anticonceptivo de emergencia, 1.5 mg, 1 tablet”, by “Fluter Domull.” Consumers should not take the Evital product if it looks like the photo on this page.

If you have taken Evital, contact your doctor for advice.

The FDA notes that there are approved emergency birth control medicines available with a prescription. Some are available over-the-counter for those 17 or older. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for advice.

 

 

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Researchers: Blueberries May Help Fight Cancer

Small fruit continues to gain respect

Blueberries are getting new respect for their health benefits, including, researchers now say, their potential to protect against cancer. Studies by the U...

PhotoBlueberries are getting new respect for their health benefits, including, researchers now say, their potential to protect against cancer.

Studies by the University of Alabama (UAB) Comprehensive Cancer Center have found that as little as a cup a day can help prevent cell damage linked to cancer.

Why are blueberries considered healthful? They're full of antioxidants, flavonoids and other vitamins that help prevent cell damage.

"Antioxidants protect cells by stabilizing free radicals and can prevent some of the damage they cause," said Laura Newton, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at UAB.

Free radicals, atoms that contain an odd number of electrons and are highly reactive, can cause cellular damage, one of the factors in the development of cancer; many believe a diet filled with fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk.

"Studies suggest that antioxidants may help prevent the free-radical damage associated with cancer," said Newton, a licensed dietician who often works with cancer patients.

Fresh is better

Blueberries also are rich in vitamin C, which helps the immune system and can help the body to absorb iron. Blueberry juice and other products may be nutritious but often contain less fiber than the whole fruit, and added sugar or corn syrup may decrease their nutritional value.

Consuming fresh, raw blueberries provides the most benefits; the average serving size of raw blueberries is one cup, which contains about 80 calories.

Blueberries have emerged as a favorite fruit among health researchers in recent years, who have touted a wide variety of its health benefits. Studies conducted in 2006 found blueberries promoted memory and alertness and prevented some infections.

A study earlier this year at Texas Woman's University found blueberries in the diet also help fight obesity, by slowing the formation of fat cells.

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JetBlue Launches Unlimited Travel Plans from Boston, Long Beach

Three-month passes aimed at frequent business travelers

Perhaps feeling blue about reduced business travel during the summer months, JetBlue is introducing a three-month unlimited travel plan for passengers flyi...

PhotoPerhaps feeling blue about reduced business travel during the summer months, JetBlue is introducing a three-month unlimited travel plan for passengers flying out of Boston Logan and Long Beach, Calif., airports.

Beginning today and lasting through August 31, travelers can buy one of three BluePass plans that will be good for travel between Aug. 22 and Nov. 22, 2011.

The packages – Boston All, Boston Select and Long Beach Select – offer various “flavors” priced from $1,299 to $1,999 and intended to appeal to frequent business travelers.

"JetBlue is pleased to offer this valuable, flexible and convenient unlimited pass to meet the high-frequency travel needs of a variety of customers, no matter what their business plans entail," said Dennis Corrigan, vice president of sales and revenue management for JetBlue. "We are the largest carrier in both Boston and Long Beach, and we have built a solid network of key destinations and high frequencies in these markets.”

All travel bookings must be made online by visiting www.jetblue.com/bluepass. BluePass flights will be available for booking starting Aug. 15, 2011. BluePass options include the:

  • Long Beach Select ($1299) for travel between LGB and nine intra-West markets, including:Austin, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Oakland, Sacramento or San Francisco, Calif.;Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Seattle, Wash.

  • Boston Select ($1499) to 13 select Northeast markets served by JetBlue from Logan, including: Baltimore, Md.; Bermuda; Buffalo, N.Y.; Chicago, Ill.; Jacksonville, Fla.; New York/John F. Kennedy; Newark, N.J.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Charlotte or Raleigh/Durham, N.C.; Richmond, Va.;Washington, D.C. (Dulles or Ronald Reagan National).

  • Boston All ($1999) for travel to/from BOS to 32 cities served nonstop on JetBlue, as well as 22 additional destinations via connecting service at New York's John F. Kennedy, Orlando International or Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International airports.

Customers must be a registered TrueBlue member to take advantage of the pass. Each BluePass purchased is also eligible for TrueBlue points from the airline's customer loyalty program, including 12,000 points for the Boston All; 9,000 points for the Boston Select; and 8,500 points for the Long Beach Select.

All BluePass holders will have access to every available seat on every flight with no blackout dates, and can book travel up to 90 minutes prior to departure. Changes or cancellations to previous BluePass reservations can be made without penalty, and business customers can enjoy complimentary confirmed same-day changes on the day of booked departures.

The airline has also introduced a relaxed no-show policy for the BluePass, initiating a $100 charge only when the customer no-shows for a scheduled flight twice in a seven-day period.

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'Free Trial' of Hydroxatone Gets Expensive, Suit Charges

Customers agree to pay $7.95, are then gouged for hundred dollars more, suit alleges

Atlantic Coast Media Group and Hydroxatone advertise a free trial for beauty products, then use information they get for the $7.95 "shipping and handling" ...

PhotoAtlantic Coast Media Group and Hydroxatone advertise a free trial for beauty products, then use information they get for the $7.95 "shipping and handling" charge to bill consumers $209 for a 3-month supply, a class action claims in U.S. District Court in Newark. 

It's a claim echoed by Shari, of Tracy, Calif., and many other consumers who have complained to ConsumerAffairs.com in recent months.

"Signed up for free trial and was only to pay shipping charges. Was sent 2 jars in first shipment and 2 jars again without request. My credit card has been charged 4 times $69.95 without my permission and they would not take the product back. I have had to close my credit card account," Shari said.

The expensive anti-wrinkle cream was the subject of a November 2010 story highlighting the practice of building Web sites that feature what appear to be -- but often are not -- positive product reviews from real consumers.

In the suit, Lisa Margolis, of Richmond Heights, Ohio, says that she heard the defendants' radio advertisement for moisturizing cream, stating that she could get a free sample and needed to pay only $7.95 for shipping and handling.

She called the number quoted in the ad and gave her credit card number to the customer service representative. She said she declined suggestions that she ordered other products, saying she wanted only the free sample of the moisturizing cream.

Multiple packages

But instead of receiving just a single package of the cream, Margolis received multiple packages. She was billed $7.95 for shipping and handling but was also charged $209.85 for the “Hydrolyze Premium Beauty Program.”

The invoice further states that Margolis would receive a new shipment every 90 days and would be billed $69.94 for each shipment.

Margolis said she contacted the companies on January 12, 2011 and tried to obtain a refund but was refused. The companies then cfurther charged Margolis' credit card, biling her $33.94 on Feb. 7, $60.94 on Feb. 9 and $69.94 on March 11.

The suit charges that the companies have done the same to thousands of other customers and seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as legal fees.

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Fructose Linked To Heart Risks

Too much of the sweetener in the diet harmful, researchers say

Another study suggests too much fructose in the diet is bad for the heart...

PhotoThe American Heart Association recommends that people consume only five percent of calories as added sugar.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 suggest an upper limit of 25 percent or less of daily calories consumed as added sugar.

What happens if you consume more? A new study by California researchers found that adults who consumed high fructose corn syrup for two weeks as 25 percent of their daily calorie requirement had increased blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, which have been shown to be indicators of increased risk for heart disease.

In the study, researchers examined what happened when young overweight and normal weight adults consumed fructose, high fructose corn syrup or glucose at the 25 percent upper limit.

"While there is evidence that people who consume sugar are more likely to have heart disease or diabetes, it is controversial as to whether high sugar diets may actually promote these diseases, and dietary guidelines are conflicting," said the study's senior author, Kimber Stanhope, PhD, of the University of California, Davis. "Our findings demonstrate that several factors associated with an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease were increased in individuals consuming 25 percent of their calories as fructose or high fructose corn syrup, but consumption of glucose did not have this effect."

Common sweetener

Fructose is a sugar found in many plants. In recent years, it has become a favorite sweetener in the food industry because it tends to be cheaper than sugar.

There is controversy among some health advocates and the food industry over the safety of fructose, with health advocates saying the body reacts differently to it than sugar. The food industry disputes that, and Jennifer Nelson, a Registered Dietician at the Mayo Clinic, says the research is mixed.

“Some research studies have linked consumption of large amounts of any type of added sugar — not just high-fructose corn syrup — to such health problems as weight gain, dental cavities, poor nutrition, and increased triglyceride levels, which can boost your heart attack risk,” Nelson said. “But there is insufficient evidence to say that high-fructose corn syrup is less healthy than are other types of added sweeteners.”

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What's On Your Mind? Delta, Match.com, Toyota

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Delta, Match.com, Toyota, Make sure you're cancelled and Absent airbags?...

PhotoEver tempted to upgrade your airline seat? After hearing of one consumer's experience with Delta, we suggest you be very careful how you go about doing it.

“In January, 2011, I purchased two round-trip tickets from the USA to Europe,” Lori, of Edenton, N.C., told ConsumerAffairs.com. In June, three days before our flight, as I called to confirm our tickets and seat assignments, I learned of the 'new Economy Comfort' seats from the automated voice recording on the 1-800 phone number.”

Lori says she then called a Delta agent to upgrade her seats. The cost of the coach fare was $3,073. The cost of the Economy Comfort fare was $5,231, a difference of nearly $2,200 – or so Lori thought.

“To my horror, when I returned two weeks later, I find that I was charged full fare for the upgrade and would not receive reimbursement for the original coach seats purchased in January.”

That means Lori's trip to Europe didn't cost $3,073, as she originally planned, or the $5,231 she was willing to pay, but $8,305.

“It was never clearly explained that I would have to pay such an extreme increase to do this upgrade,” Lori said. “I was under the impression that I would be reimbursed for the $3,073.60 originally paid. I would have never agreed to that cost if I had a clear understanding of what the June agent was doing to our tickets.”

Normally, an upgrade implies that you will pay the difference between the standard level of service and a higher level. We're not sure what happened here but it's possible that Lori's ticket agent did not understand that it was an upgrade, but entered it as two additional ticket purchases. If so, Lori had paid for four tickets to Europe but only used two. Lori said she is fighting it, but she will need to get to someone very high up at Delta to correct a mistake of this magnitude. The lesson for the rest of us is to ask a lot of questions and make sure everyone is on the same page when you “upgrade” anything.

Make sure you're cancelled

Consumers repeatedly complain about services that auto-renew your subscription or membership and charge your credit card. Adam, of Baldwinsville, N.Y., has a different problem. He says he cancelled his Match.com membership, only to find out later he didn't.

“I called and spoke with a supervisor and she refused to refund my money,” Adam said. “I was told that I did not unsubscribe the correct way, but the website did inform me that my subscription would not be renewed. If it wasn't the correct way then it shouldn't even be an option.”

True, but almost all services give you a confirmation number when you order something or cancel something. Always a good idea to write it down.

Absent airbags?

When is an airbag supposed to deploy? Many drivers assume it's anytime they get into an accident.

“In June of 2010 I was rear ended on the highway,” Jaimie, of Asheville, N.C., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “My 2007 Toyota Yaris was totaled. No airbags deployed even though my car was smashed and windows had been shattered. I am driving a Toyota again and after reading all these complaints, I'm rather scared.”

Actually, Jaimie shouldn't be overly concerned. Despite popular belief, airbags are only supposed to deploy after contact with certain impact points.  They wouldn't normally deploy in a rear-end crash.

 

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Survey: Bank Customers Support Stronger Banking Regulation

Consumers favor making banks better disclose checking account terms

Nearly three-fourths of Americans with checking accounts support regulations that would require banks to better disclose the terms, conditions and fees ass...

Nearly three-fourths of Americans with checking accounts support regulations that would require banks to better disclose the terms, conditions and fees associated with their checking services, according to a new poll commissioned by the Pew Health Group.

The support cuts across all political affiliations, with solid majorities among Democrats, Republicans, independents and those who say they agree with the positions of the Tea Party. All of these groups favor stronger disclosure requirements, according to the survey by the bipartisan team of Hart Research Associates and McLaughlin & Associates, which conducted the poll for Pew. 

The data show that 81 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of independents and 62 percent of those aligned with the Tea Party have a positive view of Pew’s recommendations for banks to provide a summary of overdraft options and to issue a one-page summary of pertinent checking account information.

Photo

“Regardless of political affiliation, the majority of Americans with checking accounts view stronger oversight of this financial product as a positive move,” said Susan Weinstock, director of Pew’s Safe Checking in the Electronic Age Project. “As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau begins its directive to protect American consumers, we urge the bureau to make checking accounts, which nine out of 10 adult Americans currently have, safer and more transparent.”

Even respondents that say there is already “too much” or “about the right amount” of government oversight and regulation of banks support these new rules related to detailing account terms and overdrafts.

Among all survey participants:

  • Eighty-three percent say it would be a positive change to require banks to provide a summary of information about the overdraft options they offer, how the options work and a description of the fees;

  • Seventy-eight percent say it would be a positive change to require banks to provide a one-page summary of information about their checking accounts' terms, conditions and fees;

  • Seventy percent say it would be a positive change to require banks to process transactions in the order in which they occur as opposed to processing them from highest dollar amount to lowest dollar amount, which can lead to more overdraft fees; and

  • Sixty-nine percent say it would be a positive change to require banks to limit overdraft fees based on how much it costs the bank to provide the overdraft.

Even account holders who say they have a high level of trust in banks find these recommendations “favorable” with two-thirds or more saying each one would be a “positive change.”

“Americans want to know their checking accounts are safe and that the terms of their accounts are disclosed in an easy-to-understand format,” said Weinstock. “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau currently has the authority to better protect consumers by requiring banks to issue a one-page document, similar to the form currently used for credit cards, and to provide a summary of overdraft options. The bureau should implement these changes now.”

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Facebook Uses Ads to Alert Users to its Facial Recognition Program

Privacy organizations say the action doesn't go far enough; they want an opt-in process

In response to a letter from Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, Facebook has agreed to run ads that link users to their privacy settings and show ...

PhotoIn response to a letter from Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, Facebook has agreed to run ads that link users to their privacy settings and show them how to opt out of Facebook's facial recognition program.

But privacy organizations say that while the ads are new, Facebook has failed to implement an opt-in model for its facial recognition technology.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and several other organizations, have complained to the Federal Trade Commission concerning what they called Facebook's unfair and deceptive trade practices regarding biometric data collection.

EPIC urged the FTC to require Facebook to suspend the program pending a full investigation. EPIC also urged the Commission to require Facebook to establish stronger privacy safeguards and an opt-in regime for the facial recognition scheme.

Tag suggestions

Jepsen expressed concern last month that consumer privacy was being compromised by Facebook’s “Tag Suggestions” feature -- which uses facial recognition software to make phototagging easier for its users -- because users were not given adequate notice of the feature or the ability and instructions to disable it easily.

In response, the company has developed on-line Tag Suggest ads, which link users to their privacy settings and allow them to opt out if they choose. One round of ads ran earlier this month, resulting in more than 400 million Facebook impressions on U.S. Facebook users’ home pages, Jepsen said.

The second, which began this week, will cycle on those home pages for the next two weeks. The company anticipates that every Facebook user in the U.S. will see the new ad at least twice during this period.

“For any users who opt out, any facial recognition data collected will be deleted,” Jepsen said.

The company also assured Jepsen that it was not using the information for commercial or marketing purposes and that the biometric data was secured and could not be used by private individuals to gain access to other user information.

Reporting imposters

Facebook also added new language and links to one of its user contact forms and automatic email response to help direct users to the correct reporting mechanism when trying to report an imposter or fake profile.

Jepsen raised this issue in February after a Connecticut state representative complained about the difficulty she had trying to contact Facebook and get it to shut down an imposter profile of her that was fraudulently soliciting money. The changes made to the contact form, and automatic response should ensure that Facebook users who initially go down the wrong path to report an imposter account do not continue down that mistaken route.

Facebook’s response to similar complaints of impersonation was to create a “roadblock” system, which it began using recently. After an account is reported as fake, the company puts up a “roadblock,” which keeps the account from being used until it is verified as authentic, using telephone numbers or other information.

“Facebook has made significant changes that will provide better service and greater privacy protection to its users, not only in Connecticut, but across the country,” Jepsen said. “The company has been cooperative and diligent in its response."

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Reassuring Findings in Study of Cell Phone Use by Children

But analysis of underlying data reveals "quite troubling" trends

A Scandinavian study finds that children who used cell phones regularly were no more likely to have been diagnosed with a brain tumor than those who didn't...

PhotoA Scandinavian study finds that children who used cell phones regularly were no more likely to have been diagnosed with a brain tumor than those who didn't use them but some scientists say an analysis of the underlying data reveals that the findings are actually "quite troubling."

As usual, the latest study's findings aren't black or white. In a small subset of patients, for whom the cell phone company had actual data, there was a correlation between tumor risk and the amount of time they had owned a cell phone.

The study included 352 patients ages 7-to-19 in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. Only 5 percent of the children and teenagers in the study had used cell phones for longer than 5 years.

When results for all durations of cell phone use were pooled together, researchers did not see a statistically significant elevation of brain tumor risk. However, this broad aggregation of the results masks important signals in the underlying data, cautioned Environmental Working Group senior scientist Olga Naidenko, Ph.D..

Notably, the researchers defined as “regular users” “all subjects who had an average of at least one call per week for at least 6 months.” As nearly every cell phone user would affirm, one call a week is an extraordinarily low, and hardly typical, frequency of use.

The underlying data reveals troublesome and provocative trends. The study found an elevated risk of brain tumors among children who had used cell phones longer than 2.8 years. Even more worrisome, when the scientists analyzed much more reliable cell phone use data obtained from the cell phone companies themselves, they saw a “statistically significant trend of increasing risk with increasing time since first subscription…”

“Given that in studies of adult cell phone users a statistically significant increase in cancer risk was observed only in those that looked at exposure periods of longer than 10 years, EWG finds it very troublesome that some elevation of risks for children and teenagers was observed from as little as three years” in the latest research,  Naidenko said. “These results should be of great interest to parents who want to take a precautionary approach to their children’s cell phone use.”

Effects on children

Health officials have grown increasingly concerned about the possible long-term effects of cell phone usage by children, partly because children's developing brains may be more susceptible to harm by radio-frequency emissions and partly because children are likely to be exposed to the emissions for many more years than today's adults.

Despite the lack of a strong correlation between cell phones and brain cancer in young patients, the researchers said they can't "rule out the possibility that mobile phones confer a small increase in risk" and called for future prospective studies. The largest such study now underway is the COSMOS trial, which will follow European cell phone users for 20 years.

In an editorial accompanying the study, two scientists from the International Epidemiology Institute, a unit of the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Rockville, Md., called the results “largely consistent and reassuring.”

The World Health Organization has declared that cell phone emissions may be carcinogenic.

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Judge Shuts Down 'Yellow Pages' Scam

European operation targeted small businesses, nonprofits in North America

A federal judge has temporarily shut down an alleged Yellow Pages scam that targeted small businesses and nonprofits, including churches, bilking them out ...

PhotoA federal judge has temporarily shut down an alleged Yellow Pages scam that targeted small businesses and nonprofits, including churches, bilking them out of millions of dollars.

The European-based scheme allegedly deceived victims into ordering and then paying for unwanted listings in online business directories.

In addition to stopping the allegedly deceptive practices, the court also froze the defendants’ assets. The FTC seeks to permanently stop the illegal practices and to require that the defendants provide refunds to their victims.

According to documents filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the defendants operate their scheme from Palma de Mallorca, Spain, using corporations based in England and the Netherlands. Since 2009, they have sent unsolicited faxes to churches, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, and local retailers in the United States, Canada, Australia, and possibly other countries.

Each fax sent to a U.S. business or nonprofit includes a name such as YellowPage-Illinois.com, depending upon the location of the organization, and a “walking fingers” logo similar to the one commonly associated with local yellow pages.

Pre-existing relationship

The FTC alleges that these faxed forms falsely suggest that organizations have a pre-existing relationship with the defendants. The forms contain information about the business or nonprofit, and a Yellow Page ID number, and instruct the recipient to confirm and update the information and sign and fax the form back by a certain deadline.

Buried in fine print at the bottom of the form is the only indication that the fax is a solicitation for new business and that organizations that return the form are ordering an $89 per month, two-year registration in the defendants’ online directory, payable a full year in advance. Many consumers do not see or read the fine print and instead sign and return the form, believing that they are merely updating their local yellow pages listing. Often the person who signs and returns the form is not authorized to purchase services on the business’s or nonprofit’s behalf.

According to the FTC, organizations that return the form then receive a faxed invoice seeking payment of $1,068 for 12 months of directory listings. They are directed to make payment to Yellow Page B.V. at a New York City address. The defendants often tell businesses or nonprofits that try to cancel that the cancellation period has expired, and that they intend to enforce the contract.

Organizations that refuse to pay receive faxes seeking late fees and threatening to refer the alleged debts to a collection agency and harm their company’s credit rating. In some instances, organizations pay the defendants simply to end the harassment.

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Apple Is Top Smartphone Manufacturer In U.S.

Android remains the most popular mobile platform

Apple makes and sells more smartphones than any company...

PhotoGoogle's Android remains the most-used smartphone operating system but Apple is the leader when it comes to making and selling smartphones, according to the latest monthly data from Nielsen.

In its report for June, Nielson found that phones operating on the Android system make up 39 percent of the market. Apple's iOS system was right behind, at 28 percent.

The difference, of course, is several electronics companies make and sell smartphones that run on the Android system. Apple is the only company that makes a smartphone that runs on iOS - the iPhone.

“Other leading manufacturers include HTC, whose Android phones represents 14 percent of the smartphone market and whose Windows Mobile/WP7 devices account for six percent of the market; and Motorola, whose Android devices are owned by 11 percent of smartphone consumers,” Nielsen reported.

Samsung’s Android devices are used by eight percent of smartphone owners while their Windows Mobile/WP7 phones are used by two percent of smartphone consumers.

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IRS Tells Airlines To Refund Ticket Tax To Consumers

Some airlines have already raised ticket prices by the tax amount

The IRS says consumers who bought airline tickets before last Friday for future travel should get a refund...

PhotoThe Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has gone to bat for consumers, telling airlines that planned to pocket the now-lapsed federal tax on airline tickets to refund it to consumers.

It all started almost a week ago when laws authorizing the airline ticket tax and other aviation-related taxes expired. That means there is no longer a federal tax on tickets.

If you purchased an airline ticket before last weekend and have not yet taken the flight, you paid a tax that is no longer in effect. Therefore, the IRS says the airlines can't keep that money, they have to return it to consumers.

Working with the airlines

The IRS will continue to work with the airline industry to address issues relating to the collection and payment of the taxes involved,” the agency said in a statement. “Taxpayers do not need to take any action at this time. The IRS will provide further guidance on this issue in the near future.”

The tax generally is imposed on the “amount paid” for commercial air transportation. When a person purchases a ticket for air transportation, the airline collects the federal passenger air transportation excise taxes from the purchaser and then later pays the collected amount over to the IRS. The amount of tax collected from the purchaser is shown on the purchaser’s receipt as a separate line item, often labeled “federal taxes.”

Until they are reinstated by Congress, the following taxes will not be collected from consumers:

  • The 7.5 percent tax on the base ticket price;
  • The domestic segment tax of $3.70 per person per segment (a single takeoff and single landing);
  • The international travel facilities tax of $16.30 per person for flights that begin or end in the U.S., or $8.20 per person for a flight that begins or ends in Alaska or Hawaii; and
  • The 6.25 percent tax on the amount paid for transporting property by air.

 Not insignificant

As you can see, the taxes can mount up. The savings on the average ticket is more than enough to pay to check an extra bag on a flight.

Passengers who are unable to obtain a refund from the airline may obtain a refund by submitting a claim to the IRS. Because the IRS has no information about passenger ticket purchases or travel dates, travelers who are unable to obtain a refund from the airline will be required to submit proof of taxes paid and travel dates to the IRS under procedures that are under development. The IRS said it will provide additional guidance at a later date.

If the taxes aren't being collected, doesn't that mean airline tickets now cost a little less. They should, but they don't in every case. Some airlines, including Delta, United, US Airways and Southwest, have said they will boost ticket prices by the same amount as the tax, essentially pocketing it.

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What's On Your Mind? Virgin Mobile, Sirius XM, Experian

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Virgin Mobile, Sirius XM, Experian, Lifetime may not always mean your lifetime and You can cancel, if you can fin...

PhotoPrices are going up all the time. But when you make a buying decision based on an advertised price, don't you have an expectation of paying that price? Courene, of Scranton, Pa., does.

“I ordered an LG Optimus V on July 13 from Virgin Mobile, Courene told ConsumerAffairs.com. “At that time, the lowest plan advertised on their website was $25, which is why I decided to purchase this phone and service. The phone was shipped to me on July 14 and received on the 16th.”

When Courene attempted to activate the phone on July 25, she noticed the plan was now advertised as $35 on the website. After calling customer service, Courene was told that Virgin Mobile would not honor the $25 plan.

“That is completely ridiculous,” she said. “While I understand their right to increase plan costs, I strongly feel that because I ordered under the original, advertised cost of $25, I should be grandfathered in and have an adjustment to that plan’s cost. They have a record in their system of when I made the purchase.”

True. The only extenuating circumstance would be if Virgin Mobile requires a phone to be activated shortly after receiving it. Courene waited nine days, which could be the cause of confusion.

Lifetime may not always mean your lifetime

Sirius XM satellite radio offers a “lifetime” subscription, offering service forever for one upfront fee. Or, maybe not. Allan, of Front Royal, Va., said he upgraded to lifetime membership in 2007 and, last month rented a car for a road trip.

“When I called to transfer my service temporarily to the rental car receiver, I was told it would be a $15 fee,” Allan said.

But that wasn't the extent of the bad news.

“When the rep found out I was a lifetime member, she informed me that the cost to change radios was $75, and there are a maximum of three changes allowed,” Allan said. “So after paying $75, if you change three times, you're stuck with whatever car you last put it in. Can you believe that? Who goes through only 3 cars in their lifetime.”

Indeed, something to think about when considering a “lifetime” membership. Apparently it isn't forever.

You can cancel, if you can find us

Nelson, of Los Angeles, ordered his credit report and score from Experian for $1, thinking he would cancel the required ongoing service agreement within the trial period, thus avoiding the $14.95. Easier said than done, it turns out.

“The problem is that the contact numbers they provide on their website, including the one for questions regarding the their limited offer, are not helpful,” Nelson told ConsumerAffairs.com. “They have an answering system that does not provide the consumer with the option to speak with a live representative. I need to cancel my membership! I don't want to be charged for something I'm not going to use on a monthly basis.”

Nelson said that he finally reached a live operator, who gave him another number to call, which put him back in the voice mail maze.

“I'm very frustrated and very disappointed at Experian's lack of customer service/support,” Nelson said. “I'm beginning to question their honesty. I'm not sure why they're doing this.”

Perhaps they're making it hard for Nelson to cancel because they don't want Nelson to cancel. Nelson is probably not the first person to think he can get his credit report, then cancel without having to pay a monthly charge. Nelson, by the way, should have gone to www.annualcreditreport.com, where he can get a free copy of his credit report from all three reporting agencies, with no strings attached.

 

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JK Harris To Pay Refunds In West Virginia

State says company misled consumers about resolving their tax issues

West Virginia has secured refunds for consumers who paid JK Harris but got not tax help...

JK Harris, a South Carolina firm that advertises that it can help resolve debts owed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), has left a trail of consumer complaints in its wake for years. Now, consumers in West Virginia will get refunds

West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw says he has reached a settlement with the firm that requires it to provide full refunds to consumers who hired the firm but received no tax relief. The refunds total just over $14,000.

“I was audited by IRS back 2007,” Usama, of Falls Church, Va., told ConsumerAffairs.com this week. “I consulted JK Harris to take care of it on my behalf. They promised that they will start immediately contacting the IRS and get the information and I shouldn't worry. One week passed and nothing happened. I contacted the IRS audit officer to ask if anyone called on my case and he replied 'no, not at all.'”

Not only that, Usama said the IRS case officer said that he could do himself what JK Harris would do.

“He advised me to get my money back from them ASAP,” he said.

Usama said he paid $1,400 but, after three years, has not received any of his money back.

Offer in compromise

McGraws office received a number of similar complaints, even after a 2008 consent order in which JK Harris agreed not to collect money without providing a service. Some consumers said they were told they qualified for an "Offer in Compromise" (OIC) only to later discover they did not.

Consumers who qualify for the OIC program have most of their tax liability waived and pay only a percentage of what they owe to the IRS. However, the IRS accepts less than 25 percent of the OIC applications it receives.

McGraw filed a petition for contempt on March 31 and says the resulting settlement will provide refunds to consumers.

"There are many tax settlement scams being advertised on late night television," McGraw warned. "It is always best to get an opinion from a local tax consultant before responding to these commercials."

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21 Children Die in Hot Cars So Far This Year

Feds step up efforts to warn parents not to leave children alone in cars

With record high temperatures nationwide and reports of 21 hyperthermia-related child deaths already this summer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin...

PhotoIt happens , over and over, every summer. A baby is left in a closed car that sits baking in the sun while the parent or caregiver runs an errand, makes a phone call or even spends a day at the office.

That's what happened to veterinarian Karen Murphy's son, Ryan. The Northern Virginia mom forgot to drop Ryan, 2, at day care. Instead, she drove to work and began tending to sick dogs and cats. Her husband went to pick Ryan up in the afternoon but the day care center workers said he had never arrived.

Ryan was found dead in the family's minivan, still strapped in his infant seat. His mother was charged with

Amazingly, it was the second time Murphy had forgotten about Ryan, The Washington Post reported. The first time ended happily when the day care center called to ask why he wasn't there. Prosecutors were sympathetic but charged her with felony murder, saying they wanted to “deliver a wake-up call” to distracted parents.

Ryan's case may be more shocking than most but it's hardly unique. With record high temperatures, there have been at least 21 hyperthermia-related child deaths already this summer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) convened a roundtable yesterday to help step up efforts to prevent these needless deaths.

Cars become ovens

Children left alone in vehicles during hot weather are at risk of a serious injury or death from hyperthermia. According to NHTSA research, hyperthermia is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle deaths for children under the age of 14.

“These 21 deaths were tragic and preventable – not one of those children should have lost their lives in this horrible way,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “We need to do everything we can to remind people to be vigilant and never leave a child alone in or around a motor vehicle.”

NHTSA experts were joined by representatives from the automobile industry, car seat manufacturers,  victims, researchers, consumer groups, and health and safety advocates to discuss strategies to reduce child fatalities and injuries in hot vehicles.

Reports by the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences show 49 children under the age of 14 years died in 2010 due to hyperthermia, with 21 deaths so far in 2011.

Several states have witnessed especially high incidences of fatalities for children aged 3 and under – including Texas, Florida, California, Nevada, and North Carolina.

Serious threat

“We know hyperthermia is a serious threat that needs to be better addressed immediately,” said David Strickland, Administrator of NHTSA. “A coordinated, targeted approach to increase public awareness of this very serious safety danger should help prevent unnecessary tragedies and near-misses moving forward. We need to come together and give the best information to parents, caregivers, and our communities to protect children in vehicles.”

In the coming weeks and months, Administrator Strickland and his staff will host listening sessions and other activities in some of the states hardest hit by hyperthermia deaths.  They will engage concerned parents, advocacy groups, automotive experts, and health and law enforcement professionals, to discuss the best ways to raise awareness and to propose strategies for preventing these tragic events.

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Senator Urges Regulators To Nix AT&T Merger With T-Mobile

Al Franken says merger would harm consumers

Senator Al Franken has publicly urged regulators to reject AT&T's bid to acquire T-Mobile...

PhotoIn a not unexpected move, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has told federal regulators they should deny AT&T's request to acquire T-Mobile, saying the merger would drive up prices for wireless customers and likely cost thousands of jobs.

In a filing sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Franken said the merger is a bad deal for consumers. He cited some analysts' predictions that wireless costs could go up by as much as 25 percent as a result.

He also said that the merger would further stifle competition in an already-concentrated wireless market and would allow only two companies-AT&T and Verizon-to control more than 80 percent of the market. Verizon is currently the largest U.S. wireless provider but would fall to a distant second behind AT&T, if it joins forces with T-Mobile.

'Not in the public interest'

"This transaction is not in the public interest," Franken said in his filing. "If approved, it would result in greatly reduced competition, the potential loss of thousands of jobs, higher consumer prices, and less innovation in technology. I urge the FCC and the DOJ to deny AT&T's application for approval of its acquisition of T-Mobile."

Franken's opposition to the proposed deal was not exactly a secret. He initially raised concerns about this merger during a statement on the Senate floor on May 4. Franken also questioned the impact of the merger on consumers at a Judiciary Committee hearing in May.

To sign off on the deal, the FCC must accept a deal that reduces the number of wireless carriers in the U.S. while creating, by far, the nation’s largest mobile company. The Justice Department, meanwhile, will look at anti-trust issues, to make sure the merger will not hurt competition. In markets where AT&T and T-Mobile are significant competitors, this could prove problematic.

The big three

If the deal is approved, 90 percent of the wireless business would be concentrated among just three companies – AT&T, Verizon and Sprint/Nextel. Of that, AT&T would have 43 percent of the business.

Will it be enough to derail the deal? Possibly, but AT&T is known in Washington for its lobbying power. The company says current customers of both companies will benefit from the union, because of expanded network coverage and additional spectrum.

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McDonald's Makes Happy Meals Healthier

But will kids be happy with apple slices and fewer fries?

Under pressure from health advocates, McDonald's is making changes to its Happy Meal...

PhotoMcDonald's is retooling its Happy Meal, reducing the number of calories it contains and adding nutritional value.

The menu item, popular with children since 1979, has become a target in recent years of health advocates worried about the rise of childhood obesity. The meal has traditionally included a small hamburger or chicken nuggets, French fries, and a toy, usually based on a popular movie.

Earlier this year, San Francisco banned meals that include toys unless they meet certain nutritional benchmarks. New York City is said to be considering a similar measure. The new Happy Meal will still contain a toy but will have fewer fries and a serving of fruit.

“McDonald’s will always try to do the right thing, and we know we can help make a difference in our communities,” said Jan Fields, president, McDonald’s USA. “The commitments we’re announcing today will guide the future evolution of our menu and marketing.” 

Calorie reduction

By March 2012, McDonald's said it will provide apples in every Happy Meal. The result, the company says, will be an estimated 20 percent reduction in calories of the most popular Happy Meals, also reducing fat in those meals.

“We are also exploring alternatives to the automatic apples, such as other produce or low-fat dairy items,” the company said in a statement. “In 2012, McDonald’s will also raise nutrition awareness among children and parents through national marketing initiatives. The company will promote nutrition and/or active lifestyle messages in 100 percent of its national kids’ communications, including merchandising, advertising, digital and the Happy Meal packaging. McDonald’s will also provide funding for grass roots community nutrition awareness programs.”

By 2020, McDonald’s said it will reduce added sugars, saturated fat and calories through varied portion sizes, reformulations and innovations. Also, by 2015, McDonald’s will reduce sodium an average of 15 percent overall across its national menu of food choices.

Rollout begins in September

McDonald’s will begin rolling out the new Happy Meal in September 2011, with the goal of having them available in all 14,000 restaurants during the first quarter of 2012. 

The new Happy Meal will automatically include both produce (apple slices, a quarter cup or half serving) and a new smaller size French fries (1.1 ounces) along with the choice of a Hamburger, PhotoCheeseburger or Chicken McNuggets, and choice of beverage, including new fat-free chocolate milk and 1% low fat white milk. For those customers who prefer a side choice of apples only, two bags of apple slices will be available, upon request.

By adding fruit in every Happy Meal, McDonald’s said it hopes to address a challenge children face in meeting the recommended daily consumption of produce. McDonald’s has offered apples as a requested choice in Happy Meals since 2004. And, while recent research found that on average, 88 percent of McDonald’s customers are aware of the option, apples are chosen in only 11 percent of Happy Meal purchases.

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What's On Your Mind? Target, Monroe Power, Premier Bank Card

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Target, Monroe Power, Premier Bank Card, Buyer's remorse and Time to pull a credit report....

PhotoCompanies will offer you a bargain, whether with a sale or a coupon, but if for some reason you don't take advantage of it, they save money.

“Target online has daily deals and on July 15th I ordered one of them,” LeAnn, of Pell City, Ala., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “They had denim blue jeans on sale, buy one get one free. I clicked the links and ordered the jeans. I expected two pair of jeans and only received one. I called customer service and found out that I should have clicked their little button on the bottom that says 'buy both.' Really? Okay, I didn't click their button so I figured they could correct the mistake easily enough, but no. They can not help me whatsoever. I received the runaround for over an hour for them to tell me there was nothing they could do.”

It does seem a little strange that LeAnn would be enticed with a “two for one” sale and then, at the point of purchase, be required to specify that she really did want the free pair of jeans. But stores love to have it both ways – excite you with a bargain and then encourage you to pay full price.

For consumers, it means having to pay close attention during any transaction – especially one where you're getting a deep discount.

Buyer's remorse

No one likes mowing the lawn, especially when the mower doesn't work. Even worse is when the mower is brand new, out of the box.

“I bought a new Snapper Hi-Vac 28," said David, of Oxford, Ga. “The mower would cut off when engaging the blade. It was a bad buying experience.”

David said he took the mower back to the store where he bought it, and of course, it started right up.

“Took it back home and had problems again,” He said. “I did not want the mower after this bad experience but Monroe Power would not give me my money back and Snapper did not stand behind their product either. I'm stuck with getting the unit repaired.”

It sounds like David could have a warranty issue if he could show there is indeed something wrong with the mower. Even if there isn't an issue, some chain stores will allow an unhappy customer to return a product, especially after one day. Too bad David didn't buy the mower from one of those stores.

Time to pull a credit report

This could just be a bureaucratic mistake, or something worse.

“Never in my life have I ever had a First Premier Bank Card,” Carol, of Ellington, Conn., told ConsumerAffairs.com.”I am receiving harassing phone calls asking for someone who does not live at my house. The phone rings every hour on the hour from 8 am to 10 pm. I now take the phone off the hook. They ask for a woman who does not live at my house or does not have access to my phone. They ignore me and call all the more.”

Carol needs to make sure she is not a victim of identity theft. She can do that by going to www.annualcreditreport.com and pulling her credit report from the three reporting agencies. If someone has stolen her identity, they won't stop at just opening one account in her name. This merits attention, the sooner the better.

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Walmart Begins Streaming Movies

Retailer makes third attempt to enter streaming market

Walmart has launched a movie streaming service...

PhotoWalmart says it is teaming with VUDU to begin offering movie stearming on its website, Walmart.com.

The service is provided by VUDU, a movie streaming service Walmart acquired in 2010, but consumers will complete the transaction while on the Walmart site and pay for the movie through Walmart.com's checkout.

Walmart said that customers already purchase DVDs online. The new streaming service will provide another option for viewing entertainment, allowing customers instant access to their purchase.

The movies may be viewed directly from Walmart.com, VUDU.com, or from one of more than 300 VUDU-enabled devices, including select HDTVs, Blu-ray Disc players and the PlayStation3.

"At Walmart, one of our key priorities is to provide a continuous channel for our customers, from our stores to our powerful e-commerce and social media platforms," said Steve Nave, SVP and general manager, Walmart.com. "With VUDU becoming increasingly popular among our customers, we're providing them more access to enjoy this digital entertainment experience directly online at Walmart.com."

The new service became available today. Consumers will pay from $1 to $5.99 to rent movies and may purchase titled from $4.99 to $19.99.

This isn't the first time Walmart has attempted to enter the online movie business. The first effort, in 2005, was short lived. It was followed by a partnership with HP that was also shut down a year later.

Walmart is re-entering the arena at a time when market-leader Netflix has encountered some consumer headwinds, over changes to its price structure announced earlier this month. 

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Investors Warned About Chasing High Returns in Uncertain Times

Structured products, high-yield bonds and floating-rate loan funds can be risky

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) today issued an Investor Alert warning investors about putting their assets into riskier and sometimes ...

PhotoThe Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) today issued an Investor Alert warning investors about putting their assets into riskier and sometimes complex products that promise higher returns than more traditional investments.

With yields on many fixed-income investments at historically low levels and a volatile stock market, investors may be tempted to chase returns by investing in structured notes with principal protection, high-yield bonds, floating-rate loan funds and leveraged products.

 The alert was prompted by significant recent inflows into investments like high-yield bond funds, floating-rate loan funds and structured retail products.

High-yield bond funds had $75 billion in new sales in 2010. Floating-rate funds grew from $15 billion in 2008 to $60 billion in April 2011, and sales of structured products increased from $33 billion in 2009 to $54 billion in 2010.

"Investors should never make an investing decision solely by looking at an investment's return, whether past or projected. Higher returns come with higher risk. Investors should always look behind an investment's yield, ensure that they understand how the investment works and carefully consider its fees and risks before investing," said Gerri Walsh, FINRA's Vice President for Investor Education.

 While there are many ways investors could try to increase their return, Walsh notes that many investors are turning to riskier products.

Higher yield, higher risk

High-yield bonds are bonds with lower credit ratings, higher risk of default and consequently a more attractive interest rate to compensate the investor for the additional risk. While high-yield bonds can make sense in many portfolios, the higher yield may come with an increased possibility of losing money.

Floating-rate loan funds invest in loans extended by financial institutions to entities of below investment-grade credit quality. Companies that are extended these high interest rate loans usually have a high debt-to-equity ratio, and those loans' yields tend to be higher than investment-grade bonds.

The interest rates on floating-rate loans adjust by a pre-determined spread over a reference rate, like the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). A fund that invests in floating-rate loans may be attractive in a low or rising interest rate environment because, in addition to having higher yields, the fund's interest rate increases when rates rise.

Unsecured debt

Structured retail products are typically unsecured debt with payoffs linked to a variety of underlying assets. These products can seem attractive to investors because they can offer higher returns and might even feature a level of principal protection, subject to the credit worthiness of the issuer. However, these products can also have significant drawbacks such as credit risk, market risk, lack of liquidity and high hidden costs.

Leveraged products include ETFs and mutual funds that seek to deliver multiples of a specified benchmark by increasing exposure to the benchmark through the use of derivatives. Leveraged products often "reset" daily, meaning that they are designed to achieve their stated objectives on a daily basis. Their performance over longer periods of time can differ significantly from the performance of their underlying index or benchmark.

 FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is the largest non-governmental regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. 

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Food Labels May Have to Disclose Added Salt Water Content

Food processors inject solution to increase weight and, therefore, price

Customers used to accuse the neighborhood butcher of putting his thumb on the scale when weighing their purchases. But modern food processors have a bette...

PhotoCustomers used to accuse the neighborhood butcher of putting his thumb on the scale when weighing their purchases.

But modern food processors have a better way of beefing up the weight of meat and poultry: They inject salt water, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is about to blow the whistle on them.

The department is expected to publish a new rule this week that would require food processors to prominently disclose the percentage of the product that is added solution, and the solution’s ingredients.

The agency will rule separately whether such products can be labeled “natural,” as many saltwater-injected meat and poultry products are.

Added water and salt

“Who wants to pay $4.99 a pound for the added water and salt?” asks Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Besides cheating customers financially, ‘enhancing’ meat and poultry delivers a stealth hit of sodium. Better labeling would help consumers concerned about high blood pressure, stroke, or heart disease avoid products that contribute to those diseases.”

Chicken breasts, pork tenderloins, or other foods enhanced with a salt-water solution can have more than five times as much sodium as occurs naturally in those foods, according to CSPI.

A whole chicken enhanced with a solution of water, salt, sodium phosphate, chicken broth, and other ingredients might have 550 milligrams of sodium per four-ounce serving, while a similar serving of unprocessed chicken has just 75 mg of sodium.

According to USDA, 30 percent of poultry, 15 percent of beef, and 90 percent of pork contain added solutions.

In 2007, CSPI filed a petition with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service urging the agency to go beyond labeling and actually set ceilings on the amount of sodium that would be allowed in all processed meat and poultry, including deli meats, bacon, sausage, chicken pot pies, and frozen dinners.

CSPI had previously petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to revoke salt’s status as a Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS, ingredient and instead regulate it as a food additive, subject to reasonable limits or special labeling requirements.

“We applaud the USDA for acting to protect consumers’ health and pocketbooks with this sensible proposal,” Jacobson said.

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New Software Can Help Spot Phony Reviews

A lie detector for the Internet?

Researchers at Cornell develop software that can spot phony Internet reviews...

PhotoIt's called “opinion spam.” Someone wanting to convince consumers that their product is good – or not a scam when it really is – will put up a website, or submit content to an existing site, that contains favorable reviews.

How do you tell opinion spam from sincere reviews? Researchers at Cornell University say they are developing computer software that’s pretty good at it.

In 800 Chicago hotel reviews, their software was able to pick out 90 percent of deceptive reviews. In the process, the researchers uncovered some key features to help determine if a review was spam, and even evidence of a correspondence between the linguistic structure of deceptive reviews and fiction writing.

Help spot the fraudsters

“While this is the first study of its kind, and there's a lot more to be done, I think our approach will eventually help review sites identify and eliminate these fraudulent reviews,” said Myle Ott, Cornell doctoral candidate in computer science.

The researchers asked 400 people to deliberately write false positive reviews of 20 Chicago hotels. These were compared with an equal number of randomly chosen truthful reviews.

As a baseline, the researchers submitted a subset of reviews to three human judges – volunteer Cornell undergraduates – who scored no better than chance in identifying deception. The three did not even agree on which reviews were deceptive, reinforcing the conclusion that they did no better than chance.

Humans suffer from 'truth bias'

This may not be surprising, since humans don't appear very skilled at  figuring out when someone is blowing smoke. Historically, Ott notes, humans suffer from a “truth bias,” assuming that what they are reading is true until they find evidence to the contrary.

When people are trained at detecting deception they become overly skeptical and report deception too often, generally still scoring at chance levels.

The researchers then applied statistical machine learning algorithms to uncover the subtle cues to deception. Deceptive hotel reviews, for example, are more likely to contain language that sets the scene, like “vacation,” “business” or “my husband.”

Truth-tellers use more concrete words relating to the hotel, like “bathroom,” “check-in” and “price.” Truth-tellers and deceivers also differ in their use of certain keywords, punctuation, and even how much they talk about themselves. In agreement with previous studies of imaginative vs. informative writing, deceivers also use more verbs and truth-tellers use more nouns.

Not foolproof

Ott cautions that the work so far is only validated for hotel reviews, and for that matter, only reviews of hotels in Chicago. The next step, he said, is to see if the techniques can be extended to other categories, starting perhaps with restaurants and eventually moving to consumer products. He also wants to look at negative reviews.

“Ultimately, cutting down on deception helps everyone,” Ott said. “Customers need to be able to trust the reviews they read, and sellers need feedback on how best to improve their services.”

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What Does the Debt-Ceiling Fight Mean to You?

Political shenanigans in D.C. put your nest egg at risk

All right, pay attention a minute. Amy Winehouse died. Rupert's boys (and girls) behaved badly. JenLo may split from whoever she's married to. There's new ...

PhotoAll right, pay attention a minute. Amy Winehouse died. Rupert's boys (and girls) behaved badly. JenLo may split from whomever she's married to. There's more buzz about the IMF chief and the hotel maid. It's been really hot.

But forget all that for a minute. Let's talk about something more important – your money. Where is it right now? If all of your money is currently invested in debt, then you can sleep soundly (or at least as soundly as you usually do) but if you have stocks, bonds and other investments, it's worth taking a moment out to consider that the full faith and credit of the United States may not mean much in the weeks ahead.

In the scheme of things, this is probably more important than the details of Jennifer Lopez' marital situation so let's consider the possible end of the world as we know it. Forget politics for a minute; this is serious.

If you are in the stock market, whether through individual stocks or mutual funds, consider for a moment that if Congress abdicates its responsibility, the stock market is likely to tank, losing a huge amount of its value. How will you feel if you wake up Aug. 3 to find that your IRA is now worth half what it was the day before?

Lambs to the ...

We don't like to say this, but up and down Wall Street the talk is all about how the “sheep” (the term of art for individual investors) are still sitting in equities. Financial advisors are amazed that their clients have not even called to discuss the situation.

Folks, this is not a good situation. The last time the stock market took a dive, millions of individual investors sat tight until the market hit bottom. Then they sold, taking huge losses.

Remember the credo: Buy low, sell high. Not the other way around.

If your equity holdings – stocks and mutual funds – are part of your IRA or other tax-exempt vehicle, this might be the time to move a portion into cash or a cash-equivalent. It won't cost you anything to do so, other than any brokerage fees you may incur.

Time to move?

Even if your portfolio is not tax-exempt, it may be a good idea to move at least some of your holdings out of equities. Yes, you may incur capital gains tax (the “rich person's tax” we hear so much about) but that may or may not be an issue depending on the basis of your holdings.  

Yes, you may have to pay some capital gains tax if you sell some stocks now but if the market goes south in a few weeks, you will most likely be ahead of the game.

Because this is not an investment-advisory site, we are going to ignore the whole area of equities versus bonds. Let's just say that if your retirement fund, nest egg, life's savings, investment portfolio or whatever you want to call it consists mostly of stocks, you are Humpty Dumpty right now, sitting on the wall, hoping everything turns out OK.

If you fall off the wall, it will take a long time to put you back together.

What to do

It's pretty simple. The big money has been moving into cash. That means money market funds, even certificates of deposit if you are truly risk-averse, and various bond funds.

Bonds may be good for individual investors but a U.S. government default would not do wonders for the bond market either.  It's crucial to choose the right bonds or bond funds.

We're not financial advisors so don't rely on us for specific advice. But if you don't do anything else this week, consider this: Congress is fiddling while the economy burns and your life savings (assuming you have been trying to do the right thing and save for your retirement so that you are not a drag on society and your family) are at risk. You need to think about this. And research it. And talk to your financial advisor, assuming you have one. If you don't, get one.

Do it now. Forget about Amy, Rupert and Jennifer. Focus on what matters.

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Because Of Congressional Inaction, Airline Tickets May Cost Less

Federal tax suspended as FAA remains in partial shutdown

The FAA remains in partial shutdown after Congress fails to reauthorize its budget...

PhotoThe Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been forced to furlough more than 4,000 employees in 35 states because Congressed failed to approve a new FAA authorization bill before adjourning Friday.

For many airports around the country, it means construction projects – underway or ready to begin – are now on hold. But in a strange twist, it also means a break for air travelers.

Normally, ticket sales include an FAA tax. Without the new authorization, ticket agents will not collect that tax. That amounts to a savings of about $61 on a $300 ticket, according to AAA. Until the impasse is broken, consumers won't have to pay the tax.

Consumers who purchased tickets in advance for flights that took place after Friday were charged the tax, but may be due a refund. However, it remains to be seen if airlines will pass the savings on to passengers.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood assured the flying public that the partial FAA shutdown would not affect public safety. Still, he said the disruption was unnecessary.

“I’m very disappointed that Congress adjourned without passing a clean extension of the FAA bill,” LaHood said. “Because of their inaction, states and airports won’t be able to work on their construction projects, and too many people will have to go without a paycheck. This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives declined to approve the reauthorization unless new rules were adopted to make it more difficult for FAA personnel to unionize. 

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Google Now Issuing Infected PC Warnings

Search can detect when computer is compromised

The hackers that have infected your computer want to modify your search results to highlight money-making pay-per-click sites instead of the sites Google w...

You enter a search term on Google and hit the search button. Up pops a warning message that reads: "Your computer appears to be infected. It appears that your computer is infected with software that intercepts your connection to Google and other sites. Learn how to fix this."

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos Security, said the first time he heard about this he suspected it was one of those clever, fake anti-virus come-ons.

It's not. After doing some checking, Cluley said he learned Google is trying to give consumers a heads-up when it detects their computers aren't fully under their control.

Diverting Google traffic

Damian Menscher, a security engineer at Google, has posted details on his blog, explaining how he discovered that infected computers were sending search traffic through proxies to the search engine.

The intention is purely profit-driven. They hackers that have infected your computer want to modify your search results to highlight money-making pay-per-click sites instead of the sites Google would normally serve up.

In all, Google estimates that a couple of million Windows PCs may be affected around the world by this particular strain of malware. Google says it has already been able to warn hundreds of thousands of computer users their devices are infected.

“Fortunately, although Google does not scan your hard drive when you search for things via google.com, it can detect the unique traffic signature from visiting infected PCs and make a pretty informed guess about your computer's health in regard to this malware strain,” Cluley said in his blog.

Providing security function

Cluley says Google wants the warning message to encourage users to update their anti-virus software, scan their computers and become more conscious of security issues.

“I think what Google is doing should be applauded - anything which warns computer users about genuine malware threats has to be a good thing,” Cluley said.

There is a danger, however, that scammers will quickly mimic the Google warning and offer a cure, which of course, will be more malware. Google, meanwhile, urges consumers to conduct searches for security software for their computers.

In the video below, Cluley notes that, in itself, can be rather dangerous.

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What's On Your Mind? Budget Rent A Car, Frozen Food, Staples

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Budget Rent A Car, Frozen Food, Staples, Fan mail, Groupon and Coupon? What Coupon?...

PhotoWe are often rushed and in a hurry, but you have to read what you sign. Especially when renting a car. Jeff, of Vancouver, Wash., was renting a car from Budget Rent A Car in Orlando when the issue arose.

“They offered me an upgrade but I said no, on a budget with four kids,” Jeff told ConsumerAffairs.com. “We talked, the contract ripped, and he had to reprint. He had me sign an ATM type screen with no data on it and advised me that a car had just been returned and I could have it, even though it was much nicer than what I rented. I thanked him for this.

Jeff said he ran off to catch his plane and only then, once aboard, did he look at his rental contract.

“I see I am charged an extra $350 plus tax,” Jeff said. I called and was advised that I agreed to an upgrade. I explained the counter person flim/flamed me with conversation and put it in without my knowledge after I told him I did not want to pay for an upgrade.”

The company told Jeff that he signed the contract, so there was nothing that could be done.

Fan mail

We heard from Doris, from San Luis Obispo, Calif., commenting on a recent “What's On Your Mind” segment concerning food poisoning.

“My question: Do we need to wash frozen foods when we take them out of the package?” Doris asked. “Are there some we should and others need not?”

Processed food is supposed to be prepared and frozen in a clean environment, and for the most part, it is. Also, if you are going to cook the frozen food, that will kill most bacteria that might be present. Any food that is to be consumed without cooking, whether fresh or frozen, should be thoroughly washed. If it makes you feel better to wash frozen food items before preparing them, there's no harm in doing so.

Coupon? What Coupon?

Groupon – and maybe a very tough economy - have made coupons fashionable once again. Everyone would like to save a little money on their purchase but, as Dan, of Mishawaka, Ind., discovered at Staples recently, not all coupon experiences are good ones.

“On July 15 I presented an Internet coupon to the cashier who was unable to scan the promotional coupon,” Dan told ConsumerAffairs.com. “The manager was called and she informed me that the coupon was 'a mistake.' I explained that I had met all the requirements to use the coupon and that I had traveled several miles just to be able to use it. I had not received any emails indicating a mistake.' The manager basicaly stated too bad and I left the store without making any purchase.”

Some chain stores have been leery of Internet coupons because of their global nature. Some stores, for example, operate in districts where advertising and promotion is tightly controlled. In Dan's case, this Internet coupon was clearly counter productive for Staples, as it created an unhappy consumer.

Too much information?

Diane, of Everette, Wash., is not happy about the new Facebook feature called “Happening Now.” She says her account was placed in a trial of the new feature without her permission.

“This has left my account wide open for anyone to steal information on me,” Diane said. “My private email account has been hacked, private messages are now public, not to mention the multiple issues even trying to use the site. I have had to close the Facebook account to prevent any further theft of private information. This new trial app is also giving me untold info. on other people and all their friends that I never requested or wanted.”

So, what is Happening Now? We checked in with All Facebook, which calls itself the “unofficial Facebook resource.” It says Happening Now is a new version of the news feed that displays liking and commenting activity by a user’s friends in real time. All Facebook describes the feature as “pretty slick,” but obviously not everyone is a fan.

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10 Things the New Consumer Financial Bureau Can Do Right Now

Some suggestions for the newly-hatched agency

The United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) officials begins work today. The new agency is charged exclusively with protecting American c...

PhotoThe United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) officially begins work today. The new agency is charged exclusively with protecting American consumers from predatory practices by the financial services industry.

It's rare for a federal agency to have such a single-minded assignment. Most are supposed to encourage the growth and prosperity of whatever industry they oversee while also protecting consumers, ensuring safety and so forth.

Of course, the bureau is off to a somewhat shaky start. President Obama has nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as its new director but when, of if, Cordray will be confirmed by Congress is anyone's guess.

Republicans have vowed to fight the nomination, scrap the agency's budget and pass new legislation that would weaken its consumer focus.

Be that as it may, there's no shortage of people with ideas on what the agency should do now that it has taken off the training wheels.

The National Consumer Law Center says there are ten things the bureau can and should do right now, using its existing authority:

1. Mortgages

Stop mortgage companies from charging illegal fees, keeping sloppy records of what people owe, forcing homeowners into overpriced insurance, or rushing to foreclose before considering home-saving options.

Authority: Truth in Lending Act (TILA), Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

2. Overdraft and Bank Fees

Stop banks from tricking people into incurring overdraft fees, help consumers get the cheapest overdraft coverage, and provide clear information on bank fees.

Authority: Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA), Truth in Savings Act (TISA), TILA.

3. Internet and Bank Payday Loans

PhotoStop 400% internet and bank “account advance” payday loans from grabbing consumers’ wages, Social Security or unemployment benefits before families pay food or rent.

Authority: EFTA.

4. Prepaid Cards

Protect prepaid debit cards, a growing but unregulated bank account substitute, from identity theft, bank errors and hidden fees.

Authority: EFTA, TISA.

5. Credit Cards

Get inside the books of credit card companies to make sure they are not charging illegal fees or rate increases and help consumers shop for the best card without back-end tricks and traps.

Authority: TILA.

6. Credit Reports

Force the credit bureaus to clean-up error-plagued credit reports and  respond to consumers trying to fix mistakes.

Authority: Fair Credit Reporting Act.

7. Student Loans

PhotoHelp students avoid expensive student loans when cheaper aid or loans are available.

Authority: TILA.

8. Auto Loans

Prohibit kick-backs to auto dealers who put consumers, especially minorities, in more expensive loans and stop bait-and-switch tactics.

Authority: Equal Credit Opportunity Act, TILA.

9. Debt Collectors and Debt Buyers

Go after debt collectors who make illegal threats, harass people for debts they do not owe, and pursue zombie debt long after it expires.

Authority: Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

10. Money Transfers

Ensure that consumers who are transferring money across the country or across the world know exactly what the transfer will cost and how much their family will receive.

Authority: EFTA.

 

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Big Banks Wading Into Payday Loan Businesses

Sky-high interest turns short-term loans into long-term debt

It used to be that payday loans – the legal equivalent of loan-sharking – were something you got on the Internet or from some hole-in-the-wall...

PhotoIt used to be that payday loans – the legal equivalent of loan-sharking – were something you got on the Internet or from some hole-in-the-wall storefront.

But now big banks are getting into the business. And just like the loans made by their shadier cousins, the payday loans made by banks carry sky-high interest rates — an average 365 percent APR — and, though marketed as short-term debt, regularly lead borrowers into long-term debt, a new study finds.

The report from the Center for Responsible Lending finds that, on average, a bank payday loan is repaid within 10 days, eats up 44 percent of a borrower’s next deposit, and often creates the need for a subsequent loan.

As a result, borrowers stay in debt an average of 175 days, paying over $900 in interest to borrow $500 for less than 6 months.

The study also found that nearly 25 percent of  these payday loans went to Social Security recipients, who were 2.6 times as likely to have used this type of loan compared with other customers. A 365 percent APR worsens financial challenges facing seniors living largely on government benefits, even as more affordable loan products could ease the situation for many.

Loaning cheap money at high rates

Banks are offering these triple-digit interest loans even as they enjoy record-low rates to borrow from the Federal Reserve, unlike smaller payday lenders who generally are in debt to – you guessed it – the big banks, who are only too happy to keep the payday loan industry afloat.

The features and impact of payday loans offered by banks make them the same as payday loans offered by non-banks. Seventeen states restrict payday loans, and a federal law curbs their availability to military families. Yet bank regulators allow banks to evade these restrictions.

“Banks should not be above state and federal efforts to protect consumers from high-cost loans,” said Center for Responsible Lending president Mike Calhoun. “Bank regulators, particularly the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Reserve, should stop banks from making payday loans.”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which formally goes into operation today, should quickly assume the job of overseeing large financial institutions to police against predatory products, Calhoun said.

He said one of the CFPB’s first tasks should be to collect data from banks on the use and impact of payday loans, to make that data public, and to use its new authority to halt this harmful product.

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Feds: Payday Lenders Tricked Borrowers Into Paying For a Debit Card

Judge orders Swish Marketing to pay $4.8 million

A federal court has ordered Swish Marketing Inc. to pay more than $4.8 million for tricking hundreds of thousands of payday loan applicants into paying for...

PhotoA federal court has ordered Swish Marketing Inc. to pay more than $4.8 million for tricking hundreds of thousands of payday loan applicants into paying for an unrelated debit card.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which brought the complaint against Swish Marketing, Inc., said it is closely monitoring payday lending and other financial services to protect financially distressed consumers.

The FTC charged that Swish operated websites advertising short-term, or “payday,” loan matching services that purportedly matched loan applicants with lenders. The websites included an online loan application form that tricked online loan applicants into unknowingly ordering a debit card.

No means yes?

On many sites, clicking the button for submitting loan applications led to four product offers unrelated to the loan, each with tiny “Yes” and “No” buttons. “No” was pre-clicked for three of them; “Yes” was pre-clicked for a debit card, with fine-print disclosures asserting consumers’ consent to have their bank account debited.

Consumers who clicked a prominent “Finish matching me with a payday loan provider!” button were charged for the debit card. Other websites touted the card as a “bonus” and disclosed the fee only in fine print below the submit button. As a result, consumers were improperly charged up to $54.95 each.

In August 2009, the FTC charged Swish Marketing and VirtualWorks LLC, the seller of the debit card, and their principals with deceptive business practices. In April 2010, the FTC added allegations that Swish they sold consumers’ bank account information to VirtualWorks without the consumers’ consent, and that the company principals were aware of consumer complaints about the unauthorized debits.

The court order announced today requires Swish Marketing to pay more than $4.8 million and bans it from marketing any product with a “negative-option” program, in which a consumer’s silence or failure to reject a product is treated as an agreement to make a purchase.

The order also requires the company to obtain consumers’ informed consent before it can use their personal information collected for a particular purpose for any other purpose or by a different entity, and bars the company from:

  • misrepresenting material facts about any product or service, such as the cost or the method for charging consumers;

  • misrepresenting that a product or service is free or a “bonus” without disclosing all material terms and conditions;

  • charging consumers without first disclosing what billing information will be used, the amount to be paid, how and on whose account the payment will be assessed, and all material terms and conditions; and

  • failing to monitor their marketing affiliates to ensure that they are in compliance with the order.

The summary judgment was entered in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division.

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Refund Checks Being Mailed to Countrywide Customers

Mortgage company overcharged 450,000 homeowners, FTC charged

The Federal Trade Commission is mailing 450,177 refund checks worth almost $108 million to homeowners who were allegedly overcharged by Countrywide Home Lo...

PhotoThe Federal Trade Commission is mailing 450,177 refund checks worth almost $108 million to homeowners who were allegedly overcharged by Countrywide Home Loans, Inc.

As part of the FTC’s efforts to protect financially distressed homeowners, the FTC reached a settlement with Countrywide last year over allegations that the company collected excessive fees from borrowers who were struggling to keep their homes.

“It’s astonishing that a single company could be responsible for overcharging more than 450,000 homeowners,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. “Countrywide’s unconscionable behavior harmed American consumers on a massive scale and we are proud to be getting every single dollar back to hundreds of thousands of struggling consumers who can least afford to lose the money.”

The FTC’s June 2010 settlement order required Countrywide, which is now owned by Bank of America, to pay $108 million to be used for refunds and barred the company from taking advantage of borrowers who have fallen behind on their payments.

The refunds are being distributed to consumers whose loans were serviced by Countrywide between January 1, 2005, and July 1, 2008, and who were subject to the company’s allegedly unlawful practices.

Excessive fees

According to the FTC, homeowners who were in default on their loans were charged excessive fees for services such as property inspections, lawn mowing, and other services meant to protect the lender’s interest in the property.

Rather than simply hire third-party vendors to perform the services, Countrywide used subsidiaries to hire the vendors. The subsidiaries allegedly marked up the price of the services charged by the vendors – often by 100 percent or more – and Countrywide then charged the homeowners the marked-up fees. The FTC complaint alleges that the company’s strategy was to increase profits from default-related service fees in bad economic times.

Also, in servicing loans for borrowers trying to save their homes in Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings, the FTC alleged that Countrywide made false or unsupported claims to borrowers about amounts owed or the status of their loans, and added fees and escrow charges to their mortgage accounts without notice.

An administrator working for the FTC will send out refunds to consumers who were overcharged for property inspections, maintenance services, title searches, and foreclosure trustee services, and to those who were in Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and were charged fees or escrow charges without being notified.

Consumers who receive the checks should cash them by September 19, 2011. The amount of each check will vary from less than $500 to as much as several thousand dollars. The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or provide information before redress checks can be cashed.

Former Countrywide customers with questions should call the redress administrator, Gilardi & Co., LLC at 1-888-230-3196 or visit the FTC’s Countrywide settlement webpage.

 

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Despite What You Read, Eating Raw Eggs Is Dangerous

Nutritionist says eating raw eggs not healthy

Eating raw eggs exposes you to risk of Salmonella, expert says...

PhotoThe new “health” fad, judging by Internet sites and Facebook postings, is raw egg drinks and shakes, touted as “primal and powerful.”

You don't have to look hard to find recipes suggesting uncooked eggs be blended with vanilla or avocado for a tasty, healthy snack.

Don't believe it for a minute, says Suzy Weems, Ph.D., a national food expert and chair of Baylor University’s family and consumer sciences department.

“Under no circumstances eat a raw egg,” said Weems, a registered dietitian and a past chair of the American Dietetic Association’s legislative and public policy committee.

Salmonella danger

The danger, of course, is Salmonella. While only a fraction of a percentage of eggs are contaminated, virtually every egg has had some contact with salmonella. Because the bacteria can cause disease — including food poisoning accompanied by fever, diarrhea or dehydration — it’s best to be proactive.

It was just last year that a half billion eggs were recalled in the U.S. because of a Salmonella risk. More than 1,000 people got sick from eating the contaminated eggs. The eggs were eaten either raw or under-cooked, since cooking eggs destroys the salmonella germs.

Photo
Bernarr MacFadden

Though some websites may make it sound like it's the latest and greatest, extolling the virtues of raw eggs is nothing new. In the 1890 bodybuilding promoter Bernarr Macfadden advocated them. Modern proponents contend that heating the egg changes its chemical shape and destroys many of its nutrients and proteins.

Not so, says Weems.

“The protein profile in eggs is used as the standard for all other proteins, because it’s complete enough to allow baby chickens to develop based on the nutrients. It’s that good,” Weems said. “But we don’t need all of that. If you cook it, it’s safe, the protein is still there, and it makes it easier to digest.”

Don't eat raw cookie dough, either

Relatively few people would be tempted to wolf down a raw egg, but those who love eating raw cookie dough need to be aware that it, too, is risky because it contains uncooked eggs, she said.

“There are a lot of old recipes floating around that call for raw eggs, but people need to realize if the recipe is based on one from when Grandma gathered her eggs, then Grandma gathered them locally. There wasn’t much of a time lag,” Weems said. “Now, eggs are much more likely to sit for a time before being used, and that gives salmonella the chance to grow.”

Risk of salmonella contamination lessens with eggs from cage-free, organically fed chickens, and salmonella generally is not life-threatening, Weems said. Most at risk are children, senior citizens, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.

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What's On Your Mind? Diamond Resorts, Maytag, Strayer

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Diamond Resorts, Maytag, Strayer, Power of persuasion, Troublesome transfer and Foot in the door....

PhotoYou don't hear much about timeshare foreclosures, but it should come as no surprise that owners walk away from these arrangements. However, we've heard from someone who says she made what she thought was her final payment on her Diamond Resorts International timeshare, only to be told her unit is going to foreclosure.

“They stated that my account had a balance of $526.82, which included a late fee of $25.00 and interest of $34.14,” Kristine, of Northbridge, Mass., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I explained that this had all been paid except for the $100.00 check that was returned to me. They looked at the records on my account and said they did not receive five checks that I had in my bill pay account.”

But Kristine said she called her bank and obtained copies of the five cancelled checks. Kristine said she was told it was too late, the unit was already in foreclosure. If Kristine has the cancelled checks, and there are no other issues, it seems strange that there is no way to stop the foreclosure, whose timing seems a little suspicious, to say the least. It doesn't appear that Kristine will get to the bottom of this without a lawyer.

Power of persuasion

Pam, of Gulf Breeze, Fla., has had a run of bad luck with Maytag dishwashers.

“I purchased a Maytag Dishwasher in Jan 2010,” Pam said. “In Jan 2011, the electronic control panel failed. It was still under the 1 yr warranty so Maytag had it replaced. The repairman says there is a problem w/ steam/water getting into their front panels.

One month later, Pam said the second electronic control panel failed. She said Maytag replaced it again "as a courtesy."

“One month later, the third electronic control panel failed,” Pam said. “Maytag refused to honor the replacement of the third control panel even with threats of litigation. I wrote to Home Depot who had sold the unit. They contacted their Maytag buyer who replaced the dishwasher with a new one and installed it free of charge.”

Remarkably, Pam persuaded Maytag to repair an out-of-warranty unit and persuaded Home Depot to pay for an install a new dishwasher for her. She's one savvy consumer, in our book.

Troublesome transfer

For-profit colleges are feeling some heat for their costs and their aid and loan policies. John, of Leesburg, Va., doesn't have any problem with that, but wishes Strayer University, which he attended, would be a little more responsive to what he sees as a simple request.

“In the beginning of May, I sent through the mail a request to have my transcript sent to a college along with a $5 check,” John told ConsumerAffairs.com. “The college I wish to attend never received the transcript. I also never received any notification that there was a problem. I called several times and spoke to people who promised to get back to me and never did. In June I went down to the admissions office with my grade statements, which they scanned in and created a case number. I paid another $5 in cash. I have called to find out the update on the case and no one has replied back. It is now July.”

John points out he spent good money to earn credits at Strayer, and he will have to spent more if he can't transfer them to another school.

Foot in the door

From the earliest days of the republic, peddlers have gone door to door selling their wares. But Roger, of Carmi, Ill., was upset when an insurance agent knocked at his door this week.

“Tuesday, July 19, a man and a woman in a Cadillac pulled up in my drive way wanting to talk to me about insurance,” Roger said. They were trying to peddle or talk to me about insurance. No business card was presented or name given to me. When I asked what his business was at my home unannounced, he said I looked busy and would contact me later. I promptly put up no soliciting signs. My security cameras may have captured his license plate, I hope. I am trying to contact the company about this tasteless way of selling door to door.”

It certainly isn't against the law to sell door to door (Roger said he was tempted to call the police), but it goes without saying you shouldn't buy insurance that way.

 

 

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Visa, MasterCard Settle Antitrust Suit

Merchants will now be able to steer customers to lower-cost payment options

A federal judge today approved a settlement of antitrust charges against Visa and Mastercard that either will or won't increase competition among credit ca...

PhotoA federal judge today approved a settlement of antitrust charges against Visa and Mastercard that either will or won't increase competition among credit card issuers, depending on who you talk to.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garufis said he found the "public interest is best served by approving the proposed final judgement." But American Express, which is not a party to the settlement, said the settlement will allow Visa and Mastercard to "pay merchants to discriminate against American Express."

But American Express said the settlement will create less, not more, competition.

All three credit card issuers had been sued by the U.S. Justice Department and 18 states, claiming that the rules the issuers had in place prohibited retailers from steering customers to lower-cost payment options.

The rules also prohibited merchants from telling customers about the transaction fees charged to the merchant by the credit card companies.

Under the settlement, Visa and MasterCard are required to allow merchants to offer discounts to customers who pay with other credit cards that charge lower merchant fees as well as to customers that pay with cash or other alternative payment forms.

Comments submitted to the Court from trade groups, retailers associations and individual merchants were "overwhelmingly positive if not enthusiastic" in support of the settlement, Judge Garufis noted.

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Feds Force Unsafe Buses, Trucks Off the Road

Violators being taken out of service until problems are corrected

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has shifted into high gear in its drive to get unsafe buses and trucks off the road. DOT said today that in the...

PhotoThe U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has shifted into high gear in its drive to get unsafe buses and trucks off the road. DOT said today that in the last two years, it has issued as many imminent hazard orders placing unsafe bus and truck companies out of service as in the previous 10 years combined.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has cracked down on unsafe carriers through surprise inspections, full compliance reviews, and enforcement actions.

Between 2000 and 2009, FMCSA issued a total of 14 imminent hazard orders placing unsafe carriers out of service. In just the last two years, FMCSA has already issued another 14 imminent hazard orders to take carriers that pose an immediate risk to passengers off the road. For example, last month the Department of Transportation issued an imminent hazard order to a Michigan company found to be transporting passengers in luggage compartments, at great risk to passengers.

“From Day One, I have pledged to put public safety above all else, and we will continue to take action when we see carriers placing passengers at risk,” said U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “We have seen the tragic consequences of unsafe practices – whether it’s ignoring fatigue regulations, providing inadequate driver training, or failing to conduct the proper maintenance of a bus or motorcoach. We continue using all of the tools at our disposal to get unsafe carriers off the road and hope that Congress will act on our proposal to provide us with the necessary authority to expand our safety oversight.”

In the past four months, FMCSA has issued eight out-of-service orders.  FMCSA issued these orders immediately following safety investigations that found the carriers and/or the drivers to be in such substantial non-compliance with federal safety regulations as to pose an imminent hazard to public safety.

The eight imminent hazard out-of-service orders in 2011 have been issued to seven interstate motorcoach companies:  two each based in Georgia and Pennsylvania, and one each in Michigan, Mississippi and North Carolina.  One order was issued to a Tennessee-based truck driver. 

“I’m proud of FMCSA’s efforts to crack down and take action on unsafe interstate bus and trucking companies,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro.  “Our safety investigators, inspectors and state partners will continue demanding that motor carriers and their drivers adhere to safety requirements.  While most of the industry operates safely, I also look forward to working with Congress to add new tools to prevent unsafe companies and drivers from operating.”

 

 

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Frequent Falls May Be Early Alzheimer's Sign

In study, subjects with Alzheimer's indicators had more falls

Researchers have linked balance problems to early stage Alzheimer's disease...

PhotoA parent or loved one who has begun to have problems with balance could be experiencing early indicators of Alzheimer's disease, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis.

The researchers reported their findings this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Paris.

They found that study participants with brain changes suggestive of early Alzheimer’s disease were more likely to fall than those whose brains did not show the same changes. Until now, falls had only been associated with Alzheimer’s in the late stages of dementia.

No obvious signs of Alzheimer's

“If you meet these people on the street, they appear healthy and have no obvious cognitive problems,” said lead author Susan Stark, PhD, assistant professor of occupational therapy and neurology. “But they have changes in their brain that look similar to Alzheimer’s disease, and they have twice the typical annual rate of falls for their age group.”

About one in three adults age 65 or older typically fall each year. But in the 18 participants with high amyloid levels in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, two-thirds fell within the first eight months of the study. High levels of amyloid in the brain were the best predictor of an increased risk of falls.

“Falls are a serious health concern for older adults,” Stark said. “Our study points to the notion that we may need to consider preclinical Alzheimer’s disease as a potential cause.”

Inherited Alzheimer's

In an unrelated study at the university, researchers found that inherited forms of Alzheimer's may be detectable as many as 20 years before memory problems surface. The discovery, they say, may lead to much earlier diagnosis, which could slow the impact of the progressive disease.

“We want to prevent damage and loss of brain cells by intervening early in the disease process — even before outward symptoms are evident, because by then it may be too late,” said Alzheimer’s researcher and physician Randall Bateman, MD, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and an associate director of the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network (DIAN), an international study of inherited forms of Alzheimer’s.

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What Are The Best Rewards Credit Cards?

There are a lot of things to consider, including annual fees

Financial website CardHub.com has listed the best rewards credit cards...

PhotoWhile some consumers complain that they get no respect from their credit card company, credit card companies are doing everything they can to please another group of consumers – those who maintained great credit scores during the economic turmoil of the last two years.

Low interest rates don't always mean much to this group because, in most cases, they don't carry balances on their credit cards. They pay it off each month.

Instead, credit card companies compete with one another to offer the best and most enticing rewards programs, hoping to lure the most credit-worthy consumers with gifts, cash and airline miles. If you happen to fall into this group, you basically have your pick of rewards cards. But which one should you choose?

Card Hub, a site that analyzes credit cards, says the offers have gotten better and the rewards, well, more rewarding. The site has issued a list of what it says are among the best rewards credit cards:

  • Southwest Airlines Credit Card – Users get 50,000 bonus points (worth over $800 in Wanna Get Away Fares) after your first purchase. But it comes with a $99 annual fee.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – Get $625 worth of airfare or hotel accommodations, or $500 cash back when you spend $3,000 during the first three months. There is no annual fee for the first year, but you should expect to pay one after that.
  • Capital One Venture Rewards – Customers receive $250 in travel expenses when they spend $1,000 in the first three months and the annual fee is waved the first year.
  • New Ink Cash Business Card – Offers $250 cash back to business owners who spend $5,000 in the first three months. Perhaps the biggest reward, no annual fee.
  • Chase Freedom Visa – You can earn $200 cash back after spending $500 in the first three months and there is no annual fee.
  • British Airways Credit Card – Earn 50,000 miles, enough for a free transatlantic flight, if you spend $2,500 in the first 90 days. The card carries a $95 annual fee.

Annual fees

The downside to rewards credit cards is that most of them charge an annual fee. From the credit card company's perspective, if they are catering to customers who pay little or no interest because they don't carry a balance, and the company is handing out rewards, it needs to charge the fee if the account is going to be at all profitable.

If you're a consumer in this sought-after group, perhaps the question you have to ask yourself is, do you really need a rewards card at all? If you routinely put thousands of dollars in charges on your card each month, then the rewards you'll rack up might be worth an annual fee.

However, if you don't use your credit card all that much, a large credit line, flexible terms and no annual fee are probably more important than any enticing rewards.

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What's On Your Mind? Charmglow, BJs, Vertrue

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Charmglow, BJs, Vertrue, Disappearing rebate and Negative option primer....


We're well into the back yard barbecue season, so how's your grill holding up? Robert, of Slidell, La., told us about his Charmglow, and he isn't impressed.

Photo

“Spent over $500 for the Charmglow "Stainless Steel" grill and burners,” Robert told ConsumerAffairs.com. “Junk from the outside to the inside. Grease drip pan weld broke, outside is rusting, grate completely disintegrated, bottom tray rusted to nothing, tune burners rusted out in the first one and a half years, and the list goes on. I am so mad I paid this kind of money when I could have spent half or less the same amount on a "disposable" grill that would have lasted three times as long.”

There have been two recalls of Charmglow grills and, from the sound of it, things haven't gotten a whole lot better.

Disappearing rebate

It's no surprise that a credit card company would offer an incentive to apply. It is surprising that, once the consumer has applied, the offer disappears.

“I received a promotion by mail to apply for a BJ's VISA credit card that included a $25 rebate that will show in my first statement,” said Margareta, of Clinton, N.J. “Didn't get it in my first statement and neither in the following ones. Talking with costumer support I was told that there is no $25 rebate in the records of promotions sent to me and I should fax them the form, which I did. I received a phone message saying that I will receive my rebate in the second billing cycle but it didn't happen. It is not about the money but the principle.”

And the law requires them to do so. Margareta should send a copy of her complaint, along with the solicitation, to New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow.

Negative option primer

Negative option marketing is how consumers end up buying things on their credit cards without even being aware of it. We could explain it, but Doreen, of Southfield, Mich., does a pretty good job of it, and tells how she dealt with it.

“In Dec. of 2010, I ordered tickets from a website I believed to be legitimate,” Doreen told ConsumerAffairs.com. “The individual that I ordered the tickets from forwarded my e-mail address and bank account information to a company called Passport to Fun. This company is affiliated with Adaptive Marketing LLC, which is a subsidiary of Vertrue Inc.

“Once my bank information and credit card was forwarded to Passport to Fun, they proceeded by sending me a junk e-mail that claims that I could "get discounts or savings on books, music, clothing home improvement items, entertainment activities, dining out, fashion and fitness products". This came through on my computer as junk mail which I never read. By not reading this e-mail, I was then signed up to Passport to Fun because I did not check the box on the e-mail rejecting my membership.

“As of Dec. 2010, we had charges of $19.95 deducted from our account every month for the membership that I did not sign up for nor did I want to participate in. I called the number that I submitted above and they only canceled my acct and refunded me one months charge.

“So I went to my bank and the bank attendant canceled my card. The attendant also contacted the agency associated with the bank that deals with the Visa Cards. Tom, the individual that I spoke to, contacted Passport to Fun and through his pressure and request, the supervisor at Passport to Fun refunded my account in full. I was not able to do what he did as a consumer and even with threats of pursuing this matter via the Better Business Bureau.”

Doreen says the lesson is clear – when caught up in one of these negative option disputes, get your credit/debit card issuer involved. They have a lot more clout with these companies than you do.

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New Jersey Travel Club Owner Arrested, Charged with Theft

Consumers paid for vacation packages that never materialized

Police have arrested the owner of numerous New Jersey vacation travel companies with a long history of consumer complaints. Daryl Turner, 39, of Cherry Hil...

Photo
Daryl Turner

Police have arrested the owner of numerous New Jersey vacation travel companies with a long history of consumer complaints. Daryl Turner, 39, of Cherry Hill, is accused of stealing more than $75,000 from consumers for vacation packages and travel benefits that were never provided.

Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor said Turner was arrested at his home and charged with second degree theft by deception.

It is alleged that since 2008, Turner, through his vacation travel companies, took payments from numerous consumers and then repeatedly failed to provide the contracted-for travel packages, or refund the money. Turner also allegedly failed to deliver various promotional items promised to consumers in return for their attendance at promotional seminars.

That's what happened to Donald of Edgewater Park, N.J.

“Sat in on a 90-minute presentation in return we were to receive a free cruise for 8 days 7 nights and airfare,” Donald told ConsumerAffairs.com. “We filled all information, sent in $603.00 for port charges, government taxes” but never received confirmation of the cruise and soon found that the company's telephone number had been disconnected.

Turner also allegedly used the corporate logos of airlines, hotels, and car rental companies in promotional materials without those companies' permission.

Under terms of a February 2011 agreement with the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Turner is barred from doing business in the state for no less than five years and cannot open or operate any such business in the future without state approval.

Under the agreement, Turner is responsible for over $2,188,000 in consumer restitution and $478,000 in civil penalties. Turner also is required to reimburse the state $419,780.10 for its attorneys’ fees and investigative costs.

The vacation trav el companies named as defendants in the state’s civil lawsuit included Dreamworks Vacation Club, Dreamworks Vacations, Bentley Travel, Modern Destinations Unlimited, Blue Water, Vacation Clubs LLC d/b/a La Bonne Vie Travel, Five Points Travel Company, Dream Vacations International, Inc., and Away We Go Promotions, LLC.

The Division of Consumer Affairs last month filed a six-count Complaint in Burlington County Superior Court that charges Turner, individually and d/b/a Reservations, his wife Robyn B. Bernstein, and their Marlton-based company, Travel Deals Limited Liability Company, as well as VIP Executives, LLC, with violating the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and Advertising Regulations by failing to fulfill promises of complimentary cruises and airfare used to induce attendance at sales presentations, and failing to provide the luxury vacation packages at discounted prices represented during the sales presentations.

 

 

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Illinois Charges Woman Sold Ads in Non-Existent Magazines

Clients paid for ads that never appeared in magazines that didn't exist

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan today filed suit against a central Illinois woman for scamming consumers and businesses out of at least $17,000 for ...

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan today filed suit against a central Illinois woman for scamming consumers and businesses out of at least $17,000 for advertisements in fictitious magazines.

Madigan’s lawsuit alleges Holly Jones Cunningham, of Leroy, has defrauded consumers since August 2010 into buying advertising in Just 4 Her magazine.

Madigan alleges Cunningham acted as magazine president and editor, charging McLean County consumers and businesses between $330 and $2,900 for ads that never materialized in print, in violation of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

My office received multiple complaints from consumers who thought they were paying for advertisements only to learn the magazine was never published, and they’d been scammed out of thousands of dollars,” Madigan said.

Madigan said so far six consumers reported being victimized by Cunningham’s scheme resulting in $17,900 in losses.

The lawsuit asks the court to prohibit Cunningham from selling magazine advertising space and cancel any pending advertising contracts. The lawsuit also seeks restitution for consumers with unresolved complaints.

Madigan’s suit seeks to impose on the defendant a civil penalty of $50,000 and additional penalties of $50,000 for each violation found to be committed with the intent to defraud.

 

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Feds Halt Timeshare Resale Scam

Telemarketers claimed they had buyers lined up

A federal court has temporarily halted a telemarketing operation that targeted consumers trying to sell their timeshare properties. The defendants allegedl...

A federal court has temporarily halted a telemarketing operation that allegedly targeted consumers trying to sell their timeshare properties. The defendants allegedly charged consumers thousands of dollars, falsely claiming they had buyers lined up for sales that supposedly would be reviewed and approved by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC is seeking to permanently end the defendants’ deceptive practices and make them refund consumers’ money.

The FTC alleges that the Orlando, Florida-based defendants, who operated out of mail drop addresses in places such as Las Vegas, Boston, and Orlando, contacted consumers trying to sell their timeshare properties and told them they had buyers for them.

In order for the sale to proceed, the defendants charged consumers up to $3,150 – either as an “earnest money deposit” to commit them to the sale, or for sale-related expenses – which, consumers were told, would be refunded when the sale closed.

The defendants instructed consumers to pay by cashier’s check or money order sent by overnight delivery, and to immediately sign and return a “sales agreement” or “seller’s document” that would be mailed to them. Telemarketers who spoke with consumers often represented that the property sale would be reviewed and approved by the FTC.

Sales agreement”

The FTC’s complaint alleged that the “sales agreement” was merely a marketing contract for advertising the property, not a sales contract. Consumers who signed the contract and sent their payment to the defendants often were not contacted again, and consumers’ properties were never sold.

Consumers who called the defendants were given the run-around, and refund demands were routinely ignored or denied. Contrary to the defendants’ alleged assertions, the FTC does not review or approve timeshare sales.

The FTC charged the defendants with violating the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by misrepresenting that they had buyers willing to pay a specific price for consumers’ timeshare properties, that they would refund their fee when the property was sold, and that the FTC would review and approve proposed sales.

The court froze the defendants’ assets and appointed a receiver to take control of the businesses. The defendants are National Solutions LLC, also doing business as Blue Scape Timeshares International, Country Wide Timeshares, Countrywide Timesharesales MA, Landmark Timeshares, Propertys Direct, Quicksale Propertys, Sun Property Networks, Sun Property’s, Universal Propertys, and VIM Timeshares; Landmark Marketing LLC, also doing business as Blue Scape Timeshares, Country Wide Timeshares International, Propertys DRK, Quick Sale Advisers, Quick Sale International, and Universal Propertys International; Red Solutions LLC, also doing business as City Resorts and Resort Advisors; Enterprise America, LLC, also doing business as American Timeshares, Exit Week, and Resort Advisors International; Investments Group of Florida, LLC, also doing business as Resort Advisors AM; Multiglobe LLC, also doing business as Universal Propertys; Leandro Velazquez; Samuel Velazquez; Joel Velazquez; Kiomary Cruz; Edgar Gonzalez; Vicente Virgilio; and Aaron Weiss.


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OnStar Available On All Cars Sunday

Security system is becoming an after-market product

OnStar will be available on all cars starting Sunday...

PhotoOnStar's exclusive arrangement with General Motors (GM) comes to an end Sunday, when the OnStar For My Vehicle (FMV) goes on sale at Best Buy stores.

The company's first out-of-the-box device can work as an after-market product on 90 million older vehicles of all types, the company said. With the controls mounted in the rear view mirror, the existing mirror in cars will simply be replaced with the OnStar device.

The OnStar FMV will sell for $299.99 plus $75 for installation. Service plans start at $18.95 a month.

"The wait is over," said OnStar President Linda Marshall. "Since we announced OnStar FMV at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, thousands of people have signed up to be notified when this innovative product is ready to buy. Now, through Best Buy, they can enhance their Fords, Toyotas, Chryslers and other brands with the power of OnStar."

Security and navigation

OnStar provides security and navigation services using both cellular and GPS technology. Consumers familiar with OnStar radio and television commercials know the service reacts to accidents and summons help and can remotely unlock a vehicle when a driver locks their keys inside.

The process, however, is apparently not as simple as it sounds in the commercials. Consumers have complained of security measures that they say can slow the process of opening a car door or tracking a stolen vehicle.

The company faced a class action suit last year from angry consumers who lost their OnStar service in 2008, when the company stopped supporting analog receivers.

Launched at a time before nearly everyone carried a cell phone, OnStar has promoted the “security” and “peace of mind” aspects of its service from the beginning. Company officials say it continues to offer things cell phones can't, including Automatic Crash Response, which connects the driver to an OnStar operator in the event of a crash.

In addition, it provides services also offered by smartphones, including turn-by-turn navigation and hands-free calling.

Does GM mind losing OnStar exclusivity? Apparently not. OnStar is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the carmaker.

 

 

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What's On Your Mind? Verizon Wireless, Match.com, Cash Yes

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Verizon Wireless, Match.com, Cash Yes, Let's see some ID and Expensive loan....

PhotoWhen your new, expensive smartphone breaks in the first few months of use, what happens? Rocky, of Manassas, Va., found out, and isn't happy about what he learned. He said he purchased a Blackberry through Verizon Wireless in January and it broke in May. He said he next took it to a Verizon store.

“The customer rep said 'we don't fix phones,'” Rocky told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I explained that Verizon is responsible for fixing phones because of the expense and they have a one year warranty. The rep said 'you have to buy insurance on the phone.'”

It's true. When you purchase a new phone the last question the sales rep asks is if you want to buy insurance on the phone. But doesn't the manufacturer – RIMM, in Rocky's case – have some responsibility? Indeed they do, and according to RIMM's Web site, Rocky's phone should be covered by a one year manufacturer's warranty

Rocky's mistake is his assumption that Verizon Wireless would take care of the repair for him. They won't, and in fairness, neither will other retailers who sell products that have a manufacturer's warranty. The consumer must deal directly with the manufacturer. Verizon only gets into the act if you buy one of their insurance policies.

Let's see some ID

Lisa, of North Port, Fla., signed up with Match.com because the dating service said it checked members' IP address, profile and picture before they post information. But after using the service, Lisa says she doesn't think that's true.

“I found that every person that contacted me was a fraud,” Lisa said. “I learned this after losing money to an online scammer, and have since learned that many, many of Match.com members are actually Nigerian or Turkish scammers. Match.com could easily check this if they did check IP address with physical location the member says they are from.”

It goes without saying you should exercise a healthy dose of skepticism about anyone you meet on a dating service until you meet them face to face – and maybe for a while afterward, too.

Expensive loan

Stephanie, of San Diego, reports her husband borrowed $700 from Cash Yes, a payday lender, in January. As of last week, she said the company had taken $1,974.50 from her checking account.

“When my husband called they told him we still have a balance of 300.00 dollars,” Stephanie told ConsumerAffairs.com. “That means we will have paid over $2200.00 dollars by the time this $700.00 dollar loan is paid off? I'm not sure how this is legal.”

It isn't in 16 states. Unfortunately for Stephanie and her husband, California isn't among the states that have banned payday loans. Stephanie's loan balance mushroomed, in all probability, because the loan was renewed every two weeks.

The Center for Responsible Lending says payday loan terms include high-cost fees and triple-digit interest rates. Instead of a small amount owed for a couple of weeks, borrowers become trapped in thousands of dollars of debt from fees and interest that can last a year or even longer. Most payday borrowers have nine repeat loans per year and 400 percent interest, the group says.

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Hyundai No. 1 In Brand Loyalty Survey

Kia and Mini also show improvement

Hyundai claims top spot in Kelley Blue Book's customer loyalty survey...

PhotoPeople like their Hyundais. The Korean auto brand has claimed the top spot in Kelley Blue Book's (KBB) second quarter consumer brand loyalty survey.

Honda was in second place while Toyota fell to third. It marks the first time since KKB started tracking this data that Hyundai has held the No. 1 spot for an entire quarter.

In Play

The researchers at KKB say auto loyalty has been up for grabs in the last couple of years. Toyota's well-publicized recalls may have had something to do with it. But the fact that gasoline prices have risen sharply has given companies that excel in fuel efficient cars an edge too.

While many of the auto industry's top players have found themselves struggling to retain customers, KKB says Hyundai has “blazed a new trail and preserved its loyal consumer base.”  The driving factors behind this retention have been aggressive marketing campaigns combined with innovative product redesigns like the highly successful 2011 Sonata and 2011 Elantra.  

For second quarter of 2011, Hyundai's brand loyalty was at 52.3 percent, with Honda following at 49.7 percent and Toyota sliding in third at 47.7 percent.  Rounding out the top five are Ford in the fourth spot at 45.4 percent, and Subaru  in fifth at 44.8 percent.

Korean brands do well

In a time when most brands are losing loyalty, KKB said it is notable that fellow Korean automaker Kia also is bucking the trend.  Kia is one of only two brands that are up in brand loyalty year-over-year, with the other being Mini.  Both Kia and Mini are succeeding in loyalty for reasons similar to Hyundai, with a combined result of attractive redesigns and additional models within their respective lineups, as well as aggressive marketing campaigns, KKB said.

"Hyundai's product renaissance is benefitting the company not just by attracting an all-new customer base, but by helping them to retain current loyal Hyundai owners, as well," said Arthur Henry, market intelligence manager for Kelley Blue Book.  "This latest brand loyalty analysis from KKB.com is a testament to the power of attractive vehicle designs and intriguing marketing in the minds of in-market car shoppers as they consider their next vehicle."

Several luxury brands, which have eroded in loyalty over the past few years, have now risen in loyalty for the second quarter.  April and May of this year saw some positive economic signals, such as a sharp drop in gas prices, and as a result, Kelley Blue Book Market Intelligence sees prior luxury owners shifting back to the luxury brands they enjoyed when the economy was booming. This is a positive sign for luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, all of which saw quarter-over-quarter increases for Q2 2011 versus Q1 2011, yet all remain down year-over-year.

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Report Finds Meat Harmful to Health & the Environment

Food choices affect more than just health

The Environmental Working Group today released its groundbreaking Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, a tool that allows both consumers and ex...

PhotoThe Environmental Working Group today released its groundbreaking Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, a tool that allows both consumers and experts to understand easily how food choices affect both their environmental footprint and their health.

Taking into account every stage of food production, processing, consumption and waste disposal, the guide documents in unprecedented detail how consumers who eat less meat and cheese can significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and health risks linked to their dietary choices. Previous studies have focused mostly on emissions from the food production phase only.

The calculations reveal that if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, over a year, the effect on emissions would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

The research also highlights the surprisingly large environmental impact of meat that goes into the trash, which accounts for more than 20 percent of all meat-associated emissions.

Limit damage

“By eating and wasting less meat, consumers can help limit the environmental damage caused by the huge amounts of fertilizer, fuel, water, and pesticides, not to mention the toxic manure and wastewater, that goes along with producing meat,” said Kari Hamerschlag, EWG senior analyst and author of the report.

“Choosing healthier, pasture-raised meats can also help improve people’s health and reduce the environmental damage associated with meat consumption,” Hamerschlag said.

The study points to abundant research showing how eating large quantities of beef and processed meats increases exposure to toxins and increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, and obesity.

EWG teamed up with CleanMetrics, an environmental analysis and consulting firm, to calculate complete lifecycle assessments of the “cradle-to-grave” carbon footprint of 20 types of conventionally raised (not organic or grass-fed) meat, fish, dairy and vegetable proteins, counting emissions generated both before and after the food leaves the farm.

These assessments included every step of the food cycle, from the pesticides and fertilizers used to grow animal feed through to the grazing, processing, transportation, cooking and finally, disposal of unused food. 

Key findings

Other key findings of the report:

  • Beef generates more than twice the emissions of pork, nearly four times that of chicken, and more than 13 times that of vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils, and tofu.

  • Cheese has the third-highest emissions. Less dense cheese (such as cottage) results in fewer greenhouse gases since it takes less milk to produce it.

  • 90 percent of beef’s emissions, 69 percent of pork’s, 72 percent of salmon’s and 68 percent of tuna’s are generated in the production phase. Just half of chicken’s emissions are generated during production.

“The report also points out that making significant cuts in emissions will not come solely from individual action, but also citizen action,” said Ken Cook, EWG’s President. “Consumers need to convince Washington to enact comprehensive policies that put the nation on a path to green energy. Reducing meat production’s negative impact on soil, air and water quality will also require better policies and regulatory enforcement as well as curbing meat consumption.”

 

 

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Bank of America's Lawyer Plays Dirty, Suit Charges

Homeowners' lawyer alleges improper tactics by bank's attorney

An attorney who represents victims of illegal foreclosures and mortgage fraud claims a senior partner with the law firm Bryan Cave LLP who represents Bank ...

PhotoAn attorney who represents victims of foreclosures and mortgage fraud claims a senior partner with the law firm Bryan Cave LLP who represents Bank of America and Countrywide Mortgage is using underhanded tactics to try to put him out of business. 

In the case filed in Orange County, Calif., Superior Court, attorney Gary Lane says the bank's lawyers have used intentional and malicious tactics to prevent him from representing underprivileged defendants.

Lane operates a non-profit legal clinic, the Consumer Protection Assistance Coalition, in Irvine.

Lane, who has been in practice for 39 years, says that over the last three years his clinic began to handle a large number of cases involving homeowners wrongfully threatened by banks and mortgage lenders and has filed a number of suits against Bank of America and Countrywide.

Stuart Price, a senior partner at Bryan Cave, is responsible for handling Bank of America's mortgage and foreclosure cases, the suit says and it alleges that in every case filed by Lane, Price files responses that include untrue and defamatory statements about Lane.

Lane's suit lists actions that he alleges were taken solely to undermine his reputation and damage his business, including:

  • failure to file a stipulation delaying a hearing, causing Lane to be sanctioned for not appearing;

  • directed a witness to perjure herself, causing Lane to be sanctioned by the court;

  • filed a motion asking that Lane be ordered to seek a judge's approval before filing any additional actions against Bank of America; and

  • filed a complaint with the State Bar taking issue with 78 lawsuits Lane had filed against Bank of America, causing Lane to be required to respond separately to each and every complaint;

Lane says that as a result of the law firm's tactics, he has been required to spend “countless hours” responding to the tactical roadblocks.

In the case of the 78 complaints, Lane notes that the State Bar normally allows an attorney one month to respond to a complaint, anticipating that it will take that long to assemble a proper response. But since Price filed 78 complaints in a single document, Lane is being given only one or two months to respond.

Lane cites provisions in California's civil procedure rules noting “a disturbing increase in lawsuits brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of free speech,” and alleges that the purpose of Price's actions is to block Lane from bringing further lawsuits against Bank of America on behalf of troubled homeowners.

The suit seeks injunctive relief, legal fees and dismissal of the State Bar complaint. 

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Scammers May Pose As Someone From Your Bank

Scheme is operating in North Carolina, perhaps other states

A new Vishing scam seeks to impersonate your bank...

Look out – scammers are now assuming the identity of your bank to steal from you.

The scam has elicited a warning from North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who says the scam has targeted a number of consumers in his state already. He says consumers have received calls that appear to be from the Bank of NC and High Point Bank and Trust.

Here's how it works: the consumer receives an automated phone call saying that the consumer's debit card has been blocked. It asks the person on the line to press 1 to proceed.

You then get a live person who asks for your debit card number. Consumers who’ve received the calls report that they appear to come from numbers in Indiana, North Dakota, New Jersey and Canada.  However, the criminals behind these scams are often located overseas and use technology to make their calls appear to come from numbers inside the U.S.

“If you get one of these phony phone calls, hang up,” Cooper said. “The calls come from scammers trying to steal your personal information and drain your account, not from your real bank.”

The calls are a variation on the phishing scam called vishing, or voice phishing. Con artists will use phone calls, text messages and email to pose as legitimate businesses or even government agencies in an attempt to steal your bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers.

“Don’t take the bait when criminals go phishing for your money and your information,” Cooper said.

Common sense is a good weapon

To avoid becoming a victim of phishing and vishing scams, keep your wits about you and employ common sense.

Never share your account number and/or PIN with anyone who contacts you, even if they claim to be with your bank. Think about it. Your bank already has your account or debit card number and will not contact you to ask for it.

If you get a call, email or text indicating that there’s a problem with your bank account, don’t respond. Instead, contact the bank at a phone number or through a secure website you know to be legitimate.

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DuPont Herbicide Kills Trees as Well as Weeds, Class Action Charges

Imprelis blamed for deaths of white pines, Norway spruce trees

A federal class action lawsuit claims DuPont pushes its Imprelis herbicide to kill broadleaf weeds, but it also kills spruce, pines and other evergreens, c...

PhotoA federal class action lawsuit claims DuPont pushes its Imprelis herbicide to kill broadleaf weeds, but it also kills spruce, pines and other evergreens, costing people "millions of dollars" nationwide. 

In the suit, the Polo Fields Golf and Country Club of Southfield, Mich., says that after it was introduced in the spring of 2011, Imprelis was used on “thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lawns and other properties” throughout the United States, causing extensive damage to mature pine and spruce trees worth millions of dollars.

The suit quotes DuPont as claiming in a press release that Imprelis offered “tremendous benefits in the performance and application flexibility of Imprelis.” The press release also reiterated the Company’s earlier claim that “[s]tudies show that Imprelis is effective for broadleaf weed control immediately prior to or after seeding of cool season grass (except bentgrass)” and “[r]esearch also proves it is not impacted by rain, hot temperatures or cool temperatures, and provides unprecedented levels of broadleaf weed control when applied on granular fertilizer.”

Yellowing and curling

But shortly after landscapers began applying Imprelis, “property owners and operators began to notice yellowing and curling of needles and branches of spruce, and pine, and other evergreen trees.”

A short time later, the trees affected by Imprelis “became unsightly and many died, adversely affecting the beauty and Plaintiffs’ enjoyment of their property as well as diminishing its value,” the suit alleges.

On June 17, DuPont issued a letter warning landscape managers to avoid applying Imprelis in areas where Norway spruce and white pine trees were present, and added the warning to its Website.

“These warnings came too late for the thousands of golf courses and commercial landscapes featuring valuable, mature trees vulnerable to Imprelis’s effect,” the suit charges.

The suit charges DuPont with negligence, unjust enrichment and consumer fraud. It seeks damages and legal costs.

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Mortgage Modifications An Unforgiving Process

A typo can result in foreclosure

A homeowner tells how a misplaced digit may cause him to lose his home to foreclosure...

PhotoThe mortgage modification process appears to be highly unforgiving. Any little thing can derail it, including a single misplaced digit.

Our story comes from Charles, a homeowner from Hanover Park, Ill., seeking a mortgage modification through Chase, and two and a half years into the process of trying to save his home.

“This past February I started a home modification trial period, which would run from February to April,” Charles told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I made my last payment in April of this year and every time that I called to make my payment they would verify my last four of my banking account number, except for this last time, they ask for my routing number along with my bank account number.”

Charles said a Chase representative read the number back and he verified that it was correct. He assumed everything was on track to finalize his modification.

Don't worry, everything's fine

“Well, after three days I noticed that they hadn't taken the money out of my account so I called Chase Bank, and they said that they have received the funds and everything looks find and I should hear from them very soon concerning my new modification,” Charles said.

But days later Charles noticed the funds for his last trial modification payment had still not been transferred. He said he immediately called his contact at Chase.

“They said that the bank rejected the withdrawal,” Charles said. “After going back and forth with Chase Bank and after their investigation, they said that the routing number was correct but my bank account number was incorrect.”

It turns out Charles's bank account number was wrong – by one digit. Therefore, the money could not be moved from his bank account to make the mortgage payments, meaning he was delinquent.

“They told me that there was nothing that they could do except to try to escalate the issue,” he said.

Charles said because his payment was “late,” his modification was denied, and he was told he would have to make up the amount that was discounted from his mortgage payments during the trial period or face foreclosure. He had gone from being one payment away from a modification to the prospect of losing his home.

The government has recently announced its intention to make the modification process more helpful to homeowners who have a good chance of salvaging their situation. A good start might be to find a way to prevent a bureaucratic error from forcing an otherwise qualified homeowner into foreclosure.

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Court Rules TSA Adopted Body Scanners Improperly

Agency did not solicit public comment before imstalling whole-body scanners

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday (Friday) that the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) violated federal law when it installed body scanne...

PhotoThe D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday (Friday) that the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) violated federal law when it installed body scanners in airports for primary screening across the country without first soliciting public comment.

Unless it successfully appeals the ruling, the agency will have to solicit public comment and, by law, consider those comments in its review of the scanner program.

The Administrative Procedure Act requires federal agencies to provide notice and opportunity for comment when implementing a rule that affects the rights of the public.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) had filed suit against the agency in 2010, citing violations of federal law (including the Administrative Procedure Act) and the United States Constitution.

EPIC argued that the Department of Homeland Security "has initiated the most sweeping, the most invasive, and the most unaccountable suspicionless search of American travelers in history."

In its ruling, Judge Ginsburg, writing for the Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with EPIC, stating that “it is clear that by producing an image of the unclothed passenger, an [body] scanner intrudes upon his or her personal privacy in a way a magnetometer does not….Indeed, few if any regulatory procedures impose directly and significantly upon so many members of the public.”

The court then concluded that “TSA has not justified its failure to initiate notice and comment rulemaking before announcing it would use AIT scanners for primary screening.”

“We are pleased with the court's decision,” said Marc Rotenberg, President of EPIC and lead counsel in the case, “The TSA is now subject to the same rules as other government agencies that help ensure transparency and accountability. Many Americans object to the airport body scanner program. Now they will have an opportunity to express their views to the TSA and the agency must take their views into account as a matter of law.”

“The court's decision also makes clear that travelers have a legal right to opt out of the body scanner search. And travelers will be free to exercise that right without coercion.”

Co-plaintiff law professor and rights activist, Chip Pitts of Stanford Law School observed that “while the court's constitutional analysis is flawed given the ineffectiveness of the body scanners to detect the explosives for which they were supposedly designed, it is most welcome that the ruling finally offers procedural hope for the vindication of fundamental rights by giving the public the opportunity to protest against these arbitrary and counterproductive machines.”

It is unclear whether either party will appeal the ruling.

Earlier suit

EPIC succeeded in an earlier lawsuit against the Homeland Security program concerning the body scanner program.

In a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, EPIC obtained government records that revealed that the TSA required that the devices be able to store and record images of naked air travelers.

In a related suit against the United States Marshall Service, EPIC also obtained 35,000 stored images from a single body scanner operated in a courthouse.

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FBI Breaks Up Internet Fraud Network Based in Romania

More than 100 arrests yesterday as agents continue 10-year crackdown

The FBI says it has broken up an Internet fraud scheme that defrauded victims in the United States and elsewhere of more than $10 million through fraudulen...

PhotoThe FBI says it has broken up an Internet fraud scheme that defrauded victims in the United States and elsewhere of more than $10 million through fraudulent auction and online sales scams.

Yesterday, Romania law enforcement executed 117 searches targeting more than 100 individuals allegedly involved in the fraudulent scheme involving fake sales of merchandise through the Internet. Romanian law enforcement targeted individuals organizing and perpetrating this fraud from Romania.

According to U.S. court documents, in many of the cases, conspirators located in Romania would post items for sale such as cars, motorcycles and boats on Internet auction and online websites.

They would instruct victims located in the United States and elsewhere who wanted to buy those items to wire the purchase money to a fictitious name they claimed to be an employee of an escrow company. Once the victim wired the funds, the co-conspirators in Romania would text information about the wire transfer to co-conspirators in the United States known as “arrows” to enable them to retrieve the wired funds.

"Arrows" retrieved the loot

They would also provide the arrows with instructions as to where to send the funds after retrieval. The arrows in the United States would go to money transmitter service counters such as Western Union or MoneyGram International, provide false documents including passports and drivers’ licenses in the name of the recipient of the wire transfer, and obtain the funds.

They would then wire the funds overseas, typically to individuals in Romania, minus a percentage they kept for their commissions. In some cases, co-conspirators in Romania also directed arrows to provide bank accounts in the United States where larger amounts of funds could be wired by victims of the fraud.

The victims never received the items they believed they were purchasing.

The Internet fraud scheme has resulted in an estimated loss of more than $10 million from victims, including those in the United States. The full loss amount and identification of additional victims is ongoing.

Over the last 10 years, U.S. law enforcement authorities have strengthened ties with Romanian law enforcement authorities to address the rising threats posed by Romanian-based organized cyber criminal networks. To date, hundreds of defendants have been arrested and charged in the United States, Romania, and other countries as a result of this cooperation, the FBI said.

 

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What's On Your Mind? Ticketmaster, Bank of America, Cambridge Credit Counseling

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here's what's on consumers' minds today...

PhotoConsumers often express frustration in trying to obtain the “hot ticket” to an event. Leeann, of San Diego, Calif., thinks the deck is stacked against individual consumers trying to book seats through Ticketmaster.

“Adele was scheduled to play in San Diego at Humphrey's By the Bay, which I was unable to get tickets to because they were sold out in 10 minutes, and not by actual humans wanting to attend the concert, but by places like Ticketsnow.com and Stubhub,” Leeann told ConsumerAffairs.com.

But Adele canceled the concert and when it was rescheduled to a different venue in San Diego with more space Leeann said she was certain she was going to be able to get tickets.

“I was sitting on the computer on the Ticketmaster website at 9:45am because the tickets went on sale at 10am,” Leeann said. “At 10am on the dot, I submitted my order to Ticketmaster and they were sold out immediately. As soon as they went on sale at 10am, instantly were sold out to these other third party companies that are selling these tickets for anywhere from two to 10 times the face value. I think it is so unfair to people that actually are fans of these people and want to go see their concerts!”

Leeann has no proof, of course, that all the tickets went to third party sites, but it does seem a little fishy that they would sell out in 10 seconds. And we will point out that, earlier this year, the State of Maryland settled charges that Ticketmaster was referring consumers wanting tickets to sold-out events to TicketsNow, without disclosing that it TicketsNow's ticket prices were above the face value.

Here's your modification, no wait, your foreclosure

We have received hundreds of reports from distressed homeowners recounting the frustrations of trying to work out a mortgage modification. This story, from Kim, of Petal Miss., about her Bank of America mortgage may trump them all.

“Went into a trial loan modification in May 2009,” Kim said. “Finally got permanent paperwork in Feb 2011 for loan modification. Payments increased $290.00 per month from the trail period. They sent a notary to my home to fill out the paperwork on March 7.I started sending the increased payment in March 2011. On May 11, Fed Ex drops off a letter saying they are sorry I decided to opt out of the program and I was going in to foreclosure.”

Kim said she has been calling Bank of America ever since and still can't find out why her home is going to foreclosure. She says she certainly did not opt out of the modification program after obtaining a new, modified payment.

“Now they want $10,000 to reinstate my loan,” she said. “They sent my June payment back and I'm waiting on the July to come back any day.”

Meanwhile, Kim says she has had to hire an attorney to try to sort out the mess. But the homeowner being told one thing by personnel at the loan servicer, and something completely different by someone else, appears to be a pattern.

Careful with debt settlement

If you are ever tempted to fire a third party firm to help you “settle” your debt – even those that swear they aren't scams – read what Michael, of Buxton, Me., has to say on the subject.

“I paid Cambridge Credit Counseling Corporation over $500.00 a month for over a year and none of that money went to any of the accounts they were supposed to be paying,” Michael told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I had to go to court and got a judgment filed against me for not paying one of the accounts.”

To ad insult to injury, Michael says his share of a class action settlement with Cambridge Credit Counseling amounted to $35. 

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Asking For Zip Code with Credit Card Purchase May Be Illegal

Retailers may be going too far in gathering personal information

Retailers often ask customers making a credit card purchase to provide their zip code. The assumption is that the information is needed to confirm that the...

Retailers often ask customers making a credit card purchase to provide their zip code. The assumption is that the information is needed to confirm that the card is valid.

But there have been an increasing number of reports that businesses are using the customer's name and zip code to put together a much more complete portfolio, possibly including their mailing address, telephone number and email.

This practice may be illegal under certain circumstances. In California, the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act of 1971 makes it a crime to request and then record personal information from a customer paying with a credit card.

A Seattle law firm, Hagens Berman LLP, says it is investigating Nike, Inc. after reports that the company did just that.

Third-party vendors

The firm began its investigation after receiving reports that Nike customers were being asked for their zip codes upon making a purchase with a credit card at a Nike store. The firm believes that Nike may have then employed third-party vendors to use the first and last name of the customer and their zip code together to narrow down customers' home addresses.

The firm said it is interested in talking to consumers who made a purchase at a Nike store with a credit card and complied with a request for their zip code.

ConsumerAffairs.com would also like to hear from consumers who've had this experience. Please use the complaint form to do so.

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LivingSocial Adds 'Adventures' to Daily Deals Menu

Adventure packages will create "bigger and bolder" experience, company promises

Nine months after acquiring social adventure company Urban Escapes, daily deals giant LivingSocial today launched LivingSocial Adventures, a new service of...

PhotoNine months after acquiring social adventure company Urban Escapes, daily deals giant LivingSocial today launched LivingSocial Adventures, a new service offering deals on curated experiences ranging from river tubing and beer tasting to sushi-making classes and summer camp for adults.

The service initially will be available in 30 U.S., Canadian and U.K. Markets (see below). The company said all events will be personally guided by its own employees, and also be combined with extras such as meals or transportation.

Tim O'Shaughnessy, the CEO and co-founder of LivingSocial, said the new service "expands LivingSocial's footprint to include bigger and bolder member experiences that are truly unique for our members."

LivingSocial has pioneered the curation of handpicked experiences through our Daily Deals, Escapes, Instant and Families offerings," said Tim O'Shaughnessy, CEO and co-founder, LivingSocial. "The launch of LivingSocial Adventures expands LivingSocial's footprint to include bigger and bolder member experiences that are truly unique for our members."

NYC Adventure

To build excitement for the launch, LivingSocial announced “The Ultimate LivingSocial NYC Adventure” — a sweepstakes that will award three winners with one guest each an adventure consisting of:

  • Roundtrip airfare for two from their home to New York City

  • Helicopter transport from the airport into Manhattan

  • Two nights at Midtown's The Empire Hotel

  • Exclusive jet ski tour to the Statue of Liberty

  • Skydiving with views of the Manhattan skyline

  • Private rifle instruction in Manhattan's only indoor range

  • Dinner at Iron Chef winner Marc Forgione's restaurant

  • VIP experience at the Dave Matthews Band Caravan Concert on Governor's Island

To learn more, visit http://www.facebook.com/LivingSocialAdventures.

30 markets

LivingSocial Adventures is available to all members of LivingSocial.  Adventures are offered in a total of 30 markets throughout the U.S., Canada and the UK including:

  • Atlanta

  • Austin, Texas

  • Baltimore

  • Boise, Idaho

  • Boston

  • Charlotte, N.C.

  • Chicago

  • Dallas

  • Denver

  • Houston

  • London

  • Los Angeles

  • Miami

  • Minneapolis/St. Paul

  • Nashville, Tenn.

  • New Orleans

  • New York

  • Philadelphia

  • Phoenix

  • Portland, Ore.

  • Raleigh, N.C.

  • Richmond, Va.

  • Sacramento, Calif.

  • Salt Lake City

  • San Diego

  • San Francisco

  • Seattle

  • Toronto

  • Vancouver, BC

  • Washington

 

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Hearing Aid Business Booms as Population Ages

You can't trust ads or high-pressure salesmen pushing specific brands

We hear a lot lately about the aging of the Baby Boom generation, usually in the context of the strain all those old boomers are putting on Social Security...

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Don't believe celebrity endorsements

We hear a lot lately about the aging of the Baby Boom generation, usually in the context of the strain all those old boomers are putting on Social Security and Medicare. But the rapid aging of the American population is good news for lots of industries, including those who make wheelchairs, bifocals and hearing aids.

While not everyone falls into a wheelchair when they hit their 60s, even the healthiest older adults are likely to experience at least some hearing loss, especially those who spent too much time at rock concerts or at the race track in their youth.

There are all kinds of hearing loss associated with aging. Some can be corrected. Some can't. Nearly everyone can be helped by a hearing aid of some kind, however, and this simple fact has opened the door to a massive blitz of advertising by a few manufacturers, with Miracle Ear perhaps the best-known.

Most Miracle Ear ads, whether on television, the Web or in print, will urge you to immediately call a toll-free number or schedule an appointment at a nearby store to have your hearing tested.

This is not, however, an approach endorsed by anyone but hearing aid salesmen.

What to do

What should you do if you're beginning to have trouble hearing?

As with any health question, the first step should be diagnosis – finding out why your hearing is causing you problems. Once that's done, you can move on to finding the right treatment, which may or may not be a hearing aid.

The place to start is with an ENT – an ear, nose and throat specialist, also known as an otolaryngologist, preferably one who has an audiologist on staff. You can find ENTs in your area by typing "otolaryngologist" into your search engine. If you are part of an HMO or covered by the Veterans Administration, there should be staff ENTs available to you.

After an examination and hearing test, the ENT should be able to prescribe an appropriate treatment. If that treatment is a hearing aid, ask the ENT to be as specific as possible about what type of hearing aid you should get. You don't need a prescription to buy a hearing aid but it doesn't hurt to take notes or ask the ENT to jot down a few specifics.

Some ENTs sell hearing aids in their office. While this may be a good approach, it is also likely to be expensive.

It's important to note that Medicare does not cover hearing aids, although your ENT visit may be covered. Most private health plans don't either. Find out what your plan covers before you start shopping. Don't rely on what a salesman tells you or what a celebrity says on a TV ad.

Shop around

Once you know what type of hearing aid you're looking for, shop around. Be an aggressive consumer. Hearing aids are expensive – as much as $7,000 -- and you don't want to spend a lot of money on something that doesn't work well or that you won't use.

It's a good idea to check specific brand names in online databases. For example, you'll find a very long page of Miracle Ear complaints on ConsumerAffairs.com, as well as complaints and comments on other popular brands.

All states require that you have a try-out period, usually 30 to 45 days, during which you can try the device. If it doesn't work for you, take it back. Be certain to get this in writing before you pay and be sure you understand the written agreement.

As always, the sale is governed by the law in your state and, secondly, by any additional terms in the written sales agreement. Oral promises mean nothing. If a promise isn't in writing, it doesn't exist.

Be aware that the average mark-up on a hearing aid is 100%. This means you have plenty of room to bargain. If the person you're dealing with uses high-pressure tactics or won't offer you any kind of discount, go somewhere else.

As always, you should separate the financing from the purchase. Any purchase plan offered by the hearing aid dealer is likely to be very expensive. If you can't pay cash, it's better to get a loan from your credit union or bank.

Don't overlook the potential tax benefit. The cost of hearing tests, ear exams and the hearing aid itself may be included as expenses on your tax return, according to the Internal Revenue Service. This is potentially a big purchase and a tax break is likely to be welcome.

Be patient

Don't expect the device to work for you right away. It's not just your ears that hear, it's also your brain. Just as it takes your brain time to adjust to a new pair of glasses or contacts, it will take your brain time to reinterpret the new input it's getting from the hearing aid. It may well take a month or more for you to be able to understand speech clearly again.

To be a success, the hearing aid must also be comfortable. If it is annoying, doesn't fit or slips out of position constantly, it will end up in your dresser drawer.

 

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Today's Facebook Scam: Bogus Google+ Invitation

Guess what? You and 50 friends can receive even more spam and scammy offers

Google Plus – the search giant's new social network – is a hot item, so far available only to a limited number of invitation-only testers. Naturally, as w...

PhotoGoogle Plus – the search giant's new social network – is a hot item, so far available only to a limited number of invitation-only testers.

Naturally, as with anything that's hard to get, everybody wants it, even people who aren't quite sure what it is. This leads to, you guessed it, the latest Facebook scam.

Like other Facebook scams, this one presents a post in your newsfeed for a Google Plus "unofficial fan page" that will not only get you invited to join G+ but also let you invite 50 of your friends.

If you fall for it and use the Facebook "suggest a friend" interface, you will have just opened up 50 of your friends to access by whoever's behind this latest bit of bamboozlement. This means your friends will soon be receiving spam, scams and fraudulent flim-flammery of all kinds.

They may not be your friend for much longer if that happens.

How to avoid falling into this trap? It's pretty simple. Don't click on links that you're not positive are what they claim to be. If you're not sure about a particular link, just ignore it.

Quick remedy

Even if you do fall for one (or more) of these everyday scams, it's not too late to clean up your Facebook account. In this short video, Graham Cluley of Sophos Security guides you through the process.

 

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What's On Your Mind? Aquafresh, Television, Medco, AT&T

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Aquafresh, Television, Medco, AT&T, Waiting for medication, Too much information and Been there, seen that....

PhotoSome toothpastes can affect sensitive gums more than others. Toothpaste is designed to be abrasive, to clean teeth and gums, so it's perhaps not surprising that some toothpastes with extra cleansing ingredients can cause problems for some people.

“I decided to purchase Aquafresh Iso Whitening Deep Penetrating toothpaste over my Sensodyne Iso whitening because it was $3.00 cheaper. Big mistake,” Caroline, of Clifton Springs, N.Y., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I have been using it for three weeks now. My gums are sore and now my gums are turning white around the tooth area. I am also noticing some white spots on my gums. It is an obvious result of this toothpaste. They need to stop manufacturing and selling this product till they can address these issues.”

If it affected every consumer the way it does Caroline, obviously it would be withdrawn. The problem occurs when some consumers are overly sensitive -- or even allergic -- to a particular ingredient. It only affects them.  Caroline should definitely discuss the problem with her dentist and, in the meantime, go back to her old toothpaste, even if it is more expensive.

Been there, seen that

Newton, of Newport Beach, California, has a bone to pick with television and cable networks.

“Put yourself in the shoes of the TV consumer, which you are,” Newton said. “For some reason, it seems, that TV stations have adopted a programming strategy of repeats, repeats, and repeats. It’s not just a matter of repeating programs they have scheduled in the past, it’s obvious they repeat movies, for example, over and over and over on the same day. It seems to me that as a consumer, I am paying for the same product I have already paid for. In fact, it seems that I pay for the product many times over. Doesn’t this seem almost like fraud?”

 Well, Newton makes an interesting point. It does seem like there isn't much new programming when you turn on the tube, but networks, after all, have to fill 24 hours a day. From their perspective, they would probably argue that you are paying for the connection that delivers the multitude of channels, not individual programs. And of course, when it comes to over the air networks, you aren't really paying for that.

Waiting for medication

Businesses that provide health care benefits, including prescription medicine, look for every possible way to save money. Some exclusively use mail in pharmacies like Medco, meaning there can be a delay in getting a prescription filled. Phyllis, of Oklahoma City, Okla., thinks its too much of a delay.

“The refused to send my prescription after the doctor faxed it to them,” Phyllis said. “They waited 12 days to notify me of any problems. I have to monitor every prescription to see that they don't screw it up in some way.”

A local pharmacy is usually faster for the consumer. Employees that feel strongly about it should let their managers know their preference.

Too much information

Kirk, of Houston, Tex., reports an interesting encounter with AT&T and the response of his credit card company, Chase. Kirk said he began the online process of purchasing a $30 international phone card on the AT&T site. Later, he said he received a call from an AT&T representative.

“The representative asked for the last four digits of my Social Security number to confirm my credit card,” Kirk told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I told him that I would not give him that information to purchase a phone card. He said he could verify my card if we conferenced in Chase, my card issuer.”

Reluctantly, Kirk agreed and was soon on the three-way line with someone from Chase.

“The AT&T representative started asking various questions to verify I was the card holder,” Kirk said. “The Chase representative stopped the AT&T rep and said we will not give out any of the information on our card holder that you are requesting. Furthermore, she said as a merchant you do not need any of that information, only name, address, credit card number and phone number. Chase then directed me to not continue with this transaction as she felt it was unscrupulous.”

Kirk said he called AT&T to complain and relay the information from Chase, but was told that was AT&T policy. Still, it's gratifying to see Chase looking out for the privacy of one of their customers.

 

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Consumer Agency Cranks Up Bank Oversight as Business Interests Stew

Another round of sparks is likely as Elizabeth Warren heads back to Capitol Hill

Just a few days after issuing tough new oversight procedures for banks, consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren appears before the House Committee on Oversight...

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Elizabeth Warren

Just a few days after issuing tough new oversight procedures for banks, consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren appears before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Thursday, for the second time this year, an appointment she would probably rather skip.

The last time Warren paid a visit, having come to answer questions about the creation of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the hearing kicked off with subcommittee chairman, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) accusing Warren of lying.

It was the first of many attacks over the subsequent hour. For good measure, Rep. McHenry ended the meeting by telling Warren: “You're making this up.”

The Committee has titled the Round 2 affair: "Consumer Financial Protection Efforts: Answers Needed," indicating the gloves are sure to be off once more.

Why has Warren become the punching bag for Republicans and business interests looking to publicize their anger and frustration with consumer protection measures? 

The only thing they have to fear ...

It’s been suggested they're afraid of Warren, the outspoken Harvard law professor who first came to public notice back in 2000, when she published a study finding that half of Americans filing for bankruptcy were doing so because of medical bills and other problems arising from serious illness or injury – not because they had spent their earnings recklessly.

That study was published as Congress was considering a number of “reform” measures suggested by its patrons in the banking and financial services industries, measures that make it more difficult for consumers to seek bankruptcy protection.

More recently, Warren has been directing the set-up of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which she describes as a “cop on the beat” protecting consumers against predatory financial practices.

It is in that role that she yesterday issued the CFPB's approach to supervising large banks to ensure that they comply with new consumer financial protection laws, a process that will formally begin in just a week, on July 21.

Bank oversight

“The new consumer agency is here to make sure that markets work for American families, and our bank supervision program is a big part of that,” said Warren, whose official title is Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the CFPB. “Starting on July 21, we will be a cop on the beat – examining banks and protecting consumers.”

Leading into the recent financial crisis, consumer financial protection authorities were spread among seven different federal agencies. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) streamlined consumer protection oversight authority into the CFPB – promoting greater efficiency and accountability for American consumers.

The consumer agency will conduct examinations to help ensure that consumer financial practices at large banks conform with consumer financial protection legal requirements. The CFPB’s bank supervision program will oversee the 111 depository institutions that have total assets over $10 billion. Subsidiaries and all other affiliates of these institutions also fall under the CFPB’s authority. These institutions collectively hold more than 80 percent of the banking industry’s assets.

Examiners will work throughout the country, managed out of satellite offices in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., and will spend much of their time on-site at depository institutions and at other consumer financial services companies.

A large part of the CFPB’s supervision staff will be made up of experienced examiners: By the end of July, the CFPB supervision team will include more than 100 staff members transferring directly from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Reserve System, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Office of Thrift Supervision.

The CFPB expects eventually to have several hundred examiners on board, coming from a variety of backgrounds, including state regulatory agencies and industry. Experienced examiners will sharpen their skills in workshops before being deployed, and examiners new to consumer financial protection will receive extensive technical and professional skills training, the agency said.

What happens next?

In this video, supplied by the CFPB, Warren talks about what is next on the agency's agenda.

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'Cramming' Costing Consumers $2 Billion a Year, Study Finds

Senate Commerce Committee finds long history of fraudulent practices

Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) has revealed the findings of a yearlong Senate Commerce Committee staff investigation into a nationwide epidemi...

PhotoSen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) has revealed the findings of a yearlong Senate Commerce Committee staff investigation into a nationwide epidemic involving mystery fees being placed on consumers’ landline telephone bills without their knowledge or consent.

The investigation shows that this practice could be costing Americans $2 billion a year, that the nation’s largest telephone companies are profiting from it, and that third-party landline telephone billing has largely failed as a legitimate method of payment.

“This report is a stark picture of a billing system that is hurting consumers and making profits for phone companies,” Rockefeller said. “Despite industry promises to end this fraudulent practice years ago, hundreds of third-party billing companies have continued to place unauthorized mystery charges on consumers’ phone bills for services they do not want or use. In exchange, they reap tens of millions of dollars a year in profit.

"This fraud against millions of American consumers, businesses and even government agencies is utterly reprehensible. It’s time for us to take a new look at this problem and find a way to solve it once and for all,” Rockefeller said.

Year-long probe

In May 2010, Rockefeller launched the Committee’s investigation into third-party billing on landline phones because consumers had complained for years that they were finding mysterious fees on their bills for services they didn’t know about or authorize. To understand the scope and the severity of this problem, commonly referred to as “cramming,” the Commerce Committee conducted a wide-ranging investigation over the past year.

The Commerce Committee is holding hearings today (Wednesday) to further examine reports of cramming and how Congress can react.

Key findings

The Committee's key findings include:

  • Third-party billing is a billion dollar industry. On a yearly basis, telephone companies place approximately 300 million third-party charges on their customers’ bills, which amount to more than $2 billion worth of third-party charges on telephone bills every year. Over the past five years, telephone companies have placed more than $10 billion worth of third-party charges on their customers’ landline telephone bills.

  • Most third-party charges appear to be unauthorized. The evidence obtained through the investigation overwhelmingly suggests that a large percentage of these charges are unauthorized cramming charges.

  • Telephone companies profit from cramming. Over the past decade, telephone companies have generated well over $1 billion dollars in revenue by placing third-party charges on their customers’ telephone bills. Over the past five years, AT&T, Qwest and Verizon have earned more than $650 million through third-party billing. Verizon explained that it “receives a flat fee between $1 and $2 per charge for placing third-party charges” on its customers’ bills. Because telephone companies generate revenue by placing third-party charges on their customers’ bills, telephone companies profit from cramming.

  • Cramming affects every segment of the landline telephone customer base. Unauthorized third-party charges harm residences, small businesses, nonprofits, corporations, government agencies, and educational institutions. The Committee has accumulated thousands of examples of cramming on nonresidential telephone bills.

  • Many third-party vendors are illegitimate and created solely to exploit third-party billing. Committee investigators have found third-party vendors operating out of post office boxes, fake offices, and apartments, with “presidents” that know nothing about their “companies.”

  • Telephone companies are aware that cramming is a major problem on their third-party billing systems. Over the past five years, more than 500,000 customers have contacted Qwest, Verizon and AT&T and to complain about cramming.

  • Telephone customers often reported negative experiences when seeking assistance from their telephone companies. Consumers and businesses frequently reported that the telephone companies’ sales representatives provided little to no assistance when they called about unauthorized third-party charges.

  • The telephone companies’ anti-cramming safeguards have largely failed. Telephone companies have inaccurately used low complaint statistics to show cramming is not a problem and to prove that their customers appreciate the convenience of third-party billing.

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Ohio Sues Mortgage 'Rescue' Company

Florida-based Diversified Real Estate Consultants LLC ran up 37 complaints in Ohio

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is suing foreclosure rescue company Diversified Real Estate Consultants LLC (DREC), its affiliates, and its owner for mul...

PhotoOhio Attorney General Mike DeWine is suing foreclosure rescue company Diversified Real Estate Consultants LLC (DREC), its affiliates, and its owner for multiple violations of Ohio consumer laws.

"This company continually misled consumers," DeWine said. "It charged substantial upfront fees for services and results that it promised but never delivered. It also encouraged homeowners to default on their mortgage loans, falsely stating that defaulting on their loans would help them get a loan modification. Such statements are completely false and caused homeowners to risk losing their homes."

According to DeWine's lawsuit, DREC is a Florida registered company operating from Ohio that offered mortgage assistance relief services to Ohio consumers, even though it never registered to do business in Ohio.

DREC charged and accepted fees of $500 to $3,495 from homeowners, promising them reduced monthly mortgage payments or better interest rates, and represented a "100% money-back guarantee." Despite the company's claims, consumers received no help and no refunds. 

The Ohio Attorney General's Office currently has 37 total complaints against DREC dating back to 2009. Of those complaints, 18 are unresolved, including seven complaints from Ohio consumers. In the 18 unresolved complaints, consumers reported total losses of more than $36,000.

In addition to DREC, the lawsuit names defendants DREAM Management USA (DREAM) and Precision Processing Solutions International LLC (PPSI) – Ohio companies that provided DREC research, analysis, and documentation processing services, in direct connection with DREC's mortgage relief assistance services. The suit also names North Canton resident Daniel J. DePasquale, owner and operator of DREC, DREAM, and PPSI.

The lawsuit charges the defendants with violations of Ohio's Consumer Sales Practices Act, Debt Adjusters Act, and Telephone Solicitation Sales Act. It seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, civil penalties, and full restitution for consumers.

DeWine reminded consumers never to pay upfront fees for help avoiding foreclosure or obtaining mortgage relief. By law, companies are prohibited from charging and accepting fees for mortgage assistance relief services until consumers receive and accept a loan modification offer from their lenders.

 

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VW, Ford Take Top Spots in Quality Survey

Study measures customers "overall feelings" about their cars

It was just a few weeks ago that Volkswagen and Ford got low marks for initial customer satisfaction from J.D. Power and Associates but a new survey from S...

PhotoIt was just a few weeks ago that Volkswagen and Ford got low marks for initial customer satisfaction from J.D. Power and Associates but a new survey from Strategic Vision Inc. takes a vastly different view.

Based on customers' overall feelings about their cars, Volkswagen was No. 1 and Ford was second, tied with Honda and Nissan.

What explains the disparity?

The Power study measures initial problems with new cars – gadgets that don't work right, early problems with brakes and so forth. Strategic Vision looks at customers' overall feelings about their cars.

Volkswagen customers are an unusually loyal lot and this year they're especially enamored of the Golf, Jetta and Tiguan models. (ConsumerAffairs.com has been putting a Tiguan through its paces in grueling East Coast traffic since December with excellent reviews from everyone who's driven the sporty crossover).

More problems

While Ford owners reported more initial problems with their cars than the industry average, they still rated the cars' quality highly. Ford Mustang, Flex and F-150/250/350 pickup drivers were the most enthused.

“Ford—a quality leader in our study—innovated, and we who count problems discovered that Ford received a large number of complaints primarily about one thing, Sync.—an in-car connectivity system. Does that warrant their ‘tumble’ in some quality metrics?” Darrel Edwards, Ph.D., Chairman and Founder of Strategic Vision asked.

“Decades ago, we decided to measure ‘Quality’ from the ‘Total’ perspective of the driver/owner, because this is how people actually judge ‘Quality’ in terms of the decision to purchase or not,” said Edwards. “The number of complaints is considered, but there is absolutely justification—even requirement—for also considering the total positive experience created for the owner/driver.”

Edwards cites the Volkswagen Jetta and Hyundai Sonata—two vehicles that tied for leadership position of Total Quality in the Mid-Size Car Segment. Both vehicles had a higher incidence of owners reporting problems (30%) than the segment average (22%) which isn't a good start to a customer's perception of quality.

Negligible impact

However, the impact of those problems on the customer's perception of quality is negligible because very few customers (only 1 in 20) experience a ‘Serious’ problem, which is often fixed immediately at the dealership. Then, vehicle attributes from exterior styling to interior room combined with the emotional benefits delivered by the driving and ownership experience to create some of the highest perceptions of delight and love for their vehicle.

Volkswagen of America was rated the best Full-line Corporation in Strategic Vision’s study, now in its sixteenth year of gathering data from the total population of new car buyers. VW had three models (Golf, Jetta and Tiguan) that were Total Quality leaders, with attributes of Design and Exterior Styling that particularly impressed owners.

Buyers rated the following vehicles top in their segments:

SegmentWinner(s)TQI Score
Small CarHonda Civic Hybrid881
Small Multi-FunctionVolkswagen Golf871
Mid-Size CarVolkswagen Jetta Sedan
Hyundai Sonata
876
876
Mid-Size Multi-FunctionHonda Accord Crosstour889
Large CarNissan Maxima888
Near-Luxury CarMercedes-Benz C-Class903
Luxury CarJaguar XJ929
Specialty CoupeDodge Challenger
Ford Mustang Coupe
901
899
Premium CoupeBMW 1-Series Coupe917
ConvertibleFord Mustang Convertible905
Premium Convertible/RoadsterMercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet919
MinivanHonda Odyssey860
Entry UtilityVolkswagen Tiguan880
Mid-Size Crossover UtilityFord Flex886
Mid-Size Traditional UtilityJeep Grand Cherokee877
Large UtilityToyota Sequoia916
Near-Luxury UtilityLand Rover LR4923
Luxury UtilityBMW X6909
Standard PickupHonda Ridgeline864
Full-Size PickupFord F-150906
Heavy-Duty PickupFord F-250/350885



 

 

 

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Nutritionists Review Latest Diet Books

Professional dietitians offer their critiques

Don't start a diet without getting a professional opinion...

PhotoEveyone, it seems, has an opinion about what you should and should not eat. Diet books are nearly always best sellers and popular diets can influence consumer behavior, for better or worse.

You should always discuss any change in your diet with your doctor, but in narrowing down your options, wouldn't it be helpful to know what nutritionists and dietitians think about your proposed choice?

“Every day, Americans are flooded with information about how to lose weight and feel great fast,” said Marjorie Nolan of the American Dietetic Association (ADA). “While some of these products and programs offer sound nutrition information, others are gimmicks and can even be dangerous.”

To help consumers separate diet fads from healthy, science-based options, registered dietitians who are media spokespeople of the American Dietetic Association have reviewed 15 of the latest diet and lifestyle books. You can read the reviews here.

The reviewed books include:

  • The 4 Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat–Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman by Timothy Ferriss (Crown Archetype December 2010)
  • The 17 Day Diet by Mike Moreno, MD (Simon & Schuster’s Free Press March 2011)
  • The Amen Solution by Daniel G. Amen, MD (Crown Archetype February 2011)
  • Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches by Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD (Harper One January 2011)
  • Clean & Lean Diet by James Duigan (Kyle Books January 2011)
  • Crazy Sexy Diet: Eat Your Veggies, Ignite Your Spark and Live Life Like You Mean It! By Kriss Carr (Globe Pequot Press January 2011)
  • The Dukan Diet by Pierre Dukan, MD (Crown Archetype April 2011)
  • Full: A Life without Dieting by Michael A. Snyder, MD, FACS (Hay House January 2011)
  • The Game On! Diet by Krista Vernoff and Az Ferguson (HarperCollins June 2009)
  • Healthy Eating for Lower Blood Pressure by Paul Gayler with Gemma Heiser, MSc (Kyle Books February 2011)
  • The Italian Diet by Gino D’Acampo (Kyle Books February 2011)
  • Living Skinny in Fat Genes: The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great by Felicia Stoler, DCN, MS, RD, FACSM (Pegasus Books January 2011)
  • The New Sonoma Diet: Trimmer Waist, More Energy in Just 10 Days by Connie Guttersen, PhD, RD (Sterling Publishing Company January 2011)
  • Prevent a Second Heart Attack by Janet Bond Brill, PhD, RD, LDN (Three Rivers Press February 2011)
  • The Super Health Diet: The Last Diet You Will Ever Needby KC Craichy (Living Fuel Publishing February 2011)

The reviews are designed to give consumers a view of the dietary advice from a health care professional's perspective, along with a healthy dose of realism.

“It is important for consumers to achieve a healthy weight in a way that is safe and provides their bodies with the nutrition they need to thrive,” Nolan said. “There is no miracle cure or overnight plan for healthy weight loss.”

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Atlantic Southeast Airlines Fined for Disabilities Violations

Carrier fined $200,000, must upgrade facilities for disabled passengers

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today assessed a civil penalty against Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA) for violating rules protecting air tra...

PhotoThe U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today assessed a civil penalty against Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA) for violating rules protecting air travelers with disabilities.  The carrier was assessed a $200,000 civil penalty of which up to $75,000 may be used to improve its service to disabled passengers above levels required by DOT rules.

“Passengers with disabilities have rights and they have a right to be treated fairly and with respect by the airlines,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We will continue to take enforcement action when our disability rules are violated.”

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 requires airlines to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities in boarding and deplaning aircraft, including the use of wheelchairs, ramps, mechanical lifts or service personnel where needed. 

During June 2010, the DOT's Aviation Enforcement Office conducted a review and inspection at ASA’s Atlanta offices and airport operations of the carrier’s compliance with Department consumer protection requirements.  The Enforcement Office reviewed, among other things, disability-related complaints received by the carrier from January 2009 through May 2010.  That review revealed a number of violations of the rules requiring assistance to passengers with disabilities who use wheelchairs.

Of the $200,000 penalty, up to $35,000 may be used to relocate passenger lifts that have been acquired by ASA to airports that the carrier serves in order to supplement and improve enplaning and deplaning services.  Up to $40,000 may be used by the carrier to conduct audits and surveys to ensure that its employees are complying with the airline disability rules.

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Americans Reset Retirement Expectations

Recession proves to be sobering experience

Baby Boomers plan to work longer and spend less as they age, according to a survey...

PhotoBaby Boomers contemplating retirement have revised their plans and expectations for retirement, a survey finds. Having weathered the Great Recession, most have defined a new retirement track and are pursing it.

"While the recession clearly had a financial and emotional impact, it was very encouraging to see that three out of five Americans 55 and older have remained hopeful for their future," said SunAmerica Financial Group President Jay S. Wintrob. "Americans are emerging from the experience with new knowledge, new discipline and have re-set their vision of an ideal retirement.”

For example, the survey, conducted by SunAmerica and Age Wave, says 81 percent of Americans say they have learned important lessons regarding retirement preparation in the past several years.

Course corrections

"They are course-correcting: intending to work longer, save more, spend less, be more disciplined and adjust their lifestyle expectations," Wintrob said.

The study found a significant shift in attitudes and actions since 2001, when SunAmerica conducted its initial landmark retirement study with Age Wave. Today, 54 percent view retirement as a new chapter in life, rather than a winding down, a significant increase over the 38 percent that held a similar view a decade ago.

Not surprisingly, more Boomers are postponing retirement. Those in their pre-retirement years say they now intend to delay retirement by five years, from 64 to 69, triggered in part by increasing longevity, as well as the recession and financial need.

Working through retirement

Even in retirement, more Boomers expect to keep on working. Nearly two-thirds say they would ideally like to remain productive and include some work in retirement to stay active and involved.

What's the key financial goal? Previously, it was accumulating wealth. Today, 82 percent are simply looking for financial stability and peace of mind.

What's behind the change? For one thing, disruption to retirement investments has reduced the financial resources that are available. Beyond that, the economic shocks to the economy have required many aging adults to provide financial assistance to children and grandchildren.

Nearly half of Americans 55 and older expect to provide this support and, in a new twist on childcare, 70 percent of those believe their adult children will need additional financial assistance in the future.

"Emerging from the recession, Americans are beginning to define retirement differently than previous generations of retirees," said Dr. Ken Dychtwald, gerontologist, founder and CEO of Age Wave. "Having been jolted by the last several years, Americans have adopted more realistic and pragmatic views of the possibilities before them. They now see retirement as a time for new priorities, new opportunities and new strategies for today's challenges."

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What's On Your Mind? Travelodge, GE, Target, Grant Scams

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Travelodge, GE, Target, Grant Scams, Missed that recall, Keep the box and Not falling for the scam....

PhotoKeith, of Salt Lake City, Utah, thinks he's getting a runaround from a motel chain or his credit card company, or both.

“I stayed at the Travelodge in Macclenny Fla., Keith told ConsumerAffairs.com. “The first week I paid cash but the next week I paid on my credit card. “Upon leaving I checked my credit card and they had overcharged me $446."

Keith said the motel manager said it wasn't his fault, that the mistake was made by his credit card company.

“I managed to get $178 reversed but for the rest my credit card company said I need a reversal form from the manager,” Keith said. “As yet they still are holding $268 of mine.

Keith says a week has gone by with no satisfaction from either party. Based on complaints we've received about other billing mistakes involving credit cards, getting it straightened out can be a lengthy process. It seems no one wants to return your money, once they have it.

Missed that recall

Some dishwashers, it turns out, can be fire hazards.

“The heating element in our GE Profile dishwasher overheated, even though the previous cycle had ended,” said Stephanie, of Cicero, N.Y. “Plastic lids, dishwasher rack and bottom spray arm were burned and melted. This dishwasher was installed October 2007 during construction.”

That could explain it. Some GE Profile dishwashers were recalled in 2007 because of a potential fire hazard.

Keep the box

Carol, of Detroit, Mich., says she bought an MP3 player at Target at the end of May and enjoyed it – for a little over a month, when it suddenly stopped workng.

“I took it back to the store that it was purchased from and they refused to take it back because it was not in the box that it came in,” Carol told ConsumerAffairs.com. “But since I had no intentions of returning it I didn't keep the box. I had my receipt and asked for the store manager he was horrible I will never shop there again.

Target has a reputation for having strict return policies and sticking to them. While no one likes to keep boxes and packing material around, it's a good idea to do so, at least for a couple of months.

Not falling for the scam

Jessica, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., is just one of the latest consumers to be targeted with the so-called “government grant scam.” She received a call from a woman named “Tracy” who said she was from the U.S. Grants Department. By the way, there is no such department.

“She informed me that I had been chosen to receive $7,000 of grant money because I have no criminal record, filed bankruptcy, and pay my bills,” Jessica said. “She provided me an approval number of and telephone number that I should call to get more information. I called; a lady answer the call and she kind of sounded the same as Tracy.”

Jessica was told to wire $215 to the U.S. Grants Department.

“I asked her why am I paying out of my pocket if I won $7000; why wouldn't they take it out the amount there giving me?” Jessica said.

Jessica hung up but then contacted us, just to make sure it was really a scam. It is, and she is only one of many potential victims it has targeted.

"How is the government giving away money when they don't have it?” she asked.

Good question. But then, it's never stopped them before.

 

 

 

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Are You Addicted To Food?

Researchers call food addiction is "identifiable condition"

Canadian researchers say some people are addicted to food...

PhotoHumans need to eat to stay alive, but it turns out we don't have to eat all that much. Most people can do quite nicely on 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day.

But most people in North America tend to consume a lot more than that, which may be why there's an “obesity epidemic.” Among those who are overweight or obese, some may actually be addicted to food, say Canadian researchers presenting their findings at the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior meeting in Clearwater, Fla.

Their research suggests that people can become dependent on good-tasting foods and engage in a compulsive pattern of consumption, similar to the behaviors of drug addicts and alcoholics.

Using a questionnaire originally developed by researchers at Yale University, a group of obese men and women were assessed according to the seven symptoms recommended by the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose substance dependence. The researchers simply replaced the word “drugs” with “food.”

Binge-eating disorder

Based on their responses, individuals were classified as food addicts or non-addicts. While food addicts did not differ from non-addicts in their age or body weight, they displayed an increased prevalence of binge-eating disorder and depression, and more symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

They also were characterized by more impulsive personality traits, were more sensitive or responsive to the pleasurable properties of palatable foods, and were more likely to self-soothe with food. 

“These results strongly reinforce the view that food addiction is an identifiable condition with clinical symptoms, and is characterized by a psycho-behavioral profile that is similar to conventional drug-abuse disorders,” the researchers wrote. “The results also deliver much needed human support for the growing evidence of sugar and fat addiction in experimental animal research.”

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High Sodium, Low Potassium Diet Linked to Increased Risk of Death

Change in Americans' diet is needed to lower health risks

Americans who eat a diet high in sodium and low in potassium have a 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause, and about twice the risk of death fr...

PhotoAmericans who eat a diet high in sodium and low in potassium have a 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause, and about twice the risk of death from heart attacks, according to a study published today in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University and Harvard University.

"The study's findings are particularly troubling because U.S. adults consume an average of 3,300 milligrams of sodium per day, more than twice the current recommended limit for most Americans," said Elena Kuklina, M.D., Ph.D., an investigator on the study and a nutritional epidemiologist with CDC's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.

"This study provides further evidence to support current public health recommendations to reduce sodium levels in processed foods, given that nearly 80 percent of people's sodium intake comes from packaged and restaurant foods. Increasing potassium intake may have additional health benefits," Kuklina said.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting intake of sodium to 1,500 milligrams per day for people 51 and older, African Americans, and those who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease—about half the U.S. population ages 2 and older.

The dietary guidelines recommend that all other people consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. In addition, the guidelines recommend that people choose more potassium-rich foods, advising 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day.

Processed foods

Sodium, primarily consumed as salt, is commonly added to many processed and restaurant foods, while potassium is naturally present in many fresh foods.

For example, cheese, processed meats, breads, soups, fast foods, and pastries tend to have more sodium than potassium.

Yogurt, milk, fruits and vegetables tend to have less sodium and more potassium. Potassium-rich fruits and vegetables include leafy greens, such as spinach and collards, grapes, blackberries, carrots, potatoes and citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit.

In general, people who reduce their sodium consumption, increase their potassium consumption, or do both, benefit from improved blood pressure and reduce their risk for developing other serious health problems.

Adults can improve their health by knowing recommended limits for daily sodium intake, choosing foods like fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, and unprocessed or minimally processed fish, meat or poultry, low-fat milk or plain yogurt, asking for foods with no or low salt at restaurants, and reading the nutrition labels of foods before purchasing can improve health for all adults.

First such study

This is the first study to examine, using a nationally representative sample, the association between mortality and people's usual intake of sodium and potassium. The study analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a survey designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults in the United States. Usual intake of sodium and potassium is based on dietary recall.

CDC is working with public and private-sector partners at the national, state, and local levels to educate the public about the health effects of sodium and to reduce sodium intake. The agency is also enhancing the monitoring of sodium intake and expanding the scientific literature on sodium and health.

 

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Study: Yogurt, Nuts, Unprocessed Plant Foods Key to Weight Loss

Choosing the right foods just as important as controlling calories

Munching more unprocessed plant foods may help keep the middle-aged bulge away, a new study suggests. On the other hand, meat, french fries and sugar-sweet...

PhotoMunching more unprocessed plant foods may help keep the middle-aged bulge away, a new study suggests. On the other hand, meat, french fries and sugar-sweetened drinks can help pack on the pounds.

The findings suggest that the types of food you choose, not just calories, are important for avoiding age-related weight gain.

The Harvard School of Public Health researchers suggest that highly processed foods may not satisfy hunger as well as less processed, higher fiber foods, causing a higher total intake of calories.

“The idea that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods is a myth that needs to be debunked,” said Dr. Frank Hu, co-leader of the study.

Hu said weight gain results from an imbalance between how much energy you take in and how much you expend. Even small amounts of excess weight can increase your risk for disorders such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and cancer.

In their study, Hu and Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian sought to gain insights into the changes in people’s lifestyles that lead to gradual, long-term weight gain. Their work was partially funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Lifestyle changes

The researchers found several general lifestyle changes linked to weight gain over a 4-year period.

  • Participants who increased their physical activity gained less weight than those who didn't. However, only increases in activity during the period produced this result; absolute levels of physical activity weren't associated with weight change.

  • People who slept for less than 6 hours a day or more than 8 hours gained more weight.

  • Increases in TV-watching led to an average gain of about a third of a pound for every hour of TV watching per day.

Food choices

Food choices also affected weight.

  • Potato chips, sugar-sweetened drinks, processed meats and unprocessed red meat were each linked to weight gain of about a pound or more.

  • Eating more french fries led to an average gain of over 3 pounds.

  • Eating more refined grains and sweets or desserts led to about half a pound of weight gain.

  • By contrast, eating more vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and yogurt was linked to reductions in weight over a 4-year period. Yogurt led the pack, with an average of 0.82 pounds of weight lost.

 

The team followed the lifestyle and dietary habits of 3 large groups of health professionals, totaling over 120,000 people, for 12 to 20 years. Participants completed a biennial survey detailing their physical activity, television habits, alcohol use, sleep duration and diet. Their weight was measured every 4 years. The study appeared in the June 23, 2011, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

This was an observational study, in which people were asked to recall the foods they ate. While the findings are compelling, future controlled studies will be needed to confirm whether eating particular foods can affect long-term weight gain more than simply counting calories.

 

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Pew Finds Serious Gaps in Oversight of U.S. Drug Safety

More medicines coming from developing countries, where oversight is lower

Americans’ medicines are increasingly manufactured in developing countries, where there is less oversight than in the U.S., according to a new white paper ...

PhotoAmericans’ medicines are increasingly manufactured in developing countries, where there is less oversight than in the U.S., according to a new white paper by the Pew Health Group. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates 40 percent of finished drugs and 80 percent of active ingredients and bulk chemicals used in U.S. drugs come from overseas.

The white paper finds that increased outsourcing of manufacturing, a complex and globalized supply chain and criminal actors create the potential for counterfeit or substandard medicines to enter the supply chain and reach patients. 

For economic reasons, the migration of manufacturing abroad is likely to continue.  But industry and government agencies have failed to adapt to the changing environment, the report finds

Today’s prescriptions are being produced under last century’s oversight,” said Allan Coukell, director of medical programs at the Pew Health Group.  “Compared with a decade ago, pharmaceutical supply lines stretch around the world and out to a complex web of suppliers.

"Regulators and industry must modernize supervision of the manufacturing process to ensure the drugs we consume are safe.  The After Heparin white paper indentifies links in the supply chain that government and business should strengthen,” Coukell said.

Substandard or adulterated pharmaceutical materials from abroad have entered the U.S. on multiple occasions. In addition, the risks of domestic counterfeiting and diversion of stolen drugs are well documented.

The white paper presents several case studies, including incidents involving heparin, a blood thinner adulterated during its manufacture in China, counterfeit vials of the anemia drug Epogen and stolen vials of insulin to illustrate the threats and suggest solutions. 

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Casey Anthony Hoax Befalls Unwary Facebook Users

Want to see Casey confess? Good luck. You won't see it here.

You knew this was coming, right? The first of what will no doubt be a river of Casey Anthony-related scams is popping up on Facebook screens today....

PhotoYou knew this was coming, right? The first of what will no doubt be a river of Casey Anthony-related scams is popping up on Facebook screens today.

"Breaking News!" screams the headline. "Leaked Video of Casey Anthony Confessing to Lawyer!" This, of course, is a fake. Whether it's a scam is debatable, although it is most certainly a hoax. It doesn't appear to do any harm to your finances or your computer but could be damaging to your reputation if you gullibly forward it to everyone you can think of.

But, you say, why couldn't it be real? Maybe Ms. Anthony really did tell her lawyer she killed her two-year-old daughter Caylee?  And the lawyer taped it?  And put it on Facebook?

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, even if the conversation had occurred, would an attorney post a video of his client confessing to a crime after a jury had acquitted her?  Think the Bar Association's ethics committee would be pleased?

Eventually, those who click on the link will wind up being asked to take a survey that just might win them a $500 Toys R Us gift card. Each person who completes the survey enriches whoever posted the hoax, as they get paid a few cents each time a consumer completes the survey.

You don't really have to do anything to avoid looking foolish. Just don't click on the link – and don't "share" it with your far-flung friends, advises Web security firm Sophos.

 

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Groupon To Track User Locations

Issues new privacy policy

Groupon said it will begin tracking user locations...

PhotoGroupon says it will begin collecting more information about its users, allowing it to strike deals with advertisers that want to know where consumers are located. The company updated its privacy policy to its 83 million subscribers over the weekend.

The email explained that Groupon is trying to provide greater transparency about the data it collects and keeps. Groupon recently launched a mobile app that offers consumers special deals at businesses that happen to be close to the user's current location.

"If you use a Groupon mobile app and you allow sharing through your device, Groupon may collect geo-location information from the device and use it for marketing deals to you," the email said.

Redefines personal information

The privacy policy also broadens the definition of personal information to include "interests and habits." It said a partnership with travel site Expedia provides subscribers with travel discounts, but the offer means that personal information can be shared with Expedia if users choose to receive offers on travel.

In addition, Groupon said it will collect and share include relationship information, as well as data concerning finances and mobile locations.

The whole issue of tracking has been somewhat controversial, especially related to smartphones and web browsers. In February the consumer group Consumer Watchdog asked the  Federal Trade Commission to create a "Do Not Track Me" mechanism to protect consumers' online privacy and said such a mechanism must have the force of law behind it.

Privacy concerns

The nonprofit public interest group made the call in comments filed on The Federal Trade Commission's recent report, "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policymakers."

The Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome Web browsers adopted a do-not-track tool in January. For the Mozilla tool to work, Web advertisers and tracking companies have to agree not to follow users who enable the do-not-track feature. The non-profit Mozilla Corp. says it will urge companies to "honor people's privacy choices."

Google said its Keep My Opt-Outs feature will let users permanently opt out of ad-tracking cookies.

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Oil Prices Fall, Gas Prices Rise

Retail market lags in a volatile environment

Consumers may be confused by falling oil prices and rising gas prices...

PhotoHere we go again. The petroleum market appears to be completely out of sync, as oil prices are falling and retail gasoline prices, after going down for seven weeks, are rising again.

The national average price of self-serve regular today is $3.631 a gallon, up six and a half cents in the last week and up nearly four cents since Friday, according to AAA. The price of crude oil, meanwhile, is down nearly two percent on new concerns about the prospects for global economic growth.

The disconnect is between the retail market, where consumers purchase fuel, and the futures market where wholesalers refiners, and yes, speculators, purchase contracts to buy oil in the next few weeks. When the economic outlook is uncertain, or conventional wisdom turns on a dime, the futures market can be volatile.

The retail market is mostly based on what the individual gas stations had to pay for the gasoline. A gas station might boost prices by five cents a gallon or more in a single day if it has taken delivery of more expensive gasoline that day.

Trying to predict the future

Though it doesn't get as much press coverage as the oil futures market, there is also a futures market in gasoline, and it is interesting to see what is happening there. In today's trading, gasoline futures followed oil lower.

Gasoline for delivery in August fell nearly three and a half cents in early morning trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That means next month, wholesalers will take delivery of gasoline that costs less than it does right now. Presumably, the recent retail price hikes should retreat next month, when this cheaper gas enters the distribution pipeline.

But only if this present market trend continues for a few days. Today, investors are worried about European debt and the outlook for economic growth around the world. Those fears deepened Friday when the U.S. reported shockingly weak job growth for June.

But what happens if this week we were to get all sorts of good economic news, and data that suggested the economy was about to come roaring back? Most likely, both oil and gasoline futures would surge higher, meaning more expensive gasoline would enter the system next month.

For consumers, it a reason for confusion and perhaps a little cynicism. The cost of a fill-up seems to fluctuate with little rhyme or reason. They only know that the cost of gasoline was once a lot more stable than it is now.

 

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Dell Optiplex Class Action Expanded

Suit charges millions of machines had faulty components

A class action suit against Dell has been expanded to cover a myriad of failed hardware components in the Optiplex desktop computer. The suit charges that...

PhotoA class action suit against Dell has been expanded to cover a myriad of failed hardware components in the Optiplex desktop computer. The suit charges that internal Dell documents show the failure rate for the Optiplex was rated at 97%.

Documents from that case, unsealed in November of last year, showed that Dell allegedly not only knew of the problems, but had ranked customers by importance when deciding whether their faulty systems would be replaced.

The lawsuit had initially charged that the Optiplex desktop computers had faulty motherboards and capacitors, causing them to fail prematurely. Court documents alleged that 8 million of 11.8 million units sold had defective motherboards.

The Seattle law firm Hagens Berman LLP now charges that a number of other components, including hard-disk drives, power supplies, fans, chipsets and RAM, may also be defective.

The case was originally filed in August 2010 on behalf of New York chiropractor Richard Statler, who said he bought five Optiplex computers that turned out to have defective motherboards, wreaking “expensive and wasteful” havoc in his office.

More problems

Hagens Berman is not the only law firm that's hot on Dell's trail.  ConsumerAffairs.com heard from a St. Louis law firm that has had multiple Optiplex failures.

"Our firm owns several Dell Optiplex computers, which have suffered capacitor failures," an attorney the Simon Law Firm PC told us.  The firm said it is considering litigation.

A Montgomery, Ohio, consumer had a similar experience:  "I had bought two Dell Optiplex SX280 computers for home use, and just last year, when the community sponsored an electronics recycling event, I dropped them off to be recycled. There had been too many problems and both machines eventually died," the consumer said.

Hagens Berman lost one round in court earlier this year when U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler dismissed claims for unjust enrichment and allegations that the computers constituted a safety hazard.

However, Wexler did allow two warranty-related claims to stand, allowing the firm to argue that Dell's alleged concealment of the problems voided its claim that the warranties on the machines had expired.

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What's On Your Mind? Memory Lane, Cuisinart, Family Dollar, Citibank

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Memory Lane, Cuisinart, Family Dollar, Citibank, Some things you shouldn't scrimp on and More hot coffee....

PhotoClassmates.com has changed its name to Memory Lane, but it's still generating complaints from consumers who say they try to cancel during their “free trial” period, but somehow don't seem to be able to.

“Tried to cancel and it wouldn't take my password so I clicked on forgot password and it says I will get an e-mail with link to change password but they never send it,” Patricia, of Bronson, Kan. told ConsumerAffairs.com. “Now they have charged my account $39 because they wouldn't let me on to cancel plus the account wasn't due until July 12 and they already ran it through.”

Companies that have auto renewal, and that offer a free trial period before a monthly charge begins, should make it easier for consumers to get in touch with them, Of course, they might lose business that way.

Some things you shouldn't scrimp on

Aquilla, of Cottage Grove, Minn., writes in to say be careful what you stick in your ear, even if you think it's designed to go there.

“On July 8 my husband used the Family Dollar Q-tips that he purchased and the cotton ball popped off and it got stuck in his ear,” Aquilla said. “We were in disbelief! He even tried to see how simple it would be to pull one off and it came right off when he pulled the end of the cotton ball. He was up all night trying to get the cotton ball out of his ear;He could not get it out! He had horrible pain in his ear and could not bear the pain any longer and he eventually paid a visit to the Emergency Room.

Aquilla said doctors at the emergency room had to surgically remove the cotton ball. It might be fine to spend just a dollar for some items. Cotton swabs that go in your ear might not be one of them.

More hot coffee

Roger, of Elbert, Colo., is the latest reader to write in reporting a burning problem with his Cuisinart coffee maker.

“I too have purchased a Cuisinart DCC-1200 coffee maker,” Roger told ConsumerAffairs.com. “It worked great for the first nine months. Last night I brewed a pot of coffee and luckily was sitting in the living room where I could hear the coffee pot making very loud gurgling and popping noises. Went into kitchen to check out the unusual noises and found the coffee maker smoking from the bottom. Having read on this website the exact problem occurring repeatedly Cuisinart has a real problem and a huge potential liability.”

Given the reports like Roger, we would be surprised if the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) isn't already looking into this. Just to make sure they are, Roger and other with this problem need to make sure they send the CPSC the same reports they send us.

Banks will hike your rates any chance they get

The CARD Act, signed into law earlier this year, limited credit card companies in the kinds of actions they can take on consumers' accounts. But the law gives them latitude to raise your interest rate significantly if you are late with a payment.

“I was a customer of Citibank for 13 years without a late payment,” said Gail, of Muskego, Wisc. “I do all my bill paying online, and receive the bill on line as well. I never received the electronic bill in September. In October I realized that I hadn't received the bill and immediately made a payment. In January, they raised my rate to 25.99%! I called and spoken with multiple customer service reps and emailed off the website several times. They refused to budge off the increased rate.”

Gail said she closed her Citi account and is now a happy Chase credit card customer. But she, and other consumers, should keep in mind that banks will not pass up any opportunity to legally raise your interest rate now that the law has limited some of their other options.

 

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New Pet Feeder Claims to Take the 'Mess Out of Mealtime'

Neater Feeder keeps dogs, cats from splattering their lunch every which way

This might not be the biggest annoyance in your life, but if you're a pet owner, you're familiar with the spills, splashes and splatters that accompany mea...

PhotoThis might not be the biggest annoyance in your life, but if you're a pet owner, you're familiar with the spills, splashes and splatters that accompany mealtime for your dogs and cats.

A new product, the Neater Feeder, aims to put a stop to the wet floors and stained walls that irk pet owners.

The key is the Neater Feeder's two-container system with protective walls and a colander-like filtering system, which separates spilled food from spilled water. Spilled food is contained in the upper reservoir so it can be safely eaten or easily discarded. Spilled water drains into the lower reservoir, and can be reused for your pet, your plants, or the planet, or neatly discarded without ever touching your floors.

Neater Feeder says its design is also ant-proof, keeping your dog or cat's dining area more sanitary. The Neater Feeder for dogs also provides all of the health benefits of an elevated feeder, the company says.

A new standard

“The Neater Feeder sets a new standard in pet feeding because it takes the mess out of meal times,” said Fernando Becattini, Jr., President of Neater Pet Brands. “By dramatically reducing the spilled food and water that reaches the floor around your pet's food and water bowls, the Neater Feeder creates a more sanitary dining environment than your current dog bowl or cat dish, and a cleaner home for you.”

“Spilled food is preserved, and spilled water is filtered for reuse or easy disposal. The spill-proof and kick-proof design will keep you from worrying about water-stained wood, splattered baseboards, warped tiles or sloppy floors around your pet's bowls ever again,” Becattini said.

Neater Feeder says its contoured design is comfortable for cats and dogs of any size. The small Neater Feeder is appropriately sized for all cats and dogs up to 35 pounds, and the large Neater Feeder is designed for breeds 35 to 100-plus pounds. Optional leg extensions increase feeding height for an elevated feeding position that is shown to be beneficial for dogs' digestion and joint health.

The Neater Feeder is made in the U.S. by Neater Pet Brands, from recyclable polypropylene plastic, and is easily cleaned and dishwasher safe. For more information, visit Neater Feeder's web site at www.NeaterFeeder.com.

ConsumerAffairs.com has not tested this product and has not received any consideration from the company. The company's site clearly states the prices and shipping costs for different models, supplies complete contact information and otherwise appears straightforward.

If you decide to try this product, please let us know how it works for you by filing a consumer review.

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Consumer Debt Rises For Eighth Straight Month

Consumers using plastic to pay for day to day needs, analysts say

The Federal Reserve says consumer credit rose in May...

PhotoIn the months immediately following the 2008 credit crisis, consumers for the most part drastically reduced their use of credit cards. Now, they're reaching again for their plastic.

The Federal Reserve reports consumer credit rose in May for an eighth straight month, mostly because of – you guessed it – credit card use.

According to the Fed's data, credit rose by $5.08 billion after a revised $5.67 billion gain in April. The increase was more than $1 higher than the consensus projection.

Buying necessities

It's not that consumers are using their credit cards to buy big screen TVs and go on expensive vacations. Since many consumers use their credit cards for gasoline purchases, and gasoline costs have risen in the last year, it stands to reason that gasoline is responsible for a part of the rise in consumer credit.

Other economists suggest that consumers are also turning to plastic to buy groceries and pay for other day-to-day needs. Revolving debt, which includes credit cards, rose by $3.37 in May after decreasing $877 million in April, according to the central bank’s data. It was the first gain this year and the biggest since June 2008.

 In addition to revolving debt like credit cards, non-revolving debt rose $1.71 billion in May after jumping $6.54 billion in April. Non-revolving debt includes things like auto financing and auto loans.

Other debt

Non-revolving debt is usually set up for a uniform, long-term payback period and as a rule, is less troublesome for consumers than credit card debt, which carries much higher interest rates and often, added fees.

To keep credit card debt under control, the Center for Responsible Lending says consumers should always pay more than the minimum amount due on the monthly bill.

Paying more than the minimum can save you as much as $2 for every extra $1 you pay, the group advises. For example, before the CARD Act, paying $100 extra could save you $164 in interest charges, but now that same payment amount can save you $224. 

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Are Companies Cashing In On Breast Cancer?

Researchers accuse some firms of 'pinkwashing'

Everyone seems to want to support breast cancer awareness, and maybe that's not so good...

PhotoLast week the New York Attorney General filed suit against a group called the Coalition Against Breast Cancer, branding it a “sham charity.” It's a more extreme example of a corporate trend researchers call “pinkwashing.”

According to Amy Lubitow, Portland State University (Oregon), and Mia Davis, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, “pinkwashing” describes the practice of companies adopting pink colors and ribbons to imply they support breast cancer research, while at the same time permitting the use of chemicals shown to cause cancer.

The concern is not exactly new, but the rhetoric is sharpening. In very strong words, Lubitow and Davis accuse such companies of “committing a form of social injustice against women.” The two have co-authored an article on “pinkwashing” in the journal Environmental Justice.

The authors say that aligning oneself with a cause such as breast cancer, while carrying out research, manufacturing, or other types of policies or processes that involve the use of chemicals with a proven link to cancer crosses a critical line between just and unjust practices.

Pure profit motive?

They accuse companies that “pinkwash” with being motivated solely by the profit motive. These companies, they say, link themselves to the cause to increase profits but are taking actions and pursing policies that might contribute to higher cancer rates.

Last year, the company marketing an alcoholic lemonade product came in for some criticism for its campaign to “pink your drink,” a way the marketers said people could promote breast cancer year round.

Breast cancer awareness and breast cancer research have become enormously popular causes in recent years, with hundreds of businesses and organizations joining the effort to fight the disease. October, the official breast cancer awareness month, is usually marked by a sea of pink, as these organizations, most of whom sincerely and wholeheartedly support the effort, show pink.

Real men wear pink

For example, the National Football League observes the month by having players wear pink accessories, like gloves and shoes, along with their normal team colors. These efforts have won praise for raising the profile of breast cancer awareness, though some in the movement wondered aloud last year if they weren't getting just a bit over-exposed.

Those in the movement are also concerned about the trend Lubitow and Davis highlight in their article, claiming too many companies are simply trying to cash in on the good feelings.

"The authors of this article draw needed attention to the dangerous use of consumers' social and sometimes environmental consciousness by institutions who contribute to environmental health disparities,”said Sylvia Hood Washington, PhD, ND, MSE, MPH, Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Justice, and Research Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. “The blind financial support of these entities, by affected consumers, is a form of environmental injustice that is clearly elucidated by the authors.'

In other words, breast cancer awareness groups would like consumers to think carefully about the product they buy, and not choose it just because it has a pink label. 

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FDA Warns Against Using Slimming Capsules, Soft Gels

Tests show products contain controlled substances that can be dangerous

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising consumers not to purchase or use “Slim Forte Slimming Capsules,” “Slim Forte Slimming Coffee,” and “Bota...

PhotoThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising consumers not to purchase or use “Slim Forte Slimming Capsules,” “Slim Forte Slimming Coffee,” and “Botanical Slimming Soft Gel,” products for weight loss sold on various websites and distributed by InterCharm, Inc.

FDA laboratory analysis confirmed that “Slim Forte Slimming Capsules,” “Slim Forte Slimming Coffee,” and “Botanical Slimming Soft Gel” contain sibutramine, controlled substance that was removed from the U.S. market in October 2010 for safety reasons. 

These products pose a threat to consumers because sibutramine is known to substantially increase blood pressure and/or pulse rate in some patients and may present a significant risk for patients with a history of coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, or stroke. 

These products may also interact in life threatening ways with other medications a consumer may be taking.

Consumers should stop using these products immediately and throw them away.  Consumers who have experienced any negative side effects should consult a health care professional as soon as possible. 

Healthcare professionals and patients are encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of these products to the FDA's MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program:

  • Complete and submit the report Online: www.fda.gov/MedWatch/report.htm

  • Download form or call 1-800-332-1088 to request a reporting form, then complete and return to the address on the pre-addressed form, or submit by fax to 1-800-FDA-0178

Growing trend 

The FDA says there is a growing trend of products marketed as dietary supplements or conventional foods with hidden drugs and chemicals. 

These products are typically promoted for sexual enhancement, weight loss, and body building, and are often represented as being “all natural.” 

FDA is unable to test and identify all products marketed as dietary supplements that have potentially harmful hidden ingredients.  Consumers should exercise caution before purchasing any product in the above categories.

 

 

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Ohio Sues Alleged Craigslist Scammers

Consumers paid for video games, cell phones but got nothing

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today announced lawsuits against Nicholas Lamb and Robert White, Ohio residents accused of running a craigslist scam offe...

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today announced lawsuits against Nicholas Lamb and Robert White, Ohio residents accused of running a craigslist scam offering to sell video game systems, video games, phones, and phone cards.

"These individuals took advantage of unsuspecting consumers," DeWine said. "They posted hundreds of items for sale on craigslist and accepted payment from dozens of consumers but never delivered the products. Simply put, they committed a scam." 

According to the lawsuits, Lamb and White offered PlayStation 3 systems (PS3), PS3 games, and Boost Mobile phones and phone cards via craigslist posts that primarily targeted out-of-state consumers. Their posts indicated that they were Ohio residents, but they told potential buyers that they previously lived in the buyers' states to gain the buyers' trust.

Lamb and White usually requested that payment be made through a wire transfer service, such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Once the buyers completed the payment, the men did not deliver the products and did not provide refunds.

More victims?

The Ohio Attorney General's Office currently has 29 consumer complaints against Lamb and 27 against White. The office believes there may be more victims because both men made hundreds of posts on craigslist.  Craigslist currently provides a direct link on its website to the Ohio Attorney General's Office for consumers to report would-be scammers, www.craigslist.org/about/scams

The lawsuits charge Lamb and White with multiple violations of Ohio's Consumer Sales Practices Act, including failure to deliver and advertising products without having possession of the products. In the lawsuits, the attorney general seeks permanent injunctive relief, civil penalties, and full restitution for consumers.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center has reported that online fraud costs consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. To protect themselves, consumers should follow these guidelines:

  • Check a seller's reputation. Check feedback ratings and reports from the Attorney General's Office and the Better Business Bureau. Never give out personal or financial information unless you know the seller is legitimate.

  • Contact the seller in person. Verify the seller's physical location and phone number. Deal locally with sellers you can meet in person. Always meet in a public place and bring someone with you for safety. Limit the amount of personal information you give to a seller. Only reveal what is absolutely necessary.

  • Be wary of requests for wire transfers. Requests for wire transfers often signal fraud. Instead of wiring money, pay with a credit card, if possible. When you pay by credit card, your transaction is protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act—a federal law that gives you the right to dispute unauthorized charges.

  • Keep printed records. Print purchase confirmations and all other documents related to your transaction.

  • Trust your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you suspect fraud, report it. 

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Texas Sues Encore Capital Group

Charges firm violated Texas debt collection laws

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today charged Encore Capital Group, Inc. with falsifying and robo-signing affidavits, attempting to collect debts based ...

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today charged Encore Capital Group, Inc. with falsifying and robo-signing affidavits, attempting to collect debts based upon inaccurate or incomplete account information, and employing unlawful and deceptive debt collection tactics.

The state’s enforcement action cites the defendants for committing multiple violations of Texas debt collection laws and the Texas Finance Code. Encore, which is one of the nation’s largest debt collection companies, and its subsidiaries – Midland Funding, LLC and Midland Credit Management, Inc. – are named as defendants in the case.

According to state investigators, Midland Funding purchased debt portfolios from a broad spectrum of creditors for pennies on the dollar. As the purchaser of the debt, the defendants attempted to collect the money that was allegedly owed to various creditors.

However, the defendants’ debt collection letters contained very little information about the debt they were attempting to collect, provided no supporting documentation, and included no proof that they actually acquired the debt from the original creditor.

When Texans contacted the defendant to dispute the legitimacy of an alleged debt or seek additional information, the defendants made little or no effort to investigate or verify whether their collection efforts were proper.

Incomplete information

Court documents filed by the state indicate the defendants sometimes even used incomplete or inaccurate account information, targeted the wrong individuals for collection and attempted to collect debts that had been fully or partially paid. As a result, some Texans unnecessarily suffered financial hardships, such as improperly decreased credit ratings, loss of job opportunities or the ability to refinance their home.

When individuals refused to comply with Midland Funding’s improper collection efforts, the defendants hired attorneys to sue the accused debtors. Court documents reveal that the defendants’ lawyers filed breach of contract lawsuits demanding principal, interest and attorneys’ fees.

The defendants have filed more than 60,000 lawsuits in Texas since 2002. According to state investigators, the defendants’ lawsuits contained inaccurate information and used false statements to claim they were owed certain debts. 

To protect Texans from being sued for debts they did not actually incur, the law may require that debt collectors verify the validity of their claims through “sworn affidavits.” However, the defendants submitted falsified affidavits, which the courts relied upon as proof that the debt collector properly verified the identity of the debtor and the amount owed, the suit charges.

Robo-signers

The state’s investigation revealed that the defendants also employed “robo-signers” to supply the legally required verification. Court documents filed by the State indicate the defendants’ robo-signers routinely signed more than 300 affidavits per day and did not actually review the underlying credit agreements or the alleged debtor’s payment history.

In sworn testimony provided to state investigators, the defendants’ robo-signers acknowledged that they also had no personal knowledge of the original debt or the defendant’s acquisition of the debt portfolios – which was contrary to the information contained in sworn affidavits that these defendants filed with the courts.

Because the court presumed the falsified affidavits were truthful, judges relied upon them to issue judgments against debtors. As a result, the attorney general charged the defendants with defrauding the Texas judicial system by knowingly submitting false affidavits to state courts.

Because 90 percent of the defendants’ lawsuits named individuals who were not represented by counsel, these purported debtors did not have lawyers to challenge the legitimacy of the defendants’ claims. As a result, default judgments were improperly entered against them based upon the defendants’ falsified affidavits.

The state’s enforcement action seeks to establish a restitution trust fund for money that the defendants unlawfully coerced from Texans. The Attorney General also seeks civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, as well as penalties that apply under the Texas Finance Code for third-party debt collectors who violate state law.

Texans who believe they have been deceived by improper or unlawful business practices may call the Office of the Attorney General’s toll-free complaint line at (800) 252-8011 or file a complaint online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

 

 

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What's On Your Mind? Delta, Resorts Rescued, Boost Mobile, Facebook

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Delta, Resorts Rescued, Boost Mobile, Facebook, Don't pay in advance, Bad connection and Online imposter....

PhotoWith new security restrictions on carry-on item, airline passengers must pack more things in their checked bags. That turned out to be trouble for Vanessa, who lives in Asia but is from Lawrence, Kan.

“When in LAX I saw the handler, the way he threw the luggage, and it did cross my mind that it appeared he was being really careless, but the rude operator grab our attention saying that we must pay $120 dollars to put our luggage in for domestic flights,” Vanessa told ConsumerAffairs.com. “Apparently this the 'new thing' in the U.S. So when we got to my mother's home and we opened this said bag we discovered a laptop, which had been carefully wrapped), mashed, gifts for my family ruined, books for an art museum soaked in a fluid. The fluid had been double bagged and were sealed containers as well- completely empty now. 

Since Vanessa said she had never frown Delta before, and it happened on Delta, she blames the airline. Sadly, it could have happened on any number of other carriers as well.

Don't pay in advance

Jeff, of Tulsa, Okla., reports a bad experience with Resorts Rescued, a company he says charged an upfront fee to sell his timeshare.

“In November of 2010, I was contacted by Resorts Rescued and got a big sales pitch about how they could sell it, and the upfront fee was for sales presentations like the one I had been to when I bought it,” Jeff said. “It has been over seven months and no bites. All they have done is place a dinky ad on their website that nobody will see, and kept the $900 ripoff fee. I reported them to the CT Attorney General's Office, but do not know if it will do any good.”

According to the FTC, the number of complaints related to fraudulent timeshare resales has more than tripled over the past three years, as more consumers have attempted to sell their timeshares. And complaining to the Connecticut Attorney General's Office is not wasted effort. It takes a number of complaints to spark an investigation.

Bad connection

Cell phone providers like Boost Mobile offer the convenience of no contract. You simply pay month to month, and if you decide to do something else, you don't pay an early termination fee. Melissa of Oceanside, Calif., Doesn't like the trade off.

“I have been with Boost Mobile since February 2010, always pay my bill on time and have had nothing but problems with this company,” Melissa told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I never have service, even in 'good coverage' areas. I call several times a month when the phone loses service always to be transferred around three to four times, getting disconnected at least once on every occasion, ending up with someone who is unable to do anything about the problem.”

First, Melissa needs to make sure she isn't in a dead spot for all cell networks. By asking around, however, she may find one provider who has good coverage where she needs it. That's the one she needs to go with. Even major carriers like Verizon now provide no contract plans.

Online imposter

A lot of people love Facebook because it gives them a personal webpage and allows them to stay in touch with a lot of people. But there can be a downside to social networking, as Ivy, of Fitzgerald, Ga., discovered when someone stole her online identity and created a duplicate page. Only, it was not very nice.

“She slandered any of my friends and family members who spoke to her on this profile page she created when they contacted the profile, thinking it was me,” Ivy told ConsumerAffairs.com. “When I became aware of the profile and the damage she had caused, I hunted down this profile page and reported it as a fake profile.

But Ivy said that only made matters worse. She said Facebook disabled her actual account, leaving up the fake one.

“Facebook still has this fake profile up and running with pictures of myself and my children that she stole from other profiles,” Ivy said.. “I even gave them the name and address listed with this young womens local sheriff's office where I filed identity theft charges and the issue has still not been resolved. The fact that not one human being has contacted me about the issue and that they have only an automated response for issues of this op any nature is beyond me.”

Facebook now has an estimated 750 million members. Keeping track of them all – and which ones are legitimate – is apparently becoming something of a challenge. 

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Report: America's Obesity Problem Getting Worse

Mississippi leads nation for seventh straight year

In Mississippi, 34.4 percent of the adults in the state are obese. Not just overweight, obese. Not to pick on the Magnolia State, which has led the nation...

PhotoIn Mississippi, 34.4 percent of the adults in the state are obese. Not just overweight, obese.

Not to pick on the Magnolia State, which has led the nation in the Trust for America's Health and Robert Woods Johnson annual obesity survey for the seventh year in a row, it should be noted Alabama was close behind, with an adult obesity rate of 32.3 percent. West Virginia was third at 32.2 percent.

According to the report, obesity rates increased in 16 states in the past year and did not decline in any state.Twelve states now have obesity rates above 30 percent. Four years ago, only one state was above 30 percent.

Geographic pattern

When you place the obesity rate on a map of the country, a geographic pattern emerges. The problem appears to be the most dramatic in the south, with nine of the 10 states with the highest adult obesity rates.

States in the Northeast and West tend to have lower rates. Colorado has the lowest obesity rate and, remarkably, is the only state with a rate under 20 percent.

This year's survey takes a look back, measuring today's epidemic against conditions 20 years ago. The contract is startling.

A lighter country 20 years ago

Twenty years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 15 percent. Today, more than two out of three states, 38 total, have obesity rates over 25 percent, and just one has a rate lower than 20 percent.

Since 1995, when data was available for every state, obesity rates have doubled in seven states and increased by at least 90 percent in 10 others. Obesity rates have grown fastest in Oklahoma, Alabama, and Tennessee, and slowest in Washington, D.C., Colorado, and Connecticut.

“Today, the state with the lowest obesity rate would have had the highest rate in 1995,” said Jeff Levi, Ph.D., executive director of TFAH. “There was a clear tipping point in our national weight gain over the last twenty years, and we can’t afford to ignore the impact obesity has on our health and corresponding health care spending.”

What happened?

How did this happen? Chances are, a lot of factors have contributed to America's weight problem. Processed food provides plentiful and cheap calories. During the Great Depression, people shed pounds because calories were expensive and scarce. Today, the opposite is true.

More adults spend their work days in front of computer screens, getting little exercise – moving from the office chair in the day to the living room couch in the evening. And while the survey measures only adult obesity, it's easy to conclude that each year children enter adulthood already packing too many pounds.

Health officials are alarmed at the trend because obesity has long been associated with other severe health problems, including diabetes and high blood pressure. New data in the report show how rates of both also have risen dramatically over the last two decades.

Since 1995, diabetes rates have doubled in eight states. Then, only four states had diabetes rates above 6 percent. Now, 43 states have diabetes rates over 7 percent, and 32 have rates above 8 percent. Twenty years ago, 37 states had hypertension rates over 20 percent. Now, every state is over 20 percent, with nine over 30 percent. 

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Airline On-Time Performance Mixed in May

Better than last month, worse than last year

The nation’s largest airlines posted an on-time arrival mark in May that was an improvement from April’s showing but down from the performance recorded in ...

PhotoThe nation’s largest airlines posted an on-time arrival mark in May that was an improvement from April’s showing but down from the performance recorded in May 2010, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

The 16 carriers reporting on-time performance recorded an overall on-time arrival rate of 77.1 percent in May, down from the 79.9 percent on-time rate of May 2010 but up from April 2011’s 75.5 percent rate. 

Tarmac Delays

The carriers filing on-time performance with the department reported 16 total tarmac delays of more than three hours reported in May by the airlines that file on-time performance data with DOT, compared to one in May 2010 and four in April 2011. 

Fourteen of the delays involved American Eagle Airlines flights arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on May 29, a day in which the Chicago area experienced weather issues.  The other two long tarmac delays involved an American Eagle flight from New York JFK to Indianapolis on the same date, and a May 11 Southwest Airlines flight from Denver to Seattle.  All of the reported tarmac delays are under investigation by the department. 

Cancellations

During May, the carriers canceled 2.1 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, compared to 1.2 percent in May 2010 and 2.0 percent in April 2011.

Chronically Delayed Flights

At the end of May, there was only one flight that was chronically delayed – more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time – for three consecutive months.  There were an additional 46 flights that were chronically delayed for two consecutive months.  There were no chronically delayed flights for four consecutive months or more.  A list of flights that were chronically delayed for a single month is available.

Causes of Flight Delays

In May, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that

  • 6.67 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 7.57 percent in April;

  • 7.71 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 8.35 percent in April;

  • 5.47 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 5.68 percent in April;

  • 0.68 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.55 percent in April; and

  • 0.05 percent for security reasons, compared to 0.04 percent in April. 

Mishandled Baggage

The U.S. carriers reporting flight delays and mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 3.52 reports per 1,000 passengers in May, up from both May 2010’s rate of 3.23 and April 2011’s rate of 3.24.

Incidents Involving Pets

In May, carriers reported two incidents involving the loss, death or injury of pets while traveling by air, down from the three reports filed in May 2010 and four reports filed in April 2011.  May’s incidents involved the death of one pet and the injury of one pet. 

Complaints About Airline Service

In May, the department received 1,062 complaints about airline service from consumers, up 32.9 percent from the 799 complaints filed in May 2010, and up 20.8 percent from the 879 received in April 2011.

Complaints About Treatment of Disabled Passengers

The report also contains a tabulation of complaints filed with DOT in May against airlines regarding the treatment of passengers with disabilities.  The department received a total of 57 disability-related complaints in May, up from both the total of 40 complaints filed in May 2010 and the 54 complaints received in April 2011.

Complaints About Discrimination

In May, the department received 10 complaints alleging discrimination by airlines due to factors other than disability – such as race, religion, national origin or sex – equal to the total of 10 recorded in both May 2010 and April 2011.

Consumers may file their complaints in writing with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. department of Transportation, C-75, W96-432, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20590; by voice mail at (202) 366-2220 or by TTY at (202) 366-0511; or on the web at http://airconsumer.dot.gov.

 

 

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House Bill Could Derail Food Marketing Guidelines

Advertising industry hopes it does

A House bill could block the government's new food marketing guidelines from taking effect...

PhotoIn April the U.S. government presented the food industry with a set of voluntary guidelines designed to reduce childhood obesity. The message in the guidelines was clear: don't use clever marketing to sell junk food to kids.

If adopted, the new guidelines would change how many food items like cereal, sodas, snacks and fast food meals are advertised. They could also radically change many companies' advertising budgets, a prospect that has not gone unnoticed on Madison Avenue.

Opposition

AdWeek Magazine reports that advertising agencies are openly cheering for an amendment to a House Appropriations Bill that could render the new guidelines toothless. The amendment, offered by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), would freeze funds for the implementation of the guidelines unless and until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conduct a cost-benefit analysis. There is no money budgeted for such a study.

The measure is destined for a floor vote later this year and is expected to pass. A lot of people in the ad industry are pulling for it.

"We think the provision will get strong support, but we'll just have to see," Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of government relations for the Association of National Advertisers, told AdWeek.

Both advertisers and food manufacturers have been fighting the proposed new guidelines since they were announced. Even though the guidelines are voluntary, advertisers understand that they invite direct oversight if they don't follow them.

Long-sought controls

Food industry critics, meanwhile, have long called for tighter controls on the way food is marketed to children. They say advertising messages often directly contradict sound nutritional advice.

“Children are strongly influenced by the foods they see advertised on television and elsewhere. Creating a food marketing environment that supports, rather than undermines, the efforts of parents to encourage healthy eating among children will have a significant impact on reducing the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.”These new principles will help food and beverage companies use their creativity and resources to strengthen parents’ efforts to encourage their children to make healthy choices.”

The guidelines are the product of a working group comprised of four federal agencies – the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), FDA, CDC, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The guidelines were published for public comment in late April.

Assuming the House passes the appropriations measure, the Democrat-controlled Senate could take out the language, meaning it would be up to a House-Senate Conference Committee to reconcile the two versions.

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What's On Your Mind? Priceline, Avis, LG, Columbia House

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Priceline, Avis, LG, Columbia House, Slow Down, We're done here and Planned obsolescence?...

PhotoM., of Locust Grove. Ga., is a mother and college student and was looking for an inexpensive hotel when she logged onto Priceline.com.

“I submitted a bid as I have done in the past but this time for a 3.5 star hotel,” she told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I deliberately did not choose a resort because I knew I could not afford the fees this time.”

But when her bid came back, she said it was a resort, with a $10 fee to park, $10 for Internet and an $8 resort fee.

“I was told that because the terms say they could book me at a resort, there was nothing they could do,” she said.

It's good to remember that there can be other costs to staying in a hotel besides the daily rate. If you don't want to run the risk of landing in a hotel with a lot of extra fees, you are probably better off booking directly with the hotel.

Slow Down

When you arrive at the car rental desk make sure you take your time and aren't rushed into signing anything. After all, you are signing a contract.

“I rented a car from Avis for nine days through Hotwire.com and paid for the car with my debit card,” said Catlyn of Lake Lure, N.C. “When I arrived at the counter, I specifically told the clerk that I did not want any insurance coverage. However, he put it on the bill and because there is a line that says 'initial accept or decline optional coverages as shown above' I thought I was declining the coverage.”

It's an easy mistake to make because, in fact, most contracts have you initial that you are declining the coverage. Yes, they should have explained it more carefully, but it's up to the consumer to make sure she understands what she's signing.

Planned obsolescence?

Lisa, of Fort Worth, Texas, says she bought a new  front loading LG Trom in January 2007 from Home Depot. She said it replaced a Maytag washer that lasted 16 year, so she had pretty high expectations for this new appliance that cost $1,300.

“A couple of months ago it began making a terrible sound during the spin cycle,” Lisa told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I called the repairman, who said it would cost $800 to fix it. The bearing and rollers and tub shaft were going out. His statement was 'they are designed to fail between 3 and 5 years.'”

This is not the first comment that we have heard about expensive washing machines and flat screen TVs. It would be interesting to hear directly from some of the folks who repair these appliances.

We're done here

Lots of consumers have complained over the years about unauthorized charges on their credit cards by Columbia House. But believe it or not, some consumers actually have ordered the products because they wanted them. But that doesn't mean their transaction was trouble free, or ended when they thought it would.

“I fulfilled my purchase agreement and they still charged me for it, saying that I didn’t,” said Kimberly, of Rochelle Park, N.J. “My account even said: 'you have fulfilled your purchase agreement.'”

The fact that Kimberly has a statement that says she has fulfilled her purchase agreement should clear up the problem – if she can find someone in authority at the company to speak to. 

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WellPoint To Pay Indiana $100,000 To Resolve Data Breach

Company failed to notify the State of the security lapse

WellPoint will pay Indiana $100,000 to settle a suit stemming from a data breach...

PhotoWellPoint, Inc., a major health insurance company, will pay the State of Indiana $100,000 to resolve charges stemming from a data breach. During the security lapse, the personal information of thousands of WellPoint customers was potentially accessible via the Internet.

"This case should be a teaching moment for all companies that handle consumers' personal data: If you suffer a data breach and private information is inadvertently posted online, then you must notify the Attorney General's Office and consumers promptly. Early warning helps minimize the risk that consumers will fall victim to identity theft," said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller.

The WellPoint data breach occurred when applications for individual insurance policies submitted to WellPoint - containing social security numbers, financial information and health records - were potentially accessible through an unsecured web site from October 23, 2009, to March 8, 2010. The records of 32,051 people in Indiana were potentially accessible through the online application tracker website operated by companies owned by or affiliated with WellPoint for potentially anyone to see.

Alert consumer

WellPoint was notified by a consumer on February 22, 2010 and again two weeks later, at which time the company secured the site. WellPoint began informing consumers of the data breach the following June, but ran afoul of the law when it failed to also notify Zoeller's office.

A law passed in 2009 requires companies that experience data breaches must notify both their consumers and the Attorney General "without unreasonable delay." Prompt notice allows consumers to take precautions to mitigate the risk of identity theft. However, Zoeller said he learned of the data breach from news reports.

"The requirement to notify the Attorney General 'without unreasonable delay' is not fulfilled by having me read about the breach in the newspaper," Zoeller noted.

Exposed for 137 days

During the breach, consumers' private data was accessible online for approximately 137 days, and one consumer lodged a complaint about possible identity theft as a result of it. Approximately 645,000 consumers nationwide eventually were notified about the breach.

To resolve the litigation and end the lawsuit, WellPoint has agreed to do the following:

  • Pay a settlement of $100,000 to the State that the Attorney General's Office can use in the Consumer Assistance Fund, which provides restitution to certain consumers who were defrauded and provided assistance in investigations of the fraud. 
  • Agree to comply with the Indiana Code 24-4.9, the Disclosure of Security Breach Act. 
  • Admit that WellPoint had a security breach and failed to properly notify the Attorney General's Office as required by law.
  • Provide up to two years of credit monitoring and identity-theft protection services to Indiana consumers affected by the breach. 
  • Provide reimbursement to any WellPoint consumer of up to $50,000 for any losses that result from identity theft due to the breach.
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U.S., Mexico Sign Cross-Border Trucking Deal

Agreement lifts tariffs, addresses safety concerns

A longtime sore point between the United States and Mexico may have finally been resolved. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and his Mexican counte...

PhotoA longtime sore point between the United States and Mexico may have finally been resolved.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and his Mexican counterpart, Dionisio Arturo Pèrez-Jàcome Friscione, met today in Mexico City to sign agreements resolving the dispute over long-haul, cross-border trucking services between the United States and Mexico. 

As part of the agreement, Mexico will soon lift retaliatory tariffs on more than $2 billion in U.S. manufactured goods and agricultural products, providing opportunities to increase U.S. exports to Mexico and expanding job creation in the U.S., LaHood said.

“The agreements signed today are a win for roadway safety and they are a win for trade. By opening the door to long-haul trucking between the United States and Mexico, America’s third largest trading partner, we will create jobs and opportunity for our people and support economic development in both nations," LaHood said.

A previous cross-border trucking program, established as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), was canceled in March 2009 after complaints from U.S. consumer groups concerned with the safety of the Mexican trucks.

Diplomatic flap

Photo
LaHood

The flap put a serious kink in U.S.-Mexican relations and led to the imposition of stiff tariffs by Mexico.

The agreement signed today also provides that Mexico will suspend 50 percent of the retaliatory tariffs within ten days.  Mexico will suspend the remainder of the tariffs within five days of the first Mexican trucking company receiving its U.S. operating authority. 

As a result, Mexican tariffs that now range from five to 25 percent on an array of U.S. agricultural and industrial products such as apples, certain pork products, and personal care products would be immediately cut in half and will disappear entirely within a few months. 

LaHood said the agreement addresses the recommendations of over 2,000 commenters to the proposal issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in April. 

As a result of these meetings, and in consultation with Mexico, trucks will be required to comply with all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and must have electronic monitoring systems to track hours-of-service compliance. 

In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation will review the complete driving record of each driver and require all drug testing samples to be analyzed in Department of Health and Human Services-certified laboratories located in the U.S.  The Department will also require drivers to undergo an assessment of their ability to understand the English language and U.S. traffic signs. 

The new agreement also ensures that Mexico will provide reciprocal authority for U.S. carriers to engage in cross-border long-haul operations into that country.

 

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Don't Pay For Coupons You Can Get Free

Marketers offer 'free trial' that can end up costing big bucks

Consumer should never pay for coupons in the hope of saving money...

PhotoRising food prices, and popular TV shows like Extreme Couponing, have renewed consumer interest in the use of discount coupons at the checkout counter.

While you can save money on your grocery bill, it's wise to keep couponing in perspective and not get carried away. Don't buy something, for example, just because you you have a coupon for a dollar off.

And it's almost always a bad idea to pay for coupons, in the hope that you can use them to save money in the future. Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto recently cautioned residents of her state about a radio advertising campaign offering $2,000 in grocery coupons for shopping.

Consumers are directed to call a toll-free telephone number which goes to an inbound telemarketing company. Consumers who call the number will be asked to provide his or her credit card information in order to receive a packet of information about the coupon program.

Not exactly free

The packet will contain information, either offering or actually signing the consumer up for a variety of “programs” which can cost the consumer hundreds of dollars if he or she does not call and cancel the services within a few days. The packets do not include $2,000 in grocery coupons and the consumer will be charged a fee “for shipping and handling” of the information packet.

The packet directs the consumer to GrocerySavers.com. Masto says GrocerySavers is a legitimate coupon provider, but cautions consumers that the coupons it provides are not free. They cost 10 percenrt of the face value of the coupons plus a service charge.

The offer of $2000 in grocery coupons will ultimately cost the consumer $200 plus shipping and handling. Many of the coupons offered can be obtained free at the merchant’s or manufacturer’s websites.

By wary of 'free' offers

Masto says it's just the latest example of so-called “free trial offers,” which usually end up enrolling the consumer in an ongoing program that places a monthly charge on their credit card.

Masto says consumers should never provide information about your credit cards, bank accounts, or other financial information to persons unknown to you. Another good rule of thumb is to never accept any “free offer” that requires you to provide credit card information in order to receive it.

As for coupons, remain alert to offers in your local newspaper and advertising circulars and only use them for things you would buy anyway. 

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iPhone Sales Jump 1.2% From February To May

Android remains the most popular mobile platform

Apple's share of smartphone market has jumped since selling iPhone on Verizon Wireless...

PhotoSo far, Apple's decision to begin selling an iPhone through Verizon Wireless appears to be paying off. Apple's share of the smartphone market soared 1.2 percent between February and May, according to data compiled by comScore, which follows trends in the U.S. mobile phone industry.

For the three month period ending in May, 234 million Americans ages 13 and older used mobile devices. Apple strengthened its position at number four with 8.7 percent share of mobile subscribers, up from 7.5 percent in February, when Verizon began selling the iPhone.

Prior to that time, the iPhone was available only on the AT&T network.

Samsung still leads

While Apple showed the most movement over the last three months, it has a lot of ground to cover before becoming the number one mobile phone on the market. Device manufacturer Samsung ranked as the top manufacturer with 24.8 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers, followed by LG with 21.1 percent share and Motorola with 15.1 percent share.

RIM, which makes the Blackberry, continued to lose marketshare, and is in fifth place with 8.1 percent of the market.

Android gains ground

As for mobile device platforms, Google's Android solidified its lead during the February to May period. According to comScore, 38.1 percent of mobile devices in use during that period run on the Android system, a 5.1 percent increase over February.

Apple's system was second with 26.6 percent of the market, an increase of 1.4 percent.

RIM was third with 24.7 percent marketshare, a loss of 4.2 percent of the market in just three months.

Microsoft was a distant fourth and still losing ground, at just 5.8 percent of the market.

In May, 69.5 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers used text messaging on their mobile device. Browsers were used by 39.8 percent of subscribers (up 1.5 percentage points), while downloaded applications were used by 38.6 percent (up 2.0 percentage points).

Accessing of social networking sites or blogs increased 1.8 percentage points to 28.6 percent of mobile subscribers. Game-playing was done by 26.9 percent of the mobile audience (up 2.3 percentage points), while 18.6 percent listened to music on their phones.

 

 

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Viking Range Agrees to $450,000 Penalty

Failed to report a safety problem with its refrigerators' doors

Viking Range Corporation has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $450,000 after admitting that it was aware for years of a defect involving its refrigerator d...

PhotoViking Range Corporation has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $450,000 after admitting that it was aware for years of a defect involving its refrigerator door hinge support mechanisms that resulted in incidents and injuries to consumers but failed to report the defect, as required by federal law.

Viking reported the safety defect to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in April 2009, and the firm agreed to a recall in June 2009.  Subsequent investigation conducted by CPSC staff uncovered that by that time the firm was aware of at least 10 reports of injuries involving Viking refrigerator hinge failures going back over several years.

CPSC and Viking announced a recall of more than 45,000 Viking refrigerators in June 2009.  The hazard identified with the refrigerators is that refrigerator hinges and hardware that attach the doors to the refrigerator box can loosen, sag and detach, posing an impact injury hazard to consumers if the door detaches.

Viking sold the refrigerators through appliance and specialty retailers from July 1999 through April 2006.

Federal law requires manufacturers, distributors and retailers to report to CPSC within 24 hours after obtaining information reasonably supporting the conclusion that a product contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard, creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death, or fails to comply with any consumer product safety rule or any other rule, regulation, standard or ban enforced by CPSC.

In agreeing to the settlement, Viking Range Corporation denies CPSC staff allegations as to the existence of a defect or hazard or that it violated the law.

 

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Consumer Bankruptcies Fall In First Half Of Year

Filings drop sharply compared to 2010

Consumer bankruptcies are down, in what could be a hopeful sign for the economy...

The number of U.S. consumers filing for bankruptcy protection fell sharply in the first half of 2011, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI), relying on data from the National Bankruptcy Research Center (NBKRC).

Filings totaled 709,303 nationwide during the first six months of 2011, an eight percent decrease from the 770,117 total consumer filings during the same period a year ago. Economists said it could be a hopeful sign that consumers are beginning to better cope with their debt loads.

"The drop in bankruptcies for the first half of the year shows the continued efforts of consumers to reduce their household debt, and the overall pull back in consumer credit," said ABI Executive Director Samuel J. Gerdano.

5% decrease

The overall June consumer filing total of 119,768 represented a five percent decrease from the 126,270 filings recorded in June 2010. The June 2011 filings represented a four percent increase from the May 2011 consumer bankruptcy total of 114,803 filings. The percentage of chapter 13 filings for June was 28 percent, a one percent increase from May.

Bankruptcy laws are designed to help people who can no longer pay their creditors get a fresh start, by liquidating assets to pay their debts or by creating a repayment plan. Most cases are filed under the three main chapters of the Bankruptcy Code – Chapter 7, Chapter 11, and Chapter 13. Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases. This means that a bankruptcy case cannot be filed in a state court.

 

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Another Study Links Chantix to Heart Attack Risk

Slight increase in risk of "adverse events" found among Chantix users

More bad news for Chantix, the smoking-cessation drug from Pfizer. A new meta-analysis of health studies finds a 72% increase in the risk of congestive hea...

PhotoMore bad news for Chantix, the smoking-cessation drug from Pfizer. A new meta-analysis of health studies finds a 72% increase in the risk of congestive heart failure, stroke and other problems among Chantix users.

The findings were published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, less than a month after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered stronger warnings for the drug's labeling and medical guides.

The lead author of the Canadian study, Sonal Singh of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said the finds are "another reason to consider avoiding Chantix altogether." Singh said smokers "don't need Chantix to quit."

The FDA's warning came after a randomized clinical trial of 700 smokers with cardiovascular disease who were treated with Chantix or a placebo.

While the trial found that Chantix was effective in helping smokers quit, there were also more frequent "adverse events" in patients treated with Chantix rather than a placebo.

The authors of the Canadian study said that while the increased risk of cardiovascular events was slight – 1.06% among Chantix users, 0.82% among those given a placebo – the study nevertheless "raises safety concerns" and suggests further research is needed.

 

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Five Ways To Spot A Predatory Car Loan

The wrong loan can make a car a lot more expensive

The Center for Responsible Lending offers five tips for avoiding predatory car loans...

PhotoWhile it remains very hard to get a mortgage, there seems to be plenty of money for car loans. But keep in mind that, just like mortgages, not all car loans are alike. And just like mortgages, there are predatory car loans that end up making a vehicle a lot more expensive.

How do you know if the loan you are being offered is predatory? The Center for Responsible Lending says there are five red flags consumers should look for.

Dealer kickbacks

Car dealers usually have deals with lenders. The lender agrees to a low “buy rate” but allows the dealer to raise it at the dealer's discretion. The dealer often will do that since most of the additional interest ends up in the dealer's pocket.

Loan packed with Junk fees

Dealers inflate the overall price of the car loan through overpriced add-on products – often sold in packages –including “GAP” insurance, vehicle service contracts, credit life and disability insurance, rust proofing, theft deterrent packages, and “window etching.” By inflating vehicle cost, the dealer is inflating the loan size. As a result, the potential loan kickback for the dealer is increased.

Yo-Yo Sales

The buyer is either convinced to enter into or unwittingly placed in a conditional sale agreement rather than a final sale. After the buyer drives the vehicle home, the dealer later claims to be unable to fund the loan at the agreed-upon terms. The buyer is required to return the car and renegotiate an often more costly loan. Often, the buyer is told that their down payment is non-refundable and/or their trade-in has already been sold.

Buy Here, Pay Here

Buy Here Pay Here (BHPH) dealerships typically finance used auto loans in-house to borrowers with no or poor credit histories. The average APR is much higher than a bank or credit union loan. BHPH dealers expect much higher default and repossession rates.

Instead of responsibly financing affordable cars, the business model depends on churning the same vehicles to local buyers as many times as possible. Dealers usually require a disproportionate percentage of the car’s actual value for down payment and pack the loan with unnecessary fees to make more money up front.

No option to sue

“Mandatory arbitration” clauses essentially waive the customer’s right to sue and appeal in court. In simple terms this means that if you have a valid complaint with a car dealer, you won’t be allowed to take action through a court of law. Instead, companies require their customers to pursue complaints through an arbitrator—a process that is more likely to favor the dealer.

One of the best ways to avoid predatory loans is to avoid financing the vehicle through the dealer, period. Instead, get pre-approved for the loan at your bank or credit union. To avoid a yo-yo sale, read the contract carefully to make sure it is a final, not a conditional sale. To keep from inflating the value of the car, say no to the add-ons you don't really need.

Remember, the saleman may be very persuasive but the consumer holds the ultimate power on a car lot. If you are prepared to walk away from a bad deal, you will find that very few salesmen will let you walk without giving ground.

 

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Study: Americans Eating More, More Often

Researchers say the reason for obesity might not be that complicated

Researchers say Americans eat too much food and eat too often...

PhotoFiguring out the reasons behind the obesity epidemic may not be so difficult. A new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina finds that, in the last three decades, U.S. adults have been eating larger portions and eating more often.

“First, the food industry started ‘super sizing’ our portions, then snacking occasions increased and we were convinced we needed to drink constantly to be hydrated,” said Barry Popkin, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and a professor at UNC's School of Global Public Health. “This study shows how this epidemic has crept up on us. The negative changes in diet, activity and obesity continue and are leading to explosions in health-care costs and are leading us to become a less healthy society.”

The study, appearing in the journal PloS Medicine, is believed to be the first to examine the combined contribution of changes in three key factors; portion sizes, food energy density and eating frequency.

The study analyzed individuals’ dietary intake over a 24-hour period, based on surveys of U.S. adults taken between 1977–78, 1989–91, 1994–98 and 2003–06. It found that the average daily total energy intake, measured in calories, increased from about 1,803 kcal in 1977–78 to 2,374 kcal in 2003–06, an increase of 570 kcal.

Americans eat too often

Increases in the number of eating occasions and portion sizes of foods and beverages over the past 30 years accounted for most of the increase. Energy density - the number of calories in a specific amount of food - also accounted for some of the change, but may have decreased slightly in recent years, the researchers reported.

The study concludes that the key to obesity may be quite simple. The researchers say their findings suggest that efforts to prevent obesity among adults in the U.S should focus on reducing the number of meals and snacks people consume during the day and reducing portion size as a way to reduce the energy imbalance caused by recent increases in energy intake.

The researchers say they believe their findings also have relevance for developing countries, that have also experienced an obesity problem in recent years.

 

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Scammers Using System For Hearing-Impaired To Target Businesses

TTY relay used to add credibility to con

Authorities are warning restaurants to be wary of big orders placed using TTY Relay system...

A TTY system is a telephone specially outfitted for users who are hearing-impaired. In a disturbing new trend, it is being increasingly used to commit fraud against small businesses.

“TTY” stands for “teletypewriter,” and the term is sometimes used to describe teletypes in general. TTY systems allow people who are deaf and hard of hearing to make calls to each other, and with the assistance of relay systems, users can also communicate with people who do not have TTY systems.

A North Carolina restaurant nearly lost hundreds of dollars to a scammer using the system.

“Don’t let scammers take advantage of you and the TTY system,” said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. “Falling for one of these calls will cost your business money instead of helping you earn a profit.”

Active in North Carolina

According to Cooper, Big Ed’s restaurant in downtown Raleigh received a call last week made through a TTY operator with a message from a customer who wanted to order 200 sausages at a cost of $700. The customer provided a credit card number and an email address to receive the invoice.

When the caller asked the restaurant to also send $852 by Western Union and charge it to the credit card, Big Ed’s got suspicious and reported the call to Cooper's office.

A Wilmington bakery, Hot Pink Cake Stand, reported getting a similar call last week via a TTY operator. The caller claimed to be a regular customer who needed money wired right away because his car had broken down.

The TTY scam is a new wrinkle on an old scheme. The objective remains the same – the persuade the victim to wire money to the scammer. Authorities believe the use of the TTY system is designed to elicit sympathy from the victim and make them lower their guard.

Red flags

Here’s how to spot and avoid similar scams:

  • If you get a TTY call from someone you don’t know, always ask for the person’s full name, address and telephone number.
  • If the caller wants to place an order from your business by credit card, ask for the name of the bank that issued the card, their toll-free number as listed on the card, and the three or four digit verification code listed on the back of the card. Verify the information with the bank before placing the order. This will help weed out callers using stolen credit card numbers.
  • Never agree to charge a credit card or cash a check and then wire money back to someone.

 

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What's On Your Mind? US Fidelis, Consumer Credit Group

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: US Fidelis, Consumer Credit Group, Illegal pitch, Not covered and Best Buy....

PhotoJudith, of Kissimmee, Fla., is one of thousands of consumers who purchased an extended auto warranty from US Fidelis, which has declared bankruptcy and has ceased operations. It has left Judith, and others like her, high and dry.

“I purchased an extended warranty with US Fidelis and now that company has been shut down by the Attorney General in Missouri,” Judith told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I paid over $2400.00 and the last payment was made a couple of months ago. The lady took my payment over the phone even though I just found out they have been shut down and the two owners have been indicted. What can I do? I lost my job and struggled to get these payments made which I paid off and now I have no warranty. How can I get my money back?”

A year ago, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster asked the federal bankruptcy court to order the appointment of an independent trustee over the US Fidelis bankruptcy proceedings, with the goal of protecting assets for the company’s customers.

Koster also urged the need for a top-to-bottom, scrupulous financial examination of the company, citing concerns regarding explicit business practices intended to defraud consumers. At the time, Koster made clear that the filing of the US Fidelis bankruptcy does not end the state’s interest in protecting policyholders of the company. Judith should contact Koster's office to learn the status of those efforts.

Illegal pitch

Beware of companies that call you on the phone and promise they can lower the interest on your credit cards. In nearly every case, it's an empty promise.

“I was told they could lower my interest rates on all my cards to as low as 1.24 – 6.9 percent fixed rate for the life of the cards,” said Lucy of Weirsdale, Fla. “They couldn't guarantee an exact percentage but it would fall in that range.”

Lucy said the telemarketer told her a new law that had just passed that allowed companies like Consumer Credit Group to help Americans get out of debt faster. She was also told it was a one-time deal and they would go to the next consumer if she didn't take the deal the same day.

That, of course, is untrue. There is no such law and the pressure tactic of saying she had to act immediately should have told her it was not on the up and up, but she said she was caught off guard and agreed to pay an advance fee of $795.

“Boy do I feel like a big dummy,” Lucy said. “I'm a single mother struggling to make ends meet but am veru proud of paying all my creditors on a timely manner, and then to get taken for a ride like this.”

While the “law” Lucy said the telemarketer mentioned does not exist, there is a law that bans telemarketers from collecting an advance fee to help consumers with credit and debt problems before actually providing the service. Lucy might have a chance of getting her money back if she complains to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office.

Not covered

Computer problems are aggravating, especially if you think they are covered by a warranty and they aren't.

About two weeks ago, when shutting down my computer, it said there were updates to install. It took forever for them to install and when I turned it on in the morning, it stayed on the blue Microsoft page” Cleo, of Clearlake, Calif., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “Since under warranty I took it to the Best Buy in Sacramento, where they said the system needed to be restored. “I said to go ahead and restore it as it was still under warranty. When I went to pick it up I was told there was a $200 charge. I asked why, since it was still under warranty? He said that only is for hard drives etc. “I was not informed of a charge or told the warranty does not cover restoring.”

Cleo may be annoyed, but it is really up to the consumer to know what the warranty does, and does not cover. A manufacturers warranty typically covers parts and labor. It would have been nice, however, if Best Buy had informed Cleo ahead of time what the charge would be for restoring her system.

 

 

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Italian Brewer Hopes to Revive Lunchtime Imbibing

But first Americans have to actually take a lunch break

Those of a certain age may become nostalgic when watching Don Draper toss back martinis at lunch. But those yearning for a return to the “Mad Men” era will...

PhotoThose of a certain age may become nostalgic when watching Don Draper toss back martinis at lunch. But those yearning for a return to the “Mad Men” era will have to get a lunch break before worrying about what they'll be quaffing at lunch.

Most of us, it turns out, are still chained to our desks at lunch, with less than 20% using their full lunch break and 9% not taking any time for lunch at all, according to a new survey from Birra Moretti, an Italian brewer.

We can dream though.

The survey found that roughly 20% of us are “inclined” to order an alcoholic beverage at lunch. Of course, being included to order a cold one or toss back a double vodka aren't quite the same, now are they?

The survey may have measured how many of us actually act on the impulse but if it did, Birra Moretti isn't telling. Ask any bartender or waiter, though, and they'll tell you lunchtime imbibing is about as common in the U.S. today as commuting by unicycle.

La bella vita

In Italy, on the other hand, both lunching and drinking are alive and well, grazie. The survey found that 100% -- yes, that's 100% -- of Italians take a lunch break, with nearly 80% leaving their workplace for their midday repast.

And how inclined are the Italians to have a drink or two with lunch? Nearly half (48%).

Back in the day …

All of this sounds pretty good to those of us who lived through the Draper era in Manhattan. No doubt drinking at lunch is bad for the drinker but it works wonders for the morale of mid-level wage slaves who benefit from their bosses' imbibing.

Your earnest reporter once toiled in a midtown Manhattan media mill and dreaded the mornings, when top-level executives arrived scowling, hung over from the night before and fuming about the delays on the Metro North and the rotten stench bubbling up from the mean streets as they plodded the last few blocks to work. Many unpleasant meetings ensued as their displeasure flowed downhill.

But come noon, the upper crust departed with newfound alacrity for the reserved tables that awaited them nearby, double martinis already in place.

Slumbering silently

Afternoons were golden, the top executives napping quietly in their dens until late afternoon, when it was time to once again head for the bar car on the 5:30 to Stamford.

Perhaps it is this more normal rhythm of life that Birra Moretti hopes to revive with a series of lunch events it's planning for New York City this summer. “Pop-up” cafes will serve four-course meals with, of course, Italian beer. Mayor Bloomberg, who has tried to dissuade New Yorkers from following their baser instincts might not approve, but we say Salute!

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What's More Dangerous Than Texting While Driving?

Using mobile apps behind the wheel an emerging threat to highway safety

As regulators and legislators fume and fret about talking and texting while driving, an even more insidious threat is emerging – the use of mobile apps by ...

PhotoAs regulators and legislators fume and fret about talking and texting while driving, an even more insidious threat is emerging – the use of mobile apps by drivers.

How prevalent is the problem? A University of Alabama at Birmingham study finds that more than a third (35%) of college students use mobile phone applications while driving -- even after facing the dangers firsthand.

"The participants seemed to understand that using mobile apps while driving is dangerous, and some have even experienced motor vehicle crashes while using mobile apps, but they continue to do it," said UAB student Lauren McCartney, who conducted the survey.

"The technology is evolving so rapidly that science hasn't caught up to looking at the effects that mobile app usage can have behind the wheel of a car," said McCartney. "But something needs to be done because in psychological terms, Internet use involves substantial cognitive and visual distraction that exceeds talking or texting, making it much more dangerous."

Dangers well-known

The dangers of driving while texting or talking are well known and both state and federal lawmakers have been fast to inveigh against it, but there has so far been little recognition of the apparent threat presented by ever-smarter smartphones.

Thirty-three states ban text messaging while driving. However, no state currently bans the specific use of mobile Internet with the penalty of a primary or secondary offense.

No one questions that mobile apps are habit-forming, as McCartney's survey confirmed. Among survey respondents, one in 10 "often," "almost always" or "always" use mobile apps while driving; more than one-third use them "sometimes."

The survey included 93 UAB students who own a smartphone and use Internet-based applications on it at least four or more times per week; it is not a random sample. Even so, David Schwebel, Ph.D., director of the UAB Youth Safety Lab, is concerned.

Complex task

"Driving a car is an incredibly complex task for humans to complete safely. There are enormous cognitive, perceptual and motor tasks an automobile driver must complete, frequently very quickly and with split-second precision," Schwebel said.

"A driver using his or her smartphone is clearly distracted, both visually and cognitively, and really should not be driving. The fact that 10 percent of college students with smartphones 'often' are using them while driving is astounding -- the fact that 35 percent 'sometimes' do is equally concerning," he said.

The data in McCartney's findings were part of a larger research study at the UAB Youth Safety Lab that examined the effects of mobile application use on pedestrian safety.

McCartney, a student in the Department of Psychology, will present her findings in August to the 119th American Psychological Association (APA) convention in Washington, D.C. Her work was chosen because her survey of this at-risk population is unique.

 

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Suit: L'Oreal Failed to Warn Anti-Frizz Serum Could Set Hair On Fire

Class action charges L'Oreal knew of the danger but did not alert customers

A federal class action claims L'Oreal failed to warn that the two main ingredients in its "leave-in" hair-styling product, Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine An...

PhotoA federal class action claims L'Oreal failed to warn that the two main ingredients in its "leave-in" hair-styling product, Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Anti-Frizz Serum, "are flammable upon contact with temperatures reached by most hair styling appliances." 

The suit was filed by Catherine Altamura of Los Angeles and Lisa Pearly of New York say they purchased the product believing it was safe but later learned otherwise.

Women who buy “leave-in” hair-styling products typically do so before using a heated hair-styling appliance, Altamura and Pearly said. They point to the Serum packaing which instructs the consumer to use “as much as needed for your hair type” … “do not rinse” … “style using brush and blowdryer.”

The women say that L'Oreal went even farther in its misleading advice by including a warning that implied the product was safe to use with styling appliances: “Avoid fire, flame, smoking and heat (except for styling appliances) during application and until hair is completely dry.”

The suit notes that Serum's main ingredients are cyclopentasiloxane and dimethiconol, both allegedly known to be flammable substances with a flashpoint of only 171 degrees, while the normal heating range for hair-styling appliances is between 200 and 450 degrees.

“Serum is therefore flammable and is unsafe to bring into contact with heated syling appliances because use of the product with a heated styling appliances puts the consumer at an unreasonable risk of injury from burns to the face, head and neck,” the suit charges.

The lawsuit charges that thousands of consumers bought the product believing it to be safe but would not have done so had L'Oreal warned them of its dangers. It seeks damages and injunctive relief.

 

 

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Coalition Against Breast Cancer a 'Sham," New York Charges

$9.1 million in public donations has been squandered, lawsuit alleges

The Coalition Against Breast Cancer (CABC) is "a sham charity that has diverted nearly all of the millions of dollars raised in the name of breast cancer t...

PhotoThe Coalition Against Breast Cancer (CABC) is "a sham charity that has diverted nearly all of the millions of dollars raised in the name of breast cancer to its officers, directors and fund raisers," the New York attorney general says.  

In a lawsuit, attorney general Eric Schneiderman suit says the coalition falsely claims to be affiliated with major hospitals including Memorial Sloan-Kettering and says it uses “other lies and deceptions” to bilk donors who think their contributions will go to fight breast cancer.

In reality, the suit says, the coalition “spends none of its funds on eradicating breast cancer” and has no affiliation with any major hospital or research organization.

$9 million 'squandered'

The suit says that in the last five years, during which 200,000 women died from breast cancer, the coalition has “squandered and misused virtually all of the $9.1 million it raised,” spending less than 4% of its donations on any kind of charitable program.

In 2008, the suit says CABC raised $1.4 million from the public but spent only $374 for mammograms.

In the past three years, despite raising more than $4 million, the coalition has funded only 11 mammograms, the suit alleges.

“In short, Defendants have misused and wasted millions of charitable dollars that could have been used to treat and potentially save an untold number of breast cancer victims,” the suit charges.

The suit says that CABC founders Andrew Smith and Garrett Morgan launched CABC in 1995 when they were both short of cash. Smith was emerging from bankruptcy and Morgan was being investigated for his role in a fraudulent meals-on-wheels charity, Schneiderman alleges.

The suit quotes a February 2010 email from Smith to Morgan as summarizing the duo's attitude: “We are in a bad place. You need the money and so do I.”

 

 

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Consumers Form Personal Attachments To Smartphones, Study Finds

It's more than just a device, it's like part of the family

A researcher finds consumers have formed very strong bonds with their smartphones...

PhotoJust how attached are you to your smartphone? Not that much? Really?

Esther Swilley, who teaches marketing at Kansas State University, doesn't buy it for a minute. She says her research finds that when people lose their smartphones, they experience feelings of loss and hopelessness – almost as though a family pet had gone missing.

What's more, Swilley says these feelings are natural.

"The cellphone's no longer just a cellphone; it's become the way we communicate and a part of our life," Swilley said.

Mobile affinity

In one long-term study Swilley looked at the attitudes people have toward their mobile phone and how these attitudes are influenced by a user's relationship with their device. That attachment, called mobile affinity, depends on whether an owner views their cellphone or smartphone as a device that's more fun than it is functional or vice versa.

What Swilley discovered is that we have very personal relationship with our smartphones.

"People share other devices like computers, but cellphones are an interesting thing because we each have our own,” she said. “That individual ownership is a really big deal for people."

Swilley found that a majority of the participants in her study said they are attached to their phone because of its functionality as an entertainment device rather than as a tool that can communicate anytime and anywhere. So it comes to no surprise to Swilley that games are the most downloaded application for cellphones, according to app stores.

What is surprising to her is that study participants indicated their mobile phone allowed for little to no self-expression. This is odd because while mobile phone owners have said their phone is a part of themselves, it's not a way they express themselves, Swilley said.

That's entertainment

With the adoption of more smartphones and the introduction of apps, Swilley has noticed that for many owners, their phone's entertainment factor has become a source of pride and joy -- similar to that of a lovable new pet.

"It's sort of similar to when people had those Tamagotchi pets as children; cellphones are just the adult version of that," Swilley said. "People don't turn them off, are constantly playing with them, and want to show off the neat things the phone can do."

The concept for looking at consumer attitudes toward their phone stemmed from the time Swilley was employed at BellSouth Corporation, now a subsidiary of AT&T Inc.

"Every employee was given a BlackBerry,” she said. “Some of us weren't interested in having a pager, so the phones just sat there for some time. But when I left three years later, I almost cried because I had to give up my BlackBerry. It had become a part of me and I was attached to it. It was the way I communicated. Today when I look at people now with their cellphones I see the same attachment."

And then there's the story about President Obama, who refused to give up his Blackberry after he was sworn into office, even though it was considered a security vulnerability. The matter was resolved when the Secret Service provided heavy-duty encryption for the device. 

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Sounds Of Summer Can Be A Danger To Hearing

Hearing specialist offers some advice

The noises of summer can take a toll on your hearing...

PhotoAs seasons go, summer is probably the noisiest. And that can take a toll on your hearing.

“Fireworks, trains, concerts and road construction can be harmful to your hearing. And once hearing is damaged, it cannot be repaired,” said Jyoti Bhayani, certified audiologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of Loyola University Health System.

One in 10 Americans has hearing loss that affects the ability to understand normal speech. Aging is the most common cause of this condition. However, exposure to excessive noise also can damage hearing in higher pitches.

“Hearing loss due to excessive noise is totally preventable, unlike old age or a medical condition,” said Bhayani.

Safe decibel levels

Sound is measured in decibel (db) levels. A soft whisper is only 30 db. Normal conversation, or fingers typing on a computer keyboard are about 60 db.

Prolonged exposure to sound levels above 85 db usually call for earplugs. That means wearing ear protection when mowing the lawn, using a chain saw or attending a rock concert.

“It is important to know the intensity of the sounds around you,” said Bhayani, who regularly cares for construction and factory workers, frequent air travelers and seniors in her practice at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital. “I recommend using hearing protection devices for those who are exposed to excessive, loud noises and musician’s ear plugs, which simply attenuate the intensity/loudness without altering frequency response.”

Loud noise kills ear nerve endings permanently

Unfortunately, when nerve endings in the ear die, they don't come back – and loud noise will kill them. Three small bones in the middle ear help transfer sound vibrations to the inner ear where they become nerve impulses that the brain interprets as sound.

“When noise is too loud, it begins to kill the hair cells and nerve endings in the inner ear,” Bhayani said. “The louder a noise, the longer the exposure, and the closer you are to the noise source, the more damaging it is to your nerve endings, or your hearing.” As the number of nerve endings decreases due to damage, so does your hearing. Nerve endings cannot be healed or regenerated and the damage is permanent.

Ear bud warning

If you have a smartphone or iPod, you may use ear bud headphones that are inserted into the ear. Use of ear bud headphones by youngsters may save your ears from being assaulted by the noise of your teenagers’ music or electronic game, but they may be damaging your child’s hearing.

“Three in five Americans, especially youth, are prone to develop hearing loss due to loud music being delivered via ear buds,” Bhayani said. “Sound that is too loud, especially close to the ear, is harmful. “The truth about hearing is loud and painful – once a nerve is damaged, it cannot be restored. It is gone forever.”

 

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Supplement Maker Must Change Label, Feds Rule

Company had received warning last October

The FDA has ordered a dietary supplement maker to stop promoting its products as drugs...

PhotoThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration has entered into an agreement with Howard Sousa, doing business as the Artery Health Institute LLC, and DeSousa LLC, to change the way he labels his dietary supplement products.

The consent decree prohibits Sousa from distributing products with claims in the labeling to cure, treat, mitigate or prevent diseases. Before reaching the agreement, Sousa distributed Advanced Formula EDTA Oral Chelation capsules on his website.

Sousa ran afoul of the FDA by promoting his supplements as drugs through claims on his website. Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), a product is a drug if it is intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease. The capsules have been promoted and marketed for serious disease conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and kidney stones.

The FDA has forced Sousa to remove the drug claims from his website. He has also agreed to hire an independent expert to review the claims he makes for his product and to certify that he has omitted all violative claims.

Can still sell the supplements

The order does not require Sousa to stop making and selling the product, only to change its label and marketing. However, under the decree the FDA can order Sousa to stop making and distributing any product if he fails to comply with any provision of the consent decree, the FFDCA or other FDA regulations.

“Products with unapproved disease claims are dangerous because they may cause consumers to delay or avoid legitimate treatments,” said Dara A. Corrigan, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. “The FDA will continue to take actions against companies that do not meet federal standards for safety, effectiveness, and quality by placing unapproved products on the market.”

The FDA previously issued a warning letter to Sousa for violating the FFDCA by promoting and distributing his product as a drug. Sousa responded to the warning letter promising to remove all such claims from his website, but the FDA discovered during a subsequent inspection that he continued to make the claims.

The warning letter was one of eight issued by the FDA in October 2010 to companies promoting unapproved over-the-counter chelation products with claims to treat and diagnose a range of the serious disease.

 

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What's On Your Mind? Comcast, Staples, T-Mobile, DeVry

Our daily look at consumer reviews

Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Comcast, Staples, T-Mobile, DeVry, Not so rewarding, Expensive degree and More than a simple mistake?...

PhotoMistakes happen. How you handle them makes a difference. Or at least, it should. Lawrence, of Raleigh, N.C., feels ill-treated by Comcast. When he moved from Maryland, he mistakenly packed one of his Comcast cable set-top boxes. The box was going to be in storage for six months.

“We explained the situation to the Comcast rep who told us that we had 60 days to return it or we would be billed $50.00,” Lawrence told ConsumerAffairs.com. “We asked the rep whether we should pay right then or wait for the bill and she said Comcast would send a bill.”

Lawrence received a bill dated June 7 with a due date of June 28. He says he received and paid the bill on June 13. On June 29, he said he received a letter from a collection agency dated June 23. Keep in mind the bill wasn't due until June 28.

“After explaining about the collection letter, the manager said to my wife that Comcast 'sends the bill to the customer and notifies the collection agency the same day,'" Lawrence said. “This constitutes consumer credit fraud by falsely claiming non-payment on a bill the consumer has not even received yet.”

It's hard to imagine that this is anything other than a mistake that no one wants to take responsibility for. If Lawrence can't get someone at Comcast to rescind the collection order, he'll have to contact each of the three credit agencies and initiate disputes on the charge.

Not so rewarding

When you check out at some chain stores the clerk might ask if you want to enroll in the store's rewards program. There may be no harm in doing so, but Teresa, of South Hadley, Mass., said she didn't find the Staples Rewards program all that rewarding.

I was persuaded to believe that returning ink cartridges and buying ink cartridges at the Staples store would make me a better consumer, and save money on my next ink purchase,” Teresa said. “However, the time constraint and product constraints which Staples places on the coupon completely nullifies the 'reward.'”

Teresa said she paid what she considers a high price for the original purchased ink cartridges and went out of her way to return ink cartridges there and make other purchase there.

“I do not have any tangible 'reward' or discount or savings on future ink cartridge purchases, contrary to the Staples Reward promise,” she said. At the end of June, Staples emailed a $4 coupon on an ink product that I do not use. Back in April, I bought a product based on belief that I would regain part of the price, eventually. I anticipated saving money on my next purchase. During the time that I waited for the receipt of the coupon, I did not look for or research other prices of similar products. Therefore I have become not only poorer, but less informed.”

Keep in mind, rewards programs are designed for the store's benefit, not yours. They might save you money on things you need, but then again they might not.

More than a simple mistake?

Richard, of Fairhope, Alaska, wants to know if any other consumers have experienced the problem he describes with T-Mobile's automated bill payment.

“When paying online via a checking account the routing number was incorrect and missing a leading zero,” Richard told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I have always paid this way manually every month because I do not do automated payment anywhere. The transaction failed cause i noticed a week later that my checking account had not been debited so I contacted T-Mobile and paid with a credit card. I am pretty confident that I did not make an error. Now they are charging me a $20 transaction failure fee.”

If others have experience this, let us know. Meanwhile, if your bank has free bill pay, that might be a better way to pay bills than each individual company's automated site.

Expensive degree

For-profit colleges have come under intense scrutiny lately for their placement of students in expensive loan program. Melquiades, of Long Beach, Calif., wonders why her classes at DeVry Long Beach are so expensive. She transferred in with a number of existing credit hours, but ended up racking up $85,000 in school loans. And what did her expensive education get her?

“I majored in Network Communication Management,” she said. “The job lead offered me in April was the McDonald's hiring frenzy which my career adviser urged me to attend.”

 

 

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